Having your Soldiers' Back
The government of Israel traded 1,700 Palestinian terrorists for Sgt. Gilad Shalit, an IDF soldier kidnapped and held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The Israelis have been known to trade live terrorists for the bodies of its soldiers held by its enemies. That's what it means to have your soldiers' collective back. And their families' back.
Navy SEALS Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods knew the risks they took having volunteered for service in the American armed forces. They were in a war zone; they knew what the enemy could do, but it's hard to imagine they ever considered that their government didn't have their back. That the U.S. government would deny them rescue, deny them reinforcements, deny them cover. What must they have felt in those hours, knowing it was only a matter of time until they died -- not because their government didn't know, not because their comrades couldn't reach them, but because their comrades weren't sent.
Riding Amtrak this Sunday, I read an article in the magazine about Jill Biden's new book, When Daddy Goes to War. Dr. Biden, stepmother of an Army National Guardsman who served a tour in Iraq, has -- along with Michelle Obama -- been a public face in support of our troops. Her book is about "the sacrifice of one military family -- the endless worry, the prayers, the love, the lonesomeness..." Mrs. Biden talks about "gestures of kindness" her family received while Beau was in Iraq. "I can't tell you how many times people would come up to me -- I mean strangers, complete strangers -- and say, 'I'm praying for your son.' As a mom, you can imagine what that means."
I can. My stepdaughter served two scary tours in Iraq and her husband served there as well. My closest friend's sons are Marines with three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan between them. I felt what Jill Biden felt; can she feel my outrage?
The administration has dissembled utterly on the Benghazi attack -- the level of security requested before the attack that was denied by Washington; the fact that it was terrorism unrelated to the video; who knew what and when; and who made which decisions, including the infamous decision not to send help and rescue in the middle of the battle. Leon Panetta's comment was revolting:
(The) basic principle is that you don't deploy forces into harm's way without knowing what's going on; without having some real-time information about what's taking place. And as a result of not having that kind of information, the commander who was on the ground in that area, Gen. Ham, Gen. Dempsey and I felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that situation.
There were already troops on the ground -- already "forces at risk" -- there was "real time information" and if Mr. Panetta and Gen. Dempsey didn't know "what's going on," Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods did and they knew what they needed. Panetta was unwilling to risk more troops to help/reinforce/rescue troops already there. Did he feel "very strongly" that Ambassador Stevens and the SEALS were expendable?
To Dr. Biden (and Mrs. Obama): support for our troops means more than yellow ribbons, prayers, and "gestures of kindness" to the families. Those are not to be discounted, but that is the warm and fuzzy side, the goopy, sentimental side of "support." Soldiers and their families want to know that our soldiers have every possible form of political -- and more important -- military support to stay alive in war zones and return to us. That means listening to people on the ground when they ask for more, bigger, better in advance of the battle. It means when the battle is joined and the troops call for reinforcement, the government sends it. It has their collective back.
If Secretary Panetta and Chairman Dempsey denied the SEALS request, they should resign in shame. If the decision was made higher up, the President and Vice President should resign -- the President because he is Commander in Chief, the Vice President because he is the father of a soldier.
Shoshana Bryen is Senior Director of The Jewish Policy Center.