Once again, Congress and the President have shown how they ‘support the troops.’ Congress defeated a bill, proposed by Sens. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) and Jim Webb (D- VA) and opposed by Mr. Bush, that would have guaranteed that soldiers between ‘tours’ of duty in Iraq would spend at least as much time home as they spent in that country. The Pentagon said this would have cause havoc with their military planning.
Not enough members of Congress considered how much havoc these repeated deployments with only short-term intervals have on the soldiers and their families. As Lt. Col. Len Gratteri said not long ago, soldiers are only ‘deployable assets,’ similar, one must suppose, to tanks and rocket launchers. The Pentagon apparently gives soldiers the same consideration it gives to those inanimate objects.
It must be remembered that ‘support the troops’ is the mantra behind which U.S. politicians hide when they do not have the spine to end funding for the war. For some inexplicable reason, ‘support the troops’ has come to have a rather bizarre meaning.
‘Support,’ as defined by the American Heritage dictionary, has several meanings, including ‘to provide for or maintain, by supplying with money or necessities.’ Let us look at how Mr. Bush and the illustrious members of Congress have supplied ‘money or necessities’ for U.S. soldiers struggling to accomplish whatever it is they are supposed to accomplish in Iraq.
Vehicle armor. As Mr. Bush rushed headlong into war, not allowing the inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to complete their work looking for those illusive and non-existent weapons of mass destruction, he did not seem to provide soldiers with necessities. In December of 2004, Army Spc. Thomas Wilson brought this to light during a question and answer session with the incompetent and arrogant Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. Said Mr. Wilson: “Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?” Why indeed? Mr. Bush was so anxious to begin his murderous oil grab that he could not even wait until such vehicle armor was provided.
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Body armor. Because the government fails to provide protective armor for many soldiers, they and their families purchase it from their own funds. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) authored legislation requiring adequate body protection, and reimbursement up to $1,100.00 for individuals who had to purchase their own. In a February 17, 2006 letter to then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Mr. Dodd accuses the Defense Department of not publicizing the reimbursement program adequately; of requiring soldiers to surrender their equipment in order to get the refund, and of generally continuing to withhold body armor from the soldiers. Mr. Dodd cites a Marine Corps study which indicates that 80% of U.S. deaths resulting from torso injuries could have been avoided if soldiers had adequate body armor.
Mine Resistant Ambush Protective (MRAP) vehicles. These are vehicles so safe that the Pentagon reports that no soldiers have been killed when riding in them. One might think that these vehicles would, therefore, be all over Iraq; with 160,000 soldiers to protect, MRAPs appear to be an excellent transportation option. However, that is not the case. Initially 3,900 were promised for delivery to Iraq by the end of the year; it is now estimated that only 1,500 will actually arrive. Part of the reason for this is that the Pentagon, seeking to save money, will not ship them quickly by air as was previously done; they will go by sea, which takes much longer but saves untold amounts of money. That some lives will be lost as a result does not appear to be important; soldiers, one must recall, are simply ‘deployable assets,’ and shipping them to Iraq is a lot cheaper than shipping MRAPs, another deployable asset.
Medical attention. The hue and cry that erupted early in the year, when conditions at the Walter Reed Medical Center were first exposed, has now dwindled into silence. The fact that some of the most severely injured soldiers were languishing in roach and rodent infested rooms, the walls covered in black mold, horrified the world. That these same injured soldiers were often left for weeks with no major attention and that their records were sometimes lost, did not appear to be the best way of fulfilling Mr. Bush’s lofty words, uttered at the medical center just two short months prior to the exposure of these conditions: “We owe them all we can give them. Not only for when they're in harm's way, but when they come home to help them adjust if they have wounds, or help them adjust after their time in service.” Within days a few coats of paint had been slapped against the walls, and vacuum cleaners and brooms had cleaned the mouse droppings sufficiently for a photo op. And then silence, as Congress seemed to think the public was now sufficiently satisfied to move on to something else.
Negotiations. Shortly after Mr. Bush’s arrogant ‘Mission Accomplished’ speech in May of 2003, he said the following: “There are some who feel like that the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is bring them on.” And the people of Iraq accepted his challenge, causing the deaths of nearly 4,000 U.S. soldiers.One might think that Mr. Bush would have, rather than inviting Iraqis to kill Americans (it must be recalled that his stated reason for invading Iraq was to prevent Americans from being killed), worked to prevent that from occurring. Negotiating with the various factions opposing the U.S. occupation, or with Iraq’s jittery neighbors, might have been a constructive first start.
Yet as late as December of 2006, the U.S. was still resisting any negotiations to end the war. The bipartisan Iraq Study Panel recommended negotiations with Syria and Iran. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice dismissed any such notion, saying that those countries might make unreasonable demands and anyway, peace in Iraq was in their best interests so they should need no additional incentive to work toward stability there. Does Ms. Rice feel that peace and stability in Iraq is not in the U.S.’s best interests? If it is, should not the U.S. do all within its power, including negotiations, to achieve it? That some negotiations have since begun is a positive sign, but perhaps the only one, and begun five years too late.
It will long remain an enigma how Mr. Bush convinced Congress that supporting the troops means starting a civil war, dropping them into the middle of it without the necessary tools to protect themselves, encouraging the citizens of the nation in the midst of the civil war to attack them, and then neglecting them when they return to the U.S. with injuries. It is even more astounding that the American public allows such a travesty to continue. But Mr. Bush and the willing cohorts within his administration and Congress prefer sound bytes to substance, and machismo to leadership.
At campaign time, some organization or other will rank members of Congress on how well they ‘support the troops,’ by considering their votes on such things as Hagel-Webb legislation. In the convoluted world of U.S. politics a ‘nay’ vote will be seen as supporting the troops. Those members of Congress who voted ‘nay’ will be able to proclaim that they have a solid record of ‘supporting the troops,’ as defined by the incomprehensible logic of Mr. Bush. And while Mr. Bush works on clever phrases (‘axis of evil,’ ‘cauldron of chaos’), and members of Congress dance around trying to explain votes endorsing the war originally or funding it continually, the blood of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi citizens continues to flow through Iraq’s streets.
The grief of surviving loved ones sears unabated, and anger and rage towards the U.S. increases. Money that could provide medical care to U.S. children is instead used to fund the killing Iraqi children. And any legitimate reason for the U.S. invasion of Iraq has never been given, Mr. Bush’s lies have never been addressed, and the continued participation of U.S. soldiers in Iraq’s civil war only worsen the situation there. Time alone will reveal how many more people will die, and what the consequences of this imperial disaster will be for the United States. One cannot consider it with any sense of optimism.
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