I’ve lived long enough now to have observed a phenomenon that puzzles me, while also bringing a sardonic smile to my face.
What might that be, you ask? It is the ability of our nation to praise and criticize our presidents and our military leaders. It is understood that when a person assumes a position of leadership, criticism is part of the package. You live with it. But does it have to slide to such depths of incivility?
Here’s the strange part of this oddity. Americans love a winner! Hurray for us! But once that winner has won, and the cheers and tributes of praise have died down, get ready, because the critics are already sharpening their pencils and tongues. The barbs of the malcontents are soon to embed themselves in the conscience of the American people.
For those of you who are history buffs, let me ask you: Has there ever been a president, along with his military leaders, that has not been roundly criticized during a time of war? Even if you are not an American History aficionado, you can probably assume the correct answer: NO!
Let’s consider our first president, George Washington. He was the subject of enormous criticism, first for the manner in which he managed the newly formed Continental Army. Americans at that time were generally against having a standing army due to the prior abuses of the British Army toward the colonists. He was later criticized in his role as our first president as weak in his leadership skills.
Abraham Lincoln, our sixteenth president, was no stranger to criticism. His handling of the Civil War was daily fare in the newspapers and in the halls of Congress. The commander of the Army of the Potomac, George McClellan, and his successor, Ulysses S. Grant, were both pilloried throughout the War and beyond.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, our thirty-second president, was abused from all quarters, as was his top general, Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Normandy Invasion and its devastating losses to American and Allied forces was almost the end of Eisenhower’s career in the Army, let alone, any future political aspirations he might have had.
Our current president, George W. Bush, has been labeled and vilified in the most egregious manner imaginable. He’s lampooned as stupid, a warmonger, a terrorist, a cowboy, "in it for the oil," worse than Saddam, equal to Hitler, ad nausea. General Tommy Franks, who led the successful Iraq invasion in 2003, has had to deal with his share of criticism for "failing to plan sufficiently for the postwar phase." Most recently, General David Petraeus, commander of the Multi-National Forces responsible for the current surge in Iraq, has been horrifically criticized and mischaracterized by the same people who unanimously approved of his appointment to lead our forces. Leading up to the recent Congressional hearings, he was already being criticized for his report before it was even given. He’s a puppet for the Bush administration, was a common lament. Or, General Petraeus had to have his report edited by the White House before he ascended to Capital Hill. But the most disgusting portrayal of this honorable man was the ad by the far-left, Move-On.org, in the New York Times. In the full page ad, just below a picture of the general, in bold letters, it reads: “General Petraeus or General Betray Us? Cooking the books for the White House.”
Let me be clear on this. You do not have to like General Petraeus. You don’t have to like the military or what it represents. You don’t have to agree with the general’s evaluation of the war situation in Iraq. But you have clearly gone over the top when you question this man’s patriotism and loyalty. I do not know the general personally, but I have spent thirty-three years out of the past forty in the military. I’ve seen a lot of leaders. Most are very capable and good at what they do. A relative few aren’t worth a plugged nickel. Then there are those who are simply outstanding.
Four-star generals like General Petraeus do not obtain promotion because they sat on the softest part of their anatomy; or paraded themselves around Washington DC as a sycophant, or jingoist, or propagandist. They are men who know how to lead from the front. They are men who know only too well the horrors of war. They are men who would be willing to take a bullet for you, and consider it their duty to do so. These are men who uphold the virtue and values of the "Home of the Free and the Land of the Brave." These are men who are the defenders of our freedoms. These are men who are deserving of our eternal admiration and respect.
After the critics fade from the spotlight, these are men who will have served us well. And they will consider it a privilege and an honor to have done so.
May God continue to bless our nation with such leaders.