Given the complicity between the Executive branch and the military industrial complex in feeding at the trough of the treasury, I’m not sure that there has ever been much “objectivity of voice” among the military leadership — but perhaps the myth itself was useful.
When I think of Eric Shinseki’s brave counter to Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz though, I see that I’m overstating this, but generally — I think that there has been a widely held if not mistaken belief that the military work to defend the nation as a whole and not just the prognostications of one party over another, or of the White House over the Congress.
Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman has a very interesting piece in the Financial Times today highlighting the ways that President Bush is corrupting military leaders and the Pentagon in putting them to work on his political message:
President George W. Bush’s campaign to stay the course in Iraq is taking a new and constitutionally dangerous turn. When Senator John Warner recently called for a troop withdrawal by Christmas, the White House did not mount its usual counterattack. It allowed a surprising champion to take its place. Major General Rick Lynch, a field commander in Iraq, summoned reporters to condemn Mr Warner’s proposal as “a giant step backwards”.
It was Maj Gen Lynch who was making the giant step into forbidden territory. He had no business engaging in a public debate with a US senator. His remarks represent an assault on the principle of civilian control — the most blatant so far during the Iraq war.
Nobody remarked on the breach. But this only makes it more troubling and should serve as prologue for the next large event in civilian-military relations: the president’s effort to manipulate General David Petraeus’s report to Congress.
Once again, nobody is noticing the threat to civilian control. Mr Bush has pushed Gen Petraeus into the foreground to shore up his badly damaged credibility. But in doing so, he has made himself a hostage. He needs the general more than the general needs him. Despite the president’s grandiose pretensions as commander-in-chief, the future of the Iraq war is up to Gen Petraeus.
The general’s impact on Congress will be equally profound. If he brings in a negative report, Republicans will abandon the sinking ship in droves; if he accentuates the positive, it is the Democrats who will be spinning.
In fact, if not in name, it will be an army general who is calling the shots — not the duly elected representatives of the American people.
Wars are tough on constitutions, but losing wars is particularly tough on the American separation of powers. Especially when Congress and the presidency are in different hands, the constitutional dynamics invite both sides to politicise the military. With the war going badly, it is tempting to push the generals on to centre stage and escape responsibility for the tragic outcomes that lie ahead. But as Iraq follows on from Vietnam, this dynamic may generate a politicised military that is embittered by its repeated defeats in the field.
Ackerman’s sense of things is validated in the interviews that biographer Robert Draper did with Bush and which were reported in the New York Times. Here is a clip on Bush’s comfort with using Petraeus as his political messenger:
For now, though, Mr. Bush told the author, Robert Draper, in a later session, “I’m playing for October-November.” That is when he hopes the Iraq troop increase will finally show enough results to help him achieve the central goal of his remaining time in office: “To get us in a position where the presidential candidates will be comfortable about sustaining a presence,” and, he said later, “stay longer.”
But fully aware of his standing in opinion polls, Mr. Bush said his top commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, would perhaps do a better job selling progress to the American people than he could.
I am reminded as well of Wesley Clark’s call at YearlyKos to Bush to stop hiding behind Petraeus.
— Steve Clemons