17 October 2015

The Eroding Ethics Of Senior Military Officers: John R. Allen

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Ethics are “moral principles that govern a person’s or group’s behavior.” In the Marine Corps we are guided by our core values: honor, courage, and commitment.
Unfortunately, there are numerous example of senior military officers abandoning their ethical underpinnings, see infra, but this article will focus on retired Marine Corps General John R. Allen.

General Allen served our nation and the Marine Corps for over 40 years. He was commissioned after graduating, with honors, from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1976. During his extraordinarily successful career he held command from the platoon level to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF), and almost every level in between. He commanded The Basic School, the initial training for all newly commissioned Marine Corps officers where new officers are inculcated in the esprit-de-corps and mandated exemplary character expected of all Marine officers.

Additionally, Allen was the first Marine Corps officer inducted as a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and the first Marine to serve asCommandant of Midshipmen at the Naval Academy. In sum, there was no limit to Allen’s abilities and regard in the Marine Corps.
It is this stellar record that makes the last few years of Mr. Allen’s career so troubling, and worthy of reflection by all Marines. During the last few months of his time as commander of ISAF, General Allen was caught up in the FBI investigation into Army General David Petraeus. That is when honor, that Marine Corps value that “empowers Marines to exemplify the ultimate in ethical and moral behavior: to never lie, cheat, or steal; to abide by an uncompromising code of integrity” slipped from General Allen’s grasp.

To fully understand Allen’s change, a timeline of events helps to illustrate the point.
· 14 November 2012 — While still the commander of ISAF, Allen’s nomination as commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is put on hold by President Obama. The hold is prompted by the FBI investigation into Petraeus, which uncovered numerous emails exchanged between Allen and Florida socialite Jill Kelly.

· 19 February 2013 — Allen announces his retirement. Allen did not go into details, but said his “primary concern is for the health of my wife.” He said he found it “profoundly sobering to consider” how much time he had spent away from his wife and daughters, and that it “is now my turn to stand beside them, and to be there for them when they need me most.”

· 29 April 2013 — General Allen retires from the U.S. Marine Corps.

· 23 May 2013 — Mr. Allen appointed special U.S. envoy on security issues in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

· 13 September 2014 — Mr. Allen is appointed by President Obama to serve as Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, commonly referred to as the ISIS Czar.

· 16 September 2015 — Army General Lloyd Austin, commander U.S. Central Command testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) about the status of the U.S. fight against ISIS. Senators criticized the plan and dismissed the program as a “total failure” and demanded a change in strategy. This after General Austin revealed that the plan to train Syrian fighters to battle ISIS had resulted in only “4 or 5” trained fighters still in the fight.

· 22 September 2015 — It is announced that Mr. Allen will be stepping down as ISIS Czar. Unnamed U.S. officials indicated that Allen’s decision was motivated by the lack of adequate forces committed to the fight against ISIS and micromanagement by the White House. The same same officials stressed that Allen’s decision to leave his post “was motivated mainly by the health of his wife, who suffers from an auto-immune disorder.”

First, noting in this article is intended to diminish the health problems of Mrs. Allen. The author hopes for nothing but her rapid and full recovery. Nonetheless, Allen has invoked his wife’s illness at opportune times to justify his departure from difficult situations. That is an issue that demands evaluation.

Allen has served our nation for over four decades, including spending 33 months in combat. He owes no explanation for either his retirement from the Marine Corps or his resignation from the position as ISIS Czar. (Note: ISIS, ISIL, and IS are used interchangeably) But what he does owe to all Marines, and to the American public, is honesty when he offers to explain his retirement and resignation. This is not optional, honor and its requirement to “never lie” is as binding on Allen as it is on a recruit stepping on the yellow footprints at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego or Paris Island, or on a first-day candidate at Officers Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia.

As the above timeline illustrates, General Allen emphasized that his retirement from the Marine Corps was predicated on his need to spend more time with his sick wife, and to make more time for his family. Yet, 24 days after Allen’s retirement he accepted the position as U.S. envoy for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Not exactly a low-pressure job that allows plenty of time with the family.

Then, beginning in September 2014, Allen assumed duties as ISIS Czar. This is 18 months after he invoked his wife’s illness to justify his original retirement. Again, as distasteful as it is to discuss the health of Mrs. Allen, the public would have been unaware of her health issues if not for the disclosure by Allen. As the ISIS Czar, Allen was responsible for coordinating the efforts of over 60 coalition partners, who have committed to contributing to the ultimate objective to “degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL though a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.” Again, not the type of job that would leave excessive free time to attend to family health issues.

Almost immediately after General Austin’s testimony before the SASC, wherein various senators characterized the U.S. strategy against ISIS as “a joke” and “an abject failure,” press reports indicated that Allen would be resigning his post as ISIS Czar. The administration officials stressed that Allen was resigning because of his wife’s health. No reasonable observer could possibly overlook the convenient and repeated invocations of family health issues by Allen and not raise questions about his truthfulness.

If there is one constant throughout time and across the services, it is this: subordinates will scrutinize the actions of superiors to look for inconsistencies. Every speech Allen gave, either to a gathering of midshipmen at the Naval Academy or newly minted Marine Corps officers at The Basic School, where he mentioned honor, honesty, or moral behavior, are all now tainted. The only lesson these subordinates will take away are the actions — not the words — of Allen. At this point the lesson becomes, be honest, until there is something really important at stake, then do whatever you deem necessary to extricate yourself form the situation. That concept is known assituation ethics, “the doctrine of flexibility in the application of moral laws according to circumstances.”

Nonetheless, Allen still has the opportunity to reestablish his adherence to the moral imperative of honesty. When he officially resigns as ISIS Czar in November 2015, Allen has the opportunity to clarify the record. He can either choose to give no justification for his resignation, which is absolutely his prerogative. He owes no explanation after his years of honorable service. Or he can clearly state that his resignation is based upon his disagreements with the White House. After all, right now, only unnamed administration officials have invoked his wife’s illness as the basis for his retirement. Allen can clarify this issue and remove any doubt about his true rationale for his resignation.

Allen is not alone among senior military officers in applying situation ethics. Over the past few years, senior military officials, both active and retired have abandoned a principled adherence to honesty. To be clear, there is no pay grade that is above the requirements of unquestionable moral conduct. But the conduct of a troubling number of senior military officials seem to indicate that they view themselves above such pedestrian requirements.

General Petraeus, for example, demonstrated that honesty and integrity are optional and certainly flexible concepts depending on the situation. Beyond his mishandling of classified information and his extramarital affair with his biographer Paula Broadwell, Petraeus, while director of the CIA, intentionally lied to FBI special agents, telling them he never provided Broadwell with classified information. Petraeus told this lie while serving as Director of the CIA, and told ti only to save himself. He knew he had provide Broadwell with classified information a year earlier.

Petraeus recently apologized for his actions. Observers have expertly detailedthe vagaries of his apology, specifically the fact that he never explicitly apologized for lying to the FBI, and continue to call into question the veracity of Petraeus, as the author has previously examined. Petraeus would never have permitted such lax ethics from a subordinate soldier during his career in the Army.

Former Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Jim Amos also has a long history of failing to “exemplify the ultimate in ethical and moral behavior” required of all Marines. In early 2001 the V-22 Osprey program was under fire, with Osprey crashes claiming the lives of 23 Marines during two crashes in Arizona and North Carolina in the previous ten months. During a Pentagonpress conference about the Osprey, Amos, then the Assistant Deputy Commandant for Aviation, said “I pulled the first 13 days of November, mission-capable rate on those airplanes [Osprey], and the average is 73.2 percent.”

Yet, just days before the press conference, Amos sent an email to his superior, Lieutenant General Fred McCorkle, the Deputy Commandant for Aviation, with a different story. In the email, Amos warned his boss “this needs to be close-held” as it is “a bad story” and explained that the mission-capable rate of the Osprey for November was “26.7%.” When pressed on the extraordinary discrepancy between the numbers he stated in the press conference and the numbers he had reported in the email, Amos bristled and said the attack on his integrity “stings me like a hot poker to the heart.” Avoiding hard questions by feigning outrage over one’s honesty being called into question is a familiar tactic, as anyone familiar with the last days of the Nixon Administration will attest.

Additionally, Amos’s honesty was again called into question when he preparedmultiple resumes indicating he had graduated from The Basic School in 1972. These resumes were submitted, under oath, to the Senate in support of his confirmation to brigadier general through his confirmation to Commandant of the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps eventually acknowledged that Amos never attended The Basic School. And press accounts included stories where Amos himself had previously admitted that he never attended The Basic School.

In every Marine Corps official message announcing a promotion board, Marines are reminded that the accuracy of their official record is the responsibility of the Marine. This responsibility applies to all ranks.

Amos’s failure to adhere to the expectations of all Marines, did not go unnoticed, leading to questions about Amos’s continued ability to lead the Marine Corps. Every Marine who was compelled to endure one of Amos’s “reawakening” briefs, wherein he stated “we are now seeing signs that our institutional fabric is fraying,” eventually learned that Amos, when the stakes were high and when he thought he could get away with it, compromised his integrity to advance his own agenda.

Retired Air Force Lieutenant General James R. Clapper Jr. has also undermined the credibility of senior military officers. Clapper, currently theDirector of National Intelligence, in March 2013 testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI). In response to a question by Senator Wyden about the NSA collecting data on Americans, Clapper responded “No, Sir.” and “Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently, perhaps, collect, but nothing wittingly.”

Beginning in early June 2013, Clapper embarked on his incremental backtracking. First he issued a statement admitting that the NSA had indeed collected metadata on Americans. Second, during an NBC interview Clapper said “I responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or least untruthful manner, by saying no.” Finally, Clapper sent a letter to SSCI explaining that his “response was clearly erroneous — for which I apologize.” But throughout all of this, Clapper maintained “It has been very disappointing to have my integrity questioned because of a mistake.”

Under no circumstances would Clapper, during his career in the Air Force, have allowed this type of conduct by one of his subordinate airmen. It is simply unthinkable. Yet, when he, himself, was faced with a difficult situation, he provided a “clearly erroneous” answer followed after he was caught by affronted dignity and language boiling down to “I am not a crook.”

This is the lesson every subordinate airman who served under Clapper will take away: be honest, until you are confronted by a difficult situation, then it is acceptable to provide a “clearly erroneous” answer, and deflect attention by feigning outrage over your honesty being called into questions.

One disappointing constant that runs throughout all of these cases, no DoD or intelligence entity ever held a single one of these officials accountable. Only in the Petraeus case was there any accountability at all, and that case was handled by the FBI and the Department of Justice. But a full discussion of this issue must wait for another article.

The current situation is not static. It can be remedied by senior officials focusing on truth and accountability, no matter the emblem or number of stars on one’s collar. Fortunately, there are encouraging signs that this is already taking place in the Marine Corps. As General Robert Neller recently took the reins as the 37th Commandant of the Marine Corps he signified the importance of honesty. In his first message to the Corps, General Neller emphasized the need for uncompromising integrity, “Tell the truth — ALWAYS!”

The future can be brighter. General Neller must demand nothing less than “the ultimate in ethical and moral behavior” from his subordinate general officers and reinforce that, just as there is no one above the law, there is no military rank that is exempted from living the core values.

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