Saturday, May 12, 2007

John Batiste: A Profile in Integrity

By now, everyone who does not live in a neo-luddite Unabomber cabin has seen the commercial featuring retired Major General John Batiste – the one in which he proclaims openly “Mr. President, you did not listen. You continue to pursue a failed strategy that is breaking our great Army and Marine Corps. I left the Army in protest in order to speak out. Mr. President, you have placed our nation in peril. Our only hope is that Congress will act now to protect our fighting men and women.”

Everyone also knows by now that CBS News fired the General from his consulting position because of the ads.

Something tells me that General Batiste is not troubled by the fickle devotion of the CBS news division. Not after I read his description of the decision making process that led him to forgo a third star and command of day-to-day operations; casting aside a 31-year military career in the process.

“In the Army, you communicate up the chain of command, and I communicated vehemently with my senior commanders while I was in Iraq,” he said. Of his departure from the Army, he said: “It was the toughest decision of my life. I paced my quarters for days. I didn’t sleep for nights. But I was not willing to compromise my principles for one more minute.”

But General Batiste did not step out of the active duty role just to step into a cushy defense industry job. Instead, he now runs a small steel fabricating plant in Rochester, New York that has no ties to the defense industry at all.

It just looks like the man has scruples in spades. There is no wishy-washiness, there is no flip-flopping and there is zero room for rationalizations or statements like “what you have to understand.” Since resigning and retiring in 2005, he has been steadfast and committed. He was among the first to criticize failed Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld (Rumsfailed?) and call for his ouster.

General Batiste said he chose to go public with his critique of the war effort only after 30 years of honoring the Army’s rules of silence. He said it was that time commanding 22,000 troops in combat, in 2004 and 2005, that convinced him that American fighting in Iraq was short of vision as well as troops.

“There was never enough. There was never a reserve,” he said. “Again and again, we had to move troops by as many as 200 miles out of our area of operations to support another sector. We would pull troops out of contact with the enemy and move them into contact with the enemy somewhere else. The minute we’d leave, the insurgents would pick up on that, and kill everybody who had been friendly.”

He is quick to point out that VoteVets is not an antiwar organization – but it is against the Iraq war/occupation. The organization has thus far done an excellent job of walking that tightrope says it has tried to calibrate its message carefully, although there is a limit to the nuance that can fit into 30-second television spots. (Two other retired generals, Paul D. Eaton and Wesley K. Clark, speak in the campaign’s other advertisements.)

As described by General Batiste, the message is not antiwar; it argues that continuing the war in Iraq as a civil, sectarian conflict that cannot be won by outside forces is crippling the Army and the Marine Corps. It does not deny the danger of violent Islamic extremism, he says, but contends that the war in Iraq prevents the armed services from preparing to battle other global security threats.

And it says that if terrorism, and especially terrorists armed with unconventional weapons, truly threaten America’s very survival, then the rest of the country — not just the military — should be called to sacrifice.

America stands at a fork in the road. We must choose our path carefully. I vote we follow men like General Batiste and Lt. Colonel Yingling - and Tommy “Stupidest Man on the Planet” Franks and Jack Keane can just fade away - and the sooner the better.

As for me, I will stand shoulder to shoulder and ramrod straight with those who know how a Patriot ought to act.

[Cross-posted from Watching Those We Chose]

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