Sunday, April 16, 2006

The "generals' revolt"

I have mixed feelings about the "generals' revolt" that is attracting so much attention right now.  I'm always happy to see Rummy be called to account for his actions.  But it's also painfully obvious that part of what's going on is an attempt to pin the blame for the disaster and loss that the Iraq War became onto Rumsfeld and other civilian officials.  That would be a bad development, because the public and Congress need to start looking at our infallible generals with much more critical eyes.

For instance, this article quotes Andrew Bacevich, author of The New American Militarism (2005): When leaders aren't in lockstep: Military brass rebels at times, but Rumsfeld case has new twists by Matthew Stannard San Francisco Chronicle 04/16/06.

Even more disturbing, to some, was the spectacular insubordination of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who disagreed vociferously with the Truman administration's handling of the Korean War.

"He was making speeches. He was communicating his displeasure to members of the Congress," said Andrew Bacevich, professor of international relations at Boston University. "It was somewhat indirect, but evident to all that he was both opposed to the president's policy and was in essence lobbying to overturn it. That's in essence what led to him being fired (in 1951)."

Bacevich, who has been very much a critic of the Iraq War from the beginning, has reservations about encouraging generals to resign in protest over Iraq War policy:

"The military has no business speaking ... on a political issue while they're still in uniform," said [John] Lynn of the University of Illinois. "That's a very dangerous precedent. Think of all the military coups we've had in history."

In fact, even if critical officers resigned in protest, the message to future presidents could be a hazardous one, Bacevich said.

"If the effort expanded so that people were resigning in protest, this is really an effort on the part of the military to gain a bigger say in matters of policy," he said.

"Down that road is great danger to the principle of civilian control," Lynn added. "I think Rumsfeld is a disaster, but I think people who are opposed to the war should not encourage this kind of behavior on the part of senior military professionals."

However, resigning in protest over the preparation of an illegal war of aggression on Iran would be a different thing.  I would be amazed if the possibility of personal legal jeopardy isn't part of the consideration behind the rumors Seymour Hersh reported last weekend about senior officers threatening to resign over the consideration of using nuclear weapons against Iran.

Bacevich is also one of the panelists in this Harper's report: American Coup d’Etat: Military thinkers discuss the unthinkable Harper's 3/24/06 issue (excerpts posted by The Scribe Web site).  Bacevich thinks there is a "creeping coup" under way, but it's by the civilians in the Bush administration, not the uniformed military:

The question that arises is whether, in fact, we're not already experiencing what is in essence a creeping coup d'etat. But it's not people in uniform who are seizing power. It's militarized civilians, who conceive of the world as such a dangerous place that military power has to predominate, that constitutional constraints on the military need to be loosened. The ideology of national security has become ever more woven into our politics. It has been e especially apparent since 9/11, but more broadly it's been going on since the beginning of the Cold War. ...

Here we don't need to conjure up hypothetical scenarios of the president deploying troops, etc. We have a president who created a program that directs the National Security  Agency, which is part of the military, to engage in domestic eavesdropping.  ...

Bush's move was unnecessary if the object of the exercise was to engage in surveillance.  It was very useful indeed if the object is to expand executive power.

The creeping coup deflects attention away from domestic priorities and toward national-security matters, so that is where all our resources get deployed. "Leadership" today is what is demonstrated in the national-security realm.  The current presidency is interesting in that regard.What has Bush accomplished apart from posturing in the role of commander in chief? He declares wars, he prosecutes wars, he insists we must continue to prosecute wars. ...

We don't get Social Security reform, we don't get immigration reform. The role of the president increasingly comes to be defined by his military function.

Just the thought of agreeing with "Axis Pat" Buchanan makes me want to reach for the Pepto-Bismol.  One of the many bad things about the Iraq War is that it's given new credibility to Axis Pat and his Old Right isolationist viewpoint on foreign policy.  Which in general ain't good.  Everything I remember reading by him about the Second World War could have been taken straight from German Foreign Office press releases of 1939-45.  He even blames Poland for being invaded!

But, Lord help us, Axis Pat is right about this part of The Generals' Revolt 04/15/06:

As those generals must be aware, their revolt cannot but send a message to friend and enemy alike that the U.S. high command is deeply divided, that U.S. policy is floundering, that the loss of Iraq impends if the civilian leadership at the Pentagon is not changed.

The generals have sent an unmistakable message to Commander in Chief George W. Bush: Get rid of Rumsfeld, or you will lose the war. ...

And there is an unstated message of the Generals' Revolt. If Iraq collapses in chaos and sectarian war, and is perceived as another U.S. defeat, they are saying: We are not going to carry the can. The first volley in a "Who Lost Iraq?" war of recriminations has been fired.  (my emphasis)

This post also has it's share of Axis Pat's standard fare, including a brief but bogus account of Harry Truman firing Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War.  And a goofy analogy about the Russian Czar in 1917; I'm not sure on that one if he's trying to say that the generals are Commie subversives or that they're Heroes of the Republic.  With Axis Pat, who knows?

I know that a major part of why our infallible generals who are coming out and trashing Rummy is to position themselves for the decades-long arguments to come over who failed so badly in the Iraq War.  That's not to say their complaints aren't legitimate in themselves.

At least in the short run, it makes it harder for Bush to hide behind his lie that he's just following the generals' recommendations and that whatever they ask for, they get.  It's kind of a punk thing for Bush to say to begin with.  But given the list of things that man has to answer for in the court of history - and maybe one day in the International Criminal Court - what's one more scam?

Gareth Porter summarizes how General Reveals Rift with Rumsfeld on Insurgents Inter Press Service 04/15/06.  He writes:

A military assessment of the Iraqi insurgency in late 2004 concluded that it had the active support of millions of Sunnis who rejected the legitimacy of a U.S. installed government, according to Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, who led all coalition forces in Iraq from January 2005 to January 2006.

That analysis conflicted with the view of Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld and Vice Pres. Dick Cheney, who believed the insurgents represented only Saddam loyalists and foreign jihadists and could be defeated by a combination of force and free elections.

Vines's revelation thus provides evidence of differences between top U.S. generals and U.S. policymakers in 2004-2005 over the nature of the insurgency and what to do about it.

He goes on to explain that the destruction of Fallujah - which is Maverick McCain's model for how the whole war should be fought - might have been avoided if the civilian leadership had taken more seriously the findings of that study.

Porter also explains his speculation that Vines himself was very involved in preparing that study, which was likely done under the auspices of CENTCOM.

Some of the material coming out right now is giving a much better picture of just how much self-delusional groupthink dominated the decision-making about the Iraq War:

The Vines analysis was yet another skirmish in a battle between the administration and professional analysts over the nature of the insurgency that had begun in 2003. The key points in the analysis on support for the insurgency had already been stated in the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq issued in October 2003 and reissued in June 2004, accordingto Wayne White, former deputy director of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research.

White, now an Adjunct Scholar at the Middle East Institute, told IPS in a telephone interview that the NIE had portrayed the insurgency as having an enormous support base among Sunnis, because of a wide range of grievances, including unemployment, the arrest and killing of family members, and destruction of homes as well as opposition to foreign occupation.

Porter also says that once Zalmay Khalilzad, who was one of the hardcore neocon advocates for the Iraq War but who, came to Baghdad as the American Ambassador, he pressed for taking into account the kind of realities that were described in the report.  He "sided with CENTCOM and the intelligence community on the need to meet legitimate Sunni grievances", writes Porter.  This adds some background to the shift toward the Sunnis in the civil war that the US has been making the last several months now.

This may be positioning an alibi:

Nevertheless he pointedly observed in his speech, "The policy was directed by Washington," adding that the command in Iraq had merely carried it out."

But it's also more accurate than nonsense from the Bush administration about how they've just been setting back and supplying the generals with everything they ask for.  The civilian leadership is ultimately making the decisions, even if that decision is to defer to the military recommendations.

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