As anybody can see, the big news this week concerns a growing avalanche of retired generals who have decided to step forward, speaking out about this administration’s ongoing travesty of failed leadership. Specifically, a series of military men - with nearly twenty stars among them - have called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, calling him unfit for office because of, among other failings, “gross incompetence.”
In fact, for three years I’ve been predicting that this sort of action by stalwart senior members of the United States Officer Corps would turn out to be the ultimate Achilles Heel for Bush-Cheney-Rove & co. My reasons for believing this were - and are - multitudinous, and I’ll get to them in a moment.
But first, I want to turn this thing around and shine light on another aspect of the news. A travesty that is erupting on the other side of the political spectrum. I’m talking about the way that some left-wing activists have chosen to react, not by welcoming the generals and embracing them, but by spitting in their faces.
In one case, a shrill blogger referred to these officers as “rats deserting a sinking ship.” Snidely calling the generals shirkers, who are late-comers to the anti-Bush movement, this fellow denigrates them for focusing solely on Rumsfeld, instead of openly and broadly attacking an administration of horrors.
True, this kind of nonsense represents a fringe, a shrill-lefty element that has always railed for the Democratic Party to be a small tent filled with ideological purists, “true to their roots.” (See addendum, below, about how each party has dealt with the radicals in their midst.) So why do I even bother to mention them?
Because, despite their small numbers, the potential damage that these fools can wreak is overwhelming. We -- not just liberals and Democrats, but all decent citizens of the U.S. and the world -- are being offered a gift. A possible way out. And a few loonies want us to indignantly throw it away.
Hence, I want to speak out now for the opposite tactic. For accepting the gift, with eagerness and gratitude.
==THE HISTORIC IMPORTANCE OF THE U.S. OFFICER CORPS==
Few civilians can appreciate how difficult this step has been for military men who spent their professional lives steeped in a tradition of stoical, apolitical silence and submission to civilian authority. Reluctance to interfere in the nation’s political affairs. That tradition, virtually unprecedented in the history of armies and nations, should be revered and respected. It OUGHT to be hard for officers to do what these generals have done. That alone explains why their agonized decision took so long in coming.
It also explains why their focus has been so specific, targeted singly and narrowly at Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. By aiming their bullets only at him, the generals are saying “we choose the monster who is closest to us in the chain of command.” True, they are perfectly aware that any damage to Rumsfeld will carry through, politically, to Bush and Cheney and the GOP. But this approach maintains, to the maximum degree possible, an appearance of veneration to civilian authority. It also expresses a moderate and restrained will toward using “minimum effective force.”
Again, this should be understood and respected.
(Indeed, military men are painfully aware of something never mentioned in the press, that Donald Rumsfeld occupied the exact same office thirty years ago, the LAST time we were humiliated in an ill-conceived ground war-of-attrition in Asia. A startling historical coincidence whose relevance is limited. Yet, it is chilling, just the same.)
If we were to pay attention to these senior military men, we might even learn a thing or two. For example, would it surprise most liberals to realize that the U.S. Officer Corps is, in fact, the 3rd best-educated clade in America today, just after college professors and medical doctors? These senior leaders know an awful lot about history, about the world and its dangers. Would it hurt to listen?
For example, their complaints don’t ONLY have to do with the tactical conduct of the Iraq War, as blithering and imbecilic as that ill-conceived adventure has been, featuring micromanagement by petty armchair Napoleans that would “make Robert MacNamara look like a hands-off kind of guy.” There are other issues afoot, some that cut even deeper, such as the demolition of America’s alliances, the misuse of our reserves, and an incredible, almost unprecedented decline in our actual readiness to respond to any kind of large scale surprise.
(For more on this, see: http://www.davidbrin.com/readiness2.html)
What all of this ultimately amounts to is a golden opportunity to change all of the dynamics that have made the first few years of the 21st Century such bad news for America and Western Civilization. The men and women who have worked the hardest and trained the longest to protect that civilization are holding out their hands to us now -- not just to liberals and democrats, but to all moderate, pragmatic, calm and decent citizens who want common sense to prevail yet again.
Shall we accept the gift we are being offered?
==EMBRACING OUR TORMENTED MILITARY SHOULD BE JOB #1==
For the sake of brevity, let me put forward a simple list of reasons why the leftist reflex should be rejected. Reasons why honest liberals and democrats -- and patriotic conservatives who care to join in -- should make this a key issue in the coming campaign.
1. We have short historical memories. We tend to forget how powerful a weapon this kind of issue can be for democrats, the way national defense served JFK in the election of 1960. How about “support Rummy or our troops, you can’t have it both ways!”
Indeed, by comparing the Clinton-Clark Balkans Intervention, line-by-line, against the Bush-Cheney Iraq Mess, devastating points could be won. (In the Balkans, we never lied, we achieved all objectives promptly, bolstered alliances, improved relations with the Muslim world, and created a Europe that was at peace for the 1st time in 4,000 years, all at the cost of ZERO American service personnel lost to combat! How could this be anything but a winning comparison?)
2. Have liberals really forgotten the debt they owe? That the military was THE lead institution in desegregating America, 60 years ago? After Harry Truman and George Marshall took this step, one historian said “this was the moment when I knew we would change and never go back. It’s when I realized that it would go all the way.”
3. For heaven’s sake, don’t people realize that the military and intelligence communities are among the top VICTIMS of Rove & co?
Yes, there have been other victims. American taxpayers and the poor and the middle class and the environment and freedom of speech and our debt-burdened grandchildren and science and progress itself have all suffered, as have our alliances and our status in the world. But tell me, who else has actually DIED - in large numbers - paying an ultimate price for the venality and stupidity of this gang? Isn’t that enough reason, morally, to reach out and offer them a hand?
4. In addition to combat deaths, and other direct tragedies, these skilled and dedicated men and women have been saddled, spurred and whipped by swarms of the lowest creatures around -- party hacks who were appointed to fill top jobs at Defense, CIA, Homeland Security and countless other agencies. Purely political operatives with negligible knowledge about these fields and few qualifications other than their single-minded dedication to a single goal. The goal of breaking down every tradition and rule of professionalism, bullying our skilled officers and civil servants into submission.
5. Let there be no mistake; this is where the greatest long-term danger to our republic lies. Forgive a bit of chest-thumping, but I have been an almost-solitary voice for years, calling attention to what appears to be a deliberate and far-reaching campaign to transform the US Officer Corps into a political tool. This campaign has not only featured oppression, purges and intimidation at the top - including reassignment, punishment, and forced-resignations of many top generals and admirals - but also a determined effort at the opposite end, by radical Republican House members who are using their power of appointment to fill our military academies with cadets who are either religious zealots or deeply committed to partisan politics. Or both.
All right, it’s possible that my fears are exaggerated, overblown, or even paranoid. Perhaps the long list of anecdotes does not add up to a coordinated and orchestrated “campaign.” Nevertheless, even those anecdotes (e.g. recent tales of fundamentalist bullying at the Air Force Academy) add up to a frightening trend. So why have there been no investigations? No voices risen against all this, from either the free press or the Democratic side of the aisle?
(Those of you who are well-read in the literature of science fiction may know that 2012 was forecast by the great SF author Robert Heinlein, as the year when a fundamentalist fanatic named Nehemia Scudder would take over the USA as “Prophet of the Lord,” and that his very first priority would be exactly this kind of thing, “stocking” the military academies with young men and women whose allegiance would no longer be apolitical and Constitutional, but as personal and ideological as the Praetorians, Janissaries, samurai and jaguar warriors of old. I am not calling Heinlein a soothsayer. But should not this literary horror tale be scaring us right now, fully as much as others that were written by guys like Orwell?)
6. What is the biggest reason why we absolutely must change our reflexive attitudes toward those stern "conservative" men and women, the crewcut types, in the Intelligence Community and the United States Officer Corps?
It is the best reason of all. The simplest and most compelling.
Think. These people represent our only hope of preventing Rove & co. from pulling some kind of hellacious "October Surprise" in late 2006, and again in 2008. Some nasty event that might frighten the voters silly, turning their eyes away from all the scandals of theft, incompetence and betrayal, prodding the terrified to instead rally around “our national leadership.”
Hey, don’t knock it. This very method has worked for Rove, time and again. Call this paranoid. But can any of you honestly claim that these scoundrels won’t try it again? Care to bet on it? In fact, is there any chance that they won't try it again?
Obviously, the Rove-ists are shaking right now, quivering over the prospect that one or more chambers of Congress may change hands in the next election. Imagine the transformation that would then ensue, away from the worst and laziest legislative branch in our history, with fewer days spent in session, fewer committee meetings, fewer inquiries and audits, fewer bills and debates... and by far the fewest subpoenas issued... in more than a hundred years. Imagine all of that suddenly changing.
If either House or Senate were to resume actual business, recalling vacationing members to their Constitutionally-mandated role of oversight, re-activating slumbering committees, appointing investigators, calling witnesses... well, you can just picture the consequences.
The clang of jail cells will be deafening. You know it. I know it. Karl Rove knows it, all too well.
They have one chance, just one. To spark something truly terrible - perhaps a terror scare, or a pandemic scare, or war with Iran - before the November elections. Moreover, honestly, let me ask you this. Do YOU have a plan for how to stop this from happening?
The courts? The press? Whistleblowers? Oh, please.
Stop and think. There is only one group of people on Planet Earth who can prevent it. They have the skill, the knowledge, the connections and sources, the courage and the wherewithal. Reminded of their duty to the Constitution, to the American people, these members of the Intelligence Community and the U.S. Officer Corps will stand up. They will do what they were trained to do. What they swore a solemn oath to do.
They will put their careers, their bodies, their very lives between us and danger.
They will defend us from enemies of the United States, even when those enemies occupy the White House.
They are our best hope... the crewcut types…
...and it is crucial that people recognize this. Liberals and conservatives. Democrats and decent, old-fashioned Goldwater Republicans.
Above all, the best way for Democrats to prove that they deserve power will be to stand up for these men and women in the IC and the Corps. Only this will show that liberals and moderates and decent conservatives understand the true path.
Not to wage "culture war"... but to end it.