How Allen West Uses the Military and Ignores Its Biggest Problems
The political entity that is Congressman Allen West would not exist without the military. It is his sole qualification for office, and he touts it at every opportunity. You would be hard-pressed to find any public statement from "the Colonel" that doesn't mention his military service, and he has justified his ridiculous statements (about communism, about Islam, about "the Democrat Party") by saying "nuance" wasn't a good thing on the battlefield and he's not about to engage in any now.
That he is no longer on the battlefield does not appear to have affected his continued refusal to act as a statesman, resorting instead to stunts like calling fellow Florida representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz "the most vile, unprofessional, and despicable member of the U.S. House of Representatives." And people love him for it.
He "tells it like it is." He fights the "patriotic" fights and doesn't couch his language to appease the media, which are conspiring against him by quoting him accurately.
But for all his flag-waving bluster, West has remained utterly silent on some of the most important issues plaguing our modern military. He sent out an e-card for D-Day and tweets regularly about Our Great Constitutional Republic, but he hasn't used his massive social media presence to bring attention to actual military issues: suicide, sexual assault, domestic abuse, and gross incompetence, just for starters.
Suicide in the military has risen to an all-time high: In the first 155 days of 2012, 154 servicemembers killed themselves, according to Pentagon figures. In contrast, 136 were killed in Afghanistan during that same time. More American troops are now being killed by their own hand than by the enemy.
This news broke on June 7. On that day, instead of advocating for increased suicide prevention measures or mental-health services or cultural shifts in the military's shaming of mental illness, West took to Facebook to rant about a 72-year-old liberal talk show host's statement that he doesn't like "The Star-Spangled Banner."
West, with all his influence and visibility, failed. Rather than trying to protect the troops he makes such a big deal of having led, he attacked some guy who thinks the national anthem doesn't sound so pretty.
He has likewise failed to address the growing, urgent problem of rape in the military. An estimated 20,000 servicemembers were raped in 2010. The Invisibile War, a documentary about sexual assault in the military that debuted at Sundance earlier this year, included stories like this, from Time magazine:
When Andrea Werner reported her rape to her Army superiors, she was charged with adultery, though she wasn't married (her assailant was) and the sex was nothing like consensual. The investigation into rape charges brought by Lieutenant Elle Helmer against her Commanding Officer at the elite Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C., was closed due to "lack of evidence" (he denied it); a new case was opened, charging Helmer with conduct unbecoming an officer and public intoxication.
What the military denied in public, it suppressed in the field. Soldiers who had been raped had no recourse outside the chain of command. Ariana Klay was told to do "what a Marine officer should do, and that's to ignore it and move on."
It goes on and on. Where is West on this issue? He hasn't been sounding any of his patriotism alarms over the statistics or over the stories of servicewomen being classified insane after reporting assaults or over the Shaheen Amendment, which would give women in the military access to health care already available to all other government workers.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen introduced an amendment that would have fixed that, and it passed through the Senate Armed Services Committee with several Republican votes, including that of John McCain. However, House Republicans (including West, on the House's Armed Services Committee), did nothing, in hopes that it would disappear in reconciliation.
Granted, that could be an ideological difference. Maybe West is more comfortable making troops carry the babies of their rapists. That's his problem -- where is he on the rest of it? Why, instead of bellowing about creeping "stealth jihad" and the influx of American Marxism, is he not fighting the battles that are right in front of him?
He could also have commented on the "Auschwitz-like" conditions recently uncovered at Dawood Military Hospital but didn't, presumably because there's no way to blame that damned community organizer in the White House.
Don't worry, though -- he has found ways to blame Obama for the failings of the military. He blames Obama for the imprisonment of soldiers Michael Behenna, William Hunsaker, and Joseph Mayo, for example. He said so, in a letter sent directly to the president back in May. He asked for leniency for the three men and reminded Obama that "when you were elected President, the American people expected you to provide leadership."
What did Behenna, Hunsaker, and Mayo do that West is so upset about? They executed Iraqis. Eight of them, in separate incidents. Behenna executed a prisoner he was supposed to be releasing. Hunsaker admitted to handcuffing Iraqis and making them run around while he and several others shot them. Mayo got 35 years after pleading guilty to executing four men after investigators ordered them released.
"Surely men who made mistakes in the fog of war such as Behenna, Hunsaker, and Mayo deserve leniency," West wrote. These are the people your congressman is focusing his time on.
Other examples of West "defending" the military are far more spurious: He attacked MSNBC host Chris Hayes, for example, after Hayes held a discussion on his show about the widespread use of the word hero, because, Hayes suggested, "it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war."
West called the idea "insidious," as he has called many ideas, and said NBC should make Hayes stand outside Walter Reed Medical Center for 12 hours. Because someone dared to question how we talk about Glorious, Spartan Glorywar.
"Standing up" for the military has been his thing for a long while -- "standing up" is qualified with quotation marks because many of his fights have been absolute fabrications, misrepresentations he uses to attack President Barack (Hussein!) Obama. West is the most visible PR man the military has, but he also jumps at the chance to use the military for legislative gain.
Most recently, West has been causing a ruckus about the Obama campaign's lawsuit regarding Ohio voting regulations for military members, which, West claimed on Facebook, is making "our US Servicemen and Women the target of a political attack to benefit his reelection actions."
The first words of the message, as they so frequently are, were "As a retired Army officer." West said Obama "is undeserving of the title Commander-in-Chief," and used his standard adjectives: Appalled. Unconscionable. Reprehensible. Inept.
The problem? He's lying.
The lawsuit takes issue with the widespread Republican tactic of restricting early voting -- a proven way to suppress the votes of -- surprise! -- Democrats. In 2008, for example, more than half of Florida's early voters were Democrats, including great numbers of African-Americans who went straight from church to the polls on the Sunday before Election Day. They voted, overwhelmingly, for Obama. In 2012, voting on that Sunday in Florida has been specifically banned.
They did it in Ohio too, except they ended early voting on the three days before Election Day. There was an exception, however -- servicemen and women were still allowed to vote on those days, casting, the conventional wisdom goes, mostly votes for Republicans. It's a nonsensical regulation, and the Obama camp filed suit to restore voting rights to everybody else during those three days. Something about "equal protection" and the 14th Amendment to that Constitution West holds so dear.
But that wasn't politically convenient for West -- he, rather than telling the truth (or, better yet, remaining silent on the issue), wrote that "the voting privilege extended to these Warriors who represent the best among us should not be a part of the collective vision of this inept President who is more concerned about his reelection than sequestration."
See how he did that? He got to look patriotic and attack the president. All it took was a little bit o' massaging of the truth.
He is likewise obscuring the truth when he attacks the president for "hollowing out" the military via sequestration, the series of deep cuts coming down the pipes to defense spending. They're coming because of the failure of the bipartisan budget "supercommittee" -- remember them? -- to come up with an acceptable deal after the "debt ceiling" debacle that bashed in our economy last summer. If the supercommittee couldn't make the cuts, social programs favored by Democrats would take big cuts, and defense spending favored by Republicans would take a big hit, too.
The supercommittee -- and the consequences -- were part of a bipartisan deal that got a select few legislators big attention. One of them was West.
He surprised "many Republicans by giving his full-throated support for the plan," the Washington Post said last August. That, along with the time he advocated on the House floor for the military's right to indefinitely detain Americans, seems to have been largely forgotten by his Tea Party supporters.
And West has certainly done nothing to remind them. Now that the cuts are happening, West is somehow trying to pin it on Obama.
In the video, the deal West helped rally support for is now "this dark spectre that hangs over our country right now that is called sequestration." Because people are watching, and they have forgotten this was his doing.
He also attacked the president in one of his "weekly wrap-ups."
"I would like to know what Commander in Chief would decimate the greatest and most superior military force the world has ever known," he wrote. "Repealing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' seems to have become far more important to President Obama than maintaining the preeminent fighting force in the world."
West's gung-ho appeals for unlimited defense spending and demands for unquestioned patriotic loyalty (to everyone but the commander in chief, of course) have been his biggest talking points since before he came into office -- which is why it is exceptionally shameful that he's been so painfully absent when it counts.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss New Times Broward-Palm Beach's biggest stories.