Thursday, April 27, 2006

The General Problem With Rumsfeld

The general problem with Rumsfeld is that everybody wants to know what is the significance of a steady stream of generals denouncing Rumsfeld's botched followthrough on the initial military successes in Iraq, an eighth general in the last two days. These old soldiers have better records than Rummy at leading a big fight. And, nearly alone among the administration's hawks, Rummy at least has a military record so you'd expect the generals had to overcome an extra pang of conscience to speak aginst him. A few on the left dismiss their calls for resigntion as too little too late. And we've had our hopes for his departure dashed before[grep "two years too late"]. March a mile in their boots before you say that. Even O'Reilly has beaten up Kristol on the air about the accountability of the secdef. [now THERE we have a case of too little too late!] We liberals can't take too much joy in this humliation of a man who is incapable of humility. I scoured the conservative blogs for some cogent defense of Rumsfeld and found little more than "Not staying the course signals weakness, admits failure!" This is an idiotic defense beause it amounts to saying we will just keep trying to run with our pants down and hope nobody notices. Palast has the most bruising rationale for Rummy to stay on. But even he doesn't have much of an appreciation for the circumstances of these generals who all got to watch Shinseki twisting slowly in the hot air wafting from Rummy's pentagon. The swiftboating attempts, such as rumors the generals have been paid to talk, are getting lead canoe results. Gelb has a perspective that I find more credible than most.

To understand a moment in history, you need to look at more than the bloody wreck of that moment. It helps to consider the formative experiences of the actors in this moment of history.

These generals have made the defense of their country their life's work. Several of these men have been in battles and manage to sleep with the memory of men they have sent in to battles. Aside from fortitude, intelligence, self discipline and political skills of a good executive, military men raise to the rank of general with years of having internalized a value not so prized in civil society: a feelingof bone-deep fidelity and obligation to the men you fight with and the men who give you orders. I was listening to a segment on NPR's Morning Edition yesterday where they discussed the family discord that arose in families of soldiers dispatched to Iraq, some now going for a third tour: spouses seriously questioning if they were loved or being abandoned. Imagine the character of a man who had dealt with this tug of emotions intermittently throughout of his career? They may speak of it as patriotism but the operation of these reflexes is more short range and most strongly effects their relation to superiors and comrads. I have no romantic ideals about generals. These are men who can plan on the basis of "acceptable losses" but they would never have gotten anywhere if the planning they were responsible for throughout their careers had not worked: planning is what generals do. It is a safe bet that as a professional matter, they despise those who lose through a lack of planning.

Such men now speak up. It cannot have been easy for them to break ranks even if they consider the facts of the matter compelling about Rummy: in the culture of the military, you eat your complaints quietly and bad mouthing the brass is bad form and seldom done when sober. When you put yourself in the boots of these men and realize just who is talking, you might even ask why did they speak up? They have retired, relaxing the bond of obedience but they cannot as easily escape the bond of fidelity to their former peers and subordinates. I suspect one thing that pries open those pursed lips is their allegiance to those who fight on, overexposed to danger because Rumsfeld and his ideologues tossed out years of planning the military had made for stabilizing the captured territory. You don't have to agree with the original plans to appreciate the motives here.

Those of liberal stripe who always opposed the war in Iraq can't take too much comfort in a few good men calling Rummy on his bullshit mismanagement: The war these gentlemen would have fought would have been more successful but still, it would have been a war. Their dissent is not our dissent. Our dissent rises from roots that say most wars are wasteful exerciseses entred into for dumb reasons. Our dissent recognized early that Rumsfeld was a cold, arrogant man who should not be entrusted with a capacity to get tens of thousands of people killed because his character flaws precluded reckoning war plans in human terms. The secretary of defense has a vision thing: robots and computer networks and instant dataflows up from sensors and down from commmanders. The generals labored under the secdef's desktop war to transform the military. The generals have a provison thing: you provide adequate troop strength and overwhelming firepower advantages, you secure your supply lines and most of all, you provide for the peace or the war is never over.

The about face of commentators like Andrew Sullivan [who lists a few other conservatives that he now joins in this belated rethinking] is NOT what the generals have engaged in. While it may be a source of glee to watch a neocon ideologue and a rightwing gasbag fight over the crumbs of an historical trend they were heralding only a year ago, we who never bought the lies and rationales should pause to think and curb our delight at the emerging disillusion of senior military commanders. A military career that includes combat leaves one with few illusions one hasn't willed upon himself. What we witness here is more in the nature of dissolution. The faithfulness of these officers no longer sufficing to bind them to a rotting enterprise, the facade of unity is crumbling. It is a sad thing. And our enemies have already read the signal.

1 comment:

cul said...

The dissolution is so obvious and so annoyingly sad.
That was a great post ... thanx for the link.

Oh and that bit about Sullivan...dead on. I've been harping on his fatuousness for years and it really bugs me that he's now showing up on all these talk shows as an expert at something other than his johnny-come-lately revisionism.