I was drawn to the telly to take in the testimony of Gen. David Paetraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker like a moth to a flame. The result was undesirable, but unavoidable. I sat transfixed listening to politicos of both stripes produce rhetorical statements of huge pomposity which may have contained the hint of a question, while The General (TG) and The Ambassador (TA) tried to figure how to react to a non-question question and staying on the pre-agreed talking points.
Seeing TG handle his own charts recalled a more virtuous and tender time when I was a chart holder for another general giving a presentation of great moment. I was a 1st LT in the service of one Major General Abraham F. who was the star attraction. A witness, if you will, to an assembled mass of important personages about something hugely important then, but of no notice after these four decades have passed, and I got to hold the charts. Kind of like holding a rich man’s horse.
It was August at Ft. Hood, Tx and the presentation was being given in a vintage GP medium tent with the sides rolled up to try to elicit the faintest of breezes in the thick of the Texas afternoon heat. The tent was too small for the crowd, even with folding chairs jammed together. If you didn’t have a star on your shoulder, you had to stand in the back. I was both terrified and exhilarated by my simple duty. All would be well so long as I held up the right chart at the right time and didn’t commit any social gaffe. All was going well in my time of reflected glory until I saw it. A huge, black fly buzzing the audience as if he were looking for a final target for his attack. A stout three star seated in the first row was fighting to remain conscious after a too large lunch, a too long presentation, and a too hot tent, and losing the battle. I’d seen him early on, but resolved to give him no notice for fear I would chortle when his head bobbed in momentary slumber. This particular general was also the possessor of a magnificent red orb of a nose. One that ordinarily cannot be bequeathed via DNA, but requires long years of drinking large quantities of cheap scotch.
The fly carefully scouted the terrain, and knowing a good landing field when he saw it, made a bee line (or should I say fly line) for the giant ruby hued schnoz of the lightly snoring general. I followed the flight plan of the fly with interest while trying to hold the right chart in the right position at the right time. The fly ultimately made a perfect three point landing and waited cockily for what might transpire. I was holding my breath and gripping the current chart in a death clutch. The general, not terribly aggravated by the landing of the fly, snorted once or twice, pawed lackadaisically in the direction of his nose and resumed his postprandial nap in situ. The presentation ground to it’s inevitable conclusion with general and fly still in position. All I could think was, “now that’s what I’d call command presence”.
All of this is by way of saying that TG in his testimony today, like the stout one star who preceded him many years before, had immense command presence. The whining and posturing of his questioners mattered not one whit to him. He had his story and he was sticking to it.
One of my generation would have to be duncified not to call to mind, however, the striking parallel of TG’s testimony and responses to the questions of the committee members to that of another general in another time. General David Westmoreland in his testimony to congress on April 27, 1967 talked of the “signs of progress” that were being made and of the “additional battalions” of RVN soldiers who were beginning to shoulder more of the war effort”. He also had great praise for the behavior and fighting capability of the “best trained fighting force ever” and their efforts to fight and overcome an enemy who posed the greatest threat ever to the safety and security of the United States. He commented that “this is a war unlike that any we’ve fought before”. Westmoreland concluded by commenting that the calamity that might ensue from less that total victory was unthinkable Sound familiar? An unfortunate footnote: over the seven years following Westy’s politically rosy testimony, 35,000 more US soldiers died in Viet Nam not to mention the one million South Vietnamese that lost their lives as well.
I’m sure that TG believes what he testified to. I believe TG is amongst our best and brightest (my god, look at his creds), I believe that TG is a fine example of warrior/patriot/intellectual, and cares deeply about our country and the soldiers in his command. I also believe he is fighting the wrong enemy, based on a bankrupt foreign policy built on a foundation of lies and false assumptions.
I feel sorry for TG. We owe this good man a better mission than this. But I feel sorry for our country more. We deserve better than this.