And so we stumbled across
Doyle had Andrew Bacevich on. Bacevich was discussing his concerns about the 'Generals' Revolt' against Rummy. The revolt was just given a freshener by an 8th general joining the piling on — Marine Lt. general Paul Van Riper. For those who may not recall, Van Riper is a balls-to-the-wall no b.s. non-political general type. The Stiftung always held out a soft spot for him, remembering his achievment as OPFOR commander during a Millenium Challenge wargame. Van Riper famously disregarded the polite formality of playing to lose as the notional 'enemy'. Van Riper as OPFOR commander threw out the rules, kicked American ass, and created profound embarrassment. An enemy playing to win causing an American defeat was unacceptable. Van Riper thus forced a “re-do” of the wargame to ensure a game in which America wins, as per the script. (Our wargames can be as politically engineered as the Japanese re-dos prior to Midway or the German December 1940 wargames of Barbarossa).
Bacevich made the case that the Generals' revolt — now eight generals strong — created an uncomfortable precedent for the principle of civilian command and control. Bacevich noted that the generals' criticism created a precedent for challenging decisions made by duly appointed civilians. Both a career military man and a talented academic, one usually benefits by giving Bacevich a close listen. But here, the Stiftung must disagree.
We think the Mary McCarthy witchhunt, the Generals' Revolt, AIPAC, Fitzpatrick, all are of a piece. The Administration since 2001 functioned largely as a punitive and monolithic political edifice, imposing an authoritarian and unrelenting conformity. The Stiftung saw and experienced this first hand, not just by media reports. Loyalty and compliance were demanded and enforced. For that reason, comparing the generals' criticisms today with previous norms of American governance is inappropriate. The Administration's ruthlessly imposed conformity 2001-2005 within the Executive and across both houses of Congress had no real American historical parallel.
Accordingly, Bacevich should have noted that the real undermining of civilian command and control lies not with the generals but with Congress. The Admistration is entitled to pursue its policies, however irrational, misguided or incompetent they may seem. But Congress as a co-equal branch failed its constitutional duties. Congress failed hold meaningful hearings, failed to ask the tough questions, failed to ensure diverse opinions were presented, and most importantly, failed to act. Without a functioning co-equal branch, voices of dissent or different ideas had no recourse within the Administration or in Congress. Congress failed the American people, not the generals.
Now SASC is contemplating a hearing with the dissenting retired generals. While welcome, the Stiftung notes that even now, Warner and SASC hide behind the generals rather than stand up as an independent branch of government on their own. Party loyalty and residual compliance with the tottering Administration still leave them suppine. Congress keeps redefining 'craven' down.
We do not lightly disagree with Bacevich's concerns. Moreover, one must recognize that the military as an institution is playing CYA to avoid historical blame for the CF in Iraq. Almost none of the generals spoke up at the time,most famously Tommy Franks. Nor do we think making analogies to the British imperial tradition like Max Hastings does is useful or appropriate for the American political context.
Acknowledging all that, one must still ask, given the breakdown in governance with Congress' abdication of constitutional duties, what is the alternative? Would Bacevich rather have silence when the Administration lied that it was only following the military's advice? Would Bacevich rather not know that torture is going on? Or renditions to torture done in the name of the American people? Would Bacevich rather not know that the President is violating the Constitution and statutes in pursuit of warrantless wiretapping?
That is the true uncomfortable precedent being set here. The Administration's authoritarian impulse and disdain for truth and liberal democracy. And Congress' willing embrace of their own impotence, at least 2001-2005. In the scheme of things, the generals' revolt is far down the list. Under normal circumstances, Bacevich's concerns would carry greater weight. But first, we must restore our political institutions to normal.