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Phil Carter's Opinion in The Chicago Tribune

Posted By Blackfive • [February 18, 2004]

I hadn't seen anyone respond to Phil Carter's (of IntelDump) Opinion piece in the Chicago Tribune (registration req.). It's about Bush's service in the Air National Guard and it's thought out pretty well.

I wanted to discuss a few points that I disagree with in the extended section of this post.

You should read Phil's thoughts on Bush's Guard records. The main point is about Leadership:

...In practical terms, this means doing morning physical fitness training with your soldiers, carrying the same amount of weight as them, ensuring they eat before you do, and putting their welfare before your own. Above all else, it means never asking your soldiers, sailors, airmen or Marines to do something that you wouldn't do yourself.

President Bush's 30-year-old service record from the Air National Guard is relevant because it shows us something about his willingness to share the same hardships as the soldiers he now commands today from the White House. The issue has never been whether he was guilty of desertion or being AWOL--two slanderous charges leveled without regard for the facts. The real issue has always been the character of his service, and whether it was good enough to set the example for America's 1.4 million citizens in uniform...

...The second issue that has relevance to today's military is Bush's early discharge. In 1973, the president sought and received an early discharge to attend Harvard Business School. He could have elected to serve longer, or to serve with a unit near Harvard for his last six months. But the Air Force discharged him early, largely because it had a glut of pilots at the Vietnam War's end and it wasn't about to keep a guardsman in that it didn't need if he wanted to get out. Everything about this early discharge looks legitimate.

Nonetheless, this early discharge sends a symbolic message to today's reservist, for whom such an early discharge isn't an option. There are more than 200,000 reservists on active duty today in support of the global war on terrorism. The Pentagon takes a dim view today of reservists who ask to get out while they still owe time to the service. And on this president's order, hundreds of thousands of soldiers have been kept in the military beyond the term of their enlistment contract with "stop loss" policies that prevent their discharge or transfer into the inactive reserves. Thirty years ago, Bush was willing to serve less than his full enlistment in order to pursue an MBA at Harvard. But now that he's commander in chief, he wants to ask more of America's military than he was willing to give when he was wearing a uniform.

Ultimately, these issues boil down to the president's willingness and ability to set the example for the military he now leads as commander in chief. Cumulatively, questions about then-Lt. Bush's drill attendance, evaluation reports, flight status and early discharge add up to questions about the character of his service in the National Guard. Bush did receive an honorable discharge, but such a document is the lowest common denominator of military performance--it takes a lot of bad behavior to earn anything other than an honorable discharge. The American public deserves to know the full truth about the president's military record. It's relevant to his character, and it's relevant to whether he's fit to lead today's military by example.

Personally, this isn't an issue for me. Phil talks about the early discharge looking legitimate. It was legit and by the book. There wasn't a stop-loss on pilots in the Air National Guard then. Maybe, if there had been a stop-loss, and Bush got an early discharge anyway, there would be evidence of favoritism or lack of leadership.

The problem with Phil's opinion is that, after four years of the Bush administration, the character of Bush's Guard service - by all accounts "honorable" - really matters to him. It's almost like there has to be something more that Phil is searching for...How many Officer Evaluation Reports (OERs) will he have to read to see that President Bush's service was indeed honorable or will he just want to see more records if the OERs don't satisfy his image of presidential leadership?

While many military people (vets included) are behind President Bush, Phil does not appear to be one of them.

Within his own contextual references to presidential leadership, I sure hope that Phil voted for Dole instead of Clinton in 1996.


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