Op-Eds by Jim

Political Correctness Infects the Pentagon

July 10, 1994
by James Webb, The New York Times

In looking for someone to head the United States complex and dangerous military operations in the Pacific (including the Korean Peninsula) one could hardly have found an officer more qualified than Adm. Stanley R. Arthur – who until recently was indeed the nominee for the job. And in seeking an example of how far Pentagon leadership has fallen, and how the issue of sexual harassment has descended into ugly McCarthyism, one could hardly find a more telling case than Admiral Arthur’s sudden dispatch to early retirement.

Admiral Arthur is a hero of two wars – a pilot who earned an extraordinary 11 Distinguished Flying Crosses while flying more than 500 combat missions in Vietnam, then commanding the allied naval armada in the Persian Gulf. His Pentagon experience since is exemplary, too, including high level budget planning, nearly three years as chief of the Navy’s worldwide logistics system and two years as Vice Chief of Naval Operations.

After Admiral Arthur was nominated for the Pacific command, Senator David Durenberger of Minnesota indicated that he would term questions about the treatment of a constituent, a female officer who claimed the Navy treated her unfairly when she failed flight training after accusing an instructor of sexual harassment. Admiral Arthur’s only role in the case was that of final reviewing officer. He approved earlier findings that although the woman, Lieut. (j.g.) Rebecca Hansen, had been harassed (the Navy had already disciplined an instructor), she failed to quality as a pilot because of a poor flight record, both before and after the incident.

The inspectors general of the Navy and the Defense Department agreed with this finding. Navy Secretary John H. Dalton approved a recommendation that the Navy prepare to discharge her. Key senators told the Pentagon that Admiral Arthur would be approved for his new command but that because of Mr. Durenberger’s “hold” his confirmation might be delayed until fall.

Then on June 24, the Navy said in a terse statement that Admiral Arthur “agrees with Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Boorda” that his nomination should be withdrawn because an “anticipated delay in Senate confirmation” would not permit “a prompt relief” for Adm. Charles R. Larson, the current commander in the Pacific, who is scheduled to become Superintendent of the Naval Academy. Admiral Arthur is to be retired as soon as his job is filled.

The Navy’s explanation was disingenuous at best. Admiral Larson’s new assignment is not time-sensitive; in fact, it also awaits Senate action. It has been widely reported that Admiral Boorda is less concerned about a delay in Admiral Arthur’s confirmation than about becoming ensnared in another sexual harassment scandal. Even Senator Durenberger’s key staff assistant said he was “flabbergasted” by the decision to end Admiral Arthur’s 37year career in such a manner.

More important, this episode raises serious questions about Admiral Boorda’s fitness to be Chief of Naval Operations and demonstrates the Clinton Administration’s lack of regard for military leaders.

Admiral Boorda has gained a reputation for political expediency. In 1992, when he was Chief of Personnel, he summarily relieved one of the Navy’s brightest young admirals, Jack Snyder, after the initial revelations about the Tailhook scandal. Admiral Snyder, who had gone well beyond what was required in his efforts to assist the key female witness and urge an investigation, was not even allowed to defend his actions. This abandonment of a deserving officer in the face of political attack did not hurt Admiral Boorda’s chances for advancement – which may well have encouraged his shoddy treatment of Admiral Arthur.

After quashing Admiral Arthur’s career, Admiral Boorda disregarded Secretary Dalton’s recommendation to discharge Lieutenant Hansen and went to Great Lakes, Ill., to meet with her. She presented him with 10 demands, including that the Navy rewrite her fitness reports using words of her choosing, that they send her to law school at the Navy’s expense and then assign her to work as a lawyer handling women’s issues, and that the Secretary officially apologize to her. According to The New York Times, Admiral Boorda responded by offering her a job on his personal staff. (She did not accept it.)

Under any standard of leadership, Admiral Boorda’s conduct is seriously deficient on several grounds: disloyalty to deserving subordinates, faulty judgment and usurping the authority of the Secretary of the Navy.

Which leads us to the Clinton Administration’s handling of this event. Once his nomination went forward, Admiral Arthur was the President’s candidate, and it was not within Admiral Boorda’s jurisdiction to withdraw. In fact, since the Pacific command is “purple” – that is, commanding military units from all the services – Admiral Arthur was technically never Admiral Boorda’s candidate from the beginning. And yet after the withdrawal we heard no word from either the Secretary of the Navy or the President, and Defense Secretary William J. Perry merely said he had decided not to intervene.

On July 1 the Administration announced that Vice Adm. Richard Macke, a capable but far less experienced officer who had been slated to replace Admiral Arthur as Vice Chief of Naval operations, would be nominated instead to the Pacific command. Thus a three-star officer is to be placed in the Navy’s most senior and prestigious four-star bilk partly because his paperwork was already in the White House.
The casual way in which the Administration has dealt with command replacement for a theater where war could be imminent indicates either naiveté or arrogance when it comes to the importance of strong military leadership. And it is a grim omen for the future of the U.S. military when competent warriors are sent home by political admirals.