One unfortunate side effect of the Bush Global War Without End on Terror has been the politicization of our generals.
It used to be considered a core tenet of democracy that the armed forces were effectively subordinate to their civilian masters and never, ever were to take part in the political arena. That's a principle our own General Hillier hasn't always honoured but, then, neither have his American counterparts either.
The bright shining star of today's Iraq war is General David Petraeus, America's counter-insurgency guru and now commander of US forces in Iraq. Petraeus is squarely behind the eight-ball right now with a disenchanted American people and an angry Congress demanding that he produce clear and convincing results of progress by September, the military's own deadline for reporting on the "surge".
Now that same military, quite predictably, is trying to wiggle out from under that committment, saying they'll need "more time" to assess whether the strategy is actually working. Watch for the Pentagon to turn intensely political on this as its demands are rejected.
As for Petraeus, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman warns that Petraeus has shown himself ready, willing and able to play politics:
I don’t know why the op-ed article that General Petraeus published in The Washington Post on Sept. 26, 2004, hasn’t gotten more attention. After all, it puts to rest any notion that the general stands above politics: I don’t think it’s standard practice for serving military officers to publish opinion pieces that are strikingly helpful to an incumbent, six weeks before a national election.
In the article, General Petraeus told us that “Iraqi leaders are stepping forward, leading their country and their security forces courageously.” And those security forces were doing just fine: their leaders “are displaying courage and resilience” and “momentum has gathered in recent months.”
In other words, General Petraeus, without saying anything falsifiable, conveyed the totally misleading impression, highly convenient for his political masters, that victory was just around the corner. And the best guess has to be that he’ll do the same thing three years later.
Hillary Clinton is also getting a load of politics from the Pentagon. She had requested, as a member of the Armed Services Committee, that the Defense Department develop a detailed proposal for withdrawing troops from Iraq. That request sparked a letter from a Pentagon undersecretary saying that, even discussing withdrawal, aids the insurgents:
“Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq, much as we are perceived to have done in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia.”
A Clinton aide fired back with this missive:
“Redeploying out of Iraq with the same combination of arrogance and incompetence with which the Bush Administration deployed our young men and women into Iraq is completely unacceptable, and our troops deserve far better. The redeployment of our forces out of Iraq is long overdue. The Administration must immediately provide a redeployment plan that keeps our brave men and women safe as they leave Iraq - not a political plan to attack those who question them after years of miscalculations and misjudgments. This response is at once outrageous and dangerous.”
It's becoming obvious that the military - whether in the US, Britain or Canada - have to be put back in their place. Once they can speak back to political power, they become political power and that is unacceptable.