BRASS TACKS….Andrew Bacevich makes a point today about the military brass that’s been nagging at me for a long time:
In determining the conduct of the Bush administration’s global war on terror, the civilians in the office of the secretary of Defense call the shots. Apart from being trotted out on ceremonial occasions, the Joint Chiefs have become all but invisible. Certainly, on questions related to basic national security policy, they have become irrelevant.
Some of this qualifies as payback. During the 1990s, in the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm, the Joint Chiefs were riding high and used their clout to show their civilian “masters” who was really boss. During the largely contrived controversy over gays in the military, the Joint Chiefs publicly humiliated the newly elected president, Bill Clinton.
….When Rumsfeld took office in 2001, he was intent on shoring up the principle of civilian control. He has done that ? although Rumsfeld’s idea of control amounts to emasculation. He has bludgeoned generals into submission, marginalized or gotten rid of those inclined to be obstreperous and selected pliable replacements such as [Marine Gen. Peter] Pace.
When it comes to the debacle in Iraq, it’s right that the focus be kept squarely on the civilian leadership: Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice. But there’s a downside to this, namely that it lets the military leadership off the hook too easily.
We should expect our top military leaders to treat the civilian chain of command with respect and obedience. We should also expect them to provide sound military advice regardless of the consequences and to accept responsibility for failure. In the Clinton administration they failed to do the former and in the Bush administration they’ve failed to do the latter. They’ve allowed Rumsfeld to cow them into silence, they’ve declined to implement the root-and-branch commitment to counterinsurgency that’s needed to succeed in Iraq, and they’ve consistently misled the American public about how much progress we’re making against the Iraqi insurgents.
So sure: Bush and his administration deserve the lion’s share of the blame for the disastrous decline in our national security that we’ve suffered over the past three years. But the generals shouldn’t escape their share of responsibility either. We deserve better.