What in the world is happening to senior military officers under the Obama administration?
It seems that every week since President Obama took office in 2009, we’ve been hearing that another top leader has been summarily fired, despite his decades of loyal service and valuable experience in protecting the nation. Statistically speaking, it’s actually closer to one every 8.8 days, a staggering 200 military brass shown the door in less than five years.
The Pentagon has offered up a grab bag of reasons for these dismissals — from a simple “loss of confidence,” to more descriptive “insensitive remarks,” “sexual misconduct,” and even “counterfeit poker chips.”
The latest two to fall from grace, Navy Vice Adm. Ted “Twig” Branch, director of naval intelligence, and Rear Adm. Bruce Loveless, director of intelligence operations, were stripped of their security clearances last week, effectively ending their careers. They allegedly engaged in “inappropriate conduct” over a Navy contracting scandal related to scheduling port visits in Southeast Asia during the past decade. According to Navy officials, the probe into Singapore-based Glenn Defense Marine Asia is expected to widen — meaning, we’ll likely see other senior officers terminated in the weeks ahead.
Though firing senior military leaders was routine in different eras, including World War II and the Civil War, it was mostly related to lack of success on the battlefield. The battlefield has changed considerably since then, though, and those same metrics are harder to measure today.
What’s going on now? Is this really the most incompetent and corrupt military we’ve ever seen? Or is it just easier these days to get hammered for real or perceived bad behavior and poor performance?
Some of our most revered and successful Army leaders during World War II, Gens. Douglas MacArthur, Dwight D. Eisenhower and George Patton, all had mistresses — yet in those days, such indiscretions were not public issues like today. Patton even reportedly boasted about an affair with his wife’s half-niece. It’s doubtful that would remain under wraps today, nor should it.
Personal indiscretions past and present notwithstanding, perhaps something even more sinister is going on today.
With massive defense-budget cuts amounting to $1 trillion planned over the next decade including sequestration, a shrinking military that includes axing 10 percent of flag and general officer positions worldwide, and 20 percent of headquarters positions at the Pentagon and top operational combatant commands, it seems entirely plausible that the steady stream of firings plays into the Obama administration strategy of military attrition.
Rather than giving these officers the benefit of the doubt, let alone having their back, there appears to be a rush and a push to get rid of them.
Senior officers must be extremely careful these days, in both their professional and personal lives. They must understand that they are under the microscope, and their careers have never been more vulnerable. If admirals, generals, colonels, captains and commanders feel like they must act like saints and walk on eggshells, well, that is today’s reality. It’s not quite 1692 Salem, Mass. — the operative word being “quite.”
Danger signs appear everywhere: disgruntled subordinates unafraid to blow the whistle on real or perceived mistakes; increased ways to get in trouble with email, social media, cameras and video recorders; heightened sensitivity to workplace behavior; political correctness run amok; ever-present investigative journalists, and now bloggers; and a presidential national security team bent on cutting down the ranks. Everyone who wears the uniform should realize they’ve been converted into de facto political pawns. They’re mostly targeted by the left, which is never shy about taking American power down a notch or two — or three.
Bad behavior and poor performance are never acceptable. Perhaps President Obama should apply the same tough standards to his political appointees at the White House and State Department over incidents such as the Benghazi terrorist attack; at the Justice Department over Operation Fast and Furious; and at the Treasury Department for the Internal Revenue Service targeting of conservative nonprofit groups.
Not surprisingly, while the president circles the wagons when it comes to his ideological allies, he is quick to throw a couple of hundred top military officers under the bus. Apparently, Mr. Obama and his team have no problem marginalizing the U.S. armed forces — and it shows. Maybe his top aide Valerie Jarrett said it best when addressing a four-star general, Army Vice Chief of Staff Peter Chiarelli, at Washington’s Alfalfa Club dinner in 2011. Mistaking him for a waiter, she asked him, “Could I please get another glass of wine?” Yeah, that about sums it up.
J.D. Gordon is a retired Navy commander and former Pentagon spokesman who served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 2005 to 2009.