Thursday, April 13, 2006

Why Do So Many Retired Generals Hate America So Much?

Well, you've seen this in the Post. Of course these "generals" don't really know anything. To get the real story you've got to talk to the 82nd Couchborn. They'll give you the straight dope about the infallibility of everyone in the current administration, this infallibility ultimately radiating from the super-duper-uber-infallibility of Our Glorious Leader George W. Bush. Why these generals think they can tell what's going on in Iraq from...well, Iraq is beyond me.

There is another point in the piece that I think is worth thinking about. Re: the constant stream of criticism from 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.

That's an interesting point. I don't buy it right off the bat, but it's something to think about. However, as long as those still in the military follow the relevant guidelines concerning criticism of the civilian leadership, it doesn't seem to matter much what folks who have retired say. Besides, if those who are still in the military can't speak out about incompetent civilian leadership and those who have retired from the military cannot do so either, then there will be no one left to blow the whistle on radically incompetent administrations like the current one.


Blogger Bravo 2-1 said...

Uh, civilian control handled MacArthur pretty well.

We can handle Zinni and the rest, too.

4:38 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

I think there are two propositions: Rumsfeld (less troops) and many ex-generals (more troops).

Because we can never truly know things in this complicated world, especially when people are involved, I just dunno.

If we ignore truth and do a pomo deconstruction of the contestants, we're not left with much: generals want force, the civilian Rumfeld liked nuance. (And admittedly, had an amorousness for his own concepts.)

The argument for overwhelming force is plain: put the insurgency down down down before it starts.

But since Rumsfeld's more nuanced view makes little headway through the clatter, I do hope that perhaps you'll give me some credit for thinking through this on my own while it was happening, and am not just drinking Bushist Kool-Aid:

---Shooting looters would be a bad bad idea.
---It is not self-evident that maintaining Saddam's Ba'athist military in place would have been a good idea either.

I'll borrow a couple points from Victor Davis Hanson out of laziness (deleting the ones I disagree with):

Whatever one's views about needing more troops in 2003-5, few Democratic senators or pundits are now calling for an infusion of 100,000 more Americans into Iraq. While everyone blames the present policy, no one ever suggests that current positive trends — a growing Iraqi security force and decreasing American deaths in March — might possibly be related to the moderate size of the American garrison forces.

So, for every argument offered by "experts," there was just as available a convincing counter-argument — something usually lost on those eager to keep up with the 24-hour news cycle.

More troops might have brought a larger footprint that made peacekeeping easier — but also raised a provocative Western profile in an Islamic country. More troops may have facilitated Iraqization — or, in the style of Vietnam, created perpetual dependency. More troops might have shortened the war and occupation — or made monthly dollar costs even higher, raised casualties, and ensured that eventual troop draw-downs would be more difficult.

More troops just might have pissed 'em off even more.

I do not know whether the iron hand or Rumsfeld's velvet glove was the best way. I do not know if it can be known.

My own opinion is that as the iron hand faded away, the incomprehensible fratricide (suicide bombers in Iraqi shrines and mosques) would have commenced regardless. It was not an avoidable if, only an inevitable when.

I could be wrong, but I also think that there is no way we can have a political, strategic or moral certainty that a different course would have ended up differently.

I have no patience for Monday morning QBing. There were varying opinions all through the Chiefs of Staff. Rumsfeld, civilian that he is, had the last word, and that's the way we want it.

12:30 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Well, I sort of see your points Tom, but I don't think such bare possibilities here are worth much.

I mean, I agree that it's *possible* that the way we did things was the best practicable way...but I don't see any reason to believe that it actually *was* the best way.

You'll probably understand my frustration with this general type of response... I mean, it seems like virtually the only type defense that remains available to folks on your side of the fence goes like this: "We don't know with absolute certainty that we were deceived..." "It's possible that this was the right way to do it..." "Nobody can say for sure that this wasn't for the best..."

I agree that we can cobble together a non-self-contradictory story in which this war was conducted in a roughly optimal manner...but I just see no reason to believe that this is, y'know, *true*.

In fact, it seems like either of the two most obvious alternatives would have been LOTS better (i.e. not invading or invading with a force of Powellian proportions.)

8:50 AM  

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