“Now my advice for those who die / Declare the pennies on your eyes”
Among a thousand wonderful lines in the Revolver album, this one always stood out, even as a teenager listening to his mother’s vinyl record. Then, because miracles abound, Stevie Ray Vaughn recorded a cover that blew the original out of the water.
If you’ve followed me on Twitter for any length of time, you may have gotten a hint that I am not the President’s biggest fan. You’d be correct, but I won’t belabor the point since I believe my Twitter timeline speaks for itself. What has stuck in my craw almost since the moment he announced his candidacy are his obstinate refusal to disclose his taxes despite promising to do so (among myriad other promises) after the election; the imperial attitude that we lowly serfs needn’t worry ourselves with the finances of a president who sold his business acumen as all the experience he needed to run a country of 300 million people; disregarding this historic petition (full disclosure, I signed); and simply not giving a damn about this alarming poll. Even his erstwhile helper gnomes at WikiLeaks pushed back against this broken promise.
On 29 January, the military executed the first publicized counter-terror attack of the Trump administration. The raid on a purported Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) compound in Yemen resulted in the death of Chief Special Warfare Operator William Owens, and the loss of one MV-22 Osprey aircraft. The President, as is his wont, took to Twitter to claim a great victory over terrorists. Interestingly, he also took the time to attack those who questioned any aspect of the raid, from its inception, planning, execution, and the disturbingly high number of civilian casualties. Silly me, but I never equated criticism of the mission, or its planning, with denigrating the immeasurable loss of Chief Owens. If anything, I believe that we – as a military, as a society, as a country founded on morals – can and should do better.
Chief Owens, like over a million of his comrades in the American military, swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. More telling, the oath of enlistment, but not the oath of office, includes “I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the officers appointed over me.” (emphasis is mine) When I was a young soldier, we had several officers and noncommissioned officers counseled about derogatory comments towards the new President, Bill Clinton, punishable under Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. One of the kinder things said about him at the time, at least to me, was why on earth did I vote for “that draft dodging dope smoker who hates us (the military).”
There appears to exist a similar rift in the force today, but now I see the lines drawn more starkly, between those who question President Trump’s policies vs. those who seem willing to blindly follow him. Neither is a bad thing, necessarily. Soldiers love clarity, in their government, those in charge of it, and that government’s policies.
What remains chilling is the lack of anything resembling clarity in this administration. In light of President Trump’s refusal to release his taxes, and the business interests from which he has not been proven to divest, who can authoritatively say that future military action might not benefit the President’s business ventures in the Middle East? Will my comrades, acquaintances, and friends, die so that the Trump Organization can turn a profit? How would we even know without substantive proof to the contrary?
How can the nation’s commander-in-chief, a man who is a living breathing antithesis of the Army Values, be trusted when he orders another mission like Al-Bayda last month? What will he tell the widow and orphaned children when Daddy died on a mission to protect a the Trump property in the Middle East? I’m sorry for your loss, but here’s a comp weekend stay and meal vouchers for Mar a Lago? Since it’s been proven that anything that affects the President’s businesses also affects him personally, wouldn’t the natural extension of our foreign policy be to protect those businesses from the UAE to Kuwait? Our new Secretary of
ExxonMobil State doesn’t seem like the kind of person who could implement a foreign policy not guaranteed to protect the President’s business interests.
I’ve been telling folks that, in some respects, I feel like I’m reliving the early 1990s. As the 90s opened, I was just another protesting college student in Lafayette Park with a sign that said “No War For Oil.” Regardless of anything then-President Bush said about how he wouldn’t “let this stand,” or that the coming war was about containing aggression (true, as it turns out), it was also ultimately about making sure oil continued to flow freely from the Arabian Gulf.
We all want to believe in something, to know that sacrifice is worthy and serves our country. The sacrifice could be to depose a Panamanian strongman in an extreme interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine, contain an Iraqi dictator, or to secure food convoys for starving East Africans. But now? I don’t know. I’ve attended a dozen funerals in the last 24 years and honor each sacrifice. I mourn them. I miss them. We want the loss to stand for something, to be worthy of what Lincoln called “the last full measure of devotion.”
But without a fully transparent divestiture from the Trump Organization, without releasing his taxes, we can and will never be certain that future sacrifices will not be in vain.