Funny, aren’t Republicans supposed to be better at this whole commander-in-chief thing? After eight years of hearing from them how bad Clinton was at it, you’d certainly think so. They called him a draft-dodger. They said he underfunded and overdeployed the armed forces. They talked about sagging morale and poor readiness.

Daniel Adams

But five years later, the army that Clinton had underfunded and overdeployed proved more than capable of destroying the Taliban regime and the Iraqi armed forces.

The trial-and-error leadership of President Bush, however, is proving much more difficult for our armed forces to survive.

Last week, in a rare display of honest reflection, Bush apologized for his remarks two years ago, in which he, in reference to a growing insurgency in Iraq, said “Bring em’ on.” “Sometimes,” he said, “words have consequences you don’t intend them to mean.”

Budding statesmen and women among you take note: When the president of the United States defiantly asks an armed insurgency to bring it on, the aforementioned insurgency will likely respond by:

a) Backing down

b) Bringing it on.

If you answered “b,” then congratulations:

You needed one less try than President Bush to get it right.

But back in 2000, running the army sounded just neato to G.W. and Dick. They were going to come in with a new vision: Right the wrongs of the previous administration. In a 2000 appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” then-vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney got right to it: “What the Clinton/Gore administration has done is to shortchange the military, continue to impose significant burdens on them and not made the kind of investments that need to be made.”

Fast-forward to today.

Shortchange the military? Try proposing $900-million cuts in veterans benefits in the middle of a war — a proposal that the Commander-in-Chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars early last year called “a disgrace and a sham.”

Significant burdens? How about deposing two regimes, maintaining a credible threat over at least two more, both defending the nation against terrorism while chasing the terrorists themselves across the globe, helping the tsunami-ravaged areas of Asia/Africa and backing up Bush when he runs off his mouth to a group of reporters, daring a confident and aggressive insurgency to bring it on?

Not make the kind of investments that need to be made? After in-house experts like Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki estimated that it would take “several hundred thousand troops” to secure a post-war Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz fired the experts, sent a much smaller force regardless and sent it without enough body armor and properly armored vehicles. I wonder: How many soldiers have died thus far because the greatest military machine in the world didn’t go to war with enough flak jackets?

The point of this isn’t to say that Clinton would have performed any better after Sept. 11 than the Bush/Cheney team — though I have my suspicions, such exercises are pointless. Nor is it to say that Clinton’s defense record was particularly stellar — it was not.

But Clinton did leave the office as he found it — with a manageable foreign policy and an entirely capable military. The way things are going now, it does not appear that Bush will leave his successor with the same.

Both the National Guard and Army Reserve are reporting some difficulty meeting the demands of the war on terror. Earlier this month, the chief of the army reserve reported that due to the policies of the Bush administration, the Reserve was “degenerating into a ‘broken’ force.”

Saturday, The Detroit Free Press ran a story on the current conditions in Iraq. The news isn’t good. Despite some recent success against the insurgents in the Fallujah campaign, U.S. military deaths and injuries due to hostile acts, insurgent attacks and mass-casualty bombings are all on the rise. Domestic support for the war is falling.

Make no mistake, we are losing this war.

It’s time to start asking ourselves: How much longer are we willing to stay? Given current conditions, what is the best scenario that we can reasonably expect to achieve in Iraq? I’m no expert, but I can only see another year in Iraq yielding one of two things:

1) An embarrassing, meaningless, painful victory

2) Or defeat by a thousand cuts

Quite frankly, I’m not comfortable asking our volunteer army to sacrifice for that.

One thing is certain — while Bush, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz take their sweet time learning how to run a war, this nation and its soldiers are in it deep.

 

Adams can be reached at dnadams@umich.edu.

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