Monday, December 13, 2004

Balling the Troops

According to the Washington Post, the Bush inauguration will celebrate his achievements as a War President, presenting George W. Bush as the strong leader serving his nation in a time of peril. Unique to the 2005 festivities will be the Commander in Chief’s Ball, an inaugural ball for troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. No doubt, George will bask in the adulation and applause from the 2,000 invited service members. As he did during his “Mission Accomplished” moment on the Abraham Lincoln, Bush will present himself as the visionary leader who recognizes and honors the sacrifices his decisions require.

The inaugural planners must be thinking of how they can best infuriate me with their celebrations. And they are succeeding mightily. More than anything else, I begrudge George W. Bush his claims to military leadership, largely because he skipped out on Vietnam while I went. That alone isn’t sufficient reason to discredit him as commander in chief but it speaks to me about where Bush’s heart really is. What really discredits him is his willingness to lie and deceive to justify invading Iraq and the disastrously inadequate plan for that invasion. The entire nation now pays dearly for his lies and misjudgments, but the highest costs are on the soldiers that he now celebrates in his inauguration.

No doubt, much of my hostility to Bush comes from his National Guard service at a time when I ended up in the infantry in fear of my life for days on end. I have refrained from judging others’ decisions to serve or not serve during the Vietnam War. That war was a waste and a blight on America. Many Americans knew this at the time; a young man could honorably refuse service based on his opposition to that war. I sure thought about it. But in the end, I went. It was a choice I made because I was unwilling to accept the consequences of resisting. George Bush, like many rich boys, used his family influence to find a safe spot in the National Guard. Had that been the end of it, I would have no real argument with him. But he didn’t even bother to serve out his commitment. That tells me how little respect George Bush really has for America.

Three decades later that same man has launched this nation into a wholly unnecessary war in Iraq. The man who was too irresponsible to meet even his minimal military commitments now squanders American forces in a poorly planned invasion of a nation that posed virtually no threat to the United States. Although US forces performed well in the Iraq invasion, ill informed and fantasy laced planning has cost them dearly in the aftermath of what was billed as a quick and painless (“no casualties”) operation. Americans are now foreign occupiers, attempting to support a political process in a society that they and their political-military leadership barely comprehend. Mounting equipment shortages and deficiencies in a war that has spiraled well beyond anything anticipated (publically, at least) by BushCheney further compounds our difficulty.

Nor does George W. Bush actually support the troops whose sacrifice he demands and then wastes in this ill conceived misadventure. He requested cuts in combat pay as he sent troops into Iraq. Wounded veterans are warehoused in military hospitals around the country, often receiving only minimal care and rehabilitation. National Guard troops, who constitute about 40 percent of American forces and are more likely to be killed or wounded than regular forces, receive no ongoing support or treatment upon discharge.

Yet military personnel, their families and veterans groups somehow continue to believe that George W. Bush respects and supports them. I want to scream “WHY?”, to ask them to tell me how they can believe that this man is good for American or its military when he wastes their patriotism and talent by turning them into foreign occupiers, looking upon the people whom they supposedly liberated with suspicion and hatred. George W. Bush and his administration have bungled the Iraq War at virtually every step of the way, from the false intelligence reports and lies before the invasion, to the looting at the fall of Baghdad, the failed reconstruction dominated by American contractors and, most recently, the destruction of a major city.

In all these actions, George W. Bush has failed miserably as a commander in chief. His war in Iraq not only serves this nation ill; Bush policy creates even more enemies and suicide bombers. As commander in chief, Bush is wasting the skill and competence of our armed forces. Their mission that not only does not serve this nation well, it makes America even less safe. I expect this from a man who was so irresponsible that he failed to meet his National Guard obligation. What surprises me is that he can still find any soldier who will dance with him.