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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Bears Repeating: Shrub & Dickhead Using Smiling Soldiers as their (faux patriotic) Backdrops

THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN: Don’t Ask, Don’t Know, Don’t Help

I haven’t kept count, but it seems to me that the number of times I’ve seen President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney give speeches about the Iraq war using smiling soldiers as their backdrops have been, well, countless. You’d think that an administration that has been so quick to exploit soldiers as props — whether it was to declare “Mission Accomplished” on an naval vessel or to silence critics by saying their words might endanger soldiers in battle — would have been equally quick to spare no expense in caring for those injured in the fight.

The squalid living conditions and red tape that have been inflicted on some recovering Iraq war veterans at Walter Reed hospital and elsewhere — which have been spotlighted by The Washington Post — are shocking in their detail, but not surprising. They are one more manifestation — like insufficient troops, postwar planning and armor — of a war that was really important to get right but really hard, which the Bush team thought was really important and would be really easy.

Mr. Bush summoned the country to D-Day and prepared the Army, the military health system, military industries and the American people for the invasion of Grenada.

From the start, the Bush team has tried to keep the Iraq war “off the books” both financially and emotionally. As Larry Diamond of Stanford’s Hoover Institution said to me: “America is not at war. The U.S. Army is at war.” The rest of us are just watching, or just ignoring, while the whole fight is carried on by 150,000 soldiers and their families.

In an interview last Jan. 16, Jim Lehrer asked President Bush why, if the war on terrorism was so overwhelmingly important, he had never asked more Americans “to sacrifice something.” Mr. Bush gave the most unbelievable answer: “Well, you know, I think a lot of people are in this fight. I mean, they sacrifice peace of mind when they see the terrible images of violence on TV every night.”

Sacrifice peace of mind watching TV? What kind of crazy thing is that to say? Leadership is about enabling and inspiring people to contribute in time of war so the enemy has to fight all of us — not insulating the public so the enemy has to fight only a few of us.

If you want to compare President Bush in this regard with Presidents Roosevelt or Wilson, pick up a copy of Robert Hormats’s soon-to-be-published book: “The Price of Liberty: Paying for America’s Wars.”

“In every major war that we have fought, with the exception of Vietnam, there was an effort prior to the war or just after the inception to re-evaluate tax and spending policies and to shift resources from less vital national pursuits to the strategic objective of fighting and winning the war,” said Mr. Hormats, a vice chairman of Goldman Sachs (International). He quotes Roosevelt’s 1942 State of the Union address, when F.D.R. looked Americans in the eye and said: “War costs money. ... That means taxes and bonds and bonds and taxes. It means cutting luxuries and other nonessentials. In a word, it means an ‘all-out’ war by individual effort and family effort in a united country.”

Ever heard Mr. Bush talk that way? After Pearl Harbor, Mr. Hormats noted, Roosevelt vowed to mobilize U.S. industry to produce enough weapons so we would have a “crushing superiority” in arms over our enemies. Four years after the start of the Iraq war, this administration has still not equipped all our soldiers with the armor they need.

As retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton pointed out, last year, because of spending in Iraq, the Army had a $530 million budget shortfall for posts, so facilities got squeezed. If Americans had been asked to pay a small tax to fill that gap, they would have overwhelmingly checked that box. They would have also paid a “Patriot Tax” of 50 cents a gallon to raise the money and diminish our dependence on oil. But no one asked them to do anything other than “sacrifice peace of mind.”

If you want to help and don’t want to wait for the White House bugle, here are some places to start:
  • (1) Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes (www.saluteheroes.org),
  • (2) the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund (www.fallenheroesfund.org),
  • (3) the Fisher Houses (www.fisherhouse.org) and (4) the Walter Reed Society (www.walterreedsociety.org). And
  • (4) one I know personally from my hometown, Minnesotans’ Military Appreciation Fund (www.thankmntroops.org).

We can get just about everything wrong in Iraq, and pretty much have, but we’ve got to take first-class care of those who’ve carried the burden of this war. It’s that simple.


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