General Dempsey errs by telling the truth, but quickly recants

During his term as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey has shown a decided inability to differentiate between truth and falsehood when talking to Americans and their congressional representatives, more often than not erring on the side of the latter. Those paying attention, for example, will recall General Dempsey repeatedly telling the media, the citizenry, and the Congress that the U.S. military’s training of the Afghan National Army (ANA) had gone splendidly and the ANA would be ready to operate on its own when President Obama’s withdrawal date arrived. Now, we see that Obama’s deadline has been extended and the stay-behind force increased. General Dempsey, unless he has learned nothing in a long taxpayer-funded military career or is plainly brain dead, knew that what he was saying about the ANA was an absurd lie, but he tugged his forelock and lied for the administration.

This month, however, General Dempsey let slip a snippet of truth and then had to scramble to re-establish the lie that — sooner or later — all parents of America’s military personnel will have to accept, cope with, and, perhaps, avenge. In reaction to the Islamic State’s (IS) advance toward the city of Ramadi in Iraq’s Anbar Province, General Dempsey said that he was not worried about IS taking the city because it was of little importance to the overall war that is occurring in Iraq. In reaction to Dempsey’s statement, Ms. Debbie Lee, the mother of U.S. Navy SEAL Marc Lee who was killed while fighting with his unit near Ramadi in August, 2006, spoke out in a letter of condemnation for Dempsey’s statement, saying that her son died at Ramadi as he was fighting for “freedom” and that Dempsey’s description of Ramadi as being of little importance denigrated her son’s sacrifice as well as that of many other troops. General Dempsey quickly retracted his statement, apologized, and said he honored Ms. Lee’s son and all of the fallen.

Now, one sympathizes with this still-grieving mother and surely shares her pride in her son’s love of and sacrifice for America. But the problem surfacing in this episode is that General Dempsey was telling the truth, and he was telling the truth about events today as well as when Marc Lee was killed in action. Today and during the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, there is not a single village, town, or city in Iraq that is worth the life or limbs of one U.S. Marine, sailor, or soldier. Instigated by U.S. citizens who are the acolytes of a foreign power, George W. Bush started the war in Iraq for no credible reason — even with WMD, Saddam would not have been a threat to the United States — and with the unconstitutional delegation of power from a reliably supine national legislature. Bush and his advisers refused to put enough forces into Iraq to win, and they laid down rules of engagement that made our military personnel targets not killers, both of which guaranteed our Islamist enemy would survive and grow exponentially in size and power. Then, the deeply anti-military Barack Obama was content to let the Iraq war putter along — blithely letting the deaths, severed limbs, and cases of mental distress accumulate — until the political clock struck the hour that would yield the most electoral benefit for himself and his party.

As noted, General Dempsey quickly painted over his awkward revelation of the truth with the usual meaningless but syrupy “We honor your service” boiler plate. The service of young military men and women, of course, can only be honored by their leaders if they ensure that those youngsters’ lives are not knowingly wasted. But in regard to this, their most fundamental responsibility, Dempsey and his fellow general officers have been nowhere to be seen for nearly a decade and a half. Until recently, Americans still held to the hope that U.S. generals were honorable men and women who are trained to do three things: (a) destroy the enemy utterly: (b) bring home alive as many of their troops as possible; and (c) politely but strongly oppose any politician’s plan that threatens to make (a) and (b) impossible, and, if unsuccessful, resign and publicly describe the reason for resignation. Since the 9/11 attacks, it appears that almost no U.S. general officer has done anything but lick the boots of politicians, while saying something akin to “Yes, my genius leader” to presidents who start both necessary wars and unnecessary interventionist wars they do not intend to win; refuse to supply enough troops to make victory certain; and restrict U.S. troops from using enough force to protect their own lives, let alone to apply sufficient savagery to annihilate the enemy.

All told, U.S. general officers — with the admirable exception of General James Mattis, USMC — seem not to have a tenth of the moral courage of the grieving mother who denounced General Dempsey’s words. Indeed, Ms. Lee’s scathingly blunt attack caused Dempsey to do what most U.S. generals seem to do best, cravenly crawl back under the cover of a sanctimonious and cynical lie that protects themselves and their political masters, but which sooner or later will be seen through by the parents of America’s soldier-children. And then, pray God, both presidents and generals will have hell to pay.

Author: Michael F. Scheuer

Michael F. Scheuer worked at the CIA as an intelligence officer for 22 years. He was the first chief of its Osama bin Laden unit, and helped create its rendition program, which he ran for 40 months. He is an American blogger, historian, foreign policy critic, and political analyst.