Bush's War Against the Military
by Craig Aaron
In These Times magazine, November
George W. Bush so often invokes his nominal
title of "commander in chief" at veterans' rallies,
on military bases and during presidential debates that he now
appears like some latter-day caudillo. But his claims to be a
commander of any kind in any serious way are a figment of his
Discounting that he sent American troops
into Iraq on false pretenses, a real commander would fight for
the welfare of his troops. But Bush has demonstrated a consistent
unwillingness to do so, and as a result many high-ranking officers
have endorsed Kerry, including retired Navy Adm. William Crowe
and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. John
Bush has failed the military on almost
every level. While Halliburton and Boeing went to the bank this
year with about sio billion each, undermanned U.S. forces went
into Iraq without armored vests and driving unarmored vehicles.
The fatal results were hidden from public view as the dead were
secreted home and the Department of Defense (DOD) obscured and
juggled the numbers of maimed and wounded.
Once back in the United States, veterans
found no federal welcome mat laid out for them. By April this
year, one in six veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan had filed benefits
claims with the Veterans Administration for service-related disabilities.
These figures do not include those troops still serving and are
twice the number the DOD Web site says suffered "Non-Mortal
Wounds" in those conflicts. Today, onethird of those claims,
almost 10,000, have yet to be processed. Further, Bush's 2005
budget will cut 540 staff members of the Veterans Benefit Administration,
which is the office that handles the claims. The outreach department
that lets vets know of available services also was instructed
in a 2002 memo by a deputy undersecretary in the Veterans Health
Administration to run in silent mode to flush out people who had
not made claims out of ignorance.
Even if the war wounded succeed in getting
disability pay, in 2003 Bush threatened to veto a bill that allowed
veterans to collect disability pay and pensions simultaneously.
In 2003, his administration also tried
to cut combat pay from $225 to $iso a month and the family separation
allowance from $250 to $100. And most callously of all, the frat
brat who ducked a war that killed 48,000 American troops threatened
to veto a proposal to double the $6,000 payment to relatives of
soldiers killed in action.
That is typical of the way in which President
Bush, who loves to dress up in uniform, treats those who actually
wear one. As a June 30, 2003, Army Times editorial concluded:
"President Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress have
missed no opportunity to heap richly deserved praise on the military.
But talk is cheap and getting cheaper by the day, judging by the
nickel-and-dime treatment the troops are getting lately:'
In his ghostwritten 1999 biography A Charge
to Keep, an indignant Bush wrote:
"Nearly twelve thousand members
of the armed forces are on food stamps. I support increased pay
and better benefits and training for our citizen solders. A volunteer
military has only two paths. It can lower its standards to fill
its ranks. Or it can inspire the best and brightest to join and
stay:' Despite four years to do something about it, more than
250,000 military families did not get Bush's much-vaunted child
tax credit because their breadwinner earned less than $26,000
a year. And in his 2005 budget, Bush proposes only that combat
pay not count toward eligibility for food stamps-for which no
less than 25,000 military families are eligible.
The US. Army pay scale is about half that
of the British, which is why there is a major crisis in military
recruitment. Senior officers talk about a "serious crisis"
in recruitment for the regular forces. In addition, the Iraq war
has put heavy demands on reservists and guard units. For the first
time in 10 years, the guard failed to meet its recruitment target.
In one Indiana unit, for instance, the reenlistment rate has dropped
from 8 percent to 32 percent.
You would think that the Bush administration
would be solicitous of the foot soldiers who carry out its imperial
ambitions. But this administration is militaristic, not pro-military.
Most of its members sedulously avoided combat and uniformed service
of any kind in previous wars and most current enlisted personnel
come from small town, blue-collar America, precisely the people
whose voices are among the least heard. It is no surprise that
Labor Secretary Elaine Chao's proposals for cutting back legal
entitlement to overtime pay this year included all those who had
learned their skill in the military.
All of this penny-pinching may seem strange
in light of Bush's desperate attempts to associate himself with
the military. But when he dons a flak jacket, the president is
not looking to win over those GIs who have just had their term
extended on stop-loss orders, but those TV-viewing voters who
put the military on a pedestal as the guarantor of American virtues.
IAN WILLIAMS' latest book is Deserter:
Bush's War on Military Families, Veterans and His Own Past, available
from Nation Books.
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