WASHINGTON, D.C., March 26, 2012 – Our soldiers are only as good as their leadership, and they know this as they put their lives and the lives of their families back home on the line every single day.
The case of Army Staff SSG.. Robert Bales being charged with 17 counts of murder stemming from the alleged massacre of Afghan villagers is proof that our military leadership is failing.
Maintaining a top-notch military, fit soldiers and a strong national defense should be a top priorities for our leaders. Yet those very same leaders seem to be playing dangerous political games evidenced by how the Administration and some members of Congress handle the budget, diplomacy and strategy.
Why Bales would do such tragic thing may never be known, but as the story unfolds, indications of a soldier needing the support of leadership is becoming apparent.
Details about SSG Bale leading up to the alleged attack against Afghani civilians point not to a killer who carried out a premeditated vendetta but to a soldier suffering from a mental breakdown.
His heartbreaking actions, regardless of ultimate sentencing, have effectively ended not only the lives of the Afghans, but also the once promising life of a former football star, stockbroker, father, husband and American patriot.
While thankfully only a handful of our soldiers snap, how many more are on the edge, wondering when their government and people support them?
While none of the following reasons justifies the actions of Sergeant Bales, they may help explain the undoing of Bales and the strains facing the other men and women among our fighting forces:
- Three days before the incident, Bales’ house in Tacoma, Washington was put up for a “short sale.” He has a wife and two small children. The salary of an Army infantryman averages $42,000.
- Bales had just entered his 1,192nd day of four combat deployments.
- In the days before his rampage, he saw a comrade lose his leg to a land mine. He knew that an Afghan worker at CampBastion had set himself on fire and attempted to crash into Leon Panetta’s plane. He knew supposed allies had recently shot two American officers over the disposal of a Koran turned contraband.
- He had been wounded twice, including a concussive head injury suffered when his Humvee overturned in Iraq, yet was certified as combat ready by the Army.
- Maybe he received the news that Nidal Hasan, the Muslim Army psychiatrist who in November 2009 shouted Allah Akbar before killing thirteen and wounding 29 at Fort Hood in the worst shooting to ever take place on an American military base, just got his trial put off for another four months. One defense expert was hired nearly two years ago and he alone has already racked up about $250,000 in fees billed to the government.
- He surely knew his Commander in Chief presented a budget to cut
spending on defense by $850 billion ($350 plus another $500 as part of the debt-ceiling deals), yet spent his entire first year in office pushing for government run health care that over the same ten-year period of the defense cuts will cost $1.76 trillion, though reduce military health benefits.
Leon Panetta said during a hearing of the House Budget Committee, “On Tricare costs for health care, we have recommended increased fees…Military pay will not be cut and pay raises (1.7 percent) are planned for the next two years but limited in later years.”
- Did he possibly hear that the cuts, according to Leon Panetta, would include a reduction of 80,000 soldiers and wonder if he might face yet another deployment?
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), said “Some people are making these allegations about these cuts being dangerous, and they’re going to have to deal with the testimony that will be there [from top military officials]…“It’s a very solid budget, and I strongly support it.”
- Maybe Bales shook his head and saw the absurdity in Obama’s State of the Union address comment: “I’ve proposed a new defense strategy that ensures we maintain the finest military in the world, while saving nearly half a trillion dollars in our budget.”
- Bales too may have agreed with Washington Post opinion columnist Michael Gerson, who wrote, “At nearly every stage of Obama’s Afghan war, he has surrounded even reasonable decisions with a fog of ambivalence. His initial Afghan policy review was a botched mess of vicious infighting, leaked classified material and mixed messages. His decision to pursue the Afghan surge seemed more of a reluctant concession than the expression of a firm conviction.
His public statements on the war and its aims are rare — mainly made in response to reporters’ questions. Obama often pairs expressions of resolve with language of internal conflict and hesitance — indicating a leader of at least two minds. And some people in his administration always seem willing to float an off-the-record trial balloon of accelerated retreat — a circumstance Obama seems content to tolerate.”
- Could it anger soldiers that Hamid Karzai told cadets at a military graduation in Kabul, “It’s set that post-2014, for the next 10 years until 2024, the international community, with the U.S. in the lead and followed by Europe and other countries, will pay Afghanistan security forces $4.1 billion annually.” Then President Hamid Karzai demanded NATO troops pull out of rural areas like the one where the massacre happened.
“To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace” – George Washington.
Playing games with national defense is, in the words of a retired Navy Master Chief, “A political agenda to reduce America to the status of a third world banana republic! A nation without a secure border, and national language, a common culture, and the ability to defend itself and its interests, worldwide, will cease to exist!”
The current course set by the Administration is leading us down a mistaken path of isolation and weakness that will embolden our enemies.
President Ronald Reagan, in his 1986 address on national security, said, “Peace does not exist of its own will. It depends on us, on our courage to build it and guard it and pass it on to future generations.
George Washington’s words may seem hard and cold today, but history has proven him right again and again: ”To be prepared for war,” he said, “is one of the most effective means of preserving peace.” Strength is the most persuasive argument we have to convince our adversaries to negotiate seriously and to cease bullying other nations.”
Zbigniew Mazurak, American Thinker, writes, “Providing for the common defense is not an option; it’s a constitutional obligation of the federal government.”
The Preamble of the Constitution says: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Art. I, Sec. 8 of the Constitution contains nine items related to military including, “to raise Armies,” “to provide and maintain a Navy,” to regulate captures on land and water, to declare war, and to make regulations for the military. Art. IV, Sec. 4 of the Constitution obligates the federal government to provide for the common defense: “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion.”
Mazurak concludes, “This does not mean that the DOD should be given a blank check, exempted from scrutiny, or given a free pass for its past failings — which it isn’t, by the way. It also doesn’t mean that just spending more on defense will make America safer. But it does mean that providing for the common defense — including funding it adequately, in line with America‘s defense needs, not arbitrary budget constraints — is a constitutional obligation, which must be met even during a time of financial crisis.”
Targeted killings using our special forces, drone strikes, and budget cuts that gut NASA, weapons research and reduce our ground forces is not a strategy for national defense. The debt must be tackled in order to allow for strength across every indicator, but our military should not bear the greatest portion of those cuts.
As Buck McKeon said, “You know, the military accounts for 20 percent of our overall budget, but 50 percent of the savings have come out of defense, and these people that have given so much for us … why are they to be singled out?”
The pain Robert Bales and his family must be experiencing for what has happened and the consequences they must now bear is unimaginable. However, perhaps this tragedy will open eyes to the strain ambivalent leadership puts on the lives, the psyches of our most valued citizens – American soldiers. Call out for this awakening among neighbors, organizations and every level of government.
Carla Garrison follows current events with one eye on history and the other on the future. Her goal is to encourage people to know the truth and use it as a call to personal action. Read more at Truth be Told.