Thursday, March 15, 2007

Barbara Boxer Calls GOP On "Loving Our Troops"

Now that we're smack-dab in the middle of a Congressional debate over America's future in Iraq, and the majority of Republicans seem content to keep the troops there indefinitely, it seems like a good time to print some words spoken by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) on the floor of the Senate last week.

Boxer gave a wonderful speech while helping introduce the Democratic resolution to end America's involvement in the Iraq quagmire. She said a lot of important things, but none as good as when she addressed her Republican colleagues on the hypocrisy of their support-the-troops rhetoric when their deeds suggest anything but that commitment.

Here are some of Senator Boxer's Comments:
There is a lot of rhetoric about what it means to love the troops. I say when you love the troops, you give them gear and equipment they need, and you don't tell them to settle for less. We remember Secretary Rumsfeld who said, when asked by the troops about body armor:

"As you know, you have to go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you want."

We will never forget that stinging rebuke to a soldier who was deeply fearful about the lack of armor, the lack of equipment. That arrogant statement shows why our service members were left scrounging for scrap metal for their vehicles and asking their families back home to send bandages and body armor.

The President is now increasing the number of troops in Iraq. Today I learned that in addition to the surge, he is adding another 2,000 troops. But we still know not all of them will have the best equipment. This is unacceptable, and loving our troops has to be more than a slogan. When you love your troops, you send them into battle adequately equipped.

When you love the troops, you don't lower the standards for their future colleagues in arms. In order to meet recruiting goals, the Army has significantly lowered eligibility standards. The number of waivers granted to Army recruits with criminal backgrounds has grown about 65 percent in the last 3 years. Approximately 11 percent, or 894, of the 8,120 waivers granted in 2006 were for people with felony convictions. When you love the troops, do you want to put them next to someone who has been convicted of a felony?

Our military men and women must trust their fellow soldiers with their lives. We must ensure that our military meets the highest standards.

I compliment Congressman Murtha, who is known in this country as a war hero, who has been there, who has done that, who has seen things none of us would ever want to see. He says we can't keep sending our troops back into the field, into combat, without adequate preparation, training, and the highest standards -- and rest.

I say that when you love the troops, you don't send them to moldy hospital rooms to recuperate. You don't do it. Recent press reports have revealed that soldiers are languishing in substandard facilities at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. I thank my colleagues in the Congress for investigating this matter because some of us believe it is the tip of the iceberg.

I have asked my State staff to go on a tour of California hospitals and report back to me as to conditions in those hospitals.

An investigation by the Washington Post found vermin, leaking pipes, and mold at Walter Reed Building 18, an old hotel used by outpatients receiving care at the main Walter Reed Hospital facility.

So when you love the troops, you don't send them back into combat with post-traumatic stress and a bottle of antidepressants. You don't do it. Tragically, we know this is happening.

As part of the 2007 Defense authorization bill, my legislation passed requiring the DOD to issue guidelines as to the deployability of service members with post-traumatic stress, but the DOD has not issued the guidelines and service members with PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, continue to be deployed.

When you love the troops, you don't reduce the number of permanent disability decisions to save money, when so many of these troops are, in fact, permanently disabled. Recent press reports in my hometown paper, the Desert Sun in California, have suggested that the Army is trying to save money by giving our troops less of a disability rating than they deserve, despite an enormous spike in the number of battlefield injuries resulting from service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now, after nearly 4 years in Iraq, which was supposed to be a walk in the park, a mission easily accomplished, an enemy in the last throes, it is time to tell this President the time is up for his ever-changing mission.

Our troops, whom we all love, deserve more than broken promises, broken bodies, and broken dreams. It is time that Congress, following the will of the voters, start redeploying the troops out of Iraq now, as Britain has done, as Japan has done, as Italy has done, as Hungary has done, as Spain has done, as Portugal has done, as Norway has done.

It is time to say to the President that the authorization you received from this Congress has to come to an end, just like your coalition of the willing is coming to an end. The American people want this over.
I interviewed Barbara Boxer in the early 1980s when I was a new journalism student at San Francisco State University and she was a feisty member of the Marin County Board of Supervisors. She was uncertain then of what her political future held but I recall writing at the time that she would someday be a great addition to the House of Representatives or the Senate.

I'm glad I was right.