Admiral Mullen’s Parapraxis

Posted on January 25, 2014


A soldier returning home from one of our ‘dirty little wars’.

I’ve been chewing on that speech that former Admiral Mike Mullen (you know him – one of the main cheerleaders for the repeal of DADT), now retired, gave at a breakfast attended by Gold Star families and members of Concerned Veterans for America, earlier this week.  Here, for point of reference, are some of his comments:

“Our culture is a culture of ‘if you’re here, we love you, and if you are not, please carry on [with] whatever it is, And the best and worst example of that were Gold Star families.”  

“When you get to these wars, I worry that America has paid us very well, the compensation’s good, [so the culture says] ‘please go off and fight our dirty little wars and let us get on with our lives. We need to figure a way to get America to buy into those, into them.”

“The people in the Northeast don’t know us anymore, for example,” Mullen said, given that the Base Realignment and Closure process has led to the closure of so many military installations in the region.

Mullen recommended the development of a universal national service program (although not a draft),  two years of service for all people between the age of 18 and 24, to bridge the gap between the military and the civilian communities.  “The military becoming more and more isolated from the American people is a disaster for America,”

This was not a prepared speech, but in this instance, a reaction to a question from a Gold Star widow, Jane Horton, regarding the cultural chasm between servicemen and their families and the rest of civilian society in general.

May I begin by saying that I empathize with the grief and loss of the surviving family members of those killed in duty to our country.  And I think it is arguably true that too many Americans go through their daily lives not reflecting on the price, sacrifice  and commitment born not only by the soldier, but by his family and loved ones.  I agree as well, on his take of the pulse of our culture, which has extended the sentiment of abandonment and disposability –  to not only the fallen men and women in uniform, but the families left behind.  So, regarding that aspect of his response, he and I are of like mind.  That may be about all.

I take issue, among other things, with Mullen’s unwarranted assumption that  “America has paid us very well, the compensation’s good..”  Huh?  Paid who well, Admiral?  You, of course, I know.  The guys out there in the field of battle that are putting their lives on the line?  On what planet?  Certainly not this one.  $225.00 a month???  People on government assistance make a hell of a lot more money relying on the taxpayer, than this.  How clueless is this man?  And how unjust is this arrangement?

Next comes the part of the statement that has people speculating as to its precise meaning –  ‘please go off and fight our dirty little wars and let us get on with our lives.  We need to figure a way to get America to buy into those, into them.”  I’ve heard a few varying interpretations of the ‘dirty little wars’ expression.  Some explain that Mullen meant that the wars we’ve been involved with since WWII and Korea, are thought of by many as ‘dirty little wars’.  The sense here is that ordinary citizens think of these conflicts we get  involved with in the abstract .  They are something that we don’t properly comprehend the necessity for, and consequentially are a side show that is ugly that we don’t want to contemplate.  That could likely be what he meant.

Another reading of them takes his comments to mean that the government needs to do a better job of promoting the benefits of the military actions we engage in, to the general public.  In other words, the President, Congress and the Defense Department should commence an ‘awareness campaign’ designed to convince Joe Citizen that intervening in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Egypt, Yemen and elsewhere, are vitally important to their lives and safety.

Then there is the largely unspoken but palpable sense that Mullen, having retired from his post, is having an Eisenhower moment along the lines of Ike’s ‘Military Industrial Complex’ speech. That the expression ‘Dirty Little Wars’ implies that much of our involvement in these conflicts is use of the armed forces for private interests.  The subtext here being that the United States’ global forward deployment and power projection serves the interests of industry and the investment class, but that beyond the purpose of protecting the business assets of multi-nationals, there is little generally perceived value to the everyday American.  So, with this dissection, the reading is that Mullen gave voice to a kind of Freudian slip or unintended public admission.

No matter what implication you draw from Admiral Mullen’s comment in reference to America’s ‘Dirty Little Wars’, can it not be concluded that with the full emergence of the Imperial Presidency, there is a clear motive –  a moral hazard if you will, to commit troops in situations where the national interest is at best ill-defined and at worst, non-existent?  Doesn’t it seem obvious based on the results we are seeing, that our foreign policy, has failure written all over it – with the exception that more debt and more wasteful military spending, benefits certain segments of the economy – corporations and central banks?

I see a similar truth in Mullen’s quote, “The military becoming more and more isolated from the American people is a disaster for America.”  Ostensibly, this relates to the narrative from some progressives that because most of the recruits for the volunteer army are coming from the South and the Mid-West, perhaps there should be a return to the draft.  While I disagree with re-instituting the draft, putting American lives in jeopardy for nothing more than  protecting the investments of companies that offshore American jobs and industry, is a disaster for America.  Rather than a buy-in on our part, a re-assessment of what embodies a proper and constitutionally authorized role in National defense by our military is the urgent priority.

No doubt there will be some who will counter that we’re involved in a worldwide ‘War On Terror‘.  Not according to the Pentagon.  A directive went out in 2009, instructing personnel to strike that phrase from the lexicon as being insensitive and inflammatory and not properly descriptive of our purposes in deploying forces. The authorized replacement term? ‘Overseas Contingency Operations’.  Words signify intentions or lack of them.  An overseas contingency operation can just as equally mean providing relief supplies to victims of typhoons in the Philippines as launching attacks against AlQueda forces.  It – ‘Overseas Contingency Operations’ is an amorphous term.  What does it tell you about the difference between what you’ve been sold on as a rationale for non-declared wars and what may be other undisclosed motives?

Even Former CIA Director and Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates admits in hindsight – or delayed candor,

“I think that the hurdle for the use of military force, particularly in the absence of an immediate threat to the United States, imposed by requiring a congressional act, would not necessarily be a bad thing. This is a place where I think the Congress ought to assert itself. The irony is, I believe in recent years—and, coming from me, this is a strange thing to say—but one of the things that I lament is that, because of the changes in the Congress, I think they’ve become less important in the governance of the nation—they’ve weakened themselves in the decision-making process. You were asking me if the Congress should have declared war—should have been asked to declare war—on Iraq, as I say, I hadn’t thought about it before—but my initial instinct in response is probably yes.”