Last April, six retired generals, each of whom had been promoted to significant rank under the Clinton administration, publicly criticized the president's handling of the Iraq war and - some clearly and some in muddled terms - demanded the firing of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. On April 16, in the midst of what he labeled a "military revolt," former Clinton UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke wrote a Washington Post op-ed that characterized the generals' mini-revolt as, "the most serious public confrontation between the military and an administration since President Harry S. Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur."Bad enough, but bearable. It still smelled bad. Always trust your nose.
Asked if the generals were coordinating their campaign, one participant, retired MGen. John Batiste, denied that they were. But to some of us who comment on national security matters there was an unmistakable similarity among the generals' remarks. Holbrooke's article casually attributed the similarity to the fact that recently-retired generals stay in close touch. But there was obviously more going on. Holbrooke, who is said to be a likely Secretary of State in a future Democratic administration but who lacks any military credentials, wasn't a likely candidate to organize and urge the generals to rebel against civilian authority. But his column hinted darkly at more to come:"If more angry generals emerge - and they will - if some of them are on active duty, as seems probable; if the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan does not turn around...then this storm will continue until finally it consumes not only Donald Rumsfeld. The only question is: Will it come so late that there is no longer any hope of salvaging something in Iraq and Afghanistan?"Holbrooke's startling reference to active duty officers participating in such a political revolt spurred the Washington Times's Tony Blankley to write an incisive column saying that such action by active officers could be a courts-martial offense. Apparently afraid that he'd spilled the beans on a big political secret, Holbrooke is rumored to have called Blankley in an effort to explain. The revolt against Rumsfeld failed. The president restated his confidence in Rumsfeld and the story faded away just as the previous rounds of Rumsfeld-bashing had. Holbrooke's coverup of what is apparently a carefully-managed Democratic Party operation succeeded.
Here is the core of the problem.
But now the next chapter of the generals' revolt is about to be published. Washington Post reporter Tom Ricks's new book, "Fiasco: The American Adventure in Iraq" will be released in less than three weeks. From the publicity surrounding it we can conclude that Holbrooke did leak a big Dem political op, and that Blankley may have been prescient in thinking to apply the Uniform Code of Military Justice to any active duty officers involved.
The publisher's Amazon.com ad page for Ricks's book says it is,"a searing judgment on the strategic blindness with which America has conducted [the Iraq war], drawing on the accounts of senior military officers giving voice to their anger for the first time...The American military is a tightly sealed community, and few outsiders have reason to know that a great many senior officers view the Iraq war with incredulity and dismay. But many officers have shared their anger with renowned military reporter Thomas E. Ricks...As many in the military publicly acknowledge here for the first time, the guerrilla insurgency that exploded several months after Saddam's fall was not foreordained. In fact, to a shocking degree, it was created by the folly of the war's architects. But the officers who did raise their voices against the miscalculations, shortsightedness, and general failure of the war effort were generally crushed, their careers often ended. A willful blindness gripped political and military leaders, and dissent was not tolerated."Like the New York Times did for James Risen's book and his articles that exposed the NSA terrorist surveillance program, we can expect these words to appear over and over again on the Washington Post's front page to attack the president and promote Ricks's book.
If Ricks's book appears in the form advertised, the Post will have to choose between keeping him on the defense beat and maintaining any pretense of unbiased Pentagon coverageFold that into yesterdays post, then review the others here, here, and here - nasty South American politics.
Ricks - wittingly or not, and Holbrooke intentionally - may be fomenting a confrontation between the administration and the military that would not otherwise exist. Politics and the military are combined at our risk. Like church and state, they cannot be combined without conflicting with our system of government...
How many of the generals now cooperating with Ricks and Holbrooke and the Democratic Party resigned rather than obey orders that conflicted with their conscience? None. That is the best measure of the credibility of these men and the writers who rely on them.