Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Generally Speaking

In today's New York Post, columnist Ralph Peters, who unlike most pundits actually knows something about the military, provides some useful insights into the general on general violence that Rumsfeld has triggered. Rather than rehashing the evidence of Rumsfeld's sins yet again, Peters looks at the make-up and motivations of the SecDef's multi-starred critics and defenders, and finds that the contrast in credibility is quite telling.

The retired generals calling for Rumsfeld's resignation are recent combat commanders, veterans of Iraq and Middle East experts. They're the men who led from the front and who signed the condolence letters to bereaved families (and they didn't use an autograph machine).

Generals such as John Batiste, Gregory Newbold, Paul Eaton and Tony Zinni have something else in common, too: They're leaders respected by their peers for flawless integrity. Their reputations within their services - the Army and Marines - could not be higher. They are not and never have been political generals.

And these men have much to lose by going public with their criticism. They'll never get the lucrative defense-industry jobs in corporations whose profits depend on the favor of the Pentagon. They're not going to be offered plum appointments in any future administration, Republican or Democrat. They'll be frozen out of the Washington-insider's club. They face organized political attacks upon their personal reputations.

And yet they feel it their duty to speak to their fellow citizens, no matter the cost. . .

As for the generals who rush to defend the SecDef - using those OSD-disseminated talking points - they fall into three categories:

* Pathetic, aged retirees who desperately want to believe they're still Washington players and who will do anything for a scrap of official attention.

* Air Force generals - while the Army and Marines fought, Rumsfeld funded all of the Air Force's toys and can count on its support.

* And, most troublingly, serving officers selected by the SecDef for the military's highest offices.

From where I sit, this whole embarrassing episode says far more about the President than Rumsfeld, by putting the lie to the myth of Bush as a strong leader.

Any commmander-in-chief who actually cared about serving the national interest more than covering their own ass -- and who actually cared about the concept of accountability in government -- would have long ago fired a Secretary of Defense who had lost the trust of his military commanders, Congress and most of the public (let alone repeatedly demonstrated their incompetence).

But this is a president is so weak in character and leadership that he would rather sacrifice our troops and even paralyze his own presidency rather than admit he made a mistake -- or give the impression he was kowtowing to whiny liberal critics.

It's almost as if Bush has a deep-seated compulsion to excuse or rationalize his subordinates' fuck-ups (and thus his own) -- witness his awarding a medal to the CIA director who was responsible for one of the great intelligence failures in American history. That's not personal loyalty -- that's a political pathology.

One of the great mysteries for political scientists and historians to consider over the next generation will be how Bush was able to sustain the "strong leader" charade for as long as he did. Was it primarily the mesmerizing effect of 9/11 and its afterglow? The weakness of White House press corps? The patheticness of the Democratic opposition? Over to you, Garry Wills.....

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