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What Would People Think?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Truth, Civilian Control, and Rebellious Generals

The New York Times has a very insightful and informative article on the issues of civilian-military relations and civilian control of the military, which have come up in light of the recent demands by several retired generals that Donald Rumsfeld resign as Secretary of Defense. I highly recommend you read it.

I'm torn. On the one hand, I'm a huge proponent of free speech and people speaking their minds, especially people like these generals who have valuable insight into how the War in Iraq is being run. And, I must confess, I'd dearly like to see Rumsfeld go down. His handling of the war (and his helping get us into the war in the first place) is nothing short of a disaster.

But I'm a tad uncomfortable about these military officers voicing the critiques, especially since they say they are speaking for people still in the military. I do believe there's some danger to civilian control of the military when current military officers openly attack the civilian leadership. We're a far cry from a coup, but I'd prefer not to even go down that path. (In much the same way, I want to protect speech I find little of little value and possibly outside the purpose of the First Amendment - say, pornography, which I think contributes nothing good to society - because I don't want to go down the path which may lead to squelching of political dissent.) (And, in those last 2 sentences, you see a fundamental clash in my political values.)

I'm influenced in these ambivalent views by Richard Kohn, one of the experts cited in the article. Mr Kohn spoke to my National Security law class. His views are pretty well laid out in the Times article, but if you want to understand better where he's coming from (and where I'm coming from) read this somewhat lengthy article, which I had to read for class. Or, you might want to read this, much shorter article, also by Kohn.


  • Hmm, that's funny. Aren't retired generals also civilians?

    Anyway, I think the military should be controlled entirely by civilians, as should all other public institutions in our democracy. I think we should vote on whom to attack, and how. That's the only way we, as a society, can decide what risks are acceptable for their proposed gains.

    However, we must be kept informed, and realize that it's generally good to listen to those on the ground.

    By Blogger Barzelay, at 4/16/2006 6:08 AM  

  • And therein we have my struggle. On the one hand, I don't want military people undermining civilian leadership by undercutting their policies (think Douglas MacArthur vs. Harry Truman), no matter how wrong-headed those policies are. I fear that Americans tend to trust the military more than civilians and it's a step in the wrong direction.

    But you're right that we need to know what's going on in order to make informed decisions. Maybe I'm being alarmist. I don't know.

    By Blogger Ben, at 4/16/2006 1:48 PM  

  • hmm, picture this. Its 1991, Iraq has just invaded Kuwait and is heading into Sadia Arabia. President Bush sees the need for action to protect people, oil, regional stability, etc. Iraq has just entered the border of SA and is now marching to the capital, and is looking to sack it in..oh say 2 days. The USA can usually send in troops within 24 but the numbers they would need to stop this attack would take 2-3 days. Bush Sr decides "now is the time, set up the polls" Well this takes say oh 3 days to set up correctly. Well by the time we finally get the vote in, Iraq has taken over the capital, murdered thousands, and placed bombs on all the oil fields ready to be set off at the push of a button. Well, by this time the war wouldn't have anywhere near as easy, with more lives lost. This is why a real democracy won't work. Another example is in "Race for your life, Charlie Brown". Every time Pep Pattys group needs to do something they take a vote and lose valuable time in the process.

    Its not like the President says "well today I wanna attack so and so cause I hate them so so much." Its more like "General such and such. We're having problems in this region of the globe and talking and sanctions aren't working. Is force a course of action that is needed and what kinda of plan would be needed to gain a foot hold in the region with min loss" I'd have to guess the President actually makes very few if ANY actual military plans other then yes, I agree lets go in. If he told a general I want to do this, and the general thought "no sir, this would not be a wise choice" I doubt the president would say, "nah, I think we're super duper and will walk them. Lets go Super fighting force 5"...

    By Anonymous other white meat, at 4/16/2006 11:05 PM  

  • Well of course we don't have an election to decide every single policy decison the President makes. But we do hold elections to keep the President politically accountable.

    As far as your 2nd hypothetical....the Bush Administration is accused of doing something very similar. "Mr. Rumsfeld, we're gonna need hundreds of thousands of troops to subdue post-invasion Iraq." "No, you don't."

    By Blogger Ben, at 4/17/2006 6:37 AM  

  • Oh please, yes Bush hasn't been handling Iraq well at all. Yes he's not very bright and probably one of the worst presidents ever, but I'd bet his choice to go over to Iraq was a lot deeper then "I hate them, and daddy couldn't finish the job. LETS GET SOME OIL. BLOOD FOR OIL, BLOOD FOR OIL!!" We only know what the media has told us. Heck man, the dem's were all for us going over there and when it didn't go smoothly "We need to withdraw. We told them not to go. BLAH BLAH BLAH"

    By Anonymous other white meat, at 4/17/2006 9:52 AM  

  • Um, that's not what I said. I never said the Bush Administration was a caricature. I said they've been known to ignore advice from military people when it didn't fit their agenda.

    Donald Rumsfeld quite clearly ignored General Eric Shinseki's plea for more troops.

    Similarly, the Administration is keeping the nuclear option on the table in its Iran war plans despite the objections of the Joint Chiefs.

    By Blogger Ben, at 4/17/2006 11:25 AM  

  • We always keep the nuke option open. We considered using tact Nukes during the beginning stages of the Iraq war along with Afgan. Seriously, you're overreacting to that. Its not a big deal, its really not a big deal keeping it open when the country we're dealing with has already said it plans to take out Isreal as soon as it can with nukes. Besides, using a tact nuke isn't like droping a atom bomb. Also, how do you know that even though General Eric Shinseki asked for more troops that another general told him "even though we always could use more troops, spreading our resources to thin would leave us in a dangerous state. We have enough to handle this even though my fellow General friend doesn't agree"

    By Anonymous Other white meat, at 4/17/2006 12:10 PM  

  • We do not "always keep the nuke option open." President Harry Truman quite explicitly took it off the table in the Korean War. That's what set up his confrontation with MacArthur.

    Now, yes, I supposed he could have put it back on the table. But that would have been much more difficult because it would require a radical revision in war plans...and that doesn't happen overnight. It makes a huge difference when you include nuclear weapons in your plans.

    If it's "not a big deal" then why did the Joint Chiefs protest keeping the nuke option on the table?

    At this point I'm not even sure what you're arguing. Are you arguing that attacking Iran is a good idea because they are run by maniacs who probably want nukes? It's not that simple. There are strong questions about whether such an attack is feasible given our current resources, whether it would be successful at reducing the threat, and what sort of negative consequences it would have for America (aside from the loss of life that accompanies any war).

    Are you arguing that President Bush himself doesn't make war plans? That's a straw man. George W. Bush may not do so, but Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, etc. sure as hell do.

    Are you arguing that the Bush Administration is not, in fact, behaving like a bunch of movie villans? No duh. I don't think Bush and Co want bad things to happen to America and I think they are motivated by a genuine love for their country. But I also think they have a record of being reckless and shortsighted, overly idealistic about what military force can accomplish, and very slow to learn from their mistakes (if at all). When this combines for war-and-peace decisions, it's a toxic combination.

    Are you arguing that the Democratic Party is populated by hypocrites? No argument here. But you're oversimplifying to say that they supported the war until it went bad and now changed their tune. From the beginning, there have been some Democrats who opposed the war and now want out. There have been other Democrats who supported the war, but warned that Bush's people were doing it wrong (too few troops, disbanding the Iraqi army, etc.) And then there's been Joe Lieberman (R-The Democratic Party). In a 2-party system, neither party is a monolith. It's just a matter of which Democratic voices the media chooses to highlight at any given time.

    By Blogger Ben, at 4/17/2006 12:35 PM  

  • no, I was basically saying "stop freaking out". Yes we ALWAYS have a nuke option in any and every war, even if it isn't known to the general public. All you seem to do on this subject is listen to a bunch of media hype and buy into it. I haven't heard one opinion you stated that can't be read on CNN or Foxnews. Try talking to some higher up Military and see what their opinions are. Get both sides and make an informed opinion. And before you say "well the Joint Chiefs said..." When asked in public on their position, do you honestly think they're going to give away they're plans to the other side. They're probably sitting around talking to themselves "what an idiot. Why would he cause such an uproar by saying that. We'll try to play it off like we aren't like that" Not trying to flame you or anything its just your views of war seem very ignorant.

    What would you do with Iran if you were in the Presidents shoes? Same spot he's in now.

    Iran kicked out inspectors

    Iran has threatened to take out Isreal

    Iran is known to back terrorist cells

    Making these things known while we're dealing with someone else.

    Seriously, what would you like to see happen? Or better yet, what do you think would happen with your choices? Just curious, seems like a different way to take this debate, argument, toddler pushing contest :-)

    By Anonymous Other guy, at 4/17/2006 1:44 PM  

  • Dammit, OWM, stick to one name! Or, so help me, I might call you by your real name....and possibly even misspell (sp?) it!

    Well, the number one thing I'd like to do is finish my work and stop letting myself get distracted by my blog. But, failing that.....,

    For the record, I have talked to a military person....well, an ex-military person who knows a lot of higher ups. He didn't confirm everything in the New Yorker article, but he said it was basically accurate in its portrayal of how the Joint Chiefs and many in the military establishment feel about the current war plans.

    If I were the President, my goals would be 2-fold, both equally important (i) keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of radicals, and (ii) marginalizing radicals in Muslim society. Long-term, the War on Terror isn't just a military battle. It's political. We can't pound all the terrorists into the ground an expect to win. More will just pop up, inspired by martyrs and propaganda about the American Satan. But we CAN win in the same way we won the Cold War, by winning the hearts and minds of the general Muslim public. Or at least their minds and pocketbooks. (I mean, we managed to do that in Communist Eastern Europe and Russia despite all the propaganda those people were inundated with.)

    So, anyways, I'd consider force to be a last resort.....well, not even that. In this case, I'm not sure force would even be successful in either goal (i) or goal (ii).

    The first thing I'd do is TALK to the Iranians. They offered to conduct a wide-ranging series of negotiations earlier this year and we refused, saying we only wanted to talk about Iraq. I'd try to figure out what they really want. They aren't exactly the most trustworthy people, but it's still possible we may be able to give them what they want with minimal damage to our interests....as long as they give us what we want (no nukes, get the hell out of Iraq).

    It all depends on what they want. Do they want the downfall of America and Israel? Out of the question. Do they want nuclear weapons? No way. Do they want to be a big player in the Middle East? Well, they already are, but they generally don't get treated as such. There's a good chance they want peace and prosperity (with a capital P and lots of "$$$" added in) like, say, China....but don't trust the West to not attack them if they let their guard down. I'm not saying their nice guys, but I am saying I believe "$$$" and the chance to live their lives in peace probably matter more to the average Iranian than the American Satan. If there's some way we can stroke their ego, get them to back off of the nukes, and pursue what's in our mutual interest, then great. (Not sure whether that's likely, but you never know. Carter got Israel and Egypt to shake hands. The Dayton Accords did eventually bring an end to the war in Bosnia.)

    But ok, let's say it turns out that their goal is to build nukes, bomb the living crap out of Israel, and then send terrorists to do the same to America. Let's say all negotiations by the current Iranian leadership are just a ruse. What's actually the best way to stop them? Estimates vary wildly as to how long it will take them to build nukes, but the number I hear most often is 5 years. What can we do in the next 5 years?

    I don't know everything about Iranian intelligence, but is there any way we can marginalize the current Iranian leadership? I mean, we were able to get Chile to kick Pinochet out of power. What can we do to subtly cultivate the Iranian opposition without making them look like American lackeys? (Yet another danger in attacking Iran....and in the current attempts to intimidate them with these war games is that it tends to cause a "rally-round-the-flag" effect in Iran which makes it harder for moderate Iranian voices to be heard.)

    Okay, that's all I got right now. I may have more later, but I really, really, REALLY need to get to work now.

    By Blogger Ben, at 4/17/2006 2:28 PM  

  • hmm...not a bad write up. Not sure if I agree with any/all of it but nice thinking. BTW, 5 years I swear is a pathetic number given out by our government to relax peoples fears on Iran/any rouge nation making a bomb once they get supplies. From what I've read and heard its more like half of that to make one. Shoot, they'll be able to buy one before 5 years. Now with all that said.


    By Anonymous &%*- aka Other white meat, at 4/17/2006 3:17 PM  

  • The "wars" in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the impending one in Iran were hardly spur of the moment operations that required immediate action.

    Oh, and also, I think we should formally have to declare war in order to wage war.

    By Blogger Barzelay, at 4/18/2006 9:41 PM  

  • Barzelay, I'm not sure where you are going with the "not spur of the moment" argument, even though you are obviously right in that assessment.

    As for your argument about declaring wars....it's inspired me to fire off another post.

    By Blogger Ben, at 4/18/2006 9:58 PM  

  • please give me your idea of what "WAR" is

    By Anonymous Other White meat, at 4/18/2006 11:20 PM  

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