There were indeed worrisome signs of trouble in the U.S. military in Iraq in the fall and winter of 2003-4. During the fall the Bush administration launched an antimedia campaign that argued that the situation was better than journalists were portraying it. Troop morale was good, President Bush said in early October, and life in Iraq is "a lot better than you probably think. Just ask people who have been there."
A few days later Stars & Stripes, the military's own newspaper, did just that. The Pentagon-managed publication displayed unusual journalistic courage by coming back at the commander in chief with the results of its survey of U.S. troops then in Iraq Using its embedded reporters to distribute questionnaires to 1,935 troops at several dozen U.S. bases in Iraq, Stars & Stripes found that 49 percent of those responding described their unit's morale as low. Many soldiers also described the training as insufficient.
A subsequent, more scientific survey by the Army's own experts from Walter Reed hospital confirmed those findings. There was widespread unhappiness among soldiers in Iraq, especially the National Guard and Reserve units.
© 2006, Thomas E. Ricks. All rights reserved.