Chester and the Washington Post
The Washington Post in an op-ed titled The General's Revolt suggests the campaign by some retired general officers against Secretary Rumsfeld sets a disturbing precedent.
It threatens the essential democratic principle of military subordination to civilian control -- the more so because a couple of the officers claim they are speaking for some still on active duty. Anyone who protested the pushback of uniformed military against President Bill Clinton's attempt to allow gays to serve ought to also object to generals who criticize the decisions of a president and his defense secretary in wartime. If they are successful in forcing Mr. Rumsfeld's resignation, they will set an ugly precedent. Will future defense secretaries have to worry about potential rebellions by their brass, and will they start to choose commanders according to calculations of political loyalty?
Chester beat the Washington Post to that one days ago. His piece not only anticipates the Post but is more thoughtful and scholarly in every way.
As Eliot Cohen (who literally wrote the book on civil-military command issues) has noted, the generals are sometimes wrong: were Kennedy's military advisors correct when they recommended a nuclear first-strike during the Cuban Missile Crisis? As Cohen argues, only civilian leaders who actively challenge, question, and debate with their military officers are best equipped to guide the nation through its roughest times. A Cohen states, generals are experts in how to fight, not whether to fight. ...
But even that is not the most disturbing aspect of all of this. Most disturbing is the trend toward more open political expression among recently retired senior military officers. Recall the 2004 election, when each candidate lined up on stage with a few dozen retired senior officers, hoping to prove that he would make the best leader for their ranks. Are we soon to enter a period when a candidate cannot think of running successfully without vocal support from the officer class? Many democracies live with this curse, but I for one do not think it is healthy.
Suppose Rumsfeld were to resign at the behest of his generals. Would the next Secretary of Defense be more or less likely to challenge his generals in a very aggressive or pointed way? What if they all shunned him once they were out of uniform? Perhaps it would be best if he just kept his trap shut and let them have the run of things, rather than try to rock the boat, no? This is the danger that we face if we give too much encouragement to the type of behavior on display of late.
Even the most anti-Bush activists must know that once doubt has entered the heart there is no return to perfect faith. One day there will be a Democrat in the White House and the sauce for the goose will be served over the gander. Regrets by definition, always come too late. But then, the General's Revolt was the inevitable result of a reflexive instinct the politicize everything. Religion, funerals, the Oscars, the Pulitzers -- everything. It happened because 'activists' couldn't help themselves. And help themselves they did until they wound up cheapening the very prize they hoped to attain.
In From the Cold takes us back to when general officers stood up to their superiors within the chain of command and willingly suffered the consequences. The President: FDR. The war: World War 2.
In 1940, Admiral J.O. Richardson reached the apex of his Navy career, with appointment as Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. But Richardson soon ran afoul of his superiors, namely the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Harold "Betty" Stark and President Franklin Roosevelt. The President wanted to keep the Pacific Fleet--normally based on the U.S. West Coast--at Pearl Harbor. Richardson refused, noting that his ships were short of trained personnel, the waters around Hawaii ill-suited for training, and, in its forward location, the fleet was vulnerable to a potential suprise attack by Japanese forces. Richardson liked Pearl Harbor to a "g--d---ed mousetrap." ...
FDR had neatly solved the "Richardson problem" by removing the admiral from command. For a successor, the President reached far down the list of eligible naval officers and selected Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, who took command of the Pacific Fleet on February 1, 1941. Ironically, Kimmel shared Richardson's misgivings about Pearl Harbor, but as the newly-appointed CINCPAC, he was less inclined to press the issue with Admiral Stark and the President. Just over 10 months after Kimmel assumed command, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Richardson's warnings about a surprise attack--and potential disaster--were proven correct.
Today (ironically), Admiral Richardson is little more than a footnote to history. He published a slim volume of memoirs (On the Treadmill to Pearl Harbor) in 1958, but said little publicly about his battles with FDR, and his refusal to compromise the security of the Pacific Fleet. Admiral Richardson passed away in 1974, at the age of 95.
Kimmel himself was made the scapegoat for the disaster at Pearl Harbor. Wikipedia writes:
Along with Army Lieutenant General Walter Short, Admiral Kimmel became a scapegoat for American unpreparedness prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, and their careers were effectively ruined. He was relieved of his command in mid-December 1941 and reverted to the rank of Rear Admiral....