Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Sunday was the first presidential candidate to take on the administration’s reaction to the U.S. Marines urinating on dead Taliban fighters. Although many headlines said he “defended” them, it is more accurate to say that he pleaded for some perspective:
“What is really disturbing to me is just, kind of, the over-the-top rhetoric from this administration and their disdain for the military, it appears, whether it’s the Secretary of State or whether it’s the Secretary of Defense. I mean, these kids made a mistake. There’s not any doubt about it. They shouldn’t have done it. It’s bad. But to call it a criminal act, I think, is over the top.”
Over the top. I mean, sanctimonious, self-righteous posturing by the secretary of state and secretary of defense because four enlisted Marines didn’t something they shouldn’t have done for which they’re going to be punished? They probably should get a non- judicial battlefield punishment. And instead, they have to make a huge deal of it to show that, oh, we deplore this.
A few things are noteworthy about the episode.
First, neither Kristol nor Perry take issue with punishing the Marines for misconduct. This is not what we expect of our fighting forces, and they brought disrepute on themselves and their fellow Marines. But that is why we have a military system of discipline that should proceed in due course. (One wonders if these Marines will be treated more harshly now that the secretaries of Defense and State have popped off.) What Kristol and Perry are criticizing is the administration’s grandstanding.
Second, the administration is acting this way because it either fears an act of “retaliation” (as if the Taliban needed an excuse to kill Americans) or because the Obama team is nervous this will close the escape hatch out of the war, the negotiated “settlement” with the Taliban. Perhaps it is a little of both. So the objection to the administration’s reaction it is not simply that they are engaged in holier-than-thou posturing. Rather the problem is all of a piece, revealing a penchant for trying not to give offense to our enemies. It underscores that regardless of the strides the military has made, the administration thinks it is negotiating from a position of weakness. And it is. When you announce you are leaving anyway, what is there meaningful to discuss?
Similar to the Marine incident, Hillary Clinton went out of her way recently to deny U.S. involvement in the assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist. This conveys fear, as U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, told me recently. We plead, “Not us! Don’t hit us!”
And finally, it goes too far, as Perry did, to accuse the administration of having “disdain” for the military. The definition of disdain is a “feeling of contempt for someone or something regarded as unworthy or inferior.”Rather, the president simply puts the military, repeatedly, as a lower priority than the rest of the government. If not disdain, it is at the very least an inversion of priorities. Domestic spending grows astronomically; he slashes the military budget. He faces a tough reelection effort and his base is restive; he sets arbitrary withdrawal deadlines that threaten the gains in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It is not enough for a commander in chief to go to Memorial Day celebrations, or focus on health care in the VA. For men and women risking their lives for us, their safety and morale should come first. In this administration is just isn’t so.