Friday :: Apr 14, 2006

Another Round o'Rummy!


by pessimist

The only truly existential threat that American democracy might face today,” the Harper’s editors write, could be the “unthinkable” – a military coup. The question is, under what circumstances would our military officers join in such an effort."

Reader b linked to this article in the comment thread of Generally Calling Out For Rum(sfeld) yesterday which caught my attention. It reveals some insights into why things have gone the way they have in this country, and why the American officer corps has been so slow to react to what we in the civilian world see as excesses.

The various important points of information are spread throughout the article, so I am going to abut them where I think appropriate. Any errors are thus mine.

The Harper's panel of experts includes Brig. Gen. Charles J. Dunlap, Jr., who authored The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012 quoted in the original post. He had this to say:

People don't fully appreciate what the military is. By design it is authoritarian, socialistic, undemocratic.

Americans today have an incredible trust in the military. In poll after poll they have much more confidence in the armed forces than they do in other institutions. In other words, the armed forces are much more trusted than the civilian institutions that are supposed to control [the military]. Since, as I noted before, the American people have much less confidence in those institutions of civilian control than they do in the armed forces, ...

[W]e need to be very careful about what we ask the military to do, even assuming it's legal.

The reasons why a high-ranking officer in armed forces of the United States would warn against trusting the military with too much responsibility will be revealed over the fold.

I'm going to try something different in this post. Many of our commenters present great points, and sometimes their comments fit right in with the follow-up topic. Left Coaster comments in this post all come from The Left Coaster Comments: Generally Calling Out For Rum(sfeld)

Regarding the thoughts just presented by Gen. Dunlap, this comment was offered:

Part of BushAmerica's extreme, appalling militarism is wild adoration of generals for their "plain-spokeness" and professional expertise. They are some of the most trusted figures in our society. Seriously, according to polls. I wonder what the current crop of revelations is doing to that image. [H]ow does it make them look to have essentially gone quietly along with plans they apparently knew were inadequate and incompetent? - Posted by euzoius at April 14, 2006 06:43 AM

Great question! Based on what follows in this next excerpt, the generals haven't been very concerned about how they look outside the little Republican world they reside in:

Bill Wasik, senior editor of Harper’s: I want to address the question of [political] partisanship in the military. Insofar as there is a "culture war" in America, everyone seems to agree that the armed forces fight on the Republican side. And this is borne out in polls: self-described Republicans outnumber Democrats in the military by more than four to one, and only 7 percent of soldiers describe themselves as "liberal."

DUNLAP: The military is an inherently conservative organization, and this is true of all militaries around the world. Also the demographics have changed: people in the South who were Democratic twenty years ago have become Republican today.

Richard H. Kohn, chair of the curriculum in Peace, War, and Defense at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and editor of the book The United States Military Under the Constitution of the United States, 1789-1989: It has become part of the informal culture of the military to be Republican. You see this at the military academies. They pick it up in the culture, in the training establishments.

Andrew J. Bacevich, professor of international relations at Boston University and the author, most recently, of The New American Militarism. He served as an officer in the US Army from 1969 to 1992: [S]ince 1980, our military has become conservative in a more explicitly ideological sense. And that allegiance has been returned in spades by the conservative side in the culture war, which sees soldiers as virtuous representatives of how the country ought to be.

Thus, if I may draw the conclusion, until recently these Republican generals were in agreement with Bu$hCo policies and practices. Some of our commenters would like to speak about this:

Sorry fellas, too little, too late. Why should I respect born-again strategists any more than I respect the president? How many of these guys spoke up BEFORE the president pulled the trigger on the biggest strategic blunder in our history? - Posted by Repack Rider at April 14, 2006 08:01 AM

Too little, too late. Our once mighty military has been sacked of its best leaders and gutted of its capabilites in favor of Halliburton/KBR contracts. Even Iran is thumbing its nose at a paper tiger, and they know it. - Posted by Hank at April 14, 2006 06:41 AM

I scorn the generals for their dismal performance over the past 5 years... - Posted by euzoius at April 14, 2006 06:43 AM

Gen. Dunlap and the other experts selected by Harper's to discuss this topic would like to explain something about why the military has become so heavily Republican:

DUNLAP: Let's accept as a fact that the U.S. military has become more overtly ideological since 1980. Which brings up a crucial point. What has happened since 1980? Roughly, that was the beginning of the all-volunteer force. What we are seeing right now is the result of twenty-five years of an all-volunteer force, in which people have self-selected into the organization.

BACEVICH: Where do you think recruiting command is focused right now? It's focused on those evangelicals, it's on the rural South.

We are reinforcing the lack of representativeness in the military
because of the concentrated recruiting efforts among groups predisposed to serve.

Certainly, throughout our history, the South has tended to be the more militarily-oriented society. But back in 1980, globalization was just beginning to crawl, and the majority of the good-wage jobs were not in the South. Thus, besides being products a military-oriented culture, the people of the South had economic reasons to join the service. With enough incentives, anyone would join voluntarily.

We return to the discussion of experts:

BACEVICH: The recruiters go for the rich turf, which is where the evangelicals are. You have to work a hell of a lot harder to recruit people from Newton and Wellesley, Massachusetts.

KOHN: Or anywhere in the well-to-do or even middle-class suburbs.

BACEVICH: In an economic sense, the services are behaving quite rationally.

But in doing so they perpetuate the fact that
we have a military that in no way "looks like" American society.
BACEVICH: [I]t doesn't seem to me that the military has much interest in whether or not the force is representative of American society. It's not that people on the left disdain the military but rather that they are just agnostic about it. They don't identify with soldiers or soldiering.

Edward N Luttwak, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the author of Coup d’Etat: A Practical Handbook.: And their children have less of a propensity to serve in the military. Parents who describe themselves as liberal are less likely to make positive noises to their children about the armed forces.

Considering that the politics of the South have led us currently into 2 full wars (Afghanistan and Iraq) and 2 half wars (North Korea and Iran), better-educated people who aren't conditioned by their local society to be easily propagandized and proslytized aren't going to readily support losing their children to willful and deliberate acts that go against the welfare of the nation. Again, one of our commenters has the perfect response to this:

"It's OK how our soldiers are dying. It's OK how the insurgency is growing. You're tactics are perfect, Rummy. All the mistakes are past, you can start doing a good job now." George W. Bush is to blame and George W. Bush is responsible ... - Posted by Zappatero at April 14, 2006 05:42 AM

The people are supposed to be political and are not. The military is not supposed to be political, and is. The experts discuss the ramifications of the military being so:

KOHN: [P]artisanship in the military overall, i.e., the percentage of the military that identifies with a party as opposed to being "independent" or non-affiliated, is much greater overall. Not only are military officers more partisan than the general population; they're more partisan than, say, business leaders and other elite groups.

BACEVICH: But the military are not supposed to be political. They’re supposed to be separate from politics. In 2000, the Republican National Committee put ads in the Army Times and other service magazines attacking the Clinton/Gore record. To me that was, quite frankly, contemptible.

Traditionally, military officers felt that they shouldn't exercise political leanings - or even vote for that matter - because they would have to serve whoever won the election. Dwight Eisenhower, for example, didn't vote until he ran for president in 1952 - after he'd resigned his commission. Clearly, such political restraint among our officer corps is one of those 'quaint antiquities' - just like our Constitution and human rights as defined by the Geneva Conventions.

But I digress.

One of the things Eisenhower did warn us against when he left the presidency was the military-industrial complex [M-I-C]. It was first created out of the debris that was left behind from the Great Depression by FDR (with help from Eisenhower and the rest of the military officer corps) in order to prepare the country for the war looming across the pond, ripples of which were already lapping on our shores. Using the officer corps as experts to justify the need for the wealthy to again invest their money into the American economy, FDR was able to induce a reboot just in time (hindsightly speaking!).

But the cost to the country was high. In order to gain the cooperation of the wealthy inorder to reindustrialize America to build for war, Roosevelt had two choices: He could force cooperation through the takeover of vital industrial facilities to be run by the military (as Truman tried to do with steel and rails after the war). This would have created a revolt among the Topper$ of that day, and they had already once tried to conduct a coup d'etat against him. It was only broken up when Marine General Smedley Butler revealed the plot to Congress. The assumption is that, because so many of America's prominent personages were involved, including many in FDR's cabinet, nothing was done provided they behaved themselves in the future.

Clearly, FDR wasn't about to trigger another coup attempt, so he chose the other route open to him. To paraphrase later-day M-I-C particpant Lee Iacocca (whose Chrysler Division used to make tanks for the Army): "If you can't find a better weapons manufacture, buy this one!"

Thus, the door was opened to industry to rape the public treasury like it hadn't been since the Civil War, only this time they weren't going to allow anyone to water-down their control. The best way to do that would be to follow the same strategy that FDR did: use the military as expert witnesses. But instead of the witnesses being used to convince Industry to get behind the military effort, the witnesses were used by Industry to get Congress to pay for it.

The military began to catch on to the game, understanding that as the military grew, so would the number of billets to which they could aspire for promotion. They remembered clearly the long years prior to WWII waiting for a senior officer to die or retire before advancement was even possible. By playing the Complex game, the military could almost write its own ticket.

Our Harper's experts pick up the thread:

KOHN: Consider this glaring example of political manipulation by the military:
After every other American war before the Cold War,
the country demobilized its wartime military establishment.
Even during the Cold War, when we kept a large standing military, we expanded and contracted it for shooting wars. But in 1990 and 1991, the military – through General Colin Powell, who was head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time – intervened and effectively prevented a demobilization.

BACEVICH: Powell is explicit on this in his memoirs. "I was determined to have the Joint Chiefs drive the military strategy train," he wrote. He was not going to have "military reorganization schemes shoved down our throat."

KOHN: This was not a coup, but it was very clearly a circumvention of civilian political authority.

My interpretation: Before Colin Powell left the Joint Chiefs under Poppy Bu$h, he saw to it that the military wasn't going to face deep cuts from that no-good liberal Billary Clinton! When the M-I-C, aiding and abetting the Big Oil Crusade For Crude in the form of Bu$h 2000 (brought to you by Harris, SCOTUS, and Diebold Campaign (mi$)Management Inc.) returned to a position of dominance in the American political scene, Powell became the military's representative in the otherwise PNAC Neo-Con makeup of the Bu$h (mi$)Admin$tration. Being kept on a choker chain had to be a galling experience for the former warrior. It doesn't fit the image of a warrior to be kept like a Tony Blair lap poodle.

Our Harper's experts recall a reaction from the military when faced with a situation that wasn't traditionally military - at least not since Alexander the Great conquered the world!

BACEVICH: Let us also consider the classic case of gays in the military. Bill Clinton ran for the presidency saying he would issue an executive order that did for gays what Harry Truman did for African Americans. He wins the election. When he tries to do precisely what he said he would do, it triggers a firestorm of opposition in the military.

KOHN: It was the most open revolt the American military as a whole has ever engaged in.

BACEVICH: Two Marines published an op-ed in the Washington Post, warning the Joint Chiefs that if they failed to stop this policy from being implemented, they were likely to lose the loyalty of junior officers.

What a bunch of fraidy cats! Do they forget their military history?

Was Alexander the Great gay?

No. I say no, not because he had no relationships with men and boys but because our term "homosexual" and "gay" are inappropriate terms for antiquity.

In short, our models of friendship are not consonant with theirs, and in these ancient societies where homoerotic desire was freely, sometimes emphatically, expressed, intense friendship might well develop a sexual expression even while that expression was not the focus of the friendship, or even thought of as particularly characteristic of it.

The problem is that people on both sides of the modern argument insist on looking at the question as if Alexander and Hephaistion lived now. But they didn't. They lived then. Nonetheless, it was possible for two young men of roughly the same age to be sexually involved without that attachment being frowned upon.

Alexander was on an extended campaign which kept him constantly moving. So the fact that Alexander's primary affective relationship might have been with another man is not only unsurprising, but perhaps predictable.

So why would modern military men be so concerned about homosexuality in the ranks when they study the greatest warrior of his time in The Academies to become military leaders themselves?

We'll leave that discussion for another time. Our Harper's experts are waiting for us to discuss the problem of a politicized military:

DUNLAP: How transparent should the uniformed side of the armed forces be about their opinions? I will tell you, it is very difficult for serving officers to figure out exactly where the line is. There are points where they feel that their military values require them to speak out.

KOHN: I'm not sympathetic.

As professional military officers,
they are called upon to make far more difficult decisions
in far more ambiguous and dangerous situations.
The civil-military relationship is one of the most important parts of their profession, and if they are not educated and prepared enough to make the proper judgments, then they don't belong in high-ranking positions.

A few of our commenters demonstrate agreement with this expert opinion:

"A cadet will not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those who do." - Army Cadet Honor Code

I guess they forgot something along the way. - Posted by bbtb at April 14, 2006 08:55 AM

I knew it was a monstrous blunder, and I never got past E-5. - Posted by Repack Rider at April 14, 2006 08:01 AM

Repack you beat me to it. And I was only an E-4! - Posted by bbtb at April 14, 2006 08:55 AM

Gen. Dunlap goes on to demonstrate that the military corps has no honor - something I'm sure he didn't intend:

DUNLAP: There are two other interesting examples with General Pace, our current chairman. One was when he differed with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld about what a military person should do if he or she is present when there's an abuse during an interrogation process. Pace insisted that the military had the obligation to intervene – which I think is the right answer.

KOHN: But afterward he fudged it and claimed that there was no disagreement with the secretary. [subscription might be required]

DUNLAP: Be that as it may, I think it was the right answer.

The second and, I think, more difficult scenario was when Representative Jack Murtha said that he wouldn't join the armed forces today, nor would he expect others to do so. General Pace publicly criticized Murtha's remarks.

Here was another instance in which the senior representative of the uniformed military
spoke out in what was arguably a political context against civilian leadership.

Leave it to our commenters to say the wise thing:

...We should be on the side of generals dissenting against Nero and von Rumsfeld... - Posted by euzoius at April 14, 2006 06:50 AM

I think they are upset that the UCMJ and rules of engagement have been politicized and the tradition of military honor worn down to a thin veneer on raw power. Couple the lack of respect for the rules and a cavalier disregard for force numbers and you get a bunch of unhappy military leaders. - Posted by joejoejoe at April 13, 2006 11:37 PM

Rumsfeld is as pathetic as MacNamara ever was. Unfortunately, if he is fired, a clone will be found to replace him. Definitely not someone that knows what they are doing. Bush can't deal with non-lap-dogs. - Posted by tempus at April 14, 2006 09:04 AM

Keep in mind that he claims to have offered his resignation a couple of times and says that Bush wouldn't accept it. Not that I believe a word that comes out of anyone's mouth that is associated with this administration. - Posted by Simp at April 14, 2006 07:28 AM

I think the time for White House resignations and staff shake ups is over and past. - Posted by idiosynchronic at April 14, 2006 06:13 AM

It may well be, since the moribund military is now on the political march to keep their obese and opulent oxen from being sacrificed to the economy gods:

WASIK: So it seems clear that whether we like it or not, the military has learned how to use the political system to protect its interests and also to uphold what it sees as its values. Thinking over the long term, are there any dangers inherent in this?

KOHN: Well, at this point the military has a long tradition of getting what it wants. If we ever attempted to truly demobilize – i.e., if the military were suddenly, radically cut back – it could lead - if not to a coup, then to very severe civil military tension.

BACEVICH: Because the political game would no longer be prejudiced in the military's favor.

KOHN: That's right.

Obsequious isn't a word that one would associate with professional soldiers, and yet, that is the role of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs when he appears before the civilian authority of the Constitution. He isn't to appear as a threat to the nation, nor is he to 'forget' that under the Constitution the people are his ultimate authority. But by being obsequious, did the Republican Congress begin to express disdain for their long-term Cold War partners, treating them like servants and forgetting that our soldiers also have a Constitutional duty to protect the nation?

The Harper's experts weigh in on this:

LUTTWAK: ....One day General Eric Shinseki, chief of staff of the U.S. Army, happened to be testifying on Capitol Hill. Somebody asked him about a possible invasion of Iraq, and General Shinseki – reflecting ... the view of anyone who had ever looked at that country and counted its population – said that it would take several hundred thousand troops to control Iraq. Whereupon Shinseki was publicly contradicted by his civilian superiors, who ridiculed his professional opinion.

DUNLAP: Right. Dick [Kohn], do you consider that to have been appropriate feedback for him?

KOHN: No, Shinseki behaved appropriately.

In contradicting and disparaging him,
the civilians signalled to the military that they did not want candor
even when it is required,
which is in front of Congress.

Our commenters have something to say about this as well:

What does Colin Powell think of his fellow generals' opinions? Or John McCain? What do other out-of-uniform military types think? Who's out there asking for the record? - Posted by suds at April 14, 2006 05:25 AM

Clearly the generals are desperate to get the idea out there that von Rumsfeld, not them, was (is) utterly incompetent and didn't heed their advice. Result: the ongoing Iraq Civil War. - Posted by euzoius at April 14, 2006 06:43 AM

I don't think the same Iraq mission with double the troop levels, a respect for UCMJ by DoD leadership, and a consistent effort to solve the political aspects of the insurgency (not US based PR) would cause the problems predicted by 'Coup 2012'. - Posted by joejoejoe at April 13, 2006 11:37 PM

The Harper's experts discuss how the politicians view the military - and what that might mean:

BACEVICH: But there is a more subtle danger too. The civilian leadership knows that in dealing with the military, they are dealing with an institution whose behavior is not purely defined by adherence to the military professional ethic, disinterested service, civilian subordination. Instead, the politicians know that they're dealing with an institution that to some degree has its own agenda. And if you're dealing with somebody who has his own agenda, well, you can bargain, you can trade.
That creates a small opening – again, not to a coup -
but to the military making deals with politicians
whose purposes may not be consistent with the Constitution.
KOHN: I've tracked the numbers of retired four-star generals and admirals endorsing a candidate in presidential campaigns, and it's vastly up in the last two elections. But is that to get military votes? Or just to connect with the American people on national security and patriotism?

BACEVICH: Both parties now see the military vote as being a part of politics, as a constituency. It's a constituency that the Republicans think they own and intend to continue to own. It's a constituency that the Democrats want to pry away.

BACEVICH: Remember at the Democratic National Convention, where General Claudia Kennedy introduced General John Shalikashvili to address the delegates? Why were they up there? There was only one reason: to try to match the parade of retired senior officers that the Republicans have long been trotting out on political occasions.

DUNLAP: [P]oliticians ... realize the affection that American people have for people in uniform.

BACEVICH: And so they land on aircraft carriers to prance around in the flight suit of a fighter jock.

But as the old adage goes, there is no honor among theives. What would happen if - as many of us fear, and as Gen. Dunlap infers both above on the front page and in his 1992 work - the public were to completely lose faith in their civil government and turn to the military? Our experts raise this issue:

DUNLAP: One interesting scenario would be a crisis between the branches of government that are expected to control the military. I.e., if the armed forces were caught between the orders of the president, the Congress, or even the courts, and there were no constitutional path to resolve the disagreement.

LUTTWAK: It's a very interesting line of inquiry. Let's say a president, exercising his proper and legitimate presidential authority, initiates a military action. Then Congress wakes up and says, "Wait a minute, this president is berserk; he's starting a war, and we're against it." But in the meantime, the military force has already been put in a very compromised situation. If things were moving very fast, the military might well take an unconstitutional action.

DUNLAP: In the military we look to destroy threats, not apprehend them for processing through a system that presumes them innocent until proven guilty.

BACEVICH: The question that arises is whether, in fact, we're not already experiencing what is in essence a creeping coup d'etat. But it's not people in uniform who are seizing power. It's militarized civilians, who conceive of the world as such a dangerous place that military power has to predominate, that constitutional constraints on the military need to be loosened. The ideology of national security has become ever more woven into our politics. It has been especially apparent since 9/11, but more broadly it's been going on since the beginning of the Cold War.

KOHN: The Constitution is being warped.

BACEVICH: Here we don't need to conjure up hypothetical scenarios of the president deploying troops, etc. We have a president who created a program that directs the National Security Agency, which is part of the military, to engage in domestic eavesdropping.

LUTTWAK: I don't know if this would be called a coup.

KOHN: Because it's so incremental?

LUTTWAK: It's more like an erosion. The president is usurping additional powers. Although what's interesting is that the president's usurpation of this particular power was entirely unnecessary.

BACEVICH: Bush's move was unnecessary if the object of the exercise was to engage in surveillance. It was very useful indeed if the object is to expand executive power.

KOHN: Which is exactly what has been the agenda since the beginning of this administration.

LUTTWAK: Now you're attributing motives.

BACEVICH: Yes, I am! If you read John Yoo, he suggests that one conscious aim of the project was to eliminate constraints on the chief executive when it comes to matters of national security.

DUNLAP: I will say that even if it was a completely legal project, there is a question of how appropriate it is for the armed forces to be involved in that kind of activity.

WASIK: If we are talking about a "creeping coup" that is already under way, in what direction is it creeping?

BACEVICH: The creeping coup deflects attention away from domestic priorities and toward national-security matters, so that is where all our resources get deployed. "Leadership" today is what is demonstrated in the national-security realm.

KOHN: By framing the terrorist threat itself as a war, we tend to look upon our national security from a much more military perspective.

BACEVICH: The current presidency is interesting in that regard. What has Bush accomplished apart from posturing in the role of commander in chief? He declares wars, he prosecutes wars, he insists we must continue to prosecute wars. We don't get Social Security reform, we don't get immigration reform. The role of the president increasingly comes to be defined by his military function.

KOHN: And so our foreign policy becomes militarized. We neglect our diplomacy, de-emphasize allies.

And the stinky cheeseheads of PNAC stand alone.

With all of the reasons the various political groups of this country have before them to demand that the supreme law of the land again be observed, especially by those in charge of implementing it, I fail to understand why so little has been done. I would hate to discover that Gen. Dunlap is correct - that the people have forsaken representative government in favor of the strongman approach.

The way I understand the Constitution, there is no provision for such a government in it. This would mean that the Great Experiment in Representative Democracy will have ended. The echoes of The Shot Heard 'Round The World will fade into silence.

How then could King George (or any successor - civilian or military) avoid the charge of being called 'liar'? How does one promote 'freedom and liberty' when one's own land has neither?

As Thomas Paine once wrote, these are the times that try men's souls. Have we become a nation of summer soldiers and sunshine patriots, shrinking from the service of our country in this crisis?

I would hope not. I would hate to experience Benjamin Franklin's curse: "People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both."

I give the last word to the commeters:

Voices of the Military come too late for Iraq. However, they better start speaking loudly about the latest development of the use of nuclear weapons against Iran, in addition to Rumsfeld's part in this mess called Iraq. Did they finally wake up and realize that this is not some fucking war game without dire consequences? True alliance to this Country would be for the Military to stand up and say "no" to Bush/Rumsfeld. "What if they gave a war and nobody came" comes to mind. - Posted by Judith at April 14, 2006 05:10 AM

God help us all. - Posted by Christopher at April 14, 2006 05:36 AM

Amen, brothers and sisters!


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