Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 11, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

OBAMA vs. THE BRASS....If this Martha Raddatz piece at ABC News is any indication, the military doesn't intend to keep a low profile in this year's presidential election. In fact, they seem to be pretty loudly determined to make clear that they don't like Barack Obama's withdrawal plan one bit:

We spent a day with Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond in Sadr City...."Instead of any time-based approach to any decision for withdrawal, it's got to be conditions-based, with the starting point being an intelligence analysis of what might be here today, and what might lie ahead in the future."

....Asked if he considered it dangerous to pull out if the withdrawal is not based on "conditions," Hammond said, "It's very dangerous. I'll speak for the coalition forces, men and women of character and moral courage; we have a mission, and it's not until the mission is done that I can look my leader in the eye and say, 'Sir, Ma'am, mission accomplished,' and I think it is dangerous to leave anything a little early."

And then there's this about Obama's plan to withdraw one or two brigades per month: "Several commanders who looked at the Obama plan told ABC News, on background, that there was 'no way' it could work logistically." This despite the fact that Maj. Gen. Charles Anderson, on the record, specifically said the Army had the capacity to draw down two-and-a-half brigades a month.

It's gonna be a long summer.

Kevin Drum 12:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (63)

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Comments

"We have a mission, and it's not until the mission is done that I can look my leader in the eye and say, 'Sir, Ma'am, mission accomplished,'"

Okay. Mission: withdraw the troops.

Posted by: Alex F on July 11, 2008 at 12:18 PM | PERMALINK

That's why BO is an idiot for saying "I'm 'refining' my plan," etc.

Instead, he SHOULD say:
"As soon as possible after my election, I will meet with Gens. Petraeus and Odierno, as well as the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and make clear that I expect them to have withdrawal plans ready for my perusal Jan. 20, 2009."

Instead, he's letting himself be punked again.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on July 11, 2008 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

Okay. Mission: withdraw the troops.

Ayup. What part of civilian control of the military does the general not understand?

Moral courage means doing the right thing, not getting more servicemembers and Iraqis killed because you can't admit the war was a horrible mistake, justified by nothing but lies.

Posted by: Wapiti on July 11, 2008 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, the good old days, when military leaders stayed out of politics, and were fired when they mouthed off about, or went against, the civilian leadership.

There are proper places to air comments about plans that are just that, plans, and your pet reporters at ABC News is not that place.

Posted by: TomStewart on July 11, 2008 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

How wouldn't he be punked? If he doesn't lay out a plan, he gets punked. If he does, he gets punked.

I am so sick of Iraq I could puke. Just get out for fucks sake.

Posted by: Ho Chi Minh on July 11, 2008 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

Instead, though, Obama will continue to cave in to ten-cent patriotism of the GOP flag lapel pin wearers.

I also talk (this is excerpts from my weekly newspaper editorial column — Wisdom of Swan, et al, I do this for a day job!) about what Obama should say about the Muslim rumors.

Oh, and SCATblogging -- including a post that ties scat back to cats! is coming up.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on July 11, 2008 at 12:31 PM | PERMALINK

We spent a day with Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond in Sadr City...."Instead of any time-based approach to any decision for withdrawal, it's got to be conditions-based, with the starting point being an intelligence analysis of what might be here today, and what might lie ahead in the future."

Well, Maj. Gen. Hammond can resign his commission and should feel free to stay in Iraq as long as he likes. Otherwise, he takes his orders from the civilian part of the government and can go fuck himself if he thinks being there another six weeks, six months or even six years is going to make a difference.

The one thing Powell is supposed to have gotten right, for what it's worth, is cautioning Shrub and company that we will essentially own Iraq once we fuck it over and destroy it's government. We will have this national stain forever. But we are at a point of diminishing returns on time and money. This war is bankrupting the nation. I want us out ASAP because we can't fix Iraq's problems (again, trying to rebuild a nation where none existed in the first place), and we're pouring sand down a rat hole now trying to fix all the physical destruction that we caused with the invasion.

Posted by: Jeff II on July 11, 2008 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

Hmmmm. I vaguely recall someone declaring "Mission Accomplished" while on an aircraft carrier a few years ago...

Posted by: RobertSeattle on July 11, 2008 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps this would be a good time to remind the American people of our longstanding tradition, enshrined in the constitution, of civilian control of the military.

The choice is simple and stark. The military can (and legally must) carry out the proper orders of President Obama. Or the United States can devolve into the mess that is Pakistan, Libya and Zimbabwe. Clearly President Flight Suit and General Hammond prefer the latter. I suspect that after the election, Hammond and Petraeus will be practicing the phrase "would you like fries with that?".

Posted by: Dave Brown on July 11, 2008 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

Did the good general actually give any hint as to which mission he was accomplishing? WMD? There weren't any. Saddam? Dead and gone. Osama Bin Laden? Wrong country. Win the 2004 election? Mission accomplished. Bring the troops home.

Posted by: tomeck on July 11, 2008 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

"...."Instead of any time-based approach to any decision for withdrawal, it's got to be conditions-based..."

I'm confused. I thought benchmarks were anti-American tools of the devil devised in Osama Bin Laden's workshop.

Intellectual integrity apparently doesn't mean as much as it used to at the Pentagon.

Posted by: danimal on July 11, 2008 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

Did the good general actually give any hint as to which mission he was accomplishing?

So long as any American faces the twin specters of slightly higher marginal rates of income tax, and gay marriage, we must stay.

So long as the shadow of a Democrat White House and a Democrat Congress falls across our great land, we must stay.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on July 11, 2008 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

This is very very wrong. And if nobody in the mainstream media is going to have the spine to say so, we might as well fold up this democracy crap right now and bury it, with full honors. It's over.

Posted by: thersites on July 11, 2008 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

"The Brass" is the brass put in place by Dubya. Nuff said.

Posted by: ogmb on July 11, 2008 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

Great. If they don't want to come home, they can just stay there. Let them fight their way out of Iraq, just like Xenophon.

Why should we support soldiers who put partisanship ahead of support for the constitution and the civilian leadership of the United States?

Posted by: lampwick on July 11, 2008 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

Why does the military hate America?

Posted by: George Patton on July 11, 2008 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

Ever notice that government always works this way, it is only when one's favorite program is on the line that one has the blind eye and claims sudden mysterious powers of efficiency.

In this case, the solution is simple, but still too complicated for government. Simply change to a time*condition table. Meet some product of condition * troops, minimizing that over time, make frequent decisions, monitor and get out.

We have done it this way for a thousand years. I say two you say five, split the difference and add conditions.

Posted by: MattY on July 11, 2008 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

I am having very bad toughts about Major General Jeffrey Hammond in Sadr City.

Posted by: Brojo on July 11, 2008 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

Well, what did Bush do when his Generals disagreed? He got new Generals!

Why can't Obama do the same?

Anyway, when Obama takes the oath of office on 1/20/09, he is the decider, and he decides on the mission. If he says the mission is "withdraw the troops", the Generals' job is to salute and figure out how best to do that mission.

Posted by: Ralph Kramden on July 11, 2008 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

Its gonna be a loooong war. Want out---IMPEACH call Pelosi @1-202-225-0100 DEMAND IMPEACHMENT.

Posted by: Mike Meyer on July 11, 2008 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

If you are career military, wars are great for promotional opportunity. If all you are interested in is doing your job and getting home alive and in one piece, you can't be too thrilled about gungho general wannabees getting promoted at your expense.

If the "boots on the ground" military is as close to cracking as some have reported it, maybe another Vietnam War era practice will raise it's ugly head. There were a few advantages to being in the Hanoi Hilton safely protected from your own men.

Posted by: Ray Waldren on July 11, 2008 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

These guys aren't really generals anyway. In all reality, they're future Fox News commentators just passing the time.
Next please.

Posted by: Govt Skeptic on July 11, 2008 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

Iraq in '09 -- Algeria in '61?

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on July 11, 2008 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

Three circumstances converge.
First, as has been true since 1950, the military is large and numerous, not at all resembling the small sideline element of the polity it represented in peacetime in the past. A large and hence influential uniformed military takes its seat at the policy table and never leaves.

Second, the military has become Christianized, with evangelical Protestants occupying many positions of influence in the military, and supported by many civilians in the Department of Defense.

Third, the military has become politicized, or rather, has become nearly all of one color politically, to an unprecedented degree. Never before has the officer corps been so much all of one party and within that party, ideologically, its conservative wing.

As a consequence of these converging circumstances, control over policy has shifted from civilian to military leaders. If military leaders tell the public and the many members of the press who sympathize with them that withdrawal risks disaster, withdrawal will not occur--will not be politically feasible. The United States will continue to prop up the regime in Iraq for the foreseeable future, regardless of who is elected.

We see the first fruits of the convergence of circumstances that has transformed the American polity so that it has been rendered markedly less secular and less democratic.

Posted by: Saddened on July 11, 2008 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

It's really simple. When Obama is commander in chief, they will be bound to do what he orders them to do. If they don't like it, they can retire like those who disagreed with Bush did.

Posted by: paul on July 11, 2008 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

..." that there was 'no way' it could work logistically."

The ones who initially said that to Bush are no longer in the military, even though they were right.

Posted by: AJB on July 11, 2008 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

lampwick: Why should we support soldiers who put partisanship ahead of support for the constitution and the civilian leadership of the United States?

Because these gung-ho generals not the ones getting killed, for one thing.

paul: When Obama is commander in chief ... they can retire like those who disagreed with Bush did.

Maybe if we're really lucky, we can get back some of the ones who disagreed with Bush.

Posted by: thersites on July 11, 2008 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

Only comments by those who have read the entire Martha Raddatz article are relevant.

Posted by: majarosh on July 11, 2008 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond bucking for future republican appointments, i see. perhaps someone should remind him of the chain of command and just where on that scale he sits.

Posted by: linda on July 11, 2008 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

these gung-ho generals not the ones getting killed

what might lie ahead in the future

Vietnam War era practice

Posted by: Brojo on July 11, 2008 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

Raddatz is a neo-con hack, so we must take what she says as more propaganda than straight reporting. Gen. Hammond should certainly be starting his retirement tomorrow, as he is deliberately disobeying an order from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Adm. Mullen.

Posted by: Tim on July 11, 2008 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

Only comments by those who have read the entire Martha Raddatz article are relevant. Posted by: majarosh

And none of your comments are relevant.

Posted by: Jeff II on July 11, 2008 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

You mean Martha "I Love a Man in a Uniform" Raddatz?

Posted by: pls on July 11, 2008 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

This is what absolutely infuriates me about coverage of the war. The only two choices are "stay and win (eventually)" or "leave and lose." It's never a question of whether a nation of limited resources would make better use of those resources elsewhere. It's never a question of whether leaving would be better for both nations in the long term. No one ever asks if it is possible to accomplish "the mission" when the objectives are barely defined.

Posted by: uri on July 11, 2008 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

Having read the entire article, it's worse than Kevin's extract might indicate.

There are a series of quotes from officers responding to Senator Obama's stated positions. They are either pushing themselves, or being drawn by the reporter, into the political race.

There are a number of correct responses to the reporter. One is: "I am an American service member; we obey the orders of our elected officials. If Senator Obama is elected President and orders us out of Iraq we will certainly obey orders. If Senator McCain is elected we will obey his orders. My name is Captain Wapiti and you can quote me on that." Another is: "Don't use my name, but I disagree strongly with Obama."

Those individuals quoted in the article are involving themselves in the political race. They should be prepared to resign their commissions upon Obama's election. (Conduct unbecoming, if charges are required. Failure to show appropriate judgement, or too stupid to keep his mouth shut also works.)

The general officers should know better - frankly, their last service to the country could be to serve as an example. I think Major General Hammond might retire as a Brigadier General, for example.

Posted by: Wapiti on July 11, 2008 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

American voters need to make a decision: Should we have an army that serves us, or should we serve the army?

Posted by: reino on July 11, 2008 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

Want out---IMPEACH call Pelosi @1-202-225-0100 DEMAND IMPEACHMENT.

Excellent idea, I do think Pelosi should be impeached.

Posted by: ckelly on July 11, 2008 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK


"there was 'no way' it could work logistically."

A lie.

Posted by: gcochran on July 11, 2008 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

I'm a bit confussed? I thought that the mission had been accomplished back in the fall of 2004 when the "war-time-sitting" President was re-elected for his second term.

Posted by: Joe on July 11, 2008 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

Wapiti >"...I think Major General Hammond might retire as a Brigadier General, for example."

Private E-1 w/a dishonorable discharge.

Be sure and watch Generation Kill for a more honest perspective on how the people actually at risk see things.

"Every once in a while, you've got to do something hard, do something you're not comfortable with. A person needs a gut check." - Corporal Chad Ritchie

Posted by: daCascadian on July 11, 2008 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

Haha, now you want to impeach Nancy Pelosi? It's amazing how the Bolsheviks, err liberals eat their own first!

Posted by: TwiztedLiberal on July 11, 2008 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

American voters need to make a decision: Should we have an army that serves us, or should we serve the army?

The problem is that Democratic administrations aren't legitimate sources of civilian authority.

Our officer class is turning into something out of Dreyfus-era France, a process Thomas Ricks pointed out ten years ago, and that has only accelerated.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on July 11, 2008 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

General Hammond,

Your mission is not legitimate. It never was.

That is all.

Posted by: Frank Wilhoit on July 11, 2008 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

If some of them want to fight over there, let them join the Iraqi army. Once the mission of making Iraq "a shining city on the hill" for all to envy is accomplished, I'm sure they'll want to stay.

Posted by: Luther on July 11, 2008 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

....Asked if he considered it dangerous to pull out if the withdrawal is not based on "conditions," Hammond said, "It's very dangerous. I'll speak for the coalition forces, men and women of character and moral courage; we have a mission, and it's not until the mission is done that I can look my leader in the eye and say, 'Sir, Ma'am, mission accomplished,' and I think it is dangerous to leave anything a little early."

Umm, in this country, your mission as a military man is whatever the civilian authorities tell you it is. If they tell you it's over, it's over.

Posted by: Stefan on July 11, 2008 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

And what would General Hammond say to Prime Minister Maliki when he asked him to leave?

Posted by: bjd on July 11, 2008 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know what statutory law says in particular, but there's certainly a long-standing tradition that the military aren't supposed to express political preferences "as" uniform service personnel.

Also, who has documented the sort of Christianist/Republican political takeover described by Saddened at 1:21 PM? That should have never happened, and the Democrats should have hearings on how and who, and how to reverse and deactivate.

Posted by: Neil B on July 11, 2008 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

Given that a) the Iraqi's are demanding a withdrawal timetable and b) the economy is tanking, the United States is going to withdraw from Iraq under less than stellar circumstances no matter what.

Beyond that, all I can say is that listening to talk like Jeffery Hammond's ( I won't dignify him with a title ) is part of the price that liberals must pay for their "support the troops" malarkey.

There's going to be more of this sort of talk, and it's completely predictable.

Posted by: Duncan Kinder on July 11, 2008 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

Hasn't it become clear, given the differences between what generals say while serving and what they say once retiring, that this administration has high-ranking active-duty military officers on a short political leash, and no compunctions at all about using them as shills for its political positions?

Posted by: cmdicely on July 11, 2008 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

Having President Obama line up subordinate generals and tearing off the stars from their shoulders will be fun.

And yes, it appears that a subset of high-ranking appointments are being made for their value to the GOP.

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc on July 11, 2008 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

Asked if he considered it dangerous to pull out if the withdrawal is not based on "conditions," Hammond said, "It's very dangerous."

Did this coward participate in the invasion?

Posted by: Brojo on July 11, 2008 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

///excerpt///

The soldiers and commanders we spoke to will not engage in political conversation or talk about any particular candidate, but they had some strong opinions about the military mission which they are trying to accomplish, and the dramatic security gains they have made in the past few months.

Posted by: majarosh on July 11, 2008 at 5:22 PM | PERMALINK

It "Depends on condition on the gound" which is the very same words we are getting from the Bush Administration.

That is really strange, because prior to this new bit of news, so many forces in Iraq report that they don't KNOW what their mission is. That troops have commandeered and are quartering in Iraqis houses waiting for directives but mostly with direction.

And there is that fact that the surge IS NOT Sustainable anymore that it affordable.

This messages is "we're winning the war" but do any of us really know what is going on over there. Know we don't - this war has been so filter, so screened, so doctored, so massaged that I doubt any of us can trust anything from the major networks anymore and not even John F. Burns in the press has sounded reliable.

So anyway, if Obama's new message on Iraq now going to be "it depends on conditions on the ground"? If that is the case than we can just skip Obama and vote for McCain - you still get the same guy, the same theatrics, the same lies, the same corporate control.

Posted by: Me_again on July 11, 2008 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

Did I sleep through the estblishment of this junta? Because I thought the military was under civilian control.

Posted by: John Cole on July 11, 2008 at 5:42 PM | PERMALINK

Is the general saying he doesn't do "dangerous things"? Seems he picked the wrong career?

Posted by: MarkH on July 11, 2008 at 6:28 PM | PERMALINK

Nobody reads TFA:

"The soldiers and commanders we spoke to will not engage in political conversation or talk about any particular candidate"

No junta, no indication that anyone will not follow the orders of a president Obama was in the article at all. It was a generic comment of a notional policy proposal. - one which the senior officer interviewed did not commit to making a substantive comment anyway.

As for Obama's stated plan to bring home the troops within 16 months, Austin said, "I'd have to see the entire plan ... It's very difficult to comment on one way or the other, whether one plan would work or one plan wouldn't work.

It's not so different than when Austan Goolsbee made mention of some disagreements of Obama's NAFTA proposals.

Lastly, "military doesn't intend to keep a low profile in this year's presidential election. In fact, they seem to be pretty loudly determined" - This is pure calumny. I would hardly call a single article on the web (albeit from a major news org) "loud". Besides, if the military, heck if any org these days, was being "loud" on its policy preferences, you'd know it.

Frankly, I expected better of the reality-based community. Heck, you making me defend the *army* for christsakes.

Posted by: Kolohe on July 11, 2008 at 6:54 PM | PERMALINK

Funny, I thought the Republican Guard had been disbanded.

Maybe the General would be mollified if we extended the premise of an all-volunteer army and simply make duty in Iraq strictly voluntary. He can stay there for 100 years if he likes, and the National Guard and Reserves and 4th tour people can come home on the next planes out.

Posted by: Steve Paradis on July 11, 2008 at 7:48 PM | PERMALINK

Stewart Alsop -- Joe Alsop's brother and a Newsweek columnist in the late 1960s and early 1970s, who was by no remote stretch of the imagination a dove -- cautioned his readers about the military's reflexive "Can Do, Sir!" mentality, which it's very dangerous for any president to swallow unqualifiedly.

The question that kept running through my mind while reading the ABC article was "Exactly what IS our mission?" The military guys being interviewed obviously want to flat-out win this war, which is understandable simply given the amount of their own sweat and their friends' blood they've poured into it. But at what point does pouring all that military muscle into trying to win the Iraq War -- as opposed to putting it to other uses -- become counterproductive to America's and the world's well-being? (Which, of course, was a large part of Alsop's point, the other part being the military's institutional pride before a war actually starts.) The soldiers leaving the Korean War were pretty pissed off too ("die for a tie" was its common nickname among them), but that's hardly an argument that we shouldn't have bailed out of that one.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw on July 11, 2008 at 10:57 PM | PERMALINK

Did Raddatz (whose reporting I generally admire) follow up with Hammond and ask him what his mission was?

I mean, many of us have noticed that gaping hole in his comment, and I would have expected Raddatz to notice it, too.

Posted by: Cal Gal on July 12, 2008 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

"Win" this war? Since no Repub has ever been able to define what "winning" would look like, there's nothing preventing Obama from simply stating "We Won!" and bringing the troops home. We can even have a victory parade down Broadway, or on the Mall in DC, or both. Hand out medals to the guys and girls who actually put their lives on the line, and retire the brass involved. And pass a GI Bill for them.

Besides, didn't some fool say "Mission Accomplished" some time ago?

Posted by: CN on July 12, 2008 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

But the "mission" is criminal: to overthrow a foreign government under false pretenses, at the costs of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives, in order to establish permanent military bases on the fulcrum of the Caspian and Persian Gulf oil basins.

Had Hitler been overthrown, the "mission" of the German generals would no doubt have been changed.

Posted by: Kevin Carson on July 13, 2008 at 3:08 AM | PERMALINK

It seems likely that the first crisis of the Obama Presidency will be a confrontation with the military and AIPAC-type lobbies over Iraq. I just hope that he and his advisers see this coming, and that they have the balls not to get rolled by the Pentagon and Petraeus.

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