“He did exactly what we teach them to do from cradle to grave. He went and told his boss what he just heard.”
This is how John Kelly, a retired Army general and former chief of staff to President Donald Trump, described the actions of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman who testified about a call between Trump and the president of Ukraine during impeachment hearings last year.
This week, Vindman announced that he would be retiring from the Army after 21 years of service saying that his future “will forever be limited” due to political retaliation. There is ample evidence to support this belief.
In February, Vindman and his brother were reassigned from their prestigious White House posts. President Trump tweeted that this was due to Vindman being “very insubordinate” and incorrectly reporting the contents of his call with the Ukrainian president.
It is worth noting that neither the White House nor congressional Republicans disputed the veracity of anything Vindman said and that the transcript released by the administration substantiated his testimony.
The charge of insubordination is equally ridiculous to anyone familiar with Department of Defense whistleblower regulations. As Gen. Kelly stated, service members are trained that it is one’s responsibility to report potential concerns up the chain of command. Failure to do so is a dereliction of duty.
Much has been written about the violence being done to the professional ethos of the military and civil military relations during the Trump administration. There are likely to be long-term consequences as a result of the president’s selective interference in military justice and abrupt policy decrees by tweet. But what I find most striking about the Vindman case is how it lays bare the ways in which the president and his Republican allies’ purported respect for those who serve is — as Joe Biden might put it — pure malarkey.
In his Independence Day remarks at Mount Rushmore, President Trump called the men and women of the United States military “amazing.” He said, “Every child should be taught the military heroes who fought and died to make us free. These are great, great people. These are great, great heroes, indeed.”
But these words from the president are meaningless. Trump has been petty, feuding with the parents of one slain soldier and the widow of another. He’s dismissed the service of a former prisoner of war and senator from his own party, and, in Vindman, railroaded the career of a Purple Heart veteran who had the audacity to respond to a Congressional subpoena.
Much of the conservative punditry has followed Trump’s lead. Fox News host Tucker Carlson suggested earlier this week that Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who lost both her legs in the Iraq War, hates America because she supports having a national dialogue over monuments to George Washington. This is a definition of patriotism that puts style ahead of substance, where one’s ideological position in a culture war matters more than sacrifice in a real one.
Vindman himself was interrogated regarding his patriotism. In a stomach-churning line of questioning with echoes of France’s Dreyfus Affair, Republican counsel Steve Castor seemed to suggest that Vindman, who is Jewish, might harbor loyalties to the Ukrainian government. The accusation was baseless and despicable.
For as long as conservatives support this administration ... they forfeit the right to question anyone’s patriotism.
This issue goes beyond such toxic rhetoric, however. In his role as commander-in-chief, responsible for the wellbeing of the members of the armed forces, the president has failed spectacularly.
When Navy Capt. Brett Crozier raised the alarm that COVID-19 was raging among his crew aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt and was getting no support from the chain of command, the administration had him removed from command and later scrapped a plan by the Navy to reinstate him. The president has still not commented on recent intelligence reports that the Russians have been paying bounties to the Taliban to kill American servicemembers in Afghanistan.
Motivated by embarrassment in the first case, and possibly disinterest in the second, the president is content to put these “amazing” Americans at risk for the sake of buttressing his electoral fortunes.
For as long as conservatives support this administration — and its debasing of the men and women of the military on behalf of political gain — they forfeit the right to question anyone’s patriotism.
When I look at Lt. Col. Vindman, I see the best of our public servants: an individual willing to sacrifice his career to do his duty. If only more members of the president’s party would do the same.
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