POTOMAC WATCH JUNE 24, 2011
The GOP’s War Powers Opportunism
Republicans abandon principle in a rush to score political points on the president.
By KIMBERLEY A. STRASSEL
First, I admire, occasionally greatly so and often agree with your writings and your appearances on WSJ Reports. Unlike many of your professional brethren you seem to think as well as you write. Not so much this time. In taking shots at Republicans who now oppose the Afghan and Iraq actions you join the great punditocracy in demanding party loyalty over good sense. I am a life-long Republican who frequently re-evaluates my association with that party over the Democrats or being independent. No one who knows me would dare suggest however, that I am a moderate.
Quite the opposite. I am an ardent, non-religious, fiscal conservative, social libertarian, war mongering globalist to throw out a few bumper sticker labels. My point is that just being a “Republican” ought not to require that I stifle my good sense in favor of a party line that fits on a bumper sticker. Why do you favor knee jerk Republicanism aka party loyalty over good sense? In fact, were I to ever rise to elected office my good sense would be the only anchor in a sea of contradictory demands. You, and others, are entitled of course to dispute my claim of “good sense”.
What I want to relate to you (Charles Krauthammer and Steve Hayes as well) is the consequences of the demand for knee jerk Republicanism in opposition to what you claim is a new form of isolationism. “They’ve
highlighted their own divisions and given voters reason to question whether the party is throwing over principle in favor of political opportunism or, more worrisome, a new form of GOP isolationism.” Is it high principle to favor an unjustly constricted military operation whose functional objective is merely the political delay of an enemy at the great cost of soldier’s lives and national treasure? Or is it high principle to oppose this failed political policy that masquerades as a military intervention? The United States holds claim as the world’s greatest military power. Yet in 10 years this great nation cannot defeat, militarily or politically, a two-bit near stone age group of rag tag fighters and corrupt leaders. Why not?
I was once a volunteer soldier, a combat medic in Vietnam (173rd Airborne Brigade Oct 68-69). I served with pride, as much courage as I could muster yet often in considerable fear. But I felt a great desire to serve my country. For six months I was a proud soldier though I knew the sound of bullets whistling past my ear and the sight of blood on a comrades chest. During this time my unit was patrolling the Central Highlands, “Two Corp” it was called. We were in a “free fire zone” meaning, basically shoot first ask questions later. My captain developed a successful tactic that enabled us, at some cost, to kill a number of our enemy with few casualties on our side. This was war. Boring, unpleasant, with surprising camaraderie and sense of pride amongst fear, death and despair.
Then we were shifted to a populated coastal region. This is the birthplace of my anger. This was the model for contemporary military (in)action. This is why I am part of that Republican wing now in opposition not only to Afghanistan but Iraq, Libya and anywhere else in the world that politicians crave to send our troops for mere political posturing. In that populated costal area we were essentially ordered not to hurt anyone unless they were literally about to kill us. We could not call in air strikes, no napalm, no helicopter gunships, no C-130 war ships, no artillery. The most powerful military nation on earth tied its soldiers hands and ordered them to die. We went from a “free fire zone” to a “free to die zone”.
And why? So the media wouldn’t be able to display pictures of dead women and children. That is a good thing isn’t it? Does any soldier want to kill women and children? Except for the occasional psychopath no they most decidedly do not. I had to counsel one soldier who happened upon two women on a trail. They ran from him. He shouted at them to stop, they ran, he shot, they died. He was genuinely upset. I told him he did the right thing. Trust me Ms. Strassel, a woman can put a trigger, throw a hand grenade or set a booby trap just as easily as a man. She can also carry supplies, dress wounds and gather intelligence just as a man.
And, for the record, so can a child. While in this “free to die zone” I witnessed a child, a young boy maybe 12 or 13 walk across a rice paddy heading directly towards a small clump of Palm trees. I was on a hill across a road looking at the paddy. The boy entered that clump. Given the isolated location of those Palm trees in the paddy it was clear the boy intentionally entered the clump. I still remember thinking he must have wanted to go to the bathroom and was merely looking for a private place to do so. But that was curious since they normally just used the rice paddy as their toilet. Then the clump of trees exploded. The boy was killed as the booby trap exploded in his hands. In one instant I understood more clearly than any instruction could provide that women and children are as much the enemy as a soldier in uniform. I believe that booby trap was destined for my unit and would have been placed on one of our regular patrol routes.
Yet that is not the most extreme instance of political cowardice that I suffered. It was mid-April 1969 when we were ordered to go look for what military intelligence described as a “large force of NVA” (North Vietnamese Army). The captain, the same man with the successful tactics in the Central Highlands called the company together to give us our orders. With the strained look of suppressed anger he ordered us, that is the right word, a direct order, not to return fire unless we could see the individual firing at us. I actually could not believe this order was accurate and I asked a follow up question. “Captain, what if someone who is in a hutch pops up in a window, fires off a few rounds and ducks back down? Can we fire into the hutch then?”. His answer was singularly blunt: “NO”. We were ordered not to return fire unless we can literally see the person shooting at us.
And we went on that late afternoon patrol looking for a “large force of NVA”. If we found them we would engage them in battle. Sort of. If we could see the person shooting at us. We were not permitted to call in Air Strikes even if we spotted this large force. No artillery either. Might hurt someone. Maybe the AP would take a picture. No mortars either of course. So off we went. Shots rang out. Sniper. Everyone hits the dirt, waits for a further attack. Nothing happens. The captain leads us off in the direction of the sniper. More shots. More dirt. No one can return fire of course. Get up, move out. Chase the bastards they must be a small patrol from that NVA force. Still again more shots. It’s getting dark now. Can’t see anyone even if they are shooting at us. Could see the muzzle blast. Does that count? Get up, go after them.
BOOM! One of our 155mm artillery shells had been set as a booby trap. The snipers knew we were on patrol for a NVA force. They fired at us to get us to chase them. They lead us right into the booby trap. It was dark. The trip wire had been placed from the middle of the trail across to one side. They hoped (and were right) that the first few soldiers might miss the wire. Eventually someone would go on the deadly side and it worked. For them. Six South Vietnamese soldiers who were working with us died immediately. Another six or so US soldiers also died immediately. In the dark, with one booby trap already exploded and having been shot at all evening I had a job to do.
I grabbed my emergency kit and … turned on my flashlight. Nothing like being a bright target on a dark night to focus the mind. But there were another 6-8 soldiers wounded, including my captain. I gave morphine to the friend who was writhing in agony from two badly broken legs and moved towards the front of the line. I stepped on a log and shined my light on it so as to make sure it wasn’t another booby trap. Nope, it was the chest of a friend that I had chatted with just before the patrol started. His chest had a basketball sized hole. I moved forward again. I called out to see if anyone was alive. The man on point (in the lead) was still alive and had only a minor wound. He stayed put to be on guard. A brave man. The dozen behind him were dead and the half dozen behind them badly wounded.
I checked the bodies looking for anyone still alive. I found one! A young man-boy about 18. His right leg was blown off above the knee. Odd, it wasn’t bleeding much. Must be the blast cauterized the wound. His face was so pocked with sand from the blast it looked like a beach version of black face. As I put the tourniquet on what was left of his leg and tried to find a vein for an IV he sat up bold and brash. Instinctively I shined my light on his face, highlighting the whites of his eyes against the sand embedded on his face. Then only inches from my face he screamed, “I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die”! And he laid back down and died.
Please think all this through for a moment. If you were a soldier would you stick you head up when the enemy is shooting so that you could see them shooting and thus return fire? Not likely. Or, if you did you might only be able to do it once. What this episode did was crystallize my understanding of what it meant to be Cannon Fodder. It highlighted the political motivations behind wasteful military operations. In short, I knew then that my government did not care about my life. It wasn’t that I might die in war that would be understandable. It was here, in this populated coastal region that my country became far more concerned about its media image than about my life and the lives of my comrades. My country preferred that I die rather than some child of the enemy.
And that Ms. Strassel is why I now oppose Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and other hypocritical political operations hiding behind soldiers. Our military is not permitted to fight the enemy. Do not ever assume our enemy is unaware of our political puppet masters motivations. They count on them. They manipulate the media and the punditocracy. You have, perhaps unwittingly perhaps not played into their hands. You accuse Republicans of isolationism when their motivations may be a refusal to sacrifice soldiers for domestic political posturing in front of an anti-military media. If you instead took up the journalistic cudgel to take off the handcuffs of our military you would be reviled by many of your peers but you would be right. I am confident that our soldiers can destroy the enemy. Yes and a fair number of women and children as well. Tough. War is hell. Get over it.
If we are not going to permit our soldiers to fight then don’t send them into battle. This is my anger. This is my rationale for opposing the continued political abuse of soldiers. If you call this isolationism you could not be more wrong. I favored invading Afghanistan and Iraq. I favor destroying Iran and its nuclear program. Let us go after and kill Khadafy – and 10,000 men, women and children if necessary. I am a war monger. I am not an isolationist. But in good conscience I cannot any longer support the waste of our soldiers lives and our national treasure for the benefit of a group of miscreants running bumper sticker bi-annual political campaigns.