Earlier today, I ran into my friend Pete Hegseth of Concerned Veterans for America at AFP’s Defending the Dream summit. I had missed his breakout session on government interference, but got a chance to discuss the panel’s topic with him shortly afterward. Pete, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and a voice for veterans since his return, spoke about both the application of the session topic to the VA scandal and the President’s lack of strategic vision in dealing with the threat from ISIS.
Pete started off discussing the experience veterans have had with “We’re from the government and we’re here to help.” Everyone wants to help veterans, but it has to be more than just writing bigger checks to the same failing bureaucracy. That lesson doesn’t end with veterans, either. “The VA provides a great crystallization of government-wide issues that we face,” Pete told me, “and the reflexive ways in which Washington throws dollars at problems and feeds bureaucracies that are good at feeding themselves.” I asked whether or not he’d briefed the summit on Sesame Street training, at which Pete laughed. “I don’t do outrage for the sake of outrage,” Pete replied, “but it’s indicative of the way the VA in many ways, as a bureaucracy, looks at veterans.”
With Pete’s background as a veteran of the war on terror, I asked him to respond to Barack Obama’s declaration that the White House had not yet formulated a strategy to deal with ISIS. “Rule number one,” Pete advised, “if you don’t have a strategy — probably not a good idea to tell the enemy that you don’t have one.” He said the time to formulate a response was in 2012, but that’s water under the bridge now. “The metamorphosis of Al-Qaeda in Iraq into ISIS has been happening for months and months,” Pete continued, “and yet [Obama] stands at a podium and says, ‘We don’t have a strategy to deal with ISIS. His Secretary of State, his Secretary of Defense, his chairman of the Joint Chiefs — I think they’re chomping at the bit to do something about this, because they understand the nature of this enemy.” Recalling George W. Bush’s self-description while President, Pete said, “I think we need a decider-in-chief right now.” When I brought up today’s Washington Post editorial on the incoherence and incompetence at the White House, Pete agreed. “He likes to talk about how he fosters a ‘team of rivals’ and this open conversation,” Pete noted. “What about when every single member of your Cabinet is singing the same tune about what needs to happen, and you’re still not willing to act?”
That’s a good question, and another one for which the White House doesn’t have an answer.