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April 17, 2006

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I think my role is life is unfounded and irresponsible speculation. Why now, so publicly and vehemently? Well, there can be obvious reasons, cumulative dissatisfaction, a crisis of manpower while the mission remains critical. Or there could be a precipitous event.

Not "nukes on the table" against Iran. Nukes have been and always will be on the table. A greater likelihood they might be used? Not their job to make that decision. But maybe a military unprepared for contingencies that might arise from the use of nukes, or possible ramifications of an attack.

But my current theory is based on the ability of Bushco to lie and lie and lie. Nukes could be used in Iran, just little fellers, and the use could be deniable. Mushroom clouds and fallout could come from a JDAM used against a reactor. Some people will never believe Bush used nukes based on Iranian witnesses and data, or the UN, or NGOs. Only witnesses.

Unfortunately there would be lot of witnesses in the Pentagon. The God-given Unitary President of War without constraint is constraint by damnable generals. The use of nukes has always required the Pentagon sign-off. How dare they? How dare they think they can tell the President he can't use nukes or even be an equal partner in the decision?

I think the White House has taken some nukes out of Pentagon control, stashed them away so no one will be able to prove they were used. Legal? Illegal? Who knows? But I wonder if the Pentagon will stand for it, and I go so far as a coup, or the threat of one we will never hear about. Are nukes the President's weapons?

Officers swear oaths to the country and the Constitution, not the man. I think you are wrong, hilzoy, about the meaning of "civilian control". It is dangerous for officers to disobey their civilian leadership, as a principle, but the security and integrity of the country require that it be possible in principle.

And Rumsfeld is, of course, only at most 1/3 of the problem. And if these guys are still protecting the Presidency, they are not following their oaths.

And I really really hate this stuff. Rumsfekd is acting entirely under constraints put in him by Bush & Cheney, and I suspect 90% of the "incompetence" came from those constraints. Bush will be allowed to say that if Rummy had asked for 500k more troops, Bush would either have provided the troops (draft) or postponed the war. The truth is, as far as the truth can be known, that if Rummy had demanded 500k more troops we would have a different secretary.

The "hearts and flowers delusion" story will never die, but the truth would have required more troops. They knew Iraq would be a mess.

This is Bush's war, waged the way he wanted to wage it, and if anything Rumsfeld has probably restrained the barbarity and irresponsibility coming from the West Wing.
Rumsfeld is the only one of the three with any history of competence, and he has a long and impressive history. His problem is his boss.

History must say that a portion of the American people put a monster in the Oval Office. His subordinates serve according to his will and character.

hilzoy- As usual you are overly generous. During the Clinton administration the Generals were perfectly happy to critisize their civilian leadership.

I find it interesting that you say I impugn the general's motives when I also call for the resignation of the the Sec. Def.

All I said was that Rummy's failures were their failures and also stated the obvious; why wait until out of the army to criticize him?

That's a far cry from saying they're "Clinton's boys" or that they're trying to sell a book.

I don't impugn their motives. But to absolve them from blame for carrying out policies they didn't believe in is absurd.

If the US really did still have civilian control of the military, then the US would not now share with Turkey the distinction of being the only two NATO nations with a ban on lesbians, gays, and bisexuals in the military.

Rumsfeld is probably a very competent Secretary of Defense, in the Bush administration's terms of reference. Thus far, the US military has achieved everything the Bush administration wanted it to do, and nothing that the Bush administration didn't want it to do.

It seems to me that the one thing that civilian control means is that you do have to absolve military people from carrying out policies they don't believe in -- so long as the orders they are given are not illegal.

There's a long space between ineffective and illegal

Next time I'm in Ann Arbor, hilzoy, I'll have to buy you a drink or something. I'm Platypus in that QandO thread too, and you might have noticed that we're on the same page about McQ's expressions of professional jealousy.

But to absolve them from blame for carrying out policies they didn't believe in is absurd.

Wait, wait, wait -- so you'd be OK with your noncoms and PFCs and Spec 4s refusing perfectly lawful orders if they don't believe in the war? I find that suspect at best, and an outright lie at worst.

If the US really did still have civilian control of the military, then the US would not now share with Turkey the distinction of being the only two NATO nations with a ban on lesbians, gays, and bisexuals in the military.

This is a complete non sequitur. Aside from perhaps Clinton, which civilian C-I-Cs have been eager to integrate gays into the military?

Phil: Aside from perhaps Clinton, which civilian C-I-Cs have been eager to integrate gays into the military?

The civilian C-in-Cs of Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and the United Kingdom. (I was wrong to say "the US and Turkey", though: when I checked, Italy and Greece also still bar LGB people from military service, and France, though with no official bar, allows LGB people to exempt themselves from the draft.) Clinton was reportedly unable to defy the military's objection to lifting the ban, demonstrating to those of us outside the US that there are effective limits to American claims that the President is in ultimate control of the US military.

I find it interesting that you say I impugn the general's motives when I also call for the resignation of the the Sec. Def.

You do seem to draw a parallel between them and McClellan, who famously tried to run for president in 1864, though in fairness, he did repudiate the anti-war platform drawn up the the party.

Unfortunately, the claim that one thinks Rummy should be fired does not make the casting of aspersions on those generals who have spoken out all hunky dory. In fact, I think saying ' the self serving, ass covering Generals' impugns their motives, claiming that they are not making their statements because of their beliefs, but because they don't want to be blamed. If you don't think this is impugning motives, I really don't want to see when you actually think that you do engage in it.

"First, I find the various writers who have taken it upon themselves to smear these generals and impugn their motives reprehensible. It's always worth remembering, when writing about a news story, that the people the story is about are, well, actual people. They might have all sorts of motives, and most of us probably don't know what those motives are. It never ceases to amaze me how many people are absolutely certain that they know the motives of complete strangers.

How, exactly, do all these bloggers know that these generals are really motivated by secret loyalty to Clinton, or resistance to military transformation, or some minor gripe with Rumsfeld that they've blown out of proportion? Telepathy? A Vulcan mind meld? Divination? A report in the Weekly World News? If they don't know, why are they willing to talk as though they do? Don't they realize that impugning someone's motives without justification is wrong?"


This is a little too high-minded for me. In this case, though, as you point out in the rest of your piece, the evidence is in favor of these men being sincere--for one thing, they gave up their chances for significant career advancement.

Platypus: Ann Arbor? Email me the next time you're in Baltimore, where I actually live ;)

Donald Johnson: This is something I think is actually quite important, not "high-minded". Probably it stems from when I was in college, and had the strange dual perspective of being an undergrad, with all the instinctive sympathies with expressions of outrage at the university administration that that entails, and the child of someone who was, at another university, the object of exactly the same kinds of demonstrations. (And who was a wholly decent person. Also, in the normal course of things I had met most of the senior administration where I went to school, and while at times I disagreed with them, sometimes seriously, they were all, as far as I could tell, basically good people.)

This meant that while I was completely willing to protest policies etc., the parts of demonstrations that involved e.g. the claim that administrators were motivated solely by greed, were knowing agents of oppression, or were in some other way wicked, made me go: huh? It seemed to me natural for people to demonize "administrators", or other powerful people, that way, but it was also both unnecessary for genuine disagreement and deeply unfair. (Likewise, I thought it was natural for the humor magazine at Princeton, where I went to school, to respond to the admission of Brooke Shields by publishing an issue whose cover story, iirc, was "Ten Ways To Get Brooke Shields Into Bed". But you'd have to forget that she was an actual person, and not have the thought: what would it be like to show up for college for the first time and find a campus publication with the cover story: "How to get you into bed.")

I also thought it was tactically dumb.

But it happens all the time in politics, and it helps with demonization, on both sides. How did everyone know that Hillary Clinton only stayed with Bill Clinton out of blind ambition? Has no spouse ever before stayed with an exasperating, philandering, but also charming and brilliant, spouse for any other reason?

To my mind, there are these three reasons for remembering that political figures are people: first, you come up with much better explanations for their behavior that way. Second, you don't needlessly impugn their characters without justification. Third, you tend to do a lot better with tactics, both because of the first reason (tactics are always better when informed by reality), and because you then find yourself asking such questions as: do normal people tend to respond well when your first statement of your disagreement with them comes through a bullhorn, accompanied by invective?

Only the second is really 'high-minded.'

"It's always worth remembering, when writing about a news story, that the people the story is about are, well, actual people. They might have all sorts of motives, and most of us probably don't know what those motives are. It never ceases to amaze me how many people are absolutely certain that they know the motives of complete strangers. "

Precisely correct. I assume then, in the absence of significant stashes of WMD yet found in Iraq, that Saddam Hussein's motive could very well have been to spirit them away to another country before the invasion began.

Or his motive could have been to conduct a little global drama for the purposes of entertaining the extraterrestrial audience, only to have it backfire on him.

As long as we're covering all the bases.

Of course, what you're describing is a strategy more than it is a motive, but since we're discussing things we have very little evidence for...

Slart, I agree with you point. Why do you accept the position of a (very) small group of ex-genreals in opposition to administration policy, and not an equally-difficult-to-support position of the administration with respect to the location of WMD?

Oh, and the answer is NOT 42.

Why do you accept the position of a (very) small group of ex-genreals in opposition to administration policy, and not an equally-difficult-to-support position of the administration with respect to the location of WMD?

The administration's official position is that all Hussein's WMD and production facilities were transported into Syria? I must have missed that one.

Why do you accept the position

Facts not in evidence, buck. I actually haven't kept up on this topic, and so have kept quiet. I think there's some legitimate criticism of Rumsfeld coming out of areas that are not former general officers, and I'm slowly working my way through those. Gary Farber linked me to a piece by George Packer that makes a case for deliberate truth-avoidance by Rumsfeld; I'm working my way through it bit by bit.

I don’t want to see anyone vilifying these (assumed) honorable men. I do feel though, that they would have had more impact if they had resigned in protest at the time. For the most part, that seems to be the main point of their detractors.

If you disagree that strenuously with policy and decisions, especially if you feel that those policies/decisions will unnecessarily endanger the lives of American servicemen, then you resign and you go public. Had even one or two of them done that at the time I know it would have impacted my opinions in the run up to the war.

Coming out 3 years later and essentially saying I knew it was a cluster way back then but they didn’t listen to me just seems wrong, so I do see why some people look for underlying motivations.

One of the “smears” you linked had this quote:

“But they say it is a troubling precedent when retired generals attempt to dictate who should be the military’s civilian leader.”

Would you agree that it is bad policy for the generals (retired or not) to choose the SecDef? And how is that different than allowing them to choose who can’t be SecDef?

Anyway – I don’t want to see true smears, but I don’t think it is out of bounds to question why they did not resign and go public at the time, when it may have done some good.

The administration's official position is that all Hussein's WMD and production facilities were transported into Syria?

Well, some people are certainly saying that, but I don't think the Admin's going there just yet. Hell, I think if you go back far enough you can catch David Kay saying the same thing.

Anyway – I don’t want to see true smears, but I don’t think it is out of bounds to question why they did not resign and go public at the time, when it may have done some good.
Tricky question, Steve. One can just as easily question why someone wouldn't stay in the system and try to make a difference where they're at, by providing competent leadership and much-needed input.

I'm not saying that's what they did -- and I'm not suggesting that they are lily-white whistleblowers. I just find it kind of baffling that for years, many commentators on the right have said that military personnel should essentially shut up and follow orders until they're out of the military.

When some high-ranking folks do just that, the response is predictable: They should've said it while they were in the military.

I don't think that anyone is suggesting that the generals "choose the SecDef." Their statements are, at this time, opinions voiced by informed civilians.

Good stuff along these lines the last few days at Intel Dump (link in left column under "guests"). Worth a look. First thing that came to mind when reading this post.

The civilian C-in-Cs of Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and the United Kingdom.

And these are relevant to questions regarding the US military because . . . ?

Clinton was reportedly unable to defy the military's objection to lifting the ban, demonstrating to those of us outside the US that there are effective limits to American claims that the President is in ultimate control of the US military.

Clinto could have done so by executive order had he felt strongly enough about it. His backing down on that issue, along with his eager pimping for and signing of DOMA, were pretty strong clues that he didn't, after all, feel that strongly about it.

I just find it kind of baffling that for years, many commentators on the right have said that military personnel should essentially shut up and follow orders until they're out of the military.

Enlisted personnel swear an oath to follow all lawful orders issued by their superiors. Officers swear an oath to the constitution (not that they don’t also have to follow lawful orders.) That is the key difference between the classes. A SFC may disagree vehemently with a given order, but as long as it is lawful he has no option but to follow it. His next chance to leave the service in protest does not come until his current enlistment is up – possibly years.

The officer’s allegiance is to the constitution, not the SecDef or even the CiC. I would make the case that it is more their duty to resign in protest than to go along with war plans that they believe are unsound.

Now that I write this though I am having a D’oh moment: I assume that all those plans were quite secret at the time. So while they could have resigned in protest, they could not have published op-eds on the deficiencies of the plans. A half dozen generals resigning in what was obviously a build up to war would have told us something was up, but not given us any details.

If I assume that, then I accept your argument that their best bet was to stay in and do the best they could: resigning without being able to influence the course of things to come would have been mostly meaningless. From there I can accept that they are trying to prevent any future mess rather than just engaging in back-biting. I retract my original post.

Ann Arbor, Baltimore, what's the difference? ;) I guess I was just confused, but I still owe you a drink.

Baltimore has only two syllables, when pronounced correctly.

Thanks for the reminder about the enlisted vs. officer stuff, OCSteve. Easy one to overlook; the option to resign is exclusive to officers, I hadn't thought that through.

A friend of mine in the military made much the same observation. Not that their complaints were illegitimate, rather that they would've had much more political impact if they'd come earlier in the process, along with a resignation. A handful of generals stepping aisde and saying, 'Nope, this won't work' would absolutely have made quite an impact.

I can't help but wonder, though, how much THAT would've been rolled into the 'old-war soldiers fighting change' narrative that Rumsfeld has been riding for years. I've been watching his plans for a long time now, from the breathless Wired articles rhapsodizing his 'sci-fi' blitzkrieg to the public dressing-down that officers received when they suggested that occupation (not invasion, but occupation) would require more troops than Rumsfeld envisioned.

Having been in private sector power-struggles (petty stuff like 'the best way to make our organization's web efforts a success), I think it's a no-brainer to say that these generals are complex people with a mix of selfish motives and valuable informed opinions. I know there were situations I stick with much longer than I should've because I a) wanted to keep my paycheck, or b) held onto the conceit that I could be 'the guy who made a difference.'

Also interesting to me is the fact that at least one of the Rumsfeld-critic generals now in circulation vigorously defended the same flawed decisions at the time they were being made. Not just troop levels etc, but whether there was in fact an insurgency. I'm very curious what changed that guy's mind.

Platypus,

The steamed crabs are better in Baltimore. And the local college in Ann Arbor has a far better football team.

... occupation (not invasion, but occupation) would require more troops than Rumsfeld envisioned.

Yes, let us not forget that Donald Rumsfeld's estimate of troops required for the occupation was 30,000.

Yes, let us not forget that Donald Rumsfeld's estimate of troops required for the occupation was 30,000.
True, that. The spin I've been hearing for months was that the plans were all fine and good for the war to topple Saddam, but the war to end terrorism in the middle east -- aka the occupation -- has been more difficult than anyone imagined.

This strikes me as desperate spin; like saying that Hitler won WWII, but lost WWIII. (Not attempting to compare the US to Hitler; just noting that an military action must include the realistic near-term consequences of a military move as part of the equation.)

Just a few comments, possibly going into the forbidden ground of determining motivations of strangers.

OTOH, the military mind is not totally unknown to me, as I have learned a lot about the military watching and speaking to my son.

For those who said that these generals should have spoken up at the beginning, keep in mind, that most of these were unlikely to be in on the initial war planning, and only received instructions for their specific divisions, etc.

Also, they may well have not seen how messed up the situation was on the ground until they got to Iraq. Even hearing from fellow officers is not the same as being there. They are not about to make any comments then, as they have several thousand soldiers whose safety is ultimately their responsibility, and making negative comments about the military's civilian leadership would quite possibly have compromised that safety.

Additionally, these generals are not speaking out against the whole scenario of going into Iraq, but how the top leadership has handled that situation.

As to why speak up now, I go back to the fact that, while still holding their positions, they had thousands of soldiers under their command. The fact that they have retired does not make them turn their backs on those soldiers. In fact, since they know that many of those soldiers will be returning to Iraq (my son's unit is already scheduled to go back next April), they feel the need to try to make sure that the civilian leadership is going to be competent enough to do as much as possible for those soldiers.

And it should be noted that, as I have said before, many members of the junior officer corps, particularly in the Marines and Army, are not very enchanted with the current civilian leadership. Obviously, they can not come out and say things directly, particularly if they want to make a long term career in the military.

Unfortunately, many have decided that a long term career is something they no longer want.

Jeff: "The spin I've been hearing for months was that the plans were all fine and good for the war to topple Saddam, but the war to end terrorism in the middle east -- aka the occupation -- has been more difficult than anyone imagined."

Totally agree with what you are saying. And it turns directly to what is wrong with this administration.

First of all, there were plenty of people who predicted a difficult aftermath of the major hostilities, including the State Department.

Secondly, a basic rule of planning for war is to hope for the best and be prepared for the worst. This administration hoped for and only planned for the best.

For those of the 101st keyboard with their military genuis who say the generals should have gone public:

"It is a violation both of the UCMJ amd of military custom for an officer or anyone else on active duty to publicly criticize the grand officers of the government or members of Congress. The only exception is that Congress must be informed fully when it queries the military. This is at any tme (including wartime) since although the prsident is the commander of the military, the Congress is its creator and enabler in law."

- Colonel Lang (US army retired)

I also thought it was tactically dumb.

That's right. If you want to get someone like Brooke Shields into bed, you've got to act all indifferent, like you don't even know who she is.

If one were to look for a way to destroy the military, incite a sectarian Arab war, and completely bungle homeland security, it would look exactly the way the administration has conducted the so-called war on terror.

The problem is a lack of modesty. That quote from a nameless official a few years ago, about being actors on the world stage and making history unfold around them. It is arrogance personified.

Step2, perhaps -- but it's also just as foolish to pretend that the US doesn't 'leave big footprints' wherever it walks. In the post-Cold-War era, we really were the only big single player on the block. Choosing how to work with that influence is a sobering and humbling task.

You can, I think, argue that the choices this administration has made about how to use that power and influence betray a profound arrogance. But that's an interperetation and not the only one. Noting that their choices have been countrproductive and they refuse to adapt to important information is a much sounder and easier-to-defend point, I think....

From the "Be careful what you wish for" department, let's pretend for argument's sake that the generals in question are correct, and for further argument's sake that they should be listened to and Rumsfeld is then fired.

What are the long-term consequences of that? What if a new liberal administration was elected, and its new SecDef was aggressively advocating transformative new policies that were generally opposed by flag officers? Would the coup sacking of a prior SecDef help or hinder the new SecDef? Is chickenhawking in reserve a dangerous precedent in a democracy where civilian control accountable to the electorate is fundamental?

Regardless of the merits of a retired officer's opinions, the expression of them has consequence. It's not a consequence any liberal should be anxious to test.

What are the long-term consequences of that? What if a new liberal administration was elected, and its new SecDef was aggressively advocating transformative new policies that were generally opposed by flag officers?
That's certainly a good point, Macallan. But that framing of the issue presupposes that their motivation is payback for restructuring, rather than a desire to see the armed forces succeed in their mission.

Retired generals have no more power to force a 'coup' than you or I do. Their only influence is the insight and understanding that their prior rank and experience implies.

I'm disturbed at the thought of Generals sacking a civilian leader, but I don't see that as the real issue here. I'm just as disturbed by the emergence of a Catch-22 rhetorical scenerio, where civilians are dismissed as 'know-nothings' if they think things are going badly, and those with actual experience are dismissed as 'too biased by their own interests.'

liberal japonicus:

And there have never been generals that, when things start to go south, begin lashing out at others to cover up their failures?

I would say that this is a luxury vouchsafed almost exclusively to general officers in any military at any time in history.

That said, isn't it equally bogus to claim that their motives are as pure as the driven snow?

Several commenters have pointed out that if they had resigned before the invasion or en masse during the occupation, I daresay someone would have to sit up and take notice - and Rummy probably would not still be here to torment us with his incompetence.

That's an interesting point, Mac, but if you are conceding a liberal victory in the near/midterm future, it sounds like you are saying don't use every argument at your disposal because you might not like the consequences, though that could also be read as don't to that as it is going to embarrass us too much (since we are just pretending here :^)).

There are two rejoinders to that. The first is that if the generals are correct and should be listened to, what happens if they are the only ones who could put the point across in a way that would change minds?

The second rejoinder is that if your car has a flat tire, you don't not fix it because you are worried it might have another flat tire down the road. What made 'chickenhawking in reserve' a dangerous precedent is not what will happen in the future in a liberal admin where the left controls both houses, but how those outside of the military were told, time and time again, that their opinions were not only uninformed, but motivated by ulterior rationales and (potentially) treasonous. We didn't teleport to this place, we find ourselves at long road taken step by step to get us here.

But that framing of the issue presupposes that their motivation is payback for restructuring, rather than a desire to see the armed forces succeed in their mission.

The framing is quite irrelevant. I was intentionally oblique about what a new SecDef might be advocating.

Retired generals have no more power to force a 'coup' than you or I do. Their only influence is the insight and understanding that their prior rank and experience implies.

Those two points contradict each other. The only means to force out a SecDef is political. Their "insight" is political.

Hilzoy, I can understand your viewpoint, but I don't quite agree. It's true one shouldn't make baseless accusations of bad faith, but in public life it's just good sense to wonder if someone's motives are really as pure as they claim and I expect motives to be questioned, especially when person A says that his former boss B is incompetent. In this case, though, independent evidence suggests that Rumsfeld is incompetent (unless, as Bob points out from time to time, we are mistaking a feature for a bug.)

John Miller supplies an answer to what would have been my own question, which is why these guys didn't resign and go public a long time ago, when it would have done more good. If a great many senior officers in the military knew that Rumsfeld's plans were likely to lead to a disaster, then wouldn't it have had real impact if at least some had resigned and gone public with their misgivings back in 2002? Whether that applies to any of these officers I don't know.

Several commenters have pointed out that if they had resigned before the invasion or en masse during the occupation, I daresay someone would have to sit up and take notice - and Rummy probably would not still be here to torment us with his incompetence.
And if Bush had asked for Rumsfeld and Cheneys' resignations when it became apparent that WMDs were not being developed in Iraq, the world would have sat up and taken notice, and he would have more credibility (for better or worse) going into the Iran debacle.

This line of thinking is interesting -- but it's essentially monday-morning quarterbacking of someone's career choices from a tactical political standpoint. I think a number of the Generals in question are trying to distance themselves from approaches that failed badly during the occupation. Others may be lashing out because they don't like Rumsfeld. Others, if I read them correctly, seem to be saying in no uncertain terms, "Look, this was botched and it was preventable. Rumsfeld made some very, very bad calls and didn't listen when people tried to convince him they were bad."

Getting mired up in 'People would've listened if they'd said it such-like' strikes me as a bit of wishful thinking. I recall the parable of the rich man and Lazarus; the rich man, doomed to hell, asks God to send divine signs to warn his family to change their ways. God essentially replies, 'If the law and the prophets aren't enough for them, a sign won't help.'

My opinion? If they'd bailed before the war they would've been dismissed by the talking-points-machine as oldschool Cold Warriors determined to re-fight WWII, unwilling to accept the reality of a new leaner and meaner Post-1991 fighting force. Just like those who said we'd need more men for an occupation were dismissed as nay-sayers.

Those two points contradict each other. The only means to force out a SecDef is political. Their "insight" is political.
I'm confused, then. You're suggesting that former members of the military should not be allowed to express their views on the performance of our elected officials and the people they appoint?

You used the word 'coup,' in reference to generals 'forcing out' a civilian leader. If what you really meant was 'putting political pressure on the administrative branch to remove a political appointee,' then no, I have no concerns whatsoever. How is that different than any other civilians pressuring elected officials?

Hey Rick
And there have never been generals that, when things start to go south, begin lashing out at others to cover up their failures?

I don't think I implied that. But drawing on Civil War lessons, where a federal military was really more of an idea rather than an organization with two world wars and a budget larger than most nations is a bit of apples and oranges.

And if we start to enter the realm where everyone's motives are questionable, than why should we take at face value everything the administration says? Unfortunately, motives are only questioned when one disagrees these days.

I hope it is not an insult to argue that the general corps does not have the power to see into the future, and they could not have predicted that things would get this badly. Also, depending on how you accept this, perhaps this general's revolt is not in relation to what has happened, but what is set to happen in the future in regards to Iran. Would you prefer that they say 'I'm speaking out against this administration because of the development of plans to fight Iran'? Like all people, I don't think there is a single motivation, but a complex blend of them. But you don't get to pick and choose and then have one motivation stand for the whole. 'Ass covering' and 'worried that the army will be broken like it was after Vietnam' are separated by a very blurry line, imo.

Apologies for not taking this up at your blog, I'm just a one blog kinda guy.

How is that different than any other civilians pressuring elected officials?

It's only different if the generals, solely because they are generals, are given more credence than other civilians.

It's only different if the generals, solely because they are generals, are given more credence than other civilians.
I guess I'm missing the point in all of this circling. Do you mean that the perceived experience held by former Generals means that they should not be allowed to express political views as civilians? Or that they should just not be allowed to express opinions contrary to those of the civilian leaders in power? There's a lot of head-scratching on my end. Perhaps I'm missing something.

You asked, "Would the coup sacking of a prior SecDef help or hinder the new SecDef?" and I don't see that as a sufficient reason to keep civilians from speaking their minds. People fretted that impeaching Clinton would weaken the Presidency -- clearly, Bush has proven that wasn't the case.

Of interest is Steve Clemon's latest on Harlan Ullman's WashTimes column

Ullman makes a compelling case that the zealotry to unseat Rumsfeld should be focused on the President and the many other institutions and players who had a hand in the reckless way this war was pursued. Ullman is interesting because he is the person credited with coining the "shock and awe" strategy for military invasions, but he has been a strong and consistent critic of the Bush White House and the Pentagon for the manner in which "shock and awe" was applied.

Just to be clear about my own views, I disagree with Harlan Ullman and think that Rumsfeld is a titan in these matters and that responsibility for many of the errors and misdeeds of this war needs to be fixed, to a significant degree, on him. One must begin somewhere, and it's not enough to argue a defense of Rumsfeld that others should be held accountable as well.

Just wanted to nose in for a second and point out that the notion (well up-thread) that military officers take an oath to the Constitution, whereas enlisted personnel take an oath to follow the orders of those appointed over them (as opposed to the Constitution) is just not correct.

I'd have one heckuva job to do if asked to tally the number of times I've administered that oath over the course of my own career. The pertinent passage, as sworn to by officer and enlisted alike:

"...I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same...".

It's quite simple Mr. Eaton, I would defend the right of any civilian to speak out. Whether it be a retired general, a member of PETA or the KKK. People have a right to speak, whether it is wise speech or whether they should be listened to is another matter.

Situational ethics are as dangerous as they are oxymoronic. This strikes me as a confirmation bias problem rather than a principled stand on how the system should work.

Jeff,
"Choosing how to work with that influence is a sobering and humbling task." It should be, but I have seen little evidence of it. The unitary executive powers being claimed suggest grandiosity, not humility.

"But that's an interpretation and not the only one." Everything is open to interpretation, of course. Being unwilling to change amid a disastrous course does indicate something, correct?

When the London bus bombings occurred, it really forced the question of the effectiveness of regime change. Their liberal, democratic culture made not a single bit of difference to the homegrown terrorists. This demonstrates that most Westerners, myself included, have little idea about what we are up against. Ideals enshrined in our history and law do not juxtapose well with religious extremism.

It's quite simple Mr. Eaton, I would defend the right of any civilian to speak out. Whether it be a retired general, a member of PETA or the KKK. People have a right to speak, whether it is wise speech or whether they should be listened to is another matter.
That's fantastic. I'm asking you to explain what you're getting at, though. I am confused by your statements, and am seeking clarification. I'm not trying to be antagonistic -- for all I know, you could agree with me. I just can't make heads or tails of what you're saying. It's been a long day, and I think I'm just a bit slower than usual.

In one post, you seem to be saying that retired generals calling for a civilian military leader's resignation set a dangerous precedent. When asked how, you say that more weight is given to their opinions, and toss the word 'coup' around. You might be right -- but I can't figure out what you'd be right about. My concern has never been that people listen to military experts on matters regarding the military.

Situational ethics are as dangerous as they are oxymoronic. This strikes me as a confirmation bias problem rather than a principled stand on how the system should work.
Er...

Again, I'll ask for clarification. Are you saying that people listening to these generals is an example of confirmation bias? Or that Rumsfeld's decision-making process is an example of confirmation bias? This whole sub-thread seems to have spun into meta-meta-meta discussion.

Perhaps we can take a step back. What are your concerns?

Donald: to be clear, I'm not against wondering about motives, just as one wonders about the motives of people one knows in real life, and with the same burdens of proof, and so forth. It's just that in this case, and in a lot of other cases, the conclusions reached are so far beyond any available evidence that they're ludicrous.

Part of this, no doubt, is people just saying things they know are not true. (I mean, there are enough people out there that there have to be some like that, I'd think.) Part of it might be a desire to believe things that fit with one's own chosen storyline. But I think that's a lot easier to do, with public figures, if one forgets that the public figures are ordinary human beings, not props in our fantasy lives.

Similarly, it's easier to vilify them publicly, without a shred of evidence, without noticing that one is doing something that's really wrong if one forgets this. If you remember that you're dealing with human beings, then surely it would be harder to do this without so much as noticing that what you're doing is wrong.

(The emblem of all of this, in my mind, is Limbaugh calling Chelsea Clinton 'the White House dog'. It's not very funny even if you forget that she was then an actual early teenager, and not a particularly pretty one, and that at that age having someone call you a dog in the school lunchroom is enough to make you hide under your bed for a week. I can't imagine what having America's most popular radio personality saying it on air would be like.

No one who heard it that way would laugh. I hope.)

Oh, c'mon hilzoy. He was only kidding.

Sorry if I'm not being clear Mr. Eaton. My point is simple and I thought well laid out in my first comment. Let me try and state it another way. Given that there are more retired generals, including Zinni (BTW), who have *not* called for Rumsfeld ouster, should he stay on the job regardless if Bush wanted to fire him?

Why give weight or notice to these few? Why do some people who would never give weight to a retired general, now doing so? That's where the confirmation bias comes in. Further, unless someone is going to argue that flag officers should always speak out against civilian leadership and they should always be listened to, not just when they happen to mimic their own views, then it strikes me as a case of situational ethics.

The authority of elected civilian leadership over the military is to me a foundation of liberal democracy and not something to be tinkered with when it is politically convenient.

*cue paint being stripped off the walls by the acid in my voice*

Interesting post on the generals text">here (Steve Clemons, sharing an email from a former general.)

The authority of elected civilian leadership over the military is to me a foundation of liberal democracy and not something to be tinkered with when it is politically convenient.

Actually, I should have cited this Steve Clemons post, which suggests that it is much more complicated than simply dissident generals against Rumsfeld. Clemons quotes a private email from a retired general

The response from LtGen DeLong underscores what is perhaps the most pernicious aspect of this whole "revolt of the generals" -- the schism it reveals in the mililtary chain of command.

Not one of the six who've spoken out reported directly to Secretary Rumsfeld. General Zinni retired in 2000, a year and a half before Rumsfeld became SecDef.

LtGen Newbold was the J-3 on the Joint Staff, which by law is managed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of the Joint Staff. Riggs commanded 1st Army for the first few months of Rumsfeld's term, and thereafter was the Director of the Army's Objective Force Task Force until his retirement.

MG Eaton commanded the Military Assistance Training Team in Baghdad for a year, with at least one commander in the chain between him and Rumsfeld (Abizaid), and was in TRADOC for the rest of his overlap with Rumsfeld's tenure. And MGs Batiste and Swannack were division commanders in Iraq, with a corps commander (Sanchez, Metz, Vines, Chiarelli), the MNF-I commander (Casey), and the combatant commander (Abizaid) between them and Rumsfeld, not to mention the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs (Myers, Pace) who by law "serves as the spokesman for the commanders of the combatant commands, especially on the operational requirements of their commands."

Those who have come to the defense of Rumsfeld -- Pace, Myers, Franks, and now DeLong -- all sat or still sit much closer in the chain to Rumsfeld than those who have cited his leadership style, disdain for military advice, and meddling in military affairs as reasons he should be fired.

Given where each sat in the chain of command, their complaints about the Secretary of Defense amount to an indictment of every officer serving above them, and especially those now defending him. A piece by Fred Kaplan in Slate Magazine, "The Revolt Against Rumsfeld," includes the following passage:

Gen. Zinni referred to another book, a favorite of officers for nearly four decades now-Anton Myrer's 1968 novel, Once an Eagle. It's about two Army officers, friends from childhood, and their rise through the ranks -- Sam Damon, a straight-arrow field commander, and Courtney Massengale, a scheming Pentagon careerist.

Gen. Zinni said the two characters are widely seen in his profession as symbols for the two types of military officer -- and the two paths of military promotion. He stopped short of saying so explicitly, but he suggested that the Pentagon's upper ranks contain too many Courtney Massengales and not enough Sam Damons.

To have retired generals from down the chain call for the firing of the civilian at the top seems to suggest that they have lost confidence in those in between, a sentiment that has surfaced in Loop discussions on this topic, to wit:

Has anyone considered the possibility that the Joint Chiefs might be in general agreement with the SECDEF and feel there is nothing to resign over?

Forcing strategic policy changes on political leadership is, in my opinion, better left to the Chairman and Service Chiefs. There would be a horrific effect should one of these resign over policy. But isn't this exactly what our "six" are trying to do? (emp added)

and notes

The general purpose of the above email message from another of the nation's top retired general was to indicate some qualified support for Secretary Rumsfeld.

However, it is a thoughtful and respectful treatment of the right of retired generals to speak their mind -- but it's calling for the fuller story. What about the generals between them and the Secretary?

Did they speak out at the time? Did they challenge their superior officers and receive responses to their skepticism about decisions emanating from the SecDef's office?

No matter what one's views on whether Rumsfeld should stay in his post or be retired, this question about what happened in the chain of command is worth looking into.

I may have clipped out too much, so I urge anyone thinking about this to check out the post. On preview, I see Hilzoy has already flagged this.

OT: Dana Priest won a Pulitzer! For beat reporting, which wouldn't have been the one I thought, but in a way makes the most sense.

Very glad to see the Times Picayune recognized, too.

Step2: Their liberal, democratic culture made not a single bit of difference to the homegrown terrorists.

I think what the London Underground bombings brought home to us was that any culture can harbor terrorists. In the US, your violent religious minorities bomb or set fire or otherwise attack health clinics. As you say, ideals enshrined in our history and law do not juxtapose well with religious extremism: but violent religious extremists are found even in secular cultures.

I should say: "brought home to us again". Although it's been years since the IRA bombings were a regular feature of London and other English cities, any Brit who was born in the 1970s or earlier is old enough to know that terrorism begins at home.

And if Bush had asked for Rumsfeld and Cheneys' resignations when it became apparent that WMDs were not being developed in Iraq

This is confusing. What on earth does the absence of WMDs in Iraq have to do with Rumsfeld? Or Cheney?

Slarti: What on earth does the absence of WMDs in Iraq have to do with Rumsfeld? Or Cheney?

Both Rumsfeld and Cheney claimed not only that they knew there were WMD in Iraq, but even that they knew where they were. Either they were lying, or they were incompetent.

Given that it's the job of neither of them to determine if and where, ok then. I mean that in a prewar sense; postwar they're either there to be found or they're not. Responsibility for the intelligence flows up through the Intelligence community to President Bush, so picking on Cheney and Rumsfeld without mentioning Bush, Tenet, or Condi Rice just seems out of place. If you've got beef with the WMD issue, decapitation of the NSC (including members who have moved on to other posts) seems to be the place to focus attention.

This is confusing. What on earth does the absence of WMDs in Iraq have to do with Rumsfeld? Or Cheney?
For the record, I wasn't trying to lay blame specifically at their feet and not on anyone else's; I was trying to make the point that 'If so-and-so had done such-and-such at THIS particular time, everyone would've listened' can apply to any political figure, not just the set of retired generals. The post-WMD Cheney/Rumsfeld was just a quick illustrative statement, and I didn't mean it to stand on its own as a matter of blame. I suppose what I meant was, 'If Bush had cleaned house when that fact became clear, he'd have more credibility and political capital, too.'

Your clarification, Slarti, is a good one. Thanks.

Responsibility for the intelligence flows up through the Intelligence community to President Bush, so picking on Cheney and Rumsfeld without mentioning Bush, Tenet, or Condi Rice just seems out of place.

Cheney continued to claim, months - even years - after the truth was known, that there were WMD in Iraq. Rumsfeld made some very public and specific claims about being able to find WMD. (Rumsfeld, and via Rumsfeld to Bush, was also, of course, responsible for the fact that the invading US army had no means of securing/destroying the stockpiled WMD - but as this came out the weekend before the 2004 election, the logical response would have been to sack Bush and Cheney, and the Republican response was to defend Bush and Cheney.)

It's true: by 2nd November 2004, it was clearly evident that the Bush/Cheney administration was, as a whole, responsible for the utter incompetence with which the invasion/occupation of Iraq had been carried out, and the Bush/Cheney administration as a whole ought to have been sacked. This was not done - whether we blame Diebold and other means of fixing the election, or the foolish loyalty of Bush supporters, or both - but you can yourself better explain why you felt it better to continue with the Bush administration than to sack the lot than I can.

This Just In:

Donald, "The Best SecDef ever", Rumsfeld has a convincing explanation for those dissenting Generals: they are being influenced by al-Queda's "media committees" !!

WTF.

Cleek, I don't think he was referring to the enerals. He was talking about us people who do not have the wisdom to see beyond the manipulation that al-Qaeda is doing to us.

If only we all had the wisdom and perceptivity that he has, the whole world would be a better place.

Cleek, I don't think he was referring to the enerals.

IMO, not even Rumsfeld knows what Rumsfeld is talking about. so, all interpretations are equally valid.

Diane Rehm is talking with retired generals today. Mostly it seems to be an opportunity for them to denounce the ones who are opposed to Rumsfeld. There's also a bit of discussion of Abu Ghraib and how those responsible have been held accountable. Audio should be posted on the WAMU site within a couple of hours.

Off-topic, but this is the closest we get to a recent post on Iraq.

Scary set of rumors on behind-the-scenes Iraqi leadership maneuvers. (h/t Washington Monthly)

Scary because if this is correct, we are simultaneously:
a. giving Iran even more influence over Iraqi leaders at a time when we are very loudly rattling our sabers against Iran, which could easily come back to bite us if Iran decides on reprisals for any actions we take;
b. putting into power the very people whose hands look bloodiest in the recent sectarian violence, making civil war more likely; and
c. undermining our support for democracy, especially if we rely on the will of persons who did not vote as justification for overturning an election which we loudly supported, at a time when it is our strongest remaining justification for invading Iraq.

While my lack of faith in this Administration's ability to think through the ripple effects of its policy has few peers, this may hit a new depth even for them.

As to why the generals waited until they were out of the service to speak out, it's not a matter of respect for the employer, it's AGAINST THE LAW for any person actively serving in the military to speak out on political issues. The Uniform code of military justice says that military personnel are not allowed to express their political opinions while in the service beucase someone might assume that their opinnions are official policy. So they couldn't speak out until they retired. This rule applies to all military personnel, not just generals.

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