Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Listening to generals

La guerre! C’est une chose trop grave pour la confier à des militaires.

-Georges Clemenceau-

I beg to differ. I think it's far more likely that if our Iraq adventure had been planned by military men instead of the neocon know-it-alls, the mission would indeed have been accomplished, or very nearly so, quite some time ago, or perhaps we wouldn't have begun. Those Generals who will speak out today seem to mirror the opinions of the most severe and early critics of George's "war on the cheap." Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, seems very frustrated by the inability to send more troops into Afghanistan, where corruption and violence are escalating and the Taliban is regaining lost territory. Too bad George didn't listen to the Generals right from the beginning instead of firing any who questioned his genius.

In the early days of this blog, I was resoundingly excoriated by a young sergeant about to be deployed to Iraq. I was absolutely wrong in my suggestion that the US military would be stretched too thin to be able to deal with the country that aided the people who attacked us. I was wrong to suggest that the justification for the war was based on false information, because we civilians didn't share in all the secret information the government had. There weren't gong to be enough casualties to worry about, he said condescendingly and most of all, there was no sign whatever of impending economic worries as I had suggested in my "elitist left" way. I hope he has survived to reconsider his confidence.

But yes, we need to elect a president who will listen to the military, or at least to those who have been through wars and have learned that it's not at all like High School sports. Our next commander in chief needs to listen to the Generals rather than weeding out those who question his tactical genius. Back when Dick Cheney was selected as Bush's running mate, the media made much of his assertions that civilian control of the military was essential. We didn't realize that this extended to making strategic and tactical and logistical decisions based on personal profit and political expediency. Cheney was billed as the man who would reverse the profligate military spending of Clinton, who would dress down the generals and downsize the Pentagon. Cheney has survived, but I doubt he ever reconsiders anything. Indeed, with oil at $147 for a barrel, his mission has been accomplished.

John McCain in his new role of victim is making much of his qualifications as a military man, but judging from what I've heard he seems to be listening more to The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth people (and spending their money) than to guys like Mullen. Why dropping bombs and spending years in a jail cell qualify him for expertise in world affairs, military planning, strategy and anything else I don't know, but it's plain to me that we do have to leave quite a bit more to the generals then we have been doing and we have to have a president who listens, who asks questions first and then decides whether to pull the trigger.


d.K. said...

Wow, that's a spot on post.

I posted a comment after only reading on article about the "Gen Clark" kerfuffle, and then took it down (the second time only I've ever done that) to think about it a bit more. But I ended up coming down the same way I did before I knew there would be a huge controversy over his remarks (which don't put down McCain's military service one bit).

I also regret that I was right from the start about how I thought the whole Iraq blunder would play out. I too wish the sergeant who wrote you would have been right -- but he wasn't.

Generals who knew better (like the shameful Tommy Franks) but played along because it was career enhancing (as the Army's very own study now concludes) have blood on their hands. The guys who were right, like Army CoS General Shinseki (who now says nothing publicly, because he doesn't need to) and who dared to question William Kristol's now discredited military counsel, should take note, and be more emboldened to offer the unfiltered advice to their CinC in the future. And that guy, would be wise as well to listen and take heed.

As the Spanish say, "there's no bad from which some good doesn't come." Let's hope the next president and his VP learned the lessons you point out here, and put the country before Halliburton.

Capt. Fogg said...

One of the things that gets me is that everyone who was right, from the Dixie Chicks to the French government are still in the doghouse with so many people - even people who now dislike Bush and oppose the war. There just isn't much thinking or listening going on.

But I agree, if after this, the military will be more resistant to being politicized and bullied some good will come of it. If enough of them had said "hell no, this is bullshit" we would not have had this damned war, Afghanistan might have been a stable democracy and a lot of people would still be alive.