Missiles, berets, morale and diplomacy

Posted: Mar 10, 2001 12:00 AM
Three articles concerning the Bush administration's approach to various defense and foreign policy issues caught my attention as I scanned the front page of the Washington Times (online) Thursday morning. Reading them reaffirmed my confidence in President Bush as a strong commander in chief with an appreciation for the indispensability of a powerful and spirited military. He is demonstrating a firmness in foreign affairs centered on jealously safeguarding the strategic interests of the United States. What a blessing that our foreign policy levers are no longer being pulled by Bush's military-loathing predecessor, who always seemed to be overwhelmed with a crippling aimlessness garnished with any number of personal, ulterior motives -- from wag the dog to legacy building. Bush turned some heads when he took issue with South Korean President Kim Dae-jung's strategy to ease tensions with North Korea. Bush recognized that it would be foolhardy and irresponsible to cement an agreement with North Korea involving its commitment to reduce missiles without ensuring that the terms of the agreement could be verified. "But we want to make sure that their ability to develop and spread weapons of mass destruction was, in fact, stopped ... and that we could verify that in fact they had stopped it," said Bush. Bush understands that Communist dictatorships such as North Korea cannot be trusted and specialize in exploiting weakness and appeasement. So he is in no hurry for the United States to resume negotiations with its leader, Kim Jong-il. This represents a dramatic departure from President Clinton's mad scramble to patch together a reckless missile deal with North Korea at the twilight of his presidency. Moving on, the Times informs us that Secretary of State Colin Powell told Congress that President Bush has re-instituted a hard-line policy with Iraq, demanding that U.N. inspectors be allowed to re-enter the country to search for nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. The Clinton administration's abandonment of this critical policy is inexplicable and unforgivable, but not irreversible. Hopefully, Bush has just reversed it. Finally, the Times reports that Bush has asked the Pentagon to review an Army decision to issue the special black berets, previously reserved to elite soldiers, to all troops. Last fall, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki announced his intention to implement this policy in order to boost morale and stimulate recruitment. Bush could have easily sidestepped this flap by saying it was below his pay grade as commander in chief. But wisely, his antenna went up when he heard of the complaints of disgruntled Rangers, who were outraged at this inane, politically correct, post-Modern policy of fostering mediocrity and punishing achievement. What makes Gen. Shinseki believe that potential recruits will be enticed by the prospect of donning a beret that any and every buck private can wear simply by undergoing the rigorous ordeal of signing enlistment papers and getting a recruitment bonus? He thinks this will boost morale? The general's wrongheaded plan does violence to the pursuit of excellence, which is essential to the military, by promoting a something-for-nothing mentality. What about the morale of those who earned the right to wear this cap? Has the general no reservations about this obscene dilution of a symbol of grit and courage merited by the toil and sweat of our nation's finest combat soldiers? Why don't we just make everyone a general, too? The hat doesn't make the man; the man defines the hat. Well, if the general didn't understand it before, he does now -- though he has given no indication that he will withdraw his order. The 7,000 member Special Forces Association has issued a statement strongly condemning the policy. Three former Rangers are marching 700 miles from Ranger headquarters at Fort Benning, Ga., to Washington to protest it. But for them it's far more than symbolism. They know that of all our institutions our armed forces must remain merit-driven. President Bush is displaying a strong instinct for discriminating between matters that are completely delegable and those that need a dose of his attention, even if they may appear trivial on the surface. Morale is paramount for the military, and you don't strengthen it by undermining the pride and heritage of its fiercest warriors. It's been eight years since we've had a president with a healthy reverence for the military and for his role as commander in chief and leader of the free world. It feels good.