Failing the troops

Despite all the bumper sticker politics about "supporting the troops," a new report shows that the Bush administration's bumbling left U.S. soldiers in Iraq without the body armor they needed.

By Tim Grieve
Published March 7, 2005 12:17PM (EST)

Again and again on the presidential campaign trial, George W. Bush railed against John Kerry for voting against an $87 billion supplemental appropriation for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. After Kerry said the matter was "complicated" -- he wanted to finance the $87 billion by rolling back some of Bush's tax cuts -- Bush turned the issue into a centerpiece of his stump speech. To huge applause from his hand-picked audiences, Bush would say, "There is nothing complicated about supporting our troops in combat."

Well, then, how will the president explain the report in this morning's New York Times detailing the administration's bumbling in providing body armor for those troops? While Donald Rumsfeld and others on Bush's team have long insisted that the administration is providing the troops with the best equipment possible just as quickly as possible, the Times' report proves otherwise. A month into the Iraq war -- when the administration was still in deep denial about the insurgency to come -- the Army shut down orders for body armor for many of the troops in Iraq, the Times says.

A month later, the Army reversed course, but the stop-and-start action was only the beginning of the problems in getting body armor to troops. Once the Army began ordering body armor again, the Times reports, it took 167 days "just to start getting the bulletproof vests to soldiers in Iraq." Other countries ordered similar vests from a U.S. supplier and got them to their soldiers in Iraq in just 12 days, the Times says. More than 200 U.S. soldiers were killed between the time the Pentagon shut down orders for body armor and the time that new vests finally started arriving in Iraq again; if any of those soldiers died because they lacked the body armor, the administration plainly bears at least some of the blame.

The Times' investigation reveals any number of other failings in the administration's effort to "support the troops." Among them: The Pentagon contracted with a former employee to manufacture the ceramic plates needed for the body armor even though his company had never successfully manufactured anything -- and ultimately failed to manufacture the ceramic plates, too; the Pentagon created so many delays in the process of contracting for body armor that one manufacturer was forced to lay off employees and shut down its plant for two months while soldiers were waiting for their vests; the Pentagon failed to push U.S. manufacturers to build armor-plating for Humvees at adequate rates; and, at least in the eyes of some troops, the military punished soldiers who spoke out about the problems the delays caused.

It turns out that supporting the troops isn't just complicated -- it's "hard work," too. For all of its yellow-ribbon, bumper-sticker politics, the administration appears not to have done it so well.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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