When you fight a war, there is one rule you always follow: you never, ever leave a soldier behind. For three years now, George W. Bush has been leaving our soldiers in the lurch and leaving our veterans behind. If you want to support the military as President Bush says he does, you don’t send troops into a war without an exit strategy, and you always take care of those soldiers who fought in earlier wars. Mr. Bush has failed on both scores.
First, I opposed the war in Iraq, but I am willing to give credit where credit is due. Mr. Bush was right to go to Baghdad on Thanksgiving Day. But he should have brought more than the turkey stuffing. He should have brought a success strategy to Iraq, so that we can end the occupation, protect our troops and eventually bring them home.
On September 11, 2001 terrorists attacked America. At first, the Administration went after the terrorists and their state sponsors in Afghanistan. I applauded that effort and, like many Americans, I was encouraged by President Bush’s determination. But then something happened — a regular bait-and-switch. Instead of pursuing Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda network, Mr. Bush turned his focus on Iraq and went after Saddam Hussein.
Now we’re in a mess in Iraq. We should be reducing our vulnerability to terrorism, but the Bush Administration has committed our troops and treasure to a misguided war. Saddam Hussein is a villain. We all know that. But he did not arrange to fly those planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Al Qaeda did. And Al Qaeda cells continue to threaten our society. This is not a good strategy for winning the war on terror.
After 9/11, the world stood with the United States in sympathy and solidarity. Today, our country is viewed as a bully. It didn’t have to be that way.
Good things happen when you build bridges to your allies before you start bombing the bridges of your enemy. When I was Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, I often had to strategize with our allies. The negotiations were often difficult and complicated. But in Kosovo, we worked closely with our allies, and we were able to spread the burden of the war and occupation. Because we did, our troops were not alone the way they are in Iraq. Because we marched into Kosovo with the support of the world, we did not lose a single American life in battle. We stopped the genocide and saved 1.5 million Kosovars from ethnic cleansing. And now the tyrant of the Balkans, Slobodan Milosevic, is in The Hague on trial for war crimes.
My success strategy for Iraq builds on the lessons of Kosovo. I want to recruit NATO to participate in the military mission, so that our forces are free to go after the remnants of Saddam’s regime and the terrorists who have entered Iraq. Our allies can help with patrolling the borders and policing the streets, so that our forces do the job they were trained for – defeating the enemy. As long as Al Qaeda is operative, we must take the battle to them.
Second, in the same way that President Bush has failed to end the war in Iraq or to find Osama bin Laden, he has failed in another special obligation he has as Commander-in-Chief. He has not provided for those men and women who wore our nation’s uniform in the past.
Mr. Bush’s misguided policies will lead to the loss of 6,000 beds in VA hospitals – while 235,000 veterans sit on waiting lists for VA care. Our veterans need more care, not fewer beds. My veterans plan will provide an additional $2 billion to fully fund veterans’ health care.
My plan will also provide health insurance to the 20 percent of National Guard and Reserve troops who have no coverage when they are not on active duty. The contribution of National Guard and Reserve troops to our military efforts in Iraq demonstrate that we owe them a heavy debt.
We must also reach out to our most vulnerable veterans – the homeless. This Administration has done nothing but leave these veterans out in the cold. In fact, because of Mr. Bush’s deficits, many local governments have even cut back their efforts to help the homeless improve their lives. No veteran is truly homeless. They have a home – it’s called the United States of America. They fought for that home and I will fight for them.
I will also make sure that disabled veterans have the economic security they need. Currently, 565,000 veterans are being forced to choose between the retirement benefits they earned and the disability benefits to which they’re entitled. The Bush White House can spare billions in tax cuts for the rich, but they can’t find the funds to take care of disabled veterans. That is wrong. In a Clark Administration, no veteran will have to forfeit either their disability or their retirement benefits. I support a full, fair, and immediate end to the concurrent receipt ban.
Today’s soldiers are tomorrow’s veterans. I share a common bond of service with every veteran and I will never leave behind a fellow soldier. There is no reason this country can’t do a better job taking care of its current and future veterans. Together, we’ll succeed in Iraq, take care of our veterans at home and put this country back on the right track.