Friday, April 21, 2006

The Generals' Dangerous Whispers

WaPo reported Last time around, the antiwar left did not have a very high opinion of generals. A popular slogan in the 1960s was "war is too important to be left to the generals." It was the generals who had advocated attacking Cuba during the missile crisis of October 1962, while the civilians preferred -- and got -- a diplomatic solution. In popular culture, "Dr. Strangelove" made indelible the caricature of the war-crazed general. And it was I-know-better generals who took over the U.S. government in a coup in the 1960s bestseller and movie "Seven Days in May."

And that is why we have civilian control of the military.
Another war, another take. I-know-better generals are back. Six of them, retired, are denouncing the Bush administration and calling for Donald Rumsfeld's resignation as secretary of defense. The antiwar types think this is just swell. I don't. There are three possible complaints that the military brass could have against a secretary of defense.
And none of them would justify not having civilian control of the military.
The first is that he doesn't listen to or consult military advisers. The six generals make that charge, but it is thoroughly disproved by the two men who were closer to Rumsfeld day to day, week in, week out than any of the accusing generals: former Joint Chiefs chairman Richard Myers and retired Marine Lt. Gen. Michael DeLong. Both attest to Rumsfeld's continual consultation and give-and-take with the military.

A second complaint is that the defense secretary disregards settled, consensual military advice. The military brass recommends X and SecDef willfully chooses Y. That in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. Rumsfeld's crusade to "transform" a Cold War-era military into a fast and lean fighting force has met tremendous resistance within the Pentagon. His canceling several heavy weapons systems, such as the monstrous Crusader artillery program, was the necessary overriding of a hidebound bureaucracy by an innovating civilian on a mission.
And that is why they are ticked off at him.The larger the military is, the more generals it needs, and the more stars the top generals get. A modernized fast and lean military mean that it needs fewer generals. In business they would be laid off. In the military, they are retired.
In his most recent broadside, retired Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste accuses the administration of "radically alter[ing] the results of 12 years of deliberate and continuous war planning" on Iraq. Well, the Bush administration threw out years and years and layer upon layer of war planning on Afghanistan, improvised one of the leanest possible attack plans and achieved one of the more remarkable military victories in recent history. There's nothing sacred about on-the-shelf war plans.
If you want to see what a large military approach to Afganistan would be like, as the Russians.
As for Iraq, it is hardly as if the military was of a single opinion on the critical questions of de-Baathification, disbanding Saddam Hussein's army or optimal coalition troop levels. There were divisions of opinion within the military as there were among the civilians and, indeed, among the best military experts in the country. Rumsfeld chose among the different camps. That's what defense secretaries are supposed to do.

What's left of the generals' revolt? A third complaint: He didn't listen to me . So what? Lincoln didn't listen to McClellan, and fired him. Truman had enough of listening to MacArthur and fired him, too. In our system of government, civilians fire generals, not the other way around.
Precisely. Civilian control of the military. Something we have given to the Iraqis.
Some of the complainers were on active duty when these decisions were made. If they felt so strongly about Rumsfeld's disregard of their advice, why didn't they resign at the time? Why did they wait to do so from the safety of retirement, with their pensions secured?
Can't the military recall retired soldiers in a time of war? Why not recall these generals and send them to Iraq so they can see for themselves what the situtation is.

No comments: