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Thursday, April 13, 2006


emergence of the praetorians

the saga of donald rumsfeld's recent years has made for some very frightening reading, but has been as instructive an example of the dysfunction of american power and government as may have been hoped for.

iraq was rumsfeld's war and his misguided ideological misconceptions put into woeful practice have cost thousands of lives, fractured the american military and lost a major war -- a point never more clearly made that in a recent recounting of the invasion of iraq by the new york times' michael gordon and general bernard trainor.

The authors also argue that America's bad policies have turned the occupation of Iraq into a fiasco—a fiasco that was not inevitable. They give George Bush's national security chiefs a pasting. The best, such as Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, were feeble; the worst vain and incompetent—and the worst of all were Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, and General Tommy Franks, who commanded the invading troops.

For 18 months beforehand, Mr Rumsfeld bullied his officers into writing war-plans bound by his dogmas. With utter faith in the technological superiority of America's troops, and a profound ignorance of Iraq, he saw to it that America invaded the country with around one-third of the soldiers that many of his generals wanted. Those who questioned the tactic were chased sneeringly away.

A visceral aversion to protracted peacekeeping led Mr Rumsfeld to want to withdraw most of these troops within a few weeks of occupying Iraq. Such a move would only be possible if the country's institutions, including the army and police, survived the invasion intact, which Mr Rumsfeld, of course, predicted that they would. He also assumed that allies would send peacekeepers to help out. Some military planners urged a more cautious approach; one wise man suggested preparing a force of American policemen in case Iraq's police collapsed. They were ignored.

General Franks proved the defence secretary's perfect ally. Oafish and proud of it, the general was only interested in grabbing Iraq, not in rebuilding it. This was unfortunate as Mr Rumsfeld had volunteered his department for that task—in part, it appears, to spite Colin Powell at the State Department. A month before the invasion, America still had no post-war plan.
as the scope and depth of his complete failure became increasingly obvious, rumsfeld himself moved on into deeper self-delusion, lying to those who know better and denying the existence of any problem at all.

finally, it appears, with yet another catastrophic mistake now looming on the horizon, this has all become too much even for those whose oath of loyalty runs to the constitution through the president and his appointee. jim lobe is reporting on a growing campaign within the military hierarchy to send rumsfeld packing, previously only hinted at by the change of heart of john murtha.

The brass' unease with Rumsfeld's plans for going to war date originally from his summary dismissal in early 2003 of then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki's testimony before Congress that the occupation of Iraq would require "several hundred thousand troops."

Shinseki's effective early retirement, apparently in retaliation for speaking out with such candor, was taken by most of the brass as a message from Rumsfeld that public disagreement with his views could have serious career consequences.

When, by early 2004, it had become clear that Washington had indeed not deployed sufficient troops to control Iraq, a number of retired generals began speaking out forcefully against Rumsfeld and his civilian advisers.

In May 2004, the former head of the U.S. Central Command, ret. Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, accused them of "dereliction of duty" in failing to prepare adequately for the war and called on Bush to fire them if they did not resign.

In recent weeks, Zinni has renewed those demands, stressing in various public appearances that Rumsfeld had deliberately ignored extensive contingency planning developed under his command in the late 1990s for an Iraq invasion and overruled officers who raised questions about his own plans.

In the past three weeks, he has been joined by three other retired generals, including Batiste.

In a remarkably frank New York Times column published Mar. 19, ret. Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, who had been in charge of training the Iraqi military during the first year of the occupation, argued that Rumsfeld "has shown himself incompetent strategically, operationally, and tactically" and "has put the Pentagon at the mercy of his Cold Warrior's view of the world and his unrealistic confidence in technology to replace manpower."

"In the five years Mr. Rumsfeld has presided over the Pentagon," Eaton wrote, "I have seen a climate of groupthink become dominant and a growing reluctance by experienced military men and civilians to challenge the notions of the senior leadership."

Eaton's blast was followed this week by an anguished column in Time magazine by ret. Marine Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, the top operations officer for the Joint Chiefs of Staff before the invasion, who assailed the brass, including himself, for "act[ing] timidly when their voices urgently needed to be heard."

"The consequence of the military's quiescence," he wrote, "was that a fundamentally flawed plan was executed for an invented war…."

"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," he asserted, calling for the replacement of Rumsfeld "and many others unwilling to fundamentally change their approach."

With his remarks Wednesday, Batiste, who retired from the Army in November and whose forces were based in Tikrit until last May, joined the rebellion, firmly taking Zinni's side.

"[W]hen decisions are made without taking into account sound military recommendations, sound military decision making, sound planning, then we're bound to make mistakes," he said. "You know, it speaks volumes that guys like me are speaking out from retirement about the leadership climate in the Department of Defense."
this has always been the most insistent danger to the republic presented by the rise of such incompetent ideologues and advocates of an unfettered spartanism and nascent dictatorship. the goals of such power-mad nietzscheans cannot be met without the allegiance of the armed forces, who are always the final repository of power in any amoral state, and yet the nature of such men as rumsfeld is not to collaborate but to dominate. as has been shown in parable by the travails of captain ian fishback, many thoughtful military men must be considering that their oath to the constitution and their loyalty to the elected political administration of the country are no longer one and the same.

such a realization of divorce, if it comes to wide realization, spells the end of democracy in the united states or any democracy. the american military is just as capable as any other army of history of becoming its own kingmaker, and the inability of popular democracy to enforce a reasonable measure of culpability and restraint on american political leadership in the face of organized efforts to the contrary end is becoming a glaring systemic flaw. how long the military remains aloof of that fact and its consequences largely determines the remaining lifespan of our system of government.

in that light, such transgressions of the military into civilian politics are not to be celebrated, no matter how badly needed or desired. they are merely to be noted as the signposts of national and civilizational decay that they are.

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Say, why don't you do something nice and write a note to Jane Jacobs family:

I would have written an e-mail but have lost your address.


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