Ten United States senators – Democrats, every one – sent to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper an eight-page scathing reproof of the Department of Defense’s handling of COVID-19 and its impact on U.S. military forces. They claim the Defense Department was not prepared for the Wuhan Coronavirus pandemic – despite the intense work and effective assistance the Department has engaged in to meet the challenge. So, what were the good senators doing at the time? This alleged mishandling took place when President Trump’s administration, including the Defense Department, was distracted by these same Democrats and their bogus impeachment debacle. The letter is, at best, a mainstream media echo chamber analysis and, at worst, a shameful political screed taking to task the Defense Secretary for not reacting quickly enough.
The ten who signed the letter were failed former presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Kamala Harris (D-CA), as well as Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jeffrey Merkley (D-OR), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Edward Markey (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH). No Republicans joined in to give the letter some semblance of bipartisanship. But it is an election year. What better way to take potshots at the president and his administration than by using COVID-19 and how it might affect U.S. fighting men?
The letter is filled with misrepresentations and assertions of motives that are without basis in fact. The Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, John Hoffman, gave a response to Military.com, rebutting the assertions of the ten senators. He maintained that the missive “does not even remotely accurately reflect our record of action against the coronavirus and the great lengths we have gone to.”
The letter starts out making assertions that are based on an article from The New York Times entitled, “Defense Secretary Warns Commanders Not to Surprise Trump on Coronavirus.” The senators contend that Secretary Esper was politically motivated when he instructed the Commander of U.S. Forces in South Korea to coordinate with the Pentagon before issuing statements or making decisions to ensure there was consistent messaging from the Department. The article quotes an unnamed American official who was briefed on the call. The senators’ letter conspicuously puts quotes around what Secretary Esper was supposed to have said,
“Yet, as The New York Times reported, during a videoconference the last week in February, you ‘urged American military commanders overseas not to make any decisions […] that might surprise the White House or run afoul of President Trump’s messaging on the growing health challenge’ and that you also told ‘commanders deployed overseas that they should check in before making decisions related to protecting their troops.'”
There was no first-person witness to the video teleconference quoted. There was no transcript cited. Comments were overheard, either correctly or incorrectly, which were then repeated to others who did not hear them. Those comments became assertions, and then the press picked the statements up as fact and repeated them in print. We don’t know if the statements are fact.
However, for argument’s sake, suppose Secretary Esper did as they allege. Why would he want his field commanders creating their own messages about the Coronavirus pandemic? Multiple stories, each peculiar to a commander’s individual circumstances, would be confusing. Then these same ten senators would be criticizing the administration for not having a consistent message. If true, Secretary Esper’s direction to his commanders was precisely what he should have said.
The letter is so frenzied with vitriol that it gets tripped up in its own logic. At one point, the senators scold Secretary Esper, explaining that “Although local commanders know their units and operating environments better than anyone in the Pentagon, they are not public health experts. And they are now left to make decisions they should never have to make.” But, three paragraphs later, they laud the fact that “Some commands recognized the seriousness of the pandemic early and took aggressive action to protect their forces.” So, according to these ten senators, Secretary Esper expects commanders to take appropriate command actions. But he shouldn’t because they can’t be expected to. But he does, and his commanders take the appropriate command actions, just as he expects them to – oh, but he shouldn’t because … ouch. Figuring this logic out could hurt your head.
The accusers conclude with nine questions to which they want answers by May 11, 2020. Researching and providing the answers will take hours of the Office of the Secretary of Defense staff’s time. Hours that might be put to better use continuing the good fight against the Wuhan Coronavirus and keeping our warfighters ready. The readiness of our armed forces must be paramount, and the health of the soldiers is foundational.
(The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.)
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