So Much For The Troops

Since my original story about the repulsive conditions wounded troops are living in at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, all heck has broken loose in Washington. The president vowed to fix the problems and made it the subject of his weekly radio address. Congress is holding hearings. A two-star general has been relieved and the Secretary of the Army resigned under pressure. Reports are emerging of similar problems at other installations. It's not just Walter Reed.

With all this noise I think it is safe to say the wounded soldiers will soon be living in much better conditions. I am glad the administration is taking action. I am not yet ready to forgive and forget, however. Either the White House and the Pentagon knew about this neglect - in which case they are evil beyond description - or they didn't know about it, in which case they are alarmingly incompetent.

I would like to think the latter possibility is the answer. Yet I'm afraid the top brass had to know this was going on. To understand why, you have to understand how the military works.

American soldiers are not mindless robots. They love to complain and they have plenty of ways to do it. Commanders are required to have an "open-door" policy to listen to any problems their troops have. Every major command has an Inspector General whose job is to investigate complaints and bring the justifiable ones to the commanding general for action. There are equal-opportunity people who look into any allegations of racism and sexism. Every soldier has a statutory right to complain to his Congressperson if none of the internal mechanisms are helping. I've seen congressional complaints come down the chain and believe me, they get action.

So, if the various problems as described in the media are remotely accurate, I think it is a safe conclusion that at least some of the wounded soldiers and/or their families tried to bring it to the attention of those in charge. What did it accomplish? Nothing, apparently. In desperation someone started talking to the press and then the Administration finally woke up.

If the Secretary of Defense and the White House didn't know about the conditions in their own hospitals, it is their own fault. They are obviously not demanding the kind of reporting and accountability from their subordinates that they should. I suspect we will see reports emerge in the next few weeks that top officials did know what was going on and did nothing about it. More heads will roll - but not those that really should.

There's a deeper explanation, too. As is now painfully clear, the Bush Administration launched itself into Iraq with little thought about what would happen afterward. They were genuinely surprised when they found themselves fighting a counterinsurgency battle. Large numbers of wounded soldiers, who would need extensive care, were a perfectly foreseeable consequence of this conflict. Yet the Pentagon and the VA appear to have put little effort into preparing for this inevitable result.

That's the real problem. We have an administration that acts without thinking about all the consequences. Then when the consequences pop up, they ignore them for as long as they can get away with it. It makes me wonder what else is going on that we don't know about yet.

UPDATE: I don't often agree with Arianna Huffington but this column makes some excellent points. Check it out.

No comments: