Shafting, Not 'Supporting,' the Troops
Soldiers Face Death in Iraq and Getting Screwed
by GOP Pols at Home
by Bill Berkowitz
July 31, 2003
The Bush Administration is giving new meaning to the phrase "support the troops."
A few weeks back President Bush arguably placed the troops stationed in Iraq in even greater harm's way by uttering his now infamous "Bring them on!" comment when asked about the increasing attacks and mounting US casualties. Shortly after his comment, Army Times posed this question to its readers: "What do you think about the 'bring them on' challenge President Bush issued July 2 from the White House, referring to those who attack U.S. troops in Iraq?" Nearly sixty percent agreed with the statement, "It was irresponsible and unnecessarily placed the lives of U.S. troops in even greater danger." Nearly 40 percent said that "It showed U.S. resolve and confidence in troops to finish the job in Iraq." (Poll results as of July 23, 2003)
On July 23rd, after experiencing a week of anger and criticism from some of the troops in Iraq and their families at home, the Pentagon finally announced a troop-rotation plan. The "long-awaited" plan is aimed at relieving "the weary military personnel in Iraq with fresh American and international troops in the coming months, with most U.S. soldiers facing yearlong deployments," Reuters reported.
A new Army brigade (about 5,000 troops) "built around the high-tech 'Stryker' armored vehicle" will be sent and the plan "also calls for activating thousands more Army National Guard soldiers," according to Reuters. Acting Army Chief of Staff Gen. Jack Keane told a Pentagon briefing that the replacements are likely to face one-year deployments.
Eight days before, thousands of soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division learned that they wouldn't be heading home anytime soon. Stepped up attacks against occupation forces and the refusal by other countries to send troops to the country caused division commander Maj. Gen. Buford C. Blount III to revise his estimate as to when the troops would be reunited with their families, AP reported. This reversal by Maj. Gen. Blount happened just days after he said "he hoped the division's 1st and 2nd Brigade Combat Teams of roughly 9,000 soldiers could return home to Fort Stewart within the next six weeks."
The 3rd Infantry Division -- which spearheaded the attack on Baghdad -- sent 16,500 troops to Iraq and thus far has suffered some 36 deaths -- more than any other unit in Iraq. "The units have been ordered to stay 'due to the uncertainty of the situation in Iraq and the recent increase in attacks on the coalition forces,'" Blount informed the families of the troops in an e-mail message that had been obtained by The Associated Press.
The troops in Iraq are suffering "from low morale that has in some cases hit 'rock bottom,'" the Christian Science Monitor recently reported. And last week, several soldiers vented their frustration to U.S. television news reporters. "If Donald Rumsfeld were here, I'd ask him for his resignation," one disgruntled soldier told ABC's "Good Morning America" show, Reuters reported. ''It pretty much makes me lose faith in the Army,'' Pfc. Jason Punyhotra of the 3rd Infantry told ABC News in Fallujah, Iraq. ''I don't really believe anything they tell me. If they told me we were leaving next week, I wouldn't believe them.''
"I've got my own 'Most Wanted' list," a sergeant at the 2nd Battle Combat Team Headquarters referring to the Administration deck of most wanted Iraqis, told ABC News' Jeffrey Kofman. "The aces in my deck are Paul Bremer, Donald Rumsfeld, George Bush and Paul Wolfowitz," he said.
Going public with these comments quickly became a story within a story. In a classic attempt to kill the messenger, a White House official allegedly passed along information to Matt Drudge, of the very popular online Drudge Report, that reporter Kofman is not only gay, but he is also a Canadian.
One officer later told the San Francisco Chronicle's Robert Collier "It was the end of the world. It went all the way up to President Bush and back down again on top of us. At least six of us here will lose our careers."
While the dangerous and difficult conditions in Iraq, combined with the unforeseen extension of their tour of duty fueled flagging morale, a recent editorial in Army Times shed light on a series of homeland developments that may add more fuel to that fire.
According to Army Times, proposals that would have added "various pay-and-benefits incentives to the 2004 defense budget" are now considered "wasteful and unnecessary" by the Republican-controlled Congress.
The June 30th Army Times editorial said the troops were getting the "nickel-and-dime treatment" from the Republican-controlled Congress. Some might call it getting the shaft.
According to Army Times, the GOP-controlled Congress has:
* Canceled a "modest proposal" to increase the benefit from $6,000 to $12,000 to families of soldiers who die on active duty;
* "Roll[ed] back recent modest increases in monthly imminent-danger pay (from $225 to $150) and family-separation allowance (from $250 to $100) for troops getting shot at in combat zones";
* Refused to consider "military tax relief... that would be a boon to military homeowners, reservists who travel long distances for training and parents deployed to combat zones, among others";
* Passed pay raises for "some [higher] ranks," but "cap[ped] raises for E-1s, E-2s and O-1s at 2 percent, well below the average raise of 4.1 percent";
* Accepted a $1.5 billion cut in the military construction request for 2004: A proposal by Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, to restore $1 billion of the $1.5 billion cut by "cover[ing] that cost by trimming recent tax cuts for the roughly 200,000 Americans who earn more than $1 million a year... [who would receive $83,500] instead of... $88,300," was defeated.
Army Times: "Taken piecemeal, all these corner-cutting moves might be viewed as mere flesh wounds. But even flesh wounds are fatal if you suffer enough of them. It adds up to a troubling pattern that eventually will hurt morale -- especially if the current breakneck operations tempo also rolls on unchecked and the tense situations in Iraq and Afghanistan do not ease."
The chickenhawks running the show at the White House should be embarrassed by their support for these measures. The media needs to ask why the troops are receiving this shabby treatment. And, with so little financial support for their families, it's not surprising that the death and destruction the soldiers experience on foreign soil frequently follow them home. America's politicos are always at the head of the pack when it comes to waving the flag, wearing the lapel pins, putting up the yellow ribbons and mouthing empty slogans. As Army Times pointed out: "Talk is cheap -- and getting cheaper by the day."
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange.com column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.