Greg Abbott’s announcement yesterday, that he would direct the Texas State Guard to monitor Operation Jade Helm this summer, has been widely derided as political pandering, stoking paranoia, wasting state resources, and making Texas look silly. Way harsh, guys. A little harsh, at least.
First things first. There is no evidence that the forthcoming military exercise known as Operation Jade Helm 15 is part of a sinister plot to impose martial law on the United States–and although I’m not a huge fan of the president, I’d like to think that if Barack Obama was colluding with the Pentagon on such a scheme they’d be more skillful about camouflaging it. So the more lurid conspiracy theories swirling around about the exercise are just that.
At the same time, let’s be fair to our friends on the fringe here. This isn’t the same as Judicial Watch making up a story about an ISIS training camp in Juarez. Jade Helm, as planned, is an interstate exercise in which Green Berets and Navy SEALs are going to practice “emerging concepts in special operations warfare” in environments selected because they offer a reasonably realistic approximation of conditions the military would anticipate encountering in hostile territory abroad. It makes sense for the military to stage such training exercises, and this isn’t the first time they’ve done so–personally, I think it’s pretty cool. But when that’s the official explanation for an operation seemingly named after a Bond girl the Army should probably expect some questions from concerned citizens.
Based on the Statesman’s account of the Bastrop County Commissioner’s meeting Monday, it sounds like the Army officer on hand, LTC Mark Lastoria, did a good job of explaining the purpose of the operation and how local residents specifically might be affected. Less clear, at least to me, is whether the community as a whole was being unduly conspiratorial, as opposed to reasonably curious. Several of the 150 attendees, according to the Statesman, had tinfoil-hat type questions about whether the Army is trying to confiscate people’s guns and so on. Others may just have been wondering whether to make note of any planned amphibious landings at Lost Pines, or trying to assess the risk of cross-fire at Buc-ees.
The latter type of concern is not deranged, especially coming from civilians who may have had little personal experience with the military or military personnel. And Abbott’s announcement is apparently in response to such concerns, rather than those being fueled by the right-wing fear machine. His letter to the commander of the Texas State Guard casts their role as mostly a matter of public relations; to paraphrase, Abbott notes that US Special Operations Command has already assured the state that there will be no risks to the safety of residents, or their rights, but he wants the Texas State Guard to keep an eye on the situation, just in case. (This is why, somewhat perversely, the letter has only agitated the most serious conspiracy theorists, who suspect that Abbott, already complicit in the plot against freedom, is trying to pull the wool further over everyone’s eyes.)
Activating the Texas State Guard in such a situation would entail some costs to the state (from current appropriations) and I wouldn’t call it the best use of state resources. Other than that, though, I don’t really see the harm. If the presence of state troops is in itself unduly menacing, the same could be said of the Navy SEALs. If national observers see the announcement as overtly contentious, I suppose that’s their prerogative, but maybe they can take comfort in the fact that Texas’s new governor thinks state government has a role to play in providing government oversight. And either way, there’s a silver lining: this simulation is off to a great start!