I have no idea why this story was not on the front page of every newspaper and at the top of every newscast yesterday, but it wasn't. The story ran on only one front page, that I'm aware of. And that was on the paper that broke the story, the Wall Street Journal.
Whether you are among the growing majority of Americans that think Bush is doing an awful job, or a member of the shrinking minority of those that believe he's doing a the right thing, you have to be bowled by this story. Just when I think I can close the book on the breathtaking incompetence of this administration, hard facts like this cross my bow and I have to reconsider.
Yesterday the WSJ's defense correspondent, Gregg Jaffe, reported that US Army officials have told the White House they are broke. Worse than broke actually. The Army, despite its $168 billion budget, is out of money and being forced to cannibalize operations, here and in the war zone, just to keep the lights on.
Here are just a few of the grim facts from Jaffe's exclusive:
* According to Maj. Gen Stephen Speakes, the Army was sent to war in Iraq $56 billion short of essential equipment. * Army officials told the White House that it needs at least an additional $24 billion, not in the 2007 budget, just to pay its current bills. * Cash shortfalls have forced the Army to lay off janitorial staff, close base swimming pools, and even stop mowing lawns on Army bases. * But cuts have also hit soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Army officials had to cut $3 billion for replacement of weapons in heavy use in Iraq, such as armored Humvees, two-way radios, remote control surveillance aircraft and trucks. * National Guard units now lack 40% of their critical readiness gear because it's been sent to Iraq, and the Army lacks the funds to replace it.
This budget crunch comes at a time when running the US Army never cost more, Jaffe reported.
* To stem the flow of soldiers leaving the Army because of repeated deployments to Iraq the Army was forced to spend $773 million on “retention bonus' this year compared with just $85 million three years ago. * The Army had to spend an additional $300 million on recruiting this year than in 2003. * The quality of the Army's oft touted all volunteer force has slid with the Army's decision to accept more enlistees that scored in the lower third of aptitude tests. * As a result the Army had to issue 8500 “moral waivers” this year compared with just 2260 ten years ago. (Moral waivers are issued for past criminal convictions, drug use and other proven legal/moral violations.)
How much of the Army's budget problems are due to poor budgeting and how much from private sector gouging? You decide.
Here are few more facts from Jaffe's report.
* The cost of equipping an infantry soldier tripled, from $7000 in 1999 to $24,000 today. * The cost of Humvee's went from $32,000 in 2001 to a breathtaking $225,000 each today. * The cost of training, feeding and housing Army recruits went from $75,000 per soldier in 2001 to $120,000 today. (The Army uses private contractors, largely Halliburton's Kellogg, Root & Brown, to provide most non-training services, such as food service and base maintenance. )
So, while we await President Bush to unveil his “new way forward,” plan for Iraq, consider the implications of Jaffe's report. The Iraq Study Group undoubtedly heard all about the Army's budget crunch during their closed-door hearings. Which explains why it's recommendations did not include large additional US troop deployments.
“The (Army's) equipment shortages explain why Gen. John Abizaid, the top commander in the middle East, recently told lawmakers that the US couldn't maintain even a relatively small increase of 20,000 soldiers in Iraq. “The ability to sustain that commitment is simply not something we have right now,” he testified in November.” (Jaffe, WSJ)
If you are looking for someone to blame for the wartime Army budget emergency look no further than Ike's “military industrial complex.” Even in peacetime that bunch roots through taxpayer's wallets with reckless abandon. But an actual war sparks a feeding frenzy. Multi-billion dollar weapon systems get approved faster than a Las Vegas hooker can turn a trick, often entirely independent of its relevance to the war at hand.
That fact is reflected in other figure Gregg Jaffe unearthed.
“Of the $1.9 trillion the US spent on weaponry....the Air Force received 36% and the Navy got 33%. The Army got 16%.”
There you have it. Equipping infantry soldiers at $24,000 a crack ain't bad work, if you can get it. But slamming taxpayers $32 million a copy for a fleet of F-18 fighter jets, now that's a spicy meat-a-ball! Or how about this mouthfull — $320.5 billion for a ballistic-missile submarine program — and that's the base price. You want options? They got options. Add $97 billion for the missiles; $46 billion for submarine propulsion research, development, testing, production, and operations; and $220 billion for attack submarine construction, weapons, and related systems. Now you're talkin'!
Ships, subs, planes and all the high-end, high-tech gizmos that go with them, are SO much more profitable for defense contractors than the care and feeding of Army grunts that's it's no contest. And these high-dollar honey pots are also much more "boast-worthy" for politicians in districts where those contractors maintain plants — and defense contracts make damn sure their facilities are strategically located around the country.
Which explains why the poor grunt on the ground is getting the short end of defense spending. Lockheed can't build and sell infantrymen. And profit margins on rifles, bullets and bulletproof vests is small change compared to the other stuff that can be sold to Uncle Sam. So, why waste a perfectly good war on nickel and dime infantry stuff when they can go for the real gold?
Just keep Jaffe's story in mind the next time you hear the President or your member of Congress heaping praise on our “fighting men and women on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.” When they're done, ask them what Jaffe's report is all about, and how it translates into “supporting our troops.” Ask them just who they are really supporting — our troops or their favorite defense contributor(s)? Then ask them how many of the nearly 3000 dead US soldiers they figure died ecause they lacked proper gear? Oh, and ask them to let you know right away when one of those $250 billion nuclear subs nails Osama bin Laden or pacifies Fallugia.
Oh my. I'm weary. It's all so tiresome. I am so, so, so, so, SO tired of being jerked around by the folks we send to Washington. I'm tired of watching the good ones go bad, tired of watching the bad ones get worse, then get reelected anyway. I'm tired of feeling insulted by the lame-ass lies — like Hillary's "I really haven't given running for president any serious thougth." I am tired of the phony patriotism, the cynical, manipulative, moralistic hypocrisy and the revolving-door-financial/political-mutual-back-scratching. And I'm tired of the kind of bullshit bookkeeping that, if you or I tried it, we'd be sharing a prison cell with Jeffery Skilling. Finally I'm tired of being told it's all going to change for the better now, and then watching it just get worse and worse.
The Iraq Study Group says the "situation is grave, and deteriorating." True, but not just in Iraq, but right here in the USA. We were a great nation, once. Not just a great military power, but, thanks to a rule-of-law, we were a great financial force. And thanks to deeply held, genuine convictions we actually lived by, we were once a great moral force on the world stage.
Today we are still a great military force. But the other two treasures have been squandered. Corporate officers loot shareholder equity with abandon, shrug off American workers in favor of cheap overseas serf-labor and share their windfall profits and tax-cuts with the beast of corruption that granted them, guaranteeing more to come.
And then there's America's once glimmering moral authority — washed away on the water-boards of Gitmo, secret prisons and ruled out of order in military tribunals that only a banana republic could love.
Sorry to be such a downer today. But the drip, drip, drip of the past six years just gets to be too much some days.
Oh, one last thing. You might want to ask your local newspaper editor why he/she didn't pick up Jaffe's story. His disclosures are as important as the Iraq Study Group's report, maybe more so.