Sunday, November 12, 2006

Remembering Veterans Day

Yesterday was Veterans Day, the 88th anniversary of the armistice ending World War I. On Veterans Day, it is appropriate to remember the brave men and women who have fought for our country, and in many cases were wounded or killed in the line of duty. It is also an appropriate moment to look at present-day issues of the use and misuse of military power and of the treatment of our soldiers and veterans.

Read more... The United States today, even apart from the Iraq War supplemental appropriations, spends more on its military than the rest of the world combined. I'm not a hard-core pacifist — I do believe that the U.S. needs a strong defense — but the only way such lavish spending can be justifiable is if we view the entire rest of the world as our enemy. Not just Iran, North Korea, and Cuba, but Canada and Mexico and Japan and New Zealand and Portugal. We spend billions of dollars, and yet we feel terribly insecure about our position in the world.

I am also not an isolationist by any means. I believe that the United States must engage actively in the affairs of the world, and that on occasion we must engage militarily. However, we have spent the last 3½ years on a foolish military misadventure in Iraq. Our rationale for going into Iraq was dead wrong, and I and many others said so at the time. We said that it would not be a "cakewalk," that the people of Iraq would resist us as occupiers rather than welcoming us as liberators, and that we would be stuck there for years, not the six months or less that Donald Rumsfeld dismissively assured us. When all of those predictions came true, the Administration's response was "No one could have predicted..."

The Iraq War has been impressively mismanaged from the very beginning. We failed to give our troops the equipment they needed to fight before the war, and were altogether too slow in getting it to them after the war began. We sent in too small a force to secure the capital, much less the rest of the country, and we shrugged off the civil unrest that began the day we arrived. We undervalued "law and order" as a key element of success, believing that the removal of Saddam and the opportunity of democracy would magically unify the Iraqi people, who would throw flower petals and candy to our soldiers.

We should not have gone into Iraq to begin with. Given that we did invade, we should have sent an overwhelming military presence to secure the country long enough for the seed of democracy to be planted in fertile soil. We should not have outsourced our security and support functions to war profiteers who charge U.S. taxpayers $45 for a six-pack of Coke and, far worse, mercenaries who ride roughshod over the Iraqi people with legal impunity, leaving the soldiers (at a fraction of their pay) to absorb the ramifications of the ill will they generate. We should not have entrusted the rebuilding of Iraq to no-bid contracts granted to politically connected corporations.

We should also take a moment to look at the shameful mistreatment of the troops and veterans by the Administration and the Congress. Benefits for veterans have been slashed, healthcare for active-duty reservists denied, hazard pay reduced, funding for the VA cut even below its already inadequate levels, commissaries shuttered, and a host of other insults. Candidate George W. Bush said of veterans in his 2000 campaign, "A promise made is a promise kept," but he has broken his promise to support the troops — even while accusing the Democrats of the same.

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