Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Hollowing Man

With reconstruction dollars drying up, and the already enormous military budgets set aside for Iraq and Afghanistan still failing to meet several vital needs for our armed services - both on the battlefield and for returning veterans - President Bush and the Republican Party are poised to remind us, once again, how deeply un-serious they are about their rather fervent rhetoric surrounding the importance of Iraq and Afghanistan in meeting our overarching national security objectives.

Via Andrew Sullivan, we get a glimpse at what Bush's all important election year stunt along the Mexican border is costing the Marine Corps on the battlefield, in real terms [emphasis mine throughout]:

When the Senate took $1.9 billion out of the war supplemental to fund border security last month, $1.6 billion came out of funds to replace equipment destroyed or worn out from four years of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The money was diverted at the behest of the White House in a last-minute bid to address growing political unrest about illegal immigration. [...]

The Senate accepted the offer 'without recognizing they were shorting the very people fighting the war,' the [Pentagon budget] official said.

'You can't tell me that illegal aliens coming across the border pose the same kind of threat to national security as insurgents in Anbar do against Marines,' the official said. [...]

Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul McHale said in May the Defense Department will be completely reimbursed for the costs of the border deployment, about $756 million.

It will be reimbursed, but with money taken directly out of the Marine Corps' and Army's pocket -- $500 million and $1.1 billion respectively -- that was intended to replace trucks, jammers and radios. [...]

The Marine Corps cannot wait for a wholesale revision of the budget, the officials said. It needs to replace more than 3,000 trucks, 5,000 new high-powered jammers, 3,500 radio sets and 1,000 armor kits.

'The last two-term Republican president took us from a hollow force to winning the Cold War,' said the official. 'The current two-term Republican president may have as his legacy a return to that hollow force.'

Brilliant. Strike two comes as the Bush administration, and its Republican allies in Congress, move to make permanent their prior temporary appeal of the estate tax - a tax that by definition only impacts the wealthiest Americans. From the New York Times:

Permanently repealing the estate tax, or what Republicans have branded the "death tax," is a priority for President Bush and many Republican lawmakers.

But the tax affects less than 2 percent of all estates — most of which belong to very rich families — and repeal would be expensive.

Full repeal would cost more than $600 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation...

$600 billion huh? Somewhere, Paris Hilton is flashing a plastic smile. I wonder how else we could be using that money. Let me think...

But the Marine Corps faces a larger and more worrisome bill for which it has received little help. It will cost at least $11.7 billion for the Marine Corps to 'reset' -- that is, restore all the equipment worn out or lost to combat in the last four years. Even if it received all the money now, it would take about two years to rebuild to its pre-Sept. 11 capabilities.

The Marine Corps has seen nearly 3,500 pieces of ground equipment destroyed so far, and it has lost at least 27 aircraft in the Middle East. Every day in Iraq, trucks and Humvees age four to nine times faster than they do in peacetime because of the heat, road conditions, weight of the armor, and constant use, to say nothing of roadside bombs.

For the last three years, the Marine Corps has been cannibalizing its vehicles and weapons used in training, and draining its war reserves to keep deployed troops fully outfitted.

When a helicopter is shot down, for instance, another one is scrounged up and brought forward -- there are no 'hot' helicopter production lines. But that means a Marine unit somewhere else has given up its equipment, degrading its training and affecting its safety when it does deploy.

'It is directly related to the war effort, because it has to do with the training these guys on what they do there,' a senior Marine official told UPI. 'You can't just give these guys a machine gun for their last 30 days of training in the Mojave desert. You want them laying behind their machine guns so when they get to Iraq they are experts, not making beginner mistakes.'

In some cases, the first time a Marine will see a particular radio or radar will be in his Humvee in Anbar province.

Is there any doubt that such shortages are endangering the lives of our soldiers in the field? And this is from the party that brandishes its "support the troops" faux-credentials as a cudgel. The sad fact is that even in a time of two ongoing wars, the GOP is more interested in lining the pockets of its super wealthy base of supporters and pandering to the latent racism and xenophobia of far too many of its constituents than it is in ensuring that our soldiers in harm's way have everything they need to protect themselves and receive the care they deserve when they get back. When it comes to that, the Republican Party is semper fidelis.

Photo by Staff Sgt Jim Goodwin via Marine Corp News. CAMP AL ASAD, Iraq - Marines from Regimental Combat Team 7 prepare to board the back of a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter May 29 to practice off-loading and security procedures for a tactical rescue of aircraft and personnel, or TRAP.

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