Conduct Unbecoming

By now, I’m sure, you’ve heard about the Special Operations Opsec Education Fund, a group of retired military officers trying to swiftboat President Obama.  According to them, Obama should have kept the killing of Osama bin Laden a secret.  By announcing that US forces had caught and killed bin Laden, they say, Obama compromised classified operational procedures and endangered military personnel.

Their real beef, clearly, is that Obama succeeded where Bush failed.  I saw this coming on May 2, 2011, the day after Obama announced bin Laden’s death, when a wingnut relative posted this on Facebook: “I’m so proud to be an American…. Thank you GWB for the amount of faith and bravery you showed, shipping our soldiers over to fight for us!!!! USA.”  The general outline of the coming right-wing attack was clear to me then.  Sure, it comes across as pathetic and graceless, but as long as some of the shit they throw sticks to Obama, they don’t mind looking small.

One of the first things the right did was to lie about what Obama said on the night bin Laden was killed.  They said Obama claimed credit for killing bin Laden.  They’ve repeated the lie so many times citizens of Fox Nation have come to believe it.  It’s nonsense, of course, easily disproven.  Here’s the video of Obama’s May 1, 2011 White House speech; nothing in it supports this ludicrous claim.  Obama said that “the United States launched a targeted operation against [bin Laden’s] compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan”; he thanked “the countless intelligence and counterterrorism professionals who’ve worked tirelessly to achieve this outcome” and “the men who carried out this operation, for they exemplify the professionalism, patriotism, and unparalleled courage of those who serve our country.”

Following that lie, another: Obama really had nothing to do with it and was merely an observer.  I can sort of understand that civilians may not realize the military does not act without orders from the president, but when I hear this crap coming from veterans and active duty military members, I want to tell them they should be ashamed of themselves.  They, of all people, know better.  The US military is not autonomous.  It does not carry out operations inside foreign countries—or even its own country—without orders from the very top.  It does not shed blood without approval from the chief, and in this case that chief was President Obama.

A related lie is that Obama merely green-lighted a mission any other president would have approved; that, presented with the intelligence on bin Laden’s whereabouts, he essentially had no choice.  Of course he had a choice.  George W. Bush famously chose not to pursue bin Laden.  John McCain, during the 2008 presidential campaign, said he would not go into Pakistan to get bin Laden.  Mitt Romney, during the same campaign, said the same thing.  Obama always said he would, and when the time came he did not shrink from that promise.  He acted decisively and courageously, knowing full well he was risking not only American lives but his own presidency should the mission fail.  Even the most deluded, fact-denying teabagger remembers what happened to Jimmy Carter when Operation Eagle Claw fell apart in the Iranian desert.

As for the assertion that Obama should have kept the killing of bin Laden secret, if that doesn’t deserve an automatic and universal WTF? I don’t know what will.  Who didn’t want bin Laden dead (other than the Taliban and our “allies” in Pakistan)?  What president wouldn’t have announced the capture and execution of the world’s most infamous terrorist?

Operational details: President Obama never spoke of them, nor did any other high-ranking official.  Granted, some innocuous details leaked out afterward, but whether those leaks came from people around Obama or from military and intelligence personnel who actually participated is anyone’s guess.  When a mission succeeds, some details always leak.  Even if Obama had decided to keep the mission secret, the mere fact that we went into a country we were not at war with virtually guaranteed international headlines.

Now we come to the title of this post, the thing that’s really bothering me: military personnel abusing the uniform to advocate for political causes.  Officer or enlisted, active duty or retired, the UCMJ says you can’t do that.  Period.  You can vote for whomever you like, and you can speak freely as a private citizen.  But the minute you associate yourself with the military, whether by wearing a uniform or introducing yourself with your rank and branch of service, you’ve crossed a line.  Why?  Because people will assume, at some level, that you are speaking with the approval of the military and thus the government, that what you say is somehow sanctioned.

The military should have come down hard on General Boykin, the Christian fundamentalist who crusaded against Islam to civilian audiences while wearing his Army uniform.  But it didn’t, and now who’s to tell another politically active general he or she can’t speak out in uniform?  So far General Boykin has been the exception, but how long will that last?  Just last week the US Navy and Marine Corps allowed servicemembers, for the first time, to wear uniforms while participating in a San Diego gay pride parade.  Will military members cite that precedent while seeking permission to advocate for other causes while in uniform?  Inevitably, they will.

It’s a short step from these examples to identifying yourself as a current or former Navy SEAL while engaging in partisan politics, producing campaign ads claiming President Obama harmed the military and needs to be run out of office.  Which is exactly what’s going on with the Special Operations Opsec Education Fund.  The people behind this group are abusing the uniform, literally engaging in conduct unbecoming, falsely telling the American people the US military is against its current commander in chief.  There will always be some in the military who are, but don’t you believe for one minute these assholes represent anybody but themselves.  “Opsec,” as the group refers to itself, is strictly partisan, a political action committee which does not have to reveal its donors, a bunch of GOP and tea party hacks hiding behind uniforms.

In fact this group isn’t much different than the hateful Indiana tea party group that put up this billboard, openly calling for the assassination of the president while implicitly claiming military approval by citing the US Navy SEALs and depicting special operations forces in uniform:

Here’s what a real special operator, Admiral McRaven, leader of Joint Special Operations Command that conducted the raid on bin Laden’s compound, had to say about President Obama and his role in the mission:

The president and his national security team—I’m not a political guy, but I will tell you as, as an interested observer in this—they were magnificent in how they handled it start to finish.

At the end of the day, make no mistake about it, it was the president of the United States that shouldered the burden for this operation, that made the hard decisions, that was instrumental in the planning process, because I pitched every plan to him.

You may hate President Obama.  You’re certainly allowed to.  You can campaign against him (as a private citizen, not representing the military).  Come November you can vote against him.  But when it comes to killing Osama bin Laden, there’s really only one thing you should say, and that is thank you.

© 2012, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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