Warner’s Shame

The US recently and finally removed CDR Kirk Lippold’s name from the list of commanders to be promoted to captain despite near universal support for this promotion. Lippold was commanding officer, USS Cole, when it was attacked in Yemen harbor in 2000 by homicidal Muslim fascists. The attack killed 17 sailors and left the ship crippled. Despite the fact that Lippold is credited with saving Cole, Sen. John Warner (R-VA) has successfully concluded a four-year vendetta to have Lippold removed from the captains’ list. Shame on him and shame on the US Senate for putting up with this.

Lippold's leadership after psychotic Muslims blew a 40-foot hole in the side of Cole during a refueling stop in Aden, Yemen, on Oct. 12, 2000, was widely credited as critical to saving the Cole. Lippold also notes that everyone else above him in the chain of command that day has subsequently been promoted and/or given greater assignments. Lippold alone is shouldering the blame for the failure of the chain of command.

Lippold received the bad news from in August from ADM Mike Mullen, chief of naval operations. According to Mullen’s message, Navy Secretary Winter had determined “that Commander Lippold’s actions as the commanding officer of USS Cole prior to the attack on 12 October 2000 did not meet the high standard he expects of commanding officers” and thus Lippold was “not the best and fully qualified for promotion to the higher grade.” According to reports, Mullen agreed with Winter’s decision after the previous CNO had approved Lippold's promotion. (A side issue here is the increasing politicization of the Joint Chiefs, a development antithetical to winning wars).

Lippold, who has been based ashore at a staff job since being relieved in 2000, was understandably disappointed. After having gone public earlier this year in an attempt to gain confirmation for his promotion, after this development, he noted to reporters that it was especially disappointing after having been dragged through the death of a thousand cuts. No new information on the attack on Cole or on his performance as commanding officer had been introduced. It is Warner -- former Navy secretary in the vein of Gilbert and Sullivan -- who single-handedly sank the career of a man almost universally hailed as a hero after the attack. While the Navy did acknowledge a commanding officer’s absolute responsibility for his command, the Navy’s report notes that nothing Lippold could have done would have prevented the attack on Cole, especially since the Navy had failed to issue any warnings to Lippold or up to that time put into place any measures to guard against a suicide boat attack. As late as 2004, the secretary of defense, the chairman of the joint chiefs, and the chiefs of the other services had universally recommended Lippold for promotion.

Lippold was recommended for promotion in 2002. After making its routine way through the bureaucracy, Warner single-handedly killed it in his position as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. In fact, Warner threatened Lippold with public hearings on his promotion if the matter were not dropped. This is an unprecedented abuse of power and Warner should be both ashamed of it and publicly castigated for it.

It is time to ask Senator Warner what he is doing and why. And no proforma nonsense, please. Midterms are two months away.

Cut the crap, Senator.

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