Wednesday, July 25, 2007

CMC CONWAY: "...Concerned That The Marine Corps' Ethos Was Being Lost."

"Conway said he was concerned that the Marine Corps' ethos was being lost."

U.S. must stay, says Marines chief
By Ron Harris
Monday, Jul. 23 2007

WASHINGTON — The commander of the Marine Corps, whose men and women man the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan, said he fears there is no way to reverse the growing American dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq.

Without a turnaround in public opinion, he said, growing disaffection with the
war is likely to result in the same kind of withdrawal that America saw at the
end of the Vietnam War.

"That's precisely what I can see happening today," said Gen. James T. Conway, "and that troubles me greatly as a military man, because I see victory being handed over to the bad guys, because our public is misinformed to a degree, is not engaged to a degree."

In an interview, Conway, a St. Louis native who late last year became the 34th
commandant of the nation's nearly 175,000 Marines, said he believes that for
now the United States needs to stay in Iraq, where he sees fighting insurgents
there as crucial to protecting the nation's interest.

"We are making progress, incremental progress," said Conway, a graduate of Roosevelt High School and Southeast Missouri State University in Cape
Girardeau. "I truly believe that we are fighting terrorists in Iraq. Al-Qaida
is in Iraq.

"And yet there are those in our country who say, let's pack up and go home,
that it's a civil war. I do not believe it's a civil war. This sectarian
violence is inspired for the most part by these terrorists. It's a tactic that
they use to make it appear as though there is utter chaos.

"If we fold the tent and start to come out before we can claim a level of
success, the bad guy wins. He's got momentum, he's got recruitment strength,
he's got contributions, he's got self-respect."

But polls increasingly show that Americans want out of Iraq. Surveys show they have less faith in President George W. Bush's ability to handle the war or in the basic assumptions around the invasion and reasons for staying there.

Consequently, the prospect of withdrawal sits hard on the horizon, Conway said.

"I've got to be realistic," said Conway. "It concerns me."

Conway said he hoped that at the least, Americans will support a limited
continued involvement in Iraq, such as reducing the American presence to some 40,000 troops, with Americans training Iraqis only while patrolling for
insurgents in the Marine Corps' new, safer Mine Resistant Ambush Protected

"Will Americans support that, I don't know," Conway said. "I would hope so.
That, to me, would be some level of middle ground. I'd rather see something
like that than just getting out."

Marines under strain

Many critics have claimed that the war in Iraq, aside from being ineffective,
is making the United States less safe because it is unnecessarily damaging the abilities of the military.

The war is putting "significant stress" on the Marine Corps in a number of
ways, Conway said. The repeat deployments and the short periods of time between them are increasing mental stress, such as post-traumatic stress syndrome, on the Marines, as well as financial and emotional burdens on their families.

"We've got a lot of young Marines who have deployed two or three times," he
said. "The Marine may say, 'This is what I joined to do,' and the wife may say,
'Well, go do it by yourself.' In that case, we lose good, quality people.
We've got that problem, and the Army's got it."

Additionally, because the Marine Corps is so focused on counterinsurgency,
Conway is concerned that it isn't training for other kinds of warfare. He notes
that the Marine Corps' war fighting capability is dramatically reduced from
what it was before the war started.

"We used to do 10 combined armed training exercises a year, big training
operations," he said. "Now we don't do any. That was our bread and butter. Now,
we're focused on one segment of our capabilities. The other things have fallen by the wayside."

Conway is also concerned about recent accusations of Marine atrocities against civilians and combatants in Iraq and Afghanistan. Marines are accused of killing unarmed civilians as well as prisoners.

The Naval Criminal Investigation Service is looking into a report by former
Marine Cpl. Ryan Weemer, 24, of Hindsboro, Ill., that he and other Marines
executed unarmed prisoners.

Conway said he was concerned that the Marine Corps' ethos was being lost. He has ordered increased focus and training on ethics and battlefield conduct.

"I don't begin to believe that every Marine is guilty of everything that he's
been accused of," Conway said. "But the fact is that our country holds the
Marine Corps up on a pedestal. They don't expect (these kind of incidents) of

"We chip at that base, we chip at that marble every time one of these things
come up. Our countrymen expect more of us. They don't expect us to go and shoot up a bunch of civilians if we get shot at … or slip off in the night and go
murder some guy because we're upset that he gets out of prison."


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