Profiles In American Leadership
Today’s poor examples versus history’s great ones
It seems like everyone all of a sudden is learning about something that has been looming for nearly 18 months – sequestration. That awkward word is Washington-speak for draconian, across-the-board cuts to federal spending mandated in 2011 because the unduly titled “super committee” in Congress failed to make more targeted spending cuts.
Some officials in Washington will tell you we don’t have a spending problem. (Boy, they must be drinking something good!) But when you analyze the cuts set to kick in today, you learn that they represent only a 2.4 percent decrease in the growth of the federal budget. Actual spending still will increase!
The cuts will be only $85 billion a year; the United States truly borrows that much in a month. The Federal Reserve also is printing money and buying mortgage security and treasury bond debt to the tune of $85 billion per month.
So what is all the hoopla about sequestration?
On Tuesday in Newport News, Va., President Obama decried the idea of sequestration. He never mentioned that the idea sprang from his White House. Instead, he highlighted all of the presumably terrible consequences for federal programs that could happen because of budget cuts.
As I watched this performance, I asked myself, “Is this the new face of American leadership?” I remembered when I was a military commander and wondered what my unit would have thought of me had I stood before them and complained about how bad things were.
What if that day before we crossed into Iraq in 2003 I stood before our battalion and screeched about how we would die, how great the enemy was and how we were not trained sufficiently to win. Where would the inspiration be?
Could it be that with the election and re-election of President Obama, we as a nation have forgotten what resolute leadership looks like?
While watching the recent confirmation hearings of CIA Director-designate John Brennan, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, I asked myself: “This is it? This is the best we have as the greatest nation the world has ever known?”
Just this week, new Secretary of State Kerry was over in Germany yucking it up before telling an audience, “In America people have the right to be stupid.” Is that leadership?
True leaders from American history
My years in the military taught me that leadership has five components: courage, competence, commitment, conviction and character. We studied many profiles in American leadership, and I would like to share a few with you.
Could you see any of our current elected officials at Valley Forge, Pa., during the American Revolution, encouraging a ragtag Army to hang on as George Washington did? Do we even teach our kids about “The Swamp Fox” Francis Marion and his exploits during that war?
How often do we study why Francis Scott Key wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner” because of the courage of the men at Fort McHenry, Md., who kept our flag flying despite the constant British naval barrage? Or what of the courage of those men who stood stalwart under the command of Gen. Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans?
Do we know why Confederate Gen. Thomas Jackson received his nickname “Stonewall” at the First Battle of Bull Run (or Manassas, depending upon which side people fought)? And who was that single figure at Little Round Top, a professor of rhetoric who gave an order that saved Day 2 at Gettysburg, Pa.? (In case you missed it in history class, the answer is Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.)
How many Americans remember that when Germans surrounded the entire 101st Airborne Division in December 1944 in Bastogne, Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe responded to the call for surrender with one word: “NUTS!”?
Consider the Battle of Guadalcanal when, between August 1942 and February 1943, U.S. Marines looked out and saw that their naval support had departed. Did those Marines quit? No, just remember the young lieutenant colonel named Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller who inspired his Marines and the resolve of Sgt. John Basilone.
I served in Korea in 1995, and those were some of the coldest winters I have ever encountered. But that cold pales in comparison to the extreme conditions at Chosin Reservoir in November-December 1950, when the Chinese Army surrounded our forces. Did the American leaders surrender or complain? No, they vowed to attack in any direction.
The first full encounter between U.S. military forces and the North Vietnamese Army came in the La Drang Valley. Lt. Col. Hal Moore withstood odds of one American to every five Vietnamese and defeated the enemy – exploits of the 1st Cavalry Division’s 7th Cavalry Regiment made famous in the book and movie “We Were Soldiers Once and Young.”
In Mogadishu, Somalia, two brave Delta Force snipers landed to protect one downed and injured U.S. Army pilot. Master Sgt. Gary Gordon and Sgt. First Class Randy Shughart exemplified the highest standards of courage – an 18-hour battle to ensure no man was left behind. And last year, we saw former U.S. Navy SEALS disobeying orders to save and protect Americans at a consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Leaders lead in adversity, too
See, leaders lead, and they do so when the goings are tough. As a matter of fact, they thrive in adverse situations. Has America forgotten leadership – men who challenged us to go to the moon or told an evil empire to tear down that wall?
We need to share profiles in American leadership to inspire the next generation because I fear that our schools shall not, and the current crop of individuals in positions of leadership are nothing more than imposters.
Steadfast and Loyal,
Allen B. West