Monday, April 17, 2006

Lions Led by Donkeys

Have you noticed that as the polls have shifted against the Iraq war growing elements of political and military leadership, now embolded, have come out increasingly against the war? Senators Kerry and Edwards have confessed it was a mistake to vote for the war. Several retired general officers recently have seen the light as well. Even severely compromised General Colin Powell is rushing to get on the right side of history.

Excuses for a change of heart range from being misled, to dreadful mismanagement of war, and loss of ideological commitment; in the case of military leadership, predictably, I WAS JUST FOLLOWING ORDERS. There is always an overriding compulsion to follow blindly any orders, even when the generals know they are wrong. High ranking Nazis were hanged for following orders. This code of conduct was established at Nuremburg Trials by the US WWII occupation authorities. So saluting and saying "yes sir" and marching into the abyss to execute flawed orders is not acceptable, either morally or statutory.

Civilian politicians by nature obey orders of contributors or, in rare moments, of their constituency. All the reform measures to repair their opportunism, unethical conduct, and mendacity are hopeless unless they egregiously break the law and find themselves in the cross hairs of a prosecutor. Also, from time to time, some are thrown out of office by the outraged voters. The military leadership is different. It is paid to win wars not elections.

Conflict arises, because at the highest level of government, the military constitutionally takes orders from civilians, who just want to keep their jobs or pursue national security goals, sometimes not in the US interests... Today, the Pentagon's, infiltrated by neocons, pursuit of the war in Iraq is an example that is ripping the country apart - you did not have to be Karl von Clausewitz to conclude the war plans to invade, occupy, and (later) build democracy in Iraq were painfully flawed and the mission seriously muddled.

Usually the general officers are brave men. Chests full of medals in most cases evince that one time in their career they were courageous men and took risks with their life as part of duty. As far as dutifully following orders in combat, many will confess privately, when letting their hair down, that stupid orders in the field were disobeyed - execution was delayed - SORRY YOU'RE BREAKING UP... RETRANSMIT... These are discretionary calls, certainly not encouraged in doctrine and in the training manuals, but do save lives and almost never result in a battle being lost So why do generals' knees buckle so alarmingly quick, and their integrity fade, when faced with stupid orders by civilians?

My first encounter with taking orders from a Defense Department politically appointed civilian, came when I was assigned on the staff of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Asked my civilian boss for guidance to reply a bone fide requirement from another defense office - he replied, FORGET IT. WE NEVER RESPOND UNLESS WE ARE ASKED THREE TIMES - he was right. Did not respond and the tasking died. The Office of the Secretary of Defense is populated and controlled by political appointees and their stooges - they are there because of party affiliations. There is one immutable rule in both parties that supersedes all others there that is: PROTECT THE PRESIDENT. If you remember this, you will understand why SECDEF Rumsfeld stays on despite incompetence and heavy criticism. Also it will explain why his press conferences go off the mark, and seem to address the wrong issues. When he departs, all the snakes will crawl out of the basket that he is sitting on and scandals will follow...

Last chapter on the battle of/for Iraq is yet to be written. At this time, it looks like it will go the way of Vietnam and Korea - both lost wars despite overwhelming military power. Generals followed civilian orders and failed to achieve victory... Something is systematically wrong - thousands of men died bravely. They did what was ordered; it was that the executed orders were corrupt as they led to failure..

This strategic and tactical stupidity is nothing new in history - remember Marshal Neys' charge at Waterloo or the charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean war or the horrible daily slaughter at Gallipoli or the pervasive trench war carnage at Verdun or the 500,000 Germans lost at Stalingrad under Field Marshal Paulus - in every instance, had a commanding General refused orders- told his leadership, THIS IS BULLSHIT and walked off the field - he probably would have been shot by a firing squad or sent to pick coconuts on Devils Island, but he might have saved others as he went down in history as the last just man...

Do not expect such romantic nobility from the American general officer corps - once these people have stars pinned on their shoulders, they seem to loose their moral compass - projection of career seems to overtake them - must have another star - it also may be a product of the selection process - independent thinkers are simply weeded out - skilled, obedient technocrats need only to apply. Might try selecting officers for generals who are over the top on efficiency, but flat on the bottom in tact. Who knows, they might win wars - might even turn up another Patton...

Seymour Hersh recently wrote in the NEW YORKER that the US has plans on the table to attack Iran with tactical nuclear weapons - there is no doubt his report is true - military planning is a dynamic process and plans are made for every contingency. The question is are the generals opportunistic, and dumb enough to execute them as they did in Iraq? We know Bush and Cheney are capable and desperate enough to order these plans into action.

All these civilians and retired military leaders are jumping off the Iraq war wagon for whatever motive - will these same people now stand against the Iranian war when it counts? Doubt it . These are the pitifully, expedient donkeys without core values who set in motion our brave lion fighting forces..... it is no accident the younger military officers are fleeing under such twisted leadership.

Need spine. Had the current crop of general officers vigorously challenged the snake neocons in the Pentagon and put their careers on the line, doubt whether they would be up to their eyeballs in defeat and despair in Iraq..... Colonel Robert E Bartos USA Ret


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