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Tilting at Windmills

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February 1, 2010

REPUBLICANS VS. THE MILITARY.... For much of the Bush-Cheney era, Republican leaders characterized themselves as more than just allies of the military establishment, but also deferential to the military's judgment on national security matters. "Listen to the commanders on the ground" became a common adage in GOP circles.

But over the last year or so, it's become increasingly apparent that it's President Obama and his team that are aligned with the military establishment, leaving Republicans at odds with the brass they used to revere.

CNN's John King asked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) an interesting question yesterday about trying terrorist suspects in criminal courts, as has long been in the norm.

KING: If you ask the White House about this, it highlights -- they say it's not just the president, it's not just Attorney General Holder, that General David Petraeus says he believes a public trial at a federal courthouse is the best way to do it so that it's not an al Qaeda recruiting tool.

That Secretary Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration at the Defense Department, also they believes a trial in the federal court system is preferable to a closed trial in the military commission. And that the CIA operatives leading the fight against these guys in Yemen, in Somalia, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, also believe that if you did it in a closed setting in a military commission it would be a powerful recruiting tool.

If General Petraeus, Secretary Gates, and the intelligence leaders say, do it in court, why do you say that's a bad idea?

MCCONNELL: I simply disagree and so do the American people.

Keep in mind, it wasn't too terribly long ago that Democratic politicians simply weren't supposed to say that Petraeus, Gates, and intelligence leaders were wrong about national security matters. Indeed, for Dems to say that they knew better than Petraeus, Gates, and intelligence leaders -- that their judgment was superior to military leaders' -- was grounds for mockery, if not condemnation.

And yet, Obama has spent a year following the guidance of military leaders, and Republicans have spent a year breaking with the judgment of the military establishment.

It's a fascinating dynamic. On everything from civilian trials to Gitmo to torture, we have two distinct groups -- GOP leaders, the Cheneys, Limbaugh, and conservative activists on one side; President Obama, Gen. Petraeus, Secretary Gates, Colin Powell, Adm. Mullen, Adm. Blair, and Gen. Jones on the other.

To be sure, endorsements do not necessarily reflect merit. Obama's position on any national security issue can enjoy support from the likes of Petraeus, Powell, Mullen, et al, but all of them can be collectively wrong. It's lazy to think the president is right just because David Petraeus and Colin Powell say he's right.

But that's not the point here. McConnell and his Republicans cohorts are reluctant to admit it, and political insiders have been slow to acknowledge it, but what we're witnessing is exceedingly rare -- the Republican establishment openly rejecting the judgment of the military establishment.

Imagine if the situations were reversed, and Democratic lawmakers were on the opposite side of the Commander in Chief, the Centcom commander, the Republican Defense Secretary, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs -- in the midst of two wars. Might we hear a little more talk about why Dems were at odds with the U.S. military establishment?

And if so, why isn't the GOP break with the military a bigger deal?

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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It's sad, really. The military brass have been captured and brainwashed by the Islamofascist from Kenya.

Posted by: rabbit on February 1, 2010 at 8:33 AM | PERMALINK

I simply disagree and so do the American people.

Leave aside the merits of McConnell's argument, of which there are none. Wouldn't it be refreshing if prominent Democrats talked this way? Instead of constantly apologizing, backing, filling, explaining, hedging, making distinctions, noting exceptions, etc etc etc?

Posted by: Basilisc on February 1, 2010 at 8:36 AM | PERMALINK

Why don't we hear of it? IOKIYAR. EVERYTHING is OK if you're a Gooper. Everything, bar none.

Posted by: MsJoanne on February 1, 2010 at 8:37 AM | PERMALINK

Duh! Republicans are the TruPatriots and experts in KeepingUsSafe and all military-related policy because they are Republicans!

If the military leadership fails to understand the rightness of Republicans it's because they are having to censor themselves under Obama's Chicago-style ruining of the military!

It's just like how when George H. W. Bush (Sr) launched that base-closings commission, the Republicans went on to blame Clinton for 'hollowing out the military' because a lot of Bush Sr's initiatives took place while Clinton was in the White House.

Posted by: El Cid on February 1, 2010 at 8:38 AM | PERMALINK

Indeed, Steve. Imagine if the situation were reversed. But that applies to just about anything that one can point to these days. IOKIYAR.

Something else I am tired of: just because McConnell says "and so do the American people" doesn't mean it's true. But they are never called on that, either. When polls are against their view, they say they don't look at polls.

You just can't ever win an argument with these folks unless and until the media actually press them on issues with facts. I'm sick of reading how the Sunday talk show hosts continually defend themselves by saying things like "I don't know all of the information on" a particular issue.

Listen, I hold down a 50-hour a week job and yet I remain informed--certainly informed enough to counter the daily and/or Sunday talk-show Republican lies. This is their job--this is all that they do, report on and discuss the news. We know they're not out there working the beat like journalists of yore--so what's their excuse for not being able to counter these obvious lies? "I'm sorry, Mr. McConnell, but actually the American people do not agree with you on this." It must be the forever sought-after invitations to the cocktail-weenie circuit parties.

Posted by: terraformer on February 1, 2010 at 8:39 AM | PERMALINK

Why do Republicans hate the military so much?
Why do Republicans hate the military so much?
Why do Republicans hate the military so much?
Why do Republicans hate the military so much?
Why do Republicans hate the military so much?

Why do Republicans aid and abet al Qaeda recruitment?
Why do Republicans aid and abet al Qaeda recruitment?
Why do Republicans aid and abet al Qaeda recruitment?
Why do Republicans aid and abet al Qaeda recruitment?
Why do Republicans aid and abet al Qaeda recruitment?

Posted by: Chopin on February 1, 2010 at 8:47 AM | PERMALINK

Once again Republicans demonstrate their total disdain for their responsibilities. John McCain spent his entire campaign ceding the role of CoC to General Petraeus. He apparently had no actual opinion or expetise of his own.

Then along comes the Democrat who does understands his Constitutional Duty and Reponsibility and executes it. That we all hate the choices he's had to make is a good thing. If we were in love with endless war for no good reason we'd be Republicans.

Could it be that even this Generation of Military Brass is beginning to realize that Republican rhetoric about National Security doesn't match up with reality and the actual dangers we face?

Posted by: bcinaz on February 1, 2010 at 8:51 AM | PERMALINK

Hmmm, since they dislike what the military is doing so much, maybe it is time to start cutting its funding. Whatta ya say, Mitch?

Posted by: martin on February 1, 2010 at 9:02 AM | PERMALINK

"Stop Boxer, Vote DeVore Money Bomb!" Yeahh, thanks a lot traitors here at WaMo! No you do not have to uncommitted dweebs and sell ads to whoever wants to buy them IMHO. If you have a perspective, you can exercise it. You know those conservative and Christian sites control the message. Do it. Don't you think there's something more important than commercial operations and pussy-style "fairness"?!

Posted by: neil b on February 1, 2010 at 9:07 AM | PERMALINK

"Imagine if the situation was reversed ..."

That exercise became boring a long time ago.

I'm one of the American people.

I believe the Republican Party as now constituted is anti-American and a mortal danger to the country. I believe they threaten me. I believe my tree of liberty requires watering.

Imagine THAT!

Posted by: John Thullen on February 1, 2010 at 9:12 AM | PERMALINK

MCCONNELL: I simply disagree and so do the American people.

When a Republican takes a categorical position and conjures 'the American people' the matter is settled. Any doubt beyond that point is puerile recalcitrance at best, in some cases it is outright treason.

Posted by: eserwe on February 1, 2010 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK

If you demonized half this country as "soft on terror", or something similar, why would anyone assume you're acting in good faith? The problem here is the hypnotic trance where the bully simply freezes other people with sheer bravado. The moment someone says something contrary, the bully pivots and demands why that someone is demonizing him. The bully demands special treatment, gets it, and then enforces a protocol where his assumptions are the baseline reality for all discussions.

We've been playing this game for over 20 years now. Newt Gingrich perfected its rules, and they're not open to examination.

Posted by: walt on February 1, 2010 at 9:23 AM | PERMALINK

It should not be that hard to understand!

If the military agrees with us (republicans), then they are correct and to disagree with them is unpatriotic!

If the military disagrees with us (republicans), then they are incorrect and to disagree with them is patriotic!

Gen. Petraeus was always right when he agreed with President Bush. He is now Gen. Betrayus for agreeing with The Chosen One.

As our corporate media will continue to reaffirm to you and the american public, we republicans are always stronger on national defense and security issues. Therefore, we are always right and the democrat party is always wrong! Even if they pretend to agree with us.

Posted by: RepublicanPointOfView on February 1, 2010 at 9:25 AM | PERMALINK

Who the hell is a mere General like Petraeus to question the infinitely superior judgment of Field Marshall McConnell?

Posted by: Cap'n Chucky on February 1, 2010 at 9:28 AM | PERMALINK

Shoudn't the follow-up question to "I simply disagree" be "On what basis do you disagree?"

Certainly, none my students would be allowed to "simply disagree" in a class of mine.

Shouldn't our elected representatives at least meet the minimum requirements for our students?

Posted by: John Tomas on February 1, 2010 at 9:28 AM | PERMALINK

Steve, you write: "what we're witnessing is exceedingly rare -- the Republican establishment openly rejecting the judgment of the military establishment."

Rare? Maybe not.

Isn't it also fair to say the the Repubs are now at odds with the scientific establishment?

And how about the medical establishment? The economics establishment? The legal establishment?

The Repub Party of today has pretty much rejected the modern world.

Posted by: CMcC on February 1, 2010 at 9:43 AM | PERMALINK

Wasn't Patraeus a god to the GOP like 5 minutes ago?

Posted by: Tea Bagger Jones on February 1, 2010 at 9:46 AM | PERMALINK

In fairness to the Republicans (can't believe I wrote that), the military leadership will always defer, at least in public, to whoever the Commander-in-Chief is. Not to do so would be a breach of their responsibilities. Which is why it was asinine for Bush to hide behind Petraeus' skirts all the time.

So, at this point you should expect the brass to take the same line as Obama. Particularly since he's assumed the role of Sugar-Daddy-in-Chief with such gusto (see $33 billion in next budget to pour down the toilet in Afghanistan).

Posted by: jimBOB on February 1, 2010 at 9:49 AM | PERMALINK

Nobody wants to talk about the real reason they're afraid to try these guys in open court. We tortured them to get much of the evidence that we want to use against them. Any civil criminal who was treated that way would be set free.

The whole rest of this debate is bullshit.

Posted by: Slideguy on February 1, 2010 at 9:56 AM | PERMALINK

Actually, it's not so unusual that Republicans should be dismissing the opinion of "our military leaders." The Bush administration ignored the military's opinion on whether, then how to invade Iraq, leaving the bag in the military's lap after Bush's disaster team had done their work, and then spent years refusing requests by "our military leaders" for more soldiers in Afghanistan.

Republicans have been able to maintain their undeserved reputation for being "strong militarily" because it's in the Villager playbook. We can't be having a change in the narrative, people -- that would require actual thinking and reporting.

Plus, if the Villagers made their Republican guests uncomfortable with pertinent questions, who would we watch on political chat shows? I mean, come on, if they didn't have McCain willing to show up every third week, they might have to put some real thought into their programming and the Villagers' narrative would be in danger of being disturbed. Heaven forfend!

Posted by: karen marie on February 1, 2010 at 10:04 AM | PERMALINK

If the Repugnants were NORMAL vendictive people they would make efforts to reduce the pentagon budget, since the brass does not agree with them.

Posted by: Ted76 on February 1, 2010 at 10:39 AM | PERMALINK

The Republican establishment is also in the process of rejecting the judgement of the AMA, the pharmaceutical industry, the Hospital administrators, et. al. who all advocated health care reform. The Republicans are burning bridges as fast as they can.

The Republicans are stupid people who will overreach and self-destruct, in time.

Posted by: bob h on February 1, 2010 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

Republicans turn a deaf ear when military leaders like Gates, Petraeus and Powell complain that torture and Gitmo are recruiting tools for Al Queda because Republicans know that cruel and unusual measures against our enemies is an even bigger recruitment tool for turning Americans into right wing radicals who are likely to support the GOP.

Dick Cheney supports torturing our enemies, spying on Americans and putting enemy combatents in dungeons and throwing away the key because he believes in his heart that the most secure state is a police state and he has every intention of building one here.

But Republicans on the other hand generally support these totalitarian state-like policies because they know liberal Democrats and civil libertarians will go nuts. And when they go nuts their opposition will feed right into the 50 year right wing trope that liberals are too soft to protect this country from its enemies.

The fact that the American Republic is more than 230 years old does not erase the fact that liberal democracy and rule of law rest on an exceedingly fragile veneer of popular support. That is because a democratic republic asks its citizens to do something which is contrary to our very natures -- namely that we, in the words of Christian teaching, must love our enemies.

Now, what that means in a political context is that we must treat our political antagonists with dignity, respect, and legitimacy -- not as traitors or enemies. And what it means in a criminal justice or military conflict context is that we must treat our enemies with a certain minimal level of humanity, consistent with our cultural and legal traditions.

That is what makes this latest Republican attack on the qualities that support a regime dedicated to impartial rule of law so dangerous. This attack was given expression just two weeks ago by our newest Senator, Scott Brown, when he said in his victory speech on election night that American taxpayers should only be asked to pay for weapons to defeat our enemies not pay for lawyers to defend them.

It's a great applause line and it resonates strongly with many Americans. Of course it does. But its implications are appalling. It is one and the same with the idea that people charged with heinous crimes should just be taken out back and shot in the head -- not given a fair trial at public expense where they might actually get off on "some technicality."

It's taken us thousands of years to wrest impartial rule of law from the arbitrary and capricious whim of absolute dictators. More than the rules and written constitutions, what keeps this regime going are the qualities that reside in the people themselves, of justice and fairness.

Republicans are playing with fire if they really think they can re-ignite the flagging fortunes of their party by adopting themes that undermine the qualities and character of a people who are willing to endure the necessary sacrifices to sustain a democratic republic under rule of law.

Posted by: Ted Frier on February 1, 2010 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

McConnell's problem is that he's been hunkered down too long with Larry Craig.

Posted by: buddym on February 1, 2010 at 11:11 AM | PERMALINK

shoudn't the follow-up question to "I simply disagree" be "On what basis do you disagree?"
You have to remember, this is John(softball) King we are talking about here

Posted by: grandpajohn on February 1, 2010 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

the GOP does not support the military.

They support military programs that bring oogles of federal dollars to their districts/states. Not to mention how rattling their sabers lets them look tough, which is very important to chickenhawks.

Posted by: 2Manchu on February 1, 2010 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

What Republicans support is militarism, not the military itself. That is why Republicans can shout "support the troops" when forced to explain why we are invading another country that did not attack us but are so careless when it comes to actually supporting those flesh and blood troops by providing adequate armor and equipment before they go into harms way or adequate medical care when they come home.

Posted by: Ted Frier on February 1, 2010 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

It is totally backwards to even imply that republicans do not "support the troops".

As a republican, I can provide definitive proof that I "support the troops"! I have two (made in China) "Support Our Troops" bumper stickers on each of my SUVs!

Posted by: RepublicanPointOfView on February 1, 2010 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

It really bothers me that while Republicans will push any talking point they can, to the extent of using statements taken completely out of context or simply making things up and taking them to the street, the Democratic side talks amongst themselves about how unfair it all is.

Yes, it is unfair that Michael Steele makes outrageous claims while the DNC says (...). And now Mitch McConnel getting away with saying that he simply disagrees and putting Democrats back on the defensive. Which seems to be the Democrat's usual position.

The Democrats need to start the conversation instead of just responding. Call Republicans on their obstructionism, make the public aware of how their tactics are damaging the country and most of all, stand up for themselves.

One of the most telling observations I remember from the 2006 Congressional victory was when the Republicans accused the Democrats of not playing nice because the Democrats were supposed to be the 'nice' party. While that may be true, Americans as a whole seem to want strong leadership even if it is bad for them, and reward those who fight the hardest.

Alan Grayson was the first to show how it can be done, and last week Obama demonstrated how weak the Republican facade really is. If only a few of the couple of hundred others could actually stand up and make themselves heard before it's too late.

Posted by: Tom on February 1, 2010 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

"MCCONNELL: I simply disagree and so do the American people."

I wish this condescending prick would stop talking on my behalf.

Posted by: Ben on February 1, 2010 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

"And if so, why isn't the GOP break with the military a bigger deal?"

Well, Steve, as you keep telling us, it's the job of the minority party to stand in opposition to the majority party. So if the Democrats are siding with the military, then the Repuplicans have to reflexively oppose them. It's what they're SUPPOSED to do, as you keep reminding us. Thus they have all the cover they need, because they're just standing against the opposition like they're supposed to be doing as the minority party, regardless of the issue at hand.

Posted by: josef on February 1, 2010 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

?? The way I remember it, Wolfie ridiculed Gen. Shinseki. Bush went by his "gut" (and ignored the wisdom of Gen. Brent Scowcroft and his own father). Rumsfeld knew more than anyone.

Posted by: Luther on February 1, 2010 at 9:09 PM | PERMALINK

McConnell is right in this case. The military generals are being forced to make statements based on a Politically Correct playbook. To say that Al-Queda will use Military Tribunals as a recruiting tool is dishonest. Yes, they will use it as a recruiting tool, the same way they will use the Civilian Trials as a recruiting tool. Anything we do to a captured terrorist will be used as a recruiting tool.

Since most of the American population is against giving KSM a platform yards away from the site of destruction he caused, McConnell is correct, and making the populist statement.

Further, does the Generals position take into consideration the costs to put these people through civilian trials?

And finally, because the Republicans disagree one this one instance, does that show the Republicans no longer support the Military? Did Obama and the Democrats support the military when the General was requesting a troop surge in Afghanistan, and it took Obama 3 weeks to approve?

Posted by: Jason on February 2, 2010 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

This is a bait and switch. When GEN Petraeus, the ranking officer in Iraq at the time, says that he needs more troops, then he's in a position to speak. When GEN Petraeus, the CENTCOM commander talks about the legal issues surrounding how to try captured terrorists in a civilian court in the US, outside his area of command, then he's not really in a position to speak.

Posted by: Robert on February 3, 2010 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

An interesting parallel has developed. The GOP's rejection of the modern world (scientific establishment, medical establishment, military establishment, etc.) is lockstep with the so-called "Islamo-Fascists" about whom we are constantly told "reject the modern world."

Perhaps the two parties are the flip side of the coin.

Posted by: Oliveman on February 3, 2010 at 3:54 PM | PERMALINK

Hey Mitch, I just took a poll and the American people think you're a stupid asshole who should resign immediately and move to Afghanistan. Suck it bitch.

Posted by: Michael on February 3, 2010 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

"It's sad, really. The military brass have been captured and brainwashed by the Islamofascist from Kenya."

... wow, what flavour of Kool-aid did you get with that little fortune cookie bit of wisdom? You can't be socialist AND fascist at the same time, at least get your insults straightened out before you look foolish... oh wait

Posted by: Davison on February 4, 2010 at 2:08 AM | PERMALINK

I'll gear this review to 2 types of people: ones in debt from overextension and the ones in debt from medical hardship. Either one can sign up to a debt relief company because those are legitimate hardships.

Posted by: Credit Card Debt on November 1, 2010 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

Hands down, debt settlement is the best debt relief approach. Shortest programs, lowest amount paid overall, no interest, least damage on the credit worthiness.

Posted by: Credit Debt on November 1, 2010 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK



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