Yes, the SEALS’ sacrifice during Operation Red Wings was a waste

Operation Red WingsBefore you start hammering away at me, let me explain what I mean about my claim that the sacrifice the SEALS and their rescuers made during Operation Red Wings was indeed a waste.  I am referring, of course, to Jake Tapper’s asking Marcus Luttrell whether  his comrades died in vain.  That was a foolish and tactless question to ask Luttrell, and Luttrell couldn’t and wouldn’t give the real answer in any event.  There is an answer, though, and Tapper was right.  Here’s why:

There are three types of wasted battle deaths, two of which are familiar to all, and one of which is a brand new one.

The most obvious wasted death is the one that occurs because of terrible command decisions.  One could argue that the entirety of WWI, with Brits throwing themselves into No Man’s Land for four years at their generals’ commands was that type of wasted death.  The British had appalling tactics and, rather than changing them to avoid a bloody stalemate, simply redoubled their failed approach.  Likewise, in the case of Operation Red Wings, the SEALS were fatally hampered by rules of engagement so restrictive that, after lengthy debate, they decided that they were safer releasing potential spies than they were killing or otherwise disabling them.

The men in Operation Red Wings might still have died in other places, at other times, during the war in Afghanistan.  Their deaths in that time and at that place, however, flowed directly from a foolish policy that gave (and still gives) greater respect to the enemy’s safety than to that of our own troops.

Still, despite a foul policy, when he answered Tapper’s question Luttrell spoke a greater truth, reflecting his understanding that no war is every perfectly carried out at either a strategic or tactical level.  As long as you’re still fighting, you can still win:

I don’t know what part of the film you were watching, but hopelessness really never came into it. I mean, where did you see that? Because there was never a point where we just felt like we were hopelessly lost or anything like that. We never gave up. We never felt like we were losing until we were actually dead.

What Luttrell left unsaid at the time was that his team still believed in the fight.  More importantly, so did America’s then-Commander in Chief, President George W. Bush.  Bush never doubted the righteousness of trying to destroy al Qaeda and the Taliban in their Afghani stronghold.  As far as all who were then concerned believed, Afghanistan was an important war that would benefit America.  In that regard, therefore, when troops die in a righteous (and, one hopes, victorious) war, their deaths have meaning regardless of the success or failure of any single engagement.

Which brings us to the second type of wasted death in war:  deaths that occur because the war’s supporters fail to understand that they are supporting a bad or lost cause.  In every case where a country’s military is the aggressor, only to lose dramatically to a better prepared, more ferocious fighting force, many on the losing side are going to have to ask “Why the heck did we start this?  What a waste of lives and resources.”  Even if you have the best cause in the world, if there’s no way you can possibly win, those who die have wasted their lives.

The caveat to this view is that one only realizes after the fact that a war was a waste.  During the American Revolution, many might have said that the revolutionaries’ stand against the most powerful military in the world was bound to be a waste . . . except that it wasn’t.

Obama-salutingThe above examples of wasted deaths in war are familiar to any history student.  Barack Obama has added an entirely new category to “wasted war deaths,” one that I don’t think has ever before occurred in recorded history:  Deaths that are a waste because the Commander-in-Chief couldn’t care less about victory or the troops.  Instead, merely wants to give the appearance of fighting for short-term domestic political advantage.

Per Robert Gates:

“As I sat there, I thought: The president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his,” Mr. Gates writes. “For him, it’s all about getting out.”

Except that Obama didn’t get out of Afghanistan, because it would have looked bad politically given his campaign claim that Afghanistan was a good war. (He probably didn’t believe that either.) Both he and Hillary agreed in Gates’ presence that they were determinedly opposed to the Iraq War merely out of political expediency, without any regard for America’s best interests:

“Hillary told the president that her opposition to the [2007] surge in Iraq had been political because she was facing him in the Iowa primary. . . . The president conceded vaguely that opposition to the Iraq surge had been political. To hear the two of them making these admissions, and in front of me, was as surprising as it was dismaying.”

Given this cavalier attitude, it’s no surprise that the President did nothing to secure Iraq.  To the contrary:  he sat (and has long been sitting) idly by as al Qaeda has retaken city after city in which American men fought and died. By deliberately turning victory into defeat, Obama has taken every single American death in Iraq and wiped it of meaning. While our troops once died in a just cause to bring democracy to a benighted land —  thereby decreasing the risk of devastating terror attacks against America — now those same deaths have become pointless.  Obama didn’t just allow the status quo to reappear, he fomented an even worse situation than before. (Saddam Hussein was bad; al Qaeda is worse.) Somehow it’s perfectly symbolic of Obama’s “man-created” travesty that the military’s last act with regard to Fallujah has been to persecute Marines.

Not only was Obama uninterested in our nation’s security or our military victories, he was singularly uninterested in the troops:

One quality I missed in Obama was passion, especially when it came to the two wars,’ Gates wrote.

‘In my presence, Bush — very unlike his father — was pretty unsentimental. But he was passionate about the war in Iraq; on occasion, at a Medal of Honor ceremony or the like, I would see his eyes well up.

‘I worked for Obama longer than Bush, and I never saw his eyes well up.’

Again, no surprise there.  To Obama the narcissist, the men and women in the military are merely objects serving his ego. For that reason, it’s also unsurprising that the only subject regarding the military that excited him was getting gays into it, a passion with interesting Freudian implications:

Gates wrote that ‘the only military matter, apart from leaks, about which I ever sensed deep passion on his part was ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’

Just as disturbing as Obama’s warped values is his complete disinterest in even a simulacrum of competence:

President Obama is “chronically incapable” of military strategy and falls far short of his predecessor George W. Bush, according to one of Britain’s most senior military advisors.


[Sir Hew] Strachan, a current member of the Chief of the Defense Staff’s Strategic Advisory Panel, cited the “crazy” handling of the Syrian crisis as the most egregious example of a fundamental collapse in military planning that began in the aftermath of 9/11. “If anything it’s gone backwards instead of forwards, Obama seems to be almost chronically incapable of doing this. Bush may have had totally fanciful political objectives in terms of trying to fight a global War on Terror, which was inherently astrategic, but at least he had a clear sense of what he wanted to do in the world. Obama has no sense of what he wants to do in the world,” he said.

So, yes, Operation Red Wings was a waste, not at the time, but in retrospect — and this is so because we have a president who views war solely in terms of his own self-aggrandizement and political objectives, without any regard for America’s national security or strategic interests, or for the troops who have served and are currently serving in our American military.  Obama has managed to negate any good the troops did before he became President and, since he became president, they are merely objects on his own personal chessboard.  Like some spoiled potentate, he moves them around for his pleasure and views their deaths with clinical dispassion.

(See also this article, from Foreign Policy.)


  • jj

    Why would anybody hammer away at you?  Everything the military did in  Iraq has been pissed away, and everything the military did in Afghanistan will have been pissed away in short order.  You didn’t do it.

  • 11B40

    There seems to be some strange bits  of thinking going on as civilians become more and more separated from military people and experiences.  Denotation-wise, the lives of soldiers can certainly be “wasted”, militarily mishandled, but I think that that old connotation bugaboo inserts itself here also in that losses can also be not wasted.
    Another similar that disturbs me is the “Leave no man behind” mantra.  Emotionally, I grant, it has significant appeal. Military casualties are usually delineated in terms of KIAs (not the weirdly named Korean car), WIAs, and MIAs. No legitimate military commander wants any of the aforementioned, but will most likely have some.  The idea that a mantra should dominate a soldier’s thinking is difficult for me to salute, no matter how tall the flagpole. I would hate to have to do it, but some times there just is no good outcome available. Yet many military leaders seem to find some kind of emotional reward in this preachment.  I’m more at the “Put a sock in it.” end of the spectrum.
    One more bit of military non-wisdom that trips my switch is not wanting to be the last soldier to die in a war. Well guess what, every war has a last soldier to die.  Yet, again, this emotionally appealing bit of (half-) wit, is pronounced with great solemnity and much head nodding.  
    It’s sad that as the hollowing out of our military proceeds apace, both overtly and covertly, someone as smart as Jake Tapper had to tap dance into such banality.

  • Danny Lemieux

    I am the father of an Army soldier. I am very proud of my son and the service he represents. I have, until recently, been a great believer of America as a great force for good in the world and in the Pax America that is now unraveling. I have no doubt that Obama will leave the world in flames at his eventual departure.
    That being said, I am becoming more isolationist as I age: not because I don’t believe in the very positive role that America and its military can play and have played in the world, but because I have now seen two-soon-to-be-three wars that were fought honorably and to victory by Republican Presidents (Nixon and GW Bush) at great cost of American life, only to be betrayed by Democrat /Progressives and turned into loss, destruction and a desecration of all the personal sacrifices they entailed. I am becoming more isolationist, because I know that no matter what great things our military can and will do in the world in the name of peace and prosperity, they will eventually be back-stabbed by all too many of our countrymen.
    War is and always will be part of the world. Pax Americana largely kept war small and at bay ,at the fringes of our influence. I know that our withdrawal from the world will bring war close to our country once again.
    But perhaps, this is how it must be. Too much of the world bridled under Pax Americana, let them now do without. As far as our own country, I know that we will eventually pay the butcher on our soil: modern tactics and technology don’t guarantee us the seas of safety any more. We may not be interested in war, but war is very interested in us, to paraphrase Trotsky. As with Obamacare, our people won’t realize this truism until it smacks them in the face, up close and personal. So be it. Forget the lessons of history: people aren’t interested in history. This is the only way that we will learn.

  • Matt_SE

    As I posted over at Neo-neocon, I’m a big fan of post-regime investigation and prosecution. They have to realize that just because they made it through their term without imprisonment doesn’t mean they’re in the clear!

  • Simplemind

    I guess I tend to object, but more on philosophical grounds than in detail.
    From an objective standpoint, did the mission succeed or were the objectives met despite the loss of life. No. I won’t argue that, and indeed I think it serves us to talk about the mission failure in an effort to improve strategy and tactics and mindset etc.  Indeed the mission failure, whether the men had sufficient training, support and planning, logistics, comms and backups, planning. Lots of things were no doubt discussed by the Seals afterwards and still are being looked at I’m sure.  I bet they carry zip ties, and a handheld language translator now. The translator probably wasn’t in wide use at the time.  I’m loathe to talk about this type of stuff, since it sounds like second guessing and I’m much more comfortable not brining it up because I know for a fact the seals will have covered all this ground themselves internally. Tapper really asked risky question, in an awkward, and arguably inappropriate way.  
    Philosophically I object to a civilian saying (unless its a family member) saying a solider’s death was ‘wasted’.   In general, we can not see all ends. I believe things happen for a reason, even bad things that seem wasteful from our perspective.  From my own experience I have had things happen to me which at the time seemed horrible, and indeed were painful and tragic, actually caused some good things to occur that would not have ocurred but for the initial bad events.  I think, in part the fact that Lutrell wrote his book and made this movie is part of that effect.  I think there are other things that will and are occurring that we haven’t seen yet.  
    I think, he thinks, God saved him for a reason. (I read his book, just a few days ago. ) It is worth thinking about the fact that he chose not to kill defenseless goatherds.  That  they likely were then betrayed by those they showed mercy to.  Yet he survived only because other Afghans showed mercy to him.   In the end, war is aweful, as Marcus said to Tapper. Yet, in its midst, individuals, who are brave, can still act with mercy.  
    Perhaps, the biggest message, is that Mercy itself requires tremendous bravery and likely self sacrifice.      These men laid down their lives for each other, and for us.  I mourn their pain and loss. I will not, however, view it as a waste. My perpetual light shine upon them.

  • It’s tackless to ask this question when you know the answer. But if you didn’t ask it, not your problem or duty to take up.
    People dying is a problem and it hurts. One of the only ways to alleviate this in the survivors is to give them a motivation to keep on living, by saying that so long as you keep on fighting, your loved ones will not have died in vain.
    But no amount of fighting will rescind Obama’s order to “let them die”, or his order to “stand down, let them suffer”.

  • “deaths that are a waste because the Commander-in-Chief couldn’t care less about victory or the troops, but merely wants to give the appearance of fighting for short-term domestic political advantage.”
    Lyndon Johnson did that too. I don’t think he intentionally did it, but his decisions felt a lot like it. Maybe his advisers were to blame, the “smartest people” in the room from Yale and Harvard no less. Of course we know what the Left did to those zombie brains after they were done, don’t we.
    “Like some spoiled potentate, he moves them around for his pleasure and views their deaths with clinical dispassion.”
    Coincidentally, once a person has such beliefs, they become more resistant to Obeying the Left. Obeying Obama as well. Which is why the Left has brainwashed a lot of people into being zombies and therefore incapable of even Thinking Such Thoughts. Like a lobotomy. INcapable.
    And it gives just a small glimmer of what the Left’s true power is on the world stage and in American history. For the Left has plenty of dictators and tyrants 1000 times worse than Obama. Obama ain’t even a Caligula or a Nero by Roman standards.

  • Danny Lemieux

    The Left seems to have quietly excised one aspect of the Vietnam War from history and that was the belief by the Johnson Administration that you could ignore the commanders in the field and instead, have “the smartest of the smart” run it from Washington. That was Robert McNamara and his “Whiz kids”, and they generated pretty much the same results as those oh-so-smart Progressive whiz kids that gave us Obamacare, the “Stimulus”, Cash for Clunkers, the Motor City bailouts, the Green Energy program…
    The Vietnam War didn’t really turn around until Richard Nixon took over and restored control to the troops in the field. The Left never forgave him for it.

  • Let’s also not forget how the Kennedy admin got Diem assassinated. Talk about US making puppet governments. That’s a Democrat thing, usually.
    When I am weak, I ask you for mercy, because that is your principle. When you are weak and I am strong, I am merciless, for that is my principle.
    The Left has made great strategic use of such ploys. In Iraq 2005, it was “listen to the damn (Democrat) generals or else”. Now it’s…. “generals… what the F are generals? This is a civilian run security force by Obama Hussein, you military industrial complex freaks”.

  • Wars are a way for the Leftist regime to send politically unreliables and those that believe in freedom too much, to their untimely deaths. That is why they push so often for “large numbers of troops” or “high attrition values” that come from restricted ROEs. They know who they are getting killed and they Like it.
    Even after the war, the Leftist psychologists and Democrat mental health specialists went out of their way to program returning Vietnam veterans with PTSD, inducing guilt, calling them monsters, and breaking down their coping mechanism vis a vis the rational for the war and killing.
    They will do the same thing with Iraq. In fact they were already making scary waves about crazy Iraq war veterans.
    This has been a systematic campaign for decades now. I doubt their zombies will have replaced their instruction set. Once a Leftist zombie has been made and conditioned, they often carry out their instructions without need for further input. Thus the Left is still going on about Vietnam veteran baby killers and Bush baby eaters.

  • With respect to what Danny wrote there: <B>I am the father of an Army soldier.</b>
    I also wrote up a section that shared some of the same concepts.
    Those who abdicate their judgment to others, can no longer complain about it afterwards. What are they going to say, that they didn’t “know what was going on”, that they were just doing as they were told to get by? That level of ignorance can only go so far, as consequences for a nation’s actions do blowback after awhile.
    There’s a certain domestic sentiment in Europe and Japan, that says since America is paying for security we might as well rely on them to be the world’s police as they pay in gold and blood for our safety. But that means if America wants something, it’s hard to deny America what the hyperpower demands. That may be tolerable if people’s interests are in common, but what if Obama demands that a nation disarm and allow itself to be invaded and burned to ash so that Obama can sit and watch it on tv with Michelle for joys and giggles? Are people going to resist American power after decades of relying on American security guarantees and promises? Of course not; it certainly won’t be easy even if they try.
    Europe has been stuck on that kind of parasitism for so long they have rotten. And Japan is only beginning to introduce counter-propaganda to counter the domestic concept that it is perfectly okay to rely on a foreign power, America, for most things in life. Israel has already been forced away from the American sphere, because of you know who. They had to go on their own way whether they liked it or not, because America is not always going to be there to protect people. And relying on such a power, abdicating one’s national interest in favor of somebody else’s guarantees, isn’t sustainable. It doesn’t produce independent individuals and it doesn’t produce strong nations.
    The peace, prosperity, and security America offers is like a drug. People can become addicted to it. It’s like charity. First time they are grateful. Second time they are expectant. Third time they feel entitled to even more of your charity. Not only does this apply to foreign nations and their people, but it also applies to our own blacks, Jews, gays, lesbians, Democrats, and Republicans. <B>Peace that they do not pay for, security that they do not bleed for, they will throw that stuff away as fast as someone promises them an even better deal.</b> They know not the value of what people worked and died for, because it’s not in their experience/value system. They inherited the money, but not the virtues.

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  • zees2020

    Just watched the film yesterday and if the encounter with the goat herders is accurate, it seems like another option should have been on the table, The other option should have been that the herders come with to the summit to make comm. Once the SEAL team gets picked up, the herders go free.

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  • Oneauta

    Me thinks, perhaps, President Obama is well read and aware of the futility of engaging in a no-win contest.

    “When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains, and the women come out to cut up what remains, jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains and go to your gawd like a soldier.” — Rudyard Kipling

  • arekexcelsior

    While Obama obviously has serious issues, it’s funny that an entire article can fail to discuss when a war is illegal and fraudulent.