The recently-retired-bunch among the nation’s General Officers are on the war-path. They’re individually and collectively after Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation, something Rummy claims to have offered his president on several occasions.
There’s a very weird climate out there in politics, with our President unpopular and at the same time unassailable. It’s almost as if, unable to bring down the main man in a Republican controlled Congress, each and (nearly) every cabinet secretary is under fire. Snow, Chertoff, Gonzales, Rumsfeld, all have become targets.
Serious enough targets that they are becoming ineffective in their jobs.
Pardon me while I wax historic, but there was a time when the United States Congress was required to commit us to a state of war. But the Congress has gotten busy, stuffing its socks with money for re-elections and now presidents just go ahead and do that part of the job for them. Congress burps, high-fives the first Bush’s quickie Gulf war, complains about the stalemated Vietnam and Iraq wars and goes back about the business at hand, the higher priority of stuffing their socks with money.
The 1947 National Security Act, signed into law by Harry Truman, was designed and enacted to prevent a recurrance of the concentration of power and secrecy FDR exercised during WWII. The act also gave us the National Security Council (NSC) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Truman was heartily supported by Generals Eisenhower and Marshall in this diffusing of presidential power. Yet the power remained vested in the President to command the military, as was dramatically proven in Truman’s sacking of General Douglas MacArthur.
All of which, in the present circumstances, has led some recent-day Generals and Admirals to question whether the process is being carried out by our current president in accordance with the spirit of the 1947 act.
It was and is their job to not question civilian authority when the country is all on the same page. But we are not on the same page and this is the second time we are not in a very major way. The Generals and Admirals are tired of getting their ass kicked for what they feel (with some justification) are civilian inadequacies and hubris. This is not about the war, but the waging of the war.
The generals don’t question civilian authority over the chain-of-command, although 4-star General Eric Shinseki, Army Chief of Staff questioned civilian policy in front of the Congress and it cost him his job. The message at the Pentagon was instantaneous and chilling—go along to get along.
Criticism now comes exclusively from the retired and the calls for Rumsfeld to step down are unprecedented.
Army Major General John Batiste (Ret), who commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq, said on CNN that he and many other top-ranking retired officers felt Rumsfeld’s micro-managing ways were damaging the military. "We need leadership up there that respects the military as they expect the military to respect them. And that leadership needs to understand teamwork." Batiste is said to have turned down a third star and retired rather than to continue under Rumsfeld.
“We won’t get fooled again," retired Marine Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold (Ret) was quoted in a WaPo article by Thomas Ricks. Newbold, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2000 to 2002, charged in Time magazine this week "McNamara-like micromanagement" mistakes by Rumsfeld and called for "replacing Rumsfeld and many others unwilling to fundamentally change their approach."
Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton (Ret), wrote in the New York Times last month that Rumsfeld is "incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically and Mr. Rumsfeld must step down."
Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni (Ret), a longtime critic of Rumsfeld and the administration’s handling of the Iraq war, says "The problem is that we’ve wasted three years" in Iraq. Chief of the U.S. Central Command, which oversees Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, in the late 1990s, he "absolutely" thinks Rumsfeld should resign.
According to the Ricks article, other retired generals are hugely frustrated. Partly because Rumsfeld gave the impression that "military advice was neither required nor desired" in the planning for the Iraq war, said retired Lt. Gen. Wallace Gregson, who until last year commanded Marine forces in the Pacific Theater.
Another retired officer, Army Maj. Gen. John Riggs, said he believes that his peer group is "a pretty closemouthed bunch" but his sense is "everyone pretty much thinks Rumsfeld and the bunch around him should be cleared out." He believes Rumsfeld and his advisers have "made fools of themselves, and totally underestimated what would be needed for a sustained conflict."
If these were men looking for excuses, there would have to be a public after their tails to provoke such a response, but there is not. Overwhelmingly, the public supports the military and perceives that it has not been given the tools, troops or planning it needed. All three fall uncompromisingly on Donald Rumsfeld’s desk.
A desk where hell is breaking loose, in a general sort of way.