Bush's Awful Mess

I've served in Iraq, and that's why I can't vote for this president again

By Andrew Borene as told to Steve Perry

I'm a Minnesota guy, born and raised. I'm from Edina; I went to the Blake School in Minneapolis; I was the captain of the Macalester football team. After I graduated from Mac in '98, I spent a couple of years working for Norwest and Wells Fargo as an investment banker. I started law school at the University of Minnesota in the year 2000 and after about two months dropped out and enlisted in the Marine Corps. I was going to become a JAG attorney. But after I got bit by the bug to learn a little bit more about the Marine Corps, I decided I wanted to be a ground officer and go around the world with guns rather than deliver legal briefs in a courtroom.

I ended up as an intelligence officer with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. I was an intelligence collections officer, one of several, with the 1st Marine Division, which is the infantry unit of the expeditionary force. Personally, most of my work in intelligence was done during the buildup to the invasion of Iraq, here in the United States. I deployed to the Middle East in February of 2003. I was in Kuwait; I crossed over to Iraq the night the invasion began. Made it as far north as the north side of Baghdad, drove into Baghdad the day that Saddam's statue fell down. I basically was there for the events of the invasion and the fall of the regime.

Just after President Bush declared "Mission Accomplished" and the end of major combat operations, I was sent home because it looked like things were going to settle down, and my wife was pregnant and had some pregnancy issues. That was pretty much the end of my combat phase of the war, but the war was not over for me at that time. When I came back, I was still serving as an intelligence officer. My job was to support the troops in Iraq by putting together a lot of reporting from agencies and assets, and helping in an intelligence capacity through the computer and by communicating with the troops on the ground. It was also my job to call families when there were casualties--not deaths but injuries. That is a story that hasn't really been reported. You don't see those numbers. But there are now over 10,000 young Americans whose lives are forever changed by the injuries sustained there.

When I left Iraq, fully two-thirds of the Iraqi people supported our occupation of Iraq and wanted us there. Also at that time, the 1st Marine Division, the unit I'd been part of, did occupation duty in southern Iraq for four months, in what are now lawless areas where al-Sadr is. But during that four months, no Marines were killed in action. That's an important thing to note: What happened in Iraq to cause the Iraqi people to suddenly swing to--the last poll I saw said over 80 percent of the Iraqi people want the occupation forces gone tomorrow. And they see the coalition as actually creating more chaos and more insecurity in their country. For me personally, I fully supported President Bush, I fully supported the invasion of Iraq. I still support the liberation of the Iraqi people, but I came around to support John Kerry when I realized that this administration has erred time and time again. Even in the pursuit of their own end of a free Iraq, they're incompetently carrying out the plan.

I started to get doubts as I drove south from Baghdad into southern Iraq where we were going to do occupation duty. The Army forces were coming north at the time. At the time we drove into Baghdad, people were literally hugging and kissing the Marines. We had Marines wearing soft-covers instead of helmets. It was a very permissive environment at the time. I'm not going to say it was safe, but I will say that the Iraqi people genuinely appreciated us. The joy that we felt doing that, I've got to think it's only akin to what the WWII vets marching into Paris felt on the day that they liberated France.

But as we were driving south, there was a Shi'ite pilgrimage going on at the same time. It hadn't happened in over 20 years because of Saddam, but they actually got to exercise their religious freedom. As our Marines were driving south past these Shi'ite people waving and smiling, the Army was driving north, as I said. I expected to see construction equipment, or water, or supplies. Instead what I saw were combat troops--tanks moving up the highway. They had dismounted infantry along the side pushing Iraqi people off to the edge of the highway. It was at that time I started to have some doubts about how the occupation was going to go if we.... There was a window of opportunity where the Iraqi people genuinely wanted assistance, and we could have exploited that opportunity and used it to the advantage of the Iraqi people and of the U.S. forces in Iraq.

Unfortunately, the reconstruction funds were never spent. If you just look at the record, I think it was $18 billion appropriated by Congress for reconstruction, of which this administration only spent 5 percent. They spent more than seven times that much money on non-bid contracts to Halliburton. And this is the kind of stuff that got me upset. I think the final screw for me was...there's a Marine general named Anthony Zinni. He wrote a book called Battle Ready with Tom Clancy, who obviously has a following in conservative circles. I read that book, and then General Zinni came and gave a lecture to the Marine officers at Camp Pendleton where I was stationed in which he made a rather scathing indictment of the incompetence with which the White House was essentially interfering with commanders on the ground.

The thing that General Zinni was talking about was that the White House had appointed spokesmen. I don't know if you recall the press conferences from Baghdad, but there was a guy [from the administration] at every press conference. They spent more time on the information campaign, on deceiving the American people about what was happening in Iraq, than they did on actually trying to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. That's a problem. General Zinni is one of the generals who spoke out and said, Hey, you need more troops for the occupation. And you need better plans for the stability operations after the invasion.

Because everybody knew the invasion was going to go very well, even with the limited number of troops. However, any of the generals who dissented--like Shinseki, he got basically relieved. If you look at what happened yesterday, where it looks like even Bremer on the day he got there said he wanted more troops on the ground, and that what we had was not sufficient to stop the looting. The bottom line is that, even though the argument about weapons of mass destruction and terrorist proliferation was fabricated, the underlying argument, the principle that a free Iraq would be better for the war on terror, still holds true. But you can't even get that done.

And frankly, myself, I have the opportunity to speak out because I'm kind of an odd case. I got back from Iraq completely in one piece and healthy, and was selected to play rugby for the All-Marine Corps rugby team. And I blew out my knee and had reconstructive surgery and got a medical discharge from the Marine Corps on August 15. On August 16 I walked into Kerry headquarters and asked them how I could help out, because I've followed the issues very closely, and Senator Kerry laid out a plan long ago to double the size of the special forces, to increase funding for intelligence personnel and operations, and that's the kind of thing we need to do. It's just common sense. Where do terrorists live? How do they get trained? They get trained in little camps. Or they're a couple of guys in an apartment building. Prior to 9/11, many of them were in Hamburg before the attack happened.

How do you get them? You use special forces, you use intelligence operations, you find a couple of them and drop some black helicopters and guys in black pajamas, and you whack them. And that's the kind of operation we need to launch. This sideshow in Iraq where we send 150,000 teenagers without enough equipment to manage the occupation, and without the kind of international support we needed for that battle on the Iraqi front, it really detracted from our ability globally to stop the spread of terror.

Another issue I had is, in the last 12 months, $3 to $4 billion worth of heroin has been exported from Afghanistan. So that $3 to $4 billion, that's illicit drugs, that's illicit money. And who does that money go back to? It goes back to the former Taliban warlords; it goes back to the people who generated the very first terrorist strike on America anyway.

And that $3 to $4 billion worth of heroin, how does it get exported? It gets exported through clandestine shipping networks--the same kind of clandestine shipping networks that one would need to smuggle weapons of mass destruction. So the bottom line for me is, America is less safe because of the way this administration has prosecuted the war on terror. Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards have laid out real structural plans. They want to add two active duty divisions to the armed forces. They want to double special forces. And they want to rely on the 9/11 Commission, which is something the administration opposed in the first place, to look into those failings and ask how we can make America better.

I guess I used to be what they call "Republican in name only." Kind of a Ramstad Republican, you know--socially liberal and fiscally conservative. Unfortunately, the issues in this election are just too big for that.

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