Retired Soldiers Should Not Criticize?

"..the rebellion is problematic nonetheless. It threatens the essential democratic principle of military subordination to civilian control — the more so because a couple of the officers claim they are speaking for some still on active duty. Anyone who protested the pushback of uniformed military against President Bill Clinton’s attempt to allow gays to serve ought to also object to generals who criticize the decisions of a president and his defense secretary in wartime. If they are successful in forcing Mr. Rumsfeld’s resignation, they will set an ugly precedent. Will future defense secretaries have to worry about potential rebellions by their brass, and will they start to choose commanders according to calculations of political loyalty?

In our view Mr. Rumsfeld’s failures should have led to his departure long ago. But he should not be driven out by a revolt of generals, retired or not."  Washpost


I guess my ox is being gored here.  I never attained the rank of general in the Army but after I retired from the Army I was a member of the Senior Executive Service of the Defense Department civil service with a grade equivalent to a lieutenant general among the uniformed.  So, I guess I qualify for criticism under Mr. Hiatt’s criteria.  I have certainly been both analytic and critical of policy in Iraq.  I always thought that the intervention in Afghanistan was a good idea and continue to think the same thing.  I have always thought that the Jihadis should be pursued wherever they are found, but I also always thought that the costs in an occupation of Iraq would outweigh the benefits and that the distortion of the intelligence process supporting the decision to go to war in Iraq and the operational planning that flowed from that were fatal flaws compounded by the ill advised dissolution of the Iraq Army.  I was "bitching" about these things when most of the gentlemen now speaking up were still on active duty and trying to do their duty within the context of the strictures of UCMJ and military custom.  I reckoned I was free to do that because I was retired from the Army, that is, still officially a member of the Army but by custom a private citizen with all the freedoms and responsibilities of any private citizen.  I reckoned that I was doing my duty to the Republic and to our soldiers.

In what I have said and written over the last four years I have tried to avoid "picking on" individuals in government or anywhere else.  The reason for that was that I assume that all concerned in the debate over planning and executing the war are sincere and well meaning people.  Anyone can err, and those who can now clearly be seen to have made terrible mistakes are not different.  For that reason I do not think that I have ever called for anyone to resign from any office and I will not do so now.  It is truly the responsibility of the president to determine who should serve in the executive branch, and he should do so.  For that reason I would not have called for Rumsfeld to resign.  I think it was a mistake to do that, but I certainly believe that the officers now speaking up in a retired status have a duty to do so, and I would associate myself with them in their effort.

Now, the Washington Post has proclaimed a doctrine of civil-military relations which was previously unknown to me.  According to the Post, it is improper for a RETIRED officer to criticize POLICY.  The Post should reconsider this position.  If this notion became general, then there would be no one in the body politic who would have the knowledge and the expertise with which to inform an often uninformed and unqualified media community with regard to the wisdom and practicality of decisions made by politically motivated civilian leadership.  In that situation, an administration that embarked on a disastrous course of action in foreign policy could continue to follow that course indefinitely bolstered in the public’s opinion by the kind of ruthless Information Operations (propaganda) that we have experienced in recent years.

Think it over, Post.

Pat Lang

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14 Responses to Retired Soldiers Should Not Criticize?

  1. Chris Bray says:

    Note that the Post offers no criticism for retired generals who go on TV or write in the op-ed pages to express their support for the administration’s conduct of the war. Nor do they have a word to say about the DOD’s recent distribution of pro-Rumsfeld talking points to retired generals.
    So, yes: To criticize the administration is to engage in politics; to support the administration is to be neutral. Can someone get a photo of Fred Hiatt’s back end, so we can see if Karl Rove’s hand is stuck up there?

  2. taters says:

    Great piece, Col. Thought provoking, as always.
    Hagel weighs in on the matter….
    Sen. Chuck Hagel said Monday he shares the lack of confidence in Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld separately voiced by six retired generals.
    “The concern I’ve had is, at a very dangerous time, (the) secretary of defense does not command the respect and confidence of our men and women in uniform,” Hagel said.
    “There is a real question about his capacity to lead at this critical time,” he said.
    “I have had many conversations with military leaders about their concern about what’s happening at the Pentagon and with our force structure.”
    Hagel first expressed lack of confidence in Rumsfeld a year ago.
    Concerns expressed by the six generals, four of whom served under Rumsfeld, should be taken seriously, the Nebraska Republican said.
    Hagel was questioned about the issue during a conference call from Washington in which he briefed reporters about his trip last week to India and Pakistan.

  3. b says:

    On the same post page E.J.Dionne writes:
    “It’s amusing to hear the administration’s supporters worry that these courageous former generals are a threat to civilian control of the military. The claim reflects this administration’s willingness to muster any argument it can put its hands on to silence opposition.”
    “For all his mistakes, Rumsfeld is not some alien creature operating as a loner sabotaging the otherwise reasonable policies of his bosses. President Bush is the commander in chief. Vice President Cheney is on record as having made outlandishly optimistic predictions before the war started about how swimmingly everything would go.”

  4. zanzibar says:

    Fred Hiatt really has no credibility for independent thought. The same guy that recently opined on the “good leak” vs “bad leak”. And the WaPo editorial board prefers to promote partisan talking points rather than inform their readership. Partisanship is permeating way too much of our public space and the notions of country & constitution seems like from a distant past.

  5. Eric says:

    That’s why some people call the Post Pravda on the Potomac.
    I imagine the Republic will survive all this.
    In addition to Dionne, here’s DAVID BRODER

  6. lorell says:

    I appreciate the comments of these Generals as it gives me confidence in my own beliefs, which are along the same lines. As for the balance between the military and civilian government control of the military, I’d just note that these men are not attempting to overturn “Posse Comitatus”, institute martial law and set up a military junta.

  7. Did this opinion writer pickup the bullet points from the domestic desk of the psysop shop before writing this dreck so as attempt to influence the reader’s ability of objective reasoning?
    : : “It threatens the essential democratic principle of military subordination to
    : : civilian control — the more so because a couple of the officers claim they
    : : are speaking for some still on active duty.”
    The threat is not found in the weakening of the democratic principle of military subordination to civilian control. On the contrary. The threat is found from the rigidity of an overzealous micro-managing pathological egotist harboring delusions of omnipotence that thereby transcend the entire hierarchy and weaken the esprit de corp.
    One cannot be expected nor required to maintain blind faith to past and current ongoing trangressions of basic military principles and decision making.
    This opinion piece is what I have been commonly referring to as Goebbelsism.

  8. zanzibar says:

    Eric, I don’t think the issue is just Rumsfeld but as PL pointed out in another post the triumvirate of Bush, Cheney & Rumsfeld. I would add to this Condi Rice.
    Unfortunately with the Republican majority Congress unwilling to exercise its constitutional prerogatives we will not have any open hearings to get to the bottom of this Administration’s decision making, judgement and honesty.
    I hope the electorate recognizes the situation we are in and votes for change this Nov. I am really not interested in partisan one-up-manship but an open accounting of how decisions were made. Was it a failure of process or judgement of our leaders?

  9. jonst says:

    The ‘debate’ the Washington Post speaks of is going to force America to comes to grips with some issues it has been avoiding. First and foremost among them is the question of whether or not we are at war. Is this “wartime”? This seems to be at the heart of the argument. That it is not, solely, that the generals are criticizing Rumsfeld, but that they are doing so in wartime. Is it “wartime”? Have we been at “war” since 9/11? The quick answer has been: ‘yes! How dare you ask that question? To do so merely demonstrates your bias and your naivety in the first place’.
    I argue that, given the extreme constitutional compromises demanded, and acquiesced to, under the drumbeat of ‘wartime necessity’ this issue can no longer be avoided. Especially since we are told this ‘war’, and the sacrifices called for, will go on as long as the Cold War. That is a long time indeed. And the retired generals are to offer no critical commentary? For the ‘duration’? (we take it it is ok to offer supportive comment)
    Personally, I hoped that the interviews with the Generals, and the articles written by them, would focus more on what they thought went wrong, why it went wrong, how we could correct it, and where we should go now. As opposed to the ‘gotcha game’ of who should go and who should stay. But that is not they way the media works any more. And THAT fact is one of the prime reasons, I would argue, that I, and other readers, come to PL’s blog. And numerous other blogs. We crave more in-depth, less ‘I gotcha’ who’s in, who’s out, who has the POTUS’s ear and who does not.
    Those general owe it to their former personal, and to the nation as a whole, to offer their advice on how the hell we get out of the obvious friggin’ hole we are. I mean, hell, they had to seal off a section of Baghdad for 11 hours today while a pitched battle, apparently, went on. And I understand there was an intense pitched battle up North between the Marines and whomever. It appears, from a distance anyway, that more and American casualties are being inflicted by combat and less by roadside bombs. This thing is spinning out of control. We should welcome all the advice we can get, from experienced people, to counter the propaganda. Please speak out General. And Colonel. And so on and so on, down to the grunt at the front.

  10. taters says:

    Would Rumsfeld ever have a bout of conscience and relinquish his position voluntarily?
    Tamiflu has him set for eternity as far as financial security.
    Of course he wouldn’t. What Gen. Zinni has said he has been stating for quite some time. Like Pat said, ( I’m paraphrasing ) is that honorable men will fall on their sword. Don’t count on Rumsfeld to do that. This guy thought so much of our troops he was signing condolence letters by auto pen. He has time for squash, right? God bless these generals.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ How many troops did Zinni’s plan call for? “We were much in line with Gen. Shinseki’s view,” says Zinni. “We were talking about, you know, 300,000, in that neighborhood.”
    What difference would it have made if 300,000 troops had been sent in, instead of 180,000?
    “I think it’s critical in the aftermath, if you’re gonna go to resolve a conflict through the use of force, and then to rebuild the country,” says Zinni.
    “The first requirement is to freeze the situation, is to gain control of the security. To patrol the streets. To prevent the looting. To prevent the ‘revenge’ killings that might occur. To prevent bands or gangs or militias that might not have your best interests at heart from growing or developing.”
    Should all of those involved, including Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, resign?
    “I believe that they should accept responsibility for that,” says Zinni. “If I were the commander of a military organization that delivered this kind of performance to the president, I certainly would tender my resignation. I certainly would expect to be gone.”

  11. Curious says:

    I can’t help but wonder why do the generals speak out now? why not last month, last week, or two months from now? Regardless if it is proper/not proper. Obviously they speak out.
    There doesn’t seem to be a big legislative effort. So other possibility is, they are reacting to something extremely bad inside the pentagon. A bad decission being made.
    Could it be, some serious preparation to open third front in Iran has begun in earnest?
    Retired Air Force Col. Sam Gardiner stirred interest last week by stating that “the decision has been made and military operations are under way” in Iran. In an interview yesterday, Gardiner discussed a similar series of covert military operations that occured in Iraq in 2002 — months before either the full-scale invasion in March 2003 or even the passage of the Congressional Iraq resolution in October 2002.

  12. W. Patrick Lang says:

    There is a lot of fantasy out there on the subject of US Special Ops people on the ground in Iran or in Iraq prior to our intervention.
    Americans can’t survive on the ground in Iran on a “sneak and peak” basis unless they are protected and hidden by the local population. If they do not have that, then they are “dead meat.” pl

  13. Brent Wiggans says:

    If the Cold War was, indeed, a war, after an initial period of panic we managed to carry on without ceding plenary powers to the Presidency. We took some deep breaths and got ourselves under control; stopped falling for McCarthy and most of the red-baiting and even endured the Cuban missile crisis without making JFK dictator for life. People who keep hammering on the WE-ARE-IN-A-WAR! button are trying to short-circuit rational thinking about how best to address the problem of terrorists in the service of some other agenda. The result is not just excess but ineffectiveness, an often fatal flaw in war.

  14. ErrinF says:

    Whether it’s wartime or peacetime, these generals have served their country honorably and deserve to be listened to, whether people like what they are saying or not. Any and all attacks on them have been for political purposes, and criticism of them has been wholly invalid. While I agree that our military should take it’s orders from it’s civilian leadership, I recognize that those who comprise the civilian leadership are politicians. I’ll trust a soldier to tell me how it is anyday over some politician. Besides, when was the last time civilian leadership died in the battlefield? The generals have earned the right to criticize our government just like the rest of us.

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