During the foreign policy debate coming up this Friday night, there will be one group of constituents who will be eagerly awaiting the one question I never see asked of the war-mongers.
I'm talking about Blue Star Families for Obama, an energetic group of active-duty military families who, although they respect the military service and sacrifice of John McCain, nonetheless believe passionately that Barack Obama is a far better choice for commander-in-chief.
The decision to support Obama for president by many military families is not an emotional one. It is based on careful study of his long history of supporting legislation that provides the best care and opportunities for our nation's veterans and those still in service. A comparison of Obama's senate voting record with John McCain's by major veteran's groups is not even close. He has voted in favor of veteran's benefits and attention to the troops something like 80% of the time in comparison to McCain's 20%. A case in point, as we all know by now, is the recently passed updated version of the G.I. Bill.
I would also like to point out here, for those who may not know, that Michelle Obama has adopted the needs of military families as one of her central causes. She has visited numerous military bases -- not to stick soldiers or their families up on stage as photo-op props -- but to sit down at roundtables with them and discuss, one-on-one, their biggest concerns. She says she takes all those concerns to her husband, and in her convention speech, she made a point of acknowledging their sacrifices and the strains they face daily.
I'll be liveblogging with the Blue Star Families during the upcoming debate, and will put together a blog of their impressions later for OffTheBus.
But as a Marine mom who has sent a son to Iraq to fight twice, and three nephews four other times, I know the question I would like to see asked of John McCain, because I never see anybody else ask it of him.
But then, why should they?
Less than one-half of one percent of our nation's population has been asked to fight two wars over the past seven years. And they've been asked to fight it over and over again.
They've been dragged out of physical rehab from war wounds and sent to fight it again. They've been pulled away from suicide-watch and shipped off to fight again. They've been sent to fight it, spent a year or more there risking their lives daily, and then, while in line to catch the plane for glorious home at last--been pulled away and told to remain in-country another month or two, during which time, more than a few of those who'd been ready to catch the plane home wind up doing so in a flag-draped casket.
This army has been abused in ways I've never seen in my lifetime, and their families have paid a crippling price. Divorce, spousal abuse, child abuse, suicide, cases of PTSD--every single measure of extremely high levels of stress available shows dangerously high levels of it in the military. Junior officers and non-commissioned officers, those lieutenants and sergeants who tend to be combat platoon and squad leaders and absorb some of the worst horrors of war when they not only risk their own lives, but feel responsible for the lives of everyone under them--are fleeing the service in such large numbers that a serious shortage has resulted.
Even the Joint Chiefs of Staff have expressed grave worries of the strains on our nation's military to their commander-in-chief.
Not that he cares or has listened.
And now, we've got a new election under way. I've been following the candidates closely for well over a year now, and I keep waiting for this question to be asked of the war-mongerers.
John McCain loves stories of heroism in battle. He is widely known as a war-hero in his own right, and often chokes up when mentioning the bravery of our troops.
And yet, again and again, when faced with questions about how to handle aggressive regimes overseas, he falls back on a war-like tone, in which he repeatedly offers the use of force as a solution to those problems. He seems to like the idea of himself--as valiant war-president--facing off against world leaders like Vladimir Putin. In that case, after the conflict between Russia and Georgia (in which complex analysis reveals that both countries were aggressive and share responsibility for the bloodshed), he mouthed off that the G-8 ought to kick Russia out and that, furthermore, Georgia ought to be made a member of NATO, which would guarantee this country's responsibility to possibly defend it militarily.
His hapless choice for vice-president, Sarah Palin, told Charlie Gibson that "perhaps" it would be necessary to go to war with Russia.
McCain has stated that he thinks we should remain in force in Iraq indefinitely (140,000 troops)--or at least until the next election (he said, "2013" when pressed), and that we should send an additional 12,000 troops to Afghanistan.
(Obama has promised to end the war in Iraq and has said he would then send 3500 more troops to Afghanistan.)
Also, both McCain and Palin seem to feel that military options against Iran should be the first line of defense against that country's nuclear ambitions.
McCain himself has stated repeatedly that "more wars will be necessary."
Here's my question.
I hope very much that Jim Lehrer asks this question Friday night. If he does, it will be a first that anybody has ever framed it in this context:
If it is true that "more wars will be necessary," maybe even in a possible upcoming McCain/Palin administration, with a lengthening of the Iraq war and an escalation of the Afghanistan war for certain, with possibly some sort of military action against at least Iran...then...
This military mom wants to know:
WHERE YA GONNA GET THE TROOPS?
There just aren't enough troops in the current armed forces to fight all these wars, even if we're just talking about Iraq and Afghanistan. The troop escalation ordered by Bush last year damn near broke the military, with National Guard and Reserve troops being called into action--leaving our nation undefended if another major crises were to have erupted worldwide--and those troops already deployed having their deployments extended, and those scheduled to ship out being sent early, before their training was complete.
Our troops were shipping back out to war, sometimes twice in the course of one year. (My son returned from Iraq the first time in May 2005, and re-deployed to the war on January 1 of 2006, just months later.) In the army, other troops spend 15 months in Iraq, come home for maybe nine months, then get re-deployed for at least another year.
We--meaning the military overall--can't keep this up indefinitely. We're barely holding on by our fingernails now. Troops sent for multiple deployments are returning with increasingly serious physical and emotional problems with each return to war--provided they come home at all. Alive, anyway.
The idea that we can just yank troops out of Iraq and ship 'em straight to Afghanistan reveals a great ignorance about the two different wars. One is urban combat in a desert environment. Another is guerilla warfare in a rugged, mountainous, remote geographical area.
Folks, you gotta train for that stuff.
Many troops, returning from Iraq in one deployment, have been shipped off to Afghanistan before receiving that crucial mountain-guerilla training they need, and this is one of many reasons casualties have been so bloody high there.
WHERE ARE YA GONNA GET THE TROOPS FOR ALL YOUR WARS?
Nobody ever mentions the "D" word.
But I'm telling you. The army is having a tough enough time now, recruiting an all-volunteer force. They're letting in people with criminal records, those who score very low on IQ tests, those who are high-school drop-outs. They keep lowering standards because it's getting so hard to find anybody who will step up to volunteer for this madness.
Lately, they've been offering huge signing bonuses and putting pressure on these kids to sign before losing it.
It's not a mercenary force, but it is bribery, paid to those to whom a few thousand dollars is a fortune. Recruiters often lie, and promise them that they will not be sent to war.
Please don't get me wrong here. Many fine young men and women sign up to volunteer to serve their country because, like my son, they love their country.
As Dustin said when he enlisted, shortly after receiving his college degree:
"I don't feel comfortable being one of the ones who needs protecting. I'd feel better, being one of the protectors."
They sign up to fight terrorists. They sign up because they come from proud military families and want to make their own marks.
All the same, that number of volunteers is dwindling, because the strains are just so hard right now, maintaining two wars.
That only leaves one remaining way to fill up the forces:
So, I just want all those pundits and pontificators and opinionists and bloggers and op-eders and editorializers who keep talking about "strong national defense" and about the need to confront aggression with equally strong aggression, to realize that
OUR TROOPS ARE NOT CHESS PAWNS ON A BOARD.
You can't just sit down in your book-lined study and move them around like some sort of intellectual game.
These are living, breathing, bleeding human beings, with families and friends and hearts and souls.
And there aren't enough of them to go around.