Monday, July 09, 2007

Webb Stepping Up On Excessive Troop Deployments

The Defense Department authorization bill (H.R. 1585) will occupy the Senate over the next couple of weeks and, with the exception of the measures that would end American involvement in the Iraq quagmire, no amendment will be more important than the legislation by Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) on which debate will begin today. Webb will go to the Senate floor today and introduce a bill requiring that active-duty troops have at least the same amount of time at home as the length of their previous tour of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is intended to halt the Bush administration's overextending of U.S. troops, the breaking of the country's armed forces and the extraordinary hardships being inflicted on military families.

"Now in the fifth year of ground operations in Iraq, this deck of cards has come crashing down, and it's landing heavily on the backs of soldiers and Marines who have been deployed again and again while the rest of the country sits back and debates Iraq as an intellectual or emotional exercise," Webb said on Monday. "We've reached the point where we can no longer allow the ever-changing nature of this Administration's operational policies to drive the way our troops are being deployed. In fact, the reverse is true. The availability of our troops should be the main determinant of how ground operations should be conducted."

Webb's bill, which also sets a minimum floor for National Guard and Reserve mobilization and deployments, is cosponsored by 19 Senators -- 17 Democrats, Independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel.

"We still are reaching the point where we’re burning out our troops. The evidence is everywhere. We have a small group of people who have been carrying the load for this country again and again," said Webb on the Senate floor before the July 4 recess. "We are violating the normal rotational policies that we took care to put in place over long years of experience."

Webb has repeatedly pointed out that active-duty service members have been historically allowed to remain home for twice the length of time that they have been deployed overseas -- the two-to-one ratio means that if a soldier was deployed for a year, he or she would be back in the U.S. and with family for two years. But that's all fallen apart with George W. Bush's refusal to change his failed course in Iraq.

"The war is headed in a dangerous direction, and Americans are united in the belief that we cannot wait until the Administration's September report before we change course in Iraq," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) Monday in support of Webb's legislation. "Attacks on U.S. forces are up, Iraqi political leaders are frozen in a dangerous stalemate and a change at every front is required if we are to succeed. We cannot ask our military to continue to fight without a strategy for success, and we certainly cannot ask them to fight before they are ready to do so."

In short, Senate Democrats will try to make the case to their Republican colleagues this week that this bill is yet another chance to show they truly support the troops in a way that goes beyond rhetoric and the yellow ribbons on their SUVs.

Congress has taken similar actions during other wars to protect the welfare of service members, such as in 1951 during the Korean War, when the Selective Service Act was amended to require that every person inducted into the armed forces received full training for no less than four months.

And, with Bush and Congressional Republicans having shown for years that they will not act to protect American troops or to ensure the ongoing readiness of our military, Webb is entirely unwilling to listen to charges of "micromanaging" the Iraq occupation.

"Quite frankly when the leadership of the United States military is not stepping up and defending its own people, we have a duty to slow this thing down," said Webb. "This war has been going on for more than 4 years. We’ve got a lot of issues we’re going to be discussing in this authorization bill designed to get a better policy that will reduce our footprint, that will enable us to fight international terrorism around the world, that will increase the stability of the region with proper diplomatic efforts and will allow us to address our strategic interests elsewhere. But until that happens, we’ve got to take care of the troops and this is the bottom line; it’s a floor."

"This isn’t some grand scheme of trying to push an ideal troop rotational scenario. This is the bottom line that we owe to people who have been sent into harm’s way."

Update: You can see some video highlights of this afternoon's Webb-Reid press conference here.