“I always had a good experience dealing with the career people in government,” Mr. Shultz said. “But I have to say it’s almost as if there is an insurrection taking place. Particularly what is going on in the military is astonishing and fundamentally intolerable. There has to be a sense of discipline. This is something new, and for everybody’s good it has to be dealt with.”
I asked about the place of dissent in government. “Look,” the former secretary said, “in our system some people get elected and what you get out of that is the right to call the shots, and the full-time career people are entitled to have their views listened to. But it is very important to see that what is going on now is a problem that goes beyond whether someone likes Don Rumsfeld or not.” ~Daniel Henninger, OpinionJournal.com
So Mr. Shultz believes that retired generals exercising their rights is “astonishing and fundamentally intolerable”? What is it that is going in the military that is “astonishing and fundamentally intolerable”? The article doesn’t explain in any greater detail. Loose talk of “revolt” and now “insurrection” and Tony Blankley‘s fever dreams of mutinous conspiracy are the real problems here. This charged language gives the impression that anything short of lockstep, mute obedience and agreement for life has the makings of a coup about it. In the age of the chickenhawk, this attitude does not seem to go down very well with military men, who are now being told to remain silent forever, apparently including after retirement, even after their expertise and experience have been cast aside to more or less disastrous results.
During the Clinton years, there was barely concealed disgust in the officer corps at having that man as their superior, both for his attempt to force the military openly to accept homosexuals and for the general disdain that they believed that he, the draft-dodger, had for the military as an institution. This fundamental lack of respect for the military and the lack of interest in its well-being were the major reasons why civilian-military relations during the ’90s were so frayed. Using the military as the stick for progressive internationalism, independent of any clear connection to American interests, made things worse. Rumsfeld continued the act of disrespecting the military, albeit in a slightly different way that benefited from the resentments of the Clinton years, dismissing critical generals as Clinton’s appointees with the wink and nod to the Republican base. The code was not very subtle: our kind of generals, our appointees, deserve consideration that their generals don’t. And people complain about the retired generals politicising the military! Clinton started part of this, and Rumsfeld as SecDef has perpetuated it.
Now that generals who also happen to be conservative Republicans are speaking out, and the old recourse to attacking them as Clintonites has no purchase, we discover that they are subverting our system of government and engaged in virtual insurrections! Call me cynical, but the greatest danger to our system of government is to allow unaccountable policymakers absolute leeway in how they use and abuse the military. Every call to stymy the retired generals is a call for just that sort of freedom from accountability. Which brings me to 1983, a disaster for which there was never any proper accountability. The administration changed the subject and suddenly took on this heroic aura of valiant anticommunists. No one paid a professional price for the ugly blunder of Lebanon, which is probably how all policymakers would like things to be.
Of course Mr. Shultz would find the criticisms of the retired generals troubling. No one who has been party to incompetent policy decisions would want any retired officers to come out later to point to the incompetence of civilian managers. Mr. Shultz was part of an administration that put American soldiers into a country where they had no business being, and he was part of an administration that saw those Marines left there as more or less sitting ducks for whatever attack might have come their way.
I should declare an interest here: the folly of the Lebanon deployment and the bombing of the barracks that followed from it so disgusted my father that he refused to vote for Reagan for that reason alone, and my early impression of Reagan, as I remember telling my grandmother during the ’84 campaign, was that of a “bad man” because I picked up on my father’s outrage over the inexcusable decision to put Americans in Lebanon. At least Reagan had the good sense to get out while the getting was good. But you might say that I take a rather dim view of those who were party to that decision, especially when they now have the gall to refer to the legitimate dissent of retired officers as an “insurrection.” Whether or not you agree with what those officers recommend (as it happens, I do not with respect to Rumsfeld), blithely referring to it as an insurrection is inexcusable. No wonder military men are losing respect for their civilian managers, when it is clear that the latter have little respect for them!
If Lebanon in 1982-83 represents Mr. Shultz’s idea of pre-emption, just as Iraq represents Mr. Bush’s, we should be only too happy to scrap any talk of pre-emption. (That there might be some remote legitimate option of pre-emption, in terms of actually pre-empting an existing threat, rather than exaggerating or inventing one as a pretext for aggression, is not out of the question.) Given the incompetent, indeed sometimes criminally negligent, decisionmaking of the civilian higher-ups regarding when and where to send American forces in the last 25 years, it is a wonder that we have not heard more from retired generals about the failures of management.