Generals vs. Rummy

11

Kevin Drum has a timely reminder for antis who are all enthused about the retired generals coming out and saying Rumsfeld should quit. Outside the question of whether he really should quit is the larger issue of civilian control of the U.S. military.

There’s really nothing to like about this. Whether the war was “unnecessary” or not, that’s a political decision, not a military one. And if active duty generals follow his advice and start to speak out whenever they think the president is going to war unwisely, we’re going to have a serious problem on our hands.

There’s no question that military leaders should forcefully offer their best advice in private and should testify honestly in public on operational matters. When General Eric Shinseki gave his opinion that the invasion of Iraq required “several hundred thousand” troops, he was acting properly. That was a professional military opinion, and the way he was treated for expressing it was shameful. But that’s quite a different thing from speaking out simply because you think a war is a bad idea on policy grounds.

Drum argues for “keeping our bearings straight” through all this. Which is not to say retired generals should say nothing (as someone no doubt is going to accuse me of doing in about the third comment). It is rather to say that, like the “chickenhawk meme” argument, the antis should think hard about the long-term consequences of a tactic that offers short-term benefits to their side.

This is not MacArthur II. But it takes a small step down that path. A coordinated effort by military men — who would be disqualified by national law from holding the position of Secretary of Defense — to exert their will over the Pentagon is something that ought to be approached soberly. The bravery and skill of those generals is not in question, nor is the fact that they might be right about Rumsfeld.

But the fact that so many Americans are losing sight of the importance of civilian control of the military is something that troubles me.

One of the Iraq generals whom I most respect, Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, also has a problem with this, including concern about a consequence I hadn’t foreseen:

“I would not ever want to see the military politicized. And I would not want to see generals chosen on the basis of whether they’d keep their mouths shut in retirement, rather than on the basis of whether they can provide sound military advice.�

Dean Esmay reminds me that Lincoln’s generals — especially Little Mac — often chafed under his control and openly agitated for his removal.

Meanwhile, Reader-I-am argues that dumping Rummy wouldn’t be the panacea some people evidently are hoping for.

You might also like More from author