Bring Our Troops Home Safely and Soon
"I was mad before I even heard about the 15 months. I don't want to be here. I don't think you need to sit here an extra three months to help people do what they don't want to do for their dadburn selves. To me, if you've been here four years and the country ain't straight, why extend another three months? Why don't we just go?" Sgt. Shawn Miller, 30
SGT. MILLER may well have been summing up our nation's reaction to the Bush administration's recent announcement that it will extend all soldiers' tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan from one year to 15 months.
Most Americans now realize that our continuing involvement in the Iraqi civil war is not only killing and wounding our soldiers and Marines by the thousands, but also seriously weakening our strategic military readiness.
It is also destroying America's goodwill around the world and has diverted half a trillion dollars away from our homeland security, the war on terror and other domestic priorities.
But President Bush says he is determined to plow ahead.
While the Bush administration has made an unconscionable number of mistakes in the prosecution of the Iraq war, this latest deployment extension is right up there with the worst. That's because it will directly hurt our troops and troop retention in our Armed Forces.
Military doctors and experts agree that even after as little as three months in combat, post traumatic stress disorder will begin to set in. An officer from my district who is on his second deployment in Afghanistan recently e-mailed me about the problem of officer attrition in the military.
He wrote: "I can tell you that many of the soldiers here don't give a [expletive] about the Iraq war right now... For us, it's just another series of never-ending deployments. And for many, including me, there is only one answer to that: show me the door out."
If that was the mood before the extra duty directive, imagine what adding yet another three months of combat will do to our soldiers. Many are already at a breaking point. Now they have been struck with yet another demoralizing decision from the Bush administration.
Fewer and fewer soldiers, including battle-experienced officers, are "re-upping," further threatening our national security, which depends on an able, all-volunteer force. Without a military that is ready to respond, Americans are more vulnerable to the real threats facing us in this hostile world.
My views about our eroding military readiness are not based solely on e-mails and anecdotes, however. Since joining the House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Defense earlier this year, I have participated in more than a dozen classified and unclassified hearings with the leaders of all of America's military branches, intelligence services and budgetary offices.
I have also visited our officers and soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is what I have learned from many sources, confirmed by these meetings, which informs my views on the state of our military and national security.
Last month, I questioned the new secretary of defense, Robert Gates, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, about problems with officer retention. While I admired their candor in acknowledging these difficulties, I was very disappointed to conclude that no immediate progress in this area is in sight.
Still, Bush remains unmoved. He pursues a failed, stay-the-course strategy in Iraq. The president has even said he will veto Congress's spending bill that fully funds his requests for the war because it contains a timeline for ending U.S. combat involvement in Iraq.
Nevertheless, Democrats in both houses of Congress are determined to force the president to bring our troops home from Iraq safely and soon.
The problem now is that while we Democrats have enough votes to pass such measures, we don't have the two-thirds majorities needed to override the veto that the president threatens. That is why we need Republican House and Senate members to join with us to help pass these bills and begin the process of ending this war.
It is time for all Americans to join the fight to force Bush to remove our troops from Iraq. Our country can still play an important role as military and intelligence advisers to the Iraqi government, as well as provide them with vital economic and diplomatic support.
But after four years of American combat in Iraq, it is well past time to let the Iraqis finally take responsibility for their own civil war. Our country's military readiness and national security require it.