Revolt of the Ex-Generals
Richard Holbrooke explains the dilemma faced by president Bush due to the revolt of retired ex-generals speaking out against Rumsfeld and policy in Iraq, and joins their call for Rumsfeld's resignation or removal:
Behind the Military Revolt, by Richard Holbrooke , Commentary, Washington Post: The calls by a growing number of recently retired generals for the resignation of ... Donald Rumsfeld have created the most serious public confrontation between the military and an administration since President Harry S. Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur in 1951. In that epic drama, Truman was unquestionably correct -- MacArthur ... publicly challenged Truman's authority and had to be removed. Most Americans rightly revere the principle that was at stake: civilian control over the military. But this situation is quite different.
First, it is clear that the retired generals -- six so far, with more likely to come -- surely are speaking for many of their former colleagues ... who are still inside. ... Recent retirees stay in close touch with old friends, who were often their subordinates; ... they know what is going on... Retired Marine Lt. Gen. Greg Newbold, who was director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the planning period for the war in Iraq, made this clear in an extraordinary ... article in Time magazine ... when he said he was writing "with the encouragement of some still in positions of military leadership." He went on to "challenge those still in uniform . . . to give voice to those who can't -- or don't have the opportunity to -- speak."
These generals are not newly minted doves or covert Democrats. ... They are career men, each with more than 30 years in service... In the public comments of the retired generals one can hear a faint sense of guilt that, having been taught as young officers that the Vietnam-era generals failed to stand up to Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and President Lyndon Johnson, they did the same thing.
Second, it is also clear that the target is not just Rumsfeld. Newbold hints at this; others are more explicit in private. But the only two people ... higher than the secretary of defense are the president and vice president. They cannot be fired, of course, and the unspoken military code normally precludes direct public attacks on the commander in chief when troops are under fire. (There are exceptions to this rule... But such challenges are rare enough to be memorable, and none of these solo rebellions metastasized into a group, a movement that can fairly be described as a revolt.)
This has put President Bush and his administration in a hellish position... If Bush yields to the generals' revolt, he will appear to have caved in to pressure from what Rumsfeld disingenuously describes as "two or three retired generals out of thousands." But if he keeps Rumsfeld, he risks more resignations -- perhaps soon -- from generals who heed Newbold's stunning call that as officers they took an oath to the Constitution and should now speak out on behalf of the troops in harm's way and to save the institution that he feels is in danger of falling back into the disarray of the post-Vietnam era.
Facing this dilemma, Bush's first reaction was exactly what anyone who knows him would have expected: He issued strong affirmations of "full support" for Rumsfeld...
In the end, the case for changing the secretary of defense seems to me to be overwhelming. I do not reach this conclusion simply because of past mistakes, simply because "someone must be held accountable." Many people besides Rumsfeld were deeply involved in the mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan; many of them remain in power, and some are in uniform.
The major reason the nation needs a new defense secretary is far more urgent. Put simply, the failed strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan cannot be fixed as long as Rumsfeld remains at the epicenter of the chain of command. ... Lyndon Johnson understood this in 1968 when he eased another micromanaging secretary of defense, McNamara, out of the Pentagon and replaced him with Clark M. Clifford. Within weeks, Clifford had revisited every aspect of policy and begun the long, painful process of unwinding the commitment.
Today, ... there are many differences between the two situations. But one thing ... is clear..: Unless the secretary of defense is replaced, the policy will not and cannot change... The only question is: Will it come so late that there is no longer any hope of salvaging something in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Posted by Mark Thoma on Sunday, April 16, 2006 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Iraq and Afghanistan, Politics |
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