You may have seen the footage or heard the rumor -- Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos slammed the president, blamed him for the current Iraq and basically took down Obama. Shocking, right? But true? Maybe not.
Disclaimer: This is in no way a deeply political piece, though it is political in nature. I don’t have the necessary inside information to have a deep political discussion about what the General meant, though I’d love to be able to sit down with him and directly ask him to elaborate on some of his comments.
From the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C., news was made over a month ago that most of us either overlooked or underreported.
Only one mainstream media program mentioned it, Fox's Kelly File, and of the smaller news organizations, the only mention of it was on far right leaning websites and blogs, with heavily opinionated editorial added. I barely chanced to see it, but someone on my personal Facebook page shared a video and the headline caught my attention.
What? I thought. I have got to read this. Gen. Amos? No way. The General knows he can’t be challenging the President to duels and stuff while he’s active duty. I’ll just click ...
So I did; and I read an article from a miniature little news source (by miniature, I mean, their front page boasts such news worthy items as “Outrageous Photos of Kim Kardashian’s See-Through Skirt” and “Girls Hit on Guys Like Guys Hit on Girls”), that described this guns blazing top Marine General who declares that Iraq would’ve succeeded if the United States had not had President Obama in office. In an effort to seem legitimate, this supposition is followed by a quote and a video from FoxNews’ “Kelly File” in which Megyn Kelly and retired Lt. Col. Oliver North discuss this supposed challenge to President Obama.
Did he really say all that? I’ll just watch this video.
The video, found here, seems to confirm that Amos did “criticize the White House." Host Meghan Kelly opens up her segment on General Amos with the words “The nation’s top Marine, General James Amos, appeared to go after the Commander in Chief last week” followed by a 27 second clip of the comment.
This is the comment from Amos that garnered all the attention:
“I find it hard to believe knowing how Iraq looked when we left in 2010, when we left, the Marines, and then what it looked like when the last U.S. forces left. That we would be in the position we’re in today in Iraq had we had the right forces, the right leadership, the right mentoring, the right government and courage.”
As North points out in his subsequent discussion with Kelly in the FOX segment, the comments were not “an off-mic accident." North does note that Amos does not specifically mention the President, instead saying that the General was referring to “national leadership," going on to observe that he’d likely “embarrassed the dickens out of General Dempsey and the Joint Staff.”
The segment goes on to say that General Amos continues his speech by saying that our national leadership has a naïve world view. The quote that follows:
“We may think we’re done with all these nasty, thorny, tacky little things that are going on around the world. And I’d argue that if you are in that nation, or you’re in part of that, it’s not a little tacky little thing for you, we may view it on this side of the Atlantic or the Pacific. It’s a big deal for them. But we may think we’re done with them, but they’re not done with us.”
After watching the segment several times, I began to wonder what other news agencies had to say about it. I searched high and low, finding a dozen or so blogs that mentioned it, but no major networks or news agencies.
A really important guy bashes the President of the United States- the highest ranking Marine in the country directly insults his boss- and no one is running with this? I tend to try to stay up to date on current events, especially when it pertains to the military and, more specifically, to the command within the Marine Corps, so it was a complete shock to me to find that, not only was this old news- it was practically no news.
Who doesn’t run with a story about military insubordination when it’s about the President of the United States? It’s practically a movie in the making with all of the drama and hoopla that’s surrounding the President. Who wouldn’t run with this? This train of thought really only confused me more. While having a high ranking active duty member of the military to make any sort of politicized comments is generally unheard of, it’s not against the UCMJ. It’s practically career suicide, but the General retires any day now.
These thoughts and more swirled around my head while I searched for more information on these quotes. I like to think that that’s what Meghan Kelly wants her audience to do -- think and consider and research and think some more. In fact, that’s one of the things that draws me to her over any other “reporter” or host for a news show. She expects her audience to educate themselves and have half an idea, at least, about what they’re talking about.
After some digging, I finally found the entire transcript, in full, from the Q&A. It’s 42 pages long, but double spaced. The Q&A was moderated by Michael O’Hanlon, the Senior Fellow and the Director of Research, Foreign Policy of The Brookings Institution. It’s a good read, if you’re in to that type of non-fiction, and filled with all sorts of somewhat useful information.
For example, General Amos is a joker. At one point (page 8) General Amos suggests that Mr. O’Hanlon might’ve just saved his marriage. At another point (page 7), Amos's kids “Just ignore it and pay attention to me now.”
Another piece of useful information is that he has a smart head on those shoulders. He knows where his Marines are, like any good Commandant would. He rattles off numbers and general locations in a rundown of what his Corps is looking like and where they’re sitting. He discusses the budget woes, sequestration’s effect on the military in general and the Marine Corps in particular, and how that will run 2016. He has the foresight to understand that two commandant’s down the line from him are going to be dealing with the heavy repercussions of sequestration.
And that’s just in the first couple of questions from O’Hanlon.
Interestingly, one of the quotes that Kelly attributes to being a follow up comment to Amos’s “President bashing” comment actually happens in his opening statements (page 4), and has nothing to do with the president or the administration. Rather, it is about us.
General Amos uses his opening statements to set the stage. His stage begins with the determination that “The world we live in today is very, very dangerous and I think we need to just understand that.” He goes on to outline some of the international conflict we’ve been seeing in the news -- Israel, Gaza, Syria, Pakistan, Africa, the Boko Haram kidnappings, Asia-Pacific unrest and North Korea.
Then he moves on to asking what our place is in all of this. “What’s our role in it?” he asks of the group. Then he moves in to how he sees the United States, telling the crowd “The United States of America really is a force for good.” He notes that “we were probably the only country in the world that has the resources and the capability to be able to do some of this that others can’t.” He wraps up setting his stage by confirming, “The world that we are in ... is real. I think it’s dangerous and I think that we as a nation have a role in that world whether we like or not.”
This is where he says “We may think we’re done with all these nasty, thorny, tacky little things ... We may think we’re done with them, but they’re not done with us.”
I think it is important to understand that entire thing before we look at the other part of what the Kelly File reported. General Amos, no matter how badly we might want someone of his caliber to take the President down a notch, was not addressing the leadership or the administration, but rather us as a nation. Not only does he set the stage for that comment, but he also follows it with this, “What’s our role? You know, I think that’s something that ought to have, you know, national discussion and dialogue.”
He wants us to be aware of the dangers around us, not to believe that he’s declaring some sort of war on the President.
Moving on, then, to the first quote in the Fox segment, which happened on page 39- quite some time after the quote that was misinterpreted to be a dig at the naïveté of the national leadership.
The question that sparked the comment came from Kate Brannen, a reporter with Foreign Policy. She inquired about a name suggestion for the air-sea battle program as well as asked, “Looking at the Iraqi security forces and what’s happened there, are you concerned that the same thing will happen to the Afghan security forces once we leave?”
There was some confusion about what exactly she was asking, and then Amos gave his answer:
“The second part of your question is, yes, I am concerned about that. Two different nations, I mean completely different cultures, two different educational, you know, cultural educational. It’s just two complete nations, different. But I think the common denominator is I just find it hard to believe knowing how Iraq looked when we left in 2010, when we left, the Marines, and then what it looked like when the last U.S. forces left. That we would be in the position we’re in today in Iraq had we had the right forces, the right leadership, the right mentoring, the right government and courage. All the things that you think of that just kind of makes sense. Again, not combat forces. Iraq didn’t need combat forces when we left. They’d already had, they were trained up. But I have a hard time believing that had we been there and working with the government and working with the parliament and working with the minister of defense, the minister of interior, and the governance and the rule of law, I mean all of that stuff, that I don’t think we’d be in the shape we’re in today. That’s just my personal opinion.
So I do think that were we to go to the zero option in Afghanistan, which was a possibility until the President made his latest decision, that I think there’s a very good chance that the something similar, again, different nations, different cultures, would happen in Afghanistan.”
Now, I can easily see where an argument could be made that General Amos was suggesting that our government lacked “the right forces, the right leadership, the right mentoring, the right government and courage.” I can also see where a strong argument could be made that he was suggesting that Iraq lacked these things. Look at the first thing in that list “the right forces."
I highly doubt that the Commandant of the Marine Corps was suggesting that his forces were the wrong forces. What about “the right leadership?" He was the Marine Corps leadership. When the Marines left Iraq he was the assistant Commandant- until he took his current positon on October 22, 2010. Our military officially pulled out of Iraq in 2011.
Based on those two points, I took “the right mentoring” to be a direct comment on the lack of mentoring that we provided Iraq, thus leaving “the right government and courage” to mean that Iraq had the wrong government and no courage. He goes on to say that his use of the term “the right forces” is not meant as “combat forces” because Iraq already had those, again suggesting that he was referring to Iraq’s lack, not ours. He does out right say that he believes, had we been there, it would be different, but I believe his initial “criticism” was of Iraq rather than the President.
This isn’t to say that President Obama, and his administration, aren’t specifically responsible for the losses we see in Iraq now due to our absence, but rather that I don’t think that’s the point that Amos was trying to put forward in answering that particular question.
No matter how much I wish that, to quote North, “Somebody in Washington stood up on their hind feet and told everyone what they know to be true,” I don’t believe this was that.
I have a healthy dose of respect for Amos as the “big boss” (as my children refer to the man they only know as Daddy’s boss), and an equal amount of respect for Meghan Kelly (who really wants to be on her bad side anyway?), but in this case I just don’t think that what was reported was necessarily what happened, or how it was intended to be taken.
I could be wrong -- it happens at least once a day and the day is young.
Katie Foley is the Editor-In-Chief of Many Kind Regards, an independent author, and a volunteer with In Gear Career. She is a work from home mom to three crazy elementary kids and wife to an active duty U.S. Marine. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook.