Much More Like It

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February 26, 2008 5:55 p.m.

Late last week, one of the politicals at the Bush Pentagon, spokesman Bryan Whitman tried to stick his thumb into the ongoing presidential campaign by publicly doubting the veracity of the anecdote Sen. Obama used about the Army Captain in Afghanistan in last weeks Democratic debate. “I find that account pretty hard to imagine,” he told reporters after the debate.

Today Gen. George Casey, Chief of Staff of the Army, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee with a very different take on the story. From the AP

Gen. George Casey, the Army’s chief of staff, said Tuesday he has no reason to doubt Barack Obama’s recent account by an Army captain that a rifle platoon in Afghanistan didn’t have enough soldiers or weapons.

But he questioned the assertion that the shortages prevented the troops from doing their job.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Casey said the incident would have occurred in 2003 and 2004 following the Iraq invasion. He said he remembers it as a “difficult time” trying to rush armor and other equipment to the troops.

He didn’t endorse what Obama said, which there’s no need for him to do. And he was frank about the supply difficulties that were widely reported at the time and which few people who follow these matters question. But mostly, if the AP report is an accurate guide, Casey sought to answer the question to the extent possible without engaging the politics of it.

This is not some partisan nit to pick. The Bush administration has had a dangerous and corrosive tendency to partisanize the Pentagon and use it to game domestic political controversies and campaigns. A host of traditions, laws and regulations testify to the importance we place on walling the military off from domestic politics. Members of the armed forces are not at complete liberty to speak their mind about the current commander-in-chief. They’re not allowed to appear in uniform at political rallies. And there are a host of other examples. The deterioration isn’t solely tied to the Bush administration. It builds on pre-existing trends. But their abuses are much greater than anything seen in the past.

It’s an extremely important issue; and one that everyone should be sensitive to.

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