Thursday, September 20, 2007

The revolt of the generals

by: GEORGIE ANNE GEYER Universal Press Syndicate

WASHINGTON -- This is the week of the generals. "Oh," you say, "you mean the generals who have been serving in Iraq and are now testifying before Congress about our troops staying there?" Nope. I mean the growing "revolt of the generals," as some are calling it, against the war and against the entire war policy.

They are, of course, almost all retired generals. Anthony Zinni, Barry McCaffrey, Wesley Clark, Paul Eaton, James Jones, John Batiste and others, in addition to some influential colonels like Ralph Peters. One might wonder why those generals and other officers still in service when the war began didn't speak out a little earlier (as some of these did), when it might have spared us what many knew even then was going to go down as the greatest military disaster in American history.

Those who did speak out and continue to do so are brave men, with more important messages for Americans today than any that come from Iraqi commanding Gen. David H. Petraeus.

  • From retired Col. Ralph Peters, writing in USA Today: "The generals point out that they don't control the strategic decisions, that all they can do is to follow orders, that then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld wouldn't listen to anyone, that Congress undercut the military, that the media's behavior has been pernicious and that Iraq's political leaders have failed their country."

"No matter the mitigating circumstances and political restrictions military leaders face, there is no 'gentleman's C' in warfare. The course is pass-fail."

  • From retired Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on July 31, 2007: "The U.S. armed forces are in a position of strategic peril. Congress must act."

"However, the purpose of my testimony is not to talk about the ongoing tactical operations . . . but instead the disastrous state of America's ground combat forces. Congress has been missing-in-action during the past several years while undebated and misguided strategies were implemented by former secretary Rumsfeld and his team of arrogant and inexperienced civilian associates in the Pentagon. The JCS (Joint Chiefs of Staff) failed to protect the armed forces from bad judgment and illegal orders.

"They have gotten us in a terrible strategic position of vulnerability. The Army is starting to crack under the strain of lack of resources, lack of political support and leadership from both the administration and this Congress, and isolation from the American people who have now walked away from the war."

  • Finally, retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, speaking on his book, "The Battle for Peace," in a "Meet the Press" appearance, describes the administration's behavior in the war as ranging from "true dereliction, negligence and irresponsibility" to "lying, incompetence and corruption."

In short: (1) Our military officer corps has become so bureaucratized, and thus is easily cowed by an obnoxiously dominating and humiliating figure like former secretary Rumsfeld, that we can never expect independent thinking from them if it is going to cost them their pensions. (2) The mindset of American officers is so rigidly conventional that they are simply incapable of understanding the Third World mentalities that they blithely -- and ignorantly -- fight. (3) Our military officers can understand only conventional warfare -- tank battles across the belly of Europe -- even though that threat barely exists in today's world.

Think about it. Every war we have fought (and too many of them!) since World War II has involved an "irregular" or guerrilla opponent. Especially Vietnam. Yet our military discovered "counterinsurgency" only three years into the Iraq war. The rather obvious thing to learn from this is, if you cannot do something well or at least understand it, then don't do it! That lesson most definitely has not been learned at the Pentagon, at enormous cost to America.

It is surely good that these retired generals (and a few others) have been speaking out, but where does it go? Even today, after Vietnam and Somalia and Bosnia and Lebanon and Central America, there is no one in the Pentagon who can analyze histories of foreign cultures well enough to predict what a society would do in response to an occupation. Our officers are treating counterinsurgency like something brand new when in fact it is millennia old.

We will have to watch carefully what happens to the officer corps after Iraq, whenever that might be. And we will have to thank these generals for the clarity that they are bringing to this clouded picture.

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