While listening to President Bush deliver his second Inaugural
Address, that familiar sinking feeling washed over me again.
I flashed back to 1969. As a lieutenant serving as an
intelligence briefing officer at the Naval War College, Newport, R.I.,
I listened day after day as senior officers recently returned from Vietnam
divulged tales counter to public knowledge. The majority ardently disagreed
with our Vietnamization policy. These stories corroborated my conclusion
reached in 1965 while studying International Relations: The U.S. was fighting
a war in Southeast Asia that was not in our national interest.
After six months of giving briefings and listening to
battlefield-tested officers, a sinking feeling engulfed me. I knew that
my country, whose uniform I wore, was fighting in the name of a flawed
policy rejected by many officers at the college, including me. Maybe General
Westmoreland supported McNamara and Nixon and believed in the so-called
Domino Theory, but my shipmates, scores of whom had fought in Vietnam,
opposed our goals, our strategy and our tactics.
By history's standards these officers' skepticism was
on the mark.
During this past Christmas holiday I heard from many military
friends. This multigenerational group, with diverse political leanings,
did not favor our Iraqi policy and expressed deep sadness and anguish
over the direction of our country's course of action.
Recently, as I sat talking with my mother, age 92, an
admiral's widow, a woman of wisdom and vast experience, a clear reality
emerged: Notwithstanding denials of the president's cabal and pundits,
our country is engaged in an overall strategy akin to the Vietnam experience.
We attacked a country because our president acted upon an ill-conceived
theory. In Vietnam they posited the Domino Theory; in Iraq, the Democratization
of the Arab World.
In simple terms, the Domino Theory held that, unless the
U.S. stepped in to prevent it, the communists would take control of Southeast
Asian countries, one by one. Similarly, the Democratization Theory postulates
that we must deter the "evildoers," i.e., fundamentalist Muslim terrorists,
in their drive to disrupt and control the Arab world, state by state.
Neither theory was well-founded or adequately analyzed
before we went to war. Neither was fully supported by the military. Each
was championed by an imperious Secretary of Defense who largely ignored
the counsel of our senior military commanders. McNamara had his Whiz kids;
Rumsfeld, his Neo-cons.
Then came the second inaugural address, the State of the
Union and the budget. We, the people are expected to support policies
which lack resources, clear thinking and allies. These policies have already
created unbelievable losses and planetary ramifications.
That sinking feeling is now deeply embedded. When will
it dissipate? Will there be endless years of "Iraqization"?
My reality goes something like this: too many Americans
are in groupthink, led by an administration that continually feeds us
misinformation and disinformation. My friends, family and I are embarrassed
at how our government is perceived around the world, and distressed at
how this administration's radical foreign policy sabotages our values
and political future. Generations to come will be paying for mistaken
Why aren't more senior retirees and other concerned citizens
coming forth to lead us out of groupthink?
My recommendation: that the president reach beyond his
national security circle and task a bipartisan group to create a plan
of action, with benchmarks, for U.S. policy in Iraq. This plan should
answer essential questions and the heart of the plan should be shared
with the American people.
Just as civilians could not hear those dissenting military
voices in the hallowed halls of the Naval War College during the Vietnam
war, so it is today. The principle of civil-military relations requires
uniformed men and women to be silent in the public sphere and forbids
criticism of their commander-in-chief.
Wouldn't it be fascinating to hear the conversations
of the military students recently returned from Iraq in the corridors
of all the war colleges? Those active-duty military voices are necessarily
missing from any public dialogue; nonetheless, I'm confident a significant
number of military retirees and their families passionately want that
sinking feeling to lift. Sooner rather than later.
Commander Coye is a graduate of Wellesley College, the
American University School of International Service, the School of Naval
Warfare (Naval War College), and is a former U.S. Navy Commanding Officer.
She taught international relations at the Naval War College and political
science at several undergraduate schools. She authored and published "My
Navy Too," 1998. She resides in Ashland.
© 2005 Ashland Daily Tidings and Ottaway Newspapers