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.