Supporting Our Troops? The Defense Secretary We Have

December 19th, 2004 - by admin

US Representative Lynn Woolsey / San Francisco Chronicle – 2004-12-19 22:47:47

SAN FRANCISCO (December 17, 2004) — Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has finally gone too far. Confronted last week by a Guardsman who described soldiers rummaging through landfills for protective metal for their vehicles, Rumsfeld’s cavalier reply was unconscionable: “As you know, you go to war with the Army you have … not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”

As if Rumsfeld were dealt a poor hand and had no choice but to play it. Whose Army is this if not Rumsfeld’s and George W. Bush’s? They chose this war and its timing. For Rumsfeld to claim that we were caught flat-footed, forced to march into Baghdad without time to get our act together and assemble “the Army you want” is beyond disingenuous.

On the other hand, maybe we were caught flat-footed, thanks to the scandalous incompetence of Rumsfeld and the war planners. This was, after all, the team that believed in “Mission Accomplished” and pooh-poohed warnings of a ruthless insurgency. This was the team that told us grateful Iraqis in tears would be tossing flowers at our soldiers’ feet. If conservative columnist Pat Robertson is to be believed, President Bush himself did not even think there would be any US casualties. Under this fantasy scenario, you wouldn’t need a whole lot of protective armor.

How Little They Knew or Cared
But this only shows how little they knew or cared, and it certainly doesn’t let them off the hook. The magnitude of the war has been apparent for some time. Even if we were low on armored metal in the summer of 2003, has no one seen fit to do something about it in the subsequent year and a half? It’s not as if Congress hasn’t responded each time the Bush administration has rattled its tin cup for Iraq funds. We have provided more than enough resources for Rumsfeld to build the Army he wants.

It’s a question of will and priorities. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that this is the Army they want — one whose front-line personnel are forced to wait in line for lifesaving safety equipment (in some cases paying for it out of their own pockets) because a missile defense shield and no-bid Halliburton contracts had to come first.

The Architects of War Have Failed to Support the Troops
Progressives have been unfairly badgered about how we can oppose the Iraq war and still support the troops. We have consistently pushed for better protection for our troops and their families as well as support when they return home. Now it turns out that, in the most literal way imaginable, the architects of this war have themselves failed to support the troops. “Support the troops,” coming from Rumsfeld and company, appears to be nothing more than demagoguery.

Rumsfeld also defended the government’s armored-vehicle negligence by arguing that it was logistically impossible to meet the need. But after the Pentagon’s only armored Humvee supplier contradicted Rumsfeld by saying it was ready and prepared to increase production, the Army finally increased its order. Still, they have a lot of catching up to do. According to Time Magazine, the Army needs 35 times more of these vehicles than were written into the Iraq war plan. Young Americans are needlessly dying for this mistake.

If Rumsfeld Stays, How Bad Must the Other Cabinet Members Have Been?
And despite all this, Secretary Rumsfeld is one of only a handful of Cabinet members whom the President has asked to stay. It makes you wonder: How bad were the secretaries who were allowed to leave?

We can only hope that the protective-armor problem will now be adequately addressed. It remains to be seen whether a president who played flight-suit dress-up for a photo op truly grasps the serious matter of our soldiers’ true outfitting needs.

It’s time that the men and women risking their lives in Iraq were given the respect they deserve. Not another dollar should be spent on antiquated Cold War weapons systems until every soldier has the very best in safety gear. And we should be looking at other innovative ways to armor our troops.

Eliminating the tax loophole that allows Americans to write off the purchase of a Humvee would be a good start, with the money being diverted to our soldiers in the field. On American highways, Humvees are nothing but material trophies, despoiling the environment and providing their owners with a tax break. In Iraq where Humvees are critical, the government has yet to find a way to properly outfit the vehicles. Is there a better example of bad public policy?

Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, represents Marin and Sonoma counties in Congress.

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