In 1998 the Officer in Charge of the Naval War College and all other institutions that are responsible for preparing officers of the Marine Corps and Navy to lead combat and security operations stood before myself and 255 other former enlisted members of those organizations seeking to join their ranks and declared:
“One of the greatest challenges you’ll face as an Officer are the misconceptions that disinformation leaves your subordinates, peers, and superiors with.”
As he elaborated on this statement it became clear that he was frustrated by the lack of attention Congress then paid those security concerns that plagued overseas military installations, embassies, and the airlines that served them. While he was careful not to call them out directly I knew to whom he referred as I too had monitored the situation for seven years by then. In fact, it was this concern that compelled me to seek that appointment.
In 1995, just months after I left the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force stationed in Okinawa, Japan it was targeted by the same group of Middle Eastern extremists who were responsible for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. As the details of this attack came out it became clear that an incendiary device smuggled aboard a Japan Airlines flight during a stop in the Philippines was meant to terrorize the Marines of my former unit while identifying vulnerabilities in airline security that could be exploited to attack the United States directly. Knowing Republican lawmakers doubtful these extremists would succeed in attacking the United States refused to approve airline security measures proposed the following year, I asked my commanding officer to endorse my bid for commission so I might play a part in preparing the Marine Corps and Navy to confront the security challenges those Congressmen would not.
You know the rest of the story. Republicans argued that we were not the world’s police force and that we could not afford to be, until the attacks of September 11, 2001 occurred. Then they declared that war alone would solve the problem, even though the military and intelligence communities had repeatedly warned them that this was more likely to energize the extremist movement. It was not long after that that terrorists began striking European targets with impunity.
Having finally approved those security measures proposed to protect the United States years earlier we remained relatively unaffected, but rather than acknowledge the security had been effective Republican lawmakers chose to instead claim that it was the decision to go to war that kept us safe. It was the kind of disinformation that had concerned the Officer in Charge of the Naval War College so many years before. It was the kind of lie that kept us moving down a path that endangered people solely so that politicians could toot their own horns.
It is this experience that leaves me confused when I hear people claim that disinformation was a Trump invention. The fact is the Republican party has been using it to reframe bad decisions as good for decades. Unfortunately, this has allowed the more extreme wing of that party to gain power while moderates with good ideas have lost it. Our own former Senator Olympia Snow comes to mind, as does John McCain.
The Republican Party isn’t a bad party, but it has let bad people control it for too long. I understand how that came about having watched those convinced George Bush Sr lose his bid for reelection in 1992 blame the loss on his reluctance to invade Iraq rather than accept that he made the right decision but lost reelection because the public didn’t trust that he wouldn’t change his mind as soon as the election was won. That’s when the party began to go off the deep end and to take our nation with it.
I don’t believe George Bush Sr would have invaded Iraq. In fact, had he won I believe he’d have done much of what Bill Clinton did in that regard as he ultimately followed the advice that was provided by the same military and intelligence experts who informed that decision. This is where the strategy Republicans then embraced fell apart as it caused them to challenge the advice of those communities in an effort to make the case that they were more capable of making those decisions. It is this that created the tensions within the ranks that the Officer in Charge of the Naval War College warned us about in 1998.
There are effective leaders within the Republican Party but these do not include those who rely on disinformation to win elections. Those individuals don’t lead, they follow those who are moved by disinformation instead. And it apparently never occurs to them that a real leader creates his or her own messaging rather than follow the messaging of others. It takes guts to speak your mind. It takes nothing but a voice to parrot another.
It is my sincere hope that good Americans will take back the Republican Party.