Stiffing the Troops




President Bush went before military personnel and families in California yesterday and said, “Military families make tremendous sacrifices for America and our nation is grateful for your service to our country.” Events at the UN and at the Pentagon, meanwhile, made clear that his administration might not be as grateful as our nation is. The Pentagon is planning to cut pay for soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. delegation to the Security Council gave up on seeking a UN mandate for Iraq, which would mean relief for U.S. soldiers.

When countries such as India and France told Don Rumsfeld earlier this year that they wouldn’t contribute troops in Iraq unless they were part of a UN force, the Bush administration responded by seeking a UN mandate. But now the Bush team says it will work outside the UN framework, and continue trying to enlist (read: pressure) countries to join the coalition:

“‘The administration is not willing to confront going to the Security Council and saying, ‘We really need to make Iraq an international operation,’ said an administration official. ‘You can make a case that it would be better to do that, but right now the situation in Iraq is not that dire.’

‘The last thing we need is a loss of momentum over the efforts to get things under control in Iraq,’ said a Western diplomat involved in these discussions. ‘Besides, the violence in Iraq is not as bad as everyone thinks it is.'”

Maybe that depends on how you define “bad.” A total of 266 Americans soldiers have died in Iraq since the beginning of hostilities, 61 of them since President Bush said, “bring ’em on” on July 2. Morale is low among troops and their families back home. In a piece published in The Oregonian, Private First Class Isaac Kindblade said he’s ready to come home:

“A lot is being said about poor morale. That seems to be the case all over the place. It’s hot, we’ve been here for a long time, it’s dangerous, we haven’t had any real down time in months and we don’t know when we’re going homeÉWhen the war had just ended, we were the liberators, and all the people loved us. Convoys were like one long parade. Somewhere down the line, we became an occupation force in their eyes. We don’t feel like heroes anymore.”

Veterans and soldiers’ families are also dissatisfied with the current state of affairs. Military families have formed groups urging the administration to pull out from Iraq.

The decision to forgo a UN mandate means that the soldiers in Iraq are unlikely to get relief from other countries in the near future. Not only that, they’re not getting promised relief from their own government: the Pentagon is cutting pay for the 148,000 soldiers serving in Iraq.

The Pentagon says it needs to cut imminent danger pay as well as family separation allowances by $75 and $150 per month, respectively. The penny pinching is detailed in the San Francisco Chronicle:

“Last month, the Pentagon sent Congress an interim budget report saying the extra $225 monthly for the two pay categories was costing about $25 million more a month, or $300 million for a full year. In its ‘appeals package’ laying out its requests for cuts in pending congressional spending legislation, Pentagon officials recommended returning to the old, lower rates of special pay and said military experts would study the question of combat pay in coming months.”

To put the $300 million in perspective, the Missile Defense Agency will spend $9.1 billion (with a “b”) on missile defense next year alone, even though the Pentagon itself is having serious doubts about the program’s viability.

The decision to work outside the UN is baffling to some observers. Administration unilateralists seem to think that France’s desire to influence post-war Iraq is more dangerous than the cost of occupying Iraq alone, with U.S. soldiers bearing the burden of the heat and animosity. William Luers, a former U.S. diplomat, writes in the International Herald Tribune:

“Most world powers understand that nation building is difficult and messy. They also know that the UN has had the most success and the longest experience in these complex matters. The UN is the only entity that can legitimize this long-term venture, a venture that is critical to the future of the Iraqi people and for Iraq’s neighborsÉ Handing over political responsibility soon to a provisional Iraqi authority and to the international community contains many risks. But the alternatives could hold far more risk for the United States, Iraq and the entire region.”

The president has attributed the massive budget deficit to military spending. “We owe it to every soldier in the American military to make sure they’ve got the best pay, best equipment, best possible training,” he said in May. “We owe it to the families of the military to make sure that they’re as well protected as possible. So our expenditures went up because of the emergency in war, and revenues went down. That’s the ingredients for what they call a deficit.”

Praising and thanking the troops alongside pay cuts and unilateralism — that’s the ingredients for what they call “hypocrisy.”