Monday, April 17, 2006

Who Watches the Watchers?

Just to disagree with Atrios, I suppose: aside from the obvious point, which is that active duty generals will soon find themselves retired if they complain about the civilian leadership, there is an important and fundamental question here:

Should the retired generals criticize the civilian government?

Richard Holbrooke considers the question, and concludes with this rather ominous forecast:

That first White House reaction will not be the end of the story. If more angry generals emerge -- and they will -- if some of them are on active duty, as seems probable; if the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan does not turn around (and there is little reason to think it will, alas), then this storm will continue until finally it consumes not only Donald Rumsfeld. The only question is: Will it come so late that there is no longer any hope of salvaging something in Iraq and Afghanistan?
I think it may actually be worse than that.

Generals both retired and active duty have been concerned that criticism is even being raised, because the American tradition is that the military should not question the civilians.

But neither should the civilians be allowed to wrap themslves in the flag of "Support our Troops" while doing precisely the opposite. The problem here is partly an issue of who runs the military, but more profoundly an issue of: why do we have a standing army?

The standing army is the legacy of WWII, and the reason Eisenhower spoke about the "military-industrial complex." It is, IOW, a new thing in American history. We had military forces, but even some of the the forces in WWI were the "Expeditionary Force" (sounds almost romantic, doesn't it? Like the "Foreign Legion.")(was that even the whole army?). We geared up an entirely civilian force in WWII in record time, and outproduced the war machines of Germany and Japan to win that war. It was an amazing feat.

And today, we are a muscle-bound giant, helpless in our power, still beset by the conviction that with the right attitude ("Support our Troops!") we could win any conflict. "Win," of course, meaning end it like WWII ended.

And this is all related to the issue of Iraq and, as Holbrooke notes, to who is higher in the chain of command than SOD. Iraq is precisely what happens when you have a standing army (and nuclear weapons). Sooner or later, somebody just has to use it. And yet, if we are also invested in protecting it, well...what then? Who rules?

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