Thursday, June 24, 2010

Foot-In-Mouth Disease

So we're back from Disney World and our awesome family vacation in Orlando - I will be posting a blog about that shortly, Ari and I are in the process of writing our vacation up together to forward to family and put up on Facebook, and I'll post it here when we're done - but in the meantime I wanted to address some US politics stuff I was following while down stateside.

Apparently, there's a serious case of putting one's foot in it going on down there. First you have Congressman Joe Barton of Texas apologizing to BP, characterizing the escrow fund they have established at President Obama's behest (in order to cover damages, fees, etc. that might come up) as a shakedown, and a reprehensible punishment to private industry at the hands of government. No consequences here, minus a semi-forced apology and retraction later on, as Barton keeps his seat as the ranking Republican on the congressional oversight committee, but nonetheless as someone who roots for the Democrats to keep the upper hand for the time being anyway and actually bring some accountability both to Washington and more particularly, yes, to private industry which has an amazingly tough time policing itself apparently, thrilled at the strategy, as characterized on MSNBC last week, to simply let GOPers talk. They will dig their own grave every time.

Politically speaking, the sight of one of their most prominent representatives apologizing to the company responsible, due to an atrocious lack of adherence to safety and environmental standards, for the greatest environmental disaster in US history, is priceless. From a heart-and-soul standpoint, I know which part I tend to think is more interested in doing the right thing with the widest array of best interests at heart - and anytime the 'other guys' show their stripes and reveal their true priorities to the public, is an important moment for honest and accoutability.

Meanwhile over on the military end of things, we have Gen. Stanley McChrystal, a very smart military man but obviously not wise to the ways of politics or the media, allowing a Rolling Stone reporter to cover him for 4 weeks, including at drunken moments involving McChrystal and his men criticizing both his Commander in Chief Barack Obama, and other (civilian) members of the administration, revealing a rift long understood in circles in the know, between military personnel and the non-military folks who make the decisions for them. Now I know people both involved in politics, and with involvement in the military - I think people with expertise in both need to be involved in wartime decision making, and I respect the contributions of both sides to both national and worldwide security, and I would be loath to suggest who contributes more - one contributes ideas, one contributes manpower and lives. All take great risks and work incredibly hard to get done what needs to get done.

That said - rightly or wrongly, the United States has a civilian-run military, and all members of said military are answerable to the President of the United States - currently Barack Obama. Ideas can be exchanged, dissent expressed, discussions had; but for the sake of military efficiency, strength, and unity, once in public, all military personnel must express dedication, if not outright support, to the goals of their CIC, and respect the chain of command - of which Obama is currently top dog. McChrystal has skated for a very long time publicly airing grievances with Obama and other decision-makers in his cabinet. He has covered up friendly fire incidents and incidents of possible torture; and while he is one of the great fathers of counterinsurgency strategy, so important to the wars currently being fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, that does not mean he has the right to leak documents or speak ill (truly ill) of his superiors, or the task(s) he has been assigned.

One of the great quandaries of the military, is that their job is to fight for democracy, while not actually really being able to be one themselves. There is an incredibly rigid chain of command, and freedom of speech in this instance does not, unfortunately, apply quite to the extent it might for civilians. Orders are given and ultimately taken, and there is no room for verbal gaffes. Unfortunately, Gen. McChrystal learned the hard way to leave those to the politicians, like Joe Barton.

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