Part Two - Staining the Honor of our Armed Forces
Our topic is the number one accomplishment of the George W. Bush administration. Not the record deficits, or stagnant science, or rampant theft, or even a legacy of nation-dividing Culture War. Rather, it is something that until a few years ago seemed downright impossible -- bringing low the finest and most professional national military the world has ever seen.
Especially the U.S. Army, which incoming Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Michael Mullen, has called “in critical condition.”
Despite frantically posturing as tough, flag-waving patrots, the neoconservative cabal (led largely by men who avoided or took cushy military service) has in fact succeeded in making America far less safe. Not only by driving away allies and spurring recruitment of Islamic radicals, but -- even worse -- by demolishing much of the power, elan, and reputation of the services that are dedicated to protecting us.
This problem ranges far beyond the military, of course. Elsewhere I speak to what ought to be the core issue of our coming elections. A broad campaign, led by our president, to bully, quash, subdue and politicize the professionals of the Civil Service, the intelligence and law enforcement agencies, the scientific community and countless other skilled public servants. A campaign whose paramount victims are the brave men and women of America’s armed forces.
In Part One we focused on one specific aspect of this travesty... the ruination our military’s hard-earned reputation for invincibility.
In this segment, we’ll another aspect of reputation. The cost of losing the high moral ground.
Then, in Parts 3 and 4 we’ll move on to matters even more horrific: the negligent squandering of our our military readiness and the ongoing effort to purge the United States Officer Corps.
* ...some added words about the value of reputation.
Along with “invincibility,” our nation -- and military -- used to benefit immensely from another advantage in the realm of appearances. A reputation for honorable behavior, hewing to the high moral standing that we established when we shocked the world by showing kindness to defeated enemies, like Germany and Japan. As George Marshall clearly saw -- with zealous agreement by (among others) Douglas MacArthur -- it can be not only good, but also profoundly pragmatic to seize the moral high ground. Because, over the long run, your nation will face more allies, instead of enemies or fence-sitting neutrals, if it is trusted, admired, and liked.
Do not let neocons get away with cynical shrugs (“who cares what foreigners think?”) We should all care, because nowadays. world popularity translates into power. We all saw this in the early nineties, when folk in Eastern Europe bravely told their communist masters “Either let us join NATO and the West, or shoot us!” They would never have done that, forcing the Cold War’s end game, if they thought that East and West were morally equivalent.
Would the Founding Fathers agree with my view, that it matters what the world thinks? Just re-read the very first sentence of the Declaration of Independence. The part that declares a solemn and basic duty to pay “a decent respect for the opinions of mankind...”
Moreover, this abrogation of our nation’s paramount moral standing (as we saw in Part One) has not only harmed us at a diplomatic and strategic level. It also has devastating effects on a smaller, tactical scale.
Suppose that last resort measures like torture are truly reserved for super-rare and desperate occasions -- at the level of top spies and secret agents -- the way our government operated, by bipartisan consensus, for generations. Then further suppose that, as far as the battlefield is concerned, our soldiers in the field are trained to try -- whenever possible -- to fight with honor and obey the Laws of War, including fair treatment of prisoners. Does this hamper or help the soldiers, over the long run?
Ask any experienced warrior, what kind of victory is best. He will say that he prefers a foe who surrenders, over one who fights to the death. And enemies are more likely to lay down their arms if they confidently expect to be treated well, not subjected to Guantanamo water-boarding.
Over any span of time, tactical or strategic, decent, grownup and principled behavior is not only the higher moral path, it is also the practical road, leading to better long term results.
Yes, this is a statement that many neoconservatives would call sappy or naive. Witness how all but one of the present Republican presidential candidates claimed to be more eager to use torture than the others. (An ends-justify-the-means attitude to which Stalin, also, prescribed.) The words “last resort” were never used.
But we all know those words ought to be used. By adults.
* The Generals Agree
Want an example? Across several years, I’ve spoken repeatedly about how the United States Officer Corps is the third-best-educated clade in America today, just after college professors and medical doctors. Their dedication to skill, responsibility and strict attention to lawful process is matched by a level of scholarship that most civilians would find surprising. Senior leaders know an awful lot about history, about the world and its dangers. And this depth of knowledge gives them perspective on the pragmatic benefits of ethical behavior.
Moreover, a great many of our senior officers are worried. Not only about the ongoing political purge of their ranks and physical destruction of the Army (we’ll get to those), but also about a steady sliming of the honor of the armed forces.
Let me illustrate with a recent excerpt, describing one soldier who stood up: "This past November, U.S. Army Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, the dean of the United States Military Academy at West Point, flew to Southern California to meet with the creative team behind the hit TV show 24. Finnegan, who was accompanied by three of the most experienced military and F.B.I. interrogators in the country, arrived on the set as the crew was filming.... (They) had come to voice their concern that the show's central political premise—that the letter of American law must be sacrificed for the country's security—was having a toxic effect. In their view, the show promoted unethical and illegal behavior and had adversely affected the training and performance of real American soldiers. "I'd like them to stop," Finnegan said of the show's producers. "They should do a show where torture backfires."
(A cynical aside: how long, do you think, before Finnegan is purged, just like scores of other flag officers, whose only crime was to be grownups, at a time when they are bullied by political brats and? And how long shall we have to wait before Democrats, liberals and moderates realize that this is the issue? One that could rouse "ostrich Republicans" and tear apart Karl Rove's Big Tent coalition?)
* But should we be surprised?
After all, this is the same list of names -- Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and so on -- that committed the ignominious Shame of 1991, deliberately leaving Saddam Hussein with his boot on the necks of the Iraqi people, just days after Bush Sr. had gone on radio, personally, asking that the people rise up in rebellion, because we’re on our way. Gen. Schwarzkopf could have -- with 12 more hours -- liberated most of southern Iraq, leaving Saddam isolated and penniless, in a rump state without oil. Simply by offering southern Shiites the same protection we were already giving the Kurds - and going nowhere near Baghdad - Bush Sr.’s promise would have been kept, instead of betrayed, in one of the worst stains on American honor in our lifetimes.
Instead we had to come back 12 years later, squandering our boys and girls, our treasury and our alliances, in order to fix a festering sore of hatred that was in large part of our own making.
All of which prompts the question, was there ever a time when these people did anything right? (Certainly not if we go back even farther in time, when the same list of names were among Saddam’s best pals, and sent arms and training money to ... Osama bin Laden.)
No, we should not be surprised. We should wake up. We should take our soldiers, sailors, airmen, reservists and marines out of the hands of blustering brat-amateurs who treat those fine men and women like toys.
So far, we’ve dealt with stupid, impractical and immoral stains upon our honor. In part 3 we’ll move on to crimes against the U.S. military that are even worse.
==Continue to Part 3
or return to Part 1 of this series