Archive for the 'Politics' Tag
One of the primary responsibilities of leaders is to be an example to junior personnel. The expected ideal is to “lead by example.” That “example” is understood to be a positive one, but often it is not. On occasion a leader becomes a negative example – “that guy” who everyone is told not to be.
This week we saw one of the last parts of Act-III from the tragedy of General James E. “Hoss” Cartwright, USMC (Ret.).
Josh Rogin over at WaPo outlines the story and its context well, and we’ll get to that later on in the post, but here is the take-away everyone in uniform must know – you are not part of the cool-kids club in DC. Only a very few ever have crossed that barrier, and you are not one of them.
There is a problem with spending too many years in the Imperial City rubbing elbows and watching the Byzantine stew of politics, press, sex, fame, money, and power that swirls around you. If you are lucky, you have enough of a sense of history and self-awareness to know your place, or you have a wife or the ever-rare circle of friends you will listen to who will keep you grounded. Even then, it may not be enough. Even the greatest are human too.
Some can spend the balance of the decades of their life in DC and remain unsullied by its nature, uncompromised, unmoved by the warped ethics and moral compromise one sees every day. Others can be seduced by it inside a single PCS cycle.
It is not a hard sell to think that you have to play by the rules those in suits and pants-suits do to make things happen. You can feel forced to bend, but just as many want to bend. They can smell what is there, and they want to be part of it.
High rank, personal staffs, and a parade of sycophantic obsequiousness can build on top of the existing human desire for power, influence, and position. A person in uniform can see which civilian tactics, techniques, and procedures are used to best effect, and that the civilians get away with it.
Why not you too?
Here is why; you are not them. You wear the uniform. It isn’t that you are held to a different standard, you are, but not for the self-serving reason you think. It isn’t your “higher sense of honor” or any of that. No, it is much baser.
You are not in their club. You do not know their secret handshake. You are not in their circle of influence, cabal, or family though marriage, affairs, or shared history. Even if you went to the same schools, you are outside that circle. Even if they make you feel you are – you are only being patronized for their own interest; you aren’t.
To many there, you are just “The Other.” You are just another government employee who, even as a General Officer and Flag Officer, are seen somewhere between a GS-15 and a Deputy Undersecretary.
You can play some of their games, but even then you will not be allowed to play by their rules. To them, you aren’t just expendable, you are a potential sacrifice to appease whatever is the angry god of the moment’s demands.
The Imperial City is a fascinating place, but only if you know it for what it is. Its standards are not for you. Its concept of accountability do not apply to you. It isn’t because you are better, it is because you are The Other.
Go back to the fundamentals you learned as a JO and grab a map/chart. The Pentagon isn’t even in DC, it is in northern Virginia. Keep that in mind.
The Obama administration Justice Department has investigated three senior officials for mishandling classified information over the past two years but only one faces a felony conviction, possible jail time and a humiliation that will ruin his career: former Joint Chiefs of Staff vice chairman General James E. Cartwright. The FBI’s handling of the case stands in stark contrast to its treatment of Hillary Clinton and retired General David Petraeus — and it reeks of political considerations.
Monday marked a stunning fall from grace for Cartwright, the man once known as “Obama’s favorite general,” who pleaded guilty to the felony charge of lying to the FBI during its investigation into the leaking of classified information about covert operations against Iran to two journalists. His lawyer Greg Craig said in a statement that Cartwright spoke with David Sanger of the New York Times and Dan Klaidman of Newsweek as a confirming source for stories they had already reported, in an effort to prevent the publication of harmful national security secrets.
The defense attorney’s job is to paint the best picture for his client. Re-read the above last paragraph for clarity.
Under his plea deal, Cartwright could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Last year, Petraeus cut a deal with the Justice Department after admitting he had lied to the FBI and passed hundreds of highly classified documents to his biographer and mistress Paula Broadwell. He pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor of mishandling classified information and was sentenced to two years probation and a $100,000 fine.
Clinton was not charged at all for what FBI Director James B. Comey called “extremely careless” handling of “very sensitive, highly classified information.” Comey said that although there was “evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information,” the FBI’s judgment was that no reasonable prosecutor would have filed charges against Clinton or her associates.
Is this fair? Is it right?
That doesn’t matter. It is.
“The FBI will continue to take all necessary and appropriate steps to thoroughly investigate individuals, no matter their position (emphasis added), who undermine the integrity of our justice system by lying to federal investigators,” said Assistant Director in Charge Paul Abbate.
That statement reveals that the FBI is trying address public criticism that it gives senior officials like Petraeus and Clinton special and favorable consideration, Aftergood said.
“They seem to be trying to make a policy point,” he said. “The Justice Department would say they are not influenced at all by policy or political considerations. In the real world, of course they are influenced.”
One of the best things Cartwright could do is, after a cooling off period, write a book about this whole affair. Not a book to push blame on others. Not a book to try to spin the story in his favor. No. He is a Marine Aviator. He needs to look at this as a mishap report. Focus on what he did wrong. Clear, unblinking honesty of how he found himself walking up the steps to a courthouse. It might help those who follow. Might.
Cartwright, by contrast, was short on high-profile Washington friends. He had long ago run afoul of his two Pentagon bosses, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, who never forgave him for going around the chain of command to join with Vice President Joe Biden to present Obama with an alternate plan for the Afghanistan troop surge in 2009.
Cartwright’s greatest mistake was not talking to reporters or lying about it; he failed to play the Washington game skillfully enough to avoid becoming a scapegoat for a system in which senior officials skirt the rules and then fall back on their political power to save them.
Bingo. It wasn’t his game to play. He didn’t even understand the rules.
I just hope this doesn’t eat in to his soul, as it would take a lot for it not to eat in to mine;
Will the other Stuxnet leakers be held accountable? No one has suggested that Cartwright was the primary source of the Stuxnet disclosures. According to emails obtained by the conservative action group Freedom Watch, Sanger had meetings on Iran with several other high-profile administration officials, including National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and even Clinton herself. There’s no evidence of any other Stuxnet leak investigations of high-level officials.
Not being in the club has its consequences.
In his best-case scenario, Cartwright could avoid prison time but will be saddled with a felony conviction that will bar him from most money-making opportunities. In the worst-case scenario, he could be getting released from prison around the same time Clinton finishes her first term.
In his statement taking responsibility for lying to the FBI, Cartwright asserted his motivations were patriotic. “My only goal in talking to the reporters was to protect American interests and lives; I love my country and continue to this day to do everything I can to defend it.”
All glory is fleeting.
This week gave another example why some concepts should give all navalists pause – things such as “1,000 Ship Navy,” “Cooperative Maritime Partnership,” or the rather curious hope a few years ago that the USN does not need frigates, but if we do, we can simply have our allies supply them.
When interesting yet repeatedly debunked theory drift towards policy, you have a problem.
Allies are good – yet most look best at peace and on paper. One must, however, be very careful. For every British ally in OIF, and RC(S), there are the Belgians at the Kabul airport, and the 3rd and 4th Romanian Armies covering the flanks of the German 6th Army.
Sure, you may get 40 Commando Royal Marines, but you might also get the Spanish part of the Franco-Spanish fleet at Traflagar.
War or even a warm peace is a different challenge with allies than peace. Review your ISAF allied ROE matrix, or the ROE for certain allied ships off the Horn of Africa for a reminder.
Beyond performance and national will, there is and issues of political risk. At the extremes, the Italians and Romanians, again same WWII, switched sides – heck the French switched sides twice.
This week we saw a more mild reminder that there is another uncomfortable fact about our allies. Almost all of them are high-functioning democratic governments. The people get a vote. As in our nation, sometimes that vote can quickly change policy.
Canada’s prime minister-elect Justin Trudeau said Tuesday he told US President Barack Obama that Canadian fighter jets would withdraw from fighting the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.
“About an hour ago I spoke with President Obama,” Trudeau told a press conference.
While Canada remains “a strong member of the coalition against ISIL,” Trudeau said he made clear to the US leader “the commitments I have made around ending the combat mission.”
… Trudeau pledged to bring home the fighter jets and end its combat mission. But he vowed to keep military trainers in place.
Canada can be the best of allies at one point, such as the years of service they did around Kandahar before being one of the first relatively caveat-free allies to bolt for the door, but on a dime they can also decide to be the Elector of Bavaria in the middle of the fight and go home – or for that matter, the HMCS UGANDA off Okinawa.
There is a pattern here;
Presented to the RCN, the ship was commissioned HMCS Uganda on 21 Oct 1944, at Charleston, and in Nov 1944 returned to the U.K. for further modifications. She left in Jan 1945, for the Pacific … In Apr 1945 she joined Task Force 57 in the Okinawa area, and was thereafter principally employed in screening the Fleet’s aircraft carriers operating against Japanese airfields in the Ryukyu Islands.
After the fall of Germany, while Uganda was involved in operations with the US Navy’s Third Fleet that a directive came through from RCN Headquarters that Captain Mainguy poll the crew on whether they would volunteer for the Pacific War and eventually Operation Downfall, the codename for the invasion of the Home Islands. The crew of Uganda felt that they had volunteered for “hostilities only”, (i.e., hostilities against Nazi Germany) but now found themselves fighting a different enemy in a quite different part of the world. On 7 May 1945, the vote was held onboard Uganda and 605 crew out of 907 refused to volunteer for continuing operations against Japan.
As you plan – always watch your assumptions. If your plan relies on an ally, have branch plans that involve your own kit. If you don’t have your own kit because you thought you had ownership of your friend’s – well bad on you.
Even before 9/11, there was a lot of discussion how as the WWII generation passed on and retired, that fewer and fewer members of Congress had military experience. With each generation, fewer and fewer people served in the military as a percentage of the general population, and you saw a similar drop in those in political power who had even a few years of seeing the world through that lens. When it came to making decisions about war and peace, that lack of experience at the national leadership and policy making levels was not seen as a net good.
While superior ideas, leadership, and vision can come from those who never served one day in uniform – it is always helpful to have a cadre of those who know the practical vice the theoretical working of the military. If they can do both, then even better.
As the build-up and discussions on if we should lead an invasion of Iraq gained steam, when you looked around the Hill, there were a scattering of WWII, Korean War Veterans, as well as a Cold War skirmisher here and there, and even closer in time – a core of Senators, Congressmen and members of the Executive Branch who served in Vietnam.
Experience with actual combat covered the spectrum. Some with quite substantial exposure to combat and sacrifice you could find humble in word, and often in the background providing counsel. On the other end, there were some with limited service who seemed to crow and remind everyone at every chance about their “special” perspective – and would take a peer out in the rush for a camera.
As their experience was varied, so was their advice in quality and quantity. What was generally appreciated, from exceptionally honorable service on left and right such as Senators Inouye (D-HI) and McCain (R-AZ) on down, was that in the Hearing Room and briefing table, there was someone who at least had an understanding of the “So What” and “What Next” when someone gave them the “What.”
Some memories fade with time, and the experience in one conflict may not translate well from then to now – but for those being asked to go unto the breach once more – it was reassuring to know that someone knew what they were asking other to do.
So, here we find ourselves a dozen years in to war – and of this cohort of veterans quite a few have made it in to Congress. Not just the professional politicians who are also Reservists JAGs and Intel Officers (not that there is anything wrong with that); but combat arms personnel who, after their service, decided to serve in another way.
As we look to opening a door to a dark room again, before we step in, to answer the question, “Where do these veterans in Congress stand?”, I think we have our answer.
The majority of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans serving in Congress are lining up against President Obama’s plan for military action in Syria.
Of the 16 veterans of those two conflicts serving in Congress, only GOP Reps. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) and Tom Cotton (Ark.) have publicly supported the White House’s plan.
Three other members — Iraq War veterans and Reps. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio, Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) and Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) — are undecided.
A fourth, Scott Perry (R-Pa.), said he hasn’t made up his mind either, though he told a town hall this week he wasn’t inclined to support a resolution authorizing force.
Ten of the remaining members have announced their opposition to a military strike.
As of Saturday when that article came out, that is 2/10/4, for/against/undecided.
Two of the more vocal opponents are of the President’s own party – one from his own state and the other from his adopted state; both Army;
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii bemoaned the carnage in Syria after a chemical weapons attack, which the U.S. says killed hundreds of civilians, including children, last month. However, after participating in public and private sessions on Capitol Hill, she said a U.S. military strike would be a serious mistake.
“As a soldier, I understand that before taking any military action, our nation must have a clear tactical objective, a realistic strategy, the necessary resources to execute that strategy, including the support of the American people, and an exit plan,” Gabbard said in a statement. “The proposed military action against Syria fails to meet any of these criteria.”
Gabbard, who served near Baghdad for a year and was a medical operations specialist, is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Gabbard joins other Democrats from Obama’s native state, including Sen. Brian Schatz and Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, in opposing aggressive U.S. military intervention in the Syrian civil war.
Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., lost both legs and partial use of an arm in a rocket-propelled grenade attack in Iraq. She has not made a final decision on whether she would vote for a resolution authorizing force, but the freshman lawmaker from Obama’s adopted state has serious reservations about any strike.
“It’s military families like mine that are the first to bleed when our nation makes this kind of commitment,” Duckworth has said.
Seniority means a lot in DC – but so should personal authority, one would hope. Many in DC asked for more military experience in Congress, well they have it in both parties. The Long War Caucus seems to have reached a bi-partisan consensus.
Does it matter?
There is something very wrong going on at the very highest levels of our uniformed leadership, they are not standing up for the honor and reputation of their Sailors, Marines, and our other brothers and sisters in the profession of arms.
This failure goes beyond individual failure; it is a systemic failure negatively impacting everyone from the deckplates, to the Beltway, to the post-active duty unemployment line.
I remain perplexed by the supine masochism displayed over and over in the face of weak-at-best accusations made against the culture, morals, and character of our military in the last year. Though even a cursory examination easily shows either the inaccurate, skewed, or downright malicious warping of data concerning sexual assault, suicide, and PTSD in the military – our leaders have surrendered the field without returning a single shot; accepting the agenda and smears of those who are focused on one thing; bringing down the level of esteem our nation holds the military and veterans in.
This should not be a shock to anyone, we have seen this movie before – and people inside and outside the military have been warning this would happen – again.
We saw it after the Vietnam War like in no other period, and again in a very political form following the glow after DESERT STORM. With the counter-culture reeling from the shock of the military being held once again in high regard, it was no shock that the usual suspects made the most out of the bludgeon we gave them at Tailhook to go after the military culture root and branch.
Five months and a bit to the November 2012 election.
The war in Iraq is over, the war in Afghanistan is adrift – but the underlying cause of both remains. OBL is dead yet the drone wars expand.
Our traditional European allies have never been weaker in living memory. The old order in the Arab world is changing, and the western Pacific grows in focus.
A military worn out by a decade of war is also looking at decreasing resources in a sluggish economy.
Where do we prioritize? What is the best mix of strategy and programs to best prepare our military for the challenges of this century?
Which issues related to national defense will make it in to the 2012 contest? How do President Obama and Governor Romney differ in their views, plans, and priorities for our nation’s military?
Our returning guest for the full hour will be Mackenzie Eaglen, Resident Fellow at the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at the American Enterprise Institute.
Mackenzie Eaglen has worked on defense issues in the U.S. Congress, both House and Senate, and at the Pentagon in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and on the Joint Staff. She specializes in defense strategy, budget, military readiness and the defense industrial base. In 2010, Ms. Eaglen served as a staff member of the congressionally mandated Quadrennial Defense Review Independent Panel, a bipartisan, blue-ribbon commission established to assess the Pentagon’s major defense strategy. A prolific writer on defense related issues, she has also testified before Congress.
When, even in a political context, is it fair game to criticize a President in a time of war in his role as CINC? Is this a good thing? Is this a healthy thing? Does the CINC own the war he wages, or does his nation?
As for the middle two questions above, the answer is both yes and no; it all depends on the context. In a Representative Republic such as ours, criticism of public officials is an essential cleansing agent and self-correcting mechanism. It ensures flawed policies are discovered and mistakes corrected, and it assists weak policies to be strengthened.
There is a problem with criticism when the motivation for criticism is not to point out areas for improvement, but to destroy one domestic political entity strictly to strengthen another.
When a nation is involved in war, when non-value added criticism divides a nation against itself for political advantage, then the whole national enterprise’s effort is weakened. We have that problem now in Afghanistan, and it is getting worse – both parties are to blame.
During the previous administration, the political and media classes of this nation re-started a bad political play for a nation at war: the integration of party politics and the political personalization.
President George Washington did not like party politics – and for good reason. Though perhaps a necessary evil, in his farewell address – among other warnings – came this.
Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight,) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.It serves always to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.
Of course this isn’t new. The election of 1864 makes what we do now look tame, but does not excuse our behavior. At recent example of today’s version of what Washington warned us about can be found in the infamous Rockefeller Memo. Sadly, on both sides of the political aisle – this cancerous activity did not end when the Democrats took the White House in 2008.
From the start of this present conflict, I did not like the personalization of this conflict in the person of the President; pro or con. I still refer to this as The Long War. It will last multiple Presidents for many decades. We cannot wage this war on election cycles and expect to win.
After his victory in 2008’s election, President Obama had an opportunity to mitigate the interplay between national security and domestic politics. You can never get rid of it, but it needed to be decreased after the disgraceful overheating from 2003-2008. Our nation would be better for it. The foundation was there, and in many ways I think the instinct was as well; SECDEF Gates was kept on from President Bush’s administration. Old habits die hard though, and that did not happen. No, instead we got “the Obama surge in Afghanistan.”
Let’s review some fundamentals on the plan being executed in AFG now. The strategy, though revised as all plans are, predates President Obama and General McChrystal. Fact.
The pedigree is clear; the shortcomings identified by General McNeill in “NewWar” (smaller, lighter forces laden with caveat-encumbered allied forces leavened with wishful thinking and Tiffany Theories) combined with the lessons of Iraq – resulted in General McKiernan’s “Shape-Clear-Hold-Build” COIN strategy and the uplift of USA forces in AFG starting in mid-08. The concept development of Uncle Sam taking back the keys from NATO – the latest chapter being the creation of Regional Command Southwest – can be traced back to late 2007. Even “AfPak” predated the present administration.
I grudgingly accepted the new administration’s desire to “get their stink” on the plan in early 2009 – after all they needed to remove all the political mud thrown at the enduring AFG challenge, often by their own party, during the rule of the previous administration – but on balance, like the SECDEF, the plan is fundamentally unchanged.
In the last year, we have seen from both sides of the aisle a repeat of the “AFG is Obama‘s War” mantra. No, it is American’s War. It is the West’s War.
Because the political parties decided to continue the personalization of our Nation’s war, the inevitable has happened. As President Obama’s domestic political standing starts to wobble and he starts to show significant weakness, politicians are doing what they have a habit of doing – looking for any weapon to attack him. From the Left and the Right, they see the Obama Stamp on an item, and they grab it and attack it. The Left want him to leave now; the Right wants him to move the knob to 11.
Sadly, the AFG campaign now has an Obama sticker on it. The Obama Administration is not blameless in this – any fair minded person has to admit that they are at least 51% responsible for the personalization of AFG, and it didn‘t have to be that way. Remember the previous Administration‘s mantra? “I will follow the best advice from my Commanders on the Ground?” They should have picked that up, but they haven’t. As a matter of fact – with their immature “Smarter” spin, they are even more entwined with it. They could have turned a de-personlization of the conflict to political advantage, but they blew it to their detriment and ours.
Infuriating, we now have this;
Downbeat news reports and second-guessing in Congress about the course of the war in Afghanistan have touched a nerve in the Pentagon, where some worry the negativity is undercutting public sentiment before President Barack Obama’s strategy even has a chance to work.Defense Secretary Robert Gates is among those to privately voice concerns about a wave of pessimism that they believe stems partly from embedding journalists solely with military units in Afghanistan’s south, where fighting is fiercest. Some officials talk of changes to make embeds go elsewhere too.
As I warned over at my homeblog – the timeline of JUL 11 and the resulting STRATCOM cross-messaging is a Strategic blunder on multiple levels.
The Pentagon’s growing sensitivities put a spotlight on what some see as increasingly shaky support for a six-month-old war strategy that hinges on surging U.S. forces into the restive south, heartland of the Taliban, before starting a gradual withdrawal in July 2011, conditions permitting.Asked in a Senate hearing on Tuesday whether he still supported beginning a withdrawal in July 2011 given recent setbacks in the south, General David Petraeus, who oversees the Afghan war as head of U.S. Central Command, said: “I support the policy of the president.”
But he added: “In a perfect world … we have to be very careful with timelines.”
Oh, and in case you were wondering – I am not this source – though I think we have the same background. Maybe this guy is a Salamander reader?
But some top military officials say they won’t really know whether the counterinsurgency strategy is working or not until next summer, around the time Obama hopes to begin a draw down.”It’s a war. It’s not a political campaign,” one military official said. “The negativity (in the press and in Congress) can go too far. There are parts of Afghanistan that aren’t going well. It’s a mixed bag.”
SECDEF gets it too.
Gates let his frustrations show last week after a meeting with NATO ministers in Brussels.”I, frankly, get a little impatient with some of the coverage because of the lack of historical context,” he told reporters, noting that the 30,000-troop surge ordered by Obama in December was only now beginning to be felt on the ground.
“So as far as I’m concerned, this endeavor began in full, and reasonably resourced, only a few months ago,” he said.
Strategic patience. That is what we need. What we also need is the Obama Administration and members of both parties in Congress to back off. De-personalize and de-politicize as much as practical. Stop saying that the 30,000 is Obama’s surge. It was planned by the military prior to Obama taking office. It is America’s surge. Give the military the time – the Strategic patience – it needs to finish the job. This can be done.
Oh, that is from one to three decades BTW. Will someone please beat that into the head of Geoff Morrell please? He isn’t helping anyone but the Taliban with talk like this. This isn’t a political campaign ….. and oh; don’t go into comments and quote Carl to me – read him in the original German if you want to know what he is talking about. Here is Geoff giving prima facie evidence that he needs a new job.
“While I understand the fact that there have been developments, such as the increase in casualties, that would cause concern, there also needs to be a recognition that we know and warned this fight was going to get harder before it got easier,” said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell.
“We do expect, by the end of the year, we’ll be able to show that they are making progress,” Morrell said. “Let’s at least allow them the next six months to prove that General McChrystal’s strategy will work.”
Six months? What is his Operational Planning training, Risk? Somehow, we need to get back to fundamentals. And yes, I am repeating myself – for a reason. Some things need repeating 2, 3, a thousand times.
Though not always true, this plan was developed and is being executed via the best military advice in response to the direction and guidance by the Commander in Chief. Though there have been modifications on the edges and a natural adjustment as we move forward – the fundamental plan in place has been with us through two administrations. It is a good plan and the right plan. Sure, there are some good points about how to perhaps better execute it in places – but that is an Operational and Tactical issue.
This plan will need to be in place for many more administrations, from both parties. It is in the interest of the military and this nation to back away from personalization and politicization. We endanger our own Center of Gravity – the support of the American People – if we do not.
Is there a place for criticism? Absolutely. Criticism and hard questions are essential to make sure the best plan is there. Where does it go to far? When it gets mindless in pursuit of partisan politics.
There are two places where the CINC is 100% fair game during a time of war; those appointments at the highest levels that he makes to run the conflict at the Strategic and Operational Levels, and his direct intervention in sound military policy.
His top appointment that are at the Operational and Strategic levels WRT AFG? Gen. McChrystal and Gen. Petraeus? ADM Stavridis? No complaints there.
Sound military policy? Well, LBJ’s micro-managing of the air war in Vietnam is one example of bad – and this “JUL 2011” is another. If the CINC’s critics want a legitimate topic to attack the President’s conduct of the war – that is your target. That is fixable – as you hear SECDEF Gates and others trying to do as they look for a face-saving path for the CINC to back away from his comments.
The rest of the attacks on the conduct of the war in AFG? Shipmate – that ain’t President Obama; that is the military.
I originally wrote “Fighting Fires” in map pen on the back of a patrol order I had given to my squad leaders on the afternoon of 26 October 2006. It was later posted online for the three people that read my column. I also read it to my platoon as a response to their friends and family who would lecture them on the rights and wrongs of Iraq…”just tell them you fight fires.” I thought this would be an appropriate follow-on piece to last week’s 58 Words.
My intent with last week’s article was not to say, (as an American) “here’s what happened in Iraq and why it was right,” but rather (as a Marine) “what happened in Iraq, happened…things are going well, it should be talked about more, I’m happy.”
While it is quite appropriate (and important) that the citizen-reader voice his or her opinion on Iraq (a costly issue both in lives and treasure), I don’t think it is appropriate for an active duty Marine Corps officer (like me), to do the same. And so last week I removed myself from the follow-on debate.
The truth is I find great strength in maintaining my bearing as a political agnostic. At least as long as my affinity for Jameson and spontaneous travel are being bank rolled by a paycheck from the Department of the Navy anyway.
Simply put, my duty is to my mission (whatever, wherever and whenever that may be) and my Marines. Period. End of story. So while I won’t comment directly on the after-math of 58 Words, I will share with you something I believed back as a bright-eyed Lieutenant and still believe as I write this as a balding Captain: the men and women of the armed services fight fires…always have, always will. This is a story about Iraq, violence, politics, fires, and going at it with your boots on…
When five firefighters from the San Jacinto Ranger Station were overwhelmed by flames in the Esperanza fires on the 26th of October the first report I heard was that “five firefighters have just died trying to protect an abandoned house.” How sad, I thought. What a shame. How terrible those five men gave their lives for a deserted piece of property.
Later that afternoon an ambitious news team climbed to a canyon bluff overlooking the fire. The footage they captured made my heart stop. The inferno was fierce, violent, and just plain frightening. It consumed acres of arid land in minutes, leaping entire roads, and canyons slowing for a moment, only to catch the wind like a ginger sail and gain speed again towards the next home or terrain feature. There was a certain rhythm to the blaze – the kind of violent rhythm familiar to many Marines – it was the rhythm of chaos and fear. As I watched this footage, paralyzed by the sheer force of what I saw, I realized something about the men who laced up their boots that morning to meet this chaos, something very powerful, and strangely calming:
The men of Engine 57 did not die protecting an abandoned house, they died fighting fires.
This is a very important distinction I think, and it has everything to do with the men and women who put it on the line everyday in Iraq and Afghanistan. On the one hand, yes, the firefighters were in vicinity of an abandoned home when they fell; so in a sense, they died protecting a deserted home. But there’s an important distinction here – they did not die for the home. The home was simply the front line, the line of departure from which these men decided to fight the blaze. That house was the fault line, a professional chasm which divided those who did not have the training, material, and duty to fight fires, and those who did. That day violence put down the five brave men who did.
It’s hard for some Americans to deal with the notion that people in these positions (police officers, firefighters, and military personnel) know exactly what they are putting on the line and the sacrifice that daily hangs in the balance in the routine execution of their duties.
Maybe it’s because some Americans tend to view these things through a complex social lens of politics, materialism, religion, and determinism. Maybe it’s because they heard the same news report I did that morning and didn’t tune in for the footage of the actual fire. Or maybe they saw the footage and still saw it as hollow.
Whatever the case, when the list of dead and wounded come in each day from the front lines of our Long War, these same Americans think what I did when I heard the first the reports of the San Jacinto firemen: How sad. What a shame. How terrible that they gave their lives in such a way, for such a thing, in such a place.
The story of the men of Engine 57 is a reminder to all of us that these men, like those firefighters, were in the offense when they fell, facing head on hundreds of degrees of violence, and chaos, and madness. They died while faithfully executing the duties to which they had so meticulously trained. They died with their boots laced, and their eyes forward. They died on duty.
As reports come in of our protectors killed in action across the world we owe it to their memory to acknowledge perhaps the darkest of truths and the greatest of hopes: That fires and wars will always rage but, as Thucydides wrote, that there are men who see this violence and yet still go out to meet it, is our greatest hope. Hope grows from this dark truth, right from the dark soil of our own human condition: some will only ever see an abandon home in Esperanza, or an impossible democracy in Iraq, while others will see in this very same instance a front line for fighting fires.
Many kinds of people fight fires too…everyday. No doctor, nurse or corpsman, for example, can stop in the middle of a surgery to question the morality of a “just war”. Just as we cannot lay down our rifle during a gun fight. Their morality is that patient beneath their steady hand, and trained eye. Their morality is to heal, not to question why there is healing to be done. A Marine’s is to seek battle, not to ask why there are battles to be had.
And there is something pure in all of this, in fighting fires. There is something pure about a 19 year old with a colt rifle, a dip of Copenhagen, and a raw sense of courage. It’s every bit as pure as our apolitical resignation to our duty as killer and healer, each with an end to our means. Each with doubts and fears and questions, but each with, above all else, a common understanding that beneath these uniforms there lies a heart that cares for something and someone other than themselves.
This is the way our protectors would want to be remembered – it’s the way I would want to be remembered – not piteously, that we were killed by a roadside bomb or a well placed sniper round, not gloriously, as Hollywood depicts, but honestly and without sadness…that we fell in the line of duty with every expectation of our own fate, our boots laced and our eyes forward doing what it was we trained to do all along,
In a couple of the comment threads the issue of politics has come up along with the question of whether politics should even be part of the discussion. In the recent post “Which child do you sell first?” reader ‘RickWilmes’ writes:
Two issues remain for me.
1. How does the USNI blogging community solve the claim of bringing politics into the discussion when the topic IS about politics? For me, personally, when I see this issue being raised then I know the individual raising such a claim has a weak position on the issue. I think it is a subtle form of argument from authority or intimidation. Not quite sure which but this issue needs to be addressed and solved so that it is no longer raised in future topics. – Link to his whole comment
So, lets discuss the issue. I would think that there is room to discuss politics in most every subject posted here, provided that the author didn’t frame the post ‘Operationally speaking’ or used other wording that clearly limits the subject.
Subjects, such as those concerning funding, homeporting, policy, etc. probably are more connected to political issues than say flight deck operations, fighting a fire, ship stability, Gravity, etc…
Sometimes, it appears that politics frame and even limit how/if operations are conducted, such as deciding to board an Iranian ship, deciding if and how to conduct anti-pirate operations, deciding to build a new class of ship, deciding to order additional units of whatever after the DoD decided that they don’t want any more of them, deciding not to close bases that the Military would like to close, etc…
I would think that Rules of Engagement are often drafted keeping in mind the possible political implications that operating under those rules might create. Those rules might even be compromised to be less than ideal because of possible negative political implications.
However, at the end of the day, I would think that Navy Policy flows down to the Sailor with his assigned duty in running the ship or Marine or Seal with his finger on a trigger, all with tasks and goals they need to accomplish. I would think that there is little politics to be brought in at that level and I doubt that those carrying out their jobs are thinking what sort of ‘heat’ the President is going to have to face because of what they just did or didn’t do.
This subject does brings up a good point in that the head of the military is a Politician. Only politics can take a budget increase for the military and make it look like a cut in funding. And with that, feel free to discuss politics in your comments on this thread. Do so on other threads using your best judgment.
Posted by Fred Fry
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