Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

April 18, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

THE GENERALS' REVOLT REVISITED....I want to revisit the question of whether there's a downside to the "Generals' Revolt" due to concerns that it serves to blur the principle of civilian control of the military. I'm hesitant to bring it up again since I don't think we seriously have anything to worry about on this score, but at the same time I do think there are some genuine issues here that we shouldn't sweep under the carpet just because we like the message we're hearing. In particular, there are two counterarguments I want to address.

First, Mark Kleiman suggests that this is a case of IOKIYAR. After all, where were the complaints when Colin Powell "led the active-duty brass in a thoroughly insubordinate, and completely successful, campaign to overturn Bill Clinton's executive order ending discrimination against gays in the military?"

That's a good question, but it's exactly the one that came to mind when I began writing about this last night. And here's another example: does everyone remember Clinton's complaints that whenever he asked for small scale military options he never got back anything that utilized less than two divisions? His suspicion was that the uniformed brass was frustrating his policy wishes by refusing to give him good advice. Put these two things together and there's evidence already that the military feels free to meddle in policy debates. I'm not sure they need yet another precedent to do so.

Second, both Atrios and Steven Taylor make the obvious point that the complaints are coming from retired generals. That's a fair point, but consider this from Lt. General Gregory Newbold, writing in Time magazine last week:

After 9/11, I was a witness and therefore a party to the actions that led us to the invasion of Iraq an unnecessary war....I now regret that I did not more openly challenge those who were determined to invade a country whose actions were peripheral to the real threat al-Qaeda.

....With the encouragement of some still in positions of military leadership, I offer a challenge to those still in uniform: a leader's responsibility is to give voice to those who can't or don't have the opportunity to speak.

Two things. First, Newbold isn't just complaining that Donald Rumsfeld ignored professional military advice. He's saying he thought this was an ill-conceived war and the uniformed military should have spoken out about it. Second, he's plainly claiming to speak for some active duty generals and he's encouraging them to go public.

There's really nothing to like about this. Whether the war was "unnecessary" or not, that's a political decision, not a military one. And if active duty generals follow his advice and start to speak out whenever they think the president is going to war unwisely, we're going to have a serious problem on our hands.

There's no question that military leaders should forcefully offer their best advice in private and should testify honestly in public on operational matters. When General Eric Shinseki gave his opinion that the invasion of Iraq required "several hundred thousand" troops, he was acting properly. That was a professional military opinion, and the way he was treated for expressing it was shameful. But that's quite a different thing from speaking out simply because you think a war is a bad idea on policy grounds.

As I said, I don't think this is that big a deal. I'm hardly concerned that we're entering Seven Days in May territory, and Stephen Bainbridge and Steve Clemons, in different ways, both make the reasonable point that feedback from retired generals is really the only feasible way to keep the civilian leadership accountable given the military's rigid chain of command. And Lord knows Rumsfeld deserves all the flak he's getting and then some.

Still, there is another side to this story, and it's not a completely nonsensical one. It's worth airing, even if only to keep our bearings straight.

Kevin Drum 2:31 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (83)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

It's not really clear what the General means in the quote, but I would be surprised if he meant that serving officers should go public when they disagree on policy decisions.

Posted by: Dick Durata on April 18, 2006 at 2:54 AM | PERMALINK

After busco has fucked up everything that this country USED to stand for, this is just gravy.

Posted by: jay boilswater on April 18, 2006 at 3:05 AM | PERMALINK

It's not really clear what the General means in the quote, but I would be surprised if he meant that serving officers should go public when they disagree on policy decisions.

Bush and Cheney dragged this country into a completely unnecessary war. Then, with the help of Don Rumsfeld, they proceeded to botch the job. And they are currently attempting to hide their mistake by making Iran their "legacy".

Now, retired generals are correctly pointing out that the war was stupid in the first place and that the post-invasion was criminally bungled by the civilians in the WH and the Pentagon. And they appear to be trying to head off a nuclear confrontation in the region.

As always, there is a push-back the same folks who only know how to do one thing well: spin. Which is why we are treated to this cooked-up debate about civilian vs. military leadership of the military.

Needless to say, Kevin Drum can be counted on to reliably find some way to legitimize the "other side of the story", even if it requires contorting people's quotes and viewing all facts in the light least favorable to the sane and the credible.

The funny thing is that since Drum agrees that we aren't entering Seven Days in May territory, maybe he should stop blogging about it and keep his eye on the ball. We are entering 1984 territory.

Posted by: space on April 18, 2006 at 3:14 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, did you read my post yesterday, where I reminisced about Colin Powell and his refusal to go into Bosnia? Sounds like you did!

Maybe you should take a look at David Halberstam's War in a Time of Peace for more on the role of the military in advising the civilian leadership.

Posted by: KathyF on April 18, 2006 at 3:24 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, you are correct but not particularly relevant.

If the public feels that the military is the only institution with any credibility left, then you are going to find that the military is going to end up in charge.

For whatever it's worth, I too don't think we are anywhere close to that stage. But as a country we need to have more options than the "military option".

If we are at war constantly, at the very least, you are going to find generals being elected president regularly.

Posted by: ppk on April 18, 2006 at 3:30 AM | PERMALINK

Space wrote: The funny thing is that since Drum agrees that we aren't entering Seven Days in May territory, maybe he should stop blogging about it and keep his eye on the ball. We are entering 1984 territory.
No need to be so snarky about it. Kevin's reason for airing the subject is valid. The question is "worth airing, even if only to keep our bearings straight".

But that said, I'm not sure I agree with Kevin's assertion that "And if active duty generals follow his advice and start to speak out whenever they think the president is going to war unwisely, we're going to have a serious problem on our hands."

Speaking out is one thing, active insubordination is another and I'm not sure they should be equated. Is it insubordinate to criticize one's orders if one nonetheless procedes to follow the orders? I'm not asking this as a rhetorical question. Can someone with military experience speak to this?

Posted by: Conjoman on April 18, 2006 at 3:34 AM | PERMALINK

The issue spotlights a larger problem than simply Rumsfeld: the divide between sycophantic careerists in the Pentagon and field commanders. This point is nicely outlined in this TPMCafe post by Steve Clemmons.

Posted by: bubba on April 18, 2006 at 3:59 AM | PERMALINK

So long as the military are actively seeking to avoid unnecessary wars, we are on solid ground. It is only when idiots enamored of their military experience want to go and fight without cause that we have to be worried. Okay, that may be a simplification, but it is certainly a good place to start.

Posted by: heavy on April 18, 2006 at 4:08 AM | PERMALINK

The military, and most especially General officers, should express their opinions, whether it be about policy, strategy or tactics--which are parts of a continuum, and not well defined by bright lines. Those officers have a wealth of experience and a broad spectrum of knowledge. We should endeavor to make the best possible use of that knowledge and experience. "Shut up and soldier" is not an answer.

Moreover, those views should not be confused with willingness to carry out lawful commands from the CIC, or an attempt to subvert or bypass authority (i.e., insubordination). If their views are so strongly held that they cannot in good faith carry out those orders, then they should resign. If they feel their views have not been considered, or that the prevailing views are based on facts that are incorrect, then something is probably broken and needs to be fixed--especially if that is a widespread perception.

The only question is the appropriate times and forums in which to express those views. Arguably, we've done a piss-poor job of answering that question. The debate tends towards the extremes: shut-up and obey, unity of command, chain of command etc. one end; and chaos and Seven Days in May, at the other end. Neither is particularly useful.

That said, the military at the General officer ranks is politicized, and those officers need to cultivate support (or protection) in Congress, especially with the likes of Cheney and Rumsfeld running loose. By the same token Congress needs to do a better job of soliciting the military's honest opinion, and protecting the military from retaliation when that honest opinion is given.

The Shinseki debacle is a perfect example of everything that's wrong, and where the fixes need to be applied. Shinseki, regardless of his view about the number of troops required, would undoubtedly have done his best when given his marching orders. (However, we'll never know.) Rumsfeld's subsequent treatment of Shinseki was shameful, but Congress's unwillingness stand up to Rumsfeld was even more shameful. No organization will remain professional and capable when subjected to that kind of treatment.

Posted by: has407 on April 18, 2006 at 4:16 AM | PERMALINK

Well even libtards like KEvin are right 2x a day like a broken clock! You see libtards, even Kevin understands that we can't afford a military junta, that you sure would want civilian control of the military if Hildabeast wins in '08. I mean Hitlery, Hildajoke, yuck yuck.

Posted by: Donkey_Courage on April 18, 2006 at 4:38 AM | PERMALINK

Hey, if its cool for Retired Generals to undermine the next Democrat administration as well as this one - I guess its fair.

Although this would mean that your foreign policy gets permanently stuck on war.

Posted by: McA on April 18, 2006 at 5:39 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, there aren't too many times when I flat out say "I think you're wrong" but this time is one of them, perhaps not your conclusion but definitely how you got there. There are two major points that have been overlooked and serve to place things better in context.

First, reconsider Newbold's quote:
"After 9/11, I was a witness and therefore a party to the actions that led us to the invasion of Iraq an unnecessary war....I now regret that I did not more openly challenge those who were determined to invade a country whose actions were peripheral to the real threat al-Qaeda.
....With the encouragement of some still in positions of military leadership, I offer a challenge to those still in uniform: a leader's responsibility is to give voice to those who can't or don't have the opportunity to speak."
I don't read this as urging current generals to speak out in public forums such as he is doing now. Rather, he is recalling his regret at not speaking out "more openly" and my reading of that is "within the chain of command."

I concede that the word "public" certainly suggests a truly public forum. However, Newbold's comments must be taken in a broader context, in particular in the context of some criticisms of those comments. Rumsfeld's defenders have contended that Newbold did not voice his concerns at that time. My suspicion is that, in fact, he did but then did not follow up aggressively once the course of action was clear. In that context, his current statement is perhaps better interpreted as "be more forceful than I was in expressing your reservations." I think that advice is to operate within the system while your view is that it takes place outside the system. In my view, that's a critical distinction, although one not clear in Newbold's comments per se.

Second, it is important to note the timing of the generals' comments. The question we should be asking is why now rather than say six months ago or even six months from now? Gross blunders were made on Rumsfeld's watch and many would like to see him publically drawn and quartered - or at least humiliated. However, it's not clear that the generals share that view, and at a minimum I would suspect that they are forward looking rather than backward looking.

I have no inside information and can only speculate based on the timeline. If the generals' comments are forward looking, however, Hersh's article on planning for a strike on Iran suggests that those "in the loop" are concerned that we will soon see a replay of "shock and awe" in Iran with potentially far more disasterous results than we have had to date in Iraq. Thus, the generals' current comments would be viewed as going on record to stiffen the spines of those in the military who currently have reservations about such a course of action.

Posted by: Rich S on April 18, 2006 at 6:14 AM | PERMALINK

Please, Kevin, if GENERALS are saying a war is a bad idea, then they should by all means be insubordinate, if that's what you want to call it, preferably before a war is launched. This is so common-sensical that any other argument or factor becomes irrelevant. This country is in a crisis like no time since the Civil War, and we need all the voices we can get to avert the next goddamned illicit and idiotic war. And that's what this is all about. Stop nitpicking the peripherals.

Posted by: Jones on April 18, 2006 at 6:21 AM | PERMALINK

I see Kevin is still busy rearranging the deck chairs. And this site still manages to find a good supply a blithering trolls.

Kevin, in considering the generals' actions, shouldn't we keep in mind the fact that Bush & co. _lied_ to the American to start a war? That they violated international law to do so, and have, in addition to these offenses, ratcheted up torture, illegal spying and God knows what other illegal activities?

There's little point in a Democrat saying that Generals should respect a Republican president, even if that Republican president is horribly wrong, in some kind of feeble hope that the Republicans will return the politeness. It's been a very long time since the Republicans have been institutionally polite (I'm thinking it goes back to the passing of the torch from Ike to Nixon), and, quite frankly, they don't deserve it any more.

You haven't really articulated why it's wrong for military leaders to voice their opinion about the idiocy of military ideas advanced by civilian overlords. Are our military leaders going to be considered experts or drones?

Equating the "gays in the military" brouhaha with the invasion of a country that has cost tens of thousands of lives seems like a real lack of intellectual seriousness.

Posted by: RickD on April 18, 2006 at 6:39 AM | PERMALINK

1. I believe that Gen. Shinseki's "opinion" on the number of troops required in Iraq was actually based on very thorough studies and plans conducted by the pentagon and the state department.
2. Since our civilian leadership has proven itself to be so inept and fallible when it comes to either preventing wars or starting unnecessary wars, what more trouble is it going to cause if the military goes public with its warnings about the consequences of a screwed up policy? What good does it do us if we adopt a Powell Doctrine and then ignore the military's advice? Why should the military keep quiet when the civilians lie about what the military is telling them (re: number of troops needed on the ground)?
3. There was one retired general that should have resigned in the most public and forceful way to torpedo the buildup to the war in Iraq -- Colin Powell.
4. The majority of our representatives and senators are also witnesses and collaborators in this great screwup in public policy.
5. The democratic system is broken. There are no checks on the fallibility of our elected officials.

Posted by: lou on April 18, 2006 at 6:46 AM | PERMALINK

"we like the message we're hearing"

Are we so sure that, just because CNN potrays this as a problem for Secretary Rumsfeld, that we like what we're hearing? I thought several of the Generals were calling for an escalation.

The part of this that I would like to see emphasised is the part where, after a briliant blitzkrieg taking of Baghdad, we had the civilians drop the ball (despite millions spent by the State Department on after conflict planning). First Mr. Gardner (if that wa his name, you hardly hear it spoken anymore) was frustrated in his attemps, then we get L. Paul "Jerry" Bremmer, winner of the Medal of Freedom, postpone elections of the flimsiest of grounds, bind future Iraqi governments to rules made from whole cloth like the weakinging of trades unions, and indemnity for US contractors (who might not fall onder the Uniform Code of Military Conduct either), then he dimisses the entire Iraqi army and civil service, while we condone rampant looting ('see, they're free!' -Rumsfeld).

In other words, now that Genreral officers who have a legitimate duty to remain silent, have had enough, how can we not get some civilians, whoose job it is to speak up, to do so?

Posted by: jhm on April 18, 2006 at 7:32 AM | PERMALINK

"And if active duty generals follow his advice and start to speak out whenever they think the president is going to war unwisely, we're going to have a serious problem on our hands."

There are "unecessary" wars and there are "unwise" wars, but Iraq is a criminal, bogus, evil war. There comes a time when honest Army and Marine generals have an obligation to speak out.

Posted by: Hedley Lamarr on April 18, 2006 at 8:13 AM | PERMALINK

"if active duty generals follow his advice and start to speak out whenever they think the president is going to war unwisely, we're going to have a serious problem on our hands."

Well, only when we go to war unwisely. Which is, itself, a serious problem -- particularly if done repeatedly.

Posted by: twc on April 18, 2006 at 8:21 AM | PERMALINK

This is all a little silly. We live in a military-industrial-prison state that is only in the loosest terms 'democratic'. The military is the largest investment we've made, our biggest 'asset' if you will. Expecting the managers of this asset to stay silent is nuts.

This is not Miss Pembernathy's elementary school class, deciding on what form of student government to adopt. The form of government we get will be the form we choose over many decades, and over many decades Americans have chosen to be militarists. Look at the Democratic version of what this years budget should be, and you'll see what I mean.

It's like the nuclear power debate where two-thirds of the commenters start by demanding that any solution provide for the infinite expansion of the American Way of Life.

For 200 years Americans were very lucky. We stole a continent, were protected by two oceans, and finished WW II controlling the world economy. Our system of government seemed to work pretty well because it really didn't need to work at all.

Well- everything's different now.

Posted by: serial catowner on April 18, 2006 at 8:31 AM | PERMALINK

"When General Eric Shinseki gave his opinion that the invasion of Iraq required "several hundred thousand" troops, he was acting properly. That was a professional military opinion, and the way he was treated for expressing it was shameful. But that's quite a different thing from speaking out simply because you think a war is a bad idea on policy grounds."

I don't think that they are speaking out mainly, or only, because they think the (Iraq) war was a bad idea on policy grounds. In fact, some of them don't. Some of them expressly still support the war, although Newbold and Zinni clearly do not. They are speaking out because they believe it has been badly, even disastrously, mismanaged. And they're in a position to know. We can give their opinions whatever weight we think they deserve, but we should not declare that they cannot voice them.
As for speaking on behalf of those still on active duty, I am confident that Newbold was suggesting that those still serving should resign and then speak out, if they choose, and not urging them to publicly criticize while still serving (I believe that would be a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and of the ethic of professional soldiers).
At any rate, provoking this entire discussion of "do they have the right to say this?" is a Rovian tactic to sidetrack the conversation from "are they right and what should we do about it?"

Posted by: twc on April 18, 2006 at 8:38 AM | PERMALINK


KEVIN DRUM: ..if active duty generals follow his advice and start to speak out whenever they think the president is going to war unwisely, we're going to have a serious problem on our hands.

You torture words, stretch connections and reach for meaning where there is none. "We're going to have a serious problem on our hands," you tell us. But you fail to tell us what that problem is. You get this far and then you stop dead. Dead as your purpose, since you tell us it's not "that big a deal."

How can it be any deal at all if you can't even tell us what serious problem we would face if active duty generals started speaking out when they thought the president was going to war unwisely? There is no deal, and you know it. Please do share with us your worst visions of the president wisely leading us to a war which active duty generals might speak out against. Give us one example. If Chavez amassed a million man army which marched across Mexico, overtaking it and threatening to invade Texas, would generals speak out against the president going to war against Venezuela? If Kim Jong-il dropped bombs over Britain and fired missiles at France, would generals speak out against the president going to war against North Korea?

It is nonsensical to propose the notion that the U.S. might ever be attacked, or that any of its allies with whom it has defense pacts might be attacked, and that following such an attack there would arise among active duty generals a call to ignore the president's intent to defend against and counter-attack the aggressor nations.

If you don't like my hypotheticals, suggest your own. Better yet, tell us about the serious problems we'd have had on our hands had active duty generals spoken out to say that the president was unwisely going to war during any of the wars our presidents have taken us to. Korea? Vietnam? Grenada? Iraq I? Iraq II?

Your "serious problem" postulation is a fantasy. Generals stand still for unwise wars all the time, mostly itching to fight them. It takes an illegal, immoral, insane call for war to even raise the issue of speaking out against it by active duty generals. And it takes an insulated, inconstant, immaterial pseudo-intellectual to see problems he doesn't define and to vigorously defend positions he doesn't cherish.


Posted by: jayarbee on April 18, 2006 at 8:38 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

Your analysis is missing a key point. These are not military personnel giving feedback about broad policy, these are military personnel giving feedback about military options they civilian leadership asked them to carry out.

If retired generals began spout off about the need to bring military options to bear on the problem of global warming, or the urgent need to militarize port security, or some other such unsolicited issue, then we would have a problem. But it was the civilian leadership who chose the military option, and the feedback is coming back in the context of whether the military was given the necessary resources to carry out a civilian-requested action.

Posted by: moderleft on April 18, 2006 at 8:50 AM | PERMALINK

What I'm afraid of is the trend of advancing politiicizaton - just this year we have Scalia getting press for personal 'gestures' and comments, and now we have generals getting press too.

Together, this plus Republican politicization of science itself - it all converges at the same postmodern point - there are no more facts, previously quiet public entities are being drawn into the maelstrom of partisanship. I find THAT depressing.

It seems a Reality show culture - everyone is clamoring for their space in the public's diminishing attention span. I wish we could go back to a time when the avg shmo, without talent, kept quiet; when generals and justices did their job and let the media and politicians chew footage...

Posted by: Chum on April 18, 2006 at 9:12 AM | PERMALINK

jayarbee:

While I agree Kevin could have been more specific, I don't think he is worried about the military leadership undermining our actual defense capability. I assume Kevin is referring to the potential for a fascist tilt to our politics wherein the military leadership interferes in the making of our foreign policy by brow-beating the civilian leadership in the press and perhaps using their commissions as platforms to run for office.

It's debateable how likely such a scenario is, but I do have to agree with the others here that Kevin is making a dubious comparison: speaking out in the press is totally different from contravening and sabotaging actual orders.

Posted by: pantomimehorse on April 18, 2006 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK

ahh excuse me - but this doesn't make any sense Kevin?

And if active duty generals follow his advice and start to speak out whenever they think the president is going to war unwisely, we're going to have a serious problem on our hands.

There's no question that military leaders should forcefully offer their best advice in private and should testify honestly in public on operational matters.

What exactly is the difference between "best advised" and "opinion"?

And the thing about today's WP editoral about "The Generals' Revolt is another example of how the the WP is really lossing it.

Statements like this:

Mr. Bush would have been wise to accept Mr. Rumsfeld's resignation when he offered it nearly two years ago. At that time it was clear that the defense secretary was directly responsible for the policy of abuse toward detainees that resulted in the shocking Abu Ghraib photographs, as well as far worse offenses against detainees. By then, too, Mr. Rumsfeld's contributions to growing trouble in Iraq were evident: his self-defeating insistence on minimizing the number of troops; his resistance to recognizing and responding to emerging threats, such as the postwar looting and the Sunni insurgency; his rejection of nation-building, which fatally slowed the creation of a new political order.

As I recall, it was Bush that asked Whitehouse counsel Gonzales to re-write laws to allow for torture of prisoners - another example of how Bush really has never been anything more than simply a face for a group of men controlling this administration. Bush is not the boss.

If one more person calls C- span and ask why liberals hate Bush - I say it's the reason why Bush's poll numbers are falling and MOST Americans don't like Bush - Bush isn't in control and for all conviction talk - it appearent that Bush never has been in control of his own administration.

Posted by: Cheryl on April 18, 2006 at 9:22 AM | PERMALINK

I think what should happen is that congress holds hearings prior to going to war, and they call the Generals and Admirals in to comment. And the Generals and Admirals answer truthfully when asked, ala Shinseki. Then you don't have the issue of the revolt of the flags. They are just speaking their true minds.

So congress has a key role to play in this.

Posted by: Red State Mike on April 18, 2006 at 9:31 AM | PERMALINK

I know this will sound like typical Lefty Whining, but look at the distinction here. The Military constantly hampered Clinton & attacked him personally, and everyone gave them a complete pass on it at the time. Here the military, as an institution, helped Bush accomplish his goals & bolstered him politically, and then when things went South started complaining. Suddenly we're all supposed to be worried.

Why is it that the Left and Right get such completely different treatment? I don't think it's just my bias as a Lefty - it really seems to be a systematic thing.

Posted by: MDtoMN on April 18, 2006 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

IOKIYAR?

Posted by: BRussell on April 18, 2006 at 9:39 AM | PERMALINK

The generals are retired.

They are no longer military.

They are private citizens expressing their opinions.

What about that don't you get, Kevin?

This idea that these former generals are somehow undermining civilian authority is a piece of crap diversion created by conservatives to blunt criticism of Dumbsfeld.

What is more disturbing, and what nobody is talking about, is why active generals are being allowed to publically defend civilian authorities - this certainly, even more so than former generals speaking out, implies that the military has significant influence over civilian authorities, if those authorities need and require military posturing for support, since withdrawing that posturing would hurt the civilian authorities = blackmail.

If it is wrong for former generals to speak out and voice their opinions on the civilian authority, then it is far worse that active generals are doing so - why aren't they being courtmartialed?

This is simply another verions of the conservative refrain: "anyone who criticizes the president and his staff are aiding and abetting the enemy and are implicitly traitors"

Shameful behavior by conservatives and the administration.

If this were 1930's Germany and these people Germans, they would be publically eviscerating any former general who dared criticize Hitler as being unpatriotic and traitorous.

Posted by: Advocatte for God on April 18, 2006 at 9:39 AM | PERMALINK

There is no threat to civilian control. As others have pointed out, these criticisms come from RETIRED officers; it is not a revolt by generals on active duty. If these guys can't give us informed opinions, who can?

But where were these generals when it mattered ? It is not an easy course but, surely, some of them should have resigned and then spoken out with criticisms that could have made a difference Answering this call to a higher duty, they could have saved countless lives and injury and increased the chances for a positive outcome.

Homer
www.altara.blogspot.com

Posted by: Homer Hewitt on April 18, 2006 at 9:46 AM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure that the answer to the threat of a military coup is to turn the military into second class citizens who trade all their rights for free medical care and cheap liquour at a navy package store. Oh, and cheap cigarettes at the Exchange or dolphin mart.

If the military leaders of this country think a war is an unwise pursuit, then the citizens of this country have to hear it. They can not make informed decisions if they are kept in the dark to save the face of a civilian leader. There is nothing magical about civilian leadership. They can be every bit as dangerous, corrupt, and power mad as any general. You're really just making a case that the this administration had a right to hide damaging opinions about the war.

Posted by: SoulLight on April 18, 2006 at 9:56 AM | PERMALINK

Looks like Kevin doesn't understand the rules of the Bush Administration. If you criticize Bush soon after an event, it's wrong and evil to criticize at such a sensitive time. If you wait to criticize Bush after an event, it's wrong and whining and water under the bridge because we've all moved on.

If you are an outsider and criticize Bush, you simply don't understand the classified knowledge he has and the situation and so you're unqualified to speak. If you're an insider or former insider, you're a disgruntled official with your own agenda.

So basically, the only person that can criticize Bush is Bush, and he doesn't do a lot of that.

Posted by: ericblair on April 18, 2006 at 10:07 AM | PERMALINK

I like the message and I think it what these generals are saying is important and should be heeded. Saying that I am uncomfortable with this in an unquantifiable, hard to express way.

There is civilian control of the military for a reason. On one hand I like and feel more comfortable with a military that is constrained from running amok, anointing individuals or parties, or just be resistant/reactionary. At the same time I think they need to have the ability to say something is a bad idea, when it is clearly a bad idea without fear of retribution. In instance where the civilian and military personnel are not in complete accord, the generals may be acting to protect their turf, I doubt that is their entire motivation.

A lot of this comes down to individuals on both the civilian side and the military side. Civilians with true respect, let it be know that they are open to criticism/ideas and wont resort to retaliation/retribution when military personnel disagree while at the same time the generals need to remember that they are subordinate. I think that for the most party over the course of history this has worked. I think it is very telling that so many generals are coming out though notice it is only after they retire. If they had less respect for the concept of civilian authority over the armed forces they may not have waited.

However, there is a danger in this path that I can see. While I can tell these generals are frustrated, and I have to wonder if they dont somehow resent feeling that this was the only path open to them, I am still wary about what/if this carries into the future. I guess my consolation is these guys have spent their entire careers in the military, they know the rules, so I seriously doubt they come out with criticism without a lot of thought and they dont do it lightly.

Posted by: ET on April 18, 2006 at 10:08 AM | PERMALINK

I know this will sound like typical Lefty Whining, but look at the distinction here. The Military constantly hampered Clinton & attacked him personally, and everyone gave them a complete pass on it at the time. Here the military, as an institution, helped Bush accomplish his goals & bolstered him politically, and then when things went South started complaining. Suddenly we're all supposed to be worried.

Actually, they're two sides of the same coin. Right-wingers were delighted to see the generals undermine Clinton early in his term. Now, suddenly, they can't say enough about civilian control of the military. They were (typically) short-sighted in the 90's; liberals should avoid making the same mistakes now.

I think every leftie who's delighted to see generals criticizing the current administration should read some of Andrew Bacevich's histories. The officer corps is trying to distance itself from a strategic disaster. Unfortunately, it's one that they helped create. (Iraq is very much like Vietnam in this respect.) The time for resignations and straight talk was three years ago, when the invasion plans were being crafted. In particular, the generals would have a helluva lot more credibility if more of them had resigned when Shinseki got the shiv for speaking truthfully.

Now, sure, once the generals retire, they're as free to engage in public life as any citizen. But liberals are willfully looking at the world with tunnel vision if they suddenly decide that the guys in uniform are some kind of ultimate authority -- just because they say things that we want to hear today.

Posted by: sglover on April 18, 2006 at 10:11 AM | PERMALINK

Newbold understands that active duty general officers have only two choices:

1. Raise hell within the service and Pentagon when they disagree.

2. If that doesn't work, quit the service and raise hell as a private citizen.

He doesn't explicitly state this as he assumes (incorrectly) that his audience knows that serving officers can be prosecuted and removed from service at a court martial for criticizing the civilian leadership.

Posted by: solar on April 18, 2006 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

The danger of the loss of civilian control over the military is not theoretical. I was struck during the 9/11 hearings at the difficulty Clinton's people had in getting the military to do much of anything about the terrorist threat posed by bin Laden. Someone above wrote about the refusal of the military to come up with special ops solutions to disrupting the terrorists, but I remember reading in Richard Clark's book about his meeting with a special ops force. The force leader told Clark that his commander blamed the White House for refusing to give the go-ahead on a mission for which they had been training. Clark was in the meeting where the military brass said the mission could not be carried out. Military leaders decided against the mission, but told their soldiers it was timidity on Clinton's part.

I have often wondered how much blame the military should receive for their refusal to work with Clinton in fighting terrrorism and posibbly preventing 9/11.

Posted by: ted on April 18, 2006 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

There's no question that military leaders should forcefully offer their best advice in private and should testify honestly in public on operational matters.

Military leaders offering advice in private works only when they are offering that advice to a thoughtful and reasonable person. President Jesus is not that. He seems to take advice as an insult, as would a 4-year-old.

So the only thing to do is give him a time-out and put him on the naughty seat, which is the equivalent of what these retired generals are trying to do.

Posted by: Noam Sane on April 18, 2006 at 10:31 AM | PERMALINK

Advocate for God
This idea that these former generals are somehow undermining civilian authority is a piece of crap diversion created by conservatives to blunt criticism of Dumbsfeld.

No it's not. Let me ask you a question. If they weren't former Generals, would anyone even give a damn what they think? Duh.

Did you know that by statute the SecDef must be a civilian who has not served in the active component of the armed forces for at least 10 years (10 USC Sec. 113)? So a recently retired General cannot roll into the job. Why? They're just civilians like you and me by your reasoning.

Did you notice that they are referred to as "General So-and-so" and not "Mr. So-and-so", i.e., they retain their title? If they're just plain old civilians, it shouldn't matter.

But it does. Double Duh.

Posted by: Red State Mike on April 18, 2006 at 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

Jason
The problem, Red State Mike, is that there is no oversight currently being practiced by this Congress.

I won't argue with that.

Posted by: Red State Mike on April 18, 2006 at 10:33 AM | PERMALINK

Sorry, but a military that is more cautious than our civilian leadership in going to war is very different from the reverse. I welcome the former. The latter is the scary situation.

Posted by: Nat on April 18, 2006 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

An essential component of military subordination to civilian authority is the responsibility of military officers to respond fully and candidly to questions directed at them by Congress.

This is a distinction Kevin misses with respect to then-President Clinton's difficulties with his post-election valentine to gay supporters in 1993. Clinton could, of course, have insisted that military officers unlikely to answer questions from Congress in a way supportive of what he wanted to do resign, or given them assignments in which they would not have had the opportunity to appear before Congress -- in other words, he could have done exactly what Rumsfeld did beginning in 2001. Or, he could have attempted to secure the consent of the military leadership of the time to support his executive order. Clinton, without experience in the national security field at the time, did neither.

One additional difference in recent years has been Congress's lack of interest in asking many questions about the war in Iraq that might elicit awkward responses from serving officers. Though Rumsfeld as noted above has done his best to close off this route for discontented officers to communicate their views, Congress has made it easy for him -- leaving public statements from retired officers the one outlet for military discontent with an Iraq policy that very clearly is not going well and is imposing serious burdens on the military.

Posted by: Zathras on April 18, 2006 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin,
Have you ever been in the military?
General Eric Shinseki did not speak "in private" when he said that it would take several hundred thousand troops, if he did, YOU would not have heard what he said. He was not being a "good little soldier" and that was why he got punished. At that level, he should have known Rumsfiels position/plans and backed it 100%, unless he was 110% that Rumsfields position/plans were disaterous and he had done everything possible "in private" to change those plans, in which case he should have done what he did - and expect the punishment he got - he put his career on the line and he knew it, he did the moral thing
Now, were there other generals that were 110% sure and had simply not done the moral thing? Probably not, it's awful hard to be 110% sure.

But after those generals retire, they should be able to speak out and say "i was one of the good soldiers that backed my command while in service, but "in private", i was screaming at them for thier stupidity, they just wouldn't listen to me"

Posted by: Rick on April 18, 2006 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

The generals are not interfering with policy. They don't care about what we do in Iraq or Iran or anywhere else. What they care about is that Rumsfeld is destroying the Army itself.

Posted by: JR on April 18, 2006 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

After some mild criticism in late 2004, the Congressional GOP has been predictably silent about Rumsfeld:

"I said no. My answer is still no. No confidence. I have strenuously argued for larger troop numbers in Iraq...There are very strong differences of opinion between myself and Secretary Rumsfeld on that issue."
...John McCain

"That soldier and those men and women [in uniform] deserved a far better answer from their secretary of defense than a flippant comment. I wonder what the parents of the men and women over there, sons and daughters who are fighting, I do not think that they appreciated that answer."
...Chuck Hagel

Compare that to the GOP war on Les Aspin after the BlackHawk Down episode of 1993. For the details, see:
"General Agreement: Rumsfeld Fails the Aspin Test."

Posted by: AvengingAngel on April 18, 2006 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

And you have Lt Gen "Bomber Harris" McInerney (Rt-USAF) strongly supporting Rumdumb - Contracts with DoD perhaps?

The mad Bomber is even presenting his shock and awe tactics on FAUX for another "brilliant, even less that 21 days" event in Iran. He even adds that the masses will rise up against the current regime. Oh, glory, hal-a-loo

So how much money is McInerney and Maj Gen Vallely (Rt-USArmy), his writing partner reaping from their connections to the Defense Department?

Still recall Vallely breathlessly, ala Rita Cosby, saying that the big news following our capture of Baghdad was that the French government would fall because they had given passports to Saddam and his sons. Stay tuned.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on April 18, 2006 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

We need to make a distinction between active duty and retired.

Active duty should give their advise in private and follow orders. If they don't like what higher ups are doing they should resign.

Retired should be free to speak out.

Funny, the GOP and their handmaidens in the media like the WP editorial page never complained when then ACTIVE DUTY Colin Powell opposed the president's policy about gays in the military. Now they are bitching about what retired generals are saying.

Posted by: Nan on April 18, 2006 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK


"The Generals' Revolt"

Any shadowy doubts Kevin might have felt as a result of criticism voiced by his readers regarding his generally unfavorable view of the speaking out by some retired generals have surely been extinguished in the gloriously bright light of the WP's editorial this morning, which not only supports his position and echoes his reasoning, but also employs the same eye-catching title as his original piece on the matter. Oh, sure, he will likely fret that they may have plagiaristically borrowed his headline--or worse, that they may have not seen his little banner at all--but the knowledge that his thought processes conform to those of such heavyweight opiners will surely give comfort to an already comfortable man.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, people are uncomfortable watching their loved ones die around them, adding to the tens of thousands already dead. But the WP and Kevin tell us that is not the issue. That isn't what's ugly. Here, they say, is what's ugly:

WP EDITORIAL: If they are successful in forcing Mr. Rumsfeld's resignation, they will set an ugly precedent. Will future defense secretaries have to worry about potential rebellions by their brass, and will they start to choose commanders according to calculations of political loyalty?
Can you even imagine such a thing? A defense secretary choosing commanders according to calculations of political loyalty? Look at what liberals are trying to do to our country!

Is it too trite these days to say "red herring?" How about bullshit? Scam? Diverting attention from the central issue of this war's legitimacy is what they've been about all along. We might as well say government scientists should keep out of the debate regarding global warming for fear it will bring about officials choosing scientists according to calculations of political loyalty. Oh, wait, they do that now. Okay, then how about we say that government economists should keep out of the debate about how the nation's economy is run for fear it will cause politicians to choose economists according to calculations of political loyalty? Um, never mind.

The Post tells us the generals are wrong to "revolt" because their doing so will cause politicians to do something they are already doing--something they've always done. They ominously toss around words like "revolt" and "rebellion," ignoring their true meaning, in order to instill a false fear of something about which they have no fear. What they really fear is their owners' frowns over the prospect of not having unrestricted control of the military, which they regard as their private enforcers of their will and their absolute and exclusive right to wield power. Ordinary citizens need have no fear of the military speaking out against militaristic action. It is only the powerful who have cause to fear any weakening of their ability to take whatever they want from whomever they want whenever they want to take it.


Posted by: jayarbee on April 18, 2006 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

There's no question that military leaders should forcefully offer their best advice in private and should testify honestly in public on operational matters.

Mr. Drum makes an interesting point. There is one problem however, and that is when asshole generals go around advocating policies of the administration. Having retired generals questioning policy is seen as detrimental to civilian control of the military, but what about General Boynksmen, who goes around giving public speeches like a demagogue, saying his god is bigger than the boogeyman's. In my opinion that is much worse than what the retired generals have done.

In other words, when generals endorse the administration with lies and propaganda, it is OK, but when generals make honest complaint against the administration, it is wrong. It is not logical, nor beneficial to the commonweal.

Posted by: Hostile on April 18, 2006 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

ww2 the generals ran the military , the president carried on diplomatic relations with the other countries.
marshall was top dog and he carried eisenhouer in his shoulder holster.
as for patton , his ass was always on the hot plate ; but had he been the top dog by the end of 1943 germany would have been a pile of ashes.
korea was a scare war by politicans running their communist investigations of anyone including their own mother! ! !
vietnam whipped FRANCE TO REGAIN THEIR COUNTRY AND THEIR FREEDOM IN 1954 . the french and british wanted it to go to the geneva accord
and the country was split into with a puppet government and labeled the people of vietnam communist because they wanted france out of their country.the vietnam war started in 1955 or the seceret plans were developing daily . check it out , the true history,dig it out, it is there . there will always be politicans power play wars unless the right people speak out and speak out very loud ! !

Posted by: REMEMBERING on April 18, 2006 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

Since Kevin brings up Seven Days in May, I'll quote John Farmer of the Newark Star Ledger about how that backward that analogy is for these times:

"Some years ago, a Fletcher Knebel and Charles Bailey produced a Washington novel called 'Seven Days in May' in which a cabal of Pentagon generals plans to depose the nation's civilian leaders and militarize foreign policy. It was a page-turner of a yarn. But they got it all wrong, for now we have the real thing -- and the seizure of power is by Bush civilians in the Pentagon, determined to ignore or overrule the more cautious instincts of the generals and militarize U.S. foreign policy."

I find Kevin's post here really off the point. I believe that what is motivating the generals to speak out is probably more about Iran than Iraq. Though it's true that the military's duty is to follow civilian command, following orders is no excuse for abandoning one's conscience. The generals, those who are retired, are using the one avenue they still have to express themselves -- the public media -- when it's clear the administration has no interest in hearing what they have to say.

Posted by: JJF on April 18, 2006 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin is wrong on this one. If an Army general finds that the poitical leadership is going to war on falsified or false pretexts, he must be in a position to speak up.

The civilian leadership, be it Democratic or Republican, should not be allowed to use the military to serve its political agenda rather then the national interest. This is what Newbold's major complaint is about, and he is right that he and others in the miltary should have used whatever channels they had to stop this gang from pushing us into a marshland.

Posted by: lib on April 18, 2006 at 12:02 PM | PERMALINK

"General Eric Shinseki did not speak "in private" when he said that it would take several hundred thousand troops, if he did, YOU would not have heard what he said. He was not being a "good little soldier" and that was why he got punished. At that level, he should have known Rumsfiels position/plans and backed it 100%, unless he was 110% that Rumsfields position/plans were disaterous and he had done everything possible "in private" to change those plans, in which case he should have done what he did - and expect the punishment he got - he put his career on the line and he knew it, he did the moral thing"

NO. Shinseki was testifying before congress, not giving a press conference. His legal and ethical obligation was to answer thier questions honestly. He did not, as far as I know, explicitly criticize the administration or rumsfeld he simply answered questions asked by congress and those answers happened to differ somewhat from the administration sales pitch. If he had given dishonest answers because he expected reprisal from Rumsfeld he would have been acting both unprofessionally and illegally.

Posted by: jefff on April 18, 2006 at 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

It all goes down to groupthink thing.

We see foot soldiers going to prison simply because they follower orders to torture prisoners that were illegal, orders that came from their commander and chief.

Therefore I see no reason the military bass should simply follow orders because this administration tells them -knowing how wrong or unworkable hthe military planning is in Iraq.

Powell had a duty to speak out but he never did - it begs the question of whom did Powell realy serve - the people of US or Bush? Keep in mind that Powell took oaths of office too - not oaths to the president but to people of US. Powell really is the poster child for dereliction of duty.

Powell did not merely serve at the pleasure of president - because that is what staffer does but not a cabinet member and thus the reason why the senate has a vote over Bushs cabinet members - the members serve the American people.

What all this shows is that Rumsfeld appears to have asked Bush if he could torture prisoners - Bush than asked Gonzales to "make up" some kind of twisted legal reasoning for Rummy to do whatever he wanted.

It also shows that Cheney asked Bush to "declassify" so classified cia knowledge and that Bush therefore declassified cia knowledge at Dick Cheney's request.

It shows that Bush is not the man in control - nope, rather, Bush is a subordinate for members of the Project for the New American Century.

I have to wonder was Bush ever told that he would simply be the presidental face that he didn't have to worry about things like intelligent briefings or national security issues - thus why Katrina was not really Bush's responsiblity - Dick Cheney told the American public that Bush was just the presidental face the day after 9/11.

The real President is Dick Cheney because Bush is simply doing whatever these members of the PNAC are tell him to do.

Posted by: Cheryl on April 18, 2006 at 12:05 PM | PERMALINK

These thought experiments about military/civilian control are interesting but, I think, irrelevant.

I've been thinking about why Bush keeps refusing Rumsfeld's resignations, and I think I've figured out why. And it means Rumsfeld will be with us until Jan. 20, 2009 or Bush is impeached, whichever comes first.

I bet that Rumsfeld reports to the President in person, speaking from notes that consist of three to five bullet points, and they do not contain discouraging words. I think Bush is worried about having to read long (3 to 5 page) reports that contain ambiguities and complexities that don't lend themselves to "crisp" decisions, and might interfere with long workouts, good bike rides and three week vacations.

One thing is for sure, if Rumsfeld is replaced, it will be with a crony from across the hall who knows the preferred format for reporting to this president.

Posted by: cowalker on April 18, 2006 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

So by Kevin's and Bushlickers' logic (I don't mean to include Kevin in the latter group), retired generals can speak up only when they are elected politicians like Eisenhower?

The critics of the retired generals are so confused.

Posted by: lib on April 18, 2006 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

I think this is indeed an issue with which we should be careful. The military brass need to remember their place, BUT...when a sworn military officer observes injustices (i.e. Abu Ghraib, faulty inteligence being ignored, etc.) that are detrimental to the nation and to the Constitution that keeps that officer from being able to do his or her duty, then that officer needs to be able to have the assurance of being able to speak freely. Of course, the reason we're worried about this is because our nation (as far as we know) has never had a military coup and we definitely don't want to set any precedent for that type of activity, but the ranking brass should feel comfortable enough with their superiors so that they might be able to explain any difference of opinion with civilian leadership. Civilian leadership and military brass have always had an exemplary relationship in this nation and we need to ensure that level of respect and cooperation continues. The problem is that we currently have a civilian leadership that are so power thirsty and intent on exerting what's in their best interest rather than our nation's collective best interest. The brass are left as all the other dissenters are...with the impression that no one dare question, critize or deviate one iota from the plan and anyone who does will be dealt with harshly. This is not how it should operate and I think this is why so many former generals are speaking out. Yes, currently officers put their rank and reputation on the line, but I'd dare say that a very miniscule percentage if any have the reputation of a fictional 'James Matoon Scott' or the reality of a Curtis Lemay. I'd be willing to bet that there were many an officer in the German Wehrmacht that would have spoken up for their country if they knew that the consequences of such an action would have kept them from being sent to the Russian front or a worser fate.

Yes...we must be aware of the potential hazard a civilian leadership puts itself into when allowing a fervent military opposition to speak freely, but we must remember too that civilian leadership can be just as dangerous to a nation when allowed to stifle political opponents and military brass who are only trying to do their duty. They are sworn to defend the country and the Constitution not any political party, religious cause, 'cabal' or any one man.

Posted by: Ray on April 18, 2006 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

I likewise have mixed feelings about the retired generals coming out and criticizing their civilian leaders. I certainly can see that it may not be a good precedent for American democracy if they do -- not so much because of they way they in fact handled it, which was generally pretty fair, sensible, and safe, but because the way the precedent itself might be used by those who will use such criticisms in the future in ways unfair, unreasonable, and dangerous.

Having said that, I do think that there's something seriously deficient in a system in which criticism of civilian leadership by professionals in the military is entirely eliminated. Whether or not a manager or executive follows the advice or inspires the confidence of the people under him is surely one of the most important factors in determining whether he's up to doing his job. Without such criticism, he and his backers essentially have the floor to blame anybody and everybody but themselves, without fear of contradiction. I simply don't see how that can possibly be a healthy environment for correction of flawed behavior.

What can be said of the criticism of the retired generals is that it is at least done precisely to affect public opinion, and place pressure in the political arena; if the public doesn't buy it, then it goes nowhere. It certainly does not per se represent a defiance of the chain of command -- no one is suggesting anyone deviate in any way from orders issued.

I guess my reaction is that using retired generals to make this criticism, and waiting until well AFTER the war itself was actually commenced, probably introduces enough levels of indirection that the criticism is acceptable. I can understand the sentiment that they should have spoken up before the war about their deep concerns, but it does strike me that that would have been a very bad time even to seem to question the legitimacy of the orders they have been given.

But I don't know what general guidelines the military should follow in these circumstances.

Posted by: frankly0 on April 18, 2006 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

So by Kevin's and Bushlickers' logic, retired generals can speak up only when they are elected politicians like Eisenhower?

No, Mr. Drum thinks it is OK for General Boynksmen and other generals to advocate for war publicly, but thinks is is wrong for generals to criticize war publicly.

Posted by: Hostile on April 18, 2006 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, with this staement you completely destroy your credibiity in this debate:

There's really nothing to like about this. Whether the war was "unnecessary" or not, that's a political decision, not a military one. And if active duty generals follow his advice and start to speak out whenever they think the president is going to war unwisely, we're going to have a serious problem on our hands.

Congress gets to decide if we go to war, not the presnit. Part of the big picture being missed in the Iraq war is that congress was steam-rollered, lied to, manipulated, and failed to perform due dilligance in making a clear determination of the need for going to war in the time and manner we did.

Having the uniformed generals testifying in public, in advance, to congress was the perfectly proper means of deciding that we needed war.

Posted by: RedTravelMaster on April 18, 2006 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

There is a difference between retired generals speaking out, if by "speaking out" we are talking about press and cable news interviews, and active-duty personnel. Obviously, it's always the duty of active generals to "speak out" through the normal internal channels of advising the executive branch.

Was going down the comments here. After watching leftists marching side-by-side with radical Islamists who oppose every human right that the Left stands for, I'm now wondering if the inversion of the Left will complete itself, and they'll call for a military coup to overthrow the civilian government.

BTW, the Shinseki being canned for his opinions thing is a myth, but that's never stopped anyone before.

Posted by: tbrosz on April 18, 2006 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

...watching leftists marching side-by-side with radical Islamists who oppose every human right that the Left stands for..

The writer of this statement really needs to stop watching the things inside the anal cavity where his head is lodged.

Posted by: lib on April 18, 2006 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

"And if active duty generals follow his advice and start to speak out whenever they think the president is going to war unwisely, we're going to have a serious problem on our hands."

Yes, we might have a democracy or something.

Look, just because we've made our soldiers give up their rights as citizens of a free nation for a century doesn't mean its the right thing. Democracy thrives on information. Democracy starves on secrecy.

If you disagree, you should have a right to say so. Period.

That doesn't give him the right to disobey (at least without stepping down), or to overthrow the government. We have reached a really stupid place in discourse when we start arguing whether disagreeing with your boss publically makes you a traitor. Of course we have reached so many stupid places in public discourse.

Soldiers at the very least should have all the rights of citizens. They are under contract with strict penalties for failing to do their duty - that is more than enough of a requirement on them.

A more open military would self correct a lot of problems with bad leadership and corruption.

Let the people speak, Kevin. This is America.

Posted by: Mysticdog on April 18, 2006 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

" ww2 the generals ran the military"
Posted by: REMEMBERING
Don't forget the Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson, at the time I believe.

Posted by: Lurker42 on April 18, 2006 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

Not sure if anyone else has mentioned this, but...

If the civilian leadership, namely the elected representatives in Congress, were DOING THEIR JOB, the generals wouldn't need to do it FOR THEM.

The generals, like all who serve in public office or civil service, take the oath to serve the country and defend the Constitution. The sole purpose of the military is to do just that, against ALL enemies foreign AND domestic.

In my mind, the generals are doing exactly what they are supposed to, defending this country against a domestic enemy while the elected sit on their asses and play political games with people's lives and the country's future.

Posted by: NeoLotus on April 18, 2006 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

lib:

...watching leftists marching side-by-side with radical Islamists who oppose every human right that the Left stands for..

To back up my statement there are plenty of photos and commentaries from demonstrations and marches around the world. What've you got besides tenth-grade insults?

Posted by: tbrosz on April 18, 2006 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK
There's no question that military leaders should forcefully offer their best advice in private and should testify honestly in public on operational matters. When General Eric Shinseki gave his opinion that the invasion of Iraq required "several hundred thousand" troops, he was acting properly. That was a professional military opinion, and the way he was treated for expressing it was shameful. But that's quite a different thing from speaking out simply because you think a war is a bad idea on policy grounds.

So Kevin, is it your contention that military officers, if called on to testify on policy rather than purely operational questions, should not testify honestly? If it is, I disagree rather strongly.

And, frankly, I think you are mistaking actions which are objectionable because they are perceived as undermining the chain of command by questioning publicly the judgements made by superiors (that is, whose dangers lie in that they are anti-authoritarian), with those that are objectionable because the undermine civilian control of the military (that is, whose dangers lie in that they are anti-democratic.)

Military officers voicing their opinion on policy matters fall into the first category, not the second; military officers refusing to follow lawful orders faithfully (the example of the Clinton requests, arguably) fall into the second category. It is important to distinguish between the kinds of problems presented in order to evaluate their significance.

I rather think that the first category is far less troublesomein a liberal democracy than the latter, and, indeed, that attempting to ruthlessly repress it in the name of military order is ultimately more damaging than allowing it.

Citizens should be free to question their government, whether or not they are also soldiers that have a responsibility to implement the decisions made by those above them.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 18, 2006 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

As Hostile pointed out above, it seems to be acceptable for generals (both active duty and retired) to speak out in support of a war, but it's not okay for retired generals to speak in opposition. Can you say "double standard", boys and girls?

Retired flag officers have expertise that the rest of us don't. And isn't there something about free speech in the Constitution? Seems like it was put there just for situations like this.

Stifling the free speech of retired military officers when they happen to oppose official policy tips the playing field way too much to the right.

aa

Posted by: aaron aardvark on April 18, 2006 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

Tbores, a willing and ignorant shill for his masters, vomits:

"BTW, the Shinseki being canned for his opinions thing is a myth, but that's never stopped anyone before."

The issue is not that Gen Shinseki was "canned". He was not. His retirement was announced by him and was planned to coincide with the end of his term as Chief of Staff.

What happened to him is that Rumsfeld floated anonymous rumors of his replacement to the press in April of 2002 (more than a year before the end of his term). This is extremely unusual and was widely seen as an attempt to punish Shinseki and paint him as a lame duck (over Stryker and the Crusader, not Iraq). The official announcement of his actual replacement (not the rumored one) was made in June of 2003, one month before the end of his term. On top of that, the Penatagon vigorously attacked him when he gave his professional opinion on troop strength before Congress in 2003.

The idiot that you linked to, like you, got every single fact wrong. Congratulations- you are a perfect idiot.

Posted by: solar on April 18, 2006 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

Red State Tyke: If they weren't former Generals, would anyone even give a damn what they think?

More BS.

Whether people care about what they have to say or not is irrelevant to whether they are impacting civilian control of the military - because they are former generals, they aren't disobeying orders or being insubordinate and therefore can't be interfering with civilian control of the military in any way shape or form.

That you continue to make excuses for the Bush administration and excoriate it's critics with bogus logic says a lot about where you are coming from.

Posted by: Advocate for God on April 18, 2006 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

this administration has routinely used the military as props or shields for shameful initiatives. indeed they appear before military audiences to avoid critics and to spout talking points. they pay for propaganda. they issue orders with regard to the geneva conventions that put soldiers in a position where in a practical sense they are legally bound not to follow the order--i.e. torture and unlawful incarceration. sooooo, in the case of an administration gone rogue, this was a long time coming. if not retired military, who? obviously there is need for reappraisal of this administration. congress has not the will currently.

Posted by: sparko on April 18, 2006 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

tbrosz: BTW, the Shinseki being canned for his opinions thing is a myth, but that's never stopped anyone before.

It is a lie that this is a myth.

After watching leftists marching side-by-side with radical Islamists who oppose every human right that the Left . . .

As usual, you are watching a movie that's playing only in your head and has no connection to reality whatsoever.

Or you are just lying about "leftists" and how they are "marching".

Either way, you've proven once again you are a mendacious or ignorant twit.

Posted by: Advocate for God on April 18, 2006 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

It wasn't the Democrats who asked American soldiers to violate military rules and appear with members of the GOP at partisan events.

It wasn't the Democrats who have ordered military officials to defend the SecDef and the president by publically speaking out on partisan political matters outside their duties as military officers.

Those in the military still active and speaking out have no credibility because they are subject to Rumsfeld's and Bush's control, as conservatives have noted with references to civilian control of the military (not civilian control of ex-military, dimwitted RSM); their careers still depend on making those two happy and it is no surprise the majority of generals left are suck-ups and partisan hacks.

Posted by: Advocate for God on April 18, 2006 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

solar:

Your post actually confirms my point--that Shinseki was not being punished for his opinions on Iraq. And please don't try to pretend that this isn't the "conventional wisdom."


Advocate:

It is a lie that this is a myth.

As usual, you are watching a movie that's playing only in your head and has no connection to reality whatsoever.

I honestly don't know where you find all the time to research these rebuttals.

It wasn't the Democrats who asked American soldiers to violate military rules and appear with members of the GOP at partisan events.

Look up Harry Reid's "Real Security" memo for the March recess.

Posted by: tbrosz on April 18, 2006 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

Shinseki had already been punished ("castrated", as one Pentagon flak put it) for his previous disagreements with Rumsfeld, by Rumsfeld announcing Shinseki's replacement well over a year prior to Shinseki's retirement. Subsequently, as Ret. Lt. Gen. Riper put it in Oct 2004 (see here):

I know of nothing, other than the failure to plan adequately for the war in Iraq, that upset the retired community nearly as much as Mr. Rumsfeld's treatment of the chief of staff of the Army, Gen. Shinseki. Just irate. I've been in meetings and breakfasts and lunch where this is a subject of conversation and just a very, very bitter feeling that he would treat someone like that. And then when the general retires, a service chief retiring, and not to attend that retirement ceremony that would have any other high-ranking officials from his office, is just a slap in the face. Why would you do that?
Hmmm... why would you do that?

Posted by: has407 on April 18, 2006 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

Sadly, no. Of course he was punished for his views on Iraq- by public castigation and visible and pointed snubs. That he was punished previously for other disagreements does not negate these facts.

Posted by: solar on April 18, 2006 at 5:21 PM | PERMALINK

So if a dozen generals criticize Rumsfeld it's a military revolt against civilian authority. If hundreds of generals support and prop up incompetent pigheadedness there is no negative effect on civilian authority.

Posted by: bcinaz on April 18, 2006 at 5:56 PM | PERMALINK

Man, it's gotta suck to be tbrosz and have every one of your half-baked assertions over the past three years about great things are going in Iraq refuted in one fell swoop by the highest ranking military men in the land. Isn't he supposed to be the conduit of military wisdom? The patron saint of milblogs? How could he have been so wrong?

Even worse -- the generals are agreeing with the "aging hippies" that post here and that he's so casually dismissed and so can't afford to lose face in front of.

I wonder why we don't see Tom accusing generals of "rooting for failure" in Iraq, of "siding with the enemy," of not coming within a parsec of military knowledge," of not trusting the military view on things? I would think intellectual honesty if not consistency would demand it?

Ah well. This whole thing has gotta be giving him one hell of a short circuit. No wonder he's so testy lately, I would be too.

How humiliating.

Posted by: trex on April 18, 2006 at 6:11 PM | PERMALINK

So Kevin, is it your contention that military officers, if called on to testify on policy rather than purely operational questions, should not testify honestly? If it is, I disagree rather strongly.

Senior officers will rarely testify on policy questions for obvious reasons. They are not there for their wisdom on policy issues. While they obviously are citizens as well as soldiers they risk creating conflicts and dissention when they disagree publically with their bosses. When generals disagree in this fashion they have to be replaced. It's too critical a position to allow someone with conflicting goals in place.

Shinseki could easily have shpwed some class and dodged the question. He was peeved at being bypassed and looking for paybacks. Rummy was correct to skip his retirement. What possible point could there be in two men who obviously have no respect for the other to pretend otherwise? You can bet Rummy skipped more than that.

Posted by: rdw on April 18, 2006 at 9:14 PM | PERMALINK

There is no "Generals' Revolt"! There IS a group of RETIRED military, previously associated with the Iraq war who are now speaking out - AFTER they have retired. Which is entirely appropriate.
It also would have been appropriate if any of these generals had spoken honestly to any Senate or House committee. Presuming the committee members actually wanted any information. It would NOT have been appropriate if any had sent letters to an individual member of Congress containing derogatory statements about policy which had not been mentioned to the administration (see MacArthur).
If these were active duty officers I would be outraged. They are civilians with courtesy titles who are offering their professional opinions on a vital question of the day. These men are military professionals and when fighting a war one goes against military advice at one's peril. Just because the administration was too stupid to listen to them while they were on active duty doesn't mean we should ignore them too.
As to the idea of the military influencing policy, please! The military has always had some influence on US policy. For most of our history that influence was a minor one - the military establishment simply was too small a proportion of the population to have too much of an impact.
This uproar is simply due to this administration's incompetence in handling military policy - the administration made up the policy (in more than one sense!) and told the military to carry it out. The military responded by saying that it couldn't be done the way the administration wanted. The administration persisted and the military said "Yes Sir!" and did their best with what they were given.
The result is that Iraq is in a worse state than ever, enlistments are down in the Guard and Regular Army, the officer is starting to melt away and now the administration is trying to gin up an unnecessary war in Iran - partly, I fear, to take the public's mind off the mess in Iraq.
This "revolt" is nothing but another attempt by the administration to slander anyone who is not a cheerleader of its policies. I agree active duty personnel should be required to remain silent on government policy, whether FOR or AGAINST.

Douglas E. Stamate
USN(ret)

Posted by: destamate on April 18, 2006 at 9:29 PM | PERMALINK

The whole thing is a piece with any criticism of the exalted fearless ( might as well add feckless ) administration : they are not conservative, not right and not restrained.

Posted by: opit on April 19, 2006 at 2:33 AM | PERMALINK

I'd like to see jayarbee on a blog of his own.

Posted by: secularhuman on April 19, 2006 at 3:31 AM | PERMALINK

Still, there is another side to this story, and it's not a completely nonsensical one. It's worth airing, even if only to keep our bearings straight.
But it is a completely nonsensical one. This complaint is just part of the smoke and mirrors campaign we've seen from Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld the whole time. How often have they put forward acting soldiers, generals, officers to support their policy provisions. Do these soldiers have the right not to participate, or to disagree? Of course not. Pro-administration soldiers are promoted and given a megaphone, critics are silenced, fired, sometimes penalized. If Rumsfeld hadn't been using the soldiers as a shield all this time, he might have a reasonable complaint.

Posted by: Mike on April 19, 2006 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

The administration has defined Iraq not as a separate war, but as a front in the War on Terror. Thus, the generals are not "speaking out simply because [they] think a war is a bad idea on policy grounds." They are speaking out because they think opening a new front against a non-threat is unsound militarily.

Posted by: youngdr on April 19, 2006 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly