Digesting A Mean-Spirited Attack On SECNAV Travel :

by admin on November 18, 2014

131220-D-BW835-116Can rational DC people squelch those folks who traffic in “gotcha” stories?

Today’s AP story on Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus‘ travel habits–written by AP reporter Lolita C. Baldor–is just an outright smear-job. Shame on Secretary of the Army John McHugh and the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments’ Bryan Clark (color me shocked Bryan got involved in this story!) for playing along. Both those guys know better, and if they had any guts, they should have told Lolita exactly where to stick this story and sent her packing.

The story Lolita was chasing doesn’t help the nation. It didn’t help the Navy. Or the DoD. And, until somebody draws the line and says, “no more….and, by the way, you’re a @#!! idiot and here’s why”, reporters aren’t going to change. The only way to cure this is by a good public shaming of those who traffic in this sordid baloney and then ripping up that person’s press card. And then making sure they get sent to cover the winter happenings in Thule, Greenland. Then, maybe, folks will get the message.

web_131219-N-PM781-001Inspector General Leaks Are Dirty Career Killers:

Look, don’t get me wrong. I like the Department of the Inspector General. Under the right leadership, the Inspector General is instrumental in discovering wrong-doing, and digging through departmental problems. But, in the wrong hands, Inspector General investigators serve as career-ending judges, juries and executioners in a “guilty-until-proven-innocent” atmosphere.

Anyway…Throw in angry or politically-motivated investigators (who, like good prosecutors everywhere, always know their target is guilty!), administrators with grudges or the general high-schoolishism of the Washington Hand-Wringing Cocktail Party set, and America gets nothing but a bunch of good people tarnished with a front-page non “scoop” about a juicy scandal (that really didn’t get proven) but…hey, that’s never stopped a tabloid reporter, right?

So, in the end, to sell a few newspapers and banner ads, America sees good people tarnished, a good investigatory agency diminished, and waaaay too many DC people scheming as to how to use spurious “complaints” to harass (or end) rivals.

And what sucks is that everybody in DC knows this. And yet…nobody in DC dares to say anything.

Focus On Foolishness:090602-N-5549O-038

It’s just wrong when investigations that show no wrongdoing get equal coverage as those that show real evidence of a problem. That’s the case with the current “non-scandal scandal” over SECNAV Mabus’ travel. From the AP:

The Navy secretary has spent more than a full year of his five-year tenure on overseas travel, racking up more than 930,000 miles on trips that cost more than $4.7 million. Ray Mabus, the former Mississippi governor, has taken at least 40 trips outside the U.S as of July 2014, meeting officials and visiting sailors and Marines in more than 100 countries — travel he said is critical to his job in furthering U.S. and Navy interests abroad.

The inspector general investigated after receiving a complaint about his travel and cleared him of any wrongdoing, Mabus said, but his 373 days on the road contrast with those of Army Secretary John McHugh, who took fewer than half the trips at less than half the cost over the same time period.

I guarantee you that this story got more eyeballs than Stripes’ seriously serious story on a furious IG for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

McHugh and Clark should have shut this errant AP reporter down. Colorfully.

C-17 McMurdoDamn The Context!

First, this $4.7 million dollar travel expense is something that was expected by everybody who approved Ray Mabus’ appointment. SECNAV Mabus is a former ambassador, and he came into office when–guess what–there was this “1000-ship Navy” thing was still…a..thing.

Also–and it’s just a habit–Service Secretaries are always going to go to what they know, and, at the time, Mabus, as an ex-diplomat, was a perfect fit. And, for the diplomacy-heavy “forward-deployed” Navy, he still is. (Ok, and for all you red meat political partisans out there….who’d you rather have out “preparing the ground” for the future–SECNAV Mabus or Secretary of State John Kerry?)

Holding the SECNAV’s travel up against the Secretary of the Army makes for an interesting canard. SECNAV Mabus (D) was appointed six months before McHugh (R). I’m being presumptuous and unmannerly, but I’d say that a Army Secretary who has only traveled to an active Army war zone…four times in five years (!!) needs to get out there more, but, again, service secretaries go with what they know, and McHugh, to his credit, is a former Congressman (Contrast McHugh’s record with SECNAV/SECDEF James Forrestal–who was in the South Pacific in ’42, at Kwajalein in ’44 and landed on Iwo Jima on day freakin’ five). Maybe McHugh thinks he can do more for his service in DC, where he knows the ropes.

If AP’s Lolita was really good, the report should have been an inquiry into why the Secretary of the Army is so darn sedentary when his war-engaged Service is going over the cliff and being tossed under bus all at the same time. That would, at least, cadjole Washington into a wider discussion of larger DoD policy issues like the direction/future of the U.S. Army.

But documenting “exotic” travel was easier, I guess.

Bjoenvedt-300x174And On Exotic Svalbard:

I love the juicy little “exotic” tidbits the AP reporter includes for the reader’s benefit. Take the SECNAV’s “snowmobile safari” on Svalbard. For the average reader in Dubuque Iowa, Svalbard means nothing but fun in the snow.

But…to any competent Defense reporter, Svalbard happens to be Ground Zero of Arctic intrigue. A frozen Vienna. Look–an agent of the Chinese Government is buying a nice big part of Svalbard to serve as his nation’s Arctic foothold!

And remember those NASA satellites that China hacked a few years ago?  They did it from Svalbard!

Oh, and then there’s this issue of Norway denying China their request to build a nifty sensor array….in Svalbard! Here’s more:

“The goal of the installation is to conduct research on the upper reaches of the atmosphere, but the technology also has other uses,” Anne Kristin Hjukse of Norway’s education ministry told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “After an overall evaluation, we don’t want such an antenna on Svalbard.”

Hjukse wouldn’t elaborate on what was behind the “overall evaluation” or on the other possible uses of what Chinese authorities were keen to build at their own expense.

I’d say that high level of Chinese interest merits a quick fact-checking safari, and…if that safari helped Norway stand up (at great cost!) to China, then…it’s a safari well spent (Had China built their sensor, I’m fairly certain it’d have cost the U.S. far more than $5 Million dollars in threat-reduction).

But then again, maybe Lolita C. Baldor was on a Chinese mission of her own. Or something. But I do hear the boys in Beijing pay reporters pretty well…

BfRsX7DCAAEdPdIAnd Then There’s Boca:

And if the Arctic adventure didn’t sufficiently resonate, Lolita included a tropical island gambit, noting SECNAV visited “Kiribati, Sao Tome, Palau, Micronesia and Tonga…” Again, this is outrage-bait for folks whose knowledge of the Pacific comes solely from a Hawaii honeymoon and Magnum PI re-runs.

But…Maybe it’s news for an esteemed AP Defense Reporter like Lolita C. Baldor, but it just so happens that Kiribati, Palau, Micronesia and Tonga are all something of a Ground Zero for Pacific intrigue. Kind of a sun-splashed Vienna. But these are all strategically important islands, that are all–unsurprisingly–enjoying a lot of attention from China. I’ve written about one of SECNAV’s visits out there before:

This Thursday’s visit to the Republic of the Marshall Islands by the SECNAV is primarily focused on an interesting renewable energy proposal for Kwajalein and the U.S. Army facility there. However, during a side-trip to Majuro, the SECNAV will visit the local Sea Patrol Surveillance Headquarters and get a better sense of the old-school maritime challenges facing the Marshalls–particularly as their 60-person Maritime Authority/Navy struggles to maintain control over a sprawling 2.1 million square mile EEZ.

Put bluntly, the SECNAV wasn’t visiting these islands for the surfing.

800px-thumbnailAnd Who Needs A Legacy, Anyway?

And then there’s that final dig, “Lined up along his Pentagon windows are six large glass jars filled with sand he’s collected from World War II battlefields he’s visited.” Oy. How snide can a reporter get?

Maybe esteemed AP Defense reporters don’t understand history, and this will be news to ’em, but, guys, America doesn’t do enough–at least in the Pacific–tending of this country’s World War II legacy. At least SECNAV Mabus is trying (oh, hey, but that’d be too hard a story to, uh, you know, write up).

America’s good work in World War II–at least in the Pacific–hasn’t been remembered, and this largely positive legacy risks being forgotten. Which, as I’ve written before, is a strategic mistake. And SECNAV Mabus is about the only guy in the U.S. Government who is, at least, thinking about that issue.

But I guess AP reporters don’t get it. And until good DC folk push back–and push back hard–this sort of silly story will keep pushing real journalism aside.

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