I saw a couple of interesting posts today on politics and the military.
Daniel Solove is concerned
about military computer networks blocking access to leftish political sites, but without restricting their opposite numbers on the right. As I've noted in the comments
there, I don't think this is necessarily
an evil plot to restrict disfavored ideas. It's defensible as an effort to maintaine morale and good discipline.
As an example, it's not hard to believe that every one of the banned sites might have linked to or discussed at some point one of those "we support our troops when they shoot their officers" banner or t-shirt. I'm sure Wonkette's touched on that sort of thing in the past in a faux approving manner, and I can well imagine some uptight martinet trying to block everything of the sort. Perhaps it's still not a good idea and most likely it's for less defensible reasons. But it is
The other, more compelling issue is the presence of U.S. military personnel, in uniform, at some "political" events. Jim MacDonald, who makes Andrew Sullivan look serene and unflappable, gibbers
about a secret plot to influence politics through uniformed PR, if not...well, something diabolical and evil.
If I understand his argument, which is difficult to do when in a normal mental state, he has taken a Bob Novak column, mixed it with the presence of a uniformed Marine Sergeant at a GOP county social event, and discovered horribly illegal shenanigans.
Latest step in the hit parade as Bush and his cronies move to destroy our military is the use of uniformed troops at partisan political events.
Bob “I didn’t say ‘Valerie Plame,’ I said ‘Ambassador Joe Wilson’s wife’ and that could have been anyone” Novak told us it was coming:
… the Bush administration is going directly to the public with its war message. Raul Damas, associate director of political affairs at the White House, has been on the phone directly to Republican county chairmen to arrange local speeches by active duty military personnel to talk about their experiences in Iraq. To some Republican members, this unusual venture connotes a desire to go directly to the people to sell the president’s position without having to deal with members of Congress.
As an inital matter, this isn't clearly anything to worry about. It could just be the modern equivalent of sending WWII war heroes around to make appearances and give speeches to boost morale, recruitment, and war bond purchases. The sour note, however, comes from the fact they're setting this up (whatever it may be) through contacts with "Republican county chairmen." And why is the White House, not the DoD, behind this? These are important questions worthy of serious answers.
So bring on the hysteria!
This wasn’t just blue-skying: they’ve gone and done it:
The clank of silverware echoed above the polite dinner conversation about topics such as fiscal discipline, permanent tax cuts and the war in Iraq when more than 250 Republicans gathered in Fort Collins on Friday night for the Larimer County GOP Lincoln Day Dinner.
U.S. Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana, the keynote speaker, provided the audience with a message of hope that the party will keep its promises to bring democracy to Iraq, end big government, reduce spending and return to Republican core values.
Check the photos to see Marine Sergeant Brandon Forsyth, in uniform, being introduced by Representative Marilyn Musgrave.
Yes, folks, Laramie County in Colorado had its annual dinner honoring Lincoln and a Marine in uniform...was there. Oh, he probably did something fiendish, but the newspaper story hushed it up and declined to mention Sergeant Forsyth actually playing any role or speaking a word, only, we are sinisterly informed, being "introduce[d]." Pull the other one! After you put me in Guantanomo, presumably.
MacDonald then launches into a breathless recitation of various regulations:
What does DOD 1344.10 forbid? A pile of things, including but not limited to:
4.1.2. A member on active duty shall not:Enclosure 3 to DOD 1344.10 provides examples of prohibited activities, including:
184.108.40.206. Use his or her official authority or influence for interfering with an election; affecting the course or outcome of an election; soliciting votes for a particular candidate or issue; or requiring or soliciting political contributions from others.
220.127.116.11. Be a candidate for, hold, or exercise the functions of civil office except as authorized in paragraphs 4.2. and 4.3., below.
18.104.22.168. Participate in partisan political management, campaigns, or conventions (unless attending a convention as a spectator when not in uniform).
22.214.171.124. Make campaign contributions to another member of the Armed Forces or an employee of the Federal Government.
E3.3. EXAMPLES OF PROHIBITED POLITICAL ACTIVITIES
In accordance with the statutory restrictions in 10 U.S.C. 973(b) (reference (b)) and references (g) and (h), and the policies established in section 4., above, of this Directive, a member on active duty shall not:
E3.3.8. Speak before a partisan political gathering, including any gathering that promotes a partisan political party, candidate, or cause.
E3.3.9. Participate in any radio, television, or other program or group discussion as an advocate for or against of a partisan political party, candidate, or cause.
I've emphasized the most relevant words of prohibition, none of which, of course, there is any evidence Sergeant Forsyth did. All we know is he had dinner and was introduced. We don't know if he spoke. We don't, even, really know what kind of event this was. Yes, the keynote speaker spoke some partisan boilerplate. But what was this "Lincoln dinner," really? Sure, it was "partisan." But was it actually a fundraiser, or just an annual social event to rub shoulders and connect? We don't know, all we can be absolutely sure of is that it's a grave threat to the Republic.
Well, no, apparently we can't be sure of that, either. MacDonald doesn't say so, but he does implicitly realize all his sound and fury thus far signifies nothing, and soadds in some quotes from an Air Force(!) publication for recruiters
(pdf), discussing how recruiters should not attend political events, period.
Capt. D’Andrea helpfully informs the eager recruiters who might be tempted to show up at partisan events in uniform, even if they’re there as mere spectators, that they will become subject to punishment under Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ): Failure to Obey Order or Regulation.
Well, yes. And that order or regulation is...Air Force Instruction 51-902, Political Activities by Members of the U.S. Air Force
. MacDonald doesn't quote this, but I shall. Among the prohibited activities:
Attend, as an official representitive of the armed forces, partisan political events, even without actively participating.
Now we're getting somewhere! Why, if Forsyth was there "as an official representative" and, ah, in the fucking Air Force
, he'd be guilty, guilty, guilty! But he presumably wasn't, and he certainly isn't, so the problem is...what, precisely?
MacDonald and the many other feebs grasping onto this in their intellectual bankruptcy and political desperation are assuming many, many things to make this look bad. I'm going to assume some things as well: Forsyth is not a recruiter. He's in a line unit that has been deployed to Iraq, and he's visiting his family in Colorado on leave. Some friend or family member is plugged into the local Republican establishment, they talked, and someone invited Forsyth to come have a free dinner. He stood up, was introduced as a veteran, the crowd applauded him for his service, and then he sat down and ate. The end.
Maybe that's not what happened. Maybe he's a Marine recruiter breaking the Air Force rules, and maybe even those of the USMC, in order to get his monthly quota by pushing some 50ish white collar types to sign up and serve their country. Maybe he's a plant from USNORTHCOM
sent to engage in proganda and get the Congressmen in attendance to increase their budget. Maybe he's Karl Rove's nephew.
And maybe this is all a lot of nothing, and all of the time wasted worrying about this could be better spent persuing the serious issue of what Novak's article that started this off was really all about. Maybe the local Democrats might even consider inviting Forsyth to a similar dinner to commend him on his service in a time of war.
Or maybe that's too much to hope for.Addendum:
Joshua Marshall is investigating and commenting
on this in somewhat more sober fashion. The link includes a better (and worse) photo of two Marines standing next to the podium. Marshall correctly notes that we "need" (well, ok) to know more before reaching any certain conclusions, but I disagree that "just what appears within the four corners of this photograph seems in direct contravention of military regs
I will say that my sense is there is little inappropriate, and nothing illegal, about an appearance in uniform if my suggested scenario above is correct. But pretty much anything else is bad and shouldn't be done, even if it would be legal. And again, the question of whether the Bush administration is engaging in other activities that would be clearly against the law is an important one.
It's nice to know that not everyone exercised about it is a credulous fool. There is some sense in MacDonald's comments
According to my Constitutional specialist, this particular "edge" has been walked by both parties many times. The current ruling on this issue is that military personnel in uniform may appear at such functions, may speak in a generic "rah rah support the troops" speech, but in no way speak in support of a political position/person/party. A picture of an elected official introducing a person in military uniform doesn't cross that line. What did the Sergeant say?
It would still be a good idea to counsel troops exposed to these "invitations" to make sure they completely understood what they could and could not do.
It also doesn't look good. But George "run as the more moral person" Bush seems to been disregarding morality issues since before his second presidential election.
MacDonald predictably misses the point and whines that it's not a "Constitutional" issue. That's not right, of course. Just because the UCMJ or some other authority may pretend to limit the political rights of uniformed servicemen doesn't mean the First Amendment allows it. Someone, I think Slate, possibly its Explainer, had a good summary of the issues a couple of weeks ago.More:
It just gets better
Lin, please inform your Constitutional specialist that the Bill of Rights does not apply to active duty military members. What applies to the military is Article 1, Section 8. Freedom of speech quite explicitly does not exist in the military.
At all! Absolutism is so much fun. I guess the only people the military can constitutionally torture is the military itself, then. In fact...I am a damned genius. Draft the "insurgents" and then have our way with them! To hell with your constitutional rights, you're in the Army now, and you have none. Muahaha!