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Tilting at Windmills

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June 14, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

REID TAKES ON THE BRASS....From The Politico:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "incompetent" during an interview Tuesday with a group of liberal bloggers, a comment that was never reported.

Reid made similar disparaging remarks about Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said several sources familiar with the interview.

This is a very odd piece. There's no response from Reid. There's no response from any of Reid's spokespeople. There's not even a pro forma "Reid was not immediately available for comment." What's going on?

Not knowing what Reid actually said, there's no way to comment intelligently on this. I will say, however, that there's nothing wrong in principle with criticizing high-ranking military leaders. Too many people (some deliberately, some not) conflate this with "not supporting the troops," but that's claptrap. General officers who support lousy policies deserve brickbats, and plenty of them have done just that in the Iraq war. If Reid has legitimate criticisms to offer, there's nothing out of line about offering them.

Kevin Drum 12:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (51)

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Comments

Cue the Trolls. This is red meat for them!

Posted by: R.L. on June 14, 2007 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

This is the Politico we're speaking of here, which is not so much a news organization as a "stovepipe" for the Drudgereport.

What the piece really communicates is this:

"Harry Reid went on a bizarre tirade against our military leadership Tuesday, using language so extreme and upsetting that several of the liberal bloggers who were present felt compelled to rat him out to a right-wing news outlet."

"We can't report what he actually said, but we invite you to use your imagination to put words in his mouth."

Posted by: lampwick on June 14, 2007 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

but the war is going so well...i can almost see light at the end of the tunnel...in 50 years.

Posted by: mudwall jackson on June 14, 2007 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

Well Pace IS incompetent not to mention a disgrace to the uniform he wears so who cares what some reactionary fascists think ?

Afraid of truth they are

"Before the Internet, the idiot tended to stay in his own village." - unknown

Posted by: daCascadian on June 14, 2007 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

If Reid did indeed say that Pace and Petraeus were incompetent, he broke the current rule regarding our military leadership: They are not to be called incompetent until a decent interval after they leave their commands. Look at the conventional wisdom congealing around Sanchez, Franks, and others who agreed to take command of an illegal and impossible operation.

If Reid is guilty of anything, it's speaking the truth prematurely.

Posted by: jookboxxe on June 14, 2007 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin is right of course, if Reid has legitimate criticisms to offer, there's nothing out of line about offering them.

But if Reid is simply attacking the military leadership (which he confirmed, in Petraeus' case, just a few months ago) to score cheap political points then it is quite our of line. If Reid is taking his political fight with the president and using it to attack the military, then he better have some sound reasons for it or he will get the criticism he deserves.

As for Kevin's "flag officers who support lousy policies deserve brickbats," this ignores the fact that we want a military that will execute the lawful policies of their civilian commander-in-chief. If Reid disagrees with the policy (as he obviously does) he should limit his fight to the policy-makers. By attacking the military leadership, he is exposing himself and his party to severe criticism from a broad range of Americans who understand the important separation between civilian leadership and military professionals. Attacking Pace and Petraeus is a risky play that will only work if Reid can back up his (as currently reported) easy and cheap shots at these men. It will be interesting to see how he responds.

Posted by: Hacksaw on June 14, 2007 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

Not knowing what Reid actually said, there's no way to comment intelligently on this.

That didn't stop Glenn Reynolds.

Oh, wait, you said intelligently...

Posted by: Gregory on June 14, 2007 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

This is after all The Politico you're talking about. Here are the top five stories they're covering today:

Reid labels military leader 'incompetent'
Hillary site removes Mother Teresa photo
McCain buys anti-Romney URL
Poll shows N.H. Dems more tuned in to debates
D.C. gridlock is no accident

That last one really is about traffic. And for all of them, all you can say is, Who cares?




Posted by: JJF on June 14, 2007 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

Hack wrote: If Reid is taking his political fight with the president and using it to attack the military

Thanks for proving Kevin right, jackass.

Posted by: Gregory on June 14, 2007 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

Drum: What's going on?

Lousy reporting from The Politico, that's what...What kind bullshit, "..said several sources familiar with the interview", 'reporting' is this? No context and no confirmation from anyone who was actually there.

Hacksaw on June 14, 2007 at 1:06 PM:

..ignores the fact that we want a military that will execute the lawful policies of their civilian commander-in-chief.

And if those 'lawful policies' are more like 'awful policies', then should they still execute them, Hack?

Posted by: grape_crush on June 14, 2007 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

Of course anyone that Reid disagrees with must be incompetent. There is no way that competent people could ever disagree on anything, since there is only One True Way that must be followed, and of course Reid (and only Reid!) knows that way as per the voices whispering in his head.

Or it may have just been an ad hominem cheapshot used in feeding raw meat to the faithful in a forum where he thought it would not be for attribution.

Posted by: Whispering Voices on June 14, 2007 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, I'm guessing he probably never said it. Too obvious of a dumb thing to do.

Posted by: Whispering Voices on June 14, 2007 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

Scooter Libby "What happens now?"......Lawyer "Well,I'm going to lunch and you're going to jail"

Posted by: R.L. on June 14, 2007 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

politico.com, financed by Joe Allbritton, is a tool of the plutocracy? Run by the guys, who gave us the journamalism of the Clinton "scandals"?

Posted by: Bruce Wilder on June 14, 2007 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

you fail to consider the reporting source -- it's the politico -- the rnc's asskissing media outlet. check out all the manlove for the gop candidates -- 747 shoulders of the mittster, being the latest puke-inducing 'reporting'

it's to gin up hits against the liberal bloggers who fail to report disparaging comments by democrats against the military.

Posted by: linda on June 14, 2007 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

General officers are not "troops." They are administrators and bureaucrats.

Posted by: Bob on June 14, 2007 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

General officers are not "troops." They are administrators and bureaucrats.
Posted by: Bob

Uh, no.

Posted by: Voices in my head on June 14, 2007 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

General officers are not "troops." They are administrators and bureaucrats.

Uh, no.

Um, yes. Their career advancement has long ceased to be merit driven, and depends entirely on their political skills and willingness to kiss the ass of power.

Also, they're not actually on the battlefield. They're playing chess at headquarters.

They're all idiots and cowards, completely unwilling to tell the obvious truth about Iraq. Even Petraeus and retired general Colin Powell. (Especially Colin Powell.)

Posted by: agum on June 14, 2007 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

Who were the liberal bloggers? Do you have contact with them? Do they confirm or deny what Reid is reported to have said? This should be an easy thing for people to confirm or deny.

In any case, Reid is entitled to his judgment, whatever it is. I would only upbraid him if he did say it, but later denied it.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on June 14, 2007 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

Voices in my head >"Uh, no."

Well your "voices" are clearly wrong & know nothing of how the US military functions

Run out of Cheetos ?

"The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter." - Mark Twain

Posted by: daCascadian on June 14, 2007 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

If he indeed made such a statement, prehaps it was prescient of this:

"A statement by Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker and Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American officials in Iraq, described the attack (on the Golden Mosque minarets) as a new effort by Al Qaeda to provoke sectarian conflict. Putting a positive construction on an event that appeared to have shaken the Americans more than any event in recent months, the two officials said, 'It is an act of desperation by an increasingly beleaguered enemy seeking to obstruct the peaceful political and economic development of a democratic Iraq.'"

Posted by: sy on June 14, 2007 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

Um, yes. Their career advancement has long ceased to be merit driven, and depends entirely on their political skills and willingness to kiss the ass of power.

Um, no, to the extent that those that promote them (the politicians ultimately) prize competence. Are you saying all of the Generals that Clinton promoted were incompetent? What's wrong with Clinton's judgement of people? Does it only apply to Generals, or did he suck at selecting the civilian job holders too? Why do you hate Bill Clinton? Or America?

Also, they're not actually on the battlefield. They're playing chess at headquarters.

Um, no. During Iraq in 2003 plenty were in Ops Centers back from the front. But plenty went forward with the forces. Gen Mattis. Gen Blount. Gen Petraus. Admirals deploy aboard the ships. Our 3 star still flew fighters.

Read. Learn.

Posted by: Voices in my head on June 14, 2007 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

Not sure what that was about Gregory.

Grape_crush, you asked "if those 'lawful policies' are more like 'awful policies', then should they still execute them, Hack?"

The short answer, I think, is yes. Our military is subordinate to our civilian leadership. Military leaders can either resign or carry out their orders to the best of their abilities.

Now if Reid has a problem with HOW they are executing those orders, then he has every right to lay out those criticisms. Calling the head of the joint chiefs incompetent is just a political smear unless Reid is willing to back it up (hint: Pace doesn't really play much of role in how operations in Iraq are conducted nor was he chairman when the decision to invade was made).

Moreover, it's hard to see why Reid would criticize Petraeus who (1) had significant success in Iraq, (2) literally wrote the book on counter-insurgency, (3) represents at long last a shift to actual counter-insurgency tactics in Iraq, and (4) was approved for his position by, among others, Reid who cited Petraeus' qualification in accepting his nomination.

Posted by: Hacksaw on June 14, 2007 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

Did you see today's Corner from NRO that complained both that Reid said those things and complained that the MSM didn't cover it?

Posted by: neil wilson on June 14, 2007 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

We're starting to see the first real signs of military collapse with statements like this. When public (relatively) name-calling like this begins, you can be sure that the situation on the ground and in the barracks in Iraq AIN'T good.

Posted by: Tony Shifflett on June 14, 2007 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

What are they if they execute unlawful policies?

Posted by: Brojo on June 14, 2007 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

'I will say, however, that there's nothing wrong in principle with criticizing high-ranking military leaders. Too many people (some deliberately, some not) conflate this with "not supporting the troops," '

High ranking military leaders aren't troops.

'Our military is subordinate to our civilian leadership.'

But citizens aren't. You realize this right? Nothing personal but I've met lots of right wing citizens who call Bush their commander in chief.

'Calling the head of the joint chiefs incompetent is just a political smear unless Reid is willing to back it up (hint: Pace doesn't really play much of role in how operations in Iraq are conducted nor was he chairman when the decision to invade was made).
'

Pace was replaced because he would face lots of questions in a reconfirmation hearing about how the war was fought so far but you say he had nothing to do with it? If the questions weren't going to be specific to things he's done then the questions will just pop up in the next guys hearing right?
Pace isn't incompetent. He did the job exactly as he was tasked to do it. They chose him for that purpose. Winning the war is not a concern because winning brings about an end and our leadership believes in war for wars sake. Money.

Posted by: jg on June 14, 2007 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

Well, let's see, the generals who have been in charge of the Iraq war have lied to their troops, have lied to the American people, have lied to Congress, have ordered torture including the torture of innocent people, have attempted to cover up misconduct by the military and civilians conducting the war, have conspired to keep body and vehicle armor from our troops, have conspired to deny our troops hazard pay (unsuccessfully, thank God), have embraced alliances with people who have killed American troops, have failed to secure weapons caches increasing the risk to American troops, and on and on and on, all for the selfish purpose of furthering their own military, political, and economic fortunes.

But hey, why should they be criticized!

Posted by: anonymous on June 14, 2007 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, you could at least have offered an opinion on the credibility of the Politico, which looks Repug-biased and Drudge-symbiotic to most of us.

Posted by: Neil B. on June 14, 2007 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

'Not sure what that was about Gregory.'

Reaaly. I'm not even Gregory and I get it.

Kevin said the right will use this to say Reid doesn't support the troops ('Too many people (some deliberately, some not) conflate this with "not supporting the troops,"'). You did that by saying it was an attack on the military. He made a comment about one member of the military, a high ranking member and you turned in into an attack on everyone in uniform.

Posted by: jg on June 14, 2007 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

Bush's approval numbers during the past year appear to be the mirror opposite of Clinton's during the same time frame.

What a huge, huge tragedy for the wingnuts!

But one they so richly deserve.

Clinton buried in faux scandals with approval ratings in the high 50s to mid 60s.

Bush buried in real scandals with approval ratings in the high 20s to mid 30s.

I guess Americans really can tell the difference between faux and real scandals.

Posted by: anonymous on June 14, 2007 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

Attackers struck nine Sunni mosques in Baghdad and south of the Iraqi capital in the aftermath of Wednesday's bombing of Al-Askariya Mosque -- a major Shiite Muslim shrine in Samarra, police said Thursday.

Baghdad authorities also reported finding 25 bodies in the city of people believed killed in sectarian violence.

Four people died in sectarian fighting in the southern Iraqi city of Basra.

Or as Petraeus would put it . . .

"Amazing signs of normalcy!"

What a schmuck.

Posted by: anonymous on June 14, 2007 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

The General Staff should be held accountable where it counts.

Despite trillions of dollars funneled to the military since World War II, the United States lost the three major wars it prosecuted: Korea, Vietnam and Iraq.

The General Staff is totally unreliable.

Posted by: inquirer on June 14, 2007 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

Hacksaw on June 14, 2007 at 2:30 PM:

Our military is subordinate to our civilian leadership.

It was designed to be that way in the US, yes.

Military leaders can either resign or carry out their orders to the best of their abilities.

So a soldier is an automaton who can only express value judgements in opposition to the orders he's been given is to quit. Nice.

Now if Reid has a problem with HOW they are executing those orders, then he has every right to lay out those criticisms.

Yup.

Calling the head of the joint chiefs incompetent is just a political smear..

The context of the use of the word 'incompetent' is important...And The Politico has neglected to provide the whole quote of what was said, or even who it was said to. I'm guessing that the MSM hasn't picked this story up yet is because they are having trouble verifying its accuracy.

Moreover, it's hard to see why Reid would criticize Petraeus...

Which is why I'm questioning the veracity of the article, Hacksaw.

Posted by: grape_crush on June 14, 2007 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

Preview, dammit!

So a soldier is an automaton who can only express value judgements in opposition to the orders he's been given by quitting. Nice.

My proofreading, not so nice.

Posted by: grape_crush on June 14, 2007 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

Like I said you cannot trust an unsourced poltico story. TPM:

We asked Joan McCarter, who blogs at DailyKos under the name McJoan and wrote about being on the call here, if she recalled Reid calling Pace "incompetent."

"I don't remember him saying anything like that," she answered. "I can't swear he didn't say it. But I have no memory that he actually did. It's not in my notes."

Asked if Reid had disparaged Petraeus at all, McCarter said: "No. He said something about [Petraeus] coming back in September to deliver a report." But on the question of whether he'd said something disparaging, McCarter said: "Not that I recall, no."

"I don't even recall Pace's name specifically being mentioned," adds Barbara Morrill, who blogs at Kos under the name BarbinMD and says she was on the call. "If it was, he did not say that he was incompetent."

Asked if he'd criticized Petraeus, Morrill said: "Not that I recall. I checked my notes," and there was nothing like this. "He mentioned the report that Petraeus is supposed to be coming out in September. I only recall him saying something along the lines that the Bush administration had run the war poorly. Any criticisms were against the Bush administration."

Finally, here's what MyDD's Jonathan Singer, who wrote about the call here, told us: "I don't remember him calling Pace incompetent." He added that while he couldn't promise that he hadn't done it, "I just don't recall those statements."

Posted by: jayackroyd on June 14, 2007 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK

grape_crush,

I certainly agree with you (and Kevin) that we need to know what Reid said before passing judgment on it. As for your soldiers-automatons comment, a soldier can refuse an unlawful order and is free (within bounds) to opine about policies but is obligated to execute any lawful order given him. He can refuse but will have to face the consequences. This does not make him an automaton but it does explain why we generally don't hold soldiers accountable for the lawful decisions of their leaders.

jg,

Pace was going to be questioned about the war because the Dems would use any occasion to do this. The point I was making was that Pace, as chairman of the joint chiefs, is actually not that directly involved in the strategic and operational decisions in Iraq and Afghanistan. War fighting falls under the combatant commander (CENTCOM) and his subordinates. Pace is more concerned with running the armed forces in general.

Posted by: Hacksaw on June 14, 2007 at 4:12 PM | PERMALINK

Why comment at all about what Senator Reid might or might not have said? It's not like the Senator is in favor of the Iraq campaign. Anyone associated with that campaign is going to be in hot water for as long as it lasts.

Generals Pace and Petreaus knew full well what the cost of doing their duty would be when they took the jobs. It's called the principle of unlimited liability and it applies to generals as much as it applies to a private.

Though some comments here can make one doubt it, one presumes that when there is a Democratic Administration in power, the Democratic Party will once again be chummy with the top military leadership - and those top military leaders will have to decide where their duty lies, just as their predecesors did.

Posted by: Trashhauler on June 14, 2007 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK
...(1) had significant success in Iraq....Hacksaw on June 14, 2007 at 2:30 PM
Iraq, by the numbers (May to May, year by year) Posted by: Mike on June 14, 2007 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

Here's another link to a person who actually heard what Reid said, and (surprise, surprise) the Politico is full of crap:

http://bobgeiger.blogspot.com/2007/06/politico-fails-journalism-100.html

Posted by: DJ on June 14, 2007 at 5:35 PM | PERMALINK

claptraps? brickbacks?

Posted by: Boorring on June 14, 2007 at 5:49 PM | PERMALINK

grape_crush wrote:

"'Military leaders can either resign or carry out their orders to the best of their abilities."

So a soldier is an automaton who can only express value judgements in opposition to the orders he's been given is to quit. Nice."
________________

Well, just think a minute, grape. Would you rather it be, "Military leaders can either carry out their orders or do everything in their power to undercut the elected civilian leaders of the government?"

I didn't think so.

Posted by: Trashhauler on June 14, 2007 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK

mhr, liberals unable to "comment intelligently", equates to "no context and no confirmation from anyone who was actually there" being a fully conservative methodology of reporting.

Posted by: Zit on June 14, 2007 at 6:09 PM | PERMALINK

Well, there is a reason the MSM isn't reporting Harry Reid's "comments." It's because according to Talking Points Memo at least 5 bloggers on the conference call say they never heard Reid say Pace or Petraeus were incompetent. I'd love to know who Politico's source was and if it was someone who was even on the call.
Another non-story to muddy the waters. Can we go back to talking about the fact that Bush is at 29%?

Posted by: Levees Not War on June 14, 2007 at 6:52 PM | PERMALINK

What are they if they execute unlawful policies?

I propose a constitutional amendment to establish a Nuremburg Commission to investigate the military and political leadership for war crimes everytime that Congress authorizes the use of force.

Posted by: Brojo on June 14, 2007 at 7:05 PM | PERMALINK

'jg,

Pace was going to be questioned about the war because the Dems would use any occasion to do this. Posted by: Hacksaw '

What's wrong with that? Other than your characterization that its just democrats and they only want to do it because they're full of BDS or something. Its the job of congress to check up on what the executive is up to. This includes asking subordinates what they've been doing especially when it concerns a fairly unpopular war. Do you think it was a good move to appoint someone new so questions about the war can go unasked? Is that how transparent government works? Would you feel the same way if a republican led congress was trying to get answers from a democratic White House that keeps telling you (and by extension the american people) 'leave us alone to do our jobs', 'you don't have oversight over us' , 'the president as CiC has total discretion in how he runs the war', 'national security bitches!!!!!'?

Posted by: jg on June 14, 2007 at 7:32 PM | PERMALINK

Here is the story from someone that was on the call (as noted above by DJ) :

"...Reid was talking informally about George W. Bush's refusal to dump Alberto Gonzales and told us what he said to Pace in a private meeting before Bush tossed aside the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff like a rotting fish.

Here's exactly what Reid said:

"I guess the president, uh, he's gotten rid of Pace because he could not get him confirmed here in the Senate… Pace is also a yes-man for the president and I told him to his face, I laid it out to him last time he came to see me, I told him what an incompetent man I thought he was."..."

Spin, Politico, spin

"...It is in the religion of ignorance that tyranny begins..." - Benjamin Franklin

Posted by: daCascadian on June 14, 2007 at 8:32 PM | PERMALINK

inquirer wrote:

"The General Staff is totally unreliable."
___________________

I agree, except that we don't have a General Staff. Perhaps you were thinking of the Wehrmacht.

Anyhow, let's through the bastards out. Then we can get all the former generals and form a...ah....

Well, you know what we mean.

Posted by: Trashhauler on June 14, 2007 at 8:32 PM | PERMALINK

Unsportsmanlike remark. Like shooting fish in a barrel. A true sportsman would attempt the difficult task of trying to find someone competent in Washington.

Posted by: Luther on June 14, 2007 at 10:55 PM | PERMALINK

Levees Not War wants to "go back to talking about the fact that Bush is at 29%". That's fine, but it's relevant to discuss it in the context of: Bush not running in '08, all GOP candidates distancing themselves from that wounded lame duck, Harry Reid being at 19%, and the American people gagging and vomiting at the whole lot of them in Washington.

There is nothing so striking in the country right now, in my opinion, as the disgust at BOTH parties, and at the intolerable nonsense that passes for "governance" in the executive and legislative branches. It really IS stunningly bad.

Posted by: Terry Ott on June 15, 2007 at 12:39 AM | PERMALINK

I agree with Ms Tryon's description of the characteristics of a good leader. It's too bad that her military career was cut short by injury.

She does generalize (no pun intended) about the nature of all generals and flag officers. The great majority have no contact with, let alone any great allegiance to, the White House in a political sense. But at the highest echelons of military leadership in Washington, dealing with the political nature of war is simply part of the job.

But only part. To the extent that senior officers provide advice and information to the National Command Authority, they know that criticism will come their way. But a flat charge of incompetence is difficult to justify without knowing more about the totality of an officer's duties and performance. Four star generals and admirals deal with issues and decisions all across the spectrum of the military establishment. Some issues require deference to the civilian leadership, many require dealing forthrightly with opponents of their immediate civilian superiors.

I recall that former Congressman Ron Dellums, a radical anti-war sort, routinely dealt with senior military leaders in a businesslike fashion, shaping military appropriations bills that he just as routinely voted against each and every time. But he never voiced a public word of accusation against any officer, probably because he knew the complexities of what they deal with every day.

If Senator Reid felt that General Pace is incompetent, it was his right to say so, though he probably didn't expect it to become public. It might not have been the most politic thing to do, but General Pace surely knows it is part of his duty to accept such things without complaint.

Posted by: trashhauler on June 16, 2007 at 8:35 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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