Generals Are Right to Dissent

by Brian Vogt | April 25th, 2006 | |Subscribe







Charles Krauthammer writes in a recent Washington Post column that “I-know-better generals are back. Six of them, retired are denouncing the Bush administration and calling for Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation as Secretary of defense. The antiwar types think this is just swell. I don’t”

When I first heard about these retired generals who have publicly called for Rumsfeld’s resignation, I thought about what the bipartisan response should be. Were these retired generals speaking up purely for partisan reasons? Were they simply spokespeople for the Democratic party? I’ve seen little evidence to suggest that they are doing this for partisan reasons, which gives me greater confidence in their statements.

I believe that the statements of these generals are particularly important due to the very justification that President Bush provides for his actions in Iraq. Bush regularly argues that he is following the recommendations of the military commanders in Iraq. He will never let politics influence those decisions. Well, maybe he is immune from such political calculations (though I doubt it) but the fact that these retired generals have come out and said that actually Bush hasn’t followed many of their recommendations calls into question Bush’s basic claims. Of course, we all know about the now infamous recommendation by General Eric Shinseki that we would need several hundred thousand troops in Iraq. Shinseki was publicy rebuked by Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz.

Krauthammer, of course, has several criticisms of these generals. General Batiste criticized Rumsfeld for “radically alter[ing] the results of 12 years of deliberate and continuous war planning on Iraq.” Krauthammer argues that “the Bush administration threw out years and years and layer upon layer of war planning in Afghanistan…. and achieved one of the most remarkable military victories in recent history.” It’s a sad day when we look at Afghanistant as an overwhelming military success. True, we did expel the Taliban and that was a clear victory. But, we failed to capture Osama bin Laden – a clear failure. And if you look at the news reports coming out of Afghanistan today, it’s not so optimistic. Insurgents in Afghanistan are starting to adopt techniques of those in Iraq and the country is becoming an increasingly dangerous place. Like Iraq we were able to secure a quick military victory, but are having problems securing the peace.

Krauthammer argues that Rumsfeld simply chose between different competing analyses in terms of critical questions of de-Baathification, disbanding Saddam Hussein’s army, and optimal troop levels. Even if there were different opinions, the fact of the matter is that Rumsfeld made the wrong decisions too many times and that has led us to the disastrous situation we find ourselves in now in Iraq. When one makes such poor decisions, there should be consequences.

There is one point where I do agree with Krauthammer. He says that if these generals were so concerned with the decisions taken by Rumsfeld then they should have resigned in protest. I agree. The lack of such resignations does call into question the motivations of these generals and they should be prepared to explain why they chose not to resign in protest.

Krauthammer is correct that in the end it is up to our civilian leadership to make the final decision on military matters. This civilian leadership is put in place through the votes of the people. However, it is also equally important that the voters are made aware of our leaders’ ill-advised choices. This is particularly important when our President regularly says that he is simply following the recommendations of our military commanders in the field.

1 Comment »

  1. Eugene Gholz wrote,

    Good point that it’s very important for political debate in the U.S. to evaluate the Bush Administration’s statements, specifically whether they followed military advice in the lead-up to the Iraq War (or the Afghan war).

    But I’m interested in questioning even the part of Krauthammer’s article that you agree with.

    Isn’t it asking a lot to insist that generals resign when they have a big disagreement with political decision-makers? There’s another part of their job — to execute policy decisions — and they should not have to sacrifice their expertise and experience at executing every time they have a disagreement. Moreover, if they do not resign, then even as they execute with a high level of professionalism, they can continue to provide feedback about the consequences of the policy and to make the case for how the policy might be changed and improved. Generals give up a lot when they resign, even leaving aside the personal consequences of having to change careers prematurely. In the end, isn’t it the obligation of the civilian leadership to fire generals when they lose confidence in their advice and / or their ability to execute policy? Both the general and the civilian leaders get a vote on whether the general gets to “stay on the inside.” And of course there should be huge political consequences for the civilians if they fire very many generals: they should have to make the case to the American people that they did the right thing.

    Comment on April 25, 2006 @ 6:42 pm

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