Dutch Revolt in Iraq?

As if there weren’t enough troubles already in Iraq, another tribe there is now in revolt. And this is among folks who would ordinarily be among the last you would look to for such trouble, the “good guys,” so to speak. I’m talking here about the 1,350-strong contingent of Dutch soldiers stationed there, and that’s a direct quote from the head of their union, the AFMP, W. van den Burg: they’re in opstand, or “in revolt.” What that means in practical terms? Increasing talk about some sort of “strike action,” whatever that is supposed to look like in the middle of Iraq.

At least the Dutch still have military forces helping out there, as one-by-one other national contingents slip away (the Hungarians being the latest such). After I first came aware of this story and commenced my usual Dutch press-scanning for it, it turned out that most Netherlands dailies have declined to cover it, at least on-line. The exception is Allard Besse, of the Algemeen Dagblad and his article Soldiers in Iraq Grumble Over Money, but quite a good exception it is.

And that seems precisely the problem: money, and what soldiers out in the field in Iraq complain is a kruideniersmentaliteit on the part of the Defense authorities – a “green-grocer’s mentality.” We get quite an informative mini-lesson here in soldier household economics. Dutch troops sent to Iraq get extra payments in two forms: 39 euros per day for what the article terms the “extra workload” – taxable – and 27 dollars (yes, US dollars) per day, untaxed, for expenses. Both of those payments are unsatisfactory, claims the aforementioned Mr. van den Burg of the soldiers’ union. The dollar-amount for expenses hasn’t been adjusted since 1996, back when the greenback was riding high in the world’s currency markets. Now that situation is quite different, of course, and with the dollar’s fall the purchasing-power of that expenses allocation has also fallen.


But those 39 “workload” euros won’t really cut either, and the clue here is to be found precisely in that label: it’s no longer really a matter of “workload” for Dutch troops in Iraq, but rather of being shot at rather often and on rare occasions (so far, thank God) even being killed. In a similar way to those 27 dollars, that rate of 39 euros was set back when the most Dutch troops could look forward to in the way of real “action” was humanitarian operations; now, in the Dutch union-scale compensation calculus, the greater risks run in Iraq should translate into substantially more of a per diem.

Putting the problem into stark relief is the fact alleged several times in the article that Dutch troops actually earn more extra money going on training to Germany or Norway than they do being sent to the rather hostile current environs of Iraq. Besse gains such quotes through going beyond union-head Van den Burg to diligently track down both active military personnel and their wives back home to take an attitude-check. From troops on the ground he gets comments dismissing the combat-pay as a mere “gratuity” that they receive “as hirelings of this government.” From one particular wife back home – whose hubby is in fact a highly-place officer, so naturally she doesn’t want her named used – comes a tale of how the family was promised by the military authorities earnings of around 1,500 euros/month more due to the combat deployment, but somehow has received only about 600/month of that.

But back to huurlingen van deze regering – “hirelings of this government.” One might respond: “Of course you are that – what did you think you were?” Once virtually all European military forces were that, namely back around the Renaissance when cities and states usually found it more convenient to pay others to perform the dirty-work of combat. (Although for some, especially cities, this expedient could come back to bite them as mercenaries actually took over power.) On the other hand, in the 20th century armies were largely drafted, but often motivated via some sort of nationalist ideology. (Actually, this was the innovation contributed by the late 18th-century French Revolution.) To take up for examination the Dutch Army’s most obvious counterpart in Iraq, the US military could be described as all-volunteer, professional (also “hirelings,” if you want), but still largely motivated by a nationalist ideology (namely the 9/11 attacks and the “War on Terror”).

What sort of army delivers better combat power? The answer is probably obvious, apart from the sheer superiority in numbers on the ground of the US Army and Marines. Still, they should watch out for what we could call “creeping Dutchification”: the recent refusal by a transport unit to embark on what its personnel considered a “suicide mission” is one sign of that, coupled with the current strain on the moral of the many National Guard and Reserve personnel in-country who never thought that this is what they were signing up for.

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