Admiral McRaven Makes his Bed
‘No one ever came to Washington and left a better person for it.’
— Senator Orin Hatch
By Ladson F. Mills III
Retired Navy Admiral William McRaven may be remembered for many things, although perhaps not in the way he might have hoped.
During his career, he commanded the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command which oversaw the raid to kill Osama bin Laden. His signature speech touting the importance of making one’s bed every morning has become a “You Tube” classic.
But he now seems destined to be remembered as a man who willingly compromised his integrity to maintain membership in the power elite club. In doing so he is unmasked as more concerned with self-interest than the country he took an oath to defend.
His recent Washington Post op-ed challenged President Donald Trump to revoke his security clearances. He did so as an expression of support for former CIA Director John Brennan whose security clearances were revoked because of extreme and unprecedented criticism of the president.
McRaven spoke glowingly of Mr. Brennan as a man of ‘unparalleled integrity whose honesty and character have never been in question, except by those who do not know him.’ If the admiral is a sporting man, I am willing to place a wager as to the accuracy of his assertions.
There may be arguments against revoking Brennan’s clearances, but personal integrity would not be one of them. John Brennan is poorly regarded among CIA professionals and recognized as overtly political. His extensive and questionable record unmasked a man who is duplicitous at best and incompetent at worst.
Brennan has accused President Trump of being ‘drunk with power.’ Yet seems unable to comprehend his own pre-disposition toward narcissistic self -aggrandizing.
Along with Defense Intelligence Agency head James Clapper he is known to have deceived Congress. Brennan should have been indicted for the CIA spying on Congressional oversight committee members and staff under his watch. He initially denied the allegations but was forced to retract his denial and apologize.
Despite support from Admiral McRaven, Brennan has proven himself to be the epitome of the self-serving political hack. And to suggest otherwise is to strain the bounds of credulity.
Fortunately for the country, Donald Trump is the first president since Harry Truman who is unintimidated by threats of unpleasant political consequences. The power, at least for the moment, has been returned to the American people. In case Brennan and McRaven may have forgotten these are the citizens who pay their salary and whose children fight the wars.
It might be something worth remembering.
America’s move to the all-volunteer military produced a professional, highly motivated, superbly trained, and well compensated military. But the downside is undeniable.
A military career is no longer a path in and of itself, but a stepping stone for future lucrative second careers in government or related industries. The rise of 24- hour cable news created a highly profitable market for defense analyses experts. Retirement at high rank increases opportunities.
To qualify, senior officers must become overly cooperative with politicians. And this regularly occurs at the expense of the national defense.
Prior to the Vietnam War, the United States Military relied on the draft to provide the needed manpower to fill its ranks during times of national emergencies. During both World Wars, the draft supplemented the small, inadequate full-time professional armed forces. But emerging changes in wartime strategy experienced in Korea and later Vietnam would necessitate a more delicate hand. Vietnam proved to be an especially unpopular conflict.
This has been one of the unintended consequences of the AVF (All-Volunteer Force) which came into effect in 1973. Senior military leaders have become especially susceptible to these influences.
The connection between the military and culture which is a by-product of the draft has become separated from those who determine the direction of the country. As Karl Eikenburg would observe in a Washington Quarterly article, ‘We have ignored severe political and strategic consequences of AVF.’
The number of admirals and generals has increased even as the number of troops and combat units decrease. One study exposed there were more Four-Star Flag officers in 2015 than in World War II.
Those selected for senior military positions typically reflect the attitude of an incumbent president. President Bill Clinton was uncomfortable with the strong, aggressive personalities of the warrior class as was his later successor, Barack Obama. Both preferred military advisers who combined ambition with caution and a subservient nature. This assured political sensitivity and allowed them to be more easily managed.”
It would be unfair to suggest that all senior military officers are cut from the same mold, but a symbiotic relationship between political patronage has increased while the link to the American people has been greatly diminished with the loss of the draft.
The Navy’s 2014 Retention Study ‘found that ninety percent of those interviewed hold negative views of senior Navy leadership. They believe a climate of political correctness has led the Navy to spend too much time trying to eradicate behavior that is by its very nature, eradicable. There is a ‘widespread mistrust; in an organization once recognized for leadership, but now relies on management where junior officers can expect to receive little support and are regularly hung out to dry by what they describe as ‘risk adverse’ seniors.’
Admiral McRaven has joined the current Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft in asserting the politics of the culture wars into the military. In August 2017 the British Daily Mail reported that ‘The Coast Guard highest-ranking officer said Tuesday that he ‘will not break faith’ with transgender service members under his command despite a recent announcement by the Trump administration.’
If Zukunft had spoken privately to the thirteen transgender “coasties” this might have been viewed as good leadership. Instead, he publically manipulated the situation for self-promotion.
The Federalist Paper Project headline would read, ‘Mutiny? Coast Guard Leader DEFIES Trump Transgender Band.’ Zukunft, while not mutinous was insubordinate. Since there were only thirteen transgender members of the Coast Guard, Zukunft was viewed as political grandstanding. He should have been reduced in rank and dismissed from the service.
The news for the Coast Guard is no better for the foreseeable future. Recent promotions to the senior Coast Guard admiral ranks include more like the current Commandant.
But they are not alone. They were joined by fifty-six retired generals and admirals. In an article supporting transgender military members, they would write:
‘… Admiral Mike Mullen stated that, ‘I led our armed forces under the flawed don’t ask, don’t tell policy and saw firsthand the harm to readiness and morale when we fail to treat all service members according to the same standards. Thousands of transgender Americans are currently serving in uniform, and there is no reason to single out these brave men and women and deny them the medical care that they require. The military conducted a thorough research process on this issue and concluded that inclusive policy for transgender troops promotes readiness.’ Admiral Mullen urged civilian leaders ‘to respect the military’s judgment and not to breach the faith of service members who defend our freedoms.’ We could not agree more. ’
Missing from the article was any evaluation of the professional expertise of the fifty-six or acknowledged political bias.
Thirteen had previously signed a letter in support of President Obama’s controversial and failed Iran Nuclear Treaty. Several served in high level and financially lucrative positions within the Democratic National Party.
During his tenure as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen faced accusations of unabashed, political posturing by US News and World Report for attempting to stir up anti-government feelings over budget issues.
Mullen raised further controversy in 2013 in his role as Vice-Chair of the Committee to Investigate the Benghazi Consulate attack in Libya.
On September 11, 2012, the United States Consulate had been attacked by terrorist resulting in the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three members of the consulate’s security team. Accusations emerged that request for additional security had been ignored as well as well as calls for help unanswered once the attack began. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton became the target of much of the criticism.
As a result, Mrs. Clinton appointed an Accountability Review Board to investigate. It was co-chaired by the now the retired Admiral Mullen and former United Nations Ambassador Thomas Pickering.
The Review Board was criticized by Congress over what was regarded as an overly cozy personal relationship between the co-chairs and Mrs. Clinton. She appointed four of the five committee members to investigate herself. Mullen’s decision not to interview any of the principals involved but to rely only on written reports was viewed as suspect.
McRaven now joins senior military officers who are unabashedly more loyal to fellow insiders than to the nation.
So perhaps Admiral McRaven you will forgive me for borrowing a page from your own script.
You made your bed.
Ladson F. Mills III, a former Marine Corps Line Officer and Navy Chaplain, is the founder of Setebos-Sixpence Freelance Writing Ltd. He lives with his wife in Charleston, South Carolina. He is a regular contributor to The Covert Letter and Virtueonline . Mills’ book, Abandoned Shipmate, The Destruction of Coast Guard Captain Ernie Blanchard, is scheduled for publication in late fall.
*Excerpts from Abandoned Shipmate provided the background for this Story.