November 13, 2003 | Broadcast

Scarborough Country

Jeff Sessions, let me begin with you.

You have always been a champion of the men and women in uniform, but you just heard Lisa Myers’ report. How could Congress and the president allow this to happen?

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: We need to do better.

And I, frankly, have not been happy with the pay situations that we have observed. We work very closely with an Alabama National Guard unit, and I think finally got their pay straight. It took too much time. When I was in Iraq, Joe, I met with one of the generals, who told me about a unit who was deployed away from his headquarters. And they had serious pay problems.

And he directed his colonel paymaster to go over there and — quote — “not return until he gets every one of them straight.” It takes that kind of commitment sometimes to get our computer systems working. We are using our Guard so good and so well, but we haven’t kept up with getting them paid properly.

SCARBOROUGH: Senator, is it just the bureaucracy over at the Pentagon that’s behind the times? How do we fix this problem?

SESSIONS: It’s a constant problem.

It’s a huge military. People coming from state and National Guard units, Army Reserve unit, active-duty units, each one of them may be entitled to different pay and allowances. And so it is hard. I’ll have to admit. But I believe that we can reach the level of excellence that we must reach, because it’s just not acceptable to have our men and women in uniform putting their lives at risk not be paid properly.

SCARBOROUGH: Now, Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark blasted the Pentagon. And he said this — quote — “This is appalling and unconscionable. The very least this administration can do is make sure military families can make ends meet.”

P.J. Crowley, Wesley Clark may be on the campaign trail, but that sounds like a fair charge, doesn’t it?

P.J. CROWLEY, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Well, certainly General Clark should know. As a senior leader in the Army, it was his responsibility to make sure that the troops had what they needed to perform the mission.

And there’s no doubt that he understands, perhaps better than anybody else, that these are the kinds of irritants and concerns that not only affect troops in the middle of the battle. But when it comes to reenlisting later on, these are the very kinds of judgments that send very qualified soldiers packing into the civilian sector and presents us with a difficult problem of retention.

SCARBOROUGH: Cliff May, what’s the problem here? We have got Republicans in the White House. We’ve got Republicans in Congress. This is supposed to be the party, at least American people have been told, that would take care of our men and women in uniform. That doesn’t seem to be the case right now, does it?

CLIFF MAY, FOUNDATION FOR DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Joe, I think you’re right and I think everybody else I’ve heard has been right. Part of it is the problem with a huge bureaucracy. You’re never going to get around that entirely.

Part of it is that, some years back, we all thought we could take a peace dividend. And now we know that we can’t take a peace dividend anymore. We have to invest in a military that is going to be fighting a war against terrorism in many parts of the world for a very long time to come. And we have to improve just about everything we do, including how we take care of our troops.

SCARBOROUGH: And it may be a readiness problem at some point, may it not?

MAY: It may be what, a readiness problem?

SCARBOROUGH: A readiness problem.

MAY: Yes. Well, yes, but it’s more than that.

I mean, what you point to, what Lisa pointed to is very important. But I think everyone knows, and I think everyone here will agree with me, we don’t have nearly the number of special forces that we need to do what we’re trying to do in places like Iraq. We don’t have nearly the intelligence, military or civilian intelligence, CIA, particularly human intelligence, that we need to find out where the terrorists are hiding, to find out where the bad guys are in Iraq.

All of that is going to take years to do. And we have to make a commitment to do it, whatever it takes. That has got to be our top priority.

SCARBOROUGH: I want to read a shocking statistic for the rest of you here. Of the 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, 44,000 don’t have the most advanced body armor. And that’s the stuff that can stop an automatic rifle round.

The funding and shipping delays are meaning that the last 30,000 flak jackets are not going to get there until mid-December. And that’s leaving our troops at risk.

P.J. Crowley, is it fair to say that bungling bureaucrats in the Pentagon may actually be costing some U.S. troops their lives?

CROWLEY: Well, there certainly is a priority issue here.

A lot of the stuff that we’ve been talking about today are the nuts and bolts. They’re not the glamorous, high-priced weapon systems. They’re the nuts and bolts of what helps make a military operate efficiently, making sure that, from a leadership standpoint, you keep faith with the troops. If you tell them they’re only going to be there for six months, then you deliver on that promise.

And the administration has already broken faith with the troops with respect to Iraq. It’s making sure that you send the troops into a mission well trained and well prepared for what you’re asking them to do. It’s clear now that the administration didn’t send the military into Iraq with any kind of plan for the postwar conflict.

And when you do that, you’ve got to make sure they’ve got the proper equipment. So, if the troops are going to be doing urban combat, which is what they’re doing now, they need to have all their resources available to them, including body armor.

SCARBOROUGH: All right, gentlemen, we appreciate you being with us.