But now that a galaxy of flag officers' stars are raining down on Rumsfeld demanding his resignation, no one seems to have bothered to ask which, if any, of these generals had ever submitted his own resignation in protest against the conduct of the Iraqi war, or the bumpy transition we are locked in now.Ahhhh yes General, heal thyself.
After listening to subtle and not-so-subtle digs at national defense policy by the guests of honor and appreciative sniggers from the audience, I jotted a question down on the back of a card and passed it to former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman, who was at my table.Being a Flag Officer, or combat veteran does not make it immune. Also, after awhile, Flag Officers really don’t know how to react to a direct question.
"If you have so many significant disagreements with national defense policy, what have you done about it?"
Lehman wrote back that if I asked that question, he'd buy me lunch, and passed it to me with a smile. So I asked it.
"What do you expect us to do?" a senior Marine general replied.
"Resign," I said. "Cyrus Vance did. And he was Carter's secretary of state."
"You are questioning my cojones, and I am a Marine!" the general shot back as the millionaire fan club gasped at my disrespect.
He was right. I was. I still am, his and any general officers' who apparently decided discretion was the better part of a nice retirement parade with a medal or two and a couple of offers of board positions.
Gens. Gregory Newbold, John Batiste, Paul D. Eaton, Charles H. Swannack, and others apparently have believed Rumsfeld's policies so dire that they are calling for his resignation. Yet their opinions would have carried far more weight if they had been stated at some personal cost, if the generals had resigned in protest while on active duty.Lead, follow, or fade away. Right now, many of you are engaging in little more than book flogging, Bitter-boy recriminations, or self-fluffery.
That action might have also carried some evidence of the moral as well as physical courage Americans expect of the highest-ranking officers of their uniformed services.
As a book-publishing executive for many years, I have always welcomed the opportunity to make a buck by publishing "now it can be told revelations" from those formerly in power. And timing those "revelations" to promote a forthcoming book is one of the oldest tricks in the trade.Ahem. Always follow the money. Ahem. Oh, when is General Zinni going to write his self-criticism about his wonderful success as Middle East envoy?
As the author of a "forthcoming book," Zinni will have the additional burden of having to explain how we are expected to tell whether he is more committed to the best interests of the American people or his own pocketbook.
Hey, I guess it isn't just me and a few loonies. Not a Bush flacking organization, the BBC has a few things to say as well - I think it smells something...
Shifting blame?Oh, the other loonies? Great commentary over at Chester's, CounterColumn, and RofaSIX.
Some former officers go even further, attacking the generals who are calling for Mr Rumsfeld to go.
Douglas Macgregor, a retired Army colonel who now works as a military analyst, says the critics are trying to pin blame on the defence secretary for their own errors of planning and execution.
"The generals see it as everyone else's fault other than theirs," he says.
He says Mr Rumsfeld set goals for the military to accomplish and left the generals to make the battle plans - as he should have done.
Their failures, not the defence secretary's, have got the US bogged down in Iraq, he argues.
He dismisses the oft-heard judgement that the Americans have too few troops on the ground.
"One would expect a more enlightened view from those who were in Vietnam, since we poured hundreds of thousands of troops into Vietnam and we lost.
"The bottom line is that many of these general officers are being both dishonest and hypocritical. Removing Rumsfeld isn't going to change anything."
But not all the generals calling for Mr Rumsfeld to go were serving during the invasion of Iraq, experts point out. At least two retired the year before it and presumably do not see their personal reputations as being on the line.
And sources say as many as two dozen other retired top-ranking officers may be on the verge of coming forward to join the public critics - some of whom have been retired for 15 years.
Mr Disch of the Center for Media and Security lists many possible reasons the Rumsfeld critics have come forward at this point, ranging from true belief in what they are saying to fears that the US military will be caught in a civil war in Iraq.
Ultimately, however, he says the reason - or reasons - for their actions may be irrelevant.
"By weighing in, regardless of their intention, it will help to shape opinions, particularly to those who are still sitting on the fence."
And - as he points out - this is an election year.
Whether George W Bush's Republican party retains control of Congress will have much to do with American opinion about the war in Iraq - a factor he will have to take into account as he considers Mr Rumsfeld's future.