For Retired Military Men Who Have Considered Career Suicide When Rumsfeld Ain't Enuff…

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In the Washington Post, former Secretary of Defense (to Nixon, so it doesn't really count) Melvin Laird and former assistant to three (count 'em!) secretaries of Defense Robert Pursley ask of the various retired generals attacking Don "Rummy" Rumsfeld, "Why Are They Speaking Up Now?"

The short answer? They're living in an incredibly shitty Michael Cimino movie (not The Deer Hunter, which features the great George Dzundza at his dzundziest, but Year of the Dragon, which features Mickey Rourke as a semi-psycho vet who never really made it back from Danang).

The ghost of Vietnam may be whispering to these retired generals, who understandably want to guarantee that military wisdom is never again trampled by political expediency.

But don't get the idea these guys are in the tank for Rummy. They grant that the Bob McNamara-looking secretary, like all the popes of Rome until 1870, is not "infallible." Still, they know treason when they hear it on CNN:

In speaking out now, they may think they are doing a service by adding to the reasoned debate. But the enemy does not understand or appreciate reasoned public debate. It is perceived as a sign of weakness and lack of resolve.

Which does make us wonder: Who again is exactly the enemy in Iraq?

And didn't George H.W. "Poppy" Bush exorcise the "ghost of Vietnam" when he "kick[ed] a little ass" in the 1984 [corrected] Vice-Presidential Debate with Geraldine Ferraro?

Whole bit here.

Me? I'm waiting for the retired generals in the Kiss Army to weigh in before making a decision on Rumsfeld.

Serious geopolitical question: Did the Swedish Kiss Army remain neutral during the Great Rock 'N' Roll Wars of the 20th century?

NEXT: We Don't Comment On Ongoing Resignations

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  1. What do you call the Kiss fans in Rome? The Swiss Kiss Guard? And do they have the worst costumes in the fleet? (I’m saying “yes.”)

  2. A few days ago the reasonites almost universily defending the idea that it is a good thing for former generals to run off a SECDEF. Interestingly, yesterday the Washington Post, not exactly a fan of Bush or Rumsfeld, begged to differ. It said

    “Much of their analysis strikes us as solid — but the rebellion is problematic nonetheless. It threatens the essential democratic principle of military subordination to civilian control — the more so because a couple of the officers claim they are speaking for some still on active duty. Anyone who protested the pushback of uniformed military against President Bill Clinton’s attempt to allow gays to serve ought to also object to generals who criticize the decisions of a president and his defense secretary in wartime. If they are successful in forcing Mr. Rumsfeld’s resignation, they will set an ugly precedent. Will future defense secretaries have to worry about potential rebellions by their brass, and will they start to choose commanders according to calculations of political loyalty?”

    Beyond the fact that Zini and company are wrong, even if you agree with them, it is a very bad idea to let generals whack a SECDEF they don’t like.

  3. I’d like to know what logical gymnastics are required to believe that “retired generals speaking out against the SecDef” == “generals whacking a SecDef”. Exactly what sort of power do these ex-generals have?

  4. Beyond the fact that Zini and company are wrong, even if you agree with them, it is a very bad idea to let generals whack a SECDEF they don’t like.

    I don’t know who the “reasonites” were who were “universally” applauding generals for whacking the Secretary of Defense, but the operative term is not general. It’s retired general. Is there some problem with former officers speaking freely in their capacity as civilians and American citizens?

  5. “Anyone who protested the pushback of uniformed military against President Bill Clinton’s attempt to allow gays to serve ought to also object to generals who criticize the decisions of a president and his defense secretary in wartime.”

    Except, of course, that many of the same people shrieking about how the current generals’ statements constitute a rebellion/sedition/treason/mutiny/etc. attacked Clinton at the time for not knowing how the military works, how important unit cohesion is, etc., etc. If we are supposed to defer to the officer corps’ expertise on social policy, why are they incompetent baboons on the subject of military strategy? I loathe the institution of the US military, but I’d much prefer that the people who best understood its capabilities had veto power over its deployment.

  6. John,
    The Washington Post Editorial board is not just a fan of Bush, they have been in the tank.

    Tim,
    There are some concerns here, although, there is an enormous difference between retired and not. The problem is when they have just recently retired and claim to speak for current officers.

    Civilian control of the army is a very important concept, and it should be considered in all of this. Rumsfeld’s suckitude, however, trumps these concerns.

  7. Don’t you understand that we’re at war with terrorists who hate our freedoms, Tim?

    This is just our way of negotiating with them.

  8. I can’t help but think everyone is making too much out of this. It is not surprising that retired generals don’t like the guy who has dedicated the last 20 years to messing with the way they do things. It is neither a “Hurray!” moment for Dems nor an “Oh, no!” for the pachyderms.

    In other news, I’ve commented about former bosses. I should certainly be allowed to do so and somehow none of them got fired, so I guess it was all taken in context by the relevant companies.

  9. I think it’s funny really. All this talk about Rumsfeld couldn’t come at a better time for the neo-cons. Honestly. Everyone’s focusing on his supposed incompetence (maybe he is, maybe he isn’t – I don’t claim that expertise) and noone is questioning whether the political goal was ever possible, even if JC himself came down from heaven and took the job of SecDef. I sincerely doubt that operational concerns were what drove the strategic concerns – the politics of the time required that it be sold as a cake-walk, and it was.

    Meanwhile, in an alternate universe, the same political goal is being implemented with respect to another ME country. Of course, this time will be different, ’cause Rummy will have been publicly sacked before we utter the words “bring it on”…

  10. I can’t help but think everyone is making too much out of this.

    One thing that I think is part of the problem is the whole response of “Speaking out is hurting the war effort”

    Fans of the war, the admin, whatever are all to quick to try and stifle dissent by constantly trying to play the “undermining the war” card and it needs to fucking stop. I dunno where these fascist tendencies come from, but it’s pretty fucking scary when a major newspaper is on board with the whole “let’s all shut up with the criticism — there is a war going on” mentality.

  11. War defenders are always raising this ridiculous point: But the enemy does not understand or appreciate reasoned public debate. It is perceived as a sign of weakness and lack of resolve . Has anyone ever cited evidence for this? Do we really think a bitter unemployed Baathist is about to throw in the towel when he hears that Cindy Sheehan is protesting or a retired General criticized Rumsfeld and says to himself “wow, I’d better fight another day.”?

    People like Michael Yon, whom I trust more than most correspondents, are saying that a significant part of the problem in Iraq is caused by criminal gangs of bored unemployed undereducated young men who are simply taking advantage of the chaos to raise hell and grab what they can. Our unwillingness/inability to restore order in the beginning started a negative feedback loop of spiraling chaos which then enflames ethnic tensions. In other words ideology is not motivating a lot of the people who are killing our troops and their fellow Iraqis. So explain again how dissent in the US emboldens these mobs?

  12. From a previous thread:

    OK, so some expert Generals, who are retired (and subject to recall to active duty at the President’s call) want to see Rumsfeld ousted.

    This is a god-send for guys like Ken Schultz and joe who both hate Rumsfeld about as rabidly and blindly as it gets.

    But truth is, there are a LOT of PO’d Army generals who’d like to see Rumsfeld ousted, mainly because he’s forcing the “transformation” concept down their throats. The brass doesn’t want to change the way they do business, and are PO’d that Rumsfeld would accept their esignations rather than change course. Similar, I’d guess, to the way MacNamara was treated as SECDEF when he forced the Pentagon to organize (what a concept!) and become better stewards of their services.

    So what?

    As soon as I saw this I started my watch waiting for the 40 or so retired generals who agree with current policy to weigh in… Guess what? The current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs supports Rumsfeld:
    http://www.cnn.com/2006/POLITICS/04/11/rumsfeld.iraq/

    So, experts on both sides, with differing opinions. Frankly, I think that Rumsfeld and MacNamara (based on the first’s emphasis on TRANFORMATION which is essential to a Cold War-based military and the latter’s introduction of ORGANIZATION to the DoD) make them – warts and all – two of the best SECDEFs in history.

    This IS Rumsfeld’s SECOND tour as SECDEF, and I honestly can’t think of anyone with a better resume for the job.

    Of course, there are plenty of people like Ken Schultz who think that there are lots of folks who could have done better, but I haven’t seen them propose anyone for the job. Because then their pick would be subject to the kind of scrutiny the current SECDEF gets. It’s easy to dump on the guy doing the job when you’re not even brave enough to offer up who you think is qualified to replace him.

    I don’t think Rumsfeld’s always right – or has always made the right decisions – but no one who runs an organization the size of DoD is going to be 100% on target every time.

    Hmmm… I bet even Ken Schultz and joe have had to apologize to their bosses for mistakes. I know I have – as recently as this morning!

    Should we be fired when we’re doing our best? If these are mistakes anyone would have made in their position with the information available?

    I can hear the response now: “But LIVES are on the line when SECDEF makes mistakes – he’s dangerously incompetent! Look at all the mistakes and messes!”

    Yeah, and living with those mistakes is part of the burden of command – and trying not to ever repeat them is the commander’s responsibility. Ken is just plain wrong when he asserts that mistakes = incompetence. That’s simply not the case, or competent experts would be right all the time and we’d live in a perfect world where the children play by marshmallow rivers with gum-drop smiles.

    Story I was told by an NCO:

    A brand new Lieutenant was in his first firefight and his Sergeant told him he had to make a decision NOW. He did, sending three guys to the left. All 3 died. When the LT freaked out and turned to the Sergeant and asked him what he SHOULD have done and what he SHOULD do now, the Sarge replied “Sir, I don’t know, but you’ve got to make the call – just don’t do THAT again!”

    Moral of the story: No decision is perfect, no leader is perfect, do the best you can and try to live down the results without shirking responsibility for those decisions.

    IMO, Rumsfeld does seem to do this, as much as it pisses some people off.

    Bottom line: Generals have the right to their opinions, but only the President can remove Rumsfeld as far as I’ve heard. So those opinions are pretty much moot on both sides of the aisle. It’s that whole civilian control of the military thing, y’know?

  13. “But the enemy does not understand or appreciate reasoned public debate. It is perceived as a sign of weakness and lack of resolve.”

    That’s it, then. No more reasoned debate. (Please note that this argument applies to citizens reasonably debating the war among themselves, and to members of Congress debating it on the floor.)

    Does anyone else remember when the administrations defenders were declaring that the vision of a functioning Iraqi democracy was going to inspire people throughout the Middle East, and bring about massive political and social reform across the region? IIRC, after the WMD and Al Qaeda connections arguments collapsed, they actually offered this up as the reason we started the war.

    I guess their idea of democracy doesn’t include “reasoned debate.” It doesn’t include citizens and office holders taking exception to the government’s policies and performance.

    But then, those of us who’ve been living through this presidency already knew that. Perhaps the Secret Service should just move these retired generals to the Free Speech Zone.

  14. “This is a god-send for guys like Ken Schultz and joe who both hate Rumsfeld about as rabidly and blindly as it gets.”

    Actually, I used to defend Rumsfeld’s efforts at military tranformation. Jean Gary Hak, or whatever the hell he was calling himself at the time, used to disagree pretty strongly.

    “But truth is, there are a LOT of PO’d Army generals who’d like to see Rumsfeld ousted, mainly because he’s forcing the “transformation” concept down their throats.”

    And the evidence that these retired generals are hostile to transformation is where, exactly? Oh, right, Bushbot logic:

    Those guys criticized the war.

    Yeah, but they’re just opposed to military transformation. We don’t have to listen to them.

    How do you know they’re opposed to military transformation?

    Didn’t you see? They criticized the war!

    It’s interesting to see that the apologists can’t even attempt to dispute the arguments on their merits, and have to retort by casting aspersions on the speakers’ motivations, and deny their right to make arguments at all.

  15. “even if JC himself came down from heaven and took the job of SecDef.”

    Jesus couldn’t get a security clearance with his felony conviction anyway, so he most likely wouldn’t even be nominated.

  16. Who again is exactly the enemy in Iraq?

    The Enemy, that’s who! Ain’tcha been payin attention?

  17. Exploiting the double-edged sword of a country’s strengths, such as freedom of expression/dissent/debate, IS a principle of Fourth Generation Warfare. It was used effectively in Vietnam, for instance.

    “To summarize, fourth generation warfare appears to be evolving along two complementary lines:

    – One of the participants is a transnational organization (if it were dedicated to taking over the government of a particular state, we would be dealing with ordinary insurgency, which has always had transnational elements);
    – The focus (Schwerpunkt) of the non-state player’s operations is to collapse a state morally, that is, to rob it of its will to continue the fight.

    Unlike Clausewitzian warfare, which envisions war as an act of policy in a contest between states, 4GW more resembles a boxer versus a viral infection.”

    From http://www.d-n-i.net/second_level/4gw_continued.htm

    But having pointed this out, I don’t think that giving up the strength that comes from open discourse is a solution.

    OTOH, I have nothing but disdain for people who use their freedom for partisan gain at the expense of national interest simply because they care more about who is in charge rather than success in the current conflict.

    What’s the point of winning an election if US power and prestige are lost because we back out of Iraq & Afghanistan like we did in Somalia?

  18. A defeat is far more damaging to our power and prestige than an handoff and redeployment.

    This isn’t Scooby-freaking-Doo. “It HAS to work!” isn’t good enough.

  19. I’ll sidestep all this political football and instead say thank you to Nick for one of the funniest blog post titles I’ve read in awhile.

    Man, these Reason kids are sharp.

  20. joe,
    Oversimplifying my point doesn’t improve your argument any more than a hang-over improves the morning-after appraisal of a one-night stand.

    Bottom line: Without strength of will, all the military might imaginable won’t allow you to defeat even the weakest of opponents.

  21. I think the Onion stole Charles Oliver’s line.

    http://www.theonion.com/content/node/47618

  22. part of the problem in Iraq is caused by criminal gangs of bored unemployed undereducated young men who are simply taking advantage of the chaos to raise hell and grab what they can.

    Sounds like post-war Japan. I look forward to the Iraqi yakuza.

  23. Geraldine Ferraro was not the Dem’s VP candidate in 1980; That was Walter Mondale. Ferraro ran as Mondale’s VP wannabe in 1984.

  24. part of the problem in Iraq is caused by criminal gangs of bored unemployed undereducated young men who are simply taking advantage of the chaos to raise hell and grab what they can.

    Wow, committing a suicide bombing is a hell of a way to relieve boredom…I guess those flavors of the bored are grabbing at the 40 weergins that await them on high?

    What an oversimplified statement.

  25. For Colored Girls who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf…

    The reference in this title is number two only to the Jamie Madrox reference earlier this week.

  26. I, too, had to weigh in on the colorful attic of Nick’s mind. Hadn’t thought of Ntozake Shange for years (maybe decades), but now I’m all about digging up my copy of “Colored Girls” and looking up the poem about “Sorry.”

  27. Guess what? The current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs supports Rumsfeld…

    Rumsfeld trots out his subordinate (over whom he has command authority) to tell everyone how great he is and that’s considered a good thing?

    That’d be like me having my current loader tell everyone what a great tank commander I was if a former loader (out of the Army) was running my leadership down.

  28. “And the evidence that these retired generals are hostile to transformation is where, exactly? Oh, right, Bushbot logic:” – joe

    Ah, calling anything someone says “Bushbot logic” automatically invalidates their whole position. Nice try, joe. Actually, I’d say their credibility probably has something to do with the timeline of when these guys retired and what branch of service they’re in. The Army brass revolted against Bush & Rumsfeld over transformation the same way their predecessors Cohen compromised with “don’t ask, don’t tell” and didn’t have to accept as many resignations as Rumsfeld did by sticking to his guns on transformation.

    The Army brass was wrong then regarding gays, and the Army brass is wrong now regarding transformation.

    Trooper Jones – Pace has corrected Rumsfeld during public events. The guy may be a lot of things, but a puppet he’s not. Same thing for Gen Myers who is quoted dismissing the generals who want Rumsfeld ousted. Myers is 1) NO LONGER Rumsfeld’s subordinate and 2) Pace’s predecesor which 3) makes TWO Joint Chiefs Chairmen – y’know, the military guys who most closely observe Rumsfeld on a daily basis.

    http://news.moneycentral.msn.com/provider/providerarticle.asp?feed=FT&Date=20060416&ID=5644502

    Y’know, it’s funny. I’m not even a Bush supporter. Frankly, I think the only thing i agree with Bush on 100% is his hiring of Rice, Powell and Rumsfeld.

    But the sheer rabid anger at the guy and anyone in his cabinet occasionally makes me wonder what those same folks have to say about the attacks on Clinton during his term. Even though I didn’t care much for Clinton any more than I do Bush now, then as now I find myself arguing on behalf of the guy because his detractors are so obviously rabid.

  29. One last point – Pace & Myers are Marine Corps and Air Force respectively. Wonder why it’s all Army generals who are also opposed to transformation who are so vocal about how Rumsfeld needs to be ousted… Couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that it’s their service that is fighting transformation tooth and nail while the Corps and the Air Force have already planned for a transformed future of their services?

  30. Couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that it’s their service that is fighting transformation tooth and nail while the Corps and the Air Force have already planned for a transformed future of their services?

    Couldn’t have anything to do with the Army suffering the majority of the casualties in Iraq, either, right?

    But you’re the one who thinks McNamara and Rumsfeld are the best SecDefs ever even though neither could or can figure out a way to win a war.

  31. “But the enemy does not understand or appreciate reasoned public debate. It is perceived as a sign of weakness and lack of resolve.”

    Horseshit.

    The enemy will fight until they’re simply unable to fight any more. Many of them don’t care if they die, in fact they want to be martyred for the cause. Our resolve just doesn’t figure into their calculus, since they have no calculus, only an imperative to fight until their energies are spent, their martyrs used up, and every last one of those able to fight is dead.

    The idea that they are closely monitoring our debate in order gauge our resolve so that they may then determine what they should do is cheap, utterly illogical nonsense.

  32. Citizen Rob,

    Well, if you can’t see that Rumsfeld is an impossible superior who has the demoralizing habit of blaming subordinates when things go wrong … at least it’s obvious to those who have served under guys like that.

    If my commander tried to get me to go on TV and say what a great guy he is – and he is actually a fine officer – I’d tell he to go get fucked. Of course, I don’t have any stars to lose.

    The civilian leadership put the Army in an impossible situation and then blamed the Army when the deal went to shit. Not that it wasn’t partly lack of imagination on the part of the Army, but, hey why wouldn’t Rumsfeld and his brains trust cruficy Shinseki when he states an obvious fact – you can’t do it with just 100,000 guys (90 percent of whom are clerks and jerks) – that they found incredibly inconvenient.

    Transformation is just a buzzword from my worm’s eye view. Maybe it means something to those who work in the Pentagon but in the field it means little more than smaller brigades and bigger headquarters all the way up the line. That and lots and lots of computers and about a bazillion powerpoint slides.

    And that joint crap is a sad joke – we’re happy for all the help the squids, jarheads and propeller heads can give us – it’s the some of the brass and contractors that have a problem with joint operations.

  33. What no one knows to ask is why these guys have to wait to retire before they speak their minds. What few in the media know is that when one an active duty military member one no longer has Constitutional protection; the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) supercedes the Constitution. And the UCMJ is more like a ‘Castro’ play book than anything else in the U.S. Government arsenal.
    Once these ‘Stars’ have separated from active duty their Constitutional rights are returned and they can finally speak. What is unusual here is that so many generals separated at one time and that all of them have the same grievance.

  34. http://www.military-network.com/main_ucmj/main_ucmj.htm

    Learn it…
    Love it…
    Live it…

    Foxtrot Tango November!

  35. Trooper Jones,

    Ground-pounders and tank drivers, some of whom I count among my closest buds, tend to think that their “worm’s eye view” is the only one that counts.

    No offense, brother, but you sound like just about every other Army guy I know – including my best friend who’s a company commander with 10th Mountain in Afghanistan right now. He’s disdainful of Rumsfeld and thinks transformation is all about “smaller brigades, bigger HQs and death by Powerpoint,” too.

    You also sound like most Army guys who think that the other branches are essentially support for your branch, and that most of your branch (the clerks and jerks as you refer to them) are there for exactly the same thing.

    Infantry & cavalry types seem to have a “worm’s eye view” that discounts what everyone else is doing – including the Marines & the Air Force guys who are accomplishing missions their units were never designed to accomplish and holding down the part of the mission the Army is too under-manned to handle (thanks to the previous Army leadership’s brilliant force reduction accomodations to previous administrations).

    I’m not going to argue with you about the value of support troops, but I will point out that the guys who put their boots on the ground and withstand mortar attacks and repel insurgency attacks while conducting “support missions” and “engineering projects” are at least as useful as the infantry and cav troops in actually putting Iraq and Afghanistan back together.

    I have yet to see Rumsfeld blame the Army for the situation in Iraq. All I ever hear from the guy is about what a great job the whole military is doing – what do you expect, tho, it’s his team he’s cheering on.

    (My personal opinion, for what it’s worth is that combat arms soldiers primary mission in an occupation is to maintain order – and the way the Army is carrying that out reveals that their MOOTW training needs some post-Vietnam updating and yes, more Army troops. But I think the entire US military should be larger manpower-wise, say Reagan-era levels.)

  36. I know this is getting way too long… Sorry…

    “Well, if you can’t see that Rumsfeld is an impossible superior who has the demoralizing habit of blaming subordinates when things go wrong … at least it’s obvious to those who have served under guys like that.”

    I’ve served under 3 different guys in 3 different branches (I’m on my second branch of service, the other guy was a joint assignment pain-in-the-ass) – who in my mind are all vying for the world’s biggest jackass award.

    Rumsfeld strikes me as the sort of “no BS” guy who is good to work for, as long as you’ve got your shit together. If you don’t have it wired tight, and you try to BS the guy, he’ll put his foot in your ass. Guys like that – hardasses who are fair – I can work for.

    Your perception obviously differs, and puts him in the category I’d put my “bottom 3” bosses into.

    But since the subordinate who knows him best and the guy who used to be his subordinate are sticking up for the guy, it makes me think they’re probably on the level, rather than just kissing ass as ordered.

    “If my commander tried to get me to go on TV and say what a great guy he is – and he is actually a fine officer – I’d tell he to go get fucked. Of course, I don’t have any stars to lose.”

    Neither do Pace or Myers have stars to lose. If I do think highly of someone and I’m asked my opinion, I’m not afraid to say so. If I don’t I either 1) say so and loudly to the guy who needs to hear it or 2) follow Mom’s advice about saying nothing when I don’t have anything good to say.

    Depends on the situation, but in neither case would I EVER violate my integrity by lying about my boss being great if he sucks.

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