Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Patriotic Dissent

Ralph Peters argues in the Washington Monthly that dissent from the top military brass is vital to our national security, especially in the age of the imperial presidency.
[T]he miserable road to Saigon--and Baghdad--was paved with the best intentions. Six decades ago, the National Security Act of 1947 inserted buffers between presidents and their top military men, leading immediately to a series of military debacles or, at best, stalemates. Instead of Marshall speaking--respectfully but frankly--to FDR, we got McNamara huddling with LBJ and, now, Donald Rumsfeld, who never saw combat, interpreting warfare to a president who never saw combat. Instead of making battlefield decisions based upon military necessity, the rise of powerful secretaries of defense resulted in combat decisions based upon political expediency.
What are the results of this type of "see no evil, hear no evil" approach to military planning? Look no further than Iraq says Peters.

Peters is not arguing that presidents should not appoint civilians to top cabinet posts to control the military.
The crucial issue, though, is the bogus charge of insubordination threatening the good order of civil-military relations. It's a spurious claim that has nonetheless been embraced uncritically by the orthodox on both the left and right. Instead of being alarmed that former soldiers--with no political ties or agendas--searched their consciences then went public with their criticism of a notoriously imperious defense secretary, we should celebrate the fact. Each of these men played by the rules, retiring before speaking out. None prejudiced good order. Not one stands to profit from his courage (quite the contrary).

If former officers cannot speak out on complex military issues, to whom can we turn for expert advice? To politicians who never deigned to serve in uniform themselves? To pundits equally lacking in military experience? To defense industry publicists? Surely, lifelong expertise should hold some value in our specialized society.
Washington is a place that thrives on equilibrium. When the balance goes askew, we pay the price. Iraq is a perfect example of this. Here, poor policy planning mixed with the best intentions and undermined by the most cynical of motivations has produced a quagmire in Iraq. Generals such as Shinseki had enough courage to throw their hands up and yell, "Stop!" But in today's Washington where loyalty is more important than performance, brave soldiers that criticize our venture into Iraq are now considered apostates of this Administration.

By valuing the neoconservative ideology and base business interests undergirded by a plethora of biased pundits and self-interested intellectuals, the Bush Administration has basically allowed the patients to overrun the asylum.

But the craziest of us are those that maintain criticism of the war is the mark of a subversive or worse, a traitor. That career generals are thought of this way only shows Washington's ideological fault-line is ripping farther and farther apart.