In the wake of last Wednesday’s final presidential debate both camps concede their campaigns are hostage to unexpected events. Kerry and Bush are neck and neck. In addition to terrorist efforts to disrupt the U. S. election gratuitous or fortuitous developments could play a pivotal role. One of these "bombshell" events, the "Mississippi Mutiny," may have just exploded in Iraq–and at the Pentagon.
First, an admission and short introduction. As a columnist who writes about the war in Iraq, events in the Middle East, and national developments, my desk is cluttered with story ideas. I can’t use all of them.
Last year in Baghdad I started to write a column in my mind. I titled it "The Ticking Time Bomb in Iraq." I outlined how our reserve/National Guard forces in the field could create a political time bomb at home.
Also last year I was asked by the Special Forces Association to help a Marine who, after being mobilized for Iraq, was attacked by his former wife. I was successful in persuading the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to order his children returned to their home, even in their father’s absence. I then faced a second custody battle for my client. (I do not practice law but as a law professor the court gave me permission to act in these special circumstances.)
I also helped found First Responders for Military Families, where I assisted military lawyers, civilian attorneys and family members whose lives were being affected by the Iraq mobilization.
My volunteer experience convinced me a protracted mobilization could disrupt hundreds of thousands of reservists’ lives at home. Voters’ lives. Unlike regular Army troops, reservists have signed up to be on reserve for a genuine emergency, not to become front line military units.
Although I was never able to finish the column–being in Baghdad floods you with story ideas, more than you can ever prepare–I kept the outline in the back of my mind and watched as conditions for our reserves steadily deteriorated.
Now it’s time for my long-delayed column. And it’s crunch time for President Bush.
Nothing could be worse for the president than a military mutiny in Iraq just days before the election. Once again, events confound us. Bush was expecting an "October surprise" from al-Zarqawi and Bin laden. He got one from soldiers in Mississippi and the southeast.
American units do not "mutiny." They are well trained, well cared for, highly motivated and loyal to "country, corps and commandant," as Marine Sergeant Major McClintock told me in Viet-Nam. But reservists are slightly different. Reserve/Guard units are truly our neighbors: police and fire fighters working a second job, motivated people in specialized units, ordinary citizens–and voters. Main Street, Middle American types. You can hardly get "more pro-military" than Mississippi.
What went wrong? Beginning in April 2003 I met with many reserve/Guard units throughout Iraq. For many months there has been a growing disconnect between the rhetoric in Washington and the reality in Iraq. Reservists were suffering because prolonged mobilizations devastated their lives at home. Unit morale was undermined even as SecDef Rumsfeld and the president trumpeted our successes. Poor discipline and pre-mutinous actions were excused as "isolated incidents."
Now the ugly truth has arisen, just days before Election Day. Nothing could be worse for the Bush camp.
First, the "Mississippi Mutiny" is a Main Street story. Everyone can identify with angry, frustrated reservists. Almost every state has reservists who have been dumped in Iraq for a dubious mission. Just as soldiers "fight for their platoon buddies, not the military brass," people will be sympathetic to the plight of troops who felt their lives were needlessly endangered.
John Kerry has made an issue of our ill-prepared and ill-supplied forces. Bush has countered that Kerry voted against these supplies. Who wins? My belief is that the Mississippi Mutiny will be devastating to Bush.
I don’t think our Mississippi Mutiny reservists meant to target an improvised explosive device at the Pentagon. But they have fired a shot that will literally be heard around the world.