That Sinking Feeling Returns

That Sinking Feeling Returns

by Commander Beth F. Coye, U.S. Navy (ret.)
published by Ashland Daily Tidings

While listening to President Bush deliver his second Inaugural Address, that familiar sinking feeling washed over me again.

I flashed back to 1969. As a lieutenant serving as an intelligence briefing officer at the Naval War College, Newport, R.I., I listened day after day as senior officers recently returned from Vietnam divulged tales counter to public knowledge. The majority ardently disagreed with our Vietnamization policy. These stories corroborated my conclusion reached in 1965 while studying International Relations: The U.S. was fighting a war in Southeast Asia that was not in our national interest.

After six months of giving briefings and listening to battlefield-tested officers, a sinking feeling engulfed me. I knew that my country, whose uniform I wore, was fighting in the name of a flawed policy rejected by many officers at the college, including me. Maybe General Westmoreland supported McNamara and Nixon and believed in the so-called Domino Theory, but my shipmates, scores of whom had fought in Vietnam, opposed our goals, our strategy and our tactics.

By history's standards these officers' skepticism was on the mark.

During this past Christmas holiday I heard from many military friends. This multigenerational group, with diverse political leanings, did not favor our Iraqi policy and expressed deep sadness and anguish over the direction of our country's course of action.

Recently, as I sat talking with my mother, age 92, an admiral's widow, a woman of wisdom and vast experience, a clear reality emerged: Notwithstanding denials of the president's cabal and pundits, our country is engaged in an overall strategy akin to the Vietnam experience. We attacked a country because our president acted upon an ill-conceived theory. In Vietnam they posited the Domino Theory; in Iraq, the Democratization of the Arab World.

In simple terms, the Domino Theory held that, unless the U.S. stepped in to prevent it, the communists would take control of Southeast Asian countries, one by one. Similarly, the Democratization Theory postulates that we must deter the "evildoers," i.e., fundamentalist Muslim terrorists, in their drive to disrupt and control the Arab world, state by state.

Neither theory was well-founded or adequately analyzed before we went to war. Neither was fully supported by the military. Each was championed by an imperious Secretary of Defense who largely ignored the counsel of our senior military commanders. McNamara had his Whiz kids; Rumsfeld, his Neo-cons.

Then came the second inaugural address, the State of the Union and the budget. We, the people are expected to support policies which lack resources, clear thinking and allies. These policies have already created unbelievable losses and planetary ramifications.

That sinking feeling is now deeply embedded. When will it dissipate? Will there be endless years of "Iraqization"?

My reality goes something like this: too many Americans are in groupthink, led by an administration that continually feeds us misinformation and disinformation. My friends, family and I are embarrassed at how our government is perceived around the world, and distressed at how this administration's radical foreign policy sabotages our values and political future. Generations to come will be paying for mistaken policies.

Why aren't more senior retirees and other concerned citizens coming forth to lead us out of groupthink?

My recommendation: that the president reach beyond his national security circle and task a bipartisan group to create a plan of action, with benchmarks, for U.S. policy in Iraq. This plan should answer essential questions and the heart of the plan should be shared with the American people.

Just as civilians could not hear those dissenting military voices in the hallowed halls of the Naval War College during the Vietnam war, so it is today. The principle of civil-military relations requires uniformed men and women to be silent in the public sphere and forbids criticism of their commander-in-chief.

Wouldn't it be fascinating to hear the conversations of the military students recently returned from Iraq in the corridors of all the war colleges? Those active-duty military voices are necessarily missing from any public dialogue; nonetheless, I'm confident a significant number of military retirees and their families passionately want that sinking feeling to lift. Sooner rather than later.

Commander Coye is a graduate of Wellesley College, the American University School of International Service, the School of Naval Warfare (Naval War College), and is a former U.S. Navy Commanding Officer. She taught international relations at the Naval War College and political science at several undergraduate schools. She authored and published "My Navy Too," 1998. She resides in Ashland..

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