In 14 years of continual combat, has there ever been a greater disconnect between our warrior class and the civilians who purport to lead them? American politicians still don’t understand our enemy, still don’t understand the capabilities and limitations of the American military, and — worst of all — they still seem unwilling to learn. They come from an intellectual aristocracy that believes itself educated simply because it’s credentialed — and they tend to listen only to those who share similar credentials. They’ve built a bubble of impenetrable ignorance, and they govern accordingly.
During World War I, German general Max Hoffman reportedly declared that “English soldiers fight like lions, but we know they are lions led by donkeys.” Over time, his criticism stuck, and popular opinion about the war hardened into a consensus that the horrors of the trenches were the product of stupidity and lack of imagination. Callous generals, the criticism held, safely ensconced themselves in the rear while sending young men to die in futile charges, unable to conceive of the tactical and strategic changes necessary to deal with the technological revolutions that defined the war. This criticism was unfair then — generals on all sides suffered high casualty rates and dramatically changed tactics during the course of World War I — but it’s entirely fair now.
Just look at the collection of senior “talent “advising President Obama on ISIS. Stanford- and Oxford-educated National Security Advisor Susan Rice has no military experience, was part of the team that disastrously botched America’s response to the Rwandan genocide, and is notable mainly for a willingness to say anything to advance the electoral prospects of her political bosses.
Stanford- and Michigan-educated Valerie Jarrett — by many accounts President Obama’s most-trusted adviser — also has no military experience, spent much of her life toiling in Chicago municipal politics, and has gained influence primarily through her steadfast loyalty to the Obamas.
Yes, Yale-educated John Kerry served bravely in Vietnam, but one of his first acts upon returning home was to turn on his fellow veterans and slander them as war criminals. He has minimal credibility in the military.
Perhaps worst of all is Smith College–educated Wendy Sherman, the lead negotiator of the administration’s disastrous Iran deal. She has zero military experience, started her career as a social worker, and then made her name in radical pro-abortion politics as the director of EMILY’s List. Sherman played an instrumental role in the failed North Korean nuclear negotiations during the Clinton administration, so naturally Obama put her in charge of the Iranian debacle.
Incredibly, this gang of cocooned leftists has reportedly “iced the Pentagon out of the decision-making process” and “pushed military frustration to the highest level in decades.”
#share#But the politicized Pentagon bears its own share of the blame — beginning with a politically correct culture where discrimination complaints are more harmful to careers than battlefield failures. Yale- and Oxford-educated Ash Carter is no doubt intelligent (he has a Ph.D. in theoretical physics) and may be an upgrade over Chuck Hagel, but he has exactly as much experience in uniform as the commander-in-chief. On his watch, the Pentagon has maintained rules of engagement that have so dramatically hampered American forces in the field that terrorists routinely and easily find safe haven from the world’s most capable military.
Lack of service — especially lack of service since 9/11 — should lead to a degree of humility and openness to counsel that our political aristocracy evidently doesn’t possess.
And while military experience — even experience on the ground in Iraq or Afghanistan — is no guarantee of either wisdom or policy agreement (after all, even the most hardened post-9/11 veterans can and do disagree on tactics and strategy), there is a reason why Senator Tom Cotton stood alone in voting against the disastrous Corker bill. He has seen jihad up close, and he knows that it cannot be appeased.
Republicans, while possessing a bit more clarity regarding the nature of our enemy, suffer from similar defects in experience. Not one of the leading GOP contenders has served one day in the military, and this experience deficit could be one reason that they sometimes substitute the foolish pacifism and appeasement of the Left for foolish saber-rattling. The Republican candidates’ near-lock-step support for a Syrian no-fly zone (with the notable exceptions of Ted Cruz and Donald Trump) reflects the worst sort of strategic thinking. Chris Christie’s vow to shoot down Russian planes if they violate such a no-fly zone was an embarrassment.
I do not believe that military service is a prerequisite for the presidency, but lack of service — especially lack of service since 9/11 — should lead to a degree of humility and openness to counsel that our political aristocracy self-evidently doesn’t possess. I know their world. I’ve lived in their world. This is a political class that reflexively distrusts the military, believes the right kind of experience can be gained by attending panel discussions from Boston to Geneva to Istanbul, and claims to gain on-the-ground insight from quick, guided tours of the safest sectors of Iraq and Afghanistan. They know nothing. Worse, they learn nothing.
The American people deserve better. This is a nation that has supplied an all-volunteer military with elite warriors for 14 consecutive years of combat. This is a nation whose sons and daughters keep exhibiting the courage of the Greatest Generation and the generations of soldiers who came before. We still raise lions. But alas, the donkeys rule.
— David French is an attorney, a staff writer for National Review, and a veteran of the Iraq War.