Wednesday, April 19, 2006

3 General Monte (A Fisk with Feeling)

I saw the last paragraph of this op-ed piece first:
We do not advocate a silencing of debate on the war in Iraq. But care must be taken by those experienced officers who had their chance to speak up while on active duty. In speaking out now, they may think they are doing a service by adding to the reasoned debate. But the enemy does not understand or appreciate reasoned public debate. It is perceived as a sign of weakness and lack of resolve.
I think it would be more accurate if the first sentence read "We have not advocating a silencing of debate on the war is Iraq as yet, but we will proceed to do so now."

Given this dizzying display of bait-and-switch, I was not conditioned to receive the rest of the article well. I admit, I am weak, my biases overcame me, and I did not in fact receive the rest of the arguments well. Though, in my own defense, I think that's largely because they suck so far as arguments go.

So like Vizzini said, we go back to the beginning:
The retired general officers who have recently called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld want to convince the public that civilian control has silenced military wisdom regarding the war in Iraq. They have chafed at Rumsfeld's authoritarian style and they may even have legitimate differences of opinion with his decisions. But, while their advice and the weight of their experience should be taken into account, the important time for them to weigh in was while they were on active duty.
Isn't the heart of their complaint that they did "weigh-in" and weren't heeded - which is of course Rumsfeld's perogative, but he turned out to be how-do-you-say wrong on many critical issues. To quote Drerejian quoting "Cobra II" (which I have just started myself):
They underestimated their opponent and failed to understand the welter of ethnic groups and tribes that is Iraq. They did not bring the right tools to the fight and put too much confidence in technology. They failed to adapt to developments on the ground and remained wedded to their prewar analysis even after Iraqis showed their penchant for guerrilla tactics in the first days of the war. They presided over a system in which differing military and political perspectives were discouraged. Finally, they turned their back on the nation-building lessons from the Balkans and other crisis zones and fashioned a plan that unrealistically sought to shift much of the burden onto a defeated and ethnically diverse population and allied nations that were enormously ambivalent about the invasion.
That's a whole lot of "oops" crammed into one paragraph. And of course at least one of the six did speak out while serving:
Army Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, who spent much of the year in western Iraq, said he believes that at the tactical level at which fighting occurs, the U.S. military is still winning. But when asked whether he believes the United States is losing, he said, "I think strategically, we are."
(emphasis mine).

The alternative is that they weren't listened to at all, and were in fact discouraged from offering dissenting voices, either explicitly or by the example of General Shinseki in the build-up to the invasion.

And to engage in a little mind-reading here, what happens to these generals if they had spoken out against Rumsfeld, publicly, while on active duty? Somehow, I don't think the same crew now saying that that is what the Generals should have done would be applauding them for doing so. Just a guess on my part. Anyway, moving on.
The two of us have experienced many of the circumstances confronting Rumsfeld.
Back in the good old days when men were men and we killed commies dead.
Our experience and connections at the Defense Department tell us that these generals probably had numerous opportunities to advise and object while on active duty. For them to now imply otherwise is disingenuous and quite possibly harmful for our prospects in Iraq.
Not that we're trying to stifle dissent, mind you.

Also, Generals, I thought your instructions were clear. Clap Louder, damn you.
And it misrepresents the healthy give-and-take that we are confident is widespread between the civilian leadership at the Pentagon and the capable military hierarchy. A general officer is expected to follow orders, but he is also entitled to advise if he thinks those orders are flawed.
Shorter Laird and Pursley - "Did To!"
The ghost of Vietnam may be whispering to these retired generals, who understandably want to guarantee that military wisdom is never again trampled by political expediency. They make their point by implying that Rumsfeld has run amok and does not listen to his admirals and generals. Yet recently retired Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Richard Myers and his successor, Gen. Peter Pace (from the Air Force and Marine Corps, respectively), have rebutted the argument that the military was sidelined. Myers and Pace are in a position to know.
General Peter Pace, Rumsfeld's direct subordinate is publicly supportive of his boss. That is news.

As for Myers, I leave it to noted BDS-infested libby-lib-Liberal John McCain, who, after questioning Rumsfeld on troop levels had this to say: "I don't need General Myers' response. I know it will be exactly the same as yours. I would like the personal opinions--I would--and I don't mean that as in any way a criticism, General Myers. I would like the personal opinion of the other CINC's, if I could, since my time has expired."

So clearly, the opinions of Myers and Pace are independant and objective when it comes to judging Rumsfeld's job performance.
Rumsfeld respects the delicate balance between military expertise and civilian control, but in the end the decisions are his to make. Our democracy is designed to favor civilian control of defense decisions.
So our Decider-in-Chief so calmly assured us yesterday. As for Rumsfeld "respect[ing] the delicate balance," I believe that is the subject, rather than the premise of this particular debate. I simply refer you here for more.
The problem is that when military advice is considered and then rejected, officers are likely to feel sidelined. Sometimes we all must wait for hindsight to be able to make accurate judgments.

An example: In the early and mid-1970s as we were considering and eventually implementing the all-volunteer force to replace the draft, there were numerous people, uniformed and civilian, active duty and retired, predicting all manner of dire consequences. The criticisms were harsh. Yet the all-volunteer force has turned out to be an exceptionally valuable and effective innovation.
A fair point, so far as it goes. But sometimes we can make judgments much sooner. The Generals are saying this is that time, that what chance there is of succesfully bringing off the Iraqi Reconstruction Project requires qualities so far absent in the current Secretary. If we set the bar sufficiently low, no one should ever be fired, because in 10 years it may turn out to be ok. Somehow, I'm not convinced.
This is not to say that in hindsight Rumsfeld will be seen as infallible. No secretary of defense has made every decision correctly, and because lives are at stake, those decisions are critical. The appropriate opportunity for military officers to offer constructive criticism and to shape policy that helps avoid disastrous consequences is when those officers are still on active duty. But ultimately, and rightly, our system leaves the final decisions to the elected civilians and their appointees.
I think we've covered this just above, but if the first time was nice, why not make the point twice?
There are many avenues through which military ideas can be expressed. The uniformed service chiefs and civilian service secretaries meet frequently with the secretary of defense. We still have many friends and associates in the military and the Defense Department. We are confident that Rumsfeld does not limit those who meet with him to proffer advice.
But are you as confident as Generals Pace and Myers?
Access by the military through the Joint Chiefs of Staff structure and especially through the chairman of the Joint Chiefs is frequent and influential. The commanders in chief of the various commands have ready access to the secretary of defense. A little known or appreciated fact is that historically the uniformed military has been afforded more participation in the National Security Council than any other entity -- including the defense secretary. The secretary's office is populated with numerous uniformed personnel, presenting still another source of access for military input. Beyond the executive branch is the extensive exposure and opportunity to express military views before Congress.
Where if you express the wrong views, you get fired. Freedom isn't free!
For such widespread access to be effective there must be shared responsibility for aggressively moving information up the chain of command. Not all military advice makes it through the military channels. Senior officers tend to be sensitive when their subordinates germinate ideas. And there are those in each military department who tend to put their branch loyalties above that of the broader national security objectives. The result is that some advice comes with selfish motives attached and some never arrives at all.
And some arrives attached to book deals, and some arrives because the Generals all Liked Clinton Best...which neccesarily proves all criticism meritless. Follow the red card, red card, red card, pays 2-1 on the red card...
The retired officers who have criticized Rumsfeld have served their country with distinction. The military -- active duty and retired -- has a wealth of intelligent, articulate and motivated people. Their sense of duty, integrity and patriotism are of the highest order. But each of them speaks from his own copse of trees and may not have a view of the larger forest. In criticizing those with the broader view, they should be mindful of the risks and responsibilities inherent in their acts. The average U.S. citizen has high respect for the U.S. military. That respect is a valuable national security asset. Criticism, when carried too far, risks eroding it.
But of course, we do not advocate silencing of criticism. Only that criticism which is carried to far. It is carried too far when anyone else hears it. Thus, all of this criticism goes way to far.
We do not advocate a silencing of debate on the war in Iraq. But care must be taken by those experienced officers who had their chance to speak up while on active duty. In speaking out now, they may think they are doing a service by adding to the reasoned debate. But the enemy does not understand or appreciate reasoned public debate. It is perceived as a sign of weakness and lack of resolve.
Remember, it's also not the bombs themselves, but the damn media reporting on the bombs.
Melvin R. Laird was a Republican representative from Wisconsin before serving as secretary of defense from 1969 to 1973. Robert E. Pursley, a retired lieutenant general in the Air Force, was military assistant to three secretaries of defense.
Which goes a ways to explaining the "you damn kids don't know how good you have it these days" vibe of the whole piece, I suppose.

Update: Upon further reading, maybe Laird isn't the best authority on why we need to play nice with Rummy.

10 comments:

slickdpdx said...

Aw c'mon. Everybody knows retired people are crazy!

Pooh said...

Well, when you put it that way...

Fletch said...

I find it very odd that so many complaints from the right are questioning why the generals didn't speak up while in the service, while saying that the retired generals are disrupting the civilian control over the military in this country. Wouldn't the chain of command have been more disrupted if the generals on active-duty started writing editorials and refusing to follow the orders of the Sec o' D and the Prez? Where I come from that is called mutiny (which I belive is properly categorized as treason).

As far as I can tell, these are people who, having witnessed the short-comings of this administration's handling of the military first-hand, have honorably completed their duties to the best of their abilities and only upon separation from those duties have spoken out so as not to provoke a conflict over the pre-eminence of civilian control over the military. But that's just me.

Ahistoricality said...

Nice work, Pooh.

There is no earth they will not scorch, no baby they will not throw from the sleigh, no bridge they will not burn, to retain the illusion of control and unity.

Mr Furious said...

Geez, are you Glenn Greenwald? What's up with the 16,000 word posts?

I don't have time for that! Seriously, I don't have time to read it now, but I'll come back...

Pooh said...

Geez, are you Glenn Greenwald?

I only wish...though I don't think I can be as terminally serious as GG for more than one post at a time.

DJ Ninja said...

A great post Pooh, as usual, but do I detect some ad hominem in your update?

Pooh said...

I think there's plenty of ad hominem in my whole piece, thank you...

weldon berger said...

Personally, I think the post linked in your update was the very model of judicious criticism, and not just because I wrote it. Well, okay, it is because I wrote it. One policy Laird inaugurated that probably warrants mentioning is Vietnamization; maybe there was an admnonitory subtext to his defense of Rumsfeld, although it was rightfully overshadowed by his charming endorsement of the thought crime paradigm.

Thanks much for the link, and for your evisceration of Laird.

Pooh said...

Thanks for stopping by Weldon.

Yes you were extremely judicious. All snark represents the personal views of Pooh and not neccesarily those of blogger, think linked articles, or my (ever-but-slowly growing legion of) readers...