McCain and Casey

McCAIN AND CASEY….On Sunday, after accusing Gen. George Casey of presiding over “a failed policy” in Iraq, John McCain suggested that he might not support kicking Casey upstairs to become Army chief of staff. Matt Yglesias is unimpressed:

I have no particular brief for Casey, who obviously did not bring this country fabulous successes in Iraq and who carried more than his share of water for George W. Bush over the years. Nevertheless, this is a raw deal in the extreme.

….The larger political game, however, is perfectly clear — we’re supposed to believe that there was nothing wrong with the war except the bungling of the fool Casey and that the Great Leader Petraeus will save us all.

I find myself in the unaccustomed position of partially defending McCain. Matt is certainly right about the political game at work here, but:

  1. Casey has opposed a military buildup in Iraq for some time. Now, I think this is right, but obviously McCain doesn’t — and this is something McCain has been pretty consistent about. So, given that he genuinely thinks Casey has pursued bad policies, it’s hard to blame him for not being very excited about Casey’s promotion.

  2. My own impression is that Casey has been pretty lukewarm toward the kind of counterinsurgency tactics that might have proven successful if he’d pushed them harder when he took over the Iraq job a couple of years ago. This strikes me as a pretty severe case of bad judgment, and a bit of tough questioning at his confirmation hearing seems like the very least that Casey ought to expect over this.

I feel like there’s sometimes a reluctance to criticize our military leadership because (a) it opens up liberals to charges of “not supporting the troops,” and (b) it implicitly reduces the responsibility of our civilian leaders for the debacle in the Iraq. I’m hugely sympathetic to both concerns, especially the second one, but I still think we ought to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and their neocon enablers certainly deserve the vast bulk of the blame for our failure in Iraq, but the military brass deserves a share too.

Besides, a little bit of tough questioning from Congress sends a salutary message to the general staff: after Vietnam you guys said you’d never again stay silent in the face of disastrous Pentagon policies. So what happened?