War Monger, not Isolationist

POTOMAC WATCH     JUNE 24, 2011

http://online.wsj.com/article/potomac_watch.html?mod=WSJ_topnav_na_opinion

The GOP’s War Powers Opportunism

Republicans abandon principle in a rush to score political points on the president.

By KIMBERLEY A. STRASSEL

Ms. 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.

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6 Responses to “War Monger, not Isolationist”

  1. Pauciloquy Says:

    Surely you don’t think that ending the surge in Afghanistan is a good thing and Republicans trying to invoke Congressional authority for cheap political theater at the expense of the Lybian rebels already sufferring from US and NATO confused military action is a good thing? Both are abysmally bad and motivated by short run political expediency the very thing you witnessed first hand in Vietnam.

    Our president has been weak, on Lybia and now on Afghanistan. All Strassel was pointing out is that the repubs should help him be strong on both not snipe for quick poll numbers.

  2. RedSt8r Says:

    I cannot in good conscience support continued “short run political expediency” after nearly 10 years of one instance after another. To be in favor of the initial Afghanistan “surge” is one thing. To continue in favor when domestic political policy dictates a no-win outcome is something to be disavowed. Our nation finds itself with a choice of bad or worse. I choose bad. The “surge” is of little military value when soldiers are not permitted to battle the enemy. It is essentially political theater played with real bodies and real blood.

    If we are to spend blood and treasure then get rid of the rules of engagement, track the enemy wherever they may hide (regardless of political boundary), attack their suppliers and supporters (again regardless of political boundary) and use every weapon and tactic available including control of media reporting (call it censorship if you like, I think of it as battlefield tactics).

    As to enforcement of the War Powers Act I am sick of hearing from both sides about the constitutional value or lack thereof. Why hasn’t, why won’t any congressional member take this to the Supreme Court? Get it answered. The usual line is that it would threaten our democracy. That’s why Nixon resigned instead of being impeached. If our nation cannot handle an occasional constitutional crisis then we need to strengthen our nation not avoid the issue.

    I have no interest in helping a feckless President waste lives and dollars by politically pushing him to pursue a military adventure he clearly opposes. Frankly I see no purpose in supporting the Libya rebels. If you want to kill Khadafy and leave, fine. For that matter kill Asad in Syria who conducts the same type of atrocities on his people as did Khadafy (but who gets a free pass from the administration). That is fine by me. Blow up the Iranian nuclear facilities. Give the despots an object lesson in the cost of creating and formenting terror in the world.

    A clear objective that uses every weapon and tactic available is my military goal. A governing process that exudes confidence in our constitutional strengths is my political goal.

  3. Pauciloquy Says:

    But if we disengage militarily it will be impossible to return. I agree that Obama is feckless but that quality is all the more reason to stay engaged and force his hand until we have competence in the WH.

    Some of the Russian scientists and engineers that helped build the Iranian reactor died in a plane crash. That has Mossad written all over it. There have been several deaths of Iranian physicists in the past 3 years. Mossad or the CIA or both are taking out the “brains” and sending a warning. The undeclared war against Iran will continue regardless of our presence in the region.

    But in Afghanistan smart diplomacy requires a military presence.

    • RedSt8r Says:

      Actions taken by the CIA and Mossad, whether factual or not contradict the need for a military presence. The contemporary ability to assasinate or attack enemies without full scale invasion is of some assist but by its nature is today severely limited. This limitation is political in nature not military. Consider Gadhafi (I’m changing the spelling) after Reagan attacked him and again after Saddam Hussein was captured. Consider the IRA after 9/11 that laid down its arms in fear of large scale retribution without regard to “collateral damage”. My issue is either fight the war or don’t (get out or never get in) but stop trying to have “nice” wars that end up killing US soldiers for no good reason.

      The two choices I prefer are quite stark. Since we will not fight the war then get out quickly or if we remain do so without tactical restriction (e.g., no rules of engagement limitations). A miltary presence in and of itself is insufficient. Mere presence invites guerilla attacks of the same variety now killing our soldiers. Please tell me when our military presence in Gernany and Japan (nearly 70 years now) and South Korea (nearly 60 years now) is sufficient? And those are just the most obvious. Yes, diplomats and some military personnel argue that our presence deters attacks. If that is so then it is an argument for an expanded and constant military presence in every strategically useful nation. Is that our national goal?

      Smart diplomacy, better yet successful diplomacy is wholly dependent upon the expectation of severe military retribution not mere presence. The US has long signaled that it is unwilling (not unable) to do so. Hence, our diplomatic efforts nearly world wide are few and weak. Having to hide behind the UN in order to prevent the Libya disaster is prime evidence. I see no value in trying to press the current administration to proceed on a course they clearly oppose. The outcome of such manuevers is a half hearted and feeble attempt that treats our soliders as Cannon Fodder.

  4. Pauciloquy Says:

    Our military is already in almost every strategic place in over 130 countries. It has become our diplomatic service. It trains and works with foreign militaries around the world. It assists the state department in its missions and gives our clandestine services support. Its special force teams act covertly much like the CIA. We have the only blue water navy with a presence in all the world’s oceans. Our aircraft are generally less than a few hours away from anyplace on the planet. We take our global responsibilities seriously and carry them out honorably. At the moment we are not overextended. We have the most advanced force of robotic warriors from drones to combat ready ground robots. Our military is constantly evolving ways to minimize combat casualties. Combat injury survival rates are the highest they have ever been though combat intensity is just as high as ever. People get horribly injured but survive. The mental toll is also as high as it ever was and the strain on families is just as great. That said the rules of engagement are a political matter and probably always will be and that means that our soldiers will be injured and killed as a result but to characterize our missions around the world as unecessary or unpalatible because of the politics of war is to miss the larger point is that we are the only superpower and our responsibilities are vast. The world literally depends on us regardless of what the leaders say for their own public consumption.

  5. Sean Parker Says:

    McChristian offered his opinion that it was improper for a military officer to withhold a report based on political considerations.

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