Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Congressman Ford Releases Letter To The President Urging Him To Return To Washington To Ensure Troops Have Necessary Body Armor

President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

I hope your vacation is going well.

The weekend's front page stories in national and local newspapers detailed how a lack of protective body armor for our troops serving in Iraq remains a serious problem and how the military base closures recommended by the Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) may not actually save money.

More than two years after the start of the war in Iraq, it is distressing to hear yet again that our troops, who are risking their lives on behalf of American security and freedom, lack the basic equipment needed to carry out their mission. In addition, I have long believed that with the numerous challenges faced by our military - including the war in Iraq and our presence in Afghanistan and elsewhere as part of the global war on terror - now is not the time to close military bases. In light of news about a lack of costs savings from the proposed closures, I believe more strongly than ever that the BRAC recommendations should be shelved indefinitely.

I know vacation is important, but I am writing to urge you to get back to Washington to get this armor issue resolved, hear out your generals in Iraq who want more troops on the ground and postpone the implementation of BRAC recommendations.

More than a year ago, Secretary Rumsfeld testified before Congress that the body armor and other military equipment issues hobbling our troops were being addressed. More than six months ago, Secretary Rumsfeld assured the nation that measures were being taken to address the concerns of soldiers like Specialist Thomas Wilson of the Tennessee National Guard, who justifiably wondered why our troops were being forced to sift through trash heaps for makeshift armor for their Humvees. Now, we learn that there has been a year-long delay in getting our troops outfitted with the latest body armor.

This is not the first time that Secretary Rumsfeld has been wrong about the situation in Iraq. I recall his repeated and untrue assertions on the House floor during private briefings that he knew precisely where Saddam was hiding weapons of mass destruction. He turned out to be wrong. Equally troubling, Secretary Rumsfeld, echoed by his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, mischaracterized the insurgents in Iraq early on as a group of thugs and dead-enders. We have seen in recent months that the insurgency is more organized, better equipped and far more lethal than Secretary Rumsfeld thought. Again, your top defense leadership - as well as Vice President Cheney on the same issues - was wrong.

Winning in Iraq is a vital part of our success strategy in defeating the terrorists and ushering in freedom and democracy to the Middle East. Our troops cannot be expected to perform successfully without the equipment they need, and the American public will not tolerate sending American men and women into battle without the safest and most advanced equipment available. Nor will they support your efforts unless you are honest about our triumphs and shortcomings in Iraq. And right now, Mr. President, your Administration is suffering from a credibility deficit.

I am more concerned than usual, Mr. President, because the U.S. casualty rate is climbing, and grim reports about stemming the insurgents persist. Moreover, senior U.S. military officers appear to be pleading for more troop support. Yesterday's New York Times also quoted Jay Garner, Paul Bremer's predecessor in Iraq, as explaining the proliferation of private security companies in Iraq as a function of too few U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq.

I have heard you say on numerous occasions that you would send more troops if your military leadership asked for it. Frankly, it is hard to believe that they are not asking for it; on each of my trips to the region, our brave leadership has spoken personally of the need for more troops. Your own military experience, Mr. President, should inform you that too much stress is being placed on too few U.S. warfighters. You should send more at least until the Iraqi elections are held in December.

And finally, the military and economic impact of the BRAC recommendations are being questioned, and conflicting answers are emerging. The nation deserves clarity and reconciliation on this matter. My recommendation is the same as it was when the BRAC closure list was first announced in May: postpone all base closings at least until Iraq is secure enough to begin withdrawing U.S. troops. We need to avoid placing any additional strain on our military especially when, in the end, further study of the proposed closings may reveal that BRAC got it wrong.

Mr. President, I am a Democrat who has supported you every step of the way in Iraq. I believe that the United States has vital national security interests in the Middle East and that it is critical to support the emergence of freedom and liberty in that part of the globe. But it is also clear that our present course of action is not advancing our interests. Terrorism is increasing, there is more chaos on the ground in Iraq and the reconstruction efforts have become bogged down. Even the political process, which only seven months ago showed great progress, is showing signs of slowing. In the face of broad disagreement among the major ethnic factions over significant issues such as the role of Islam and the degree of state and local autonomy, the committee tasked with drafting an Iraqi constitution pushed out its deadline by a week.

I remain committed to a vigorous, tough and smart campaign in Iraq, but the status quo is not working. As you know, Mr. President, failure is not an option. That is why I am writing to you again in good faith to suggest ways in which we can get back on the path to success.

As always, you and your family, especially the First Lady, are in my prayers. I am rooting for you to get this right Mr. President. So many lives depend on it.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of these ideas.


Harold Ford

From: Press release

(Elevated back to the top on 8-16-05, due to the importance of the post)