President is AWOL

As Veterans Day passes amid the usual presidential platitudes about honoring our armed forces, the time has come to consider just what President Bush has done—and failed to do—to support our men and women in uniform.

Since the beginning of the war, the Bush administration has held that opposition to its plans for Iraq amounted to an unpatriotic refusal to “support our troops.” Anti-war protesters and political opponents alike have been accused of aiding the enemy and putting soldiers’ lives in danger. Yet, in reality, it has been the Bush administration that has failed its responsibilities to our troops, and the president himself who is ultimately responsible for the mounting casualty list in Iraq.

Few examples could illustrate the prevailing hypocrisy better than the president’s trip to Fort Stewart, Ga., last month. The media event was a chance to hype his plan for an additional $87 billion for operations in Iraq. Yet, only a short distance from the parade ground where Bush delivered his speech, 600 sick and wounded veterans of the Iraq war were suffering in squalid conditions because the administration had failed to plan and provide adequate medical care. Because the administration had not considered the possibility of significant casualties, hundreds of soldiers found themselves waiting months for medical attention in warehouse-like barracks lacking even such basic amenities as indoor toilets. As several observers noted, Iraqi prisoners of war have received better treatment.

But that’s just the beginning. Breaking with longstanding tradition, this president has declined to attend military funerals for those killed in action and has even neglected to send condolences to families of the departed. Bush has slashed funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs and broken promises that deployments in Iraq would last no more than six months.

Most importantly, Bush has failed to provide a clear and compelling reason for sending our military to Iraq in the first place. In the wake of a congressional investigation, it’s now a matter of public record that members of the Bush team were lobbying to invade long before September 11, 2001, and that weapons of mass destruction and the desire to liberate the Iraqi populace were mere rationalizations. Sending troops into battle under false pretenses is one of the worst offenses a president can commit, yet this is precisely what Bush did.

As if that weren’t bad enough, it’s now apparent that the administration also failed to plan for a successful occupation. There simply weren’t plans in place for dealing with looting, terrorism, restoration of basic services and the transition of power in Iraq, and our soldiers are paying the price.

At this point, the best thing Bush could do, for the troops, the country and the world, would be to call on the United Nations to oversee deployment of a multinational peace-keeping force, and set a timetable for the departure of American troops and the installation of a new Iraqi government. To continue the occupation with no end in sight would be yet another betrayal of our fighting men and women.