This is Asheesh Siddique from the Princeton Progressive Nation. It’s a little intimidating to be asked to write alongside such a distinguished group of commentators when you’re only going to be a college junior in September. Nevertheless, I’ll do my best. I’ve been a fan of Steve’s work here, particularly his smashing investigative reporting on John Bolton, and I’m honored to be asked to help fill in while he takes a very well-deserved break.
Doug Bandow made the important point that the recruiting crisis plaguing our armed forces is the result of bad military strategy working in tandem with an unsustainable foreign policy. While neoconservatives on the Right won’t acknowledge their complicity in threatening the sustainability of the all-volunteer army, some on the Left want to compound the problem by calling (misguidedly) for a draft. Neither of these camps have done enough to address the real needs of America’s military.
If we’re going to be serious about helping our men and women in uniform, we’ve got to advocate two initiatives. First, we must demand a concrete plan for an expeditious military exit out of Iraq, an issue that’s been getting considerable attention lately; and second, we need to pressure their elected representatives to do more for servicepersons and their families, who bear the real financial and emotional stress of the war. As Princeton economist Uwe Reinhardt noted in yesterday’s Washington Post, the Bush administration has delivered rhetoric, not results, to America’s soldiers. While the President lauds them for their service, the White House tried to worsen the situation for soldiers by proposing cuts to both imminent danger combat pay for troops stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to family separation allowances for the deployed. This should be cause for public outrage; yet it has not been emphasized enough in the public discourse by those of us best positioned to highlight the problem.
We must place the personal needs of soldiers and military families at the front of our challenge to the Bush administration’s failed defense policy. To do so, we should pressure our politicians to enact legislation that:
- provides all wounded soldiers complete disability compensation irrespective of how long they have served;
- allow reservists and their families to enroll in the military’s TRICARE health insurance program;
- reject proposed cuts to imminent danger combat pay and family separation allowances, and instead propose increases; and,
- set aside funds to allow the children of those serving in Iraq to attend public universities at reduced or no cost.
Such initiatives may not come cheaply, but Congress can fund them by reducing our military presence in Iraq, which costs at least $4 billion per month by the Defense Department’s own estimates, and rescinding the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans. Honoring our troops for their service, irrespective of how we feel about the war they fight, isn’t a partisan political game; it’s a moral priority.