If there is any phrase that can sum up Rep. Allen West (R-FL), it is ‘conduct unbecoming.’ He has gained fame by making outlandish and insulting comments and then chalking them up to being the quintessential ‘military man.' In reality, West is a man very much frozen in a moment in his life where he has lost control of himself and lost his military career as a result. Instead of dealing with that mistake, he has doubled down on it in his political career and become a hero to many because of it.
While serving as a Battalion Commander in Taji, Iraq in 2004, West lost control and performed a “mock execution” on an unarmed, detained Iraqi police officer in front of junior soldiers. No hard intelligence leading to anything of value came of the incident. West claimed he was protecting himself and his soldiers and the victim gave information about a planned IED attack. There were hundreds of thousands of soldiers in Iraq in 2004, myself included, led by hundreds of Battalion Commanders who also wanted to protect their soldiers. None of them resorted to mock executions to do so. Everyone there was under threat. West's conduct was unbecoming of an officer. When an Article 32 investigation found that West violated articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, he was relieved of command, and fined $5,000. He was allowed to retire with full benefits.
Since winning election to Congress, he has become a hero to the Tea Party right and recently suggested by some, including Sarah Palin, as a possible GOP pick for Mitt Romney’s vice president. Brazen, rash, and insulting conduct is a continuing pattern for West. He has frequently and personally attacked President Obama and called his supporters a ‘threat to the gene pool’, famously attacked fellow Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schulz, railed against practicing-Muslim Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) for being a threat to ‘American principles’, and yesterday accused many congressional Democrats of being ‘communists’. West often justifies his conduct by citing his military service and claiming, “That’s the way it’s done in the military.”
But it isn’t. In the military, when a leader has a dispute with peers, it can get rather ugly. But it is either handled publicly in a professional manner or privately in person and face-to-face. Things are certainly not sugarcoated and are often curt and to the point, but they are not dragged before the media or turned into a divisive whisper campaign that undermines unit or national cohesion. Everyone loses their control occasionally, but Allen West has an established pattern of conduct in which he frequently exhibits poor judgment or control of his behavior or actions. When questioned about it, he cites his time spent in the military, an institution which came to reject his conduct.
Allen West does not represent the quintessential ‘military man’. His conduct in Iraq and his frequent outbursts in Congress are not in keeping with military tradition. It often appears that West is a man who is at war with the progressive worldview, which he blames for ending his military career. In truth, it was his own poor judgment and loss of control that ended his career. Unfortunately, he continues to behave in the same rash manner as a Representative in Congress as he did in Iraq. It is rather telling of what sort of an institution we have in our Congress when behavior the military rejects will win notoriety or applause in our politics.