If there is one thing Democrats should have learned from Karl
Rove during this year’s election, it is the value of relentlessly
attacking — day in and day out — your opponent’s perceived
Well, from now until Congress is asked in January to vote on the
next $80 billion the president wants for the war in Iraq, not a day
should go by without Democrats shouting from the rooftops that the
White House is shamefully betraying the very troops it so
vociferously claims to be supporting.
Last week, one brave soldier’s question opened the door on this
scandalous subject. Now it’s up to Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi — and
all citizen-activists who have learned what a difference they can
make — to kick the door in, and force the media to spend some of the
precious oxygen consumed by Scott Peterson’s sentencing and Bernie
Kerik’s nanny on the dangerous mess in Iraq, with first on the list
the deplorable treatment of the young men and women we’ve sent
Some, like Sen. Joe Biden, have begun making the case. “This was
a war of choice, not necessity,” said Biden last week. “Why is it
that, 20 months after Saddam’s statue fell, our troops still don’t
have the protection they need?” He’s right, but these kinds of
pointed attacks have been scattershot. To really make a difference,
the loyal opposition desperately needs to mount a concerted and
impassioned assault on Bush’s bankrupt Iraq policy.
And the ammunition at its disposal is devastating.
For starters, as Army Spc. Thomas Wilson pointed out to the
shockingly-still-in-office secretary of defense, our troops continue
to have their lives put in jeopardy due to a lack of properly
armored vehicles. Indeed, half of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq might
still be alive if these basic tools of a modern Army were
Let me repeat that: half of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq might
still be alive if only our troops had been properly equipped. What’s
more, one of the companies that makes the protective plates for the
Humvees used in Iraq said last week that it could easily have
increased its output — if only the Pentagon had asked. Remember how
often on the campaign trail the president trotted out his sure-fire
applause line, promising, “I’ll make sure our troops have the best.
They deserve the best”? Maybe he was referring to the quality of
Then there is the deceitful way his administration continues to
underreport the number of injured and ill soldiers, leaving as many
as 15,000 off the Pentagon’s official casualty count because their
wounds — including spinal injuries, bone fractures, heart problems
and mental disorders — were not the result of enemy fire. Eighty
percent of these soldiers were injured so severely that they never
returned to their units — but, to the Pentagon, they are not even
As for the injuries they are willing to tally, the
numbers tell a chilling tale of suffering. For instance, American
soldiers in Iraq are having their limbs amputated at double the rate
of previous wars, while Army suicide rates are soaring, up 40
percent in the past year.
Some of the latter can, no doubt, be traced to the lack of a
clear purpose guiding our troops. “That,” says Iraq war vet and
Operation Truth founder Paul Rieckhoff, “is the most basic tool a
soldier needs on the battlefield — a reason to be there.” And it
can’t help morale to have the administration repeatedly invoking
stop-loss orders (many just in time for the holidays) and turning
decades of Pentagon policy on its ear by calling on troops to serve
multiple tours of duty overseas.
The situation doesn’t get much brighter once the troops finally
make it home. Twenty percent of the nearly 28,000 Iraq war vets who
have sought help from the Veterans Administration were diagnosed
with a mental disorder, including major depression, anxiety
disorders, panic attacks, emotional numbness and violent outbursts.
And, stunningly, Iraq war vets are already starting to turn up at
our nation’s homeless shelters, the first drops of what homeless-vet
advocates fear could become a deluge.
The rotten cherry on top of this disgusting sundae? Reports that
wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital are asking for donations
because the government refuses to pay for their long-distance phone
calls. Feel like talking to your loved ones while you recover from a
wound you received fighting for your country? Not unless you can get
someone to give you a handout. That is, if you still have a hand to
put out. Yet here was Rummy claiming: “We’re focused on the power of
saying ‘thank you’ to people. And not just ‘thank you’ to the
troops, but also their families.” As long as it’s a local call.
The time has come to stop being cowed by accusations that
criticizing the war is the same as criticizing the troops and to
start speaking the truth: Tens of thousands of young American men
and women are having their lives destroyed because of the Bush
administration’s willful negligence.
As Sen. Biden said, this was a war of choice — and the president
chose to wage it before our forces were properly equipped for
battle. Convinced that the people of Iraq would, in the words of
Paul Wolfowitz, “greet us as liberators," the administration wildly
miscalculated. The original war plan estimated that we’d have as few
as 50,000 troops in Iraq by the end of 2003. Instead, as we head
into 2005, the White House is pushing troop levels to 150,000 — the
highest since the invasion.
All because the president refuses to course-correct. Which is,
after all, the only reason Rumsfeld still has a job. Iraq is Bush’s
signature offering to the world — and firing Rummy would be like
McDonald’s deciding to pull the Big Mac off its menu.
Instead, the president continues to operate in a fog of denial,
serving up rosy assessments of the mayhem he has unleashed. Just
last week he held fast to the notion that the Iraqi insurgency is
the result of “the few people in Iraq that are trying to stop the
march toward democracy.” Even the Pentagon puts the number of
insurgents at 20,000, while the British military estimates that it’s
closer to 40,000 or 50,000 (and that’s on top of the 24,000 Iraqi
rebels who have already been captured or killed). I guess it depends
on what your definition of “few” is.
For a more clear-eyed judgment on Iraq, I suggest the president
turn away from the mirror and the small circle of yes men and women
he surrounds himself with and listen to Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel.
“We were unprepared for what we are facing in a post-Saddam Iraq,”
said Hagel. “But too many of our leaders in this administration were
going around the country reassuring Americans our troops had
everything they wanted. Certainly the Congress was passing a lot of
money to make sure they had everything they wanted.”
So where exactly has the $150 billion we’ve already spent in Iraq
gone — if not to “make sure our troops have the best”? It’s a
question that Democrats in Congress should demand an answer to
before they rubber-stamp an additional $80 billion for Iraq right
after the president is sworn in for his second term.
The loyal opposition needs to finally start opposing this
administration’s most catastrophic failure — and make it clear that
standing up to its delusions and incompetence is standing
up for the truth.
© 2004 Christabella, Inc.