Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Next World Order and the "Revolt of the Retired Generals"

Part IV of the "Next World Order" series explores how military officers and politicians have virtually changed roles.

Thomas E. Ricks of The Washington Post reports of yet another retired general who has come forward with harsh criticism of Donald Rumsfeld.

John Batiste, a former Army two-star who commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq from 2004-2005 thinks it's time for a "fresh start" at the top of the Pentagon, and says a lot of his peers feel the same way.

As Ricks notes:
Batiste's comments resonate especially within the Army: it is widely known there that he was offered a promotion to three-star rank to return to Iraq and be the No. 2 U.S. military officer there but he declined because he no longer wished to serve under Rumsfeld.

Ex generals coming out of the woodwork to tell us what we already pretty much knew about Rumsfeld is hardly news these days. Ricks' piece also includes disparaging remarks recently made by former Army two-star Paul Eaton and retired Marine generals Gregory Newbold and Anthony Zinni.

The most interesting parts of the Ricks article cover Rumsfeld supporters' attempts to "tamp down the revolt of the retired generals."

Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Peter Pace said on Tuesday that no officers were "muzzled" during the planning of the Iraq invasion. "The articles that are out there about folks not speaking up are just flat wrong."

There's a grain of truth in that statement. Lots of folks, like then Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinsecki, did speak up. Like Shinseki, they were castigated by Rumsfeld and his assistant Paul Wolfowitz and shown the door.

Defense Department spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said of Rumsfeld's leadership style, "People are entitled to their opinions. What they are not entitled to is their own facts. . . .The assertions about inadequate exposure to military judgment are just fundamentally incorrect."

Di Rita is the Pentagon's version of the White House's Scott McClellan, and he's mastered the Rovewellian art of altering the truth without actually telling a lie. Rumsfeld probably did have adequate exposure to military judgment. He just chose to pay attention to the judgments that agreed with his own and ignored the ones who didn't.

Most disturbing to me was Ricks' account of concerns expressed by military "experts" about "the new outspokenness of retired generals."
"I think it flatly is a bad thing," said Richard H. Kohn, a military historian at the University of North Carolina who writes frequently on civilian-military relations. He said he worries that it could undermine civilian control of the military, especially by making civilian leaders feel that that they need to be careful about what they say around officers, for fear of being denounced as soon as they retire.

"How can you prosecute a war if the military and civilians don't trust each other?" Kohn asked.

I'm sure that somewhere in his vast academic experience Professor Kohn heard the adage that trust is a two-way street. If an administration of war hawks comes into power hell bent on starting an armed conflict the generals don't think is necessary and fighting it in a way the generals don't think will work, and ignore everything the dissenting generals say, why should the generals trust the civilians?

And from whom does America have more to fear: generals who caution against war or presidents who claim unfettered powers to wage them?

But at the heart of Kohn's arguments is a fundamentally sinister assault on the notion of an open information society: that retired officers do not have a First Amendment right to speak their minds, that somehow their time in service puts them under a lifetime "gag order," and that retired officers can be held accountable to the Uniform Code of Military Justice or have their retirement pay withdrawn for speaking out against the establishment.

That bodes ill not only for retired officers but American society as well. If retired officers can't tell truth to power on military related issues, who can?

And if nobody can do that, what's to keep the country from becoming a military dictatorship? It's a bizarre turn of affairs when America's best safeguard against coming under control of the military is the military itself.

But what would you expect in an environment where the politicians run all the wars and all the generals left on active duty are all politicians?

For more on presidential authority, see Smoke, Mirrors and War Powers.


  1. Major General Charles Swannack, who commanded the 82nd airborne during the invasion, wants him out as well.

  2. Yeah, and one other guy's come out. Can't think of his name offhand. I'll post something on it later.

  3. Serving Patriot8:31 AM


    Kohn is a self-serving academic fool... a wanta be not unlike many of the charletan chicken-hawks in charge.

    Political commentary from the military has a long history in America. In the "professional" military since Huntington's "Soldier & the State" treatise, a certain level of brainwashing against speaking out has been used to scare senior and experienced military leaders from raising alarm. Of course, where was Kohn when CJCS Powell was actively subverting the political authority of Pres Clinton. Again, on the outside "tsk, tsking."

    America's military has no history of coup d'etat. Even with the insanity of potential aggressive (illegal) nuclear attacks on Iran will not be enough to rouse the military to take over everything.

    Have you seen the recent Harper's discussion on this issue?


  4. SP,

    Back in the day, I used to say that I never met a flag officer I wanted to meet again, and my position on that issue hasn't changed much.

    I'm not concerned that the military will execute a coup, but I'm afraid the military industrial complex already has.