Column: Obama's conflicting statement to public should be rectified

President Barack Obama walks to the White House after arriving on the South Lawn, on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015, in Washington. Obama spent the day attending events in New York and New Jersey. (Evan Vucci/AP)

At a time when everyone holds the government under scrutiny for transparency, going back on your word isn’t warmly welcomed in the media. However, refusing to retract your claim will be openly criticized. After repeatedly maintaining the President Obama’s stance against sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq all through 2014, the government now reveals there are 3,300 troops stationed in Iraq helping local forces against radical groups while U.S. planes have been flying bombing and surveillance missions for over a year according to The Washington Post.

The death of Master Sgt. Joshua L. Wheeler is the first death since the troops had returned to Iraq last year under the guise of “train, advise and assist,” according to White House press secretary Josh Earnest. So, they were training, advising, and assisting the local Iraq troops in combat against extremists. No matter the words, nor the semantics between the statements made, ultimately, you have to call it for what it is. Our troops are in combat.

Government officials continue to defend their statements of the U.S. not partaking in combat in Iraq. According to the Pentagon’s press secretary, Peter Cook, the elite soldiers are there to provide transport and support for the Kurdish commandos. They are not actively partaking in the raids except under the extreme circumstance of a firefight where Sgt. Wheeler jumped in to help.

After the press releases went to lengths to avoid using the word “combat” to describe the situation, Cook may have slipped up categorizing Wheeler’s death as the “first combat casualty there since 2011,” according to The Washington Post.

The final word came from Col. Steve Warren, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad. When asked to describe the mission frankly, he states that they are in combat. According to The Washington Post, the video feed to reporters at the Pentagon had him describing the soldier’s current situation.

“That’s why we all carry guns. That’s why we all get combat patches when we leave here. That’s why we all receive imminent danger pay. So, of course it’s combat,” Warren stated.

According to Warren, there’s been an increased effort to make “rhetorical hay” out of words being used to describe the situation. Warren needs to understand that the American public only has words to hang on to. We are not trying to make rhetorical hay, nor are we actively warping the statements made to us. When a statement is made, then a year later we find out that the reality is much different than what we were told; it’s only appropriate to expect a level of indignation.

At this point, I believe it’s safe to say that the fact that our men and women being in combat in Iraq isn’t the topic to the most recent criticism. (not yet at least) At this point, I believe that we are simply looking for honesty and openness. Granted, it’s understandable to have a certain level of discretion with militaristic plans but to make a statement that is blatantly incongruous with the reality of the situation.

Even after the news broke and the media started asking questions, the hesitancy in full disclosure is more than apparent. Earnest told reporters of The Washington Post that, in his words, it would be hard to describe the situation in Iraq regarding our troops on a “reasonably sized bumper sticker.”

Earnest may have failed to understand that our criticism is not the lack of a new bumper sticker to display on cars as acts of patriotism or dissent. It’s not about the propaganda to help polarize the American public in order to raise morality and support. It’s about simply being aware. If he honestly thinks that “it is important for people to understand precisely exactly what our men and women are doing inside Iraq,” as he quoted to the reporters, then why not help the situation by telling the public precisely, exactly what is happening in Iraq?

It took a death of an officer for the public to be made aware of this. As citizens and inhabitants of this country, we have a right to know what international decisions our country is making, especially in controversial issues such as sending troops to parts of the world to be engaged in active combat.

These are men and women much like us that are laying their life on the line. A noble cause such as that deserves recognition and, in order to receive such recognition, the citizens of the country should be made aware of the sacrifices being made.


Jesseba Fernando is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at jesseba.fernando@uconn.edu.