Listen to the Generals

Sunday, May 4th, 2008

For all the talk from President Bush about how Congress shouldn’t second guess the military, the truth is, his administration has not only been second guessing the military, they’ve been actively working to increase political micromanagement of the military. In Charlie Savage’s must-read book Takeover, Savage documents how Dick Cheney’s office worked tirelessly to undermine military JAG lawyers on matters like torture, detainment of “enemy combatants,” and military tribunals. The JAGs opposed administration policy on all of these issues, for a variety of reasons. Cheney and the Office of Legal Counsel did everything they could to dispense with objections from military lawyers on these issues, from going around them, to putting more civilian buffers between them and the top brass at the Pentagon, to ultimately concluding that their opinions don’t matter, and keeping them in the dark about what policies the administration would actually end up adopting.

We also now know that when military officers do get it right, are overruled by political appointees, and then are later proven correct, the Bush administration will do everything they can to toss said military leaders under the bus (see Gen. Eric Shinseki for one example).

The latest example comes from Former three-star general and Iraq War leader Ricardo Sanchez, who has a new book. The book doesn’t take kindly to the Bush administration–or to Donald Rumsfeld in particular.

Here’s Sanchez on the administration’s lack of a plan for post-war Iraq, and subsequent efforts to cover up the fact that said plan didn’t exist

That decision set up the United States for a failed first year in Iraq. There is no question about it. And I was supposed to believe that neither the Secretary of Defense nor anybody above him knew anything about it? Impossible! Rumsfeld knew about it. Everybody on the NSC knew about it, including Condoleezza Rice, George Tenet, and Colin Powell. Vice President Cheney knew about it. And President Bush knew about it.

There’s not a doubt in my mind that they all embraced this decision to some degree. And if it had not been for the moral courage of Gen. John Abizaid to stand up to them all and reverse Franks’s troop drawdown order, there’s no telling how much more damage would have been done.

In the meantime, hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars were unnecessarily spent, and worse yet, too many of our most precious military resource, our American soldiers, were unnecessarily wounded, maimed, and killed as a result. In my mind, this action by the Bush administration amounts to gross incompetence and dereliction of duty.

Let’s also clear up one other thing about this administration. They aren’t pro-military or pro-“the troops.” They’re pro-war. There’s a big difference.

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9 Responses to “Listen to the Generals”

  1. #1 |  shooosh | 

    I’ve never thought of you as a stinkin’ hippie and I agree with 99% of what you write. But can you stop bashing Bush for now? He’ll be gone in a few months. Start bashing our new crop of presidential candidates. They have more chinks in their armor than Bush, as sad as that seems.

  2. #2 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    Arguably, the administration IS pro-war as opposed to any better “spun” position. However, since large numbers of Islamic Radicals clearly intend to make war on US, whether we fight back or not, I’m not convinced that it matters all that much.

    What worries ME is the number of supposedly intelligent people in (or aspiring to) positions of power who apparently believe that if we stop fighting, that ends the war. Nice sentiment, but I see no evidence for it whatsoever.

    I wish we had a TR or an FDR right now, but we don’t.

  3. #3 |  Tokin42 | 

    JAG lawyers make Hawkeye Pierce in MASH look like Patton. Not that they’re always wrong or there isn’t a place for them, but when you have commanders that almost have to plan missions based on what might or might not be a good argument in a court…you have a problem. The Geneva conventions are very clear and yet we still manage to find 255 shades of gray between what’s considered legal.

    2nd, Sanchezs argument is exactly correct but I don’t think he’s making the same argument as you. The administration bowed to political pressure and turned over the post-war Iraq to civilian authorities much quicker than they should have. Instead of doing what needed to be done, the disarmament of the various militias and actually occupying provinces the troops cleared of insurgents, we turned it over to the lawyers at the state department. Look how well that worked out.

  4. #4 |  MikeS | 

    “But can you stop bashing Bush for now? He’ll be gone in a few months.”

    It’s critical that we know how we got into the position we are today and be able to compare the Presidential candidates to this. We’re fortunate that all three were critical of the Iraq policy, to varying degrees. But only McCain and perhaps Obama have shown an understanding of why things went wrong.

    “The administration bowed to political pressure and turned over the post-war Iraq to civilian authorities much quicker than they should have. Instead of doing what needed to be done, the disarmament of the various militias and actually occupying provinces the troops cleared of insurgents, we turned it over to the lawyers at the state department.”

    It’s funny how nothing is ever the President’s fault. It’s always political pressure or bad staff or whatever. he’s the Commander in Chief when he wants to decide to torture people or whatever; but he’s never the Commander in Chief when things go wrong.

    Rush said the Clinton Admin’s motto was “The buck never got here!” This Administration is: “Buck? What buck? There’s no buck. That’s the liberal media telling you there’s a buck.”

  5. #5 |  UCrawford | 

    But can you stop bashing Bush for now? He’ll be gone in a few months.

    Bash him all you want, Radley, even if he’s getting out of office. Hell, bash him after he’s out of office too, if you’d like…as far as I’m concerned the man shouldn’t get a free pass on the damage he’s done until after he sees the inside of a prison cell. But since that’s likely never going to happen, I’m fine with people ridiculing and vilifying his many horrible choices until the day he dies. Lord knows he’s subjected a lot of people to much, much worse.

  6. #6 |  Scott | 

    JAG lawyers make Hawkeye Pierce in MASH look like Patton.

    Yep. I’m not about to embrace the idea that, because the JAG is being ignored, this administration is, as a rule, second-guessing the military… for a lesson on meddling let’s look at the Clinton WH. The JAGs (and their counterparts at the highly politicized State Dept, CIA, etc.) have introduced downright ridiculous ROEs that, at times, effectively forbade our troops from pulling the trigger until after they’re shot and/or dead. There’s an awful, awful lot about this war and it’s management that deserve criticism but deciding that this administration has a policy of second-guessing military commanders because the perfumed princes with j.d.’s are being ignored is painting with too broad a brush.

    As for Shinseki, his name was a four-letter word within the ranks well before the Iraq armistice was nullified. Certainly, his criticism of the administration’s policies did him no favors but he’s hardly a martyr, having at the very least done serious harm to himself by his idiotic management of the Army during peacetime.

  7. #7 |  UCrawford | 

    Scott,

    I’m not about to embrace the idea that, because the JAG is being ignored, this administration is, as a rule, second-guessing the military

    What about the White House pushing for the assault on Fallujah over the objections of the combatant commanders on the ground? What about their dismissal of Gen. Marks’ assessment that they had no intel indicating WMD facilities? What about the orders to disband the Iraqi Army and impose de-Ba’athification, again over the objections of the combatant commanders and the CIA (both of whom were in a better position to assess the situation than the White House). And this isn’t even discussing the whole tribunal fiasco that the JAG officers told the president from the start wasn’t a feasible idea.

    You want to deride Shinseki…fine, he wasn’t a great manager in peacetime. He was at times indecisive and he got caught up in petty issues all too easily (like with the Army’s beret). He wasn’t a great general. But his troop strength assessment didn’t come out of thin air…it was a projection based on 60 years of data regarding peacekeeping operations (from post-WWII Germany to Bosnia), it was well substantiated, it is standard military theory that has been validated in the military’s counterinsurgency manual (which was written by Bush’s golden boy, Gen. Petraeus), and nobody in the Bush administration had sufficient expertise or standing to claim that they knew better than Shinseki how many troops they’d need. Actually, I’ll revise that…Colin Powell had the necessary expertise to make that assessment, but by that point nobody in the Bush administration gave a damn what he thought because Bush was already intent on carving out his bloody little place in history, so nobody that had any authority in the Bush administration at the time had any business dismissing Shinseki’s assessment out-of-hand. They were fools and dilettantes in comparison to Shinseki.

    This administration micromanaged the military from the start…claiming otherwise is a position that’s only supportable if you completely ignore the facts. And the only reason the Bush administration has started listening to the military now is because we were getting our asses kicked so badly by following Bush and Rumsfeld’s idiotic ideas on warfighting, that they finally had to hire a competent SECDEF in Gates (who, to his credit, apparently doesn’t like Dubya much). Too bad it’s too little too late to avoid turning Iraq into a bloody disaster.

    The JAGs (and their counterparts at the highly politicized State Dept, CIA, etc.) have introduced downright ridiculous ROEs that, at times, effectively forbade our troops from pulling the trigger until after they’re shot and/or dead.

    Welcome to warfighting in counterinsurgency…where victory requires using your weapon as infrequently as possible to avoid alienating the general populace (which is why those rules of engagement are there), where manpower needs are extensive (about 20 troops to every 1,000 people), and where casualties are inevitable. Shinseki realized that because he actually studied military history (and, more importantly, understood it). Had Bush and Rumsfeld done the same, perhaps they’d have thought twice about pre-emptively invading a country that wasn’t a clear threat to us.

    Or probably not…Bush is a fucking idiot after all.

  8. #8 |  bud | 

    JAGs and their ROE’s are a sore point among the troops. I have been told by someone I trust that their ROE ran 7.5 pages. Allowing for army boilerplate, this is something over three closely space pages describing when to shoot.

    Attacking someone for trying to shit on the heads of the shitters doesn’t impress me.

  9. #9 |  UCrawford | 

    bud,

    Winning any war requires attacking the enemy’s “center of gravity”. In the case of counterinsurgency, the enemy’s (insurgent’s) center of gravity is the civilian population from which they necessarily draw their support. The means by which you attack that center is to convince the population that their life will be more improved with you in charge than with the insurgents and by not committing acts that jeopardize that relationship (i.e. winning hearts and minds). Loose rules of engagement that allow troops wide latitude in the use of their arms generally tend to jeopardize that relationship by not discouraging overreaction in response to an attack, which inevitably causes collateral damage and casualties among the civilian population (who are the necessary prize to achieve victory), thereby pushing the population’s sympathies towards the insurgents. The insurgents realize this, which is why they’ll often attempt to provoke such overreactions to gain sympathy for their cause…which works in their favor in the case of Iraq, since they have the advantage of not being “foreign infidels” and therefore the population is more likely to identify with them than with an occupying force manned by people with a predominantly different cultural background who often don’t even speak their language. Thus, forcing soldiers to temper their reaction to an attack (and the casualties that invariably accompany those attacks) is imperative in order to have any hope at achieving victory.

    In other words, don’t blame the JAG officers because they wrote rules of engagement to fit the fact we’re stuck fighting against an insurgency…they’re just doing their job. Blame Bush for getting our troops stuck in counterinsurgency ops in Iraq in the first place. It was entirely his fault, after all, since he chose to rush in and ignore his generals’ manning recommendations. If the troops you’re referring to don’t understand that, then I’d suggest they check out the manual on counterinsurgency before blaming their brothers in arms.

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