US Obviously Didn't Do All It Could to Protect Troops
Published on Friday, December 17, 2004 by Indianapolis Star
U.S. Obviously Didn't Do All It Could to Protect Troops
by Ken Bode

This past week the headlines in the news fit together like the pieces of a puzzle. Each news story added another dimension to the emerging picture of war policy that is increasingly costly and incompetent.

Start with the centerpiece, the Q & A in Kuwait with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and 2,300 National Guard soldiers soon to be headed to Iraq. Among his fellow troops, Tennessean Thomas Wilson's query about why they had to scrounge through landfills to find armor for their trucks and Humvees was right on the money.

Rumsfeld's reply: "You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time." Those words will certainly be in the first paragraph of his obituary.

For families of National Guard serving in Iraq, Wilson's question came as no surprise. They have been hearing from their sons and daughters about equipment deficiencies since the war began. But the question uncovered the sad fact that less than one-third of the 19,389 Humvees in Iraq are fully armored. Once the insurgency hit, the Army found it needed 35 times the number of armored Humvees than originally planned.

Letters to the editor asked: "Shouldn't they have considered the Army they had before the war?" And: "Did Rumsfeld have nothing to do with planning for the war?"

Rumsfeld also noted that you "can have all the armor in the world" on a vehicle and it still can be blown up. But Wilson's question had a profound result. The Pentagon suddenly announced it found $4.1 billion, immediately earmarked to armor up Humvees.

Then there was the story of the six Ohio reservists who were court marshaled for cannibalizing abandoned Army vehicles in Kuwait. When a convoy is moving, the policy is to abandon any vehicle that would take more than 30 minutes to fix. These soldiers took parts from two abandoned tractor-trailers to fix their own vehicles so they could carry out their mission in Iraq. You might think they would get a commendation for ingenuity. No, they were convicted of theft and destruction of Army property. They got jail for six months. That takes us to those who did get commendations this week. President Bush awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to three of the central architects of the Iraq war.

One went to retired CIA Director George "Slam Dunk" Tenet, who tried but failed to produce intelligence proving that Saddam had WMD, and produced very little about al-Qaida before 9/11.

Another went to Gen. Tommy Franks, who planned for the invasion but failed to plan at all for any insurgency. Then Franks took early retirement while his war was still going on. What general does that?

The final medal was awarded to L. Paul Bremer, who helped feed the insurgency by disbanding the entire Iraqi army, thereby creating hundreds of thousands of armed, unemployed troops who hated the U.S. Well done!

Thus President Bush puts an official stamp of success on a war whose endgame grows more uncertain day by day. The people who know that best are the families of the reservists who drive most of the unarmored trucks and Humvees.

President Bush said, "As I have told many families I met with, we're doing everything we possibly can to protect your loved ones in a mission that is vital and important." In fact, until Wilson's question, we obviously were not.

That brings us to the final headline: "At Bush Inauguration, Lunch Will Set You Back $250,000."

This is a lunch with Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, obviously exclusive to the high tax brackets. There will also be a "Salute To Those Who Serve," with free tickets for the military.

The arithmetic is too tempting. It costs $25,000 to fully armor a Humvee. Each $250,000 lunch ticket could go straight to equipping 10 vehicles, so our reservists and Guards in Iraq won't have to ride around with homemade sandbags on the floor.

Do it, Mr. Bush. Donate your lunch money to the troops.

Ken Bode, a former senior political analyst for CNN, is the Pulliam professor of journalism at DePauw University.

© 2004 Indianapolis Star