RUMSFELD AND THE GENERALS
There has been a great stir in the media and in the blogosphere about a group of retired, prominent, senior generals who have criticized
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's
handling of the war and called for his resignation. Recently, other retired generals, equally senior and well known, have come to Rumsfeld's aid, offering public support
and sometimes rebuking his critics
. The Pentagon has isssued what amount to " talking points
"on the Secretary's performance. Other politicians
have weighed in and the President has given his Secretary a full vote of confidence
My thoughts on the matter are basically twofold.
In terms of Rumsfeld's performance how one views the war in Iraq seems to have much to do with whether you give Rumsfeld a favorable review or believe he is a disaster. Few of Rumsfeld's blogospheric critics know or care all that much about issues like, say, defense transformation where Rumsfeld has had a huge impact ( and angered many senior officers) or will have enough integrity to give him his share of the credit where military action in Afghanistan or Iraq have gone well. That simply goes down the memory hole for them. Likewise, a knee-jerk defender of Rumsfeld skips over the Secretary's responsibility for mishandling Abu Ghraib and for the larger problem of the dysfunctional CPA itself, which should have been shelved and replaced by a proper and tough-minded military governorship after the Jay Garner debacle.
The fact is that in major wars, there are major errors. Many major errors. Tactical, operational and strategic errors are committed before the war comes to a close. And that is on the victorious side. The last Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, presided over disasters including the loss of the Philippines, Kasserine Pass and the initial reverses of the Battle of the Bulge. Lincoln's Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, had the misfortune to go through miserable years
of defeat and retreat. The great and justly acclaimed General George C. Marshall, the architect of victory in WWII, as Truman's Secretary of Defense, had to suffer much blame during the highly unpopular Korean War. The idea that the United States can wage a war on al Qaida or in Iraq or anywhere for that matter and never suffer a reverse or make mistakes is nothing short of ahistorically surreal.
My second thought is that while it is fine for former generals to criticize Rumsfeld's performance as Secretary of Defense - I would say they have an obligation to do so in regard to matters of professional competence - orchestrating a collective call for Rumsfeld's ouster is not. The United States is not Turkey, Guatemala or Pakistan. Uniformed soldiers in this country - and these generals are eligible to be recalled to duty - do not get to pick their civilian chiefs; they do not get so much as a veto. That remains the sole perogative of the President of the United States and the upper house of the legislative branch and no other.
This media campaign sets an incredibly bad precedent for the overt politicization of the American officer corps, one that is now being fed by the generals defending Rumsfeld and both sides need to stop immediately. If a retired general has an itch for politics, then he needs to run for office or particpate openly
as a partisan
in the democratic process and not attempt to speak as a gray eminence of the military college of cardinals. George Marshall, Omar Bradley and Dwight Eisenhower - men who knew something about separating the roles of military and civilian leaders and which of the two outranked the other - would be aghast.Bloggers on Rumsfeld vs. The Generals:QandO, Don Surber
, Ranting Profs, Brad Plumer
, Armchair Generalist, Caerdroia,Dan Drezner, Intel Dump, Mountain Runner, Whirledview-PLS, Whirledview-CKR, Penraker, Judith Klinghoffer
, The Adventures of Chester
(Various hat tips to: Memeorandum