Lt. Col. Vindman is a tool
By Donald Sensing
I mean that Army Lt. Col. and National Security Council staffer Alexander Vindman is being used as a tool by House Democrats, not that he is trying to do so – although the evidence that he is trying is not absent, see below.
The impeachers are accusing Republicans of attacking Vindman’s service and patriotism. Funny thing is, I have not seen any such attacks, I have seen only Democrats’ accusations of them. But let’s humor them:
Pick the one, single officer whose patriotism is off limits to any possible criticism.
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman
Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn
Maj. Tulsi Gabbard
But back to Vindman. I have some pointed comments about him and his testimony yesterday to Congress. I will only offer my own bio as a founding for what I am writing here.
Today the AP reports, Colonel testifies he raised concerns about Ukraine, Trump. And in the first paragraph (my boldface):
WASHINGTON (AP) — Defying White House orders, an Army officer serving with President Donald Trump’s National Security Council testified to impeachment investigators Tuesday that he twice raised concerns over the administration’s push to have Ukraine investigate Democrats and Joe Biden.
That alone shatters his credibility with me. Officers do not get a choice of what orders they get to obey. The Supreme Court of the United States wrote in Parker v. Levy, 1974, “An army is not a deliberative body. It is an executive arm. Its law is that of obedience. No question can be left open as to the right of command in the officer, or the duty of obedience in the soldier.”
The armed forces’ Manual for Court Martial, the instruction of how to implement the statutes of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, states plainly, “the dictates of a person’s conscience, religion, or personal philosophy cannot justify or excuse the disobedience of an otherwise lawful order.”
The Manual also puts a soldier’s obligation to obey this way: “An order requiring the performance of a military duty or act may be inferred to be lawful and it is disobeyed at the peril of the subordinate.”
Yet Vindman disobeyed his order not to appear before Congress simply because he wanted to. His entire credibility is utterly shattered and his willful disobedience reveals him as a partisan hack in uniform.
This officer is being hailed as a hero because he placed country above Trump etc. etc. as required by his oath of commissioning in which swore to “protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” His advocates skip right over the part where he also swore, “I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter….”
I took the same oath of commissioning that Vindman took, and in my view he clearly violated it in doing what he did. The “duties of the office” absolutely include obedience to the orders of the President and officers within his chain of command, unless they are clearly and unarguably illegal. Difference of opinion does not count.
According to the AP report of his testimony, not once – not. one. time. – did he raise any Constitutional issue with the phone call or ever claim – again: not. one. time. – that Trump’s conversation ever constituted an illegal order to him that he had no choice but to refuse.
All of Vindman’s dissent with the content of the phone call is over policy.
“I was concerned by the call,” Vindman said, according to prepared remarks obtained by The Associated Press. “I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine.”
He has no authority as a military officer or as an NSC staffer to assess whether a policy position of the president is “proper.” He has absolutely zero authority to oppose a president’s position regarding US support of Ukraine or any other nation. Foreign policy belongs solely within the White House as advised by the State Dept. The NSC has no charter – and therefore neither does Vindman – for original formulation of US foreign policy.
Vindman, or any other military officer, is completely free to disagree privately with administration policy or the orders he is given, I encountered that myself many times in my military career. But that means exactly bupkus. The “duties of the office” remain unchanged: to execute directives and orders and to carry out policy to the best of an officer’s ability.
He [Vindman] wrote, “I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma, it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained. This would all undermine U.S. national security.”
That is of course pure speculation. And even if entirely correct, it is irrelevant to the discharge of his duties. Let me emphasize again: Lieutenant-colonels do not set policy and absolutely have no business even considering “partisan politics” in the performance of their duties. That is literally not his problem.
BTW, I can read his ribbons, too, and this is by no means a “highly decorated” lieutenant colonel. He holds the Combat Infantry Badge, signifying that he served at least 30 days in a designated combat theater occupying an infantry personnel slot. Which one would expect since he is an infantry officer, but the CIB is awarded for being physically present in theater, not for seeing actual combat. That he also holds the Purple Heart (for IED wound in 2004, when he would have been a junior-grade officer) would indicate that he did see combat. He also was awarded the Ranger tab, which is not a decoration but an achievement (and a very difficult one, too). So his creds look good, but they are not exceptional for an infantry LTC.
The top two ribbons in his photo in the AP article are, viewer’s left to right, the Purple Heart and the Defense Meritorious Service Medal. In the second row are a single Army Meritorious Service Medal, then Army Commendation Medal. After that a series of “place” ribbons, denoting service in certain deployment areas of the world, but not linked to doing anything there but getting off the plane. Literally, if you show up you will get the ribbon. (I have some of them, too.)
But there is not one combat decoration there except the Purple Heart. The MSM is not very impressive, actually. I have three myself; they are normally awarded at the end of a tour as a “thanks for being here” award, sometimes though rarely for outstanding achievement. I am sort of curious why he has only one Army MSM; the single Defense MSM would come from service on a joint-service assignment. (I have a different joint-service ribbon.)
That said, dummies do not get assigned to either joint staffs or the NSC. So he is unquestionably a smart man, but IMO he definitely went outside his lane in his reaction to the phone call. And definitely in appearing before the committee.
Update: Here is Lt. Col. Vindman’s opening statement to the committee. IMO, it’s a nothing burger. And with the actual transcript of the call made poublic a month ago, what did Vindman tell Congress that they didn’t already know? Nuthin’.
Update: A retired officer who knows Vindman personally has some choice words.