Commentary Magazine


Topic: military officer

Did Chuck DeVore Exaggerate His Military Service?

I think we’re going to see a flurry of stories on what politicians said about their military service. Howard Dean says the New York Times story on Richard Blumenthal was a “hatchet” job, but if a candidate’s lies about his military service aren’t fair game, I don’t know what is.

The Los Angeles Times has a biographical story on Chuck DeVore, currently running third in the California Senate race. This is not in the league of Richard Blumenthal; it’s more Hillary Clinton–style puffery:

Throughout the campaign, DeVore has emphasized his service as a military officer and a young Reagan White House appointee at the Pentagon as experiences that helped make him the most qualified candidate. But at times he appears to have overstated those accomplishments, particularly his experience under fire and his role in the development of a U.S.-Israeli anti-ballistic-missile defense program.

What does the Times have? In a radio debate, he said he was the only candidate who’d served in the military: “I’m a lieutenant colonel of military intelligence within the U.S. Army,” he said. The Times acknowledges that his campaign literature refers to him as a “lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army retired reserves.” And DeVore argues that it is technically correct to say he is “in the Army” since the reserves are part of the Army. OK, I sort of buy that — but he certainly must have known that the listening audience would have thought he meant the regular Army. This is dicier:

He spoke during the debate of being “shot at in Lebanon” but did not make clear that the shooting occurred in the 1980s while DeVore was a college student studying Arabic and other subjects in the Middle East. Nor did he note that while the shooting was in his vicinity, there was no indication he was a target or was in actual danger.

Now we’re into the territory of Hillary Clinton’s Bosnian gunfire fantasy. The Times tracks down former ABC News correspondent Bob Zelnick (not a partisan liberal by any means) to debunk DeVore’s story.

This is not as damning as Blumenthal’s repeated and direct lies, but it doesn’t help his cause. DeVore is a solid conservative with a firm pro-Israel position who hasn’t gotten much traction in the race. He shouldn’t have puffed up his military background to try to distinguish himself. Conservatives often surge late in Republican primaries, but this may well hold down his level of support among conservatives who have spent the better part of a week pointing out that there are few things lower than misleading voters about your military record.

I think we’re going to see a flurry of stories on what politicians said about their military service. Howard Dean says the New York Times story on Richard Blumenthal was a “hatchet” job, but if a candidate’s lies about his military service aren’t fair game, I don’t know what is.

The Los Angeles Times has a biographical story on Chuck DeVore, currently running third in the California Senate race. This is not in the league of Richard Blumenthal; it’s more Hillary Clinton–style puffery:

Throughout the campaign, DeVore has emphasized his service as a military officer and a young Reagan White House appointee at the Pentagon as experiences that helped make him the most qualified candidate. But at times he appears to have overstated those accomplishments, particularly his experience under fire and his role in the development of a U.S.-Israeli anti-ballistic-missile defense program.

What does the Times have? In a radio debate, he said he was the only candidate who’d served in the military: “I’m a lieutenant colonel of military intelligence within the U.S. Army,” he said. The Times acknowledges that his campaign literature refers to him as a “lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army retired reserves.” And DeVore argues that it is technically correct to say he is “in the Army” since the reserves are part of the Army. OK, I sort of buy that — but he certainly must have known that the listening audience would have thought he meant the regular Army. This is dicier:

He spoke during the debate of being “shot at in Lebanon” but did not make clear that the shooting occurred in the 1980s while DeVore was a college student studying Arabic and other subjects in the Middle East. Nor did he note that while the shooting was in his vicinity, there was no indication he was a target or was in actual danger.

Now we’re into the territory of Hillary Clinton’s Bosnian gunfire fantasy. The Times tracks down former ABC News correspondent Bob Zelnick (not a partisan liberal by any means) to debunk DeVore’s story.

This is not as damning as Blumenthal’s repeated and direct lies, but it doesn’t help his cause. DeVore is a solid conservative with a firm pro-Israel position who hasn’t gotten much traction in the race. He shouldn’t have puffed up his military background to try to distinguish himself. Conservatives often surge late in Republican primaries, but this may well hold down his level of support among conservatives who have spent the better part of a week pointing out that there are few things lower than misleading voters about your military record.

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Jim Mattis: Unsung General

Slate has a great interview with Jim Mattis, one of our great unsung generals. I first met him in Iraq in 2003 when he was commanding the 1st Marine Division in the south. It was also on this trip that I met another two-star general named David Petraeus who was commanding the 101st Airborne Division in the north. Petraeus has since become world famous — and for good reason. Mattis isn’t as well known, although he’s also a four-star general. But he isn’t in charge of Central Command, Iraq, or Afghanistan — the most high-profile operational commands a military officer can have today. Instead he runs the U.S. Joint Forces Command, which is charged with preparing troops for deployment, for enhancing joint operations between the services, and for shaping the doctrine and training of the armed forces. (Full disclosure: I serve on a civilian advisory board at JFCOM.) In that position he has been grappling with some of the most basic challenges confronting the United States as it seeks to preserve its power and influence in the 21st century.

You can see some of the results in this thoughtful document: the “Joint Operating Environment 2010.” For more of a flavor of Mattis the man, read John Dickerson’s profile in Slate. Mattis, like Petraeus, has an unusual gift: He is both a deep thinker and a decisive battlefield commander. He is a soldier who is engrossed in military history but, even as a general, doesn’t hesitate to plunge into the middle of a firefight.

The U.S. Armed Forces can ill afford to lose Mattis, who is due to retire later this year. (It has been reported that he will be succeeded at JFCOM by the outstanding Ray Odierno, fresh off his stint as the top commander in Iraq.)

Slate has a great interview with Jim Mattis, one of our great unsung generals. I first met him in Iraq in 2003 when he was commanding the 1st Marine Division in the south. It was also on this trip that I met another two-star general named David Petraeus who was commanding the 101st Airborne Division in the north. Petraeus has since become world famous — and for good reason. Mattis isn’t as well known, although he’s also a four-star general. But he isn’t in charge of Central Command, Iraq, or Afghanistan — the most high-profile operational commands a military officer can have today. Instead he runs the U.S. Joint Forces Command, which is charged with preparing troops for deployment, for enhancing joint operations between the services, and for shaping the doctrine and training of the armed forces. (Full disclosure: I serve on a civilian advisory board at JFCOM.) In that position he has been grappling with some of the most basic challenges confronting the United States as it seeks to preserve its power and influence in the 21st century.

You can see some of the results in this thoughtful document: the “Joint Operating Environment 2010.” For more of a flavor of Mattis the man, read John Dickerson’s profile in Slate. Mattis, like Petraeus, has an unusual gift: He is both a deep thinker and a decisive battlefield commander. He is a soldier who is engrossed in military history but, even as a general, doesn’t hesitate to plunge into the middle of a firefight.

The U.S. Armed Forces can ill afford to lose Mattis, who is due to retire later this year. (It has been reported that he will be succeeded at JFCOM by the outstanding Ray Odierno, fresh off his stint as the top commander in Iraq.)

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Is General Petraeus Behind Obama’s Dressing Down of Israel?

What’s behind the administration’s new get-tough policy with Israel? If you believe Mark Perry, a former Arafat adviser and author of Talking to Terrorists: Why America Must Engage with Its Enemies, it’s the doing of General David Petraeus. In a rather imaginative post at Foreign Policy’s web site, he claims that on Jan. 16,

a team of senior military officers from the U.S. Central Command (responsible for overseeing American security interests in the Middle East), arrived at the Pentagon to brief Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The team had been dispatched by CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus to underline his growing worries at the lack of progress in resolving the issue. The 33-slide, 45-minute PowerPoint briefing stunned Mullen. The briefers reported that there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM’s mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises, that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region, and that Mitchell himself was (as a senior Pentagon officer later bluntly described it) “too old, too slow … and too late.”

According to Perry, the briefing “hit the White House like a bombshell,” because in effect the U.S. military was placing itself in opposition to the “powerful … Israeli lobby” by announcing that “America’s relationship with Israel is important, but not as important as the lives of America’s soldiers.”

That didn’t ring true to me, so I asked a military officer who is familiar with the briefing in question and with Petraeus’s thinking on the issue to clarify matters. He told me that Perry’s item was “incorrect.” In the first place, Petraeus never recommended shifting the Palestinian territories to Centcom’s purview from European Command, as claimed by Perry. Nor did Petraeus belittle George Mitchell, whom he holds in high regard. All that happened, this officer told me, is that there was a “staff-officer briefing … on the situation in the West Bank, because that situation is a concern that Centcom hears in the Arab world all the time. Nothing more than that.”

I further queried this officer as to whether he had ever heard Petraeus express the view imputed to him by Mark Perry — namely that Israel’s West Bank settlements are the biggest obstacle to a peace accord and that the lack of a peace accord is responsible for killing American soldiers. This officer told me that he had heard Petraeus say “the lack of progress in the Peace Process, for whatever reason, creates challenges in Centcom’s AOR [Area of Responsibility], especially for the more moderate governmental leaders,” and that’s a concern — one of many — but he did not suggest that Petraeus was mainly blaming Israel and its settlements for the lack of progress. They are, he said, “one of many issues, among which also is the unwillingness to recognize Israel and the unwillingness to confront the extremists who threaten Israelis.”

That’s about what I expected: Petraeus holds a much more realistic and nuanced view than the one attributed to him by terrorist groupie Mark Perry. (For more on Petraeus’s view, see this report, which notes that Mulllen was not “stunned” by the briefing he received.) In other words, the current crisis in Israeli-U.S. relations cannot be laid at the American military’s door.

What’s behind the administration’s new get-tough policy with Israel? If you believe Mark Perry, a former Arafat adviser and author of Talking to Terrorists: Why America Must Engage with Its Enemies, it’s the doing of General David Petraeus. In a rather imaginative post at Foreign Policy’s web site, he claims that on Jan. 16,

a team of senior military officers from the U.S. Central Command (responsible for overseeing American security interests in the Middle East), arrived at the Pentagon to brief Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The team had been dispatched by CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus to underline his growing worries at the lack of progress in resolving the issue. The 33-slide, 45-minute PowerPoint briefing stunned Mullen. The briefers reported that there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM’s mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises, that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region, and that Mitchell himself was (as a senior Pentagon officer later bluntly described it) “too old, too slow … and too late.”

According to Perry, the briefing “hit the White House like a bombshell,” because in effect the U.S. military was placing itself in opposition to the “powerful … Israeli lobby” by announcing that “America’s relationship with Israel is important, but not as important as the lives of America’s soldiers.”

That didn’t ring true to me, so I asked a military officer who is familiar with the briefing in question and with Petraeus’s thinking on the issue to clarify matters. He told me that Perry’s item was “incorrect.” In the first place, Petraeus never recommended shifting the Palestinian territories to Centcom’s purview from European Command, as claimed by Perry. Nor did Petraeus belittle George Mitchell, whom he holds in high regard. All that happened, this officer told me, is that there was a “staff-officer briefing … on the situation in the West Bank, because that situation is a concern that Centcom hears in the Arab world all the time. Nothing more than that.”

I further queried this officer as to whether he had ever heard Petraeus express the view imputed to him by Mark Perry — namely that Israel’s West Bank settlements are the biggest obstacle to a peace accord and that the lack of a peace accord is responsible for killing American soldiers. This officer told me that he had heard Petraeus say “the lack of progress in the Peace Process, for whatever reason, creates challenges in Centcom’s AOR [Area of Responsibility], especially for the more moderate governmental leaders,” and that’s a concern — one of many — but he did not suggest that Petraeus was mainly blaming Israel and its settlements for the lack of progress. They are, he said, “one of many issues, among which also is the unwillingness to recognize Israel and the unwillingness to confront the extremists who threaten Israelis.”

That’s about what I expected: Petraeus holds a much more realistic and nuanced view than the one attributed to him by terrorist groupie Mark Perry. (For more on Petraeus’s view, see this report, which notes that Mulllen was not “stunned” by the briefing he received.) In other words, the current crisis in Israeli-U.S. relations cannot be laid at the American military’s door.

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