Smile When You Say That

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Gen. John Abizaid is not amused by a series of frustrated comments U.S. soliders in Iraq made to journalists upon learning that they would not be returning home as planned. Abizaid observed that the soldiers in question could be subject to "a verbal reprimand or something more stringent" at the discretion of their commanding officers, with "something more stringent" including, at least in theory, the possibility of a court martial.

On the one hand, I certainly understand the rationale for wanting to limit what troops in the field say to the press: There is obviously the danger—the probability, even—that Iraqi insurgents will be encouraged by any signs that troop morale is weak. On balance, perhaps that's a decisive consideration. Nevertheless, it seems that our ability to evaluate and debate the wisdom of our current foreign policy suffers when the only sentiments we hear from soldiers in the field are those which bear a Pentagon imprimatur. (Via IndyMedia.)

Update: White House operatives were apparently so peeved by the story that they decided to sic Matt Drudge on the journalist responsible. Isn't that in violation of the Geneva Convention?

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  1. The problem with the commentary by the soldiers was not that it was negative, or indicated morale problems. The problem was the criticism of the civilian leadership. That is a violation of the UCMJ. You may remember early in the Clinton administration a general was involuntarily retired after giving a speech critical of Clinton.
    If the soldiers had made comments to the effect that Iraq duty bites, or they are ticked off at having their tour of duty extended, there would be no problem. Calling for the resignation of the SecDef is simply not allowed.

  2. This is absolutely right. At the same time, in view of the fact that the comments most directly critical of the Secretary of Defense were made by junior enlisted men, my guess is that a verbal reprimand (as in “don’t do this again”) is about the only disciplinary cloud on the horizon for these guys. Under the circumstances this is probably appropriate.

  3. Yep, during the Clinton administration, respect for the Commander in Chief within the Air Force was so low that we had to be warned repeatedly, from the highest levels, not to pass on email jokes regarding his…problems.

    (Via IndyMedia.)

    Gag.

  4. Article 88 of the UMCJ:

    ?Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.?

    This story suggests that these soldiers _will_ be punished:
    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2003/07/18/MN248299.DTL

  5. Privates will likely get a slap on the wrist. But any E-4s on up could get a less than honorable discharge.

  6. There job and duty is not to help the national debate over our foreign policy. Their job is to do what they are supposed to do under the chain of command and the rules of engagement. This isn’t a squelching of free speech. This is ensuring military cohesion. That is their priority. I’m not faulting the press for asking these questions as that is THEIR job as well. But, the soldiers shouldn’t answer them. Period.

  7. “There job and duty is not to help the national debate over our foreign policy. Their job is to do what they are supposed to do under the chain of command and the rules of engagement.”

    Oh, please. Another damn chickenhawk.

    Hey Russ buddy, how would you like to be there, huh? These are probably some poor souls that got in the Army to pay for school, to try to have a decent life, and they are sent to a freaking hellhole by a bunch of theoreticians, ala Kristol and Wolfowitz. Do tell me a little bit more about the damn UMCJ, why don’t you?

    PUKE…

  8. I think the generals are being a bunch of pussies. they should have concern for the well being of their troops, and if they do not stand up for them – ie make an effort to get them out of that hellhole – then the generals are the ones that should be court martialed.

    I’m with Luis, and I believe that their comes a time when brave people need to be brave. so far, those soldiers seem to be the only ones in the entire government to speak with substance.

    my .02.

  9. “Strategic thought”… oh yes, you mean playing war games in our Cambridge loft with the lives of poor black, latinos and white trash that didn’t get rich parents like us to send us to Yale? Right…. Got it.

    So let’s see if I got it: we’ve got the right to play our really fascinating, from the geopolitical point of view, war games, while the black-latino-white trash can’t bitch about their shitty fate.

    Great.

  10. I joined the Army to pay for college and was in the Reserves during the first Gulf War. Not only was I under no illusion that I might be activated, I never knew anyone who was. I can’t imagine how you could be; the Army doesn’t exactly soft-pedal the idea. There were some who didn’t understand in advance what they were signing up for, but they all washed out in Basic. Everyone else knew from Day One about the UCMJ as quoted above (though you’d have to really stick your foot in it to get a court martial).

  11. No-one asked any of them to volunteer for either the military or combat service. Maybe they thought it was the Salvation Army?

  12. http://www.annistonstar.com/www/as/iraq/mcginnis.htm

    ‘His high school wrestling coach tried to persuade him to attend college, but McGinnis had other plans. “He said the Marines were the best, and that’s what he wanted to be a part of. He welcomed the challenge,” said the coach, Jack Holloway. ‘

    http://www.annistonstar.com/www/as/iraq/adamouski.htm

    ‘Adamouski had just been accepted to Harvard Business School and planned to teach economics at West Point after earning a master’s degree in business administration. ‘

  13. How contemptuous was the language they used? In the interview I saw on tv, it was the interviewer, not the soldiers, who asked what they would say to Rumsfeld. One guy replied “You couldn’t air what I would say.” The other said, “I’d ask for his resignation.” If I’d been one of them, and been mindful of the UCMJ while the camera was rolling, I’d have kept my mouth shut, but I think they have a fairly strong case that these comments do not rise to the level of “contemptuous.” There may have been other comments I didn’t see.

  14. “whats with Linking via Indymedia?”

    …And in this instance, it was a story corroborated by a perfectly mainstream news source. I don’t really understand the problem, to be honest; who cares who found the story?

    Granted, the actual article was ABC, but in that case, why even cite indymedia? Are you browsing around in the similarly hate-filled freerepublic, too?

  15. “why even cite indymedia?”

    Because that’s where I found the story; if you glance at other posts, you’ll note that I (and the others) typically reference where we got the pointer to something, even when the story itself is elsewhere. And no, I don’t read freerepublic, because I don’t find that it has interesting and novel material nearly as often.

  16. Luis;

    It has to do with how they bitch (and to whom). Bitching your way up the chain of command is good, bitching to the media is not. The same as in most businesses.

    Soldiers bitch all the damn time, and likely have been doing so since armies have been around; you’re just supposed to keep it in house and not be specific about criticizing your commanders where anyone of rank (or civilians) can hear.

    That shouldn’t be hard to follow.

  17. Once they start the draft again some of you guys will get a little dose of discipline, too.

  18. Frankly, I bet the good General is being leaned on by the White House because Karl Rove got his knickers in a twist about the political damage to Bush and nothing more.

    In reality, it has nothing to do with ‘cohesiveness’ among the ranks, or their ability to do perform their jobs, or their willingness to follow orders.

    It’s all about the politics, and Karl Rove’s master plan to use the war for political gain.

  19. Hey Russ buddy, how would you like to be there, huh? These are probably some poor souls that got in the Army to pay for school, to try to have a decent life,

    Perhaps, then, they should have chosen a vocational education program that didn’t require them to carry a weapon and to deploy as ordered by the President and the Secretaries of their various services. Maybe? You think?

    My father spent nearly 30 years in uniform, several of them trekking an M-16 through Southeast Asia, and he finds (and I agree) this modern idea of the Army as job training first and national defense a way-distant second to be repugnant. Don’t want to get deployed, perhaps shoot people, and perhaps get shot? Don’t join the fucking Army.

    Nevertheless, it seems that our ability to evaluate and debate the wisdom of our current foreign policy suffers when the only sentiments we hear from soldiers in the field are those which bear a Pentagon imprimatur.

    Soldiers in the field — particularly NCOs and low enlisted men — are not responsible for either foreign policy or strategic military planning. Their jobs are to bitch to the majors and colonels about how their men are doing.

  20. “…he finds (and I agree) this modern idea of the Army as job training first and national defense a way-distant second to be repugnant.”

    You’re right but remember that the Army has (or had) been selling itself as such.

  21. “whats with Linking via Indymedia?”

    They catch interesting stories a lot of the time–frequently stories other venues have let slip,or (for protest coverage) stories reported uniquely by people on the ground, though the latter need to be taken with a grain of salt. And in this instance, it was a story corroborated by a perfectly mainstream news source. I don’t really understand the problem, to be honest; who cares who found the story?

  22. Discussion of this is fine, but there is really only one guy whose opinion about particular comments from soldiers in Iraq matters. His name is John Abizaid. Handling this kind of situation is one of the things he gets paid to do. I suggested earlier what I think his guidance to subordinates will be, but that’s a prediction on my part, not a recommendation. I’d need an awfully good reason to criticize any action he decided to take in an area that falls so completely within his field of responsibility and experience and so far outside my own.

  23. Although I agree with Phil that it’s repugnant and idiotic to think of the military as primarily a job training and college scholarship progam, I don’t buy the notion that most of the GenX military went into it thinking they wouldn’t have to fight. I don’t pity the handful who do fit that stereotype, but I know people my age (I’m 26) who went into the military, and they were all well aware of what it entailed. They did want to advance their careers, but they were willing to risk their lives for their country in exchange for the benefits of military service.

    So I’m not inclined to say “kids these days are in it for the wrong reasons, unlike the good old days.” People have been saying that about all sorts of things for thousands of years.

    As to whether soldiers should criticize the leadership when talking to reporters, as long as military service is voluntary I have no problem with limiting what they can say about their leaders. They knew going into it that they’d have to abide by certain rules.

  24. Oh yes, those durned theoreticians. As everyone knows, Russ, ordinary taxpaying non-soldiers like us have neither the time, the training, nor the inclination for strategic thought. What say should we have in lofty matters of foreign policy?

  25. Last I checked, my employer could discipline me for talking to the press about how the company is run. This is under rules far milder than the UCMJ.

    -j

  26. OVerlooked in all this is the responsibility of the media for seeking out and broadcasting this stuff. First, they should know that they were aiding and abetting, if not actually entrapping, these men into a violation of the UCMJ. Either the media clowns are criminally ignorant, or they just don’t give a fuck what happens to these soldiers. Nice.

    Second, there is the damage that this does to morale across the army. See above comment re criminal ignorance.

    Third, there is the aid and comfort this gives our enemies. This kind of thing is enormously helpful to the Baathist holdouts, as it plays right into the primary fear that Iraqis have right now, which is that the Americans will pull out early and let the Baathists back in. I know the issue of self-censorship and actual censorship of the press in wartime is a tricky one, but this strikes me as a story that any responsible editor (who wasn’t rabidly anti-Bush and anti-war and trying to restore lost credibility) would have buried.

  27. All this is the result of ignorant-ass journalists hoping to get a Pulitzer for being the first to document the beginning of the quagmire. American soldiers don’t like being in Iraq & wish they could go home — gee, takes a real genius to figure that out.

    It also takes a first-rate asshole to ask a soldier to say something that can get him into serious trouble.

  28. It doesn’t appear to me that these guys were, for a second, complaining about having to shoot someone, or were under any delusion about what joining the military was like. That wasn’t what they were saying.

    “There job and duty is not to help the national debate over our foreign policy. Their job is to do what they are supposed to do under the chain of command and the rules of engagement.” I see absolutely no evidence that these pissed off soldiers weren’t doing their job.

  29. But enough about those dumb bastards in Iraq! (I know, I’m going to hell.) What really matters is the political story!!!

    It is true that there were complaints about the C-in-C from the uniformed military during the Clinton years. Like most anti-Clinton attacks, it amounted to anti-60s culture war crap, and managed to fire up the conservative base without making much of a splash in the public mind.

    This time is different. President Bush is under fire for lying his way into a war, dressing up in military gear and filming a campaign ad on the American people’s aircraft carrier, screwing up the pre-war postwar analysis, and telling enemy forces to “bring it on” against our corn fed, red America boys in Iraq. These aren’t complaints that the President’s actions as a college student piss off career military people. They are complaints that the Pentagon and administration are screwing up ongoing military operations and endangering military personnel through misuse.

  30. First of all, let’s dismiss this idiotic notion that “no one asked them to volunteer.” That’s horseshit. The truth is that everyone asked them to volunteer, because if they didn’t, we’d have to institute the draft. The people who volunteer are doing all of us a favor, not only by defending our country, but by saving the rest of us from having to serve, thus giving us the luxury of sitting back in our armchairs and criticizing them for not being manly or soldierly enough. Ain’t it grand to be a chickenhawk?

    Secondly, let’s similarly shitcan this notion that making these comments, or airing them on ABC, is going to ruin morale. Hello … in case you haven’t been paying attention, morale is already ruined. That’s what these guys were saying. Shutting them up is not going to improve morale. That’s like trying to fix the rattle in your car’s engine by turning the radio louder. Ignoring a problem and wishing it wasn’t so doesn’t make it go away. Wanna improve morale? Send these soldiers home when you promised, rather than have them play the pawns in your stupid quagmire occupation.

  31. Wow, man, I wish I had paid attention to this thread over the weekend.

    I think T. Harten has it wrapped up nicely. Soldiers bitch. So, does anyone with a job in America (or the planet for that matter). But, what you typically don’t do is bitch out loud, unless you are doing it in a way that is a) constructive and b) part of the rules. You bitch your way up the chain of the command. Or you pin Donald Rumsfeld in one of those townhalls that they have every now and then.

    Also, 2 soldiers’ opinions does not mean we have a morale problem. Especially since I’ve seen tons of e-mails from soldiers all over the net saying the exact opposite. That things are hard but improving and that they want to finish the job.

    One thing I haven’t read is any soldier saying: “damn, I thought this was just a computer class with running drills. No one said anything about fighting in a war.” Right, I’m sure that’s what the boys at Normandy thought too.

    Yeah, the military sells the job training, but you really have to be a village idiot to not to know what “being a soldier” ultimately means.

    My point was simple. You have a job. Most every job in the country makes PUBLICLY complaining about your superiors a no-no. In the military, chain of command is REALLY damn important. Military cohesion is too. THese men and women are professional. Sure, the media may have “trapped” them, but they should know better. The guy who said they couldn’t quote what he’d say may not have broken any rules. But the guy asking for Rumsfeld’s resignation should be discharged pronto.

    Apparently some of you don’t like little concepts like personal responsibility. But, these people joined the military knowing their lives could be left in the hands of civilians (or as some of the more brainless hear would call “chickenhawks”). And they signed onto the codes of conduct, one of which is don’t badmouth your superiors to the press. It’s their job. How frickin hard is that to understand?

  32. Lefty said: “Once they start the draft again some of you guys will get a little dose of discipline, too”

    How ironic is it that a liberal Democrat is the only elected official to seriously propose reinstating the draft? And the draft, BTW, is something that the Bush administration has been most fervantly against.

  33. Hal: So because they volunteered they’re immune from criticism? Not a chance. It is about morale. Why should some disillusioned OR’s be allowed to disrupt the good order and discipline of the rest of their unit? Their is a proper way for a soldier to bitch about his lot in the service. This was not it. Soldier, shut up and soldier.

  34. I’m sure it would do wonders for their morale to be yanked out of Iraq when the job is half-finished so the Baathists can take over again. Yeah, nothing perks you up like knowing your buddies died for nothing at all.

    Hal – one of the reasons that morale isn’t sparkling in Iraq is the constant negative drumbeat from the establishment media at home. Those guys are deathly afraid that the country is going to bail out on them, and the establishment media is doing everything it can to make sure that happens. Soldiers complain. Its how they pass the time. Airing those complaints over TV news networks is an excellent way to make sure run-of-the-mill bitching turns into a major discipline and morale problem. The journalists who did this are scum.

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