On What the Troops Want

Yesterday, a number of Senators showed themselves too afraid to support the troops. Despite the fact that the military is overextended, the minority in the Senate again derailed efforts to give the troops the help that they need. More amazingly, when presented with a non-binding, toothless resolution that voiced support for the "Dwell Time Amendment," they voted for it - showing they are willing to pay the troops lip service, but won't stand up for them. Senators Warner, Murkowski, Specter, Alexander, Dole and Voinovich, especially, chickened out when the troops needed them the most.

The debate over the Webb-Hagel amendment was fast and fierce. VoteVets.org brought forty veterans to Capitol Hill to push for the bill, while the White House dispatched staff from the Joint Chiefs to lobby against it. Senators from both sides held press conferences and stake outs.

Amazingly, the one detail that we at VoteVets.org consistently tried to push, and not one media outlet picked up on, was what the troops think.

At the end of last year, before the surge and before rotations were extended to 15 months from 12 for the Army, the Military Times papers released a poll of troops which showed that nearly three-quarters of the troops said that because of President Bush, "today's military is stretched too thin to be effective." (You can find a link to that poll and many other stories and polls detailing what troops want at our "Did You Get The Memo" page at VoteVets.org)

While every poll of troops has showed the majority of them feel that things are not going well in Iraq - from Zogby International to the New York Times/CBS - the three-quarters threshold is higher than almost any other finding. Meaning, of all the criticisms of the war by troops, overextension seems to be the number one issue for them.

Yet, where was this reported in the media?

It's frustrating, because in this particular debate, it was so clear that one side was pro-troops and one side was anti-troops. Yet, in their efforts to try to present a "fair and balanced" story, the media lost sight of the fact that on this issue there is really no debate among the troops. They are overextended and are saying so. It's not just because troops want to come home and rest. Troops are saying that they are too overextended to be effective. They are telling America that this is a matter of our national security; that they don't think they can meet our global commitments or destroy al Qaeda in Afghanistan, let alone lock down all the violence in Iraq.

On Hardball, Chris Matthews actually did raise the point, and he deserves a lot of credit. He asked Pete Hegseth, of Vets for Freedom, how he can say he's speaking for the troops and oppose the Webb Amendment. I very much like Pete Hegseth, and off camera we've become pretty friendly. I respect his service, and I think he's a very effective representative for his side of the argument. But, Pete had no answer for Matthews, essentially admitting that on this debate, the troops speak with nearly one voice, and it's in line with Senators Webb and Hagel.

I understand the pressure reporters and editors feel, especially when they are constantly attacked for being the "liberal media." But on some issues, like this one, the numbers don't lie. And, in trying to present an even debate, the media lost sight of the most important fact of all - what do the troops want?