If you haven’t already, take a few minutes to read The New York Times’ obituary for Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler, the Delta Force operator killed on Thursday during a raid on an ISIS prison. Seriously, go read it. Just be warned that it may break your heart a little. To say that Wheeler appears to have been an exemplar of American values and masculinity is to rather miss the mark.
There is probably no more manipulative question than to ask whether a war is worth the life of a given soldier. It’s a stupid way to judge things. It asks you to judge a macro event by a micro standard in a way that grossly stacks the deck in favor of the latter. It’s also usually dishonest in that it denies our soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen their agency. Surely, MSG Wheeler, a veteran of nearly 20 years, thought his fighting was worth the risk, and there are pesh merga forces and ISF prisoners alive — as well as ISIS fighters dead — in no small part because of his actions. Moreover, it’s abundantly clear that the Army is a huge part of what made Wheeler such a great guy.
But it is, regardless, infuriating to see heroism like this spent on a conflict so ill-defined and mismanaged as the current one against the Islamic State. The president seems bored by — and deeply resentful of — the matter and his greatest desire seems for it to go away. For its part, Congress cannot be bothered to explicitly vote their support for the mission … or even define it. And lest the rest of us get too self-satisfied, these are our representatives and our president, all of whom were democratically elected and could be unelected if we wanted. As it is, America seems content to throw some bombs, waste some money, and provide some occasional air support and transportation. It’s very nearly the worst sort of compromise: We accomplish little, feel bad about it, and get to look weak in the process.
If we’re going to be fighting the Islamic State — and I very much think we should — it requires a real commitment by the American people, expressed through both the executive and legislative branches of our government. If we’re just going to putter around like this, then let’s at least be honest about it, adjust accordingly, and brace for the consequences. Some good may well come of it, but I doubt it’ll match the bad.
MSG Wheeler didn’t die in vain, and no political decision can change that: He died in service to a great country while killing people in service to an evil one, people who were about to massacre some of our allies. But if we’re going to keep that nation great, we need to make better, clearer, stronger decisions about how we spend our blood and treasure abroad. We owe our veterans that much. We owe ourselves that much.