Incompetent leadership

Charles D. Brown is a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, who spent 26 years as a helicopter rescue and reconnaissance pilot and eventually as a coordinator of surveillance missions over Iraq’s “no-fly zones” in the 1990s; and a Democratic candidate for Congress in California’s 4th District

The true measure of leadership is performance—not rhetoric. No one knows better than our veterans, our military and the families who are anxiously awaiting the return of loved ones from Iraq.

The mistakes and half-truths are catching up with President Bush, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and the Republican Congress. Faulty intelligence, inadequate manpower, improper equipment, unrealistic planning, a cost of $250 billion and climbing, an overstressed military, corrupt reconstruction contracts for big campaign contributors, and the firing of high-level advisers that challenge U.S. policy in Iraq are just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a crisis of incompetence in Washington, and it is the most imminent threat to America’s national security today.

Having spent 26 years in the armed forces, I know our troops don’t have the luxury of making mistakes or questioning policymakers who’ve never experienced combat. Soldiers follow orders and deliver results knowing the stakes for failure could mean death for their buddies, innocent civilians or themselves.

As I learned in Vietnam, and my son is learning in Iraq, politicians don’t play by the same rules of accountability. Most politicians get the best deal of all—good pay and the opportunity to spin their failures as someone else’s fault without ever getting shot at or carrying a lifeless 19-year-old off the battlefield.

U.S. troops in Iraq have performed heroically: removing an oppressive dictator and giving the Iraqi people a real chance for self rule. Unfortunately, our success also has come at a tremendous cost to our military, their families, taxpayers and America’s credibility around the world—and it’s not over yet.

In the face of a growing insurgency, increasing violence between rival factions, and an American military that is more stressed than at any time since Vietnam, Republicans in Washington are asking us to “stay the course” in Iraq.

Why should we? Iraqis agree, Americans agree, and recently U.S. troops agreed that we need to change the course. We need a political solution in Iraq and a strategic redeployment of U.S. forces that will better enable us to win the global war on terror.

Securing America in an increasingly unstable world begins with competent, credible leadership at home—not more empty rhetoric. There’s an election in 2006, and the world will be watching.