Memorial Day is difficult. It reminds us of things we’d rather forget. For me that means remembering we would not be where we are were it not for those who argued we’d benefit from large scale military developments in the Middle East.
As a sergeant attached to the Naval War College Marine Detachment for Officer Selection and Training I heard from officers who served in Vietnam, as they sought to explain how errors made in their era might be avoided in ours. These senior officers wanted us to speak when politicians made statements that didn’t align with what we learned from the defense intelligence community because they’d seen the damage that could be done when military officers failed to protect that institution from meddlesome politicians.
I had no idea how big an ask that was at the time. I had no idea, for instance, that Vice President Dick Cheney would target CIA officers who refused to parrot the distorted impression he painted from the intelligence they provided as he made a case for a preemptive war in Iraq. And, I had no idea that would pave the way for abuses designed to extort testimony from defense intelligence personnel, but I should have.
Here’s why. In 1989, I read the Pentagon was asked to consider how it might remove Cold War weaponry, and those leaders who refused to give it up willingly. The idea was presented by politicians who thought they would score points with a public that was tired of living the threat of nuclear war and with defense contractors who might be made wealthy in the process.
The Pentagon tore that idea to shreds, leaving no doubt the military deployments those politicians envisioned would create more problems than they would resolve. It is the primary reason we didn’t invade Iraq in 1991, for it continued to inform the view defense officials asked to consider it took.
For the politician upset by this, the ’90s was all about creating doubt that it was correct. They’d refuse to take security risks arising in the Middle East seriously in the hope that they would eventually wear on the American public and the military. And wouldn’t you know it, they were right. One incident too many and both were raring to go.
What’s disturbing is that I started to suspect this was happening in 1999 while those Vietnam veterans were talking. I’d known of al Qaeda’s effort to drop aircraft on American targets since 1996 and had applied to commission because I wanted to help the Marine Corps strike them before they could strike us. I had no idea until that moment that we hadn’t yet done so merely because politicians with other ideas held us back.
Those politicians had foreign relations and defense industry leaders to consider. They were busy rebranding the effort I described above as a humanitarian effort because it offered another way to justify the large scale deployments both desired. Behind the scenes they were all about defense spending and how to maximize it.