Schoomaker 2: Attempting to Rescue the Frog. . .
As a preface to this post, let me ask: as a matter of military strategy, how does one confront an entrenched opponent who has you outnumbered and out-gunned?
Patrick Walsh, a retired infantry Major, writes to tell me that I owe General Schoomaker an apology for last week’s post about the General and the Army’s move to put women in combat. If the Major is correct, and I have erred, then I will be happy to offer such an apology. On style points, the good Major may be correct — that post is indeed edgy.
But I would emphasize that it is in no way personal. It’s not personal, it’s policy. I aim to mix equal parts reason and audacity — one doesn’t take on a four-star general, without giving the matter considerable thought and staff work. So my approach was deliberate.
Another reader instantly understood: “Wow,” she wrote, “a little shock and awe.” Going back to my prefatory question — how, exactly, does one take on the Chief of Staff of the Army, when he is deliberately pursuing a back-door change in public policy?
My purpose in that post was to be punchy, and concise. The problem in combatting the Army’s current path toward entrenching women in combat is that Schoomaker’s plan (which is brilliant), though actually quite simple, is artfully and strategically deceptive and confusing to the lay person (brilliant). So I was aiming for brevity and simplicity.
But the Major complained that I didn’t offer enough links (true), didn’t fully make my case (see brevity concern above, although elsewhere I’ve linked to an in-depth piece which lays it all out), and, most of all, dragged Schoomaker’s background into the argument illegitimately (I disagree).
Alright then. Fair enough. Let me respond in tortuous detail to the Major’s lengthy critique of my post. Lots of links to follow. And a photo finish.
Here is Major Walsh’s complaint. First, the Major says I didn’t give Schoomaker his due, by not highlighting the illustrious portions of his career. Okay, I should have provided this link to his official bio, which lists these accomplishments among others: the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, two Army Distinguished Service Medals, four Defense Superior Service Medals, three Legions of Merit, two Bronze Star Medals, two Defense Meritorious Service Medals, three Meritorious Service Medals, the Joint Service Commendation Medal, Joint Service Achievement Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, Master Parachutist Badge and HALO Wings, the Special Forces Tab, and the Ranger Tab. At the time, I thought “four stars” and “Army Chief of Staff” made that list redundant, but I was remiss.
He complains that instead, I focused exclusively on the Desert One “Eagle Claw” Iranian rescue hostage fiasco. And the Waco disaster.
Major Walsh writes, of my paragraph on “Eagle Claw” that: “Your account is a gross distortion of the operation and falsely
implies that Schoomaker was somehow responsible for the failure and the casualties. This is a lie.” He refers me to this account of the Iranian debacle for the full story.
I’m good with that, actually, because his article helps to make my larger point, which I’ll turn to in a moment.
. . .it may be that GEN Schoomaker refused to participate in the planning of the Waco assault and correctly limited the involvement of himself and his command to what was legally permitted and required. Your post does not mention this, even to discount it.
These articles weren’t news to me. I do discount them (see Walsh’s own point below about conflicting accounts); I don’t believe they undermine my larger point.
Major Walsh concludes his letter by saying that my post was a: “cheap attempt to score points in a policy debate on an entirely unrelated subject.” But that’s the heart of our disagreement: I think Schoomaker’s background and the policy debate over women in combat is related.
The Major thinks I’m working forward: taking first Iran, then Waco, in order to add Schoomaker’s background to the women in combat issue. It’s the other way around. I start with women in combat. The fact is that the Army is working to “boil the frog” and establish women in combat as a change in public policy by gradual attrition, avoiding a public debate over the issue, which they know they would stand a very good chance of losing.
I had to ask myself: Who is pushing this thing? Cherchez l’homme. That’s easy. Schoomaker’s the big dude in charge. So then, you look at his background.
Let me digress for a moment. To illustrate my larger point, let’s remember Napoleon’s famous aphorism: “Give me lucky generals.” In the very article that the Major referenced about the Iranian operation, the author writes: “It was a daring plan. The risks were high and surprise was of the essence. Many things could go wrong. Unfortunately, many did.” And then, the article goes on to talk about their “bad luck.”
Look, I’m not particularly interested in assigning blame per se to Schoomaker for the Iranian and Waco events. I’m guessing Schoomaker does enough of that himself for both of us. When Fast Company interviewed him, they reported that:
In 1980, Schoomaker was one of the youngest officers [as a Major] to take part in Desert One, the failed attempt to rescue the Americans held hostage in Iran. Today, Schoomaker keeps a photo on his desk of one of the downed helicopters from that mission — a reminder to himself of a core principle: Never confuse enthusiasm with capability.
Nor am I interested in wrangling over slippery details of culpability. [From the Major again: “What is true is that some Army equipment and personnel were on or near the compound at Waco. What is in dispute, according to the accounts I read, is exactly who they were, who ordered them to be there, and what level of participation they had in the events. There are conflicting accounts on all of these points.”]
I think the important point is the bottom line: Schoomaker was involved in a leadership capacity in these two horribly, historically, unlucky events. Napoleon believed that at some level, people create their own luck. There is wisdom in that. To put a fine point on it, most importantly, now Schoomaker is in a position of power and he is using it to change our military policy dramatically in a way that is averse to public opinion and the expressed will of the Commander-in-Chief. It don’t get more unlucky than that.
Or does it? Here’s the important question: Will this third picture be Schoomaker’s legacy . . . and our American future?