Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Real Bush War -- Neocons vs. the U.S. Military

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.

But first...

* ...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


Anonymous said...


I concur.

Woozle said...

Issuepedia page on this topic: Bush's military abuse

I've outlined the email discussion I recently had with an ostrich relative on the topic Have Bush's actions in the wake of 9/11 been justified? -- there are now icons and background colors to indicate which bits are the "starting" argument, which are counters, and which are counter-counters supporting the original argument, in a general effort to improve the readability of the "ordered debate" process.

I think there are probably a lot of points I didn't think to bring up, but nonetheless I countered all his points.

David Brin said...

Woozle, this looks like a great place for people to start adding and adjusting Ostrich arguments. I urge folks to dive right in. Feel free to crib from my earlier missives like :


Wish I had the time.

David Brin said...

Any comments so far? I am about to post Part II on Kos. Let me know of any errors or links that support this section....

Anonymous said...

John Shirley's blog has an interesting story up front about a military watchdog group suing the army on behalf of a soldier discriminated against for admitting to be an atheist:


Enterik said...


Regarding the infamy of leaving the Baathists in control of Iraq after the first Gulf War, in defense of Cheney et.al. and in defense of the liberal positions on intervention and national sovereignty enshrined in the Un Charter, some would assert that it was proper and lawful to leave the regime intact. Their true infamy came in discarding international by ignoring the spirit and letter of international treaty law and violating the conditions of UNSC resolutions regarding Iraq and determination of consequences.

On the other hand, you do emphasize the inconsistancy of Cheney et.al. position on the Baathist regime, which is more relevant to ostrich republicans, than actual rule of law. You need to impugn the cabal's authenticity by tarring them as moral relativists. Now that is a sizable wedge indeed.

Xactiphyn said...

Regarding the infamy of leaving the Baathists in control of Iraq after the first Gulf War, in defense of Cheney et.al. and in defense of the liberal positions on intervention and national sovereignty enshrined in the Un Charter, some would assert that it was proper and lawful to leave the regime intact.

Ah, did you even read what David wrote? He isn't saying the infamy was leaving the Baathists in control but:

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...

I think even not making the promise in the first place would have appeased David's complaint.

BTW, this is one reason why I'm not really big on Bush pulling out the troops right now. Dubya is on record for not wanting to let many Iraqis into our country, but there are literally thousands of Iraqis who helped us out who would be tracked down and killed (with their families) as soon as we left. At a minimum, we owe it to this people to get them out safely and give them safe haven in our own country.

Woozle said...

A lot of anti-withdrawal arguments seem to be based on the idea that if we pull out of Iraq, we will be abandoning those who have helped us there -- but in some cases at least, we are doing so already:

2007-07-27 U.S. Abandons Iraqi Translators to Their Fates While Diminutive Denmark Rescues Its Own
2007-07-29 Revealed: MI5's role in torture flight hell: "An Iraqi who was a key source of intelligence for MI5 has given the first ever full insider's account of being seized by the CIA and bundled on to an illegal 'torture flight' under the programme known as extraordinary rendition"

I realize this is only a couple of data points, however; I'm just pointing out that it's not as black-and-white as the "abandonment" claim makes it look.

Consider: are we even working towards tying up those loose ends, getting our collaborators into situations where they will be safe, or are we deliberately avoiding doing so in order to have a perpetual excuse for staying?

Anonymous said...

Omar is a robot shill.

Die, Omar, die!

Xactiphyn said...

Woozle, don't get me wrong, I'm in complete agreement that we need to leave Iraq, it is just that I have no confidence that Bush can do it in a reasonable way, even assuming we could somehow force him.

Put it this way, someday we will leave Iraq. The only reason to not leave Iraq now is the belief that our continued presence will improve our eventual exit in terms of stability of the region, human toll, etc.

From the point of view of Iraq and our military it seems we should just get out now as things are getting worse in general, not better. However (and this is the main point) I have complete and total confidence that Bush would royally f*^& up the exit and leave things in the worst possible manor. I'd much rather have Clinton or Obama in charge of the process, even if it means sticking around an extra year or so.

Obviously, this is all hypothetical, as there is no chance in Hell Bush will actually do anything.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin,

Further to the link above re. the toxic influence of fundamentalist elements of Christianity in the US military:

The LiveJournal community Dark Christianity has been watching the infiltration (not too strong a word, unfortunately) of the US armed forces by Dominionist Christian organisations for some time. I suspect that the Dominionist influence on the US military is a major aspect of the degradation of the forces you noted.

The group was formed by a former USAF member who was forced out for resisting this tendency. Members of the group range from walkaways from extremist churches to other concerned people of all faiths and none.

I hope you don't mind the explicit plug for the group - we've got a lot of data on this subject which ties in with your theory.


Unknown said...

Here is an interesting article on the "Grand Obstructionist Party."

“I had a Republican colleague tell me it is the Republican strategy to try to prevent any accomplishment of the Democratic Congress. That is set in their caucus openly and directly that they don’t intend to allow Democrats to have any legislative successes, and they intend to do it by repeated filibuster.”

Woozle said...

Mark: I understand your argument now, and it makes sense. I don't know that I agree with you (even completely tossing aside political considerations about how it might make various people look to be the "party of surrender" or whatever), but I don't know that I disagree with you either. Will be interested to see if Our Esteemed Blogmaster has anything to say on this.

And on a related topic... does anyone have the lowdown on the Petraeus report, now that it has been delivered? My Ostrich, of course, believes that (as Petraeus claims) it was not vetted by the White House -- after all, a respected general wouldn't lie about such a thing, right? -- but this and this are the only sources I can find for the claim that Bushco were writing or at least vetting the report.

David Brin said...

Andrew, there are plenty of things that Congress could do, DESPITE GOP fillibuster threats.

See my list of suggestions at:

I am willing to be understanding about the difficult problem faced by Pelosi & Reid et al, regarding Iraq. As I have said, Irag is not my top priority!

America is. Civilization is. And some of the smaller items in my suggestion list could make a huge difference. Like restoring the Office of Technology Assessment. Or creating a Civil Service Protection office, for whistleblowers to report-to, safely.

Or TRYING to establish IGUS -- the office of Inspector General of the United States... and making the gopper explain why they torpedoed it.

Mark & Woozle, I am in no hurry to withdraw completely from Iraq. I'd rather take our forces out of a lose-lose situation and put them in a win-win. Simply announce that our troops will leave Baghdada and pull back to protect any town or large community that asks for us to stay, and that stops shooting at us.

Finally fix the water and power and then bring it to whatever communities will do their sincere share of patrolling/protecting.

If Sunnis in an area want protection from Shia domination, they must first eject Al Qaeda... themselves.

Accept ethnic cleansing as a fact and help people arrange house swaps. FIX the oil fields and control them until the government agrees to share the output. Remove our nasty and corrupt "contractor" armies and (again) only patrol areas where the people prove they want us, by sharing the patrols and not killing our people.

If that leaves us only stationed in Kurdistan? Fine. The so be it. If it results in a pullout, then at least our criterion for leaving was simple and honorable.

We'll help those who want us there and who will help themselves and not shoot us. Wherever we're not wanted.... we leave.

Enterik said...

Mark, I thought I had understood what I read, apparently, not entirely.

I agree with Dr. Brin that Bush the Elder's call for the Shi'a to rise up is an infamous betrayal. I believe that the protections afforded the Northern Watch, should have been extended to Iraqi Shi'a as an isssue of fairness. I also believe the no-fly zones were an affront to international treaty law, despite their obsensible humanitarian motivations. I think that the iraqi oil-flushed Kurds are primed o blowback in due time as they press ethnic perogatives in Turkey, Iran, Syria, Armenia and Iraq.

I think it is safe to say that just about every stage of US involvement in Iraq on find myself in opposition to US policy. Big surprise there. I know that the past is prologue and we can't change what happened, even if we change how we think about it. So we're stuck with the mess at hand.

What can be achieved on the ground is quite limited in my opinion.

I think Dr. Brin offers usable resources towards the end of peeling away loosely affiliated voters.

Tony Fisk said...

Taking five, a couple of completely left of field references:

An Earth 'miss' (a minor one, although it spoils the backstory ;-):
Swiss join UN's dirty cash battle

And one for the 'tribal cocktail/BBQ' references you were after a while back:
An etching of Aborigines playing "kick-to-kick" near Mildura could be the first record of Australian football, experts say.

(who needs Omar's robots?)

OK, we return now to our program...

Enterik said...


Just look at the porjected number of filibuster threats for this Congress.

I say, the Democrats should forget Woodrow Wilson's cloture rule and force the Republicants to actually filibuster. If the Democrats don't do this, they will be tarred by the crybaby Republicants as a do nothing Congress come election time in 2008 (the newly minted "nonpartisan" Frank Luntz is already spreading this meme). Force them to look like the obstructionists they are, force Bush to actually wield a veto against things a majority of Americans want passed.

But there is another invidious GOP tactic at work here as well, isn't it always the case these days, that a few "at risk" GOP candidates vote with the Democrats on cloture votes that don't meet the 60% mark? Some aren't even ashameed enough to try and hide it. Witness, John Warner's (R-in danger) "surprise" reversal of support Jim Webb's (D-VA) troop deployment shortening ammendment.

Put these two things together and you would think that the Republicants would look like such tools in the news. Instead, bills fail in the senate generically for having "insufficient votes". And it's always Democrats and a few generic Republicans, so people can think the Republicants aren't all that bad. So in the news it looks like the Democrats can't get things together, even though they have good vote discipline and their legislation garners a majority. There is no talk of cloture and filibuster threats made by the GOP are unchallenged by the Democrats. There are no vetos by the POTUS.

In the run up to next November, what do you think the chances are that voters will understand the niceities of cloture? What will they understand? A flaccid Democratic majority couldn't get the job done. While at risk candidates can point to a couple of cloture votes as proof of their maverick status and having fought the good fight. Nothing more than enabled surface framing and procedural perfidy.

I say, don't call for cloture and make the GOP talk itself hoarse whenever they decide to obstruct. That is a simple enough storyline for the mainstream media to follow...one would hope :-/

Dave Sanders said...

We might not always get the Government we want, but we always get the Government we deserve.

Education, especially history and social awareness are needed the most in this country. We can fight the effects, like needless wars and Social Civil Wars until we're blue in the face, but until we fix the fundamental problems with education in this country none of the other problems will go away.

And I'm not talking about NCLB and testing kids into submission. I'm talking about real teaching of cause and effect, scientific method, logic, and history. Furthermore, our kids need to be taught social humility - understanding that there are 6+ billion people out there who are just as real and have their own thoughts and feel real emotion just like they do. There is no faceless enemy.

Teach kids how to balance their own finances. Make them have pen-pals and read newspapers and websites from other countries. Teach them to think critically about what everyone tells them.

Finally, teach kids to love learning and to not just stop learning once they have a diploma.

Until we solve these problems, and have the patience to see the effect in 50 years or so, the spiral will continue. Based on history, if the spiral continues it will either end in a revolution, a civil war or a splintering of the Union.

David Brin said...

Good idea about calling the repubs bluff and forcing actual fillibusters. It would show earnest intent and a will to act.

The Swiss are doing what little they can, in order to drain away building pressure for Radical Reciprocal Accountability.

Woozle said...

Brief switch to shiny technogoodness:

A startup hopes to help electronic devices have meaningful conversations with people. (found via Kurzweil's RSS feed)

I don't know about you, but this sounds an awful lot like practical AI to me, if it works anything close to the way they describe. ("Practical" as in "who gives a fig if it's 'really' AI as long as I can have HAL 9000 as my personal secretary?")

The cellphone example given near the beginning of the article is rather unimaginative, though, and barely goes beyond existing tech (I remember seeing TV ads a year or two ago for phones you could verbally instruct to "call Tom" or whatever), so don't stop reading there.

David Brin said...

Anyone know how to make a "tip jar" at Daily Kos?

Woozle said...

Found it! No, it's a social rating thing, not cash.

"Because diaries can't be rated, many diary authors post a comment with the Subject of 'Tip Jar' or similar. This is intended as a place to give mojo for the diary; if you feel that the diary was worthwhile, it's a nice gesture to leave a recommend in the tip jar. A tip jar should only be posted by the author of a diary. Posting a tip jar in somebody else's diary will be regarded as an attempt to take credit for the diary; at the very least, you will be yelled at by other commenters."

David Brin said...

I understood all that, Woozle. What I cannot find, anywhere, is HOW to set up a "tip jar." It does not appear anywhere that I can discover, on the Kos site.

Woozle said...

What I got from that was that you just "post a comment [on your diary entry?] with the Subject of 'Tip Jar' or similar" -- but I have yet to start a DKos Diary, so maybe those instructions don't compute...

Also, I've started going through your Ostrich article to get points for relevant structured debates. Is Bush trustworthy? is the best-developed so far, and I haven't even got to the meat of your article...

Anonymous said...

Hi all, I've never seen this mentioned on Dr. Brin's blog before; but we can confirm a hit on his prediction that Bush would try to pardon himself.

Sidereus said...

Remember the movie Broken Arrow? Looks like a "Bent Spear" event has occurred. Wow!


The saga of a ‘Bent Spear’
6 nukes fly across U.S.; no one notices for 36 hours — how could it happen?

"I have been in the nuclear business since 1966 and am not aware of any incident more disturbing," retired Air Force Gen. Eugene Habiger, who served as U.S. Strategic Command chief from 1996 to 1998, said in an interview."

"The Air Force's inspector general in 2003 found that half of the "nuclear surety" inspections conducted that year resulted in failing grades — the worst performance since inspections of weapons-handling began."