Peter Pace and Colin Powell, a Commonality of Failure

Civilian leadership of the military is an American iconography,
nurtured since our inception as a nation and serving us well in war and
peace. So, why has it all gone so wrong? Is it the thrust of the modern
Pax Americana, or an unfortunate coming together of wrong men at a very
wrong time?

Civilian leadership of the military is an American iconography,
nurtured since our inception as a nation and serving us well in war and
peace. So, why has it all gone so wrong? Is it the thrust of the modern
Pax Americana, or an unfortunate coming together of wrong men at a very
wrong time?
What’s the deal with these new leaders of the Pentagon, a generation
of general officers who cut their teeth as young leaders in the
disaster of Vietnam? They vowed never to stand by in silence again and then stood by in silence as their president heroically mishandled the aftermath of 9-11.
Powell was not true to himself. The only man in Bush’s
administration who had the stature to change things or walk, he was
unable to force a change and incomprehensibly refused to walk.
He has since said he felt he could do more good inside than outside and
3,500 (and counting) paid the price for that misconception. There is
not a shred of doubt that had Colin Powell resigned and gone public
with his well-founded doubts, the administration would have had a much
harder time lying the nation into this war. Bush’s moment thus passed,
Iraq might never have happened.
But he saluted and followed orders.
That’s the job of a man in uniform, hardly that of the head of the
United States Department of State. When Colin took off the uniform and
put on civvies, he forgot to check his observance of the military
chain-of-command at the door and we are all the poorer for it.
Peter Pace is a less transparent disaster and we can only speculate on
his behavior. He saluted Rumsfeld and Bush and mouthed their
deliberately misleading words of hope and encouragement in a venture
that was doomed from its inception and essentially broke the very
military he represented.
Personal pride? Pace was the first Marine to occupy the Chairman’s
office within the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Unfortunately, the Marine
Corps will be a long time living that selection down. Rank? Was he
sucked dry by the lack of available oxygen in any room that contained
his superiors? Or was it something deeper in the military culture that
encourages rank to override the rational opinion of lesser grades? When
you are Chairman, they are all lesser grades.
Ten days ago, the Washington Post reported;

Secretary Robert M. Gates announced today that Marine Gen. Peter W.
Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will step down at the end
of his two-year term in September, a decision Gates said he made to
avoid possibly contentious re-nomination hearings before the
Democratically-controlled Congress.

One thing about Gates, he says it like it is instead of taking the easier ways out. The contention was not entirely
with Congress. Gates has done much to dismantle the Rumsfeld version of
the Pentagon and Pace is just another failed piece of that structure.
Knowing what you and I are prevented from knowing, except in the
broadest terms, Gates is moving as quickly as possible to bring the
military back into its pre-Bush state of mind and readiness. His
unwillingness to be sidetracked is evidence of the disaster at hand.
Bush cannot possibly afford to lose Gates, just as he could not
afford the loss by resignation of either Powell or Pace. The difference
is that Gates seems willing to pull that trigger. He’s an old hand in
Whether Secretary of State of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the second responsibility of those offices is to your president and his policies. The first
is always and forever to your country. Colin Powell and Peter Pace no
doubt love their country as much as any man and more than most. But
they failed at the Great Game. They failed to truly support their
president by impressing upon him the error of his (perhaps)
well-meaning yet obviously disastrous direction.
Their failure to oppose and refusal to resign did as much as anyone,
including Dick Cheney, David Addington, Richard Perle, Don Rumsfeld and
Paul Wolfowitz to put their president in his present untenable position.

who failed to oppose me, who readily agreed with me, accepted all my
views, and yielded easily to my opinions, were those who did me the
most injury, and were my worst enemies, because, by surrendering to me
so easily, they encouraged me to go too far… I was then too powerful
for any man, except myself, to injure me.
             -Napoleon Bonaparte, emperor of France 1769-1821)

words, prophetic to America’s current situation, were spoken by
Napoleon from exile. There’s a certain perspective that comes from
being exiled from your own country and in America it often takes the
form of a revisionist autobiography rather than physical separation.
But then we are occasionally less civilized than the French.
There have been those who dared to oppose, who had the
courage and conviction to turn their backs on honored retirement with
an additional star on their shoulder-boards, choosing instead to retire
in protest and criticize from civilian life.

  • Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who led the Army’s First Infantry Division in Iraq
  • Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., commander of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq
  • Maj. Gen. John Riggs, Army, retired
  • Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold of the Marine Corps
  • Maj. Gen. Paul D. Eaton, Army, retired

These are not minor players and not men to be ignored.

Peter Pace is being replaced as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
a move that reflects a feeling among top civilian officials at the
Pentagon and in the White House that the American military needs new
leadership after years of being strained by the conflicts in Iraq and
Afghanistan. (David Stout-NYTimes)

Top civilian officials at the White House have that feeling. They’re suddenly short on determinations over there and long on feelings, even longer on the strain of conflict.
Well, someone ought to head them off at the pass.
The Pentagon has not
been strained, it’s been shamed, demoralized, trashed and very nearly
put out of business by the most arrogant and incompetent leadership in
its history. Our military did an outstanding job of knocking down
Iraq—it was the very civilians who now express their feelings that insisted a clumsy and fumbling after-battle-plan that wrote (and then proceeded to fill) a prescription for failure.
The whole bunch of them deserve to be drummed out of office, but not
being a parliamentary form of government, we have no vehicle for that
other than impeachment.
Which, come to think of it, is not all that bad an idea.
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