Friday, December 10, 2004

Here's why Rumsfeld has to go

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld promised last year that the Pentagon would equip every U.S. military vehicle in Iraq with sufficient armor by July 31. More than four months later, that hasn't happened. Instead, many of our troops have had to jury-rig their transport trucks with "hillbilly armor," scrap metal and glass shards they dig out of landfills. John Zimmermann, a senior official with the Tennessee National Guard, told ABC News that 95 percent of his unit's trucks don't have adequate armor.

When a soldier in Kuwait asked Rumsfeld during a question-and-
answer session Wednesday to explain why so many vehicles are still unsafe nearly three years into the Iraq war, the crowd of U.S. troops cheered. The defense secretary fumbled for words, asked the soldier to repeat the question, and then sputtered out some lines that simply had to be good for morale. Rumsfeld's finest moment at the Q&A? "You can have all the armor in the world on a tank and it can (still) be blown up."

Wow, you don't say, Don. Glad you could provide such words of comfort to thousands of soldiers about to be deployed to Iraq.

Other fine work from our venerable defense secretary: "You go to war with the Army you have." That's true, but let's keep two points in mind: 1) This war was launched not in response to an attack but as a pre-emptive action, which means the Bush administration could have taken its time to ensure the military had proper equipment before the war began, and 2) even if we did have to hurry off to war immediately, we've had almost two years now to shore up our defenses. So why are 19 of every 20 trucks used by a National Guard unit in a war zone still unarmored today?

Rumsfeld emphasized Wednesday that Pentagon officials are doing all they can to get contractors to churn out new armor as quickly as possible. Which would be great, if it were true. The Boston Globe decided to make a couple of calls on the subject, and it reported today that defense contractor Armor Holdings increased its production capacity months ago but has been sitting on its hands since then, waiting for the Pentagon to order more trucks. Apparently embarrassed into action by the story, the Defense Department increased its order for armored Humvees today. But it shouldn't require a media blitz to convince our defense planners to do everything possible to keep our soldiers safe.

Rumsfeld was a major player in launching the Iraq war before we confirmed the status of those elusive weapons of mass destruction. He didn't anticipate the post-war Iraqi insurgency. He sent our troops into a war zone without the armor they need to keep them safe. And now, almost two years after the war began, his department apparently can't even order that armor on time, four months after his self-imposed deadline to have it all installed.

Maybe Rumsfeld can explain to the family of Pfc. John D. Hart why he didn't keep his promise. Hart died in March, a year after the war began, in Kirkuk, Iraq, during an ambush on his unarmored Humvee. The vehicle had no bulletproof glass. It didn't even have metal doors. Hart fought the ambushers valiantly, exhausting his ammunition in the process. But his Humvee left him practically defenseless, and his attackers killed him. He was 20 years old.

As his father said, "He would have been better off in a Toyota Highlander." Heroes like Hart deserve so much better.

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