Pete Pace is out, and it’s good for the country.
This is not quite on the same par as Truman firing MacArthur, but a civilian leader firing a general now and then can be healthy — particularly when that General — America’s top general — ventures into political matters that have absolutely nothing to do with his responsibilities as he did in writing a character commendation to the judge before Scooter Libby’s recent sentencing.
Some will argue that Pace was simply “not renewed” rather than being fired. Well, when Brent Scowcroft “was not renewed” as Chairman of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, Scowcroft told a number of friends he had been “fired” by the younger President Bush. In this case, Pace was fired.
Pace had responsibilities to oversee the national security needs of an entire nation — for Democrats and Republicans — and in our tradition, the senior echelons of the U.S. military are supposed to be non-political while still in uniform. Pace went over a big red line in his letter of support in Libby’s case — and all of his enemies in and out of the uniformed services have pulled their knives out.
In a similar political spat, Pete Pace was brown-nosing the President (he thought) in his condemnation of homosexuals as immoral. Again, this is another political issue he should have remained out of — but given his responsibilities in managing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, there is reason why he might have commented to some degree.
But Pace’s comments weren’t structural — weren’t designed to affirm “don’t ask, don’t tell.” They were political and denigrated a group of Americans currently serving in the military with honor — at exactly the same time he has allowed the issuance of over 125,000 “moral waivers” in the case of other Americans entering the military with serious criminal violations on their record.
What really drove Pace’s comments is he thought they would put him in a better place with the White House and the President himself.
What the General just didn’t get is that despite the grand theater of social conservatism and near constant flirtation with James Dobson by the White House, the fact is neither the President nor the Vice President want to talk about or hear about the “gay issue.” Bush rejected former Senator Dan Coats as Secretary of Defense when he was the front-runner for the job because Coats wanted to reverse Don’t Ask, and Don’t Tell with “Ask, Investigate, and Prosecute” as well as to get women as far out of military roles as possible. Bush dropped Coats fast.
Another bizarre thing I learned about Peter Pace recently — both from an old girlfriend of his who lives in Chestertown, Maryland as well as former State Department Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson — is the guy manages the truth pretty flexibly.
When Wilkerson blasted the White House and the “Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal” with his famous speech of October 19, 2005, Rumsfeld was eventually asked what he thought of Wilkerson and his views. Rumsfeld decided to stick it to Col. Wilkerson by pretending he didn’t even know who the 16-year long close aide to Colin Powell was. But at one press conference, Rumsfeld turned to Peter Pace and asked if he knew Wilkerson — and Pace denied even knowing him.
What I know is that Wilkerson once reported to Pace — but it wasn’t expeditious at that moment for Pace to recall he was Wilkerson’s overseer when Wilkerson was succeeding a Director of the U.S. Marine Corps War College, Rick Donnelly, who died from an aggressive cancer while still on active duty.
The Donnelly situation was very emotional for those close to him. Then Commandant of the US Marine Corps, General Charles Krulak, orchestrated Rick Donnelly’s “death on active duty” after learning that the cancer he had was terminal — something “every Marine Lawrence Wilkerson knew” as well as Wilkerson himself “applauded with vigor.” Donnelly’s commitment to the Marines was heroic — and Pace would have remembered this situation well — and Wilkerson’s and Krulak’s roles. Krulaks’s management of this situation allowed Donnelly’s family to receive the benefits of a soldier who died on active duty as compared to a medical discharge. Donnelly continue to work with Wilkerson right until the point where he could no longer bear the pain and had to be committed to Bethesda.
Pete Pace had little to do with this orchestration of Donnelly’s passing — but knew of it and spoke at Donnelly’s funeral and had significant interaction with Wilkerson.
That’s something odd for General Pace to have forgotten, but when Lawrence Wilkerson was helping many of us to see inside the warped decision-making structure in the White House that Cheney and Rumsfeld had hijacked, Wilkerson was probably not on the “recent memory” lists of many who wanted to maintain their position with Rumsfeld.
It’s good to have Peter Pace out. The military is powerful enough in this country without inappropriate political posturing by its top commander in matters dealing with complex social issues like gay rights or weighing in on the degree of sentence deserved by a senior White House official convicted of a serious federal crime.
It’s time to move on to Admiral Mike Mullen — who is an outstanding leader, first rate. . .and someone I will write more about shortly.
— Steve Clemons