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Tilting at Windmills

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January 22, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

McCAIN AND CASEY....On Sunday, after accusing Gen. George Casey of presiding over "a failed policy" in Iraq, John McCain suggested that he might not support kicking Casey upstairs to become Army chief of staff. Matt Yglesias is unimpressed:

I have no particular brief for Casey, who obviously did not bring this country fabulous successes in Iraq and who carried more than his share of water for George W. Bush over the years. Nevertheless, this is a raw deal in the extreme.

....The larger political game, however, is perfectly clear -- we're supposed to believe that there was nothing wrong with the war except the bungling of the fool Casey and that the Great Leader Petraeus will save us all.

I find myself in the unaccustomed position of partially defending McCain. Matt is certainly right about the political game at work here, but:

  1. Casey has opposed a military buildup in Iraq for some time. Now, I think this is right, but obviously McCain doesn't -- and this is something McCain has been pretty consistent about. So, given that he genuinely thinks Casey has pursued bad policies, it's hard to blame him for not being very excited about Casey's promotion.

  2. My own impression is that Casey has been pretty lukewarm toward the kind of counterinsurgency tactics that might have proven successful if he'd pushed them harder when he took over the Iraq job a couple of years ago. This strikes me as a pretty severe case of bad judgment, and a bit of tough questioning at his confirmation hearing seems like the very least that Casey ought to expect over this.

I feel like there's sometimes a reluctance to criticize our military leadership because (a) it opens up liberals to charges of "not supporting the troops," and (b) it implicitly reduces the responsibility of our civilian leaders for the debacle in the Iraq. I'm hugely sympathetic to both concerns, especially the second one, but I still think we ought to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and their neocon enablers certainly deserve the vast bulk of the blame for our failure in Iraq, but the military brass deserves a share too.

Besides, a little bit of tough questioning from Congress sends a salutary message to the general staff: after Vietnam you guys said you'd never again stay silent in the face of disastrous Pentagon policies. So what happened?

Kevin Drum 11:52 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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Comments

Just don't blame George. Its eveyone's fault but the 'great man'.

Posted by: jg on January 22, 2007 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

I think you might be more than a little confused here, Kevin. Recall that Casey and the rest of the top brass have been held securely under Rummy's thumb for the last six years. Rumsfeld was absolutely adamant that Iraq can, should, and must be accomplished with his small light force doctrine--so much so that he cashiered any officer who disagreed (see Shinseki). The Decider in Chief also made it clear in innumerable speeches that he would not increase troop levels.

Everyone who even remotely valued their career toed that line, including Casey.

But now the world is turned upside-down--at least BushWorld. The Decider has decided that we need more troops. McCain, implanted in Bush's butt like a bad boil, gleefully echoes the surge doctrine. Thus, Casey and everyone else who has spent the last six years dutifully following the lunatic orders of Rummy and Bush must now be publicly scorned.

Did Casey preside over a failed policy? Sure. But it wasn't his policy.

Did Casey and the rest of the brass not implement an effective counter-insurgency program? Yes, but only because Bush and Rumsfeld spent four years trying to convince the American people that there was no insurgency. There were only dead-enders, foreign fighters, al Qaeda terrorists, Syrian provocateurs, Iranian interventionists.

Posted by: Derelict on January 22, 2007 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin you are missing the forest for the trees.

As Matt says, the larger game of deflection of blame by the White House and McCain's toadiness should be your concern here. One must assume that McCain is motivated more by his desire to curry favor with the adminsitration's political machine than anything else.

The Iraq fiasco has to be hung around the GOP at least for a generation.

Posted by: gregor on January 22, 2007 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

Wouldn't it be more responsible to wait 6-9 months before blaming anybody?

Signed by

Al's knobturner

Posted by: fhrytti on January 22, 2007 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

Given that the W Administration likes to compare itself to the WWII generation so much, it is funny that Eisenhower, Marshall, Churchill, even Patton all had the practice of IN PUBLIC taking all the blame upon themselves and putting all the credit on their subordinates and soldiers[1]. Think of Eisenhower's pocket speech for use after a D-Day failure: "If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone."

With W's team it is just the opposite - they are always right and their subordinates are always to blame.

Bringing character back to the White House!

Cranky

[1] In private a very different thing, esp. with Churchill and Patton - to say the least. But in public, no.

Posted by: Cranky Observer on January 22, 2007 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with Derelict. Is it really the military's duty to speak out. Do they really want to be court martialed? Why do you think so many generals only speak out once they get out of uniform?

Posted by: Ghost of Tom Joad on January 22, 2007 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

Mccain is definitely right.

If Casey believed that making progress in Iraq was an impossible task, then he had a responsibility to stand up and say it could not be done. Casey did not do so.

If Casey believe that making progress in Iraq was possible, then, as the person in charge, he is responsible when no progress was made.

Either way, Casey failed.

What is so wrong with holding Casey accountable for his actions?

Al

Posted This

Posted by: cbklsff on January 22, 2007 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

Recall that Casey and the rest of the top brass have been held securely under Rummy's thumb for the last six years.

Lt. aWol, PFC Other Priorities" and Ensign Peacetime Pilot wrecked the military, and their destructive effects will take at least two or three decades to set back right. They are directly responsible for the dearth of seasoned officers. The Army is missing 11,000 officers. So...they lowered the standards to take a bunch of hinky troops, and there is no one to lead the.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka Global Citizen) on January 22, 2007 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

Derelict/Gregor: I think I made it clear that I agree with you, didn't I? Nonetheless, Casey has an obligation too: either demand a strategy that's workable or else resign. "Going along" with a failed strategy because you're afraid of the SecDef just isn't acceptable at Casey's level.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on January 22, 2007 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks for not SwiftBoating McCain. If Casey didn't agree with the policy he should have refused the promotion and the assignment. McCain has been telling all of Rumsfeld's lackeys, i.e., Myers et al., that he was getting a story 180% different when he went to Iraq and talked with troops on the ground for several years now. Going after Casey will not be showboating the way Matty Y. [an obnoxious twit] is trying to imply.

Posted by: minion/toady on January 22, 2007 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

When anti-war people criticize the military, they are "not supporting the troops." When pro-war people criticize the military, they are sending a message of accountablity and trying to find out why the Pentagon pursued disastrous policies.

I think I disagree with the conventional moderate reading of events about the political/military leadership in Iraq. McCain wants to berate generals until they tell him what he wants to hear - more killing is required, more cities must be destroyed and then we will win. The genrerals know that more killing will create more resistance and that there is no military solution for the US in Iraq except industrialized systemic mass murder, which will require a lot more troops than the 20,000 he and W. Bush wants.

Posted by: Brojo on January 22, 2007 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

Should have been 180 degrees different - fonts goofed up but I think you figured out what I was trying to say.

Posted by: min/toad on January 22, 2007 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

Besides, a little bit of tough questioning from Congress sends a salutary message to the general staff:

MCain has a strong point that Democrats should pay some attention to. Congress approves promotions, and it can withhold promotions from officers who carry out policies in Iraq that Congress opposes. In order to use this power effectively, they need to be clear and united in what they want, as they now are not, but it is something for them to keep in mind for when they do unite behind a clearly articulated policy.

It makes more sense to impeach Bush if Dems rally behind a clearly articulated policy, and if he defies them, but that may be harder.

In the particular case of Casey, he can probably claim that he constantly urged on Rumsfeld tactics that would have been more effective but was overruled. If that is the case, then the removal of Rumsfeld was the remedy, and promoting Casey to oversee the new tactics may be the right thing to do.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on January 22, 2007 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

To echo Derelict/Gregor's point: Soldiers are prepared to give their lives for their country, not their careers.

Posted by: Jon Karak on January 22, 2007 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

Slightly off topic, but relevant, from a emil from the WaPo that just arrived in my inbox:

Bush's overall approval rating in the new poll is 33 percent, matching the lowest it has been in Post-ABC polls since he took office in 2001. Sixty-five percent say they disapprove. Equally telling is the finding that 51 percent of Americans now strongly disapprove of his performance in office, the worst rating of his presidency. Just 17 percent strongly approve of the way he is handling his job.
Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka Global Citizen) on January 22, 2007 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

KevinDrum: either demand a strategy that's workable or else resign. "Going along" with a failed strategy because you're afraid of the SecDef just isn't acceptable at Casey's level.

I think it's harder than that. Generally, we want officers to obey the orders that they have been given, even if they have strenuously opposed them. You wouldn't have a chain of command if the officers resigned every time they were given orders that they thought were poor strategy. Just to pick one example, in WWII both Patton and Montgomery persistently thought that Eisenhower was wrong with his broad front strategy, and they told Eiwenhower this, and they told anyone else who would listen; nevertheless, they obeyed Eisenhower's order, which was the right thing to do. To pick another example, MacArthur thought that it was wrong for FDR to back the central pacific strategy of the Navy, and admiral King thought it was bad for FDR to back MacArthur's southern strategy; again, neither resigned, and both obeyed the orders of FDR, which was the right thing to do. Most famously, almost the entire officer corps of the Union army opposed Lincoln's repeated promotions of Grant, but they dutifully followed his orders.

When you add these in with VietNam, then I think that the lines of yours that I quoted amount to a false choice. However, it hinges on your use of "demand". Do we know that Casey did not in fact forcefully argue for a more successful strategy?

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on January 22, 2007 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and their neocon enablers certainly deserve the vast bulk of the blame for our failure in Iraq, but the military brass deserves a share too.

—Kevin Drum

What is this, Drum, a merit badge contest? What good does it do at this point to let McCain blame Casey for the Iraq debacle? Do you think he's going to qualify his criticism -- as you do -- by stating that "Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and their neocon enablers certainly deserve the vast bulk of the blame"? Of course not, he's going to give Bush a pass.

Defending McCain on this is SO stupid. His intentions are SO suspect and the likely results SO perverse.

Why do you have such difficulty writing anything sensible about the war?

Posted by: EconoBuzz on January 22, 2007 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

"So what happened?"

Thirty years happened.

The selection of a C-student, and a Nixon protege, both of whom ducked Vietnam, for our president and vice-president happened.

The zombie-like resurrection of folks who believed that the only problem with the Vietnam war was that it was too short happened.

The elevation to power of people that were convinced that any problem the US faced was simply due to the insufficient application of military force, happened.

Your point is well-made though, Kevin. These people will always come back, and lead us down the same paths if we let them. Perhaps next time, the institutional memory of the military and the expressed will of the US populace will prevent these people from succeeding.

Perhaps.

Posted by: pdq on January 22, 2007 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

"I find myself in the unaccustomed position of partially defending McCain."

Check that impulse!

Posted by: Hedley Lamarr on January 22, 2007 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

oops: almost the entire officer corps of the Union army opposed Lincoln's repeated promotions of Grant

Well, that's an exaggeration. Most of the senior military advisors in or near Washington opposed Grant's promotions. Not those who served under Grant like Sherman and Thomas.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on January 22, 2007 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

MRMarler

There is a distinction between resigning in a fit of petulance and refusing a promotion/assignment to begin with. Casey knew what Rumsfeld wanted when he took the job, if he agreed at first but later, privately, changed his mind on it's effectiveness that should come out during McCain's questioning.

Posted by: toadminion on January 22, 2007 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

...you guys said you'd never again stay silent in the face of disastrous Pentagon policies. So what happened?

That's been my question for a while. These guys are supposed to be prepared to sacrifice their lives for the good of the nation and in more than one case have proved their physical courage. But then they weren't prepared to sacrifice their pensions? Sickening.

Posted by: thersites on January 22, 2007 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

The day my husband resigned his commission in January 2001, he was one of six officers who resigned that day on that installation, all for the same reason - they saw a disaster looming with the ascendance of Bush to C in C. The prevailing sentiment was that he was a jerk and a joker and he would get a lot of young men killed and a bunch of middle aged men like them would be responsible for his folly. They were right.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka Global Citizen) on January 22, 2007 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

Any officer with over 20 gets full bennies and would face no loss of pension.

Generals are politicians as much as warriors. Generals who don't play politics are Captains and out in 20.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka Global Citizen) on January 22, 2007 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

Jon Karak:
I was just putting together a longish post and then found you already put in one sentence!
Kudos.

Posted by: Jörgen in Germany on January 22, 2007 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

As Thomas Ricks' Fiasco suggests, you have to judge the success of Iraq War commanders - from Captain up to four-star - on two separate levels:

1) Did they request the troops, money and support they needed, and did they get it?

2) What did they do with the troops, money and support they had?

Petraeus is considered a genius because of his unit's success in Mosul. But that success came BOTH because he had a large number of troops and a large sum of money in the early weeks of the war AND because he used his troops and his money in smart ways to shut down the insurgency.

Other commanders just as smart were unable to duplicate Petraeus' success because they had too few troops and too little money, too late in the insurgency.

Still other commanders with Petraeus' troops numbers and money failed miserably because they did not know how to properly counter an insurgency.

I fear Petraeus has been handed an impossible mission but not the tools he needs to complete it, just ridiculous expectations based on his Mosul success four years ago.

Posted by: Yellow Dog on January 22, 2007 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

As for Great Leader Petraeus:

=====

OZZEL: Lord Vader, the fleet has moved out of light-speed, and we're
preparing to...Aaagh!

VADER: You have failed me for the last time, Admiral. Captain Piett.

Piett steps forward, as the admiral moves away, slightly
confused, touching his throat as it begins to constrict
painfully.

PIETT: Yes, my lord.

VADER: Make ready to land out troops beyond the energy shield and
deploy the fleet so that nothing gets off that system. You are in
command now, Admiral Piett.

PIETT: Thank you, Lord Vader.

=====

- from "The Empire Strikes Back"

Posted by: PonB on January 22, 2007 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

Yellow Dog - I have been trying to ask you a question off-thread, and the emails keep bouncing back.

Would you send me an email and I will respond when I get home from school?

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka Global Citizen) on January 22, 2007 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

Does anyone else notice that Lord McCain has been sucking up to the religious right for their approval? With 50% of the chaplains coming from fundamentalist sects, what is the possibility that McCain's recent tete-a-tetes with the religious right has been about systematically cleansing the military leadership of seasoned generals who aren't religious nuts?

Posted by: workingclassannie on January 22, 2007 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

not-at-all-ex-minion wrote: Thanks for not SwiftBoating McCain.

Sure -- we can keep our criticisms of McCain to things that are true.

Posted by: Gregory on January 22, 2007 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

Bush Legacy;War planners of the future will say this is what not to do.Bush's name will be brought up for centuries.

Posted by: Thomas3.6 1/2 on January 22, 2007 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

Not being heroic should not be a firing offense for our generals who have otherwise served well.

Criticism of General Casey on such an account from sources which are clearly not unbiased should be completley discounted.

Posted by: gregor on January 22, 2007 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

Everyone is looking to Petraeus as the great savior, the man who will "set things right" but that is unrealistic.

Life 101: Things go to hell on a handcart in the blink of an eye. Setting things right takes years, if not decades. Maybe longer.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka Global Citizen) on January 22, 2007 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

toadminion on January 22, 2007 at 1:15 PM

Much depends on what does in fact come out during the hearings.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on January 22, 2007 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

Any general who took the job previously under this administration was going to walk and talk like Casey, otherwise they were not going to get the job.

Any general who will get the job currently will walk and talk like Petraeus, otherwise they will not get the job.

To echo GC: it is really impossible to know what a general truly think because they are as politically attuned as any Meet the Press guest. That's the military we get. It is rare in this society that anyone resigns over a difference of opinion, be they general or corporate officer. This is a go-along to get-along society.

So get prepared for the Petraeus pillorying when this administration goes for Plan C before the next election. And he will be taken care of just like Casey.

Posted by: Nat on January 22, 2007 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

Petraeus wrote the book (well, thesis anyway) on counterinsurgencies and he is being asked to step into a position and "fix" what's been broken, and every single tenet of his own rules for effectively putting down a counterinsurgency have been violated by this administration.

I wouldn't touch that billet if I were in his boots.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka Global Citizen) on January 22, 2007 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

If Casey had run the Iraq war for a year, the blame for a bad plan for the war during that time would be his.

But given that he's been running the war for two and a half years, his choices have long been Rumsfeld's and Bush's choices as well.

Casey may share the blame, but using him as a scapegoat is absurd.

Posted by: RT on January 22, 2007 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

Any military system that can't be criticized is a military system rotting from within, leading to military failures at all levels.

All enemies like those kind of systems.

Posted by: James on January 22, 2007 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

Who cares what the geriatric leper McCain thinks anyway? He is as irrelevant as dinosaur repellent.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on January 22, 2007 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

In 1999 the US Army devised and "fought" an Iraq war game called "Desert Crossing." Tney concluded that a large force would be needed to subdue the country. "We were concerned about the ability to get in there right away, to flood the towns and villages," says retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, who was commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and the surrounding region when he supervised "Desert Crossing." "We knew the initial problem would be security." After the war game it was recommended that a force of 400,000 troops would be needed to stabilize Iraq. If any war game in history has proven accurate it was "Dessert Crossing." A 1999 NSA estimate of the number of troops needed to stablize Iraq based on Kosovo suggest 500,000 troops would be needed.

http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/iraq/2003-07-21-war-aftermath_x.htm

We have 130,000 service members in Iraq. We have had as many as 160,000. Tell me again just what adding 20,000 troops to the theater is going to accomplish beyond giving the insurgents more targets.

Rumsfeld and Bush rejected the collective wisdom of the military and the NSA (the war games and estimate occured during Clinton's administration and, of course, George would never do anything recommended by Bill) picked the 130,000 number. They, and not Casey, should shoulder the blame. They are the guys who tied 1 and 1/2 arms behind our back. Of course,

Posted by: Ron Byers on January 22, 2007 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

Does anyone else notice that Lord McCain has been sucking up to the religious right for their approval? With 50% of the chaplains coming from fundamentalist sects, what is the possibility that McCain's recent tete-a-tetes with the religious right has been about systematically cleansing the military leadership of seasoned generals who aren't religious nuts?

Posted by: workingclassannie on January 22, 2007 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

Once again, the knee jerk hatred of Christianity that pervades the left. If the left is going to have any chance at all next year, people like you are going to have to learn to keep their mouths shut.

But does it surprise you that only fundamentalist churches can produce people capable of believing that there are things worth living or worth dying for ? That only fundamentalist churches can produce people who see a higher good than comfort, security, and a hedonistic, amoral kind of 'freedom' ?

If there are no atheists in the foxholes why belong to a church where the atheists are in the pulpits ?

Posted by: Charles Warren on January 22, 2007 at 10:10 PM | PERMALINK

On Sunday, after accusing Gen. George Casey of presiding over "a failed policy" in Iraq, John McCain suggested that he might not support kicking Casey upstairs to become Army chief of staff.

Bush nominated Casey for this position, after Casey was removed early from command in Baghdad. Casey could have declined (with no one the wiser). He didn't.

Which suggests that Casey is naive in thinking that no one would notice; or Bush set Case up to take the heat in front of a congressional committee in order to help deflect the blame from the administration for the failures in Iraq; or McCain is using Casey to take a swipe at Bush and help distance himself from the administration's past Iraq policies, as much as he may have supported them; or all of the above.

There is nothing to applaud in the behavior of any of these people.

Posted by: has407 on January 22, 2007 at 11:34 PM | PERMALINK

Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and their neocon enablers certainly deserve the vast bulk of the blame for our failure in Iraq, but the military brass deserves a share too.

I don't think so. Plus, it's patently unfair to haul the military leaders in front of Congress to be chewed out for failing to apply lipstick properly to the administration's pig.

Posted by: bob on January 23, 2007 at 2:25 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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