Imagine that a cabal of top officers is conspiring to mutiny and topple civilian control of the military in the United States of America.
Imagine that a cabal of top officers is conspiring to mutiny and topple civilian control of the military in the United States of America. If it sounds like a movie, it’s because it already is one – John Frankenheimer’s 1964 political thriller, Seven Days in May.
But if a leading Democrat insider is to be believed, what was once the stuff of paranoid Hollywood potboilers may have come true, though not exactly according to the dog-eared script.
Eight retired generals have so far publicly criticized Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for being insensitive and not playing well with others. They say their old boss has got to go, and the aforementioned Democrat heavyweight has made the veiled threat that many more flag officers are waiting in the wings, to resign and attack the Secretary, should Rumsfeld fail to walk the plank. (The term “flag officers” refers to the highest class of rank in each service branch – admirals in the Navy, and generals in the Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force.)
The retired generals in question are Army Major General (two stars) Paul Eaton, Maj. Gen. John Riggs, Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., and Maj. Gen. John Batiste; and Marine Corps Lieutenant General (three stars) Gregory Newbold, Lt. Gen. Paul van Riper, General (four stars) Anthony Zinni; and finally, Army Gen. Wesley (not to be confused with Ramsey) Clark. (Once Gen. Clark saw the bandwagon start pulling out, he jumped on at the last moment, and may need care for a sprained or broken ankle.)
The Paranoid Style
There is a tradition which I call, with a nod to historian Richard Hofstadter, the paranoid style in Hollywood politics. According to the paranoid style, which was born in the Cold War, not the Soviet Union nor Red China, but the American military is the ubiquitous “clear and present danger” to democratic government and world peace.
In the paranoid style, it is always rightwing generals (and the occasional, rightwing colonel) who seek to unseat a liberal president via a military coup, or who would go over such a president’s head, in order to “drop the big one” on the Russkies, “and see what happens.”
The Hollywood nightmare never was close to coming true. And yet, if Bill Clinton’s former ambassador to the UN, Richard Holbrooke is to be believed, we are in the midst of a full-fledged “generals' revolt.”
Does Not Play Well with Others
Rumsfeld is "arrogant” and "abusive," according to retired Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste.
Is that a criticism or a compliment, General? Most generals consider such terms part of their job description. Pot, kettle, General; pot, kettle.
Retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, the first to call for Rumsfeld's resignation in the March 19 New York Times, spoke of the latter’s "unrealistic confidence in technology to replace manpower."
But did Gen. Eaton complain about the feminization of the military that has accompanied and accelerated its greater reliance on technology? Are you kidding? Even in retirement, he’s scared to death of taking on feminist activists like Lory Manning and Claudia Kennedy.
According to Gen. Eaton, Rumsfeld has also "shown himself incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically, and is far more than anyone responsible for what has happened to our important mission in Iraq. . . . Mr. Rumsfeld must step down."
I have myself criticized the handling of the war, and Rumsfeld specifically, going back to April 16, 2003, just after Baghdad fell, and anarchy reigned. I complained that the American military was behaving in a multicultural fashion, and thus making global fools of us.
Although the Marines were in Baghdad, looters were running wild without fear of them. The looters somehow knew the Marines would not do their job.
The way to deal with looters is to declare martial law and shoot them. (The order doesn’t much matter. Once looters see their fellows begin to drop, they’ll understand that martial law has been declared; declare martial law without shooting anyone, and no one will take you seriously, until the shooting starts.) But the military – make that the White House – was afraid of the backlash from the Arab and Marxist world (that would be in far-flung, communist outposts like West 43rd Street), from images of American fighting men shooting Arab looters being broadcast around the world. I say, such images would have earned our boys the only sort of respect our enemies understand.
But although Rumsfeld spouted some nonsense at the time about anarchy and looting being the way free people act (“freedom's untidy”), the man who is responsible for the prosecution of the war is our commander-in-chief. It was George W. Bush who was so solicitous of our enemies’ sensibilities. If you have a beef with Bush, say so. Don’t use Rumsfeld as a proxy.
Imagine if FDR or Harry Truman had called up Tojo and Hitler, to ask if our war plans met with their respective approvals.
Needs to Get in Touch with His Feminine Side
Contra Rumsfeld: He has too much “swagger,” as in "My sincere view is that the commitment of our forces to this fight was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions -- or bury the results." That’s according to retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, who attacked the Secretary in a Time magazine essay and whose “sole motivation, pure and simple, [is] the servicemen and women and their incredible families." Incredible.
Say what you will about Donald Rumsfeld, but he’s no chicken hawk. He’s an old Navy flier. And a military man – much less a Marine – who despises swagger?! I hope Gen. Newbold isn’t one of those feminists who think our warriors should wear flowers in their helmets.
What I found striking about Gen. Newbold’s criticisms of Secretary Rumsfeld was how unstriking they were – they could have been a cut-and-paste job of New York Times editorials from the past three years. Just as the Times has pre-written obituaries for famous people that require only that the cause, time, and place of death be added, it has “Rumsfeld Must be Fired” boilerplate editorials which only require that they be updated with the most recent controversy to make it seem as if the newspaper’s demand were a response to events, as opposed to a standard, constant demand.
The Problem with Political Generals
Newbold says that we invaded Iraq based on faulty intelligence, but that line of attack was only invented by Bush’s political enemies to sandbag him. Before we went in, everyone, even chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix believed that Saddam Hussein had tons of biological and chemical weapons (BCW), including thousands of tons of liquid anthrax alone. That we didn’t find the BCW can’t be used retroactively to claim that the intelligence stunk, if no one, anywhere, knew that at the time. Besides which, I am not convinced that we won’t eventually find BCW stockpiles in Iraq, or find that they were shipped out to neighboring Baathist Syria.
Another point of attack for Gen. Newbold is that Rumsfeld & Co. didn’t rethink strategy. But Rumsfeld and his men did rethink strategy, for better or worse, and that is what angered so many flag officers who despise the Secretary. They disagreed with Rumsfeld on his strategic emphasis on a more high-tech, leaner military. Well, guess what? In our constitutional system, the military is run by civilians; civilians are not run by the military. Generals do not get to choose their civilian superiors; those civilian superiors do, however, get to choose our generals. That’s the difference between a liberal democracy and a military dictatorship, a difference the news and entertainment media have both been very keen on, whenever a Democrat has sat in the White House.
“Army General John Abizaid, head of Central Command, has been forceful in his views with appointed officials on strategy and micromanagement of the fight in Iraq--often with success. Marine Commandant General Mike Hagee steadfastly challenged plans to underfund, understaff and underequip his service as the Corps has struggled to sustain its fighting capability.”
So much for the suits refusing to listen to, and punishing any of the uniforms who disagreed with them.
Look, I’m not denying that Rumsfeld is an SOB, and I probably wouldn’t last one day working for him. But do you really want a nice guy running Defense? And I’m not a military man, either. Imagine how Gen. Newbold or any of his cronies would respond to an enlisted man complaining the same way about his commanding officer, as they have been complaining about the Secretary of Defense. They’d laugh the man out of the service – after court-martialing him and sending him to Leavenworth for a stretch.
My point isn’t to say that Gen. Newbold is a Democrat opportunist; I wouldn’t know where his party loyalty lies. But I do think he is an opportunist. I think he grasped at certain talking points because they were the socialist MSM’s conventional wisdom, and guaranteed him a hearing.
Had he instead said something like, ‘The Bush Administration’s obsession with a high-tech military deploying fewer boots, is inseparable from the inability of the voluntary military to meet its troop strength needs during a protracted war or wars, and its increasing reliance on female personnel who are then deployed in manners in violation both of Pentagon regulations and of military discipline, esprit de corps, and fighting ability,’ do you think he’d have gotten a spread in Time magazine? If Newbold is so courageous, and claims that the Marines were undermanned, why won’t he follow his criticism to its logical and political end, and call for the reinstatement of the draft?
Similarly, if he had admitted that the problem with disorder in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam wasn’t the lack of boots on the ground, but the orders to engage in multicultural, powder-puff pacification that had Marines standing around, watching Iraqi thugs loot at will, Time’s editors would have said, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you,” hung up the phone, and said to each other, their eyes rolling, “What a fascist!”
The problem with political generals is that they are … political.
Grounds for Zinnicism
Retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni has said, “We are paying the price for the lack of credible planning, or the lack of a plan. … Ten years worth of planning were thrown away; troop levels dismissed out of hand. … These were not tactical mistakes. These were strategic mistakes, mistakes of policy made back here. Don't blame the troops," and "Poor military judgment has been used throughout this mission."
Wait a minute. Either we had ten years of planning, or we had no plan. Zinni sounds like a propagandist trying to hit all the confused mental states of Bush-haters. I don’t like the President, either, but I don’t get hysterical about it … yet.
Oh, well. Zinni’s an old Clinton hand, so it’s hardly surprising that he should criticize his political opponent. Indeed, according to New York Times reporters David S. Cloud, Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker, in a surprisingly balanced article, the newest Fire Rumsfeld! campaign is being “spearheaded by, among others, General Zinni …”
I don’t know the other flag officers’ party affiliation, though I’m sure they’d all say, “Independent.” They’re no politicians. Right.
Future generals imbibe politics at their mothers’ breasts. And they didn’t get where they are by not being able to figure out which way the wind is blowing.
The most interesting and disturbing case is that of Maj. Gen. John Riggs. Unlike his colleagues, he did not wait until retirement to criticize his civilian bosses, although that criticism was at the time less dramatic than it has since become.
Soon thereafter, the Army initiated two separate investigations of the General, who was suspected of having violated regulations governing the use of civilian contractors, and of having had an adulterous love affair with one such civilian contractor.
In the UCMJ, adultery is a crime for which the punishment may include “confinement for one year, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and a dishonorable discharge.” These days, however, adulterers are rarely prosecuted. If the affair was in the past, knowledge of it may impede one’s career, as in the case of Gen. Joseph Ralston, who lost out on becoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff after admitting to having had such an affair. If the adultery is flagrant, however, and is continued despite the service member being ordered to end it, and the member in question lies about continuing the affair, as in the case of feminist Air Force Lieut. Kelly Flinn, one may be separated from the service.
Some readers will no doubt be shocked that adultery is still a crime in the UCMJ. If you don’t like the laws, you can have them changed, but you cannot flaunt them at will, or encourage military personnel to flaunt them. Not unless, that is, your goal is to destroy military discipline.
The charge of adultery against Gen. Riggs was dismissed for lack of evidence (though the General’s wife divorced him soon thereafter), while the charge of improper use of a civilian contractor for jobs that must be carried out by military officers, was upheld. The rebuke was so mild, however, that it was reportedly not even entered into the General’s record. And yet, Army Secretary Les Brownlee demoted Lt. Gen. Riggs one full rank down to major general, costing the 39-year veteran – who had begun as a 19-year-old enlisted man – his honor and $10,000-15,000 per year in pension pay, and ordered him to immediately resign from the Army.
Gen. Riggs’ supporters have argued that the real motivation behind the Army’s actions was retaliation for his having publicly criticized Secretary Rumsfeld, and that Riggs should not have been demoted for an offense that was not even worthy of a mention in his personnel record.
Now, I’m the last guy in the world to relish stomping on a man who entered the service as a 19-year-old enlisted man, who served for almost forty years, and who made it all the way to three stars. But then-Lt. Gen. John Riggs had to know that he was slitting his own throat. He knew the rules. Why didn’t he press his point with his civilian superiors in private – and then resign, if they ignored him, before shooting off his mouth?
Two possible reasons for Gen. Riggs’ demotion and forced resignation stand out: 1. Although the Army couldn’t prove he’d had an affair with the civilian contractor, it may have been convinced that he had done so, and made him pay the only way it could; or 2. The Army cashiered Gen. Riggs for his remarks to the press. According to the UCMJ, Secretary of the Army Brownlee would have been perfectly justified in firing Gen. Riggs for his remarks, though if that was the Secretary’s motivation, he showed cowardice in conjuring up the contractor story.
The Pentagon is well aware that more than a few reporters covering the Pentagon hold the UCMJ in contempt, and that they and their editors have no intention of enlightening their readers about how military law diverges from the laws governing civilians. In addition, most mainstream socialist media outlets would lionize anyone who, in embarrassing a by them hated Republican administration, served the media’s political objectives. Meanwhile, Gen. Riggs’ supporters have been less than honorable or honest as flag officers in their defenses of him, in focusing solely on the charge of his misuse of a civilian contractor.
Fragging the Secretary
While I am tempted to believe that personal and collegial loyalty to Gen. Riggs plays a role in some Army generals’ call for Rumsfeld’s dismissal, a lot of these guys clearly have hated Rumsfeld’s guts for some time.
In any event, hating your superior is no excuse for violating military law. (Otherwise, the communists who call on enlisted men to “frag” their commanding officers are in the right.) I see in the revolt of the generals yet another case of cowardice, and of the decline in military discipline, esprit de corps, and respect for military law. (“Fragging” involves murdering your commanding officer, typically by tossing or rolling a hand grenade at him from behind.)
The Point of Decision
As Michael Gilbert wrote in the April 23 Tacoma, WA News Tribune,
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Bill Harrison “said [the generals would] have more credibility with the public if they had stepped forward when they were still on active duty.”
“We’re taught in the Army that we are supposed to argue to the point of decision. Once the decision’s been made, there are two things we can do: We can support the decision, or if we disagree, and it’s a point of principle, we can resign.”
If they thought Rumsfeld was leading us into folly, yet were so easily intimidated by him that they kept their own counsel, as they now say they did, they didn’t deserve to be generals. And so they screwed up twice – in not disagreeing with Rumsfeld face to face while they were active duty and could influence him, and in now attacking him via the press. Indeed, is the admission by a military leader that he was intimidated by the Secretary of Defense an occasion to complain about the Secretary, or rather to make an embarrassed apology for one’s own shortcomings?
When one man keeps quiet when he’s supposed to talk, and starts running his mouth when it’s too late, you call him a royal screw-up. (You know what I mean, but this is a family Web site.) What we have here is a gang of royal screw-ups.
Ed O’Keefe of ABC News reported that Gen. Richard Myers, who recently retired as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “repeatedly contested the recollections of the six generals who have spoken out against Rumsfeld. In press accounts, Newbold maintained that his pre-war criticism made Myers and others ‘uncomfortable.’ But on ‘This Week,’ Myers rebutted, ‘That's not my memory of it; I never felt uncomfortable about anything Gen. Newbold said…. If there are people … who have not spoken out,’ Myers said, ‘shame on them.’”
Myers told ABC News’George Stephanopoulos, "We gave [Rumsfeld] our best military advice. … If we don't do that, we should be shot."
Sounds good to me, and not because Myers is a general. I’ve liked the guy for some time, particularly since he locked horns with Sen. Mark Dayton (D-MN), who sought to bully him and demagogue the truth during the Senate’s Abu Ghraib hearings two years ago.
Next column: But what about the military’s First Amendment rights?
Award-winning, New York-based freelancer Nicholas Stix founded A Different Drummer magazine (1989-93). Stix has written for Die Suedwest Presse, New York Daily News, New York Post, Newsday, Middle American News, Toogood Reports, Insight, Chronicles, the American Enterprise, Campus Reports, VDARE, the Weekly Standard, Front Page Magazine, Ideas on Liberty, National Review Online and the Illinois Leader. His column also appears at Men's News Daily, MichNews, Intellectual Conservative, Enter Stage Right and OpinioNet. Stix has studied at colleges and universities on two continents, and earned a couple of sheepskins, but he asks that the reader not hold that against him. His day jobs have included washing pots, building Daimler-Benzes on the assembly-line, tackling shoplifters and teaching college, but his favorite job was changing his son's diapers.