President Bush was asked in an interview this week why our military and their families are bearing all the sacrifices of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His response was telling.
The American people are sacrificing, too, Bush said. Their peace of mind is disturbed by the images of carnage they see on their televisions.
His response was lame, but it also was infuriating, and his attempt to switch the focus to how well he thinks our economy is doing was no less galling.
The educator-in-chief said that it's been his view all along that the American people need to keep living their lives without making sacrifices while 25,000 of their sons and daughters have been killed or wounded in combat in the last five years.
He was proud that, unlike every wartime president in our history, he hasn't increased taxes to pay for a war. In fact, he, George W. Bush, not only hasn't raised taxes; he's cut them, leaving his war to be financed by going deeper into debt to China and Japan.
There's no need, he said, to revive some form of mandatory national service so the children and grandchildren of all those Americans living their comfortable lives might make both sacrifices and contributions to the defense and well-being of our country.
Our volunteer military is working just fine, Bush said. It can continue to shoulder the entire weight of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the wars that have ground the Army and the Marine Corps beyond the breaking point.
The new secretary of defense, Robert Gates, began his term by recommending that the permanent strength of the Army and the Marines be increased by nearly 100,000 soldiers, something that could be suggested only after his predecessor, Donald H. Rumsfeld, had been fired.
Rumsfeld, with the backing of Vice President Dick Cheney, was the architect of the idea that 21st-century wars could be won and soldiers replaced by high-tech weaponry. That you can do much more with much less.
Anyone in uniform who suggested otherwise was throwing his career away, as was made amply clear in late February 2003, when then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, under questioning from Sen. Carl Levin, opined that it would take "several hundred thousand" American troops to pacify and occupy Iraq.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz promptly dismissed Shinseki's analysis, which was based on the general's experience as the commander of U.S. forces in Bosnia, as "outlandish." Iraq, Wolfowitz said, would be a lot easier than Afghanistan was because there were no ethnic divisions in Iraq.
A veteran of Vietnam who lost a foot in combat there, Shinseki knew whereof he spoke, which is a lot more than one could say of Wolfowitz, who's never worn a uniform or heard a shot fired in combat. Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and their bosses in the White House made Shinseki's last few months in office a living hell.
At his retirement ceremony, which none of those gentlemen had the common courtesy to attend, the soft-spoken general sounded a warning that they should have heard: Beware of giving a 12-division mission to a 10-division Army.
That, of course, is precisely what Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld did, and the results, four years later, were entirely predictable. In fact, I predicted them right here in a 2003 column headlined: "How to Break a Great Army."
Our troops and our military are now in deep trouble. Many of our soldiers and Marines are now pulling their third or fourth combat tours.
Those tours are being extended beyond the normal 12 months and the troops' time at home for family and training is being reduced from the promised and badly needed 12 months, all in order to man Bush's "surge" or escalation or augmentation in Iraq. And now Defense Secretary Gates has conceded that more troops are needed in Afghanistan, too.
Under the triumvirate of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, little of the trillions spent on defense over the last six years has gone to those who are bearing 95 percent of the burden of the war of necessity in Afghanistan and the war of choice in Iraq. While those wars ground up tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles and helicopters and Humvees by the thousands, without enough money to repair or replace them, new high-tech Air Force planes and Navy ships ate up the Pentagon budget and padded the bottom lines of the big defense contractors/campaign contributors.
Even if the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ended tomorrow, the damage that's been done to our Army and Marine Corps is incalculable, and from past bitter experience after Vietnam, it's a good bet that repairing that damage will take a decade or more and cost trillions.
That means that long after Bush and his deputies have retired to their gated compounds and a $500 million presidential library, we'll be less able to defend our nation in a new era made far deadlier by their disastrous decisions.
Their war-and-peace decisions, warped by arrogance and ignorance, will haunt all of us, and the postponed sacrifices will come due with a vengeance.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Joseph L. Galloway is former senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers and co-author of the national best-seller "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young." Readers may write to him at: P.O. Box 399, Bayside, Texas 78340; e-mail: email@example.com.
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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