Wednesday, April 26


Historian Max Hastings opines that the revolt of the generals is nothing new and shouldn't be surprising. The only thing new, he says, is that post-WWII technological advances have made civilian micromanagement of military actions possible, and so "It is unlikely that field commanders will ever again enjoy the operational latitude they once possessed."

But in truth, retired soldiers have always been outspoken about the alleged blunders of successor warlords, uniformed and otherwise.
The post-Vietnam generation of U.S. generals is much more cautious about overseas operations, especially against insurgencies, than were their predecessors of the Westmoreland -- never mind MacArthur -- eras. Once, generals were notoriously gung-ho. Today they are haunted by fear of failure. By a notable historical irony, enthusiasm for using troops is far more prevalent among civilian ideologues than among professional warriors.
If commanders are denied the power to manage campaigns as they think right, it is unjust to allow them to accept blame when these go awry. In the new world, the generals' revolt seems a legitimate response to political mismanagement of operations. If a civilian such as Donald Rumsfeld seeks to exercise from Washington functions that were traditionally those of soldiers, he should take the customary consequences. The most conspicuous historical example of a politician presiding over a military fiasco was that of Winston Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty. He sponsored the 1915 Dardanelles campaign -- and was forced to quit.

Rosa Brooks has a great op-ed on the subject of the generals:

They even had me nodding along there for a few minutes. After all, every student of recent history knows that if you dilute civilian control of the military, you end up with fascism or a Latin American-style military junta. Because constant security threats are necessary to maintain the power and credibility of a military regime, a nation that lacks civilian control of the military gets ensnared in unending, pointless wars, often against an increasingly vaguely defined threat. Gradually, the broader society becomes militarized. Dissenters are denounced as cowards or traitors, and domestic surveillance becomes common. Secret military courts and detention systems begin to supplant the civilian judicial system. Detainees get tortured, and some end up mysteriously dead after interrogation.

We definitely wouldn't want that kind of regime to control the United States, would we?

IT WAS AT THIS POINT that I got the joke — because, dear reader, we're already well on the way to having that kind of regime. If Rumsfeld thought he could get away with calling himself Il Generalissimo, don't you think he'd do so in a heartbeat?

In the looking-glass world the Bush administration has brought us, it's the civilians in the White House and the Pentagon who have been eager to embrace the values normally exemplified by military juntas, while many uniformed military personnel have struggled to insist on values that are supposed to characterize democratic civil society.



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