Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Hacking at the President

Having been a sailor under Adm. Jeremy Boorda, a man who went from the lowest rank in the Navy to the highest and never forgot it, I have always despised Col. David Hackworth. Boorda committed suicide while he was being hounded by Hackworth over medals the admiral wore, but to which he supposedly wasn't entitled. Then Hackworth turned out to be wearing much more obviously blatant awards and a qualification tab to which wasn't entitled. He is, frankly, scum.

But, even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes, and if Hackworth is writing things like this, then those who consider themselves "real soldiers" aren't far behind:

On May 1, George W. Bush landed in a military jet on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln with all the pomp and ceremony of Caesar returning to Rome after conquering Gaul. In the background – as our commander in chief proclaimed "major combat operations in Iraq have ended" – was a huge banner reading “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED,” probably conjured up by White House flacks.

There was just one problem: No one told the guerrilla enemy the war was over.

Since the president played Top Gun, hundreds of our troops have been killed or wounded, and dozens of major combat operations have been launched or are ongoing all over that unfortunate country.

A lesson presidents JFK, LBJ and RMN learned the hard way was not to jive the people when they found themselves stuck in the Vietnam quagmire – because all the double talk in the world won't disappear the truth of the casualty lists.

Now, combine that with editorials like this one in Army Times and quotes like

A lot of people felt like if you didn't support the war, you didn't support the troops," said Peterson, a 42-year-old financial analyst (and wife of a 3rd Infantry soldier), who asked that her husband's name not be used. "I had to tell someone – I've supported my husband for 16 years. I don't have to support the policies."

...and you've got a movement toward Republicans losing votes from the military.

Over the past two years, members of the president's party have worked on cutting back on military benefits, they've tried to cap pay raises for the lowest-ranking (and, in my opinion, hardest working) members of the military and have squeezed the Veterans Administration until it hemorrhaged cash. Republicans in the Senate even added a provision to the now ironically titled "All-American Tax Fairness Act" which exclude soldiers serving in a combat zone from receiving the bill's $400 child tax credit. Think about that. The exclusion doesn't even apply to all soldiers (or sailors or airmen or Marines), but only those who have been serving under fire.

However, as sad as it is that Republicans are failing to back up the soldiers fighting on behalf of this country, it's even more despicable that they are preventing some Democrats from helping those soldiers and simultaneously smearing them as unsupportive of the troops.

Most egregious are their attacks against Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina for his attempts to gain an extra benefit for our troops overseas. Let me explain: There is a bill in the Senate right now called the HEROES act, which defers student loans for soldiers who are called into action. Edwards wants to add an amendment that would also keep those loans from racking up interest during the period of deployment. Republicans have refused to allow a vote on the amendment, either because they are afraid that its passage would hand Edwards an important political victory he could use in his presidential bid or because their desire to kill the amendment (at the behest of banking lobbyists) could be used against them. In a bold, brave political move, Edwards has blocked the passage of the HEROES act singlehandedly by using a "hold" and is demanding that his amendment be heard.

Republicans have gone into attack mode, calling their media cronies at the Washington Times into action. The headline? "Edwards blocks GIs' loan break." And the story begins: "Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat, is single-handedly blocking Senate action on legislation all but unanimously supported by the House to ease the student-loan burden for soldiers fighting overseas." The reporters, Charles Hurt, ends the piece with this juicy quote from Michigan Representative John Kline, who says ""It's not fair that [soldiers] suffer an added financial or educational hardship. They shouldn't have to mail in their student-loan payments from Baghdad."

While Edwards is blocking the bill, saying that a deployed service member will be required to send in loan payments from Baghdad a lie that should embarrass Mr. Kline and Mr. Hurt. Both are intentionally overlooking the fact that there's already a law in place which exempts soldiers from having to pay their student loans while called to action. It expires September 30. So Edwards' actions in holding up the bill are causing no harm to any soldier. Of course he will let the bill pass if he can't get Republicans to let his amendment come to a vote. Republicans know that. I know that. Everyone knows that. There's no way that someone who's running for president would hold up a bill that helps service members in a war zone. Republicans, however, are unwilling to be honest about the fact that they simply don't think soldiers deserve this benefit. I, for one, hope that Edwards continues his fight to keep troops from being saddled with extra debt during deployments.

Republicans have talked a good game about supporting the troops for the past two years. It's now becoming obvious that, in their game, soldiers are simply pawns. Soldiers are starting to see that.


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