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April 19, 2006 [LINK]

Civil - military relations U.S.A.

To my surprise, the lead editorial in Tuesday's Washington Post criticized the retired generals who have called on Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld to resign. They make it clear that it would have been better if Rumsfeld had resigned a year or two ago, after the Abu Ghraib scandal, but they believe that caving in to dissenting retired officers would set a dangerous precedent, undermining civilian contol of our armed forces. Today's Staunton News Leader agreed: "Generals don't call the shots." Like the Post, their editorial staff is highly critical of the Bush administration, so this came as a surprise.

This controversy highlights both the unusual circumstances we are now in -- a prolonged low-level conflict -- and our country's uniquely democratic culture that encourages individuals to speak their minds. I think we are a long way off from the situation President Truman faced in March 1951, when General MacArthur was verging on insubordination in commanding U.S. forces in Korea. I also think there is a sharp distinction to be made between active duty officers -- who are obliged to voice their opinions in a discreet way, and then carry out orders -- versus retired officers, who are free of such restraints. I am bothered, however, by the tone of some of retired Gen. John Batiste's statements, which tend to sound like Democrat talking points. One also wonders if some of the dissent isn't aimed at pumping up book sales. Overall, nonetheless, I am not too worried about vigorous debate on how the war is being conducted. We need a candid exchange of viewpoints in order to fashion the best strategy.

I do take exception to the way one military officer recently expressed resentment toward Condoleeza Rice for admitting that tactical mistakes ("thousands") have been made in Iraq, but that the fundamental strategic decision was sound. (See Mar. 31.) I did not take that to be casting aspersions on the battlefield abilities of our soldiers and officers, and anyone who does is being overly sensitive.

Counterinsurgency ups & downs

The New Yorker recently had a feature article on the trials and tribulations of our soldiers who are suppressing terrorists in Iraq, with mixed success. It focuses on the see-saw battle for control of the border town of Tall Afar in northern Iraq, which U.S. forces retook last September, but were unable to maintain complete control in the months that followed because of a lack of troops. Does Donald Rumsfeld know about this? (via Connie)

Posted (or last updated or commented upon): 20 Apr 2006, 12: 15 AM

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