Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

And Yet More on Gen. Shinseki

My two earlier posts on Gen. Shinseki elicited comments from David Tucker and Joseph Kippenberg (the Elder). This piece by Larry Di Rita does a pretty good job of addressing the points both gentlemen made.

Di Rita makes the case more strongly than I did that if Gen. Shinseki objected to the war plan for Iraq, he didn’t say so when offered the opportunity to demur.

I can tell from the the dearth of comments on this topic that this stuff is boring to most NLT readers. But the fact is that the Shinseki episode and the recent Woodward book say a great deal about the sad state of US civil-military relations.

Now if I were to say something about LINCOLN or the Civil War, well then I would get an earful, no?

Discussions - 7 Comments

Maybe not boredom, but an (unusual) acknowledgment of - oh - call it cluelessness. I know I am not the typical commenter here, being female. Still, I like to keep up with what is happening in the military because of my sons. I read your posts, figured you knew what you were talking about and was grateful for the information. I did not know David Tucker had responded the other day. I would certainly have read that and have now done so. It doesn't seem much of a disagreement, since both of you appear to be pointing out a bad situation in civilian/military relations in the last administration. Are we supposed to presume all will be well in this one?

I have wondered how anyone was supposed to KNOW how to manage this war without considerable trial and error. Why wouldn't our officers have differing points of view on the topic? The political end has been a mess from the start and wouldn't that naturally make for strained and confusing civilian/military relations?

I have another, probably foolish, question to ask while I (might) have your attention. Isn't it awful to ask our military to mount a military operation in which they are not allowed to win too much? They must win not only with minimal harm to themselves, but to all involved even the enemy who might not be clearly identifiable? How confusing, how impossible and how inevitable that everyone involved would make mistakes, from the guy on the ground right on up.

I knew boys who are now dead because of this war and wish it had not happened, especially on their account. How their families face these holidays, I don't know. In a few years, their situation could be mine and I just don't want to be in that position.

I already have a Marine veteran, and know many other veterans, from all branches. I surely hope General Shinseki is a good and honorable man. and will do a good job.

Honestly, Mac, I am mostly commenting and questioning since you seem disappointed that few others did. I appreciate your posts and would have you continue whether you spark fierce debates or not.

De Rita’s article does not address the issues that I commented on in Mac’s original post. Mac stated, as De Rita does, that Shineski did not lose his job over his comments. Shinseki did finish his term but he was publicly criticized and humiliated by Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz. Such treatment is rare. It was intended to send a message to the officer corps. Is that good civil-military relations? That’s the important point.

In his original post, Mac also said that neither Rumsfeld nor Shinseki predicted the insurgency that developed in Iraq. Again, this is true but beside the point. As I mentioned, sound analysis pointed out years before the invasion, and was published again in the summer of 2003, that the numbers of troops were likely to be insufficient to deal with whatever happened in post-conflict Iraq. The Army may have failed to anticipate insurgency in Iraq but as I asked when Mac first posted on Shinseki, if it was a failure for the Army not to prepare for counterinsurgency before the invasion of Iraq, what are we to call Rumsfeld’s refusal to allow even the word “insurgency” to be used in reference to Iraq as the insurgency raged on there?

I disagreed strongly on Mac's comments about the virtues of those with flag responsibilities remaining silent on policy disputes, a notion foolishly adhered to by our generals during the Vietnam war, and which led to much pain, much suffering, and ultimately, led to our defeat.

Had the brass came out and denounced LBJ's idiotic war policies, and done so at the proper time, it would have enabled the nation to have a real discussion about how the war was being conducted. But because they sat on their objections, forgot their responsibilities to the men in their command, they soothed themselves with comfortable rationalizations and followed policies they KNEW FULL WELL lead to our defeat. LeMay said the war was winnable in any two week span one cared to mention. The brass agreed with his conclusion. Linebacker I and Linebacker II lent credibility to LeMay's statement. Yet because the brass refused to come clean with the parents of those men in their command, refused to come clean with their UNANIMOUS objections to LBJ's policies, to McNamara's micromanagment of a war he didn't know spit about waging, because they forgot their solemn and sacred responsibilities to the men in their command, because of all that and more, the war went on for another 5 years. When Nixon came in, we were sustaining half a battalion in casualties per month. And why? Because the brass refused to state their objections to the American people. That's why.

Yet Mac praises that very same policy of silence. A silence which to my mind is utterly damning!

No, I let his comment pass not because I lacked interest, but because to refute his conclusion would require some lengthy commentary, which I didn't feel like making.

I don't feel much like walking past the graveyard of Southeast Asia.

Lincoln had the constitutional right to hammer generals like McClellan and Meade because he was commander in chief. Lincoln had the moral right to do so because he understood that victory over the rebellion was necessary to preserving our way of life, and so (to citizens in public as well as to military brass in private) he aimed squarely at victory -- at crushing the rebellion as soon as possible. This goal, though mightily difficult, was possible, and if it had not been possible, then that would have affected the rightness of the war.

Bush likewise had (and has) the constitutional right to supersede his generals' judgments. But in my opinion he has no moral right to claim any superior judgment or demand silence from his generals, because:

a) As Kate said, on the very aim of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, Bush has been fuzzy and shifting. And incoherent -- simultaneously grandiose and timid about it. Grandiose in that the U.S. apparently aims at comprehensive nation-building, right down to its constitution and domestic laws, for a foreign people (or peoples, really, Iraq having been an empire for decades and, under the Ottomans, centuries). And grandiose in that Bush intended for "democratic" Iraq to be "a watershed event in the global democratic revolution," starting with all the Arabic and Persian governments of the "Middle East." Timid, or perhaps naive, in that Bush didn't face the public and declare that such success would require, without blush, post-WWII-scale occupations and decades of paternalistic rule by the U.S. And, as with the war over which Lincoln presided, if Bush's war aims (such as they are) are not possible, then that affects the rightness of the war.

b) Why should generals or anyone in uniform, who are in a sense super-citizens, be subject to more restrictions on their civil right to speak and publish than are regular, secure citizens like Bob Woodward or Victor Davis Hanson or the barber down the street? I am not talking about UCMJ Article 88 infractions here, only opinions about policy.

Why should not the highest military officers -- possessing education and war experience far superior to Bush and most Americans -- get to say so vigorously (if not necessarily on page 1 of the Washington Post)?

Or if they believe that nothing but a public splash would make the president recognize their contrary views, officers always have the option of resigning their commissions (a big enough statement in itself, especially for generals) and then fully speaking freely.

...if it was a failure for the Army not to prepare for counterinsurgency before the invasion of Iraq, what are we to call Rumsfeld’s refusal to allow even the word “insurgency” to be used in reference to Iraq as the insurgency raged on there?


I'd call it standard operating procedure in the Pentagon. Just the other day I read Sec. Gates' piece in Foreign Affairs that basically says there's a big rift in thinking among the top brass at the Pentagon about how the U.S. should prepare for future conflicts. We haven't had a traditional force-on-force conflict in almost 20 years (Gulf War I), yet most of the admirals and generals would like to continue to buy expensive crap to win those wars that won't be fought. Shinseki may or may not have disagreed with Rumsfeld on troop levels, but they both agreed on traditional war tactics. Hence the lack of counterinsurgency strategy and the omission of the word "insurgency" from Pentagon vocabulary.


The real controversy isn't about Shinseki and Rumsfeld... who cares about them? They're old news; one's basically retired and the other has been given a bizarre political appointment as a reward for perceived subversion against the outgoing administration. What about the future of the department?

Mac, keep up the good work...more interest will develop over the next year in these topics, as less-impassioned post-mortems of the Bush presidency and the Iraq war are put forward.

That bit about Shinseki not voicing real concern about the troop levels WHEN THE DECISION WAS MADE is becoming a trope of Rumsfeld associates--the same charge about other issues is made by Feith in War and Decision against Powell, Armitage, and many, many others. But you know what? It probably is correct. War and Decision shows that was the CIA and the State Dept., above all else, who established the idea that the Iraqi police would remain intact after the fall of the regime to keep civil peace, and that Rumsfeld and Feith unsuccessfully fought against that. And I think it shows that what Bush is to blame for in Iraq, first and foremost, is not early on FIRING a bunch of people at State and CIA, perhaps including Armitage, Tenet, and Powell, and some anonymous ones who later supplied all those half-accurate leaks to the beloved WaPo and NYT, because it was clear they were being CYA all the way...not voicing their full criticisms or stating formal opposition to begin with, ...playing political games with officious intelligence and diplomatic assesments, and then later getting in bed with the liberal critics to present themselves as some noble sort of whistle-blower. It is these people, the good moderate establishment ones, who did so much to screw up the occupation's chances of success. Not that the insurgency would have allowed the best possible plans to have prevented mayhem--but we'll never know now. At the very least, the Feith book shows that those folks, Armitage and Tenet especially, did a lot of harm...that they are easily as much to blame, at a minimum, for the problems as are Rumsfeld and the neo-conservatives.

And in some of this stuff Mac is presenting, we are reminded that so much of the top brass was opposed to the surge.

Bush was right on the decision to topple Saddam.

Bush was right on the surge.

Bush's occupation plan was screwed up, with many spoons in the pot of blame, but with the good anti-neocon "MODERATE' spoons standing out.

Bush was maybe wrong to try for a democratic Iraq, rather than live with a chastened Baathist regime. I.e., he might be to blame for not making a back-a-strongman decision that almost no "moderate" or liberal American politicians would have had the guts to make.

And yet, we conservatives lost the opinion battle, and now it is HARDENED Democrat, liberal, and "moderate" DOGMA that Bush failed miserably with Iraq. And "sophisticated" conservatives (e.g., the otherwise great R. Douthat) feel their reputation for open-mindedness requires them to at least accept a large portion of this. Alas, you can't argue against the snowball of myths here short of being a full-time expert...so keep it up, Mac, but understand the battle fatigue the rest of us feel on these issues.

Your fight is particularly important, since the worst possible lesson for officers of the Obama-era and beyond to take from the Iraq years is that officers must try to influence politial decisions.

How could the "occupation" have gone any different? We roll in bomb some stuff then police people and they are going to lay down and kiss our boots. Liberating a country from their self, Is this really liberating? As for genderals having free speach: I think this is very important. You want men to follow orders, but then you don't want Nazis who will kill innocents and ask no questions. Disagreeing with the plan, is a similar idea. How can a general lead men to their death if he does not believe in the plan. I guess the same can be said right on down the line for all officers, but there is a certain diva part that generals have always had that I think combines with this. Little Mac did not want to win the war by throwing wave after wave of men for slaughter. Could the war have been won without doing so, We can't be sure. The one thing that would have surely made the war unwinnable would have been the lack of the emancipation which would have allowed for the British to enter war and ensure a divided America. Why is this important? Becuase, I believe, the current policies suggest a return to this paradigm of dividing regions and playing sides off against one another. As for how could they have known, well we do have a slew of intelligence agencies costing the tax payers billions so we might expect something out them, unless you assume they are only working for globalist ends and not ours. I for one like the idea that the military is not totally receptive to the president and his CFR/Brookings dream team. Anyone hear that the marines were assisting with drunk driving checks? Mabye some of the old grizzled generals can bring up the nagging posse comitatus law that forbids the use of the military as a police force on American soil.

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