Paul Rieckhoff speaks out about our Fratboy-in-Chief

October 17, 2006 | By | 1 Reply More

Paul Rieckhoff hits the mark again with this comment on Huffpo:

As a veteran of this war in Iraq, I am sickened by the consistently flip nature of the President in the face of deadly serious issues. His ridiculous banter reflects poorly upon all Americans . . .

[W]ith nukes in North Korea, perverts in Congress and 140,000 of my brothers and sisters in uniform bound to serve another four years in Iraq, I’d rather have a statesman than a frat boy.

Rieckhoff is the Founder and Executive Director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). He is also the author of a book I’ve struggled to read for the past two months:  Chasing Ghosts (2006). Would you like to know what it would be like to be a soldier during the early months of the Iraq occupation?  Rieckhoff’s book is the place to start.

Rieckhoff is not your typical soldier. After graduating from an Ivy League college, he signed up for the Army reserves in 1998.  While serving in the reserves, he took a high-paying job on Wall Street.  After the attacks of 9/11, he volunteered for active duty and he volunteered for the invasion of Iraq, to the dismay of his father.  “I wanted to fight the good fight.  I wanted to be a hero.”

Rieckhoff had heard Dick Cheney assure everyone that we would be “greeted as liberators.”  Cheney told the country “all we had to do was take out Saddam and his regime would crumble like a house of cards.”  On the other hand, for rieckhoff, the 9/11 attacks as the justification for the Iraq war just didn’t hold water.

Chasing Ghosts takes you from Rieckhoff’s military training and his duty in Iraq to his return to the United States.  The story is filled with disturbing details of what the Bush administration put our soldiers through: an impossible situation.  Rieckhoff describes numerous incidents where our soldiers were not properly equipped, trained or coordinated.  There are numerous incidents where the military brass, comfortably hunkered down in the Green zone, didn’t have a clue regarding the needs of the soldiers on the streets.  Iraq is a place where the soldiers constantly struggle the language barriers and cultural differences.

Rieckhoff presents numerous tales of warriors and victims.  Rieckhoff regularly reminds us that that soldiers are fighting machines, not humanitarians.  Soldiers were thus often ill-equipped and ill-trained to do the jobs to which they were assigned.

The best trained soldiers are not designed to be humanitarians.  That is not what they are built for.  Yet that is what the American people expected them to be in Iraq.

Rieckhoff cautions that the world will never know just how many Iraqi civilians died in Iraq at the hands of other Iraqis.  While he was serving in 2003, Iraq

was a dangerous insecure cauldron of murder and mayhem with thousands of Iraqi civilians among the dead and wounded, most of them victims of other Iraqis.  Iraq was not like California or Florida.  The systems of accountability in Iraq were destroyed during the war, and the newly established ones just didn’t work very effectively.  Most Iraqis didn’t carry ID cards they didn’t have a Social Security cards.  Record-keeping was horrible and most institutions were wrecked.  In a place where life was cheap, keeping accurate track of deaths was not high on the priority list.

(Page 109).  Iraq was also a place with an immense amount of weapons trafficking, numerous dangerous checkpoints and ubiquitous paranoia: “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not trying to kill you.”

Iraq is where Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ordered Paul Bremmer to disband the Iraqi army and civil service, a “colossal blunder” which immediately created “400,000 disgruntled, unemployed Iraqi soldiers and civil servants.  Many had military experience and weapons.  In Sector 17, we felt the effects instantaneously.”

Iraq is a place where Iraqi man in custody often cried.  It is a place where prisoners were put in hoods for a sound technical reason:

It prevents the detainees from knowing where they’re going.  Does it scare them?  Sure.  What it also keeps them from calculating distances within our compound were mortar teams, and from viewing the inner workings of our defenses.  It is not cruel and definitely not unusual.  It helps us stay safe

(Page 122)  Nonetheless, the detainees shook and often cried.  They often thought that their lives were over.

Iraq was a place where innovative and efficient techniques employed by the soldiers on the ground were often criticized by superiors, soldiers being disciplined for firing upon obvious enemy positions that were barely outside of their assigned zone, for instance.  Rieckhoff himself was severely criticized for cleaning out a den of Iraqis armed with 50-caliber weapons, antiaircraft weapons and crates of ammo.  This led him to conclude that the officers in charge were primarily concerned with themselves, not their men.  “They rarely left the compound, slept in air conditioning, and never got shot at.”

As a result of his experiences, Rieckhoff underwent a dramatic change of attitude with regard to the Iraq endeavor.  In April, 2004, President Bush gave one of his weekly radio addresses to the nation indicating that the coalition was “implementing a clear strategy in Iraq, and that a new government would take power on June 30.”  Rieckhoff was back in the US at that point and had actually was selected by the Democrats to provide a response to these remarks of the president.  The following excerpts are from Rieckhoff’s May 1, 2004 response to President Bush:

When we got to Baghdad, we soon found out that the people who planned this war were not ready for us.  There were not enough vehicles, not enough ammunition, not enough medical supplies, not enough water.  Many days, we patrolled the streets of Baghdad in 120° heat with only one bottle of water per soldier.  There was not enough body armor, leaving my men to dodge bullets with Vietnam-era flak vests.  We had to write home and ask for batteries to be included in our care packages.  Our soldiers deserved better.  

I am not angry with our president, but I am disappointed.  I don’t expect an easy solution to the situation in Iraq.  I do expect an admission that there are serious problems that need serious solutions.  I don’t expect our leaders to be free of mistakes.  I expect our leaders to own up to them.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to know what it would truly involve to “stay the course.” 

Rieckhoff is a gifted author and speaker.  I mentioned at the outset that I “struggled” to read his book.  It was not because the book was badly written. As I’ve already stated, Rieckhoff is an excellent writer. To the contrary, the reason I struggled with reading this book is because Rieckhoff’s descriptions of the events were vivid and they rang true.  His book was so disturbing in its details and frustrations that it kept me up at night each time I tried to read a few chapters.  I’m glad I persevered.

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Category: Iraq, Military, Politics, The Middle East, War

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    Compare to this post to this 9/11 episode also involving the mindset of our President: http://dangerousintersection.org/?p=205

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