Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Unintended consequences

Out of the full day of testimony given at the Benghazi hearings today in the House committee, one thing may have been lost in the competing headlines.  Members of the US military just saw the first crack in the foundation of one of the pillars of our line of work--we never leave people in harms way.

The Warrior Ethos, the creed that we live by, is quite simple to understand.

I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.

The Benghazi terrorist attack, even using the details that all Democrats agree on, violates all four of these basic tenets.

I will always place the mission first.  The mission in Libya, after we helped force Colonel Gaddafi into a shallow grave, was to help transition to an elected Arab government that was not a threat to the US.  That mission was repeatedly pushed to the back burner as the consulate staff was forced to make deals with Al Qaeda militant groups, told to scale back security before the anniversary of out enemy's greatest victory, and denied repeated requests for more security assets at the consulate locations.  The mission comes first, and then we work out the logistics of how to accomplish that mission.

I will never accept defeat.  The very moment that the US government knew that a US consulate and the ambassador inside it was under attack, there should have been an overwhelming response, for two reasons.  First, the terrorists attacking the consulate should have been given evidence of the US commitment to defend what is in effect, sovereign territory of America.  Even a public announcement (to groups that we knew were active on Facebook and Twitter) that the US military was mobilizing and en route may have been enough to sway the second wave of attacks.  Second, the men and women in Libya needed to know that the cavalry was literally on the way.  Morale while under fire is a fickle thing-men who are in a hopeless situation will fight on for months if they believe that help is just around the corner.  But those who believe they are doomed to die will be more likely to quit the fight and surrender.  Can you imagine the reaction if on Sep 12, 2012 the world woke up to a tape of Al Qaeda beating a confession out of Ambassador Stevens?

I will never quit.  At several points during that long night in Libya, the US government quit trying to save our men and women in the consulate and started damage control.  When US military personnel in Tripoli were told to not get on a rescue flight, the US had already quit.  When the FBI investigators were not cleared to inspect the crime scene until 18 days after the attack, the US showed it had quit trying to avenge the dead.  And when reports surfaced of the prime suspects of the attack being seen in public with no US intervention, it was clear that the administration had decided to quit Benghazi.  Officials in the United States government made repeated decisions to give up on the lives of four Americans, and to give up on bringing their murderers to justice.

I will never leave a fallen comrade.  The heart of the contract we make with our men and women in uniform is that we will always come for you.  40 years after the war in Vietnam, we are still actively looking for those who were lost, and they are coming home every week.  This nation's first special operations mission was the failed Desert One raid to rescue the Iranian embassy hostages.  When a US soldier was found to be taken hostage in Iraq, every single US soldier in Iraq was given the details of the event and told to keep their eyes open.

For the military, the failure of these four tenets of the warrior ethos are poison to morale.  We ask young men and women to lay their lives on the line every day across the globe, and they say yes because they understand the deal they are making-if you don't come back we will find you and bring you home.  The attacks at Benghazi represent a breach of contract by US government, a vivid example that the promise we in the military rely on to assuage our fears may not be worth anything.  How can I ask a soldier to take on a dangerous mission when I suspect that America may not uphold its end of the bargain?  How can a Marine on embassy duty in a dangerous country feel safe if she thinks the embassy staff may be told to stand down instead of coming to rescue them from terrorists?

The political effects of the Benghazi attack will, I suspect, result in no more than partisan political haymaking and justifications.  But the unintended consequence of this very real failure to go and get our people in harms way will be long lasting and profound.

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