President Bush travels to Africa today on a six-day, five-country tour to promote the administration's 15 billion dollar foreign-aid package designed to combat the spread of HIV-AIDs in the impoverished continent. Indeed, one of the president's harshest critics, Senator Joe Biden (D-Delaware) has said: "It may be the greatest legacy this president leaves or any president could leave.”
It is a good thing when we can bring the power and wealth of this country towards working on a non-political, clearly necessary issue. Combatting the spread of AIDs is most certainly a noble goal. Mr. Bush must be applauded for supporting this program.
However, I believe George W. Bush's legacy doesn't lie in the African sub-continent. Regardless of the amount of money the president promotes towards this cause, it will not remove the blood that is on his hands from Iraq. Whether it's combat fatalities or injuries incurre on the ground by our troops, or the by-product of sending young men continually into harms way, or civilians killed because they simply happen to be born in one tribe or the other, the thousands of people who have died in Iraq since the invasion and subsequent occupation have done so primarily as a result of his decision to go to war.
I'd like to introduce you to a young man who when described by his superiors is talked about in lofty terms such as someone with "an intense desire to excel", and "unbridled enthusiasm" and an "unswerving devotion to duty". This young man won the Bronze Star for valor during a 55 hour battle with the Mahdi militia in Najaf. His name: James Jenkins, and his rank: Lance Corporal, United States Marine. The best of the best. The ones always put in the front lines. Corporal Jenkins is a veteran of two combat tours in Iraq and saw some of the most brutal hand to hand combat of any soldier in the field.
I'd like to introduce Corporal Jenkins to you but I can't. He's dead. No, he wasn't killed in combat in Iraq. He was killed in combat in his head. Corporal Jenkins committed suicide in 2005 after spiraling out of control and getting addicted to gambling, and writing bad checks to support his habit got him busted, thrown in the brig and scheduled for a court-martial. After he was released, pending his trial, he ran. On September 28, 2005, Corporal Jenkins was hiding out in his fiancee's apartment when a local deputy sheriff and US Marshal came to get him and take him back to jail. Rather than go back to jail, he shot himself in the temple.
Corporal Jenkins is not counted among the combat fatalities we see in the press. However, his death is as much a combat fatality as those men who were killed in the field. Corporal Jenkins' death led the United States Marine Corps to attempt to deny death benefits to Jenkins' family. They claimed he had died as a deserter. A Deserter.
This claim was refuted by an investigator from the Naval Criminal Investigation Service who described Jenkins as a "salvagable marine", who suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PSTD. The investigator described Jenkins as a "bonafide war hero" and said that the military had failed him when he needed help most.
Thousands of soldiers suffer from PSTD, a condition which keeps soldiers from re-assimilating into society and often drives them away from their families, jobs and in some cases their lives. It is a affliction not new to soldiers in Iraq. Many veterans of combat in Viet Nam have been diagnosed with PSTD. It is a lasting nightmare for many veterans and their families.
Corporal Jenkins received no honor guard for his funeral. His remains are not interred in one of the many national cemetaries across this country. He is buried in a cemetary local to his community and close enough for his mother to visit his grave. Corporal Jenkins was 23 when he took his life.
No, Mr. Bush's legacy will not be in Africa. It is buried in the dirt along side Corporal James Jenkins, who, if still alive would be 26 years old.
Tell me what you think,