Revolt of the Generals?
Deep divisions are emerging at the top of the U.S. military over the course of the occupation of Iraq, with some senior officers beginning to say that the United States faces the prospect of casualties for years without achieving its goal of establishing a free and democratic Iraq.
Their major worry is that the United States is prevailing militarily but failing to win the support of the Iraqi people. That view is far from universal, but it is spreading and being voiced publicly for the first time.
Army Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, who spent much of the year in western Iraq, said he believes that at the tactical level at which fighting occurs, the U.S. military is still winning. But when asked whether he believes the United States is losing, he said, “I think strategically, we are.”
Army Col. Paul Hughes, who last year was the first director of strategic planning for the U.S. occupation authority in Baghdad, said he agrees with that view and noted that a pattern of winning battles while losing a war characterized the U.S. failure in Vietnam. “Unless we ensure that we have coherency in our policy, we will lose strategically,” he said in an interview Friday.
Inside and outside the armed forces, experts generally argue that the U.S. military should remain there but should change its approach. Some argue for more troops, others for less, but they generally agree on revising the stated U.S. goals to make them less ambitious. They are worried by evidence that the United States is losing ground with the Iraqi public.
Some officers say the place to begin restructuring U.S. policy is by ousting Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, whom they see as responsible for a series of strategic and tactical blunders over the past year. Several of those interviewed said a profound anger is building within the Army at Rumsfeld and those around him.
This is interesting but hardly surprising. The intensity of the insurgency is certainly affecting the planning. I’m also not sure how one tells one is winning this type of war until it’s almost over; as long as the insurgents can set off truck bombs and mount ambushes, they have a chance.
Rumsfeld hasn’t been popular among the senior leadership because he’s not as deferential to them as most SECDEFs have been and because he’s trying to force radical–and in my view, necessary–changes in the bureacracy. He held the position when these guys were still in school and is sufficiently sure of himself that he doesn’t back down. The fact that things aren’t going very well combined with the fact that others wanted to do things differently–although, as the article makes clear, there was no consensus on the alternate approach–it’s easy to blame Rumseld for the setbacks.
I find it outrageous though, that these generals are violating the law by publically disparaging their superiors in the chain of command. Civilian control of the military is a hallmark of our professional ethic.
Like several other officers interviewed for this report, this general spoke only on the condition that his name not be used. One reason for this is that some of these officers deal frequently with the senior Pentagon civilian officials they are criticizing, and some remain dependent on top officials to approve their current efforts and future promotions. Also, some say they believe that Rumsfeld and other top civilians punish public dissent.
Because public dissent from the chain of command isn’t permissible for military officers. It’s prejudicial to good order and discipline and violates unity of command, one of the principles of war. If these generals feel so strongly about this issue and honestly think current policies are endagering the troops, they have a duty to handle it in an above-board manner rather than by this cowardly and illegal anonymous whining to the press. They can talk to Congress, which has oversight authority over the military, or they can retire and take their case to the public as civilians. Talking on background to the Post while sucking up to these same leaders in order to continue to advance their career is dishonorable.