Memo to Joint Chiefs: Now is the time for ‘moral courage’

September 29th, 2014
By Lt. Col. James G. Zumwalt (ret.)
Published September 27, 2014

A recent documentary chronicled the pandemonium as North Vietnamese tanks rolled into Saigon.

Efforts to evacuate South Vietnamese were terminated and U.S. military personnel ordered to board the last helicopters. But several Americans ignored the order, continuing – until the last possible moment – to help Vietnamese allies and their families get out.

Did they violate a direct order? Technically, yes. But the fact no one was prosecuted is its own story.

Such violations endanger mission success – but acting out of moral courage is an unspoken exception.

Obeying orders from superiors is well ingrained within military culture, rarely necessitating acts of moral courage. Subordinates obey because superiors look out for them. But President Obama’s actions should give the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) pause to reflect on this.

Decisions by a commander-in-chief repeatedly endangering America’s national security, and thus our military, demand immediate action from the Joint Chiefs. Whether Obama’s inability to use our military effectively – while simultaneously abusing its budgetary capability to perform future missions – represents incompetency or intent, the bottom line is reduced military assets are being committed to yet another war without setting sound strategic goals.

In 2011, Obama rejected military advice against withdrawing all U.S. forces from Iraq, allowing ISIS in. Now he rejects military advice to commit limited ground forces to kick ISIS out. Such decisions are political.

Sen. John Cornyn, (R-Texas) of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee suggested Obama foolishly tries to “triangulate” advice from both the military and his political advisers.

In a recent Fox News interview, retired Army Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin noted the Pentagon is “at odds” with Obama on ISIS–and is being censored.

Boykin said, “Look, when the chairman of the Joint Chiefs makes a statement on Thursday (August 31) and then backtracks on Sunday from what he said, it’s a clear indication that he’s been given some instructions from the White House to modify what he said.”

It is time for the Joint Chiefs to exercise moral courage as done, in part, by their predecessors in November 1965–seeking and obtaining a private meeting with President Lyndon Johnson.

The only non-Joint Chiefs attendee was Marine Lt. Gen. Charles Cooper, then a junior officer–called in to serve as an “easel” when one was needed to display a Vietnam map.

In a January 29, 2007 article titled “The Day It Became the Longest War,” Cooper wrote that the purpose of the meeting was to deliver the Joint Chiefs’ assessment the Vietnam War was headed into a “seemingly directionless buildup to fight a protracted ground war…(proposing) bold measures that would bring the war to an early and victorious end.”

Johnson listened intently to each Joint Chiefs member. When finished, he went ballistic, shouting every possible obscenity at them and throwing them out of his office.

The five Joint Chiefs members should have exercised further moral courage at this point, collectively resigning and forcing Johnson to rethink America’s involvement in Vietnam. They didn’t, which triggered America’s longest war of the 20th century.

Today, an inept president, incapable of addressing major threats to America’s security, continues to commit (or not) those in uniform to battlefields and dangers created by his ineptness.

The national security concern is not limited to an overseas enemy, Obama still refuses to name the Muslims embracing the Koran’s teachings of global domination.

Domestically, Obama gives that enemy free, and damaging, access to our government through Muslim outreach programs. Although several Muslims participating in these programs have subsequently been convicted on terrorism-related charges, the programs continue – even those vetting military candidates serving as imams.

Such programs place the fox in the proverbial hen house – yet the Joint Chiefs say nothing.

The U.S.-led air attacks this week in Syria, long ago advocated by the military, suggests some JCS influence is being exercised although, again, this may just be Obama reacting to political pressure.

If so, one can only wonder how a president unable to intimidate our enemies can intimidate our Joint Chiefs from speaking out when moral courage dictates it?

The Joint Chiefs’ silence is deafening. They are allowing Obama to play a tune that will plague our military long after they retire.

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