General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has brought into relief a serious problem of politics in our military.
But the problem, a long-standing one, is not the group of former CIA officials, Navy SEALs, and others who've criticized President Obama for taking too much credit for cancelling Osama bin Laden's ticket, and for leaking secrets about this operation in order to glorify himself. This is the group Dempsey is trying to bring to heel. No, the problem is an officer promotion system that, beyond the rank of commander in the Navy and lieutenant colonel in the other services, begins to weed out warriors and lift up bureaucrats and politicians.
These former service members -- remember that word "former" -- have released a political ad criticizing Obama, which drew this criticism from Dempsey:
"If someone uses the uniform, whatever uniform, for partisan politics, I am disappointed because I think it does erode that bond of trust we have with the American people," Dempsey told Fox News.
Dempsey needs to take his own advice. This is a very political statement. It's an attempt by a man in uniform, at the very peak of our military establishment, to deflect legitimate criticism away from a politician during a difficult campaign. How better to shred the bond of trust Dempsey claims to worry about?
These former special ops types, who have first-hand knowledge and a good case that Obama is exploiting their brave and competent work for his own advantage, have every right to make their points. We can't categorize every criticism of a president by anyone with an honorable discharge (I have one too) as "partisan" just because the Commander in Chief is a politician. Was Dwight Eisenhower using his uniform for partisan politics when he ran for president twice?
Nothing said here is meant to question the concept of civilian control of the military, a bedrock principle of our republic. And neither Dempsey nor Obama can legitimately invoke it here, though they may try to muddy the waters with it. Members of the military on active duty have to accept certain restrictions on what they can say about their ultimate boss, the president. But the First Amendment applies as much to those who have a form DD214 in the file cabinet as it does to people who've never spent a day in uniform. When you're out, you're free again. A former Navy SEAL is a civilian like any other, except that he has served his country admirably, and can kill you with his eyebrows.
Uniformed service members are bedeviled with sensitivity training of all sorts -- how to treat women, how to treat gays, how to treat minorities, how to liberate Muslim countries without offending the locals, etc. It's clearly time for an inter-service sensitivity training course on the First Amendment, and General Dempsey should be the first student.
Dempsey's mission in this political controversy is to button his olive drab lip. The elves in the Obama administration and their sycophants in the left-stream media are fully capable of distorting the criticism of Obama on their own. They don't need Dempsey to act as horse-holder for them. Nor does the American public need his help in evaluating what these whistle-blowers are saying about a politician with little understanding of the military, and little concern for it beyond using it for his own political purposes.
I'm not familiar with General Dempsey's long military record. I don't doubt that he has in many ways over the years served his country well. I'll take the opportunity now to thank him for that service. But in this instance he is, excuse the expression, way off base. He may not wish to hear this from a guy who never made it beyond E-4. But, you're way out of line, soldier. If you want, as you claim, an apolitical military, you need to stop being political yourself. And you need to remember that one of the things you've been fighting for since you were an officer candidate is freedom of speech.