Duty. Honor. Country. For some, the West Point creed has become a cliché. But for 130,000-plus American soldiers in Iraq, these words mean a great deal.
It's easy for those of us leading comfortable lives at home to forget about those serving in Iraq, the stresses they daily endure, and the horrors they have witnessed. It's also easy to forget that they are volunteers; they chose to leave friends and family behind to defend and preserve our way of life, at the cost of their own lives if necessary.
The value of their commitment cannot be overstated. Neither can the responsibility the commander in chief owes our troops in return, a responsibility never to frivolously squander their commitment, never to put them in harm's way except at utmost need. Unfortunately, George W. Bush has shamefully failed in this responsibility.
Bush first failed the troops when he put them in harm's way despite knowing that the threat from Iraq was practically nonexistent. He then failed to provide them with the tools to succeed: no plan to secure the peace, insufficient body armor, questionable support from Dick Cheney's Halliburton cronies and one-third the number of troops necessary to get the job done. But most shameful of all has been the willingness of Bush and the GOP leadership to use our troops as a tool for political gain.
It is no coincidence that Congress voted on the use of force against Iraq less than a month before the 2002 elections, or that John Kerry's votes on Iraq became the crucial fodder of the 2004 campaign, or that every prominent figure who has openly questioned the conduct of the war found their patriotism called into question. Partisan use of the troops continues again in 2006, with "cut and run" on the tip of every GOP loyalist's tongue heading into November.
To Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and other supporters of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, any action other than "staying the course" is defeatism or appeasement. But it is the war supporters who have surrendered our military might and treasure to the failed neocon notion of world domination through unilateral strength of arms.
They have offered up our volunteer military machine to the sands of Iraq with no understanding of who we are fighting, how we should fight them, and whose support we can expect to have. The Bush administration has left our military twisting in the wind -- both at home and abroad.
Since the occupation began, Iraq has been on a slow, inexorable slide toward civil war; our two top generals in the region recently testified that the current situation in Iraq is the worst it's ever been.
Basic necessities like electricity, oil and drinkable water are harder to come by than they were in Saddam Hussein's time. Kidnappings, roadside bombings and beheadings are daily occurrences. Our troops know that death could come at any time, from IEDs or from insurgents lurking among Iraqi civilians.
As a consequence of the chaos, the killing of innocent Iraqis has become routine. A newly released Marine Corps report shows the United States has lost Iraq's Anbar province.
And when veterans return from Iraq, they learn the harsh reality of how their government has cut and run from its responsibilities to them. They return to fewer health care benefits, pitiful job prospects -- except possibly as private military contractors for more duty in Iraq -- and shattered lives and families.
Despite overwhelming evidence that Iraq's stability has been steadily eroding, Bush has made his intentions clear: He expects our troops to "stay the course" until he leaves office -- nearly three more years.
Hundreds of thousands of our soldiers went to Iraq because of their belief in "Duty, honor, country," and almost 2,700 have given their lives for it. To demand that they remain on an increasingly chaotic and deadly course to serve the political ends of the GOP is a shabby way to honor their sacrifice.
Jerald Albrecht, Prior Lake, is a retired major general of the Army Reserve. Coleen Rowley, Apple Valley, is the Democratic candidate for Congress in Minnesota's Second District.
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