Dereliction of Duty
By Brent Budowsky
October 1, 2006
Editor's Note: The emerging question in Washington is, who still thinks the war in Iraq was a good idea? Even Bob Woodward, who was an important pillar holding up Washington's "conventional wisdom" about George W. Bush's brilliant war leadership, has suddenly discovered a very different reality -- one of presidential arrogance, military incompetence and widespread deception.
But President Bush is continuing to pound away at those who doubt his judgment and a majority of the U.S. Congress is staying in line. In this guest essay, political analyst Brent Budowsky accuses the Washington Establishment of a dereliction of duty that has put comfortable careers back home ahead of the welfare of American troops overseas. [This essay also appeared in Buzzflash.]
George W. Bush has now made one of the most appalling speeches in presidential history, comparing himself to Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman and making charges against his opponents that should not be dignified by repeating.
It is time to set the record straight. Those who President Bush was really attacking were his commanders, his former Secretary of State, leaders of the NATO alliance among many others who have warned him of dangers and urged him to change course.
Time and time again, itemized in detail below, George Bush has shown contempt for his commanders, disrespected their advice, demeaned them publicly and privately, and taken action after action that directly harmed the safety of our troops and caused great damage to the mission and our national security.
In the Washington Post of September 26 I was both honored and outraged to read four full pages of American heroes lost in action in Iraq.
Honored because these young men and women, many of them 18 to 21 years of age, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, are truly the best that America has to offer. There are not words to fully express the honor they bring in the long line of American patriots, from the days of the Continental Army until every next morning in the America they defend for us.
Outraged because these American heroes deserved a damn sight better than they have gotten from the politicians in Washington and the nation that celebrates its tax cuts and housing bubbles while their blood is shed in the sands of the Middle East
What we have witnessed on a massive scale is a dereliction of duty of unparalleled proportion, from those who sent these young men and women to war, where they heroically did their duty, while politicians used them as cannon fodder for partisanship while committing derelictions of duty that did them great harm.
On issue after issue our hyper-partisan President has abused both the chain of command and his trust as Commander in Chief.
Congress should conduct televised public hearings, now, that would bring every member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, every commander of the Iraq mission, and a significant number of enlisted men and women who have served in Iraq, to testify publicly and fully about what they truly believe about what should be done now.
They should be put under oath, not to question their truthfulness, but to protect them from any more abusive pressure or misrepresentation from civilians in the Administration or Congress.
And if Congress and our President can agree on any one thing, they should award a special and substantial hardship bonus to every man and woman who has served in Iraq and in the cases of those who have left us, to their families who honor them, and make us proud to be their neighbors and fellow patriots.
It high time we end this abuse of command influence, these attempts by the President and Secretary of Defense to ignore the advice of commanders, and to threaten or intimidate them into not speaking out, and then to publicly misrepresent their views.
I dare any Republican, I dare any conservative, I dare any neoconservative to put their name on paper and challenge any one of these blunt and true assertions:
This whole Iraq venture began when our commanders presented a war plan that would have required 400,000 troops.
I challenge the President and his partisans:
Is it not true that our commanders were bullied, beaten down and rudely and unprofessionally treated to force them into a war plan that they believed had far too troops for the mission?
Did our commanders not despise the shameful, unethical, and abusive treatment of General Eric Shinseki when he tried to warn us and was treated with ridicule and abuse by the neocons and our President?
Did it not do real damage for morale when General Shinseki was forced into early retirement while George Tenet and others who failed were given the Presidential Medal of Freedom?
Did not our commanders repeatedly, time and again throughout this venture, advise against inadequate troop strength, then be ordered to stop advocating what they believe is right, and read in the newspapers our President promising, falsely, that he always gives the commanders the troop levels they believe they need?
Do you not admit that at the very beginning of this unfortunate venture, grave damage was done to this mission by ignorant words and ignorant policies by a smirking President and arrogant Secretary of Defense when they spoke of Old Europe, when they made snide and condescending comments about NATO, when they guaranteed that this mission would never have the support that President George Herbert Walker Bush, who they also demeaned in the media at that time, achieved for the first Gulf War.
Do you not now admit with humble apologies you committed a grave injustice, and did real harm to our troops, when those with zero combat experience insulted a long list of retired generals as "armchair generals", when they spoke truth to power, and in fact spoke for a majority of active duty generals, despite false statements by ideologues and partisans to the contrary.
Did not our commanders warn against the failure to provide equipment that was so extreme and so dangerous that the Marine Corps pathologist found that up to 70% of our casualties were preventable, meaning their serious injuries and deaths were not caused by their mistakes, or the enemy's success, but by derelictions of duty on a massive scale by those who sent them to war but disrespected the advice of commanders.
Is it not true that our commanders time and again sought help, which was denied, to provide body armor, fortified vehicles, helmets, bandages and other equipment that civilian officials failed to provide, despite repeated, and false, claims that they always gave the commanders what those commanders sought. Did our commanders not unanimously and aggressively oppose the use of torture which they unanimously and aggressively believe creates danger for our troops, tarnishes our reputation around the world, creates new terrorists and violates cardinal rules of war that they hold sacred?
Is it not 100% true that the torture practices advocated by this President directly disrespect two centuries of good advice and military ethics and directly violate the advice and good judgment of commanders today?
Is it not true that our commanders were repeatedly and aggressively subject to abusive interference, and pressure from civilians that would be grounds for court martial, if it did not come from the President, Vice President and Secretary of Defense?
Is it not true that every commander is appalled and sickened by proposals to cut spending for brain injuries for wounded troops?
Is it not true that commanders and enlisted men are disgusted that civilian leaders have allowed a situation to continue that almost 20% of active duty troops face such extreme financial hardship they are forced to pay predatory lenders interest rates from 300% to nearly 800%?
Do you not confess that it is an unpardonable dereliction of duty that this is ever allowed to happen, to even one man or woman who wears the uniform of our country?
Is it not true that commanders were disgusted and appalled that they were ordered to never again say our leaders needed a post war plan for Iraq, and privately disgusted that they were threatened and bullied and told they would be fired by those who started a war with too few troops, and continued an occupation with too much too corruption, and then demeaned the commanders who proposed a plan?
Is it not true that our commanders were appalled by the misuse and misrepresentation of intelligence that is so essential in deciding whether to wage war, and how conduct it, once it begins?
Do you deny that our commanders urgently requested reinforcements at Tora Bora when we could have killed Bin Laden and were outraged when the cavalry did not come to finish the kill, but were sent to Iraq instead by a President who always claimed, falsely, that he followed his commanders advice and now claims, falsely, that his political opponents offer nothing but cut and run which he, himself, did at Tora Bora?
Do you dispute that from day one commanders urged a far more visionary and serious effort for reconstruction of Afghanistan and warned, correctly, that if this were not forthcoming, which it was not, that the Taliban would come back, and the war lords and drug lords would triumph, which they have?
Do you not admit that our commanders were appalled that Republican operatives and Republican contributors were chosen for lucrative Iraq Reconstruction projects that saw at least $10 billion wasted, stolen and lost?
Do you not confess that our troops were gravely hurt by stolen money in corrupt contracts and crony deals, when that money should have gone to protect our troops, and help Iraqis who's hearts and minds we need to win?
Do you not admit that our commanders are appalled by scandal and negligence so rampant that the Iraqi police academy will have to be torn apart because urine and feces drip down on recruits, while corruption runs rampant among Iraqi police where many do not do their jobs, others shoot to kill Americans, and our troops suffer casualties doing the jobs that Iraqi police have refused to do, for all these years of the misbegotten venture?
Do you not confess that our commanders are appalled that Iraqi politicians are unwilling and unable to deal with murdering militias, who have stepped into the void created by the failure of Iraq police to stand up, and who spend half their time committing sectarian murder against each other, and the other half planning the murder of American troops?
Do you believe it serves democracy, our commanders or our troops when more than 60% of Iraqis support the killing of American troops, and more than 70% want our troops to leave within range of a year? Do you question my assertion that time and time again, on issue after issue, at great cost to the mission and the troops, commanders faced political pressure and abuse, and were threatened not to speak their minds, while civilian leaders put on their American flag pins and went to their 4 of July picnics and stated, falsely, shamefully, that the commanders agree with every decision the civilians made, and get everything they privately ask for?
Is it not true today, that our commanders believe we need more American and NATO forces in Afghanistan?
Is it not true today, that our commanders will be forced to even greater distortions of troop rotations in Iraq, and that if the status quo continues unabated, some of the ten year old children we see on playgrounds today, will someday serve in Iraq based on the "stay the course" contingency plans that remain active today?
Do you not admit that the Senate Intelligence Committee report that you want covered up until after the election will list countless false statements by high level officials who failed to tell the truth, about what was in the true interest of our troops?
Do you not agree that because of the stresses and distortions of our global force structures from this misbegotten and mismanaged venture our commanders believe there are major dangers in trouble spots around the world, that we could be unable to address under current conditions?
Do you concede that our current Chief of Staff of the Army is courageously resisting political pressures and refusing to support a budget he believes is bogus, and is fighting with honor for what he believes our troops in fact need?
Do you not admit that our commanders are asking for far more money than you have told the public, to replace outworn and often destroyed equipment that must urgently be replaced to protect the security of the Nation, and maintain a credible military deterrent, around the world?
Do you not accept the incontrovertible fact that our entire American intelligence community believes that the current Iraq war strategy is creating new terrorists, more terrorists, and great dangers and that our commanders have long been fighting like hell for policies that address political, diplomatic, economic and humanitarian issues that have been so devastatingly neglected by civilian leaders, over the objection of our commanders?
Do you not agree that our commanders are deeply offended by the spectacle of the leader of one our major "allies", Pakistan, making a deal that gives sanctuary to terrorists in parts of his nation, and then comes to Washington, and refuses to answer questions, because he has a book deal with his publisher, which takes priority over American lives?
Do you admit that the commanders and officer corps who have long advocated more effective reconstruction for Afghanistan are disgusted to see a Presidential dinner where leaders of two of our most important "allies" insult and demean each other, while our President sits at the table between them, five years after 9-11, looking like a pitiful and helpless spectator?
And do you not confess and admit that our commanders are appalled that ideologues run to talk shows and political speeches, and blow the winds of war from the lips of those who have done enough damage to our military for a lifetime, who have no experience in war themselves, but talk of a new war here, and a new war there, as though war is a dinner party discussion, or cheap talk show talk?
Do you not admit that it would be better for our commanders, for our troops, for our security if our entire nation was asked to contribute to whatever war effort we undertake together?
Do you not agree is it shameful that 1% of our country makes close to 100% of the sacrifice, that some are asked to die in Arabia while others guzzle gas in their cars, that some give their lives and limbs for our country while others enjoy tax cuts, discuss housing bubbles, and watch oil executives pocket hundreds of millions of dollars of personal wealth?
I am madder than hell because on issue after issue, the commanders have been right, the civilians have been wrong, the commanders have been ignored or disrespected, while the civilians use the troops as partisan weapons, then fail to provide the troops what they need, an inexcusable dereliction.
I dare any conservative, I dare any Republican, I dare any neoconservative to put pen to paper, and stand up with honor, and put your name and reputation behind it, and tell me which of these assertions you claim is not true.
Therefore: to initiate the long overdue debate and end these shameful derelictions of duty, Congress should call nationally televised hearings that would bring our Joint Chiefs of Staff, our commanders and representative enlisted men and women to public testimony to tell the country what they really believe.
With no more political influence, no more spin and no more pressure, no more partisan abuse and no more threats, no more lies and no more speeches by our President that demean the presidency, and divide the Nation, and further endanger the troops, and further alienate and anger the free world.
Now with the intelligence estimate made public for all the world to see, we know the facts they truly believe. With a new book coming out by Bob Woodward, which will add to the tales of misrepresentation, failure and abuse. With a country that hungers for leadership and for integrity and honor in Washington, let us end this dereliction of duty that has gone on, for far too long, at too great a cost, with too much blood, with too many dead, with too much damage done to our country.
We owe a debt to every man and woman who has ever served our country, to every man and woman who serves anywhere in the world today, and to every man and woman who will ever serve as guardian of our freedom to be the best that we can be ourselves, and to be the best that we can be, for them.
We must not be remembered as a generation that fell to dereliction, we should aspire to be a generation that will pay the price to reach for greatness, to leave the young who follow us, the world that they deserve.
Brent Budowsky was an aide to U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen on intelligence issues, and served as Legislative Director to Rep. Bill Alexander when he was Chief Deputy Whip of the House Democratic Leadership. Budowsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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