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April 28, 2006

The Generals and their yapping.

I've been struggling with this one, because I really am conflicted.

On the one hand, I blog, I'm a retired military officer, I express my opinions, many of them critical of this Administration and Rumsfeld in particular. How am I all that different from these guys? Well, there *is* the size of the check at the end of the month, true.

On the other hand, these guys are Generals. And while I find the Press' embrace of these retirees and their message to be hypocritical, given the non-love shown for the dissident Generals who didn't like the Bosnia and Kosovo adventures, the simple fact is, and I well know it - their opinion matters more than mine does. No one really cares what a retired field grade officer thinks unless they manage to breakout into full Pundit status, like Ollie North, Ralph Peters, Austin Bay, Dave Hunt, etc. And I haven't demonstrated that skill yet, nor, I think, am I likely to, given my rejection level by K-Lo!

That said, I think it comes down to this quote sent my by my buddy Jim,

I am convinced that the best service a retired general can perform is to turn in his tongue along with his suit, and to mothball his opinions. General of the Army Omar Bradley, in the New York Times, May 17, 1959.

All of these guys have issues with the SECDEF.

So what? They aren't the first. There was the Admiral's Revolt. Heck, McClellan, Wes Clark. Both of whom properly took their message to the political arena, where it was all out in the open and a free-for-all. During the 60's, there was no love lost between McNamara and his minions. In the bathroom of our apartment in Stuttgart, Germany, my father (then a LTC on the EUCOM J-3 staff) had a photo of Secretary McNamara, with the caption of *Big Daddy Is Watching You" on it. That stared at you as you did your business. Disaffection is not unusual, especially with transformative leaders.

Some of the generals have problems with the SECDEF being "disrespectful" of them (or others) personally, and dismissive of their opinions.

Really. Again, so what? An excessive deference to the opinion of subordinates is not a universal trait of the GO corps. Especially dissident opinions. I've watched numerous GO's crucify people for disagreeing... especially ones who disagree after the fact and drag their feet implementing decisions. I watched my father take a public shellacking that was completely inappropriate *and* unwarranted. Much less delivered to the officer in question in front of his son.

These officers all served honorably, and many of them, in one way or another, fell afoul of the Secretary. There's a reason that some commanded or held significant jobs during OIF - yet did not rise to the next higher grade. Whether a lack of room at the top, or people were not fully-happy with their performance in grade, there are reasons these guys are retired... and grumpy.

And they may well have earned that grumpiness. And they have a right to express their opinions on the conduct of the war.

But, and I admit I'm old-fashioned in this regard - because of their unique status as senior military leaders, they shouldn't be calling for the resignation or firing of Cabinet officials - especially ones they served under, who are still serving when they are not. If Congress wishes to call them before the committees and ask the question directly - then they should answer. That is appropriate, even if it is simply politics by other means. The Generals are charged with giving their honest assessment when asked.

Like it or not, Generals make lovers of Liberty uneasy, and the Founders set up a structure to limit their power and influence, as well they should have. To my way of thinking, the restrictions placed on us warriors (which are greater the higher we rise, which is why there are virtually *no* restrictions, comparatively, on enlisted members) expand and exert greater pressure the higher we rise. And they should. And these Generals should have known that no President worth his salt is going to fire a civilian leader of the Pentagon because the Generals demanded it.

The message that sends is simply unacceptable. In fact, it made it *harder* to achieve what they want - if anything, they guaranteed Rumsfeld's survival.

The Generals are free to write books and op-ed pieces and give speeches that argue against Administration policy - including policy they had a hand in implementing. Color me old-fashioned, but I think they overstepped the bounds of a good custom when they started calling for Rumsfeld's head. In this Republic, calling for the head of their civilian boss is simply *not* the province of the General Officers.

Switching sides - those who call the General's cowards or craven for not speaking out before they retired, or for not resigning in protest, are also loons who wish to dangerously erode the quite proper fetters placed on the military leadership.

If you are wearing the uniform, you make your arguments in the context of the staff meeting and written documents, and personal conversation. And yes, I know, the Generals and their staffs aren't above leaking, spare me. That is part and parcel of the process - and there is a world of difference between that an open rebellion in uniform. I would fully expect a Secretary of Defense to smack down an openly rebellious General by firing him and retiring him at his permanent grade (usually two grades behind the one on your shoulder). That they held their tongues publicly until they retired is entirely proper.

I know I'm late to this (one reason I'm not a very good pundit) but I wanted to think it through before I went on record. Not that anyone has been asking, really.

Update: Judging from the comments and some emails, I didn't make myself clear in this paragraph:

Switching sides - those who call the General's cowards or craven for not speaking out before they retired, or for not resigning in protest, are also loons who wish to dangerously erode the quite proper fetters placed on the military leadership.

What I was getting at is Open, Public Disagreement - of the sort they are currently engaged in.

I know from several sources (the easiest public source being the book Cobra II) that there was plenty gnashing of teeth during the planning and execution phase. And that it was conducted as I suggested was proper - in the planning sessions, staff briefings, email, telephone, and personal conversations. At the Rock Drills and rehearsals. And in some of those meetings, some people got their feelings hurt. But when the decision was made, they shut up, saluted, and soldiered on. And either through their disagreement before, or real or perceived lukewarm/lagging execution of those orders, several of those officers may have indeed paid a professional price. I don't profess to know where that line lies.

That said - I *still* think it is wrong for them to have publicly called for the dismissal of the Civilian head of the Department of Defense. That, quite frankly, is *not* their proper province, precisely *because* they are Generals. Had I been blogging in that era, I would have said the same of any recently retired General who advocated same during the Clinton Administration. And I did slap down officers who inappropriately (especially in front of subordinates) offered disrespect to President Clinton, regardless of whether or not I agreed with them. That is a civil right we *knowingly* leave behind us when we accept the commission.

There. Is that any clearer?