Friday, December 31


Great essay on the effect of Bush/Rumsfeld on the U.S. military.

Incidentally, I've been totally perplexed that the professional military would be so supportive of a draft-dodging, AWOL-or-deserter as Commander-in-Chief. Got an e-mail message that explains it: evidently, to some folks Bush looks like Harrison Ford! Even their smirks are similar! They walk the same way! But would Indiana Jones, a Ph.D. and intellectual who never asked anyone to fight his battles for him, recognize himself in the Chimpster? I think he'd be horrified by the comparison, as am I.

When George W. Bush was first elected president, civil-military relations in the United States were worse than they had ever been before. They are no better today, for more serious reasons.

The decline had begun with the Vietnam War. The less perspicacious part of the officer corps chose to blame civilian interference for the loss in that war.

What the military would have done in Vietnam without civilian interference remains unclear; they never offered the government a coherent alternative plan to the one provided by Robert McNamara, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. This was undoubtedly because there wasn't one - the war was unwinnable, short of the Dresden option (an option retested in November at Falluja in Iraq).

With the Vietnam defeat, the years of the "hollow army" began, with an angry and alienated military leadership, unsympathetic politicians and an amnesiac public.

A non-conscript professional army was built up. The result of professionalization was to create an officer corps politically on the right. This concerned academic observers and civilians sympathetic to the military, as well as thoughtful officers themselves, aware of the importance of defending the American tradition of an apolitical military.

The professional military's alienation from its civilian leadership increased with the Clinton administration's arrival - a draft-dodger president, with a feminist first lady and a liberal agenda. As one military historian has written, first there was the disastrous don't-ask, don't-tell clash over homosexuals in the service (where, as anyone who has been in the military knows, there has always been an underground homosexual culture, for self-evident reasons - where else can you meet so many guys?).

Then came Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo - and the Tailhook uproar - plus stalemate over national security policy. Colin Powell, as chairman of the joint chiefs, actually presented the civilian government with specific terms on which the military would agree to go to war. (These terms - clear objective, overwhelming force, exit strategy - were completely ignored, bizarrely enough, in going to war in Iraq, with the fearful consequences we now see).

The new President Bush, in 2001, was another draft-dodger, in fact if not form, but he walked and talked in a way the military liked. However, his secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, was not such a likable fellow, and he set out to reform the Pentagon and re-establish civilian authority.

He has in considerable measure imposed himself on the uniformed military, but in a way they now hate. Following his ideas about a small, light and "agile" force, he has made one bad tactical and organizational choice after another, with particularly devastating consequences for the army, its reserve forces, the national guard, and the marines. Their manpower resources are being exploited and wasted in a manner that could leave the services damaged and their officers alienated for a generation.

This has been the result of the Bush government's total misjudgment of the Iraq situation; its refusal to enlarge the regular army; its reliance on mobilized reserve forces on extended service in what amounts to the draft of specialist veterans from civilian life; and, since the Iraq occupation turned very unpleasant, "stop-loss" refusal to let people go at the end of their contracts.

Recruiting for the reserves and the guard is now badly off, as are regular army re-enlistments and quality recruits. A 20-year-old man, a regular in the army, on his way back for a second tour in Iraq, says, "What everybody is starting to know now is that this is what's going on for the foreseeable future."

This probably is true, since nobody in the Bush administration seems capable of changing course, and it is increasingly evident that American policy for the so-called greater Middle East will fail.

If the failure is a traumatic one, the result is likely to resemble the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Vietnam destroyed the American citizen army: product of a 200-year tradition that rejected standing armies and held temporary and egalitarian military service to be a duty and experience of citizenship. In Vietnam, the conscript army eventually staged a mute mutiny against the folly of its government.

However, you must not abuse even a professional army. It too can rebel, and as in the citizen army, disaffection starts at the bottom, where the most pain is felt.

Iraq is now destroying the professional army the United States recruited to take the place of its citizen army. The new army was intended to serve as the unquestioning instrument of the policies of the elected administration. This administration's refusal to supply the manpower and means necessary for its vast military and political ambitions is now having its effect on that army. Its politically inspired fear of conscription, the merciless combat rotation policy and systematic use of involuntary extensions of duty its policies impose, are devastating to troops.

The incoherence of its policy in the Middle East, and lack of clearly defined objectives, is deeply disquieting to the military leadership. America's military leaders once again find themselves victims of the policies of appointed ideologues and elected amateurs. As in Vietnam, they have no alternative to propose, except Dresden.


Post a Comment

<< Home