AN ODD CLOSE. As the Military and Progressives panel came to an end, a young man in uniform stood up to argue that the surge was working, and cutting down on Iraqi casualties. The moderator largely freaked out. When other members of the panel tried to answer his question, he demanded they “stand down.” He demanded the questioner give his name, the name of his commander, and the name of his unit. And then he closed the panel, no answer offered or allowed, and stalked off the stage,
Wes Clark took the mic and tried to explain what had just occurred: The argument appears to be that you’re not allowed to participate in politics while wearing a uniform, or at least that you shouldn’t, and that the questioner was engaging in a sort of moral blackmail, not to mention a violation of the rules, by doing so. Knowing fairly little about the army, I can’t speak to any of that. But it was an uncomfortable few moments, and seemed fairly contrary to the spirit of the panel to roar down the member of the military who tried to speak with a contrary voice.
The yKos program lists the panelists but doesn’t say who the moderator was. I’m going to see if I can find the rules about political speech for soldiers while in uniform; Paul Hackett, of all people, criticized Ehren Watada last year for calling Bush a liar while wearing military dress but that had more to do with insubordination towards a superior officer in violation of the UCMJ than simple political speech.
Needless to say, though, that the left in general and Wes Clark in particular would balk at someone using their Absolute Moral Authority to advance a political agenda is an irony too enormous to be absorbed in one take.
Update: Ironically, Kos himself wrote a post just last month arguing that vets should be allowed to wear their cammies to political events and naturally concluded by pronouncing anyone who disagreed “legitimately and objectively un-American.” Jeff Emanuel quoted him chapter and verse at Red State by way of an answer. The relevant DoD reg appears to be 1334.01, which provides in pertinent part:
3.1. The wearing of the uniform by members of the Armed Forces (including retired members and members of Reserve components) is prohibited under any of the following circumstances:…
3.1.2. During or in connection with furthering political activities, private employment or commercial interests, when an inference of official sponsorship for the activity or interest may be drawn.
3.1.3. Except when authorized by the approval authorities in subparagraph 4.1.1., when participating in activities such as unofficial public speeches, interviews, picket lines, marches, rallies or any public demonstration, which may imply Service sanction of the cause for which the demonstration or activity is conducted.
Even though it’s almost certainly not true, an inference of military sponsorship can be pretty clearly drawn from the fact that he’s asking a question that’s in line with current military policy. JD Johannes seems to think so too, as he e-mails to say that taking part in an inherently political event is a violation of the UCMJ. The counterargument, I guess, is that he wasn’t really engaging in “political” activity, just debating the facts about current military strategy, but I don’t know if that flies.
Update: Cribbing from Jeff Emanuel again, here’s Army Regulation 670-1 section 1-10(j). Klein doesn’t say which branch the guy belonged to but for the sake of argument:
j. Wearing Army uniforms is prohibited in the following situations:
(1) In connection with the furtherance of any political or commercial interests, or when engaged in off-duty civilian employment.
(2) When participating in public speeches, interviews, picket lines, marches, rallies, or public demonstrations, except as authorized by competent authority.
Update: CJ asks a good question: “I wonder how they would have treated Scott Beauchamp if he had shown up in uniform?”
Update: John Noonan from Op-For agrees the guy shouldn’t have been there in uniform but adds, “Love the Left’s logic though. You can speak out in uniform FROM theater if it fits their narrative (Beauchamp), but if a soldier challenges their assertions on Iraq, they turn into the freakin’ JAG corps.”
Update: LGF has the video. I can’t be sure but I think the moderator is Jon Soltz of VoteVets.