Shortly after the Sept. 11 attack on our consulate in Benghazi, Libya, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called obscure Florida minister Terry Jones to urge him not to support the now-infamous anti-Islam online film. No one should be silencing Americans, much less the senior uniformed person in our military. The only exception would be if forces were moving to an objective and there was a reasonable request for an embargo to let our armed forces engage without advance notice to our enemies.
A military leader telephoning American citizens to censor them is repugnant -- more odious even than civilian political leaders doing it. That is not to say the film in question was not amateurish, nasty and repellent. It was.
Regardless, the apparent political motivation is cause for concern. Gen. Dempsey made his appeal to the Rev. Jones right after the horrific assault on our consulate in Benghazi. Gen. Dempsey was advancing the ruling party line, attempting to bolster the administration's "explanation" of the attack: that the assault and the murder of four Americans, including our ambassador, were caused by spontaneous anger over the anti-Islam film. Shamefully, the administration's political appointees, particularly U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, claimed the film caused the attack. At best, it was a sophomoric mistake. At worst, it was a partisan gambit to help the administration this election season.
By making that phone call, Gen. Dempsey gave the administration's alibi credibility and wrongfully, a military imprimatur. Reports in the weeks following have made increasingly clear that the film had nothing to do with the attack. Critically, the administration knew within hours -- possibly minutes -- that it was a well-organized and professionally executed terror plot. An attack on a highly significant symbol of America, its consulate and ambassador, on Sept. 11 -- a date of such self-evident significance to our bloodthirsty enemies -- should have been no surprise. Islamists do not need an obscure, months-old film as a motive for an attack on an underdefended outpost.
The U.S. military's ability to prevent or respond to the attack in Benghazi was seriously impaired by the inexplicable absence in the Mediterranean Sea of a carrier strike force or an amphibious force, including a large-deck ship with robust aviation assets. The decision to leave the "Med" "naked" not only contributed to the brazen attack on Benghazi but also impeded diplomatic and police efforts to secure the consulate compound. That should have been Gen. Dempsey's focus, not attempting to deal with an anti-Islam film.
Shortly before the attack, Gen. Dempsey was quoted as saying he did not want to be "complicit" with the Israel Defense Forces if they chose to carry out a military campaign to stop the Iranian government in its continuing march toward nuclear weapons. The standard dictionary definition of "complicit" is "presumed to be involved in illegal or wrongful acts, especially with another." His choice of words is telling, implying that the use of force by Israel to stop the Iranian advance toward nuclear arms would be illegal or, at the very least, wrong. Yet the White House has said military force remains an option to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. If it is not a "war crime" for the United States ultimately to use military force, why would it be one for Israel? Dubbed "Little Satan" by Iran, Israel has been threatened repeatedly by Tehran with destruction and certainly has a right to use force in self-defense, precisely as the United States, Iran's "Great Satan," would and should.
Finally, there is Gen. Dempsey's recent claim that he has "a very close relationship with my Russian counterpart, [Gen.] Nikolai Makarov." He sought Russia's help with "insider threats" in Afghanistan and said, "It was very helpful." Really? The Soviet Union's experience in Afghanistan was not successful, thanks in large measure to U.S. support of the Soviets' opponents. The Soviets left after a humiliating defeat more than 30 years ago. Does Gen. Dempsey think the Russians have been helpful in preventing the murders of coalition forces by Afghan police and army? Perhaps more important is the lack of critical thinking. Will the leader of the Russian military now help the United States? Gen. Dempsey thinks so or wants to pretend so. The government of Vladimir Putin, little more than a thugocracy, has spent many years doing anything that will create problems for the United States. It is a repressive, angry regime committed to causing America trouble.
No one suggests that Gen. Dempsey or his subordinates should not attempt to maintain military-to-military relationships that benefit the United States -- be they with our friends or adversaries. But Gen. Dempsey's comments reflect a disturbing naivete or are a patent political ruse to support the Obama administration's failed Russia "reset" foreign policy initiative. American and NATO-allied troops are being murdered by the Afghan police and military they are supporting, so this is a crisis and a catastrophe. It is shocking and sad that Gen. Dempsey is pandering to the Russians or to politicians instead of leading to victory and success.
Gen. Dempsey's activities and statements are inappropriate for a uniformed military leader. Even for a political appointee, they are counterproductive to our national interests and contrary to the freedoms Americans hold dear. U.S. fighting men and women in the field, under attack, deserve better. It is time for Congress to exercise its oversight powers.
Adm. Steven B. Kantrowitz and Capt. Lawrence B. Brennan (both retired)served in the Judge Advocate General's Corps.