DEMIGODS AND GENERALS
War is too important to be left to the generals.
"Hey hey ho ho, Donald Rumsfeld’s got to go."
A coterie of retired generals have in recent weeks spoken out against the continued employment of the Secretary of Defense. And just like the campus chanters and chattering classes they echo, these Grumpy Old Men have not even bothered to elaborate on their surface critiques. For a group so disparaging of nearly every aspect of the conduct of the war, these generals sure don’t sweat the details. Here are what appear to be the most common refrains voiced by this outspoken and hardly retiring collection of flag officers:
'Too few troops to do the job'
This claim was a staple throughout the reelection season, as well as the grand insight of former Army Chief of Staff Shinseki that he was allegedly marginalized for by the Pentagon powers that be. Shinseki pushed for another Gulf War size force to invade Iraq -- Rumsfeld a more nimble, streamlined approach. In terms of the decapitation of the Iraqi regime, the blitzkrieg approach was undoubtedly correct. Twice as many troops would mean a bigger and slower logistical tail, retarding the swiftness of the descent on Baghdad, emboldening more Iraqis to stand and fight, and thus increasing coalition casualties. The longer a war goes on, the more soldiers that will die, a constant in warfare that has not changed since the time of Sun Tzu.
But just as prevalent during the political aftermath was the complaint that there were too many troops in theater, that in effect our presence was being viewed as an onerous occupation force. Precisely how many were needed, then? We await still the magic number that would have nipped all our current troubles in the bud and caused all Allah akbar-chanting fanatics to lay down their arms and hold hands humming kumbaya. Additional troops may have helped quell the insurgency, but would also have provided a bigger target, again leading to increased casualties, more civilian collateral damage, and at significantly more cost, all things harped on by critics of the status quo bellum.
Damned if we do, Saddamed if we don’t.
The state of readiness of our forces is something peacetime stewards like former Chief of Staff Shinseki bear responsibility for. The military needs to be prepared for all future contingencies at all times. It can’t simply special order all it’s current needs from uparmor.com in time for a military action. If we were so ill-equipped, what exactly were all these pre-9/11 generals preparing for? Their retirement parties?
Prior to September 11, General Shinseki had enmeshed himself with such vital tasks as the bolstering of sagging esprit de corps by mandating that all soldiers be awarded the black beret, formerly a mark of distinction with long standing tradition bestowed solely upon the Army Rangers. But with a flash of genius and a bold stroke of the pen, the entire active duty force was transformed overnight into an elite fighting force of highly trained warriors. Ahem.
The Way of the Shinseki: How best to squeeze the same performance out of the regular army that the Rangers consistently produce? Could it be a matter of selection, training, and investment in leaders a dedication to standards and a commitment to excellence? Or is it due simply to that sharp looking headgear they sport? The troops don’t lack competence, they lack confidence! It’s all about self-esteem. From this day forward, we shall all be “elite.”
Remember this when they continue to lionize a man who believed we should have mobilized extra divisions we no longer had for the invasion of Iraq.
This issue hardly needs rehashing, yet former CentCom commander Anthony Zinni insists on citing this as evidence that there was no casus belli in Iraq. But given his last threat assessment on Iraq in Feb. 2000 before the Senate Armed Services Committee, he apparently no longer even believes his own words.
'An unnecessary, invented war'
It's frustrating to have to make what should be an obvious case to all but the most rabid of moonbats, but apparently it bears repeating to even those who should know better. The U.S. entered Iraq because Saddam Hussein refused to fully render his WMD programs transparent and open for inspection, something he had agreed to do under the 1991 armistice. If binding agreements are to have any meaning, then they must be enforced, with force when necessary. Every major intelligence agency in the world was made to look counterintelligent by his counterintuitive intransigence, but that result is on his hands, not ours. The lessons of 9/11 meant no longing taking madmen at their word, especially in an era of state sponsored unconventional warfare that renders traditional notions of deterrence all but null and void.
We had a choice after toppling two despotic regimes to either stay and attempt to remake their societies for the betterment of their people, or to leave them in chaos and even more vulnerable to fanaticism. We chose the hard right over the easy wrong. If there's a reason why the transition to democracy in Iraq has not gone smoothly, it's because it has never before been attempted. Breaking new ground tends to break quite a few eggs along the way.
A retired general of another turbulent era once said "history does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid." Dwight Eisenhower knew of what he spoke. His Army did not abandon Europe to its own devices after smashing its oppressors, but instead recommitted to its rebirth as a bastion of hope and promise. It was not easy then, and it will not be easy now. But then again, neither are most things worth doing.
'We failed to pursue the real enemy, al Qaeda'
From Saddam’s point of view, maybe, or in the feverish minds of the peace-at-any-cost crowd. But don’t get them wrong: they love the Afghanistan campaign! That’s where we should be focusing all of our resources -- on the real fight against al Qaeda! The problem is, that’s not what these same critics had to say prior to the Afghan invasion, and before it was clear that it would only require six weeks and a bare minimum of American casualties.
Unfortunately, reality once again intrudes on this historically revised fiction. Following the rout of the Taliban, the remaining al Qaeda forces fled in several directions. Many across the border to Pakistan, others to Syria, Iran, and indeed, Iraq. Zarqawi himself found refuge in Baghdad to recover from his wounds and begin recruiting more acolytes, well before the U.S. invasion. For us to remain focused on Afghanistan would not have furthered the goal of shaking up the diseased political culture of the Middle East. Only influential states like Iran or Iraq could serve as a lightning rod for the democratization of the wider area, as has since been felt with mixed results in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.
'Disbanding the Iraqi army was a mistake'
This is debatable. Disbanding the army and rendering tens of thousands unemployed may indeed have been a grave error, as it is believed to have ignited the fuel that keeps the insurgency burning. But not to have done so may have turned out to be an even greater mistake. Being as its leadership was completely dominated by Baathist functionaries, to not overhaul the Iraqi military from scratch would have been to assure it’s primacy among the tellingly named “Party of the Return,” swapping one maniacal dictator for another equally fanatical military junta. The former regime elements who continue to fight us now would have been no friendlier to our cause back then. And much of the old army were conscripts kept in uniform under Saddam by force of arms. When his statues came down, they did not wait around for government travel orders, they shed the vestiges of their false allegiance and walked home in droves.
Ultimately, this charge seeks to reopen the non sequitor linkage between Iraq and Vietnam. Calling the war a quagmire every day for three years didn’t seem to gain much traction with the public, thus the Harpies have changed approaches.
Flag officers love Big Army. Big, slow, stupid, bureaucratically maddening Army. Secretary Rumsfeld has sought from day one to restructure our forces to better handle the nature of the war we are now knee-deep in, and tellingly he is facing heavy resistance from the very people who now claim we were ill-prepared to face such challenges. That is what happens when you insist on preparing to fight the next war by relying on the methods of the previous one. Some may disparage this challenge to forward thinking as an "atmosphere of arrogance." I call it leadership.
'Alienating our allies'
Those who decline to help you in your time of need are by definition no longer "allies." Much of Europe made it perfectly clear back then, and have made it perfectly clear ever since that they are unwilling to get involved in Iraq no matter how much we kiss up to them. And other than Great Britain, they have virtually no military forces or assets to speak of. In times of crisis, you find out who your real friends are. Estonia currently has 5,000 troops assisting in Iraq. Estonia! I can’t even locate it on the map. But they’re helping out. Ditto for Poland, Australia, Japan, South Korea, and Italy. One would think other Muslim countries could be bothered to lift a finger to help out a fellow Muslim nation. Instead all they offer is more death, destruction, and turmoil. Their true colors have shone through.
Reconstruction teams are greatly needed throughout Iraq, yet these grand “humanitarian” organizations like the UN are nowhere to be found. They cannot get involved until the security situation improves, they claim. But the security situation cannot improve until the economic prospects of millions of underemployed Iraqis are alleviated with projects to rebuild their shattered and neglected country. Here, idle hands are the insurgents’ workshop.
'Failure to acknowledge mistakes'
Not even a perfect plan survives first contact with the enemy. Any general worth his brass should be well aware of this principle. It is not a new one. Helmuth von Moltke, chief of the Prussian general staff during the wars of German unification:
No plan of operation extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force. Only the layman thinks that he can see in the course of the campaign the consequent execution of the original idea with all the details thought out in advance and adhered to until the very end.President Bush refuses to engage in acts of endless contrition, which is the true goal behind much of this criticism. More importantly, the administration goes further than to simply admit its missteps, it actually heeds their lessons:
We have learned from our mistakes. We’ve adjusted our approach to meet the changing circumstances on the ground; we’ve adjusted depending upon the actions of the enemy. By pursuing a clear and flexible strategy in Iraq, we helped make it possible for Iraqis to choose their leaders and begin to assume the responsibilities of self-government and self-defense.'Strategically, operationally, and tactically incompetent'
Under the SecDef’s civilian tutelage, General Tommy Franks--clearly no favorite of the Grumpy Old Men--orchestrated and waged two of the most brilliant and swift campaigns in the history of the United States armed forces. Two brutal, entrenched regimes were dislodged and defeated within a matter of months with less combined casualties than were lost in the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut. Military historians will be studying and marveling over the Afghanistan and Iraq victories for centuries. When viewed strategically, operationally, or tactically, invasions don’t come any cleaner. But logistically, the aftermaths of such swift victories are always going to be messy, chaotic, and unpredictable. That is the nature of the beast. But to critics it will forever be: our easy wars, your messy peace.
More from Prussian General von Moltke:
The successive acts of war are thus not premeditated designs, but on the contrary are spontaneous acts guided by military measures. Everything depends on penetrating the uncertainty of veiled situations to evaluate the facts, to clarify the unknown, to make decisions rapidly, and then to carry them out with strength and constancy.Strength and constancy. Remind you of anyone?
Donald Rumsfeld’s tenure has been one of a bureaucracy-challenged visionary, one who has been willing to rock the Big Army boat and keep the focus always on the next war, not a stale replay of the last one. That means eliminating the bloat, streamlining the force, favoring Special Forces over outdated warhorses, and a unique willingness to remain very unpopular among the military-industrial bureaucracy. In fact, his memoirs should be entitled "How to Make Enemies in Washington (and Live to Fight Another Day)."
Rumsfeld is the first CEO of the DOD in recent memory to cancel not one, but multiple major weapons contracts: the Crusader artillery platform and the Commance reconnaissance helicopter, two defense boondoggles decades in the making. It’s no small wonder he hasn’t been shot from the grassy knoll. But absent an open motorcade, character assassination will have to do.
Like any cabinet member, Mr. Rumsfeld serves only at the pleasure of the President, just as the President serves at the quadrennial whimsy of the American people. The very same American people who barely eighteen months ago at a critical low-point in the war, sent a vote of confidence to the current administration to stay the course. They chose then not to change horses mid-stream. That decision clearly was not liked by all, but it should be respected by all if our system is to retain civilian control of the military.
A clear majority of Americans awarded President Bush a second term, in the largest mandate since his father. They rejected the politics of penance and self-flagellation that John Kerry sought to apply to the stewardship of the war.
These Johnny-come-lately generalissimos seek to use their accumulated prestige as military bigwigs to effect a media-driven coup d’etat within the civilian ranks, and at a critical moment when Iran is baring its uranium-enriched fangs and defying anyone to stop them. It is a moment that calls for a unified voice in government, not more of the same political backbiting that has characterized the entire history of the war.
Smart bombs are useless without smart people. We need motivated, highly focused men and women; and we have them in abundance.
-Donald H. Rumsfeld, in a characteristic moment of obvious "disrespect and disdain for the military"
In wartime, soldiers vote with their feet and a raised right hand. Not only do patriotic young Americans continue to join this fight, but an unprecedented number of its veterans have recommitted to it since it began. For a so-called "wrong war at the wrong time in the wrong place," they sure are in a hurry to get back to it.
Wartime also tends to sharpen the spear, and much of the dead weight has since been shed. Those donning their country’s uniform for self-serving reasons have since been purged, and with good riddance. The military’s prime function is not to pay your college tuition, it’s to defend the nation from foreign threats. The GI Bill is a fringe benefit, not a raison d’etre.
The Grumpy Old Men deem their outbursts a needed breath of fresh air. The problem is, no collection of arguments could be staler. These complaints jumped the shark two years ago when they were trotted out incessantly by the likes of Howard Dean, Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, and John Kerry. For all intents and purposes, they're the only discernible planks of the Democratic Party platform left other than WE HATE BUSH. Is there much doubt that the sudden ire directed at Rumsfeld is really a proxy attack leveled across the president's bow? But at least liberals have finally found a group of military men they can find common cause with. We support the troops who hate Bush too!
These disgruntled generals say they have "spoken out for the soldiers in the field." It has become de rigueur to claim to speak on our behalf these days. But if you’ve turned your back on our war, you’ve turned your back on us. All you’ve accomplished with your latest antics, gentlemen, is to provide even more fuel for the war’s political opponents to douse us with. The day you decided to place your own bruised egos and office politics above the welfare of your own country and comrades, you forfeited whatever weight your words may have carried. Do-or-die men like George Patton were no stranger to outspokenness, but they must be spinning in their graves.
"When I read their comments, I'm embarrassed for them," says retired Air Force General Thomas McInerney, one of many peers who remain stalwart supporters of both the war and its executors. There are approximately seven thousand living generals among all the branches of service, retired or otherwise. Thus far .001% of them have demanded that the Secretary of Defense be given his walking papers. Sadly for them, a half-dozen malcontents does not a moral majority make.
Voicing one’s opposition to war is every private citizen’s right, but when it comes to lending one’s former prestige to a growing chorus of defeatism, perhaps retired generals should do the right thing and just stay retired. Barring, of course, new books to promote, epecially those "exposing for the first time!" all the same tired tropes that have been trotted out ad nauseum for the past three years. As the saying goes: If you’re not part of the solution, there’s good money to be made in prolonging the problem.
But who am I to question the patriotism of a collection of brass monkeys furiously pounding away on their keyboards in a vain attempt at literati esteem? Me, a lowly noncommissioned officer! While I don’t question their love of country, I do question the peculiar timing of their invective. Long and honorable service does not give one a pass on sound judgment or questionable motives. Safely ensconced in retirement, these "critics of conscience" have nothing to lose and everything to gain by providing ammunition to the media’s preconceived notions. They held their tongues when it counted, but now see fit to wag their fingers. "We told you so." Actually, no. You didn’t.
In the Michael Shaara novel The Killer Angels, Colonel Joshua Chamberlain of the 20th Maine Volunteers, who would later receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions at Gettysburg, remarks to his younger brother, "Nothing quite so much like God on earth as a general on the battlefield."
You see, I do retain some measure of sympathy for these misguided bedfellows, who until recently languished in relative obscurity having walked away from the defining struggle of our time. I can understand their frustration. Relinquishing omnipotence must not be easy.
But instead of taking wild swings at the administration, wouldn’t it serve all of us better if these Senior Citizen Soldiers focused less on the ups and downs of the war and more on the ins and outs of their golf swings? Is it too much to ask of them that they acknowledge the bulk of what has gone right, to rally the country to victory and bolster our national self confidence at a time when the carping harpies in the fourth estate seem hell bent on surrender?
It's no secret that the surest path to becoming a media darling is to lend credence to their preconceived narratives and foregone conclusions. And even better when they can refer to you on camera by your former rank. So long as you stick to the script, you'll get more media coverage than Paris Hilton in a high speed police chase.
When asked to weigh in on the swirling controversy over his former boss, retired general Tommy Franks initially couldn't be reached for comment on the latest political nonstory gripping the Beltway press.
Reason? He was off fishing with his grandkids.