- Published: Saturday, 13 October 2007 00:00
MILITARY REPORTERS AND EDITORS LUNCHEON ADDRESS
12 OCTOBER 2007
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.
Some of you may not believe this but I am glad to be here. When Sig asked me if I would consider addressing you there was no doubt that I should come into the lion’s den. This was important because I have firmly believed since Desert Shield that it is necessary for the strength of our democracy that the military and the press corps maintain a strong, mutually respectful and enabling relationship. This continues to be problematic for our country, especially during times of war. One of the greatest military correspondents of our time, Joe Galloway, made me a believer when he joined the 24th infantry division during Desert Storm.
Today, I will attempt to do two things - first I will give you my assessment of the military and press relationship and then I will provide you some thoughts on the current state of our war effort. As all of you know I have a wide range of relationships and experiences with our nation’s military writers and editors. There are some in your ranks who I consider to be the epitome of journalistic professionalism - Joe Galloway, Thom Shaker, Sig Christensen, and John Burns immediately come to mind. They exemplify what America should demand of our journalists - tough reporting that relies upon integrity, objectivity and fairness to give accurate and thorough accounts that strengthen our freedom of the press and in turn our democracy.
On the other hand, unfortunately, I have issued ultimatums to some of you for unscrupulous reporting that was solely focused on supporting your agenda and preconceived notions of what our military had done. I also refused to talk to the European “Stars and Stripes” for the last two years of my command in Germany for their extreme bias and single minded focus on Abu Gharaib. Let me review some of the descriptive phrases that have been used by some of you that have made my personal interfaces with the press corps difficult:
“Dictatorial and somewhat dense”,
“Not a strategic thought”,
“Does not get it” and
“The most inexperienced LTG.”
In some cases I have never even met you, yet you feel qualified to make character judgments that are communicated to the world. My experience is not unique and we can find other examples, such as the treatment of Secretary Brown during Katrina. This is the worst display of journalism imaginable by those of us that are bound by a strict value system of selfless service, honor and integrity. Almost invariably, my perception is that the sensationalistic value of these assessments is what provided the edge that you seek for self aggrandizement or to advance your individual quest for getting on the front page with your stories!
As I understand it, your measure of worth is how many front page stories you have written and unfortunately some of you will compromise your integrity and display questionable ethics as you seek to keep America informed. This is much like the intelligence analysts whose effectiveness was measured by the number of intelligence reports he produced. For some, it seems that as long as you get a front page story there is little or no regard for the “collateral damage” you will cause.
Personal reputations have no value and you report with total impunity and are rarely held accountable for unethical conduct. Given the near instantaneous ability to report actions on the ground, the responsibility to accurately and truthfully report takes on an unprecedented importance. The speculative and often uninformed initial reporting that characterizes our media appears to be rapidly becoming the standard of the industry.
An Arab proverb states - “four things come not back: the spoken word, the spent arrow, the past, the neglected opportunity.” Once reported, your assessments become conventional wisdom and nearly impossible to change. Other major challenges are your willingness to be manipulated by “high level officials” who leak stories and by lawyers who use hyperbole to strengthen their arguments. Your unwillingness to accurately and prominently correct your mistakes and your agenda driven biases contribute to this corrosive environment.
All of these challenges combined create a media environment that does a tremendous disservice to America. Over the course of this war tactically insignificant events have become strategic defeats for America because of the tremendous power and impact of the media and by extension you the journalist. In many cases the media has unjustly destroyed the individual reputations and careers of those involved.
We realize that because of the near real time reporting environment that you face it is difficult to report accurately. In my business one of our fundamental truths is that “the first report is always wrong.” unfortunately, in your business “the first report” gives Americans who rely on the snippets of CNN, if you will, their “truths” and perspectives on an issue.
As a corollary to this deadline driven need to publish “initial impressions or observations” versus objective facts there is an additional challenge for us who are the subject of your reporting. When you assume that you are correct and on the moral high ground on a story because we have not responded to questions you provided is the ultimate arrogance and distortion of ethics.
One of your highly respected fellow journalists once told me that there are some amongst you who “feed from a pig’s trough.” If that is who I am dealing with then I will never respond, otherwise we will both get dirty and the pig will love it. This does not mean that your story is accurate. I do not believe that this is what our forefathers intended.
The code of ethics for the Society of Professional Journalists states:
“…public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility.”
The basic ethics of a journalist calls for: 1. Seeking truth; 2. Providing fair and comprehensive account of events and issues; and 3. Thoroughness and honesty.
All are victims of the massive agenda driven competition for economic or political supremacy.
The death knell of your ethics has been enabled by your parent organizations that have chosen to align themselves with political agendas. What is clear to me is that you are perpetuating the corrosive partisan politics that is destroying our country and killing our service members who are at war.
My assessment is that your profession, to some extent, has strayed from these ethical standards and allowed external agendas to manipulate what the American public sees on TV, what they read in our newspapers and what they see on the web. For some of you, just like some of our politicians, the truth is of little to no value if it does not fit your own preconceived notions, biases and agendas.
It is astounding to me when I hear the vehement disagreement with the military’s forays into information operations that seek to disseminate the truth and inform the Iraqi people in order to counter our enemy’s blatant propaganda. As I assess various media entities, some are unquestionably engaged in political propaganda that is uncontrolled.
There is no question in my mind that the strength of our democracy and our freedoms remain linked to your ability to exercise freedom of the press - I adamantly support this basic foundation of our democracy and completely supported the embedding of media into our formations up until my last day in uniform. The issue is one of maintaining professional ethics and standards from within your institution. Military leaders must accept that these injustices will happen and whether they like what you print or not they must deal with you and enable you, if you are an ethical journalist.
Finally, I will leave this subject with a question that we must ask ourselves–
who is responsible for maintaining the ethical standards of the profession in order to ensure that our democracy does not continue to be threatened by this dangerous shift away from your sacred duty of public enlightenment?
Let me now transition to our current national security condition.
As we all know war is an extension of politics and when a nation goes to war it must bring to bear all elements of power in order to win. War fighting is not solely the responsibility of the military commander unless he has been given the responsibility and resources to synchronize the political, economic and informational power of the nation.
So who is responsible for developing the grand strategy that will allow America to emerge victorious from this generational struggle against extremism?
After more than four years of fighting, America continues its desperate struggle in Iraq without any concerted effort to devise a strategy that will achieve “victory” in that war torn country or in the greater conflict against extremism. From a catastrophically flawed, unrealistically optimistic war plan to the administration’s latest “surge” strategy, this administration has failed to employ and synchronize its political, economic and military power.
The latest “revised strategy” is a desperate attempt by an administration that has not accepted the political and economic realities of this war and they have definitely not communicated that reality to the American people. An even worse and more disturbing assessment is that America cannot achieve the political consensus necessary to devise a grand strategy that will synchronize and commit our national power to achieve victory in Iraq.
Some of you have heard me talk about our nation’s crisis in leadership. Let me elaborate. While the politicians espouse their rhetoric designed to preserve their reputations and their political power -our soldiers die! Our national leadership ignored the lessons of WWII as we entered into this war and to this day continue to believe that victory can be achieved through the application of military power alone.
Our forefathers understood that tremendous economic and political capacity had to be mobilized, synchronized and applied if we were to achieve victory in a global war. That has been and continues to be the key to victory in Iraq. Continued manipulations and adjustments to our military strategy will not achieve victory. The best we can do with this flawed approach is stave off defeat.
The Administration, Congress and the entire interagency, especially the Department of State, must shoulder the responsibility for this catastrophic failure and the American people must hold them accountable. There has been a glaring, unfortunate, display of incompetent strategic leadership within our national leaders.
As a Japanese proverb says, “action without vision is a nightmare.” There is no question that America is living a nightmare with no end in sight.
Since 2003, the politics of war have been characterized by partisanship as the Republican and Democratic parties struggled for power in Washington. National efforts to date have been corrupted by partisan politics that have prevented us from devising effective, executable, supportable solutions. At times, these partisan struggles have led to political decisions that endangered the lives of our sons and daughters on the battlefield. The unmistakable message was that political power had greater priority than our national security objectives. Overcoming this strategic failure is the first step toward achieving victory in Iraq - without bipartisan cooperation we are doomed to fail.
There is nothing going on today in Washington that would give us hope. If we succeed in crafting a bipartisan strategy for victory, then America must hold all national agencies accountable for developing and executing the political and economic initiatives that will bring about stability, security, political and economic hope for all Iraqis. That has not been successful to date.
Congress must shoulder a significant responsibility for this failure since there has been no focused oversight of the nation’s political and economic initiatives in this war. Exhortations, encouragements, investigations, studies and discussions will not produce success -this appears to be the nation’s only alternative since the transfer of sovereignty. Our continued neglect will only extend the conflict.
America’s dilemma is that we no longer control the ability to directly influence the Iraqi institutions. The sovereign Iraqi government must be cooperative in these long term efforts. That is not likely at the levels necessary in the near term. Our commanders on the ground will continue to make progress and provide time for the development of a grand strategy. That will be wasted effort as we have seen repeatedly since 2003. In the mean time our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines will continue to die.
Since the start of this war, America’s leadership has known that our military alone could not achieve victory in Iraq. Starting in July 2003, the message repeatedly communicated to Washington by military commanders on the ground was that the military alone could never achieve “victory” in Iraq. Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines were destined to endure decades of fighting and killing people without the focused, synchronized application of all elements of national power. This was a necessary condition to stabilize Iraq. Any sequential solutions would lead to a prolonged conflict and increased resistance. By neglect and incompetence at the National Security Council level, that is the path our political leaders chose and now America, more precisely the American military, finds itself in an intractable situation.
Clearly, mistakes have been made by the American military in its application of power but even its greatest failures in this war can be linked to America’s lack of commitment, priority and moral courage in this war effort. Without the sacrifices of our magnificent young men and women in uniform, Iraq would be chaotic well beyond anything experienced to date. What America must accept as a reality at this point in the war is that our army and Marine Corps are struggling with the deployment schedules.
What is clear is that the deployment cycles of our formations has been totally disrupted, the resourcing and training challenges are significant and America’s ability to sustain a force level of 150,000(+) is nonexistent without drastic measures that have been politically unacceptable to date. The drawdown of the surge to presurge levels was never a question. America must understand that it will take the army at least a decade to fix the damage that has been done to its full spectrum readiness.
The President’s recent statement to America that he will listen to military commanders is a matter of political expediency. Our army and Marine Corps will execute as directed, perform magnificently and never complain-that is the ethic of our warriors and that is what America expects of them. They will not disappoint us. But America must know the pressures that are being placed on our military institutions as we fight this war.
All Americans must demand that these deploying formations are properly resourced, properly trained and we must never allow America’s support for the soldier to falter. A critical, objective assessment of our nation’s ability to execute our national security strategy must be conducted. If we are objective and honest, the results will be surprising to all Americans. There is unacceptable strategic risk.
America has no choice but to continue our efforts in Iraq. A precipitous withdrawal will unquestionably lead to chaos that would endanger the stability of the greater Middle East. If this occurs it would have significant adverse effects on the international community. Coalition and American force presence will be required at some level for the foreseeable future. Given the lack of a grand strategy we must move rapidly to minimize that force presence and allow the Iraqis maximum ability to exercise their sovereignty in achieving a solution.
At no time in America’s history has there been a greater need for bipartisan cooperation. The threat of extremism is real and demands unified action at the same levels demonstrated by our forefathers during World War I and World War II. America has failed to date. This endeavor has further been hampered by a Coalition effort that can be characterized as hasty, un-resourced and often uncoordinated and unmanaged. Desperately needed, but essentially ignored, were the political and economic Coalitions that were the key to victory and stability in the immediate aftermath of the conventional war.
The military Coalition which was hastily put together in the summer of 2003 was problematic given the multitude of national caveats, inadequate rules of engagement and other restrictions on the forces deployed. Even so, the military Coalition was the most extensive, productive and effective deployment of forces in decades. Today, we continue our inept Coalition management efforts and, in fact, we are facing ever decreasing troop commitments by our military Coalition partners.
America’s “revised” strategy does not address Coalition initiatives and challenges. We cannot afford to continue this struggle without the support of our Coalition partners across all elements of national power. Without the political and economic elements of power complementing the tremendous efforts of our military, America is assured of failure. We continue on that path.
America’s political leadership must come together and develop a bipartisan grand strategy to achieve victory in this conflict. The simultaneous application of our political, economic, information and military elements of power is the only course of action that will provide a chance of success. Achieving unity of effort in Iraq has been elusive to date primarily because there is no entity that has the authority to direct action by our interagency.
Our national security council has been a catastrophic failure. Furthermore, America’s ability to hold the interagency accountable for their failures in this war is non-existent. This must change. As a nation we must recognize that the enemy we face is committed to destroying our way of life. This enemy is arguably more dangerous than any threat we faced in the twentieth century.
Our political leaders must place national security objectives above partisan politics, demand interagency unity of effort, and never again commit America to war without a grand strategy that embraces the basic tenets of the Powell doctrine. It seems that Congress recognizes that the military cannot achieve victory alone in this war. Yet they continue to demand victory from our military. Who will demand accountability for the failure of our national political leaders involved in the management this war? They have unquestionably been derelict in the performance of their duty. In my profession, these types of leaders would immediately be relieved or court-martialed.
America has sent our soldiers off to war and they must be supported at all costs until we achieve victory or until our political leaders decide to bring them home. Our political and military leaders owe the soldier on the battlefield the strategy, the policies and the resources to win once committed to war. America has not been fully committed to win this war. As the military commanders on the ground have stated since the summer of 2003, the U.S. military alone cannot win this war. America must mobilize the interagency and the political and economic elements of power, which have been abject failures to date, in order to achieve victory.
Our nation has not focused on the greatest challenge of our lifetime. The political and economic elements of power must get beyond the politics to ensure the survival of America. Partisan politics have hindered this war effort and America should not accept this. America must demand a unified national strategy that goes well beyond partisan politics and places the common good above all else. Too often our politicians have chosen loyalty to their political party above loyalty to the constitution because of their lust for power.
Our politicians must remember their oath of office and recommit themselves to serving our nation and not their own self-interests or political party. The security of America is at stake and we can accept nothing less. Anything short of this is unquestionably dereliction of duty. These are fairly harsh assessments of the military and press relationship and the status of our war effort. I remain optimistic and committed to the enabling of media operations under the toughest of conditions in order to keep the world and the American people informed.
Our military must embrace you for the sake our democracy but you owe them ethical journalism.
Thank you for this opportunity
May God bless you and may God bless America. Praise be to the Lord my rock who trains my fingers for battle and my hands for war. Thank you.