The U.S. Navy announced the removal of the commander of an aircraft carrier last week. The report would hardly have been newsworthy but for the circumstances that led to the Navy’s action.
Naval officer Owen Honors (his real name), was a captain (the naval equivalent of a full colonel). His vessel, the U.S.S. Enterprise, is the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. It was due to leave its stateside port for Afghanistan (to support combat missions there) less than two weeks after the Captain’s dismissal.
The decision to dismiss the Captain was made by Admiral John Harvey, the commander of the U.S. Fleet Forces Command. He said he had lost confidence in Captain Honors’ ability to lead because of his lack of judgment and professionalism.
What, you may now be wondering, did the Captain do to merit such an indictment?
The answer is a bit startling and serves to introduce the real topic I want to address.
Captain Honors had created and starred in a series of sexually explicit videos that were regularly shown to his crew as entertainment. The videos include scenes of simulated masturbation, the simulated eating of feces, a simulated rectal exam, anti-gay slurs, and a pair of men and a pair of women showering together. They also include a scene that suggests an officer is engaged in sex with a donkey.
The kicker in this story is that the videos were produced in 2005 and were shown to the crew (numbering 6,000 sailors) of the Enterprise in 2006 and 2007. And knowledge of the existence of the videos was even more widespread than that. In fact, two superior officers, a Rear Admiral and a Vice Admiral are implicated in the story as having had knowledge of the videos. They reportedly did nothing with that knowledge.
Admiral Harvey says the investigation is “continuing.” But he appears to be facing significant resistance from the troops. As of last week, over 11,000 individuals had posted comments on Facebook in support of the Captain. Many claimed the videos were “morale boosters” and others complained that the media reports were over-reactions.
While this particular captain’s actions may appear to go beyond the pale of normalcy, they, and the large-scale reaction to them (“morale boosters”), are emblematic of the mentality that exists both within the military ranks and in the psyche of the Washington establishment that condones and even supports those attitudes.
In a recently published book entitled “Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War,” Andrew J. Bacevich presents a powerful critique of the foreign policy dogma that has led to a military structure that believes itself entitled to anything it wants. On a micro level, Captain Honors’ actions and the support he is now receiving throughout the ranks, are an example of that reality.
Bacevich is a former Army officer (he retired with the rank of colonel) and is currently a professor of history at Boston University. “Washington Rules” is his sixth book, all of which deal with the misguided foreign policy and military misadventures that have been the markers of the country’s history since the end of World War II. This latest book is the most profound of the bunch, chronicling and indicting American imperialism with a historian’s precision and an advocate’s passion.
His thesis is that the vast military-industrial complex that Dwight Eisenhower warned of in his last presidential address has become a monster that is destroying the country even as it seeks to control the world. In one shocking paragraph, Bacevich details the span of U.S. military power, identifying these “Commands,” as the military calls them, that now exist as arms of military dominion in the world: Pacific Command (covering the Asia-Pacific region), Central Command (covering the greater Middle East), European Command (self-explanatory), Africa Command (covering the entire continent), Southern Command (Central and South America), Northern Command (protecting the homeland and Canada), and Space Command (to ensure control of the great beyond whenever it might need policing).
Each of these commands are headed by a four-star general or admiral, and each maintains permanent bases and ports for troop deployment should the need arise. Okay, the Space Command is not actually populated yet, but its mere existence says volumes about the commitment to the mission.
That mission, simply stated, consists of three components, as Bacevich sees it. The first, evident from the command structure that covers the globe, is to maintain a worldwide military presence. The second is to project global power as a prophylactic (hence the massive nuclear arsenals and bloated naval and air forces). And the third is to intervene militarily anywhere and at any time without regard for international rules of engagement (the invasion of Iraq constituting the most outrageous, but hardly unique, example).
The results are the Washington rules, which, in sum, state that the United States will always act without external restraint (international law, treaties, United Nations’ resolutions) in safeguarding its interests and extending its influence.
The rules are, of course, the source of the nation’s hubris over the last fifty years, beginning with Viet Nam, continuing in Gulf War I (the first Iraq war), and culminating in the War on Terror (a convenient title to justify the overt wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and the covert ones on-going in Pakistan and wherever else the military and its national intelligence partners may be secretly engaged).
That hubris was most evident in the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq, which Bacevich condemns as “immoral, illicit and imprudent.” He sees the Bush doctrine of preventive wars as an outrageous extension of the Washington rules, asserting that Iraq never was a threat to the United States, either for their alleged stash of WMDs or for their alleged involvement in the 9/11 attacks, both of which were bogus at the time they were asserted and have continued to be ever since.
Bacevich asserts that the Washington rules are bound to destroy the nation, and he makes a compelling case for the conclusion that they already have started to do so.
His book is chilling. Barack Obama should read it.