Friday, July 20, 2007

Krugman Outs Petraeus

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.


Burton, Formerly Kingston said...

Hi, Hope your having a good day. I can almost see what your saying but I do not really agree. I think it is more of the fact that the General's are stating what they see as the commanders to the public because all sides of the political spectrum are going overboard be it in govt,press, or our ever loving blogs. A Brit General put out a report last week concerning the set backs in Helmond province as he sees them in Afgan. The question maybe we should now be asking then, is do we want the opinion of the commanders on the ground or from the politicians who will color the issues to suit their side of the spectrum. Just some initial thoughts, will ponder it more.

Disclosure I am a serving member of the CF who has been in Afgan twice.

Anonymous said...

Politicians "borrow" the goodwill of the troops by putting generals forward to promote unpopular wars. It is a disgusting practice. I agree with you it should not be done.

lance said...

Generals never in politics? Yeah right, just throwing that out there, are you?

Currie and Byng used politics as the club to get the Canadian Corp into a single unit in WWI.

MacArthur used politics against FDR in order to put the invasion of the Phillipeans ahead of Formosa in WWII.

Wellington used politics as a club to keep the Alliance in check all through the Napoleonic Wars and most especially within his command at Waterloo.

Napoleon was politics.

Alexandre the Great moved his capital to Persia because of politics.

Caeser crossed the Rubicon.

Ask Lincoln if his generals had nothing to do with politics!

You'll note that each of these examples comes from a 'democracy'. (Caveat: Napoleonic France probably doesn't qualify.)

I won't argue your post, but your premise is anything but accurate.


The Mound of Sound said...

Yes, MacArthur also used his political clout against Harry Truman who had the courage to sack the pushy bugger. Clearly there were others before MacArthur but there's been no excuse for that sort of thing since. There's nothing wrong with preparing reports but a great deal of mischief to be had when generals start acting as partisan advocates. If generals want to play politics, let them stand for election. If not they should know their place and stay within their boundaries.

Anonymous said...

"It's becoming obvious that the military - whether in the US, Britain or Canada - have to be put back in their place"

Yey, brother. Yey.

Burton, Formerly Kingston said...

Some more thoughts from me( like anyone cares), na, I would rather here it from the commanders in the field rather then the cleaned up political correct version and or slanted version (either right or left) you would get from the majority of political columnists that we read either day. I have met and talked to Gen Hillier and trust me he is not political, he says what he feels and he doesn't pull punches, he will slam any political party that he doesn't feel provides the support for the missions they are assigning to the forces. This might be right or wrong in different people minds but in mine after 22 yrs in, it is very refreshing.

Burton, Formerly Kingston said...

P.S. Mound, if memory serves, Truman didn't sack him till he looked like he would be a threat to his own political career.

The Mound of Sound said...

Truman's own career was very much at stake in his decision to relieve MacArthur. Dugout Doug (or "Bugout" as he was known by some)had some pretty big political aspirations of his own and plenty of Republican backers. Truman could have played it safe and ignored MacArthur's insubordination but he didn't and no one should today. We elect our politicians (and obviously don't do that terribly well) but no general, Hillier included, has any popular mandate and should not presume otherwise.
Kingston, if you've read any of my earlier posts you'll know that I oppose the mission to Afghanistan primarily because I see it as a hopelessly undermanned effort, even on our part. 54,000 sq. kms. in Kandahar province and a battle group of 1,000 rifles? I don't know if you've read Petraeus's FM 3-24. It's really just the lessons of counterinsurgency, particularly over the past century and a half, digested and updated. Real T.E. Lawrence/Che Guevera/Ho Chi Minh stuff. What it reveals is that "the mission" crafted by Hillier is frankly inept.
I'd love someone to tell me why Hillier, who went into Kandahar with a shoestring force, has made so little noise about reinforcing his combat group to meet the Taliban's force escalation? What kind of general is that? We don't even have any reserves to throw into this mismatched effort. Instead we rely on artillery and air strikes against residential areas and consign our soldiers to running patrols, trolling for IEDs. What kind of general is that?