One of ways you can distinguish a statesman from a politician is found in the motives that drive him to criticize the government. A statesman seeks to improve conditions by pointing out flaws, maybe even to help people, while a politician is so eager to score partisan points that he will leap into situations before he really knows anything, make a scorched earth attack, and then walk away without having to face the consequences.
That latter course is the one we most often see from Montana’s Commander, uh, Congressman, Ryan Zinke. So eager is he to build a fundraising base among the rabid conservative base he panders to regularly, that he’s perfectly willing to use the tragedy of a death American serviceman to attack the Obama Administration, just days after Staff Sergeant Matthew McClintock was killed. Based on a blog post, Zinke accused the Administration of being responsible for the soldier’s death:
Zinke said he’s heard from sources in the Special Forces community that air support and the quick reaction force (QRF) — which provides backup and rescue to units in distress — was delayed due to bureaucratic hurdles and the Obama administration’s restrictive rules of engagement.
“I’ve commanded some of the finest special forces our nation has seen, and to think that these guys were abandoned by Washington while they were under fire is unthinkable and frankly against everything the U.S. military stands for,” Zinke said.
“If there was a decision to delay the QRF or call off air strikes on enemy combatants after the ground commanders ordered it, that is a clear dereliction of duty. I will be getting to the bottom of this. Staff Sgt. Matthew McClintock, his family and his unit deserve for the truth to be out there, and we need to make sure this does not happen again,” he added.
By the time he ran to another media outlet, with no new information, Zinke wasn’t asking if there had been a decision to delay air strikes; he was suggesting it had almost certainly happened:
In light of these reports Zinke has called for a hearing for the Pentagon to explain the exact circumstances of what happened on the ground in Marja. “There is every indication,” he said, that air support and rescue efforts were “arbitrarily delayed.”
And on Facebook, desperate to post anything to distract the red meat crowd from his vote on the Omnibus bill, he compared it to another manufactured GOP conspiracy theory:
If Zinke were truly concerned about the soldier’s death, and not simply trying to score political points reminding people he was a Navy SEAL, he probably would have talked to the military to find out some information that’s more credible that some unconfirmed reports from the field. He wouldn’t be suggesting, without any evidence, that commanders in the US military had let this young man die, and he wouldn’t be posting baseless accusations on Facebook.
And, as it turns out, the military denies Zinke’s claims:
“We don’t have any indication there was any delay here” or “that there was any delay whatsoever,” Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said in response to Zinke’s allegations.
“Every effort was made by the commanders to try to address this situation” in which McClintock, his team, and Afghan Special Forces were engaged in a firefight with the Taliban in Marjah in Afghanistan’s southwestern Helmand province, Cook said at a Pentagon news conference.
Unsatisfied, Zinke’s press office responded churlishly, suggesting that the Pentagon was not telling the truth and merely providing cover for President Obama:
“While we appreciate the quick reaction from the press office to defend the administration’s over-restrictive rules of engagement, the Congressman is committed to discovering the facts of what exactly happened in Marjah and why exactly our forces were pinned down in a compound under enemy fire for hours without support.”
Finding the facts is most certainly not what the Commander is interested in. It’s all about Zinke, and always is.
This isn’t Zinke’s first foray into politicizing an incident in the Afghan War, of course. Readers of news outside the Montana media might remember that Commander Zinke similarly questioned the honesty of US officers in the case of Clint Lorance, who was convicted in a military court of second degree murder in 2012. Almost exactly a year ago, Zinke called for “further review” into Lieutenant Lorance’s case, suggesting once again that the “rules of engagement” were the real culprit:
“Too often, cases involving rules of engagement present difficulty,” Reps. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif.; Ryan Zinke, R-Mont.; and Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., wrote in a letter to Army Secretary John McHugh. “The warfighter doesn’t always have the benefit of time, given lives are always at risk in a warzone.”
The letter goes on: “While the rules of engagement are in place for a reason and serve a critical purpose, any case that projects an alleged violation of the rules of engagement deserves a high level of attention and scrutiny. It is our belief, based on information brought to our attention, that Lorance’s case requires further review.”
In that case, nine of Lorance’s platoon testified against him, saying that the lieutenant had ordered them to shoot a 12-year old boy, raided village with “Gestapo-style” tactics, threatened to shoot unarmed villagers, and ordered his men to open fire on a village. After joining the Fox News-led chorus to defend Lt. Lorance, Congressman Zinke seems to have abandoned his cause, not mentioning it since the letter last year.
It’s absolutely correct for members of Congress to demand oversight over this horrible, failed war in Afghanistan, but it’s not appropriate to use it—and the tragic loss of lives happening there—to score political points. Maybe the next time this happens, Congressman Zinke can wait for the facts to emerge before impugning the integrity of both the Commander-in-Chief and the men and women leading the war in Afghanistan.
But it certainly isn’t likely that he will.