A Soldier’s Tale
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Rieckhoff Speaks Out
Paul Rieckhoff made national news again in May 2004, when he delivered the Democrats’ response to the president’s weekly radio address, an outlet normally reserved for politicians. Rieckhoff’s address received wide attention, not only because of his status as a citizen, but also for his strong criticism of the Bush administration’s handling of the war in Iraq. “After all the waiting,” he said, “after all the mistakes we had experienced firsthand over in Iraq, after another year of a policy that was not making the situation any better for our friends who are still there, [the president] told us we were staying the course. He told us we were making progress. And he told us that, ‘We’re carrying out a decision that has already been made and will not change.’… My question for President Bush—who led the planning of this war so long ago—is this: When will you take responsibility for the decisions you’ve made in Iraq and realize that something is wrong with the way things are going?”
In an interview after his radio address, Rieckhoff said he was speaking as a private citizen who wanted to convey the mixed situation in Iraq. Nonetheless, Rieckhoff’s remarks generated a great deal of media attention, as well as some strong criticism. The day after Rieckhoff’s address, Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told ABC’s “This Week” that Rieckhoff had done a “very political thing.” Although Myers acknowledged many of Rieckhoff’s complaints about equipment, he took exception to the fact that they came from a soldier. “It sounds a little too political for my taste,” the general said. On the same program, Republican Sen. John McCain also criticized what Rieckhoff had done. “I think it’s important for us not to try to involve our men and women who are serving in the military, no matter how strong their views are,” McCain said. “There’s a clear line between civilian and military in America, as far as politics is concerned. I respect and cherish the opinion of all young men and women, but I don’t think it has a place in this presidential campaign.”
Rieckhoff later said that he knew his views would not be welcomed by everyone, but that he felt obligated to speak out.
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