It’s tough for those of us who live as civilians to truly appreciate the degree of sacrifice borne by those who wear the uniform.
As we’ve witnessed from several tragedies this year, our troops are putting their lives on the line in dangerous theaters around the globe and on training missions here at home as well. The greatest nation on earth has remained free and has prevented evil from filling the global power vacuum for years because of just a small percentage of brave Americans who sign up to defend our interests.
On the heels of commemorating the sacrifices of our soldiers this Memorial Day, it is incumbent upon our civilian political leadership to think long and hard about foreign policy and how best to craft policies that will ensure the lives of our troops are not needlessly put at risk. At its core, this means when the U.S. goes to war and our troops are sent into harm’s way, our leaders factor in the best interests of our troops.
George Patton was famous for saying, "The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his." This salty Patton adage could be just as relevant today as an admonition to the civilian political class not to let political correctness, poor planning, lack of strategic goals and defined outcomes, and tepid rules of engagement needlessly kill or maim our troops.
Reasonable people can disagree over the prudence of a particular military engagement, but once our troops are sent into battle, the first priority must always be to achieve the mission with as little loss of life to U.S. soldiers, not to the other side – not even to innocent civilians. If the cause is just and the engagement deemed necessary, responsibility for civilian casualties lies at the feet of the enemy. If our political class is too squeamish about collateral damage and is intent on gratuitously risking the lives of our troops, they should not go to war in the first place.
This is a sacred goal and commitment all American leaders used to understand. We paid a heavy price for the Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944, with nearly 2,500 American fatalities. But thanks to meticulous planning, a clearly defined mission, and a no-holds-barred desire to achieve that mission, a continent was freed and the world was saved just one year later. This was all done despite bad luck, dismal weather, and mechanical failures that plagued the assault at Omaha Beach – and all without the enormous technological advantage the U.S. military enjoys today over its contemporary enemies.
To this day, families of WWII veterans can stand on the hallowed ground of Omaha Beach and solemnly reflect with pride on the enormous ground taken and preserved in the fight to protect our national interests and those of all humanity.
Sadly, things have only gone downhill since WWII. We no longer fight wars with clearly defined missions under leaders who have the ability to articulate a commonsense outcome to the public. Our soldiers are thrust into nearly impossible situations and tangled webs of Islamic civil wars without a strategic plan to win. And most absurdly, political motivations that lead to politically correct warfare have all too often superseded the priority of achieving the mission with the lowest number of casualties.
Despite the failures of our civilian leadership to define our national interests and articulate a winning strategy, we have soldiers who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan – in places like Fallujah and Ramadi – with just as much gallantry as our grandparents did at places like Omaha Beach. With over 6,700 fatalities and tens of thousands wounded, many of whom are incapacitated for life with debilitating injuries or suffer from PTSD, what can the civilian leadership show these families to justify their sacrifice? Where is the ground held or gained in pursuit of U.S. national interests?
Some political leaders say that this is the price we must pay for defending liberty in this era, given the nature and logistics of the enemy. They are wrong. This is not the price we must pay; this is unacceptable. The political leadership can do better at prioritizing strategic interests and defining the mission of our troops, unencumbered by strictly political warfare. They must do better. They owe it to the brave soldiers in uniform.
Certainly, there is much blame appropriately ascribed to the current president for capriciously ceding the gains our military made in central and western Iraq. But much of Iraq and the sacrifice of our troops had gone toward the Iranian hegemony long before Obama took office. Iran was allowed to literally rip apart our troops with the nastiest explosive devices, and the regime has never paid a price for it – again – even before Obama became president, other than to win control and influence over large swaths of the country.
It’s no wonder that morale in the military has sunk so low.
But rather than heap pessimism on the past, aspiring presidential candidates need to chart a course towards refocusing the core mission of the military on identifiable and tangible national interests.
If our soldiers are willing to pay the ultimate price for our freedoms, the least we can do is ensure that as few of our brave men and women are killed in action as possible and that if they ultimately give their lives for this great nation, their sacrifice is not made vain by the shortsightedness of those who send them into battle.