Living in Another Time and Place

General Mark Milley, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was called last week to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee over allegations he colluded with a senior Chinese military general to undermine the Trump Administration, and for his role in the botched withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan in August.

Headlines across legacy and social media platforms described the sternly worded calls from senators like Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) for both Milley and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to resign for their unprecedented dereliction of duty and Milley’s rank insubordination. “Have you no shame?” was the tenor of Senator Tom Cotton’s (R-Ark.) provocative question to Milley: “Why haven’t you resigned?” 

Plenty of Americans are dismayed at the actions of both Milley and Austin and find it difficult to come to terms with what they’ve witnessed over the past several months: Austin and Milley’s critical race theory cheerleading, fantastical mole-hunts for mythical white supremacists within the ranks, and now apparent dereliction of duty and treason. It is almost too much to process.

One could be forgiven for thinking that the last few weeks are right out of an episode of “The Man in the High Castle,” where we Americans have unknowingly slipped between alternate parallel realities. After all, in normal America, generals are supposed to win wars, fight for the welfare of their soldiers, and accept responsibility for their failures. 

Almost everyone knows the story of the Battle of Mogadishu that is depicted in “Black Hawk Down.” The 1993 daylight-raid-gone-bad was part of a Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) mission by Task Force Ranger to capture or kill a Somali warlord who was interfering in America’s interests in the region. President Clinton scrubbed the mission after a raid by Task Force Ranger resulted in 19 American deaths and over 1,000 dead and wounded Somali militiamen. 

What a lot of people don’t know, or don’t remember, is that the commander of JSOC and Task Force Ranger was U.S. Army Major General Bill Garrison, a fast-tracking, well-liked, and professional Army officer. Following the failed raid, Garrison penned a letter to Clinton accepting full responsibility for the failure of Task Force Ranger’s mission. Although there were plenty of individuals, both military and civilian, who played a role in the disastrous outcome of that raid, it was Garrison who stood up and took the blame. He was the commander, a major general, and an honorable and experienced warrior who cared about his soldiers—of course he would publicly accept responsibility. His courage and honor in doing so cost him his career, and he retired not long thereafter. 

Contrast the example of Garrison with that of our current batch of general officers and Defense Department political appointees. Who among them has accepted responsibility for the utter failure that was America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan? Who in the entire national security establishment has been held accountable for the 20 years of intelligence and operational planning failures in Afghanistan or the fraudulent Doha negotiations which empowered a murderous Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies with a new, militarily stronger, Islamic Emirate? No one.

 

Between our unfortunate expedition in Somalia and our failure in Afghanistan, we see a disconnect in accountability. The real problem here is that in Garrison’s case, he was a competent, honorable, and courageous officer whose resignation was truly a loss for America. The current batch of finger-pointing generals and national security bureaucrats are neither competent nor honorable, certainly not courageous, and America would be better off without the lot of them. Amazingly, shouting “have you no shame” in the halls of Congress doesn’t make them want to resign or give up their prized sinecures.

How did we get to the point where the worst among us are now leading us? It is because we, as a nation, failed to hold our elected officials accountable for the state of our government and its institutions. Why did we fail in this regard? Because we assumed our military’s generals and civilian leaders were all Bill Garrisons. But we don’t live in that world anymore. 

Living in The Wrong Construct

A construct is a model devised on the basis of observation, designed to relate what is observed to some theoretical framework. Let’s define the term theoretical framework to mean our system of governance and society. Our understanding is that America is a constitutional republic, founded in democratic principles, with a representative government by and for the people. We have been told—or have at some point assumed—that our bureaucratic officials work for the good of the nation and are accountable to the people via our elected representatives. We were led to believe that our originally designed system of checks and balances was a guard against the tyranny that tempts human kind. All of this was true . . . at some point. In other words, this was once a valid American construct. 

Pedro Gonzalez, a frequent contributor to American Greatness, wrote in his essay “Middle America’s Road to Power,” “a fundamental problem with conservatism is that it reflexively seeks to conserve institutions that either don’t exist anymore, or which have been perverted to become hostile to the right.” Gonzalez’s words are the perfect description of the problem of an obsolete construct.

Traditional America is mired in an obsolete construct due to our failure to observe certain substantial changes in our political and cultural environment.  Processing these types of changes is difficult for most people. 

For example, many Trump supporters were unquestioning advocates of law enforcement and created elaborate conspiracy theories about white-hat operatives working within the FBI and Justice Department to save Trump—all while the FBI was actively framing Trump officials, lying under oath to Congress, falsifying FISA warrants, and generally acting like a corrupt secret police outfit. The Department of Justice, responsible for oversight of the FBI, merely ran out the clock on Trump. Trump supporters’ 4D political chess theories of the period were merely a symptom of cognitive dissonance. They couldn’t process the fact that something so foundational to their belief system (the integrity of federal law enforcement) had so significantly changed. 

Many in conservative and traditional America are still dealing with this cognitive dissonance over a variety of questions, making their political efforts to right the American ship ineffective and at times comical. They are still arguing and debating “the facts” thinking the other side will listen or care about them and that, this time, they’re going to change minds. Some, still yearning for the old bipartisanship, can’t see that in the construct of present-day America, classical liberalism is dead.

To deal with the dilemmas we now face, we must transport ourselves out of our obsolete construct and into the reality of the moment. We must see the world for what it truly is. We must know both our enemy and ourselves, where we are and where we are going. 

We can no longer sit in front of a screen and complain that the other side is not playing by a rulebook they discarded long ago, but to which we still irrationally cling. Instead, we should determine what we stand for, what we want our future to look like, and plot a course to that future understanding, anticipating the resistance we will face along that path. Our road to victory starts when we can see that truth, join with our fellow like-minded citizens and face forward towards the imminent struggle ahead.

About Max Morton

Max Morton is a retired U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, former CIA paramilitary operations officer, and a veteran of multiple armed conflicts, revolutions, and contingency operations.

Photo: OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images

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