Sons Serve in Mitt Mobile

Originally posted: August 17, 2007

Greencastle, Ind. – In the run-up to the almost meaningless Republican straw poll in Ames, there was one of those clarifying moments that make all the campaign time spent in Iowa worthwhile.

Mitt Romney, who was expected to buy enough votes to win that contest, and eventually did, was taking questions at one of his “Ask Mitt” forums. A woman put it to him this way: Are any of your five sons serving in the military, and, if not, when do they plan to enlist?

The sons are not in uniform. They are organizing events, raising money for their father, and driving the Mitt Mobile around the 99 counties of Iowa. In matters involving Iraq, Romney allows precious little space between himself and President Bush, but this question was an unexpected curveball coming in a room full of pesky reporters with notebooks and tape recorders. The candidate puckered and then punted.

“It’s remarkable how we can show our support for our nation, and one of the ways my sons are showing support for our nation is helping to get me elected, because they think I’d be a great president,” Romney answered.

I guess it’s more or less like the Bush twins, Barbara and Jenna, showing support for the nation by partying all over Georgetown.

At about the same time Romney was spending an estimated $800 per vote to win the straw poll, another general was getting himself in trouble with President Bush. Army Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, the nation’s new war czar, told National Public Radio that frequent tours of duty have stressed the all-volunteer army to the point where it makes sense to consider a return to a military draft.

“It’s always been an option on the table,” said Lute, “and I think it makes sense to certainly consider it.”

Hardly were the words out of his mouth before a spokesman for the National Security Council issued a refutation:

“The president’s position is that the all-volunteer military meets the needs of the country and there is no discussion of a draft.”

We’ve seen this act before. When a general tells the truth and it doesn’t square with what Bush wants to believe, what happens? Well, remember when Gen. Eric Shinseki estimated in 2003 that several hundred thousand troops would be needed in postwar Iraq? Donald Rumsfeld sent his assistant, Paul Wolfowitz, to reassure Congress that Shinseki was “wildly off the mark.” Displaying what proved to be shameful ignorance, Wolfowitz explained that there was no history of ethnic strife in Iraq, as there was in the Balkans, and that Iraqis would welcome an American-led liberation force that stayed as long as necessary. Gen. Shinseki stood by his estimate, and he was fired.

Since most of the country knows that Bush’s policies in Iraq are a failure, one hopes that Gen. Lute can hold onto his job. The truth is, as Colin Powell put it recently, the U.S. Army is “about broken.” Lute pointed out that the war is causing stress to military families and having an impact on levels of re-enlistment. In two of the last three months, the Army missed its recruiting goals.

Summer is the prime recruiting season for the all-volunteer force, and the Army recently added 1,000 recruiters to fan out to county fairs, rodeos, X-Games, NASCAR events and low-end shopping malls, hustling iPods, video games and tee-shirts, selling adventure, education and careers in the Army. The recruiters are also armed with a new $20,000 “quick-ship” bonus for anyone who can report to basic training by September 30.

The Army has relaxed its requirements on age and education, and recruiters are known to break or bend the rules to fill their quotas. Like what? Like hiding police records and medical histories, teaching kids how to falsify a high school diploma and clear illegal drugs from their systems. Like telling recruits they will not have to go to Iraq or that they will just have to play in the band. These practices became so widespread that last year the Army ordered a stand-down to address recruiting irregularities and retrain recruiters in military ethics. Today, a very common refrain heard in the Army is, “My recruiter lied to me.”

America is scared to death of a draft, but the way things go now, neither the Romney boys nor the Bush girls will ever have to worry about meeting an Army recruiter. As a result, their fathers will always find it easier to lead the country into war.

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