As the Bush Administration sends more young men and women into battle in Iraq, you might think the President would do all he could to make sure soldiers get the best treatment possible. After all, he regularly wraps himself in the flag, prances around at staged events with the troops, and pledges his unyielding support for their needs.
But as we commemorate Veterans Day and mourn the mounting casualties in Iraq, even our soldiers cannot escape the President’s pathological aversion to the truth. It is one thing for the President to visit elementary schools, tell children how important a good education is, and then propose a budget that cuts education funding. But it is a whole new level of deceit to order men and women to risk their lives, salute them as they head off to battle, and then eliminate their most basic services just as they move out of sight.
Hard to believe he could say one thing and then do another? Sure. But then, that has never stopped the Bush Administration before. This past January, the President and first lady visited Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where wounded soldiers were sent to recover from the fighting in Afghanistan. After a heart-warming picture with a wounded sergeant, the President said, “Seeing the care that these troops get is comforting for me and Laura. We should and must provide the best care for anybody who is willing to put their life in harm’s way.” It was the kind of moment that left you feeling that Bush actually believed what he was saying. Of course, that feeling didn’t last long. Within hours, Bush announced that 164,000 veterans would be cut off from the government’s health care system. Two weeks later, he introduced a budget that the major veterans groups note “falls $1.5 billion short” of adequately funding veterans’ care.
That month, Bush also visited troops at Ft. Hood just outside his mansion in Crawford, Texas. He told the troops “I want to make sure that our soldiers have the best possible pay”, and “I want to make sure the housing is the best possible for our military families.” Again, it was a beautiful moment; our commander-in-chief, decked out in an army jacket, standing in solidarity with his soldiers. It remained beautiful until he announced just a month later that he was slashing funding for military family housing and medical facilities. It remained beautiful until he announced his proposal to cut the bonuses soldiers get for serving in dangerous areas, and reduce the extra pay soldiers get for being away from their families. And to top it off, when lawmakers tried to restore the cuts by slightly reducing tax cuts to millionaires, they were voted down at the White House’s instruction.
Now, with the Administration calling up thousands of National Guard and reservists to serve in Iraq, the say-one-thing, do-another dance continues. Just last month, the President spoke to troops at Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire. “I want to thank you for your willingness to heed that important call, and I want to thank your families,” he said. “I want to thank your sons, daughters, husbands and wives who share in your sacrifice, who are willing to sacrifice for our country and who stand behind you.” Touching words, especially for a man who, unlike those he was talking to, had done everything he could to avoid his own service in the National Guard a generation before.
But less than two weeks after his speech it seems the President had forgotten the gratitude he effused. As Gannett News Service reported, the President announced his “formal opposition to a proposal to give National Guard and Reserve members access to the Pentagon’s health-insurance system” something that is desperately needed, considering that “one of every five Guard members has no health insurance.” When asked about the duplicity, Bush’s spinners have tried to hide the President behind the exploding deficit, saying the government simply lacked the money to properly fund these priorities. It is certainly a credible argument but only if the President was not simultaneously enacting billions of dollars in tax breaks for his wealthiest campaign contributors.
In a June editorial headlined “Nothing But Lipservice”, the Army Times summed up the situation quite succinctly and made a dire prediction. “President Bush has missed no opportunity to heap richly deserved praise on the military,” the paper wrote. “But these corner-cutting moves add up to a troubling pattern that eventually will hurt morale.” Not surprisingly, just five months later, a poll shows troop morale has plummeted. And while the President seems to think landing on an aircraft carrier in a flight suit, or taunting the terrorists with “bring ‘em on” declarations is the way to rally the troops, he might find a far more simple solution: we need less testosterone, fewer broken promises, and just some good old fashioned honesty, Mr. President.