Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Opinion: Don't cower behind the sacrifice of the fallen

It's pretty clear that last month's attempted raid in Yemen was a failure. Security was compromised before U.S. forces reached their target, Chief Petty Officer William "Ryan" Owens, a Navy SEAL on his 12th deployment overseas, was killed along with as many as 20 civilians, and several other U.S. military personnel were wounded. One potential target of the raid, Al Qaida leader Qassim al-Rimi, is still at large and is now mocking the Americans for his escape, and the official Yemen government -- our ally -- says it wants a reassessment of the raid's planning.

But let's be straight here: I don't think it's either wise or fair to try to turn this into a major political issue, as Republicans did so shamelessly with the Benghazi tragedy. These are risky operations by their very nature, and sometimes things go wrong in ways impossible to anticipate. If President Trump and his staff pushed the plan into action for political reasons, as a way to dramatize their new, more muscular approach to terrorism, then yes, the responsibility is on them. On the other hand, if the Joint Chiefs of Staff and military professionals presented the plan to civilian leadership as mature and ready to go, it's hard to second-guess Trump for approving it. And with all the anonymous finger-pointing going on, we have no clear idea which version is more correct.

However, when the discussion turns to how the Trump administration has conducted itself in the wake of the raid, things are much more clearcut. Immediately after the raid's results were announced, for example, Trump officials began to claim that much of the planning for the operation had been conducted under the Obama administration, suggesting that's where the fault might lie.

In the first place, you don't start spreading the blame if you really think the operartion was a success. And more importantly, that is not how these things work. President Obama did not make the decision to send those men into battle; Trump did.  When the late Chief Owens and his SEAL colleagues undertook their mission, they did so knowing there might be consequences and they bravely accepted those consequences. The same should be true of the civilian political leadership that sent them on that mission. You made the decision; you accept the consequences, good or bad. That's leadership.

And then there's the performance of White House spokesman Sean Spicer in a Wednesday press briefing.

"(The raid) is absolutely a success," Spicer insisted. "I think anybody who undermines the success of that raid owes an apology and [does] a disservice to the life of Chief Owens. ... we owe him and his family a great debt for the information that we received during that raid.  I think any suggestion otherwise is a disservice to his courageous life and the actions that he took.  Full stop."

That's just infuriating. The Vietnam War turned into a futile, misbegotten farce, but to state that obvious fact is not an insult to the 59,000 Americans whose names are listed on The Wall.  The invasion of Iraq was the single worst foreign policy decision in American history, but saying that is not an attack on the 4,491 U.S. service personnel killed in that effort.

Do not use the body of the fallen to shield yourself from criticism.  Do not hide behind the sacrifice of braver men because you don't want to take the heat for your own actions.

It's the coward's way out.

Full stop.

UPDATE: President Trump has now joined the party, also arguing that Sen. John McCain and other critics of the raid have no right to voice their opinion.


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.