Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Honor, ethics, and the UCMJ

I've been waiting for things to calm down a bit before commenting on GEN Petraeus's resignation. We're not quite there yet, but I think there is an important element of this discussion not being had. I don't necessarily see his affair as the catalyst to review his record as a commander in Iraq and Afghanistan (mixed results), debate the legitimacy and wisdom of counterinsurgency as propagated by him (a very complicated answer), or the demise of the general officer corps in general (we'll be okay). The first will be debated by historians for decade to come, the second is an on-going discussion that has nothing to do with extra-marital affairs, and the latter is yet to be seen once the officers commissioned in the 1970s are retired (I'll save my different-generations-of-generals lecture for another time).

There are a couple of issues directly related to the affair itself.  There have been some who have suggested that GEN Petraeus should not have resigned as the Director of Central Intelligence over his affair. Tom Ricks has been among the most vocal of this group, arguing that GEN Petraeus's actions had nothing to do with competency and that his decisions were about personal ethics. This has been countered in the main with the argument that cleared officials who have affairs are prime targets for blackmail, therefore becoming a risk to national security. There is a lot of merit to this, but it doesn't exact scratch Tom's itch and frankly, I don't find this plausible (in the specific case of GEN Petraeus). Yet, I feel strongly that resigning was exactly what GEN Petraeus should have done and for the reason he said he did: it was the honorable thing to do.

After graduating from West Point in 1974, GEN Petraeus served in the Army for over 37 years. All of those years he was subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, in which adultery is a crime under Article 134. For many of those years, GEN Petraeus served as a commander, including almost every year as a general from 1999 until his retirement in 2011. As such, GEN Petraeus not only was required to uphold military law, he was an enforcer of those laws as a courts martial convening authority. I wonder how many courts martial he convened, or discharges he signed, that included adultery charges. After 37 years of living by the standards set in UCMJ, continuing to serve in high office after having violated one of the articles himself would be hypocrisy of the first order. He violated the ethics of the institution he spent nearly all of his life serving, ethics which he was a standard-bearer and enforcer. In military service, ethics are a significant part professional competency and you cannot dissociate the two. The only honorable thing left for him to do was to resign.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Veteran's Day/Remembrance Day

To all who serve, and all who sacrifice - thank you.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The rank hypocrisy of veterans on OPSEC

I've written on these pages before about questioning the expertise of anyone claiming to have expertise and that arguments should be weighed as they stand. Most recently, I hit on IAVA for talking about civ-mil relations in a way that exceeded their understanding of it. But that sin is much less than those of groups who intentionally mislead the public through their own hypocrisy. Specifically, political veterans from the very right on OPSEC.

I don't think I need to go into a lot of detail - most of you know the background. This past summer the right end of the veteran (and non-veteran) blogosphere blew up with allegations against the President (and his administration) of leaking classified information about the SEAL raid to kill bin Laden for political gain. They didn't just get frothy-mouthed about this issue (of which they had some standing before they lost their reasoning faculties), they got active with at least one Super PAC started by a former Navy SEAL dedicated to OPSEC alone.

Fast forward a few months and the change in their position on OPSEC is so radical that it makes my head spin. Take the milblog This Ain't Hell - a staunchly conservative, veteran group blog that I occasionally visit for their amusing (if too serious) "stolen valor" posts. In primary contributor Jonn Lilyea's 11 June 2012 post, "Sanger defends Administration leaks", Lilyea says:
How about we let our secrets remain that way until whichever war we're fighting ends, so we don't intentionally get mired in the morass that the media made of this last war with their "open debate". ... And how about someone put a muzzle on the leaks out of the Obama Administration and let them debate the issues instead of smokescreening their failures.
Pretty straightforward position: secrets are secrets and should stay that way while the secrets affect current operations. But when it comes to Benghazi the tone changes. Lilyea posits today, in a post that quotes a report drawn from an "uncovered" Secret cable, "Who knows what other information they're sitting on today that will blow up in our faces and cost more American lives later." Again, this classified cable that affects current operations coming to light isn't an OPSEC violation, it's "uncovered". Blatant, reeking hypocrisy.

The previously-mentioned Special Ops OPSEC Super PAC does not even hide their hypocrisy on OPSEC. In a press release from 17 October 2012, the OPSEC president said:
President Obama wanted credit after our military killed bin Laden. Highly classified secrets were leaked, endangering real heroes and their families. But when terrorists killed SEALs and diplomats in Libya, this administration does not tell the truth about what happened.
In summation, this Super PAC was started because the President leaked classified info about something he shouldn't have leaked because it relates to ongoing operations. But the President is at fault because he doesn't leak classified info that relates to ongoing operations. Don't think about it too long or it will hurt your brain.

This hypocrisy isn't limited to fringe blogs (admittedly with more hits than this humble blog, but I'd rather be thoughtful than popular) or fringe political groups. A fringe blogger at a mainstream newspaper, Jennifer Rubin, supports hitting the President on the bin Laden leaks in a July post, positively quoting Governor Romney at the VFW, before accusing the President of "stonewalling" yesterday for not disclosing information that is rightly classified. I'm less concerned about Rubin as she's a pure political hack, but the point is that pure political hacks are taking their cues from veterans-cum-hacks because of the latters' perceived expertise.

These veterans and their hypocrisy is irritating at the least and dangerous at the worst. Because our veteran population is so small and our national defense so complicated, the general public looks to those few veterans who speak up to help explain how varied aspects of our national defense work. But the most vocal veterans on the issue of OPSEC, at least in volume, has been those who bathe in the fetid waters of hypocrisy. Their domestic political concerns are skewing how they present defense issues to the public, causing them to mislead the American public into believing the President is wrong for both leaking classified information and for not leaking classified information. And the American people don't know to juxtapose these two issues and see the hypocrisy of it all, even if there was some substance to the crux of their original position (minus the whole "Obama is a traitor" nonsense).

Obviously free-thinking people should always examine any argument for fallacies or validity, but too often we allow related experience to substitute for expertise. As my IAVA post made clear, being a veteran in and of itself does not make a veteran an expert on anything beyond his or her own experiences. Keep that in mind as you read through political discourse in the waning days of the presidential campaign.