Ray not Rush

LTG Ray Odierno, the ground commander of our forces in Iraq, sat down in the Pentagon last week with six other retired military officers and me to have a candid discussion about his pulse of the fight in Iraq. We talked about the challenges ahead, the progress since the “surge” began, the work yet to be done, and the need for patience. Ray is old buddy from West Point and we served and commanded together in many postings (including Iraq). So this was a personal meeting for me, a chance to see a friend with much on his shoulders. His insights were broad and deep; his tone was optimistic; his sense of humor still in tact. I can easily speak for our small group; we left refreshed, buoyed, confident in our troops and their leadership.

As I drove back to my office, the radio offered few choices beyond Rush Limbaugh’s complaing about his detractors in Congress or the voice of a few members of Congress whining about and attempt to shut him down because of his “phony soldier” comment. I turned the radio off.

I am amazed by this whole affair. I don’t know — and don’t much care — about what Limbaugh said or didn’t say. The burr under my saddle is that our Congress, the media and consequently most of us are out of balance. We spend too much time worrying about things like this and not enough time dealing with the most important problem we have: the war. What Ray Odierno said is a whole lot more important than whatever Limbaugh said.

We have a voice in Congress that does not know how to remain quiet on the non-essentials and apparently lacks the courage to deal with the job they were elected to do. A significantly flawed crowd, we have some Congressional leaders who choose to speak when they should choose silence. Sometimes you wonder how some of these folks get elected. You would think that Rule One of politics has to be “Remain silent and be thought a fool rather than open your mouth and remove all doubt.” Sadly, there is no doubt that we have many in Congress who have not read Rule One. Some one right now should be laminating 3×5 cards to issue to Congressional members, old and new, with Rule One. It should be a daily inspectable item.

What’s going on? LTG Ray Odierno comes to town to inform, enlighten, and discuss…all on the record but our Congress spends its time and energy on Rush Limbaugh. A private citizen is hammered by our Congress on a First Amendment issue while the Number 2 guy in Iraq responsible for all the tactical and operational heavy lifting gets nothing. Ray would say he has the better deal. Sadly, it does not surprise that some in our Congress act this way. In some ways they are more like Limbaugh than they’d admit. Both Rush and many in Congress come from the “let’s talk about me” school.

This is compulsive behavior, truly childlike. How can our Congress get so worked up about Rush but not about our troops? This Congress is out of its lane. Surely the duty of our Congress…”to provide for a Navy and raise an Army”…demands focus and energy…not optional sojourns into confirmed idiocy. They are making bad choices. They are focusing on all the things that should be below the radar.

But the war is not.

LTG Ray Odierno would disagree, but when he comes to town our Congress should be treating him like a rock star, a luminary, a visiting head of state. His thoughts are crucial. How he prosecutes the actions on the ground deserve the time and focus of our Congress. He’d argue that right now, following closely on the heels of GEN Petraeus’s testimony, he needs none of their help. He’d be wrong. He does need their help, their oversight, their concurrence, their advocacy, their ears, their wisdom to stay out of the way. Our Congress is a “one ball juggler.” Drop the Rush ball and pick up the War in southwest Asia ball or maybe the support our troops ball.

The war is so personal to so many. Except for a precious few in Congress, this war remains a distant, impersonal, almost antiseptic engagement — a video game. When I left country, one of my nephews was in Ramadi. Another nephew deployed upon his cousin’s departure. Then came the next nephew and now a future son-in-law. Look, this war is personal but can I spare a few minutes in traffic for Rush. Sure, if I’m not moving and my daughters have cleaned out their Dad’s CDs in the glove box. Can I spare a few minutes for our Congress? Always, if they act like adults, do their Constitution duty, and start to pack their bags so they are ready to leave when they get voted out in ‘08. They can spare some time for Ray not Rush.