Specter Does No Favors To Troops


Posted: September 24, 2007

LAST WEEK, a simple, bi-partisan amendment was offered to a military spending bill by U.S. Sens. Jim Webb, D-Va., and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. Webb is a Vietnam veteran and a former Secretary of the Navy, and Hagel is a Vietnam veteran; these guys know the military.

Their amendment would have put into law something that has been a longstanding handshake deal with our troops: You get as much time on the home front as you do in the field. It is a deal that President Bush has broken, in order to maintain troop levels in Iraq.

The "Dwell Time Amendment" is not without merit or need. Our Army, in particular, is being stretched far too thin, at the expense of our soldiers and our national security itself.

Earlier in the year, the Pentagon again extended troop rotations from 12 months to 15 months. At the same time, it essentially reset the clock of the National Guard and Reserve, no longer taking into account how long or often they served on active duty, before they could be called up again.

At the same time, active duty troops are often being given less time at home than they spent away. Fifteen months at war, six months home, and then back to war.

The Senate's simple amendment could have alleviated the strain on our armed forces. That amendment needed 60 votes to pass; it got 56.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., was one of those who voted no. In his rambling floor statement, he never made a convincing case for his vote, which, he said was not a settled matter at the time he spoke. Specter on one hand cited constitutional issues, but then said they weren't enough to convince him. He said there was concern from the Pentagon, but not enough that he couldn't see any way to implement the policy. In short, he couldn't articulate a case for a 'no' vote, but then went ahead and voted 'no' anyway.

Anyone paying attention to the war has to be aware of how strained our troops are. For example, a December 2006 Military Times poll (before the extensions to 15 months) found that nearly three-quarters of troops felt the military had been too far stretched to be effective.

Just recently, an Army report found that suicide rates were at their highest since the early 1980s, and directly related to extended tours.

Troops find the stress takes its toll on their ability to do their jobs. The overextension also impacts the country's ability to fulfill our global commitments, let alone take on any new adversaries that could emerge. The National Intelligence Estimate reported that al Qaeda has refortified and strengthened to near 9/11 levels, because the war in Iraq has drained our capabilities in Afghanistan. The Washington Post reported that Admiral Fallon, the head of CENTCOM, which oversees the war on terror, urged President Bush to cut troop levels in Iraq by two-thirds by next year, because he is witnessing our shrinking ability to take the fight to the real enemy – al Qaeda.

In the face of the enormous burdens we ask the troops to take on for us, we'd hate to think Specter's vote had anything to do with his interest in being chairman of the Judiciary Committee. We're sure the pressure he's getting from Republican leadership to toe the line or miss his shot at the committee chairmanship, should Republicans regain the Senate, is intense.

Still, it can't be anywhere near as intense as the pressure on our troops to go well beyond the call of duty.

Thanks to Sen. Specter's vote, our troops will find no quick relief of that that pressure. *

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