None of these people have any idea what it is like to command men, much less an entire divison.
We live in low, dishonest times, where spurious charges come fast and furious daily, but few can trump the cheapness of the recent attacks directed at some of the retired Generals that recently came out against Don Rumsfeld's stewardship of the war effort. Witness, for instance, Glenn Reynolds approvingly linking to this treatment from Judith Klinghoffer:
The American army in Iraq does not have a single general with enough guts to respond to the president's question with "depends on what you want us to do?" Sorry, guys, civil control of the military is not our problem. Gutless military leadership is.
To which Glenn comments: "Ouch". Ouch what? That someone sitting at the Political Science Department of Rutgers has the gall to speak of these men as "gutless"? Critics like these are not fit to shine, say, Major General Swannack's boots, let alone call him "gutless". It was the 82nd Airborne, after all, under the command of Charles Swannack, that took the lead on some of the most critical missions of the Iraq War, like establishing a training post for both Iraqi police and Iraqi Civil Defense Corps under very difficult conditions in Ramadi around September of 2003. In addition, the 82nd was involved in some of the most difficult battles of the Iraq war, like that of Fallujah, in case anyone is keeping score, as we scandalously go about accusing people of being cowards. From a rapporteur's note of an appearance by Swannack at the Washington Insititute for Near East Policy:
Like other coalition forces, the 82nd Airborne had to deal with insurgent attacks on a daily basis, often involving AK-47 and RPK rifle fire and rocket-propelled grenades. The insurgents also attacked coalition positions with mortar fire and rockets; U.S. troops used precision artillery strikes in retaliation. Not even aircraft were safe; several coalition helicopters were shot down in the Fallujah area by surface-to-air missiles. Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) proved particularly dangerous; they are inexpensive to make, easy to conceal, and can be detonated remotely, allowing the attackers to escape. The most difficult of these devices are vehicle-borne IEDs. Even shooting the drivers before they reach their targets may not prevent them from accomplishing their objective. In addition, recurring attacks on military convoys led the 82nd Airborne to reinforce its vehicles. Steel plating was added to the doors of Humvees, and Kevlar blankets were used to line the floors. When the division was deployed out of Iraq, it left this material behind for the relieving unit. Surgical combat operations were the hallmark of the 82nd Airborne, which conducted over 600 such actions. These operations are very different in scope and technique from conventional warfare. Through them, the division was able to capture 3,800 individuals, including 37 high-value targets and 50 foreign fighters.
Indeed, Swannack personally escaped injury, when the convoy he was traveling in was attacked in Fallujah. Remember, all of you now, Judith Klinghoffer has described the man who led these men into battle, on the ground in Iraq under perilous circumstances, as being "gutless." Incroyable mais vrai, as the French say!
But there's more, much more. Let us not forget Major General Batiste, who commanded the U.S. 1st Infantry Division in Iraq from 2004-2005. The U.S. First Infantry Division is very storied indeed, the oldest continuously serving division in the U.S. Army. The 1st "successfully fought battles against Iraqi insurgents in Baquba, Najaf, and Samarra and joined the Marines in the second successful assault on Falluja" (see here). Many of these campaigns occurred under General Batiste's leadership, causing him doubtless frequently to grieve when troops under his command died. "Gutless" leadership, per Klinghoffer. Again, critics who dare to question these men's guts are not fit to shine their shoes, let alone castigate them for cowardice.
To hear two and three star generals whine that Rumsfeld is too intimidating causes one to ask who else can so easily intimidate them? Are we talking perhaps of the insurgents, Ahmadinejad, Assad Fils, the North Korean or China? Imagine being a soldier who has served under the command of so easily intimidated a general.
"Imagine being a soldier who has served under the command of so easily intimidated a general."
Stop and think about that sentence for a second of two.
To which Glenn Reynolds adds:
If things were so bad before, they should have resigned in protest instead of complaining publicly once they were safely in retirement and, in some cases, had books to promote.
How disgusting. These Generals are not "whining" because Rumsfeld is "too intimidating". That's prima facie absurd. They're up in arms because they were too often facing conditions or fighting an enemy materially different than the one that was war-gamed, and to add insult to injury, Rumsfeld has often been too stubborn to make serious adjustments that run against the grain of his utopic transformationalist nostrums.
Regardless, the reasons they didn't resign in protest before are many. Because they have been wrestling with their consciences for years now, because they believe in this mission, because they wanted and still want to see it through, because they felt duty-bound to do so at the time they were leading their men into battle. Make no mistake, these are men of real character, in stark contrast to those who would so breezily impugn their motives. Glenn might have book promotion on his mind of late, but it is very low indeed to describe men like Swannack and Batiste as waiting until they were "safely in retirement" to come out and then intimate, wink-wink, that they might cash in on their criticisms of Rumsfeld, just because Zinni or such has a book out. I mean, General Batiste passed up a third star rather than continue to serve under Don Rumsfeld's command.
Doesn't this speak volumes? As he explained on Diane Sawyer's show:
MS. SAWYER: But this raises a question, General, about speaking out now now that you're retired and not speaking out then when you were on active duty, as the historian just said to us, when you were participating in the plans. Why not speak out then if you felt so strongly?
GEN. BATISTE: Diane, for the past three years I've been commanding a division, forward deployed in Germany with soldiers in Kosovo, Turkey and Iraq. I had my plate full. I was focused on winning this operation. Now, back in the Pentagon, four or five years ago, I was a one-star general, and believe me, no one was going to listen.
MS. SAWYER: Well, but do you regret now looking back you didn't speak out? Do you think you should have done it anyway?
GEN. BATISTE: I have no regrets. I worked within the system. Within the military culture, you have a chain of command. You report to people. You can express differences. But at the point of decision, you have two options: you either salute and execute or you get out. And I chose to stay within the system and make it happen.
Batiste chose to stand and fight, to the best of his abilities where the command often didn't want to listen to his views, and now people like Glenn and Klinghoffer cheaply piss on him. If I sound angry and revolted, well, it's because I am.
There are also the varied straw-men being trotted out that these are but disgruntled Generals who are up in arms about Rummy's transformation initiatives, or that this is all about more boots on the ground that we don't have, or that they have some political agenda (Zinni some Arabist Clintonite buffoon, in this narrative), and so on. But this is hogwash. Look, there are two main issues here. Why did these Generals come out now? And why?
Why now? I believe part of the reason is the publication of Cobra II, which in painstaking detail spells out some of the collossal errors of judgment the civilian leadership of the Pentagon made in Iraq (aided by some of the senior brass like the too supine (Dick Myers), or the too dismissive of post war planning (Tommy Franks)). This detailed exposition of the massive missteps committed helped precipitate something of a bursting point, I suspect, rendering memories fresher and the continuing perils to the mission more real, and when added to Zinni's call for Rumsfeld's resignation on Meet the Press a few weeks back, and Eaton's NYT op-ed being published around the same time, four more Generals (not counting Wes Clark, lest I too easily tee up another straw man) decided they just couldn't take it any more and had to raise their concerns in public. But make no mistake, these concerns have been around for years already, and finally reached a boiling point over these past weeks. From a Washington Post article way back in May of 2004: Army Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, who spent much of the year in western Iraq, said he believes that at the tactical level at which fighting occurs, the U.S. military is still winning. But when asked whether he believes the United States is losing, he said, "I think strategically, we are."
Army Col. Paul Hughes, who last year was the first director of strategic planning for the U.S. occupation authority in Baghdad, said he agrees with that view and noted that a pattern of winning battles while losing a war characterized the U.S. failure in Vietnam. "Unless we ensure that we have coherency in our policy, we will lose strategically," he said in an interview Friday.
"I lost my brother in Vietnam," added Hughes, a veteran Army strategist who is involved in formulating Iraq policy. "I promised myself, when I came on active duty, that I would do everything in my power to prevent that [sort of strategic loss] from happening again. Here I am, 30 years later, thinking we will win every fight and lose the war, because we don't understand the war we're in." ..Some officers say the place to begin restructuring U.S. policy is by ousting Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, whom they see as responsible for a series of strategic and tactical blunders over the past year. Several of those interviewed said a profound anger is building within the Army at Rumsfeld and those around him...
...Asked who was to blame, this general pointed directly at Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz. "I do not believe we had a clearly defined war strategy, end state and exit strategy before we commenced our invasion," he said. "Had someone like Colin Powell been the chairman [of the Joint Chiefs of Staff], he would not have agreed to send troops without a clear exit strategy. The current OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense] refused to listen or adhere to military advice."
Like several other officers interviewed for this report, this general spoke only on the condition that his name not be used. One reason for this is that some of these officers deal frequently with the senior Pentagon civilian officials they are criticizing, and some remain dependent on top officials to approve their current efforts and future promotions. Also, some say they believe that Rumsfeld and other top civilians punish public dissent...
...One Pentagon consultant said that officials with whom he works on Iraq policy continue to put on a happy face publicly, but privately are grim about the situation in Baghdad. When it comes to discussions of the administration's Iraq policy, he said, "It's 'Dead Man Walking.' "
The worried generals and colonels are simply beginning to say what experts outside the military have been saying for weeks. Even if adjustments in troop presence and goals help the United States prevail, it will not happen soon, several of those interviewed said. The United States is likely to be fighting in Iraq for at least another five years, said an Army officer who served there. "We'll be taking casualties," he warned, during that entire time.
Tolerance of the situation in Iraq also appears to be declining within the U.S. military. Especially among career Army officers, an extraordinary anger is building at Rumsfeld and his top advisers. "Like a lot of senior Army guys, I'm quite angry" with Rumsfeld and the rest of the Bush administration, the young general said. He listed two reasons. "One is, I think they are going to break the Army." But what really incites him, he said, is, "I don't think they care." Jeff Smith, a former general counsel of the CIA who has close ties to many senior officers, said, "Some of my friends in the military are exceedingly angry." In the Army, he said, "It's pretty bitter."
Retired Army Col. Robert Killebrew, a frequent Pentagon consultant, said, "The people in the military are mad as hell." He said the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, should be fired. A spokesman for Myers declined to comment.
A Special Forces officer aimed higher, saying that "Rumsfeld needs to go, as does Wolfowitz." Asked about such antagonism, Wolfowitz said, "I wish they'd have the -- whatever it takes -- to come tell me to my face."
Klinghoffer and Reynolds are, in a way, channeling Wolfowitz (a man incidentally I respect, in some ways, more than many of the dimmer neo-cons) as saying the Generals are "gutless" cowards because they didn't raise their concerns more loudly or fall on their swords and resign. But these men felt a sense of duty, born of decades of service, to stand and fight and see the mission through. They also knew that Rumsfeld had surrounded himself with compliant 'team-players' (read: yes men, if well intentioned ones) like Dick Myers (and now increasingly Pete Pace), the better to block attempts to fundamentally reappraise the war strategy Rumsfeld had put together with Tommy Franks (one that involved little input from other hugely qualified brass, and thus more serious attention to post-war planning). My point? They figured that too often their efforts to register protests might prove futile regardless. Most important, I suspect, they were keenly aware of respecting civilian supremacy of the armed forces, which acted as a powerful brake to mute their airing of frustrations in the too public open, when private dissent reaped few results. And so they kept on keeping on, retaking towns like Fallujah, making the best of a very difficult situation on the ground. Can we fault them the human tendency, on the ground leading men into battle, to make the best of a horrid situation and try to make it better? I suspect if they had quit back then, as Glenn suggests today, he would hardly have been throwing laurels at their feet for their principle and courage back then, eh? No, he'd be attacking them for cowardice and failure of will, likely.