Surrender the rules of engagement

Posted: Mar 31, 2007 12:00 AM

Quick -- somebody promote Lt. Cmdr. Erik Horner for good instincts. "We not only have a right to self-defense but also an obligation to self-defense," the second-in-command officer of the USS Underwood said, referring to the surrender by 15 British sailors in Iraqi waters to Iranian forces last week. "(The British) had every right to defend themselves rather than allow themselves to be taken. Our reaction was, 'Why didn't you guys defend yourselves?'"

Better to ask why the larger Western world didn't teach these sailors to defend themselves, both as their personal right and their societal obligation. And speaking of societal obligations, could someone please explain why the sailor-mother of a 3-year-old -- now imprinted on history for performing the hostage-squirm in a Muslim headscarf -- was required on this mission in the first place? But I digress (sort of).

When a civilization no longer inculcates an overriding attachment to its own survival, well, it no longer survives as a civilization. In peacetime, the disintegration appears more theoretical. In wartime, the holes really begin to show.

Sticking with Britain as an example, when Tony Blair long ago brought forth his "Cool Britannia," multicultural, domestic agenda, the ensuing debate was a "culture war," not a real war. It might have politically divided Britain, but the country seemed to remain intact. When the government of Britain recently responded to a recognized act of war against its military personnel by threatening diplomacy, a kind of emptiness to the whole British enterprise was exposed.

Or was it? At a certain point, people probably stop realizing they're even looking at holes. This is something that comes through in another story, not about victims in uniform, but about a bona fide hero. An American hero. An American hero of demonstrable bravery who was recently awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by Britain -- the first American to be so honored since World War II.

While serving as an exchange officer with an English Naval Air Squadron in Iraq, Marine Maj. William D. Chesarek Jr. was flying a British Lynx helicopter accompanying British forces on the ground. It was June 2006, just one month after another British Lynx had been shot down by an Iranian-smuggled missile, killing five on board. Maj. Chesarek realized British forces below him were under attack. The attackers, according to a report on, were "using large hostile crowds for cover."

The report continued: "Given the serious threat to the forces on the ground, and the inability to return fire given the crowds of protesters, Chesarek elected to fly repeated passes at very low level, under heavy small-arms fire and at least one near-miss from an RPG, in an attempt to disperse the crowds." And he flew these extremely dangerous passes for five long hours. He also evacuated a seriously wounded British soldier, undoubtedly saving the man's life.

Maj. Chesarek's courage is exemplary; his official recognition for bravery deserved. So what's wrong with this picture?

There is a gaping hole in it due to the "large hostile crowds" the enemy was using for cover. As I understand the report, Maj. Chesarek didn't fire his machine gun to destroy, or even scatter the enemy for fear of hitting those same crowds. I'm guessing this "inability" to return fire was a restriction written into the rules of engagement, which have been officially ham-stringing coalition soldiers since the war in Iraq began. More distressing, it was a restriction that wasn't even overridden by the "serious threat" to allies under fire.

This is incredible. This seemingly immutable restriction suggests that, according to current military and civilian thinking -- which together reflect a pretty clear consensus of elites -- the lives of allies under fire are of no greater value or significance than the lives of enemy sympathizers. And the enemy knows this, in Iraq and beyond, no doubt reveling in the safe haven of our fantastic objectivity.

Such rules and restrictions, the product of politically correct developments in Western culture, foster a non-combative theory of combat. Surrender is an expression of this culture; so are rules of engagement that risk the lives of our people. Such a culture, whether acting by the book or by consensus, hardly supports a soldier's right and obligation to self-defense, let alone unleashes the warrior in pursuit of anything resembling victory, which isn't to say this cultural trend is irreversible. But we must learn to see the holes before we can plug them up.