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December 09, 2004

ARMOR: Various snarky antiwar readers seem to think that this story, in which Rumsfeld was challenged (by a member of my local National Guard outfit, actually) regarding armor, is somehow a devastating indictment of the Bush Administration and the war in toto. Actually, I'd say it's rather a lot less than that.

Armor's nice, of course, when people are shooting at you, and soldiers tend to want more of it. They've traditionally added sandbags, etc., to vehicles regardless of weight penalties that result. But as Jeff Taylor -- no fan of Rumsfeld -- notes over at Reason, it's not as simple as more armor = better:

Truth is most U.S. military vehicles have required some kind of armor upgrade to withstand the volleys of RPGs and large-munition roadside bombs the Iraq conflict has produced. The Stryker units have what looks like steel grating around them to throw up an anti-RPG "fence," photos of Bradleys show what looks like reactive armor kits in place, and even the mighty Abrams appear to have been modified with extra plating.

So it is just not a case of the bloodless Pentagon stiffing the Guard and Reserves with thin-skinned Humvees, as some of the comments today seem to suggest. Rummy was right, if typically tone-deaf, by telling Wilson he could get blown up in a tank too.

Further, more armor is not a magical solution, never has been. It is represents a trade-off between protection and mobility, just as in the age of knights when if the peasants managed to violently unhorse an up-armored foe, they could go off and have lunch and leave the knight flailing face down in the mud. If he didn't drown, you could always stab him in the eye-slits later.

The preference for less armor can be seen today with at least some Marines in Fallujah. They point out that up-armoring their Humvees reduces the ability to see threats coming. Oh, but they bitch that the regular Army gets all the good stuff anyway, so at least that's square.

Finally, was it a disgrace or outrage that American tankers in Normandy had to cut up German steel obstacles to make hedge-cutting teeth for their tanks? No, it was an inspired response to the insanity of war. Rummy being nuts has very little to do with this sad and eternal fact.

I think it's nice that Rumsfeld heard criticisms from the troops -- though not, in this case, troops that had actually gotten to Iraq yet -- but to try to turn this into some sort of claim of generalized incompetence on the part of the Administration is to show, yet again, the ignorance of so many of the critics.

UPDATE: Reader Tim Morris emails: "I think it's interesting that everyone seems to be missing the real point - the Secretary of Defense, essentially second only to the President in the civilian portion of the chain of command, was called to account by an enlisted solider, and a low ranking one at that, and he stood there and took it because that's his job."

It's certainly an interesting contrast to the way that, say, Dan Rather receives criticism.

ANOTHER UPDATE: This post, from another soldier who was present when the questions were asked, is a must-read:

I was very surprised when we were told there would be the opportunity to ask questions without first having them screened. I would have assumed there would have been some process where those who had questions submitted them prior to asking the Secretary, and had them approved. Instead, everyone in the room was given the option to stand, motion for one of the soldiers holding a microphone, and ask anything they desired. There was no particular order of what kind of questions were asked and the soldiers who asked questions ranged in rank from Specialists to Lieutenant Colonels. When I say I was surprised that this part of the event was not micromanaged, I want to ensure you that I was pleasantly surprised. In my opinion, it shows the attitude that this Secretary has towards the soldiers he is sworn to represent. It shows those in uniform that he does not see us or our concerns as "below his level," but instead sends a signal that we are his concern, and ensuring we can accomplish the mission is his highest priority.

One more thing I would like to add is this, not one soldier present asked questions about why we were here, or expressed the sort of anti-war sentiment that Michael Moore led some to believe was prevalent in the military. Rather, the concern was about ensuring we would be supplied with all necessary equipment to accomplish the mission and return home safely. Let there be no doubt, this was not a hostile crowd eager to catch the Secretary of Defense off guard by grilling him with questions he has never had to answer.

More here, too. And here's the bottom line, from Short Final:

Here's what will come of this: Democrats will make political hay, and Rumsfield will get burned for having had the nads to stand up in front of the troops and field difficult questions. Who suffers the most from the Secretary of Defense not being able to have candid discussions with our troops for fear of being vilified by the press? Well, the only people that suffer from that are the troops that our press and Democrats pretend to support.

Indeed. And reader Walter Wallis emails:

I am amused that the MSM media has failed to note that the criticism of the failure to get armor kits to the troops comes primarily from members of the party whose leaders voted against appropriations to fund the war. They can't have it both ways - or can they?

They're doing their best, with a little help from the press. And they voted for the appropriations before they voted against them. Or was it the other way around? -- I can't remember.

MORE: Lance Frizzell -- who I know because he used to play guitar for Audra and the Antidote, but who I didn't know was on active duty now -- sends this email from the scene:

I'm over here (Iraq) w/ the 278th but I was at Beuhring when the Rumsfeld appearance occurred. I have 2 thoughts:

1) What's left out here is what happens if we hang out in Kuwait waiting for the official armor kits to arrive: the current rotation gets extended yet again. Most folks I know want these guys to get home ASAP. They've done their time and they should get to go home.

If I'm delayed next xmas b/c somebody was too good to find an alternate solution to a problem I'll be highly pissed. After all, this is the US Army.

2) Your soldier-reader is right about unstaged, direct access to the SecDef. It would have been very easy to select soldiers who would have made sure no embarrassing questions were asked. I for one would have been happy to ask something along the lines of "given John Kerry's appalling lack of respect for all things military, just how much of a disaster would he have been as President?"

Of course, it turns out that although the access was direct, it wasn't quite unstaged. Drudge has reprinted an email from a reporter who says he planted the questions with the soldiers.

Should we have more armor? Beats me. Are people who are using this issue as a way of unfairly portraying Rumsfeld as a heartless murderer of American troops way off-base? Yes. Absolutely.

Meanwhile, DefenseTech notes that "Even so-called up-armored Humvees will shred if hit by a well-placed RPG shot," and points out that the Pentagon is working on something better.

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