Washington, D.C. -- My dear friend and fellow Marine Joe Foss -- a Medal of Honor recipient -- would ask me occasionally, "What were you thinking?" The question usually was prompted by my missed shot on a hunt or when he heard me make a confusing comment on radio or television. Given the recent revelations of bad behavior, incompetence, corruption, waste and fraud -- and a deluge of mystifying and misleading explanations -- the potentates of the press are asking the wrong questions. The American people need to ask our nation's leaders and the masters of the so-called mainstream media, "What were you thinking?"
A few recent examples:
The Secret Service scandal: On April 11, security cameras in Cartagena, Colombia, captured images of 11 Secret Service agents and at least 10 U.S. military personnel in the company of prostitutes. Set aside for a moment the lack of moral judgment by the participants or how an "advance team of experts" for the upcoming Summit of the Americas could be ignorant of security cameras. In the aftermath of this incident and an ongoing investigation, the president and likely GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney -- also a Secret Service protectee -- both have told reporters repeatedly that they still "have confidence" in Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan. "Why?" That ought to be the next question. But that isn't asked.
Perhaps the most unusual response to this event came from the lips of General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. At an April 16 news conference on the Middle East, the general was asked for his reaction to the caper in Cartagena. His answer was blatantly political: "We let the boss down, because nobody's talking about what went on in Colombia other than this incident." Let "the boss" down? What about potentially catastrophic security breaches, the incredible lack of judgment or even letting down the American people? But those questions aren't asked, either.
Hillary's high jink: On the evening of April 14, day one of the two-day, 33-nation summit, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton apparently decided to take the heat off the Secret Service by performing for the cameras herself. Her antics at Café Havana nightclub were reminiscent of government bureaucrats on a taxpayer-funded GSA boondoggle or a sorority gal at a frat party.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner dismissed the exhibition, saying: "I can confirm that she did indeed have a very good time and was just enjoying some of the nightlife in Cartagena... There's nothing to it." In a subsequent interview on CNN, Secretary Clinton laughed and said: "It was a lot of fun. We had a very good time just enjoying beautiful Cartagena."
Offending allies: At the conclusion of the Cartagena summit, during a joint news conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, President Obama was asked by a member of the Latin American press corps about future U.S. policy toward Cuba and the Malvinas. Apparently unwitting to the fact that April marks the 30th anniversary of the bloody fight to retake the Falkland Islands from Argentine invaders, our head of state replied, "In terms of the Maldives or the Falklands -- whatever your preferred term -- our position on this is that we are going to remain neutral."
This had to disappoint our British allies. President Reagan backed them in the two-month operation, during which they lost more than 250 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. Obama's statement also had to stun any student of geography, because the Maldives are an island chain south of India. There was no follow-up question for our Nobel laureate.
Afghanistan: The craziness in Cartagena did serve one purpose for the O-Team. It distracted attention from at least seven nearly simultaneous terror attacks April 15 in Kabul, Jalalabad, Gardez and Pul-e-Alam, the capital of Logar province. U.S. and NATO officials praised the effectiveness of Afghan National Security Forces for their "effective response" and noted that there were no American or NATO casualties. But Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the attacks were proof of an "intelligence failure for us and especially NATO."
Pentagon officials deny this charge, but acknowledge there was "very little 'chatter' in advance of the attack." Unfortunately, this admission confirms what nobody seems ready to admit: The fight in the shadows of the Hindu Kush is dogged by inadequate human intelligence. This crucial deficiency will exacerbate the danger to U.S. and NATO troops as they begin their withdrawal from Afghanistan this summer.
By the end of the week, even this story was eclipsed by the publication of 2-year old photos showing U.S. troops posing with the remains of dead suicide bombers. The reaction to these images by senior government officials, from the commander in chief on down, is to express "shock," apologize and promise "to hold those responsible accountable." But events this week indicate those "in charge" need to ask themselves, "What were we thinking?" And members of the so-called mainstream media ought to remind them all that leadership begins at the top.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the American Heroes book series and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty.