Friday, May 21, 2010

Hors DeCombat

Now that Richard Blumenthal has helped make attacking your political opponent's military service acceptable, Chuck DeVore - who has used his active duty army reserve status as a talking point - suddenly finds his service subject to a parsing worthy of St. Thomas Aquinas. The Carly Fiornina Campaign leads the charge: Carly Fiorina Publicly Attacks A Military Reservist

In California people get to put a descriptor on their ballot line item describing who they are. Carly put “business executive”, even though she hasn’t been one since 2005. She really does not want Chuck DeVore to have “military reservist” on his line.

Fiorina’s campaign, when contacted, said DeVore is not a military reservist. Have they even bothered checking up on DeVore? If they had, not only would they realize they were disparaging Chuck DeVore’s service to his country, but they would hopefully recognize just how petty it is to bicker over a title.

Jennifer Rubin at Contentions susses out the nuances on two issues: (1) did DeVore blur the distinction between being an active military reservist and being active military? and (2) did he exaggerate about coming under live fire in Lebanon during the 1980's?: Did Chuck DeVore Exaggerate His Military Service?
In a radio debate, he said he was the only candidate who’d served in the military: “I’m a lieutenant colonel of military intelligence within the U.S. Army,” he said. The Times acknowledges that his campaign literature refers to him as a “lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army retired reserves.” And DeVore argues that it is technically correct to say he is “in the Army” since the reserves are part of the Army. OK, Isort of buy that — but he certainly must have known that the listening audience would have thought he meant the regular Army.
He spoke during the debate of being “shot at in Lebanon” but did not make clear that the shooting occurred in the 1980s while DeVore was a college student studying Arabic and other subjects in the Middle East. Nor did he note that while the shooting was in his vicinity, there was no indication he was a target or was in actual danger.
Contentions has actually had some of the best coverage of the California Senate race, including some of the only discussion outside the campaign of Campbell's problematic associations with Islamist radicals, so I would take her questioning seriously. So does the DeVore camp, which quickly contacted her to set the record straight:
I actually have the micro-cassette recording of Lebanon. You can hear multiple bursts of automatic weapons fire with the Israeli officer finally saying “OK, we are done” and then ordering the press off the hill. Zelnick stayed to complete his report, BTW, much to the discomfort of his cameraman.
And here is what Devore has to say about his service on his campaign website:

In 1983, Chuck enlisted in the United States Army Reserve. He earned an ROTC scholarship that allowed him to attend Claremont McKenna College where he graduated with honors with a degree in Strategic Studies in 1985 and was commissioned an officer. He also studied overseas at the American University in Cairo, Egypt. After more than 24 years of active reserve service, Chuck retired from the Army National Guard. He is now a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army retired Reserve. A graduate of the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College, his awards include the Meritorious Service Medal, the Army Commendation Medal with bronze oak leaf cluster, and others.

Regarding the issue of reservist vs. active duty and DeVore's supposed shading of the difference: all of the military reservists I've known take their duties very seriously and consider themselves to be "in the army" (or whatever branch they're in). They have to participate in regular training exercises that are just as demanding and dangerous as those in the "regular" army. They can be called up to active duty and shipped overseas, as has happened a lot in the last decade. They wear the same uniform, serve the same nation, and get shot at by the same bullets. DeVore's supposed "sin" is that he said said he served "within the US Army." Come on! That sounds like a short-hand way of respecting the distinction between reserves and regulars, while also demanding acknowledgement that his service did require a certain degree of sacrifice and valor. This may be hard for the Fiorina campaign, and others, to understand.

As for whether or not he came under live fire in Lebanon...I think everyone involved in the telling of the tale can agree that DeVore - who was NOT in the reserves, but was part of a press pool - was in the proximity of live ammunition fired by hostiles. No, DeVore was not a specific target; the Israelis he was with were the targets. But he could have been hurt/killed all the same. DeVore has told the story as a sort "I've heard the bullets fly" tale that Al Gore has retailed in the past. Certainly, the experience of being near combat operations was one that would have an effect on anybody, and would be something they would want to refer to as part of their life experience. Rubin draws an analogy between this and Hillary Clinton's Bosnian sniper story, which is completely (heh heh) off the mark.

(As a side-note, Devore has said elsewhere in his campaign literature that he was on active duty during the LA riots where he "came under fire." Not sure how useful it is for someone to claim combat experience as part of a race riot, but there you have it).

If DeVore were not rising in the polls, no one would care about this. Instead, we are being treated to the sort of CV parsing that seems to afflict disfavored candidates, and which other candidates seem to magically avoid. I haven't seen too much media or political curiosity about the manner in which Joe Sestack was relieved of command and demoted from a three-star to two-star admiral just one year before he began his congressional career, for example. And, this sort of thing has a long sordid history. Witness LBJ, who managed to finagle a cushy state-side assignment during WW2, and then turned a single Pacific fly-over into "combat experience" that he flagged nearly as much as his "Texas po-boy" roots; versus Joe McCarthy, who was endlessly derided as "Tailgunner Joe" despite his having flown numerous combat missions.

Worse, it is only the guys who actually serve who seem to receive this sort of treatment. Say what you will about people like Richard Blumenthal, Al Gore, John Kerry*, Dan Quayle, and George W Bush; at least they served in some capacity, while others stayed home. Their reward seems to be the second-guessing of their service by people who weren't there and who don't want to have to acknowledge the sacrifices that any sort of military service entails.

*let's leave Kerry's contemptible post-combat behavior to the side for the moment. He probably saw more active duty combat than almost anyone else among his colleagues in the Democratic caucus. Maybe he was a lousy commanding officer, but that was hardly a unique position.

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