Wednesday, December 24, 2003

During the holidays, let's remember that our troops are even more at risk because they're too often not getting the supplies they need to protect themselves. That holds true even if you feel that they were sent there by an administration and President that misled the American public.

But neither the left nor right seems to be making too much of an issue of the shortage of supplies, from bullet-stopping vests to, sometimes, the bullets themselves, because it doesn't fit in with their pre-packaged ideologies. The anti-war left doesn't want the soldiers there in the first place, so critics of the war don't seem too concerned if the troops overseas don't have the supplies needed to fight effectively. And the right and administration apologists don't want to mention the problems soldiers are having on the ground, in large part because it doesn't square with the rosy fictions of Iraq's restoration promoted by the neo-cons.

The result is that National Guard troops and other reservists are especially hard hit, as this report from the Broward New Times shows with a leaked memo from a National Guard commander begging Governor Jeb Bush's administration for help. And, as this UPI dispatch illustrates, the National Guard and Army Reserve forces are being denied the bulletproof body armor they need to survive, while the regular Army is getting them more promptly. Some families have been scrambling to raise money themselves to buy the protective armor for their loved ones in Iraq. The former weekend warriors, now stuck in Iraq long after they were supposed to be sent home, are just as vulnerable as the regular soldiers to getting shot.

The agenda-setting major media outlets are generally not giving this issue the attention they should, even as often obscure political leaders and smaller newspapers are starting to speak up about the crisis. Congress recently added a $300 million rider to a war funding bill to add additional money for protective vests, but they still aren't getting there in time to save all the lives they could. As an editorial in the little-known York Daily Record pointed out:

"In an Oct. 9 speech to Air National Guard Reservists in New Hampshire, the president said, `Any time we put our troops into harm’s way, you must have the best training, the best equipment, the best possible pay.'”

"From that statement — and countless others like it — it would be fair to conclude that the president believes our troops should have the best training, best equipment and best pay.

"You’d be wrong.

"Case in point: Nearly one-quarter of our soldiers do not have modern body armor that can stop bullets fired from assault rifles.

"Soldiers are so concerned for their safety that they’ve taken to asking relatives stateside to buy body armor and send it to them."

All this illustrates a typical pattern of the Bush administration in arenas beyond the battlefield, ranging from education reform to AIDS: talk big, get the photo ops, but don't follow through on the money needed to get the job done.

Some politicians are finally speaking out about the supply problem, but it still hasn't become an issue of great concern to either the president's critics or supporters. Here's one -- too rare -- voice of sanity on the issue, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.):
Democrat & Chronicle: Slaughter: Troops need supplies

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