How Many More Will Die to Protect America's Tax Cuts?

Aug 24 2007 Published by under Uncategorized

Most of yesterday's news about Iraq focused - to the extent that today's media can be said to "focus" on anything - on our President's latest inept attempt to explain why we need to keep troops in Iraq, and on the inapt historical comparisons he drew during this predictably incoherent and inarticulate "policy" address. The deaths of fourteen soldiers - ten from Hawaii and four from Ft. Lewis - in a helicopter that crashed while returning from a mission were almost lost in the shuffle, and are only considered to be noteworthy at all because the fourteen died in a single incident. The death of a fifteenth soldier, in Baghdad, was reduced to a footnote.

The ten Schofield Barracks soldiers join the ever-increasing ranks of those who have died because the Bush administration has been reluctant to spend the money needed to fight this war. That might seem to be a bizarre claim, given the trillion or so dollars we've shelled out so far, but it's the honest truth. For all of their talk about "supporting the troops," for all of their willingness to demonize people who don't like the war as being against the troops, for all of their willingness to use people in uniforms as a backdrop for political functions, this administration has consistently done things in the interests of saving a dollar or two that increase the risk to the troops.

Let me be clear here: as angry as I've been in the past about the administration doing petty little things like proposing a pay raise for the military that's under the predicted inflation for the year, that's not what I'm talking about right now. As annoying as it is to see the military get an effective pay cut, particularly given the degree of "support the troops" rhetoric we've had to tolerate from those people, the pay issues are hardly life threatening. It's in other areas where funding decisions have been made that have cost lives.

Let's start with the deaths of the troops from Schofield yesterday. The Hawaii-based units have been deployed for over a year now. They're in the group that was informed via press conference back in April that their tours were being extended from 12 to 15 months. Had they not been extended, they would have been home by now. Why were they extended? Well, it turns out that there aren't enough troops in the Army to keep current troop levels in Iraq without going to a 15-months-out, 12-months-home deployment tempo. Why aren't there enough troops right now? It might have something to do with the way Rumsfeld and his sycophants fought tooth and nail against bipartisan Congressional efforts to increase the size of the military.

Increasing the size of the army wasn't a good idea, they said. You see, it's not an immediate solution to the problem of not having enough troops, as then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Richard Myers pointed out back in 2004:

You can authorize it, even provide the money for it, but it takes you time to recruit, train, and so forth. So it's not an immediate solution to any of the issues that people want to raise right now.

It's 2007 now, of course, and those troops would have been available by now, but I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for this administration to cop to the mistake, much less apologize to the troops for the massive sacrifices that they've been forced to make as a result of this glaring error. After all, we're talking about an administration that has consistently displayed a willingness to admit mistakes that's inversely proportional to their talent for making them.

The time that it takes to train new troops was only part of the reason that the administration fought against the idea. The other reason was money. Building up the force to the point where it can reasonably be expected to meet the demands that are being placed on it costs money, and a lot of it. Myers again, from the same interview:

One of the most expensive things you can do in the department of defense is hire somebody. Sixty percent of our budget is in the personnel line. So with health care, all that ... all those pieces, it's a very expensive solution, and it's not a solution that comes on line right away.

From another article on the same subject, this time from when the issue was raised in 2005:

Says Mr. Goure: [military analyst at the Lexington Institute] "If you confront the military with a choice: Would you rather have a larger, poorly equipped Army or a smaller and well-equipped Army? They would go for the latter every time."

Yes, the military probably would, if those were the only two choices available. Of course, there's always the third option - the expensive option - an army that's both large enough and well-equipped enough to do the job that's being asked of them. That's not an option, because the Bush Administration believes that maintaining their tax cuts is more important than making sure that the military is getting every thing they need, when they need it, to fight the war that the Commander-in-Chief decided they should fight.

The cost-cutting at the expense of the troops isn't something that's restricted to the bad old days before Bush sacrificed Rumsfeld. It's still going on today. The military just announced that not as many of the new mine-resistant vehicles will arrive in the war zone before the end of the year as they had expected. The vehicles will be ready, and they'll be en-route to the war zone, but they won't get there. It's more cost-effective, you see, to send them by ship than by air.

Perhaps I'm being unreasonable, but when we're talking about vehicles that are more likely to allow their passengers to survive IED explosions, I don't see how any reasonable person would think that it's appropriate to ship them more slowly to save money.

I'm outraged by the decision to send up-armored vehicles to Iraq by ship to save money, in large part because I know people who will be going out on patrol in less-armored vehicles in the mean time. I've got a personal connection to the war, and reason to care about it. But not many people share that perspective. It feels - frequently - like the only people at war right now are those in the service. Barry McCaffrey got that exactly right when he testified to the Senate late last month:

No one is actually at war except the Armed Forces, their US civilian contractors, and the CIA. There is only rhetoric and posturing from the rest of our government and the national legislature. Where is the shared sacrifice of 300 million Americans in the wealthiest nation in history? Where is the tax supplement to pay for a $12 billion a month war? Where are the political leaders calling publicly for America's parents and teachers to send their sons and daughters to fight "the long war on terror?" Where is the political energy to increase the size of our Marine Corps and US Army? Where is the willingness of Congress to implement a modern "lend-lease program" to give our Afghan and Iraqi allies the tools of war they need to protect their own people? Where is the mobilization of America's massive industrial capacity to fix the disastrous state of our ground combat military equipment?

Those things - at least the ones that require funding - aren't coming any time soon, because the President thinks that it's unreasonable to ask Americans to open their wallets to fund his war when they're already so traumatized by having to hit the button to change the channel to escape the war news:

Well, you know, I think a lot of people are in this fight. I mean, they sacrifice peace of mind when they see the terrible images of violence on TV every night. I mean, we've got a fantastic economy here in the United States, but yet, when you think about the psychology of the country, it is somewhat down because of this war.

Now, here in Washington when I say, "What do you mean by that?," they say, "Well, why don't you raise their taxes; that'll cause there to be a sacrifice." I strongly oppose that. If that's the kind of sacrifice people are talking about, I'm not for it because raising taxes will hurt this growing economy. And one thing we want during this war on terror is for people to feel like their life's moving on, that they're able to make a living and send their kids to college and put more money on the table.

He won't allow taxes to be raised, and he want's to make the costs of the war look lower than they are to justify that decision. So we'll go on, as we have, putting the troops at increased risk to protect the tax cuts.

7 responses so far

  • robd says:

    Well put.
    I long ago gave up believing the US administration on its words but the acts speak loudly:
    tax cuts are more important than the war in Iraq;
    the war in Iraqis more important than destroying Al Qaida;
    destroying Al Qaida is more important than Justice.

  • Rob Knop says:

    It feels - frequently - like the only people at war right now are those in the service.
    This is why I felt a little queasy about "yay America" cries this last Memorial Day and this last Independence Day.
    America is at war, but you wouldn't know it in the daily lives of any of us.
    We are in a war that has been so horribly mismanaged by the politicians at the top that we've devastated another country beyond any hope of our ability to clean up. Sure, Saddam was bad, but are things better now? I used to think there was hope that something *could* get better if we vastly changed our strategy, but after talking to you, Mike, at the meetup, I'm no longer so sure.
    It's hard to think "yay America" at the moment. This country showed its collective stripes when it re-elected this administration.

  • bigTom says:

    But they want there not to be enough troops. For whenever a shortcoming in the miltary comes up its Clintons fault for cutting the military. In fact I don't think they rejected the higher troop levels to save money, they wanted to spend it on high tech weapons like the F22, so as to enrich their Military Industial Complex supporters.
    I do think shipping heavily armoured vehicles by air has got to be pretty expensive however. Not just in dollars, but fuel, and wear and tear on the air transport fleet, as well as at least a somewhat higher chance of fatal transport accidents.

  • chez jake says:

    Not to mention that they don't want to spend money from the Defense budget on troops, because that would reduce the amount that can be spent on no-bid contracts to their cronies in the defense industry and on "government contractors."

  • Caledonian says:

    I fail to see why we should be beating our breasts over the lack of 'sacrifices' by the American people as a whole during this conflict.
    Consider which contingency is preferrable:
    a) the US military is plunged into an unjustified and pointless conflict that expends billions of dollars and countless human lives to no purpose, drawing Iraq into a sectarian civil war.
    b) the US military is plunged into an unjustified and pointless conflict that expends billions of dollars and countless human lives to no purpose, drawing Iraq into a sectarian civil war and inflicting a terrible price on American society
    It's bad enough the morons in charge, and the morons who put them there, have the power to destabilize and destroy other countries and expend our armed forces like water. Why should we be sorry that they don't also screw up daily life here? We should be thanking our lucky stars they haven't set their minds to doing just that.

  • Metro says:

    @Caledonian
    There are a number of reasons to wish that the American people had had to sacrifice toward the war effort.
    But the most important one is the demonstration of national will and unity of purpose. A service flag, recycling box, and a note reading "We observe all wheatless, meatless, and sweetless days" go further than all the "Support the troops" bumper stickers ever printed.
    And there's the sharing of sacrifice. America's troops voluntarily put themselves at the service of the people. Currently they are directed by poltroons who are not worthy to be their commanders. Nearly four thousand are dead and some multiple of that number will never be the same. And the reception they return to?
    Bureaucratic stupidity and indifference. Penny-pinching and parsimony at military hospitals. Alienated friends and families who went on in pursuit of the house, 2.4 kids, two-car garage, and a dog while they were giving up their lives, limbs, and sanity on the front lines of a war without reason.
    The troops should be getting more in moral support from the nation on whose behalf they are supposedly fighting this war. I'd reccomend a War Tax on gas, to start. But that might cut into the profits of the companies for whom this war was such a godsend.
    Oh, and don't kid yourself that the chickenhaws in the White House haven't already screwed up your daily life. Just wait until their economic chickens come home to roost ...
    Of course, that's really your grand-kids' worry, not yours.
    (Here's a timely comment: http://www.doonesbury.com/strip/dailydose/index.html?uc_full_date=20070826)

  • Troublesome Frog says:

    Caledonian,
    When the people who have the power to make decisions are insulated from the consequences of making bad decisions (or failing to force change when change is necessary), things rarely get any better. On one hand, it's nice that the average Joe isn't royally screwed at the moment. On the other, the average Joe clearly hasn't had sufficient incentive to make sensible decisions over the past several years, and the world has suffered for it.