Commentary Magazine


Topic: Donald Rumsfeld

Rumsfeld and Ground Force Cuts

On November 19, I published an item taking issue with current calls to cut the ground forces. We should not repeat the mistake that Donald Rumsfeld almost made before 9/11, I argued, when he was planning to cut two divisions from the army. Now Rumsfeld has taken strong exception to my article, writing, “That is flat wrong. There was not any plan to cut the size of the U.S. Army that I was ever aware of. No such plan was ever presented to me. Further, I would not have supported it if such a plan had been brought to me.”

I was startled by Rumsfeld’s denial of what was commonly reported both at the time and since. See, for example, this Wall Street Journal article from Aug. 8, 2001, by ace military correspondent Greg Jaffe. He reported:

Aides to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are calling for deep personnel cuts to the Army, Navy, and Air Force in order to pay for new high-tech weaponry and missile defenses that are cornerstones of President Bush’s plan to “transform the military.”

The proposal to reduce manpower—part of a congressionally mandated defense review due next month—calls for the Army to trim as many as 2.8 of its 10 divisions, or about 56,000 troops. …. Mr. Rumsfeld and top generals of each military service were briefed on the recommendations for the first time yesterday.

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On November 19, I published an item taking issue with current calls to cut the ground forces. We should not repeat the mistake that Donald Rumsfeld almost made before 9/11, I argued, when he was planning to cut two divisions from the army. Now Rumsfeld has taken strong exception to my article, writing, “That is flat wrong. There was not any plan to cut the size of the U.S. Army that I was ever aware of. No such plan was ever presented to me. Further, I would not have supported it if such a plan had been brought to me.”

I was startled by Rumsfeld’s denial of what was commonly reported both at the time and since. See, for example, this Wall Street Journal article from Aug. 8, 2001, by ace military correspondent Greg Jaffe. He reported:

Aides to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are calling for deep personnel cuts to the Army, Navy, and Air Force in order to pay for new high-tech weaponry and missile defenses that are cornerstones of President Bush’s plan to “transform the military.”

The proposal to reduce manpower—part of a congressionally mandated defense review due next month—calls for the Army to trim as many as 2.8 of its 10 divisions, or about 56,000 troops. …. Mr. Rumsfeld and top generals of each military service were briefed on the recommendations for the first time yesterday.

A report on the same meeting can be found in Cobra II, the meticulously researched history of the early days of the Iraq War by New York Times military correspondent Michael Gordon and retired Marine General Bernard Trainor. They write, “Shortly before September 11, Rumsfeld had presided over a meeting at which [close aide Stephen] Cambone laid out several options, including one to reduce the Army by as much as two divisions.”

Could it be that Jaffe and Gordon—two of the most respected defense correspondents in the business—were wrong and Rumsfeld was right? For further clarification I called up Jack Keane, a retired four-star army general who was at the time the Army vice chief of staff (and subsequently an architect of the surge in Iraq which Rumsfeld opposed). He told me:

It is a fact that during the 2001 QDR [Quadrennial Defense Review] the staff recommendation that was on the table, because I was at the briefing, was to reduce two army divisions from the active force and four national guard divisions. I took umbrage with that at the meeting, and I told Secretary Rumsfeld who was sitting at the end of the table. I asked his permission to take a briefing to his deputy, Secretary Wolfowitz and the Vice Chairman, Gen. Myers, the next day, outlining the Army’s position (presented by then BG Ray Odierno, now, Chief of Staff).  As such, Secretary Wolfowitz agreed with the Army’s position and Secretary Rumsfeld overruled his staff’s recommendation.

As Keane notes, his vociferous opposition and that of other Army leaders convinced Rumsfeld to drop the idea of major cuts in the army end-strength. Perhaps I was overstating the case a bit when I wrote that Rumsfeld was actually “planning” to cut army end-strength. It might have been more accurate to say he was “seriously considering” cuts. But Rumsfeld is rewriting history when he now asserts that no plan to cut the army was ever presented to him.

He is also misleading readers when he claims that he has always been a champion of bigger ground forces, writing that he was in favor of “increasing the size of our ground forces as necessary. Indeed, in 2004 and 2006, we increased the end strength of both forces by tens of thousands of troops.” He did approve small, temporary increases in army end-strength, which brought the active duty force from 477,862 when he took office to 502,466 when he left office.

But he did so grudgingly and only when it was obvious that the army was horribly overstretched by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even so, he never came close to undoing the post-Cold War downsizing that cost the army a third of its end-strength. (The active-duty Army was 710,821 strong in 1991.)

And he constantly stressed the need to keep the army as small as possible. For instance on Aug. 6, 2001, the Chicago Tribune reported, “Despite growing strains on the U.S. military, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld insisted Tuesday that the Pentagon needs to exhaust every alternative before asking Congress to increase the size of the active-duty force.”

Rumsfeld may well be right that he never said “technology is a substitute for troops”—but then I never claimed that that was a direct quotation. It is, however, an accurate summary of the views he held while in office. See, for example, his essay in the May/June 2002 issue of Foreign Affairs, “Transforming the Military.” In it he touts his “transformation” agenda and justifies dropping the “two-war” standard that had long governed American defense planning—meaning he decided it was no longer necessary to have armed forces large enough to simultaneously fight and decisively defeat two major adversaries. He wrote:

We decided to move away from the “two major-theater war” construct, an approach that called for maintaining two massive occupation forces, capable of marching on and occupying the capitals of two aggressors at the same time and changing their regimes… [B]y removing the requirement to maintain a second occupation force, we can free up new resources for the future and for other, lesser contingencies that may now confront us.

When Rumsfeld speaks of “occupation forces” he is of course referring to ground-combat forces. This Foreign Affairs essay is just one example of many that shows how skeptical Rumsfeld was of the utility of a large, active-duty army. As books such as Cobra II document, he acted on this prejudice by pressuring commanders to keep forces as small as possible in Afghanistan and Iraq—which had tragic consequences for both countries because it allowed the development of a power vacuum in which armed, anti-American extremists could come to the fore.

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Technology is No Substitute for Troops: Donald Rumsfeld Replies

Last week, our Max Boot wrote to disagree with a New York Times column that supported Pentagon budget cuts and praised former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s position on transformation of the military. Mr. Rumsfeld has written us to reply:

I was amazed to read in Max Boot’s blog post, “Technology is No Substitute for Troops,” that “Rumsfeld was actually planning to cut two divisions from an army which had already been cut by one-third since the end of the Cold War.” That is flat wrong. There was not any plan to cut the size of the U.S. Army that I was ever aware of. No such plan was ever presented to me. Further, I would not have supported it if such a plan had been brought to me. Nor have I ever uttered the words that “technology is a substitute for troops.”

When I arrived at the Pentagon in 2001, my focus was on increasing the budget for the Defense Department to undo the damage that cuts in the 1990s had inflicted on our Armed Forces. That included investing in technologies such as UAVs and precision guided munitions, and considerably strengthened our special forces—in numbers, equipment and authorities–but also increasing the size of our ground forces as necessary. Indeed, in 2004 and 2006, we increased the end strength of both forces by tens of thousands of troops.

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Last week, our Max Boot wrote to disagree with a New York Times column that supported Pentagon budget cuts and praised former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s position on transformation of the military. Mr. Rumsfeld has written us to reply:

I was amazed to read in Max Boot’s blog post, “Technology is No Substitute for Troops,” that “Rumsfeld was actually planning to cut two divisions from an army which had already been cut by one-third since the end of the Cold War.” That is flat wrong. There was not any plan to cut the size of the U.S. Army that I was ever aware of. No such plan was ever presented to me. Further, I would not have supported it if such a plan had been brought to me. Nor have I ever uttered the words that “technology is a substitute for troops.”

When I arrived at the Pentagon in 2001, my focus was on increasing the budget for the Defense Department to undo the damage that cuts in the 1990s had inflicted on our Armed Forces. That included investing in technologies such as UAVs and precision guided munitions, and considerably strengthened our special forces—in numbers, equipment and authorities–but also increasing the size of our ground forces as necessary. Indeed, in 2004 and 2006, we increased the end strength of both forces by tens of thousands of troops.

Boot, apparently with no documentation to support his misguided allegations, then attributes a view to me that is preposterous: “Slash ground forces to the bone, they argue–we’ll never need to fight another major ground war again.” His assertion flies in the face of the facts. During my two tenures as secretary of defense, I never advocated reducing the size of ground forces, nor was I ever asked to approve a plan to do so. In the process of writing my memoir, I have scoured hundreds of thousands of documents, many of which have been made public at www.rumsfeld.com, and not one even hints at the idea that I favored cutting ground forces. 

Donald Rumsfeld

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Technology No Substitute for Troops

I never thought I’d live to see a former New York Times editor praise Donald Rumsfeld. That day has now arrived–and it is hardly a cause for rejoicing.

Today Bill Keller writes in favor of defense cuts, as if the $487 billion that was lopped out of the Pentagon budget last summer were not enough. He thinks greater savings can be achieved by seeking “a significant cut in active-duty ground forces and the heavy vehicles and artillery that go with them,” as if the army and Marine Corps were not already set to lose roughly 100,000 troopers. He argues that we don’t need all those ground forces anyway–“Keeping America and its allies safe these days depends more on our formidable array of ships, aircraft and precision-guided munitions, plus small units of highly trained special ops and drones to combat terrorist cells.” He then goes on to advocate various other ideas, including reforming the procurement process and pushing for greater inter-service consolidation. The really priceless part comes when Keller concedes:

None of this is new thinking. The last secretary of defense who called for a postwar transformation of the military was Donald Rumsfeld. He arrived at the Pentagon in 2001 for his second tour with an insider’s understanding of the system, a C.E.O.’s impatience with inefficiency, and an awareness that the end of the cold war presented a different world of threats. He was not a budget-cutter, but he wanted the money spent well. Before his good intentions got lost in the slogs of Afghanistan and Iraq, he railed at the interservice rivalries, the waste, the reluctance to give up anything or think afresh.

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I never thought I’d live to see a former New York Times editor praise Donald Rumsfeld. That day has now arrived–and it is hardly a cause for rejoicing.

Today Bill Keller writes in favor of defense cuts, as if the $487 billion that was lopped out of the Pentagon budget last summer were not enough. He thinks greater savings can be achieved by seeking “a significant cut in active-duty ground forces and the heavy vehicles and artillery that go with them,” as if the army and Marine Corps were not already set to lose roughly 100,000 troopers. He argues that we don’t need all those ground forces anyway–“Keeping America and its allies safe these days depends more on our formidable array of ships, aircraft and precision-guided munitions, plus small units of highly trained special ops and drones to combat terrorist cells.” He then goes on to advocate various other ideas, including reforming the procurement process and pushing for greater inter-service consolidation. The really priceless part comes when Keller concedes:

None of this is new thinking. The last secretary of defense who called for a postwar transformation of the military was Donald Rumsfeld. He arrived at the Pentagon in 2001 for his second tour with an insider’s understanding of the system, a C.E.O.’s impatience with inefficiency, and an awareness that the end of the cold war presented a different world of threats. He was not a budget-cutter, but he wanted the money spent well. Before his good intentions got lost in the slogs of Afghanistan and Iraq, he railed at the interservice rivalries, the waste, the reluctance to give up anything or think afresh.

What Keller seems to have missed is that Rumsfeld was wrong–profoundly and dangerously wrong. Not about cutting bureaucracy and improving contracting–that needs to be done, although the fact that Rumsfeld failed to make any progress on either front should lead one to question whether it’s in fact possible to cut the budget top-line while only excising unnecessary spending without sacrificing real military capabilities.

Where Rumsfeld was wrong was to think that advances in technology would make it possible to cut ground forces without any resulting loss of security. Before 9/11, Rumsfeld was actually planning to cut two divisions from an army which had already been cut by one-third since the end of the Cold War, leading then-Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki to issue a prophetic warning: “Beware a 12-division strategy for a 10-division army.” Rumsfeld did not heed that warning and therefore we went into the Iraq and Afghanistan wars with an army too small for the tasks it was assigned.

Now, proving that we have learned nothing from history, politicians and pundits appear eager to repeat Rumsfeld’s mistake. Slash ground forces to the bone, they argue–we’ll never need to fight another major ground war again. Haven’t we heard that before?

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Why Is Jim Wallis Polishing the Windows on His Glass House?

Jim Wallis of Sojourners co-wrote, with Charles Colson, a piece in Christianity Today titled “Conviction and Civility.” According to Wallis and Colson, “when we disagree, especially when we strongly disagree, we should have robust debate but not resort to personal attack, falsely impugning others’ motives, assaulting their character, questioning their faith, or doubting their patriotism.”

“Demonizing our opponents poisons the public square,” the twosome inform us.

Agreed. But what is worth noting, I think, is that Wallis (as opposed to Colson) has repeatedly violated his commitment to civility. For example, in 2007, Wallis said: “I believe that Dick Cheney is a liar; that Donald Rumsfeld is also a liar; and that George W. Bush was, and is, clueless about how to be the president of the United States. They have shamed our beloved nation in the world by this [Iraq] war and the shameful way they have fought it.”

Americans and Iraqis died “because of their lies, incompetence, and corruption.” Wallis went on to say he favors investigations of the top officials of the Bush administration on “official deception, war crimes, and corruption charges.” And if they were found guilty of these “high crimes,” Wallis wrote, “I believe they should spend the rest of their lives in prison. … Deliberately lying about going to war should not be forgiven.”

As I showed here, these statements are slanderous. Given that, how does Wallis square what he wrote with his counsel not to resort to “personal attack, falsely impugning others’ motives, [and] assaulting their character”?

More recently, Wallis strongly implied that the Tea Party movement was animated by racism. Is this the kind of thing Wallis has in mind when he cautions us against “demonizing our opponents,” which in turn “poisons the public square”?

These episodes are not isolated ones. Wallis recently accused World magazine’s Marvin Olasky of being a liar — a claim Wallis had to retract after Olasky provided indisputable evidence that it was Olasky, not Wallis, who was telling the truth.

My point here isn’t so much to call attention to the hypocrisy of Wallis, though that’s worth taking into account. Nor is it to argue that Wallis, based on his shrill outbursts, should never be able to make the case for civility in public discourse, though it would help if Wallis were to acknowledge his complicity in what he now decries. Read More

Jim Wallis of Sojourners co-wrote, with Charles Colson, a piece in Christianity Today titled “Conviction and Civility.” According to Wallis and Colson, “when we disagree, especially when we strongly disagree, we should have robust debate but not resort to personal attack, falsely impugning others’ motives, assaulting their character, questioning their faith, or doubting their patriotism.”

“Demonizing our opponents poisons the public square,” the twosome inform us.

Agreed. But what is worth noting, I think, is that Wallis (as opposed to Colson) has repeatedly violated his commitment to civility. For example, in 2007, Wallis said: “I believe that Dick Cheney is a liar; that Donald Rumsfeld is also a liar; and that George W. Bush was, and is, clueless about how to be the president of the United States. They have shamed our beloved nation in the world by this [Iraq] war and the shameful way they have fought it.”

Americans and Iraqis died “because of their lies, incompetence, and corruption.” Wallis went on to say he favors investigations of the top officials of the Bush administration on “official deception, war crimes, and corruption charges.” And if they were found guilty of these “high crimes,” Wallis wrote, “I believe they should spend the rest of their lives in prison. … Deliberately lying about going to war should not be forgiven.”

As I showed here, these statements are slanderous. Given that, how does Wallis square what he wrote with his counsel not to resort to “personal attack, falsely impugning others’ motives, [and] assaulting their character”?

More recently, Wallis strongly implied that the Tea Party movement was animated by racism. Is this the kind of thing Wallis has in mind when he cautions us against “demonizing our opponents,” which in turn “poisons the public square”?

These episodes are not isolated ones. Wallis recently accused World magazine’s Marvin Olasky of being a liar — a claim Wallis had to retract after Olasky provided indisputable evidence that it was Olasky, not Wallis, who was telling the truth.

My point here isn’t so much to call attention to the hypocrisy of Wallis, though that’s worth taking into account. Nor is it to argue that Wallis, based on his shrill outbursts, should never be able to make the case for civility in public discourse, though it would help if Wallis were to acknowledge his complicity in what he now decries.

Perhaps the deeper thing to take away from this is that civility is difficult to achieve unless we gain some mental and emotional distance from political disputes. People on both sides of the divide employ double standards to advance their cause. What a reasonable person would consider an ad hominem attack is, for an ideologue, considered a self-evident truth. If  you’re a person on the hard left, as Wallis is, accusing Rumsfeld, Cheney, a conservative journalist and the Tea Party Movement of being liars, corrupt, war criminals, and racists is giving expression to what you consider to be a self-evident truth. Wallis even goes so far as to portray himself as a force moving us to a “kinder and gentler public square.” This is self-deception of a high order.

Those on the right are susceptible to the same temptations. They can accuse Barack Obama of hating white people and of being committed to destroying the country while also believing no lines have been crossed, that the charges are themselves incontestable.

This doesn’t mean that harsh judgments are never called for. Some people are knaves, while others are fools. My point is simply that all of us in the public arena come to it with certain predispositions and tendencies through which we interpret events. As a conservative, I would be among the last people in the world to reject the use of a philosophical system, of a worldview, to help us make sense of things.

On the other hand, people like Jim Wallis provide a cautionary tale of the blinding effects of zealotry. It can become so acute that even dispensers of libel can fashion themselves as peacemakers.

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Cut Defense Spending NOW?

The attack on North Korea — an act of war by any definition, even if not acknowledged as such — is a timely reminder that the suggestions floating around to cut defense spending are misguided. The Foreign Policy Initiative explains:

America’s military has come under severe strain in the last decade, fighting two wars, preparing for the many potential challenges of the future, and contending with a growing number of aging, worn-out weapons systems. Yet as the debate in Washington about reducing America’s deficit gathers steam, there are increasing calls to make deep cuts in the defense budget. The fiscal effects of such reductions are miniscule—saving perhaps $100 billion over many years against projected annual deficits of more than $1.4 trillion—but the impact on the U.S. military is major. Greater still would be the effects of diminished American power in an increasingly “multipolar” world. …

There is a common misconception that the military has enjoyed ballooning budgets since the beginning of the decade. In reality, the baseline defense budget (not including the costs of the-wars) grew from only 3 to 3.5 percent of GDP from the end of the Clinton administration to the time George W. Bush left office, delaying modernization and procurement efforts across all the armed services. “Going to war with the army you have,” to paraphrase former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, has exacerbated this problem, gobbling up the remaining service life of older systems; nine-plus years of war have only increased this “modernization deficit.” Further reductions, on top of the more than $300 billion Secretary Gates has already cut in proposed procurement of new weapon systems, will dangerously erode the technological edge that America’s armed forces depend upon, and deserve.

The frenzy to cut defense spending is in reality an entirely political ploy: to get liberals on board with cuts in massive entitlement and discretionary spending, fiscal hawks are willing to throw defense spending into the mix. But this ignores the real and multiplying threats we face, especially under a president whose reticence seems only to have whetted the appetites of aggressive regimes.

The result of the lower-defense-spending fetish is that the way we have traditionally looked at defense spending and national security has been reversed. Presidents of both parties have attempted to assess the threats we face and from that determine what expenditures we need. It is imperfect at best, since congressmen and senators are not shy about asking for goodies for their districts and states. But at least the effort is made to gear spending to national security needs. But in the rush to cut defense spending, this process is reversed: we are told by liberal Democrats, conservative neo-isolationists, and budget hawks that because of the need to cut spending, we need to reassess our national security commitments. It is quite frankly a non sequitur. Al-Qaeda, North Korea, Iran, and the rest are only growing bolder. If the defense cutters were honest, they’d say they are willing to make us less safe to get liberals to accept domestic spending cuts. But that sounds daft. And it is.

As the 2012 GOP presidential contenders scramble for visibility, they would do well to take on this issue — and those who think that in an increasingly dangerous world we should be spending less to defend ourselves.

The attack on North Korea — an act of war by any definition, even if not acknowledged as such — is a timely reminder that the suggestions floating around to cut defense spending are misguided. The Foreign Policy Initiative explains:

America’s military has come under severe strain in the last decade, fighting two wars, preparing for the many potential challenges of the future, and contending with a growing number of aging, worn-out weapons systems. Yet as the debate in Washington about reducing America’s deficit gathers steam, there are increasing calls to make deep cuts in the defense budget. The fiscal effects of such reductions are miniscule—saving perhaps $100 billion over many years against projected annual deficits of more than $1.4 trillion—but the impact on the U.S. military is major. Greater still would be the effects of diminished American power in an increasingly “multipolar” world. …

There is a common misconception that the military has enjoyed ballooning budgets since the beginning of the decade. In reality, the baseline defense budget (not including the costs of the-wars) grew from only 3 to 3.5 percent of GDP from the end of the Clinton administration to the time George W. Bush left office, delaying modernization and procurement efforts across all the armed services. “Going to war with the army you have,” to paraphrase former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, has exacerbated this problem, gobbling up the remaining service life of older systems; nine-plus years of war have only increased this “modernization deficit.” Further reductions, on top of the more than $300 billion Secretary Gates has already cut in proposed procurement of new weapon systems, will dangerously erode the technological edge that America’s armed forces depend upon, and deserve.

The frenzy to cut defense spending is in reality an entirely political ploy: to get liberals on board with cuts in massive entitlement and discretionary spending, fiscal hawks are willing to throw defense spending into the mix. But this ignores the real and multiplying threats we face, especially under a president whose reticence seems only to have whetted the appetites of aggressive regimes.

The result of the lower-defense-spending fetish is that the way we have traditionally looked at defense spending and national security has been reversed. Presidents of both parties have attempted to assess the threats we face and from that determine what expenditures we need. It is imperfect at best, since congressmen and senators are not shy about asking for goodies for their districts and states. But at least the effort is made to gear spending to national security needs. But in the rush to cut defense spending, this process is reversed: we are told by liberal Democrats, conservative neo-isolationists, and budget hawks that because of the need to cut spending, we need to reassess our national security commitments. It is quite frankly a non sequitur. Al-Qaeda, North Korea, Iran, and the rest are only growing bolder. If the defense cutters were honest, they’d say they are willing to make us less safe to get liberals to accept domestic spending cuts. But that sounds daft. And it is.

As the 2012 GOP presidential contenders scramble for visibility, they would do well to take on this issue — and those who think that in an increasingly dangerous world we should be spending less to defend ourselves.

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A Sermon on Morality

For a fellow who presumably doesn’t much care for finger-wagging moralists, E.J. Dionne Jr. of the Washington Post has gotten quite good at that role over the years.

In his column today, Dionne deals with the fall from grace of Rep. Mark Souder, who resigned after admitting to an affair with an aide, as an opportunity to “shout as forcefully as I can to my conservative Christian friends: Enough! … Enough with pretending that personal virtue is connected with political creeds. Enough with condemning your adversaries, sometimes viciously, and then insisting upon understanding after the failures of someone on your own side become known to the world.”

Dionne ends his column on Souder this way:

“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” It’s a scriptural passage that no doubt appeals to Mark Souder. But it would be lovely if conservative Christians remembered Jesus’ words not only when needing a lifeline but also when they are tempted to give speeches or send out mailers excoriating their political foes as permissive anti-family libertines. How many more scandals will it take for people who call themselves Christian to rediscover the virtues of humility and solidarity?

And wouldn’t it be lovely if liberal Christians remembered Jesus’s words when they were tempted, as the prominent liberal evangelical Jim Wallis has been, to say words excoriating their political foes as war criminals. I have in mind, for example, what Wallis said here:

I believe that Dick Cheney is a liar; that Donald Rumsfeld is also a liar; and that George W. Bush was, and is, clueless about how to be the president of the United States. … Almost 4,000 young Americans are dead because of the lies of this administration, tens of thousands more wounded and maimed for life, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis also dead, and 400 billion dollars wasted — because of their lies, incompetence, and corruption.

But I don’t favor impeachment, as some have suggested. I would wait until after the election, when they are out of office, and then I would favor investigations of the top officials of the Bush administration on official deception, war crimes, and corruption charges. And if they are found guilty of these high crimes, I believe they should spend the rest of their lives in prison — after offering their repentance to every American family who has lost a son, daughter, father, mother, brother, or sister. Deliberately lying about going to war should not be forgiven.

It’s worth noting that Dionne has had glowing things to say about Wallis, going so far as comparing him to the Old Testament prophets like Jeremiah, Amos, Micah, or Isaiah — something that, on reflection, even E.J. must cringe at.

Mr. Wallis doesn’t exhaust the list of offenders, by any means. Take the case of Randall Balmer, an influential professor of American religious history at Barnard College, Columbia University, an editor for Christianity Today, author of a dozen books, and Emmy Award nominee. In his book To Change the World, the sociologist James Davison Hunter writes that in Thy Kingdom Come: An Evangelical’s Lament:

[Balmer’s] disdain for the Christian Right lead him to engage in name-calling that is as one-dimensional and dehumanizing as the most extreme voices of the Christian Right, labeling his opponents “right-wing zealots” and “bullies” and their followers “minions,” who together are “intolerant,” “vicious,” “militaristic,” “bloviating,” and theocratic. In this regard, his perspective also matches the Manichaeism of the most extreme voices of the Christian Right for there is no shade or nuance in his description of the political realities with which he is wrestling.

I don’t recall Dionne often, or ever, specifically taking on liberal evangelicals for their slashing rhetoric — to say nothing of the left’s often uncivil and vicious attacks against conservatives, from George W. Bush on down. (Some examples can be found here.) The Outrage Meter seems to have been out of commission during that brief eight-year interlude.

And so let me take E.J.’s column to shout out as forcefully as I can to my liberal Christian friends: enough! Enough with the double standards. Enough with condemning your adversaries, sometimes viciously, in a spirit that is markedly un-Christian. Enough with pretending that all the vices lie on one side rather than on both. Enough of the Manichaeism. Enough with the rigid ideology. Enough with the hypocrisy. Enough with pretending that you care about civility when what you really care about is advancing liberalism.

For a fellow who presumably doesn’t much care for finger-wagging moralists, E.J. Dionne Jr. of the Washington Post has gotten quite good at that role over the years.

In his column today, Dionne deals with the fall from grace of Rep. Mark Souder, who resigned after admitting to an affair with an aide, as an opportunity to “shout as forcefully as I can to my conservative Christian friends: Enough! … Enough with pretending that personal virtue is connected with political creeds. Enough with condemning your adversaries, sometimes viciously, and then insisting upon understanding after the failures of someone on your own side become known to the world.”

Dionne ends his column on Souder this way:

“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” It’s a scriptural passage that no doubt appeals to Mark Souder. But it would be lovely if conservative Christians remembered Jesus’ words not only when needing a lifeline but also when they are tempted to give speeches or send out mailers excoriating their political foes as permissive anti-family libertines. How many more scandals will it take for people who call themselves Christian to rediscover the virtues of humility and solidarity?

And wouldn’t it be lovely if liberal Christians remembered Jesus’s words when they were tempted, as the prominent liberal evangelical Jim Wallis has been, to say words excoriating their political foes as war criminals. I have in mind, for example, what Wallis said here:

I believe that Dick Cheney is a liar; that Donald Rumsfeld is also a liar; and that George W. Bush was, and is, clueless about how to be the president of the United States. … Almost 4,000 young Americans are dead because of the lies of this administration, tens of thousands more wounded and maimed for life, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis also dead, and 400 billion dollars wasted — because of their lies, incompetence, and corruption.

But I don’t favor impeachment, as some have suggested. I would wait until after the election, when they are out of office, and then I would favor investigations of the top officials of the Bush administration on official deception, war crimes, and corruption charges. And if they are found guilty of these high crimes, I believe they should spend the rest of their lives in prison — after offering their repentance to every American family who has lost a son, daughter, father, mother, brother, or sister. Deliberately lying about going to war should not be forgiven.

It’s worth noting that Dionne has had glowing things to say about Wallis, going so far as comparing him to the Old Testament prophets like Jeremiah, Amos, Micah, or Isaiah — something that, on reflection, even E.J. must cringe at.

Mr. Wallis doesn’t exhaust the list of offenders, by any means. Take the case of Randall Balmer, an influential professor of American religious history at Barnard College, Columbia University, an editor for Christianity Today, author of a dozen books, and Emmy Award nominee. In his book To Change the World, the sociologist James Davison Hunter writes that in Thy Kingdom Come: An Evangelical’s Lament:

[Balmer’s] disdain for the Christian Right lead him to engage in name-calling that is as one-dimensional and dehumanizing as the most extreme voices of the Christian Right, labeling his opponents “right-wing zealots” and “bullies” and their followers “minions,” who together are “intolerant,” “vicious,” “militaristic,” “bloviating,” and theocratic. In this regard, his perspective also matches the Manichaeism of the most extreme voices of the Christian Right for there is no shade or nuance in his description of the political realities with which he is wrestling.

I don’t recall Dionne often, or ever, specifically taking on liberal evangelicals for their slashing rhetoric — to say nothing of the left’s often uncivil and vicious attacks against conservatives, from George W. Bush on down. (Some examples can be found here.) The Outrage Meter seems to have been out of commission during that brief eight-year interlude.

And so let me take E.J.’s column to shout out as forcefully as I can to my liberal Christian friends: enough! Enough with the double standards. Enough with condemning your adversaries, sometimes viciously, in a spirit that is markedly un-Christian. Enough with pretending that all the vices lie on one side rather than on both. Enough of the Manichaeism. Enough with the rigid ideology. Enough with the hypocrisy. Enough with pretending that you care about civility when what you really care about is advancing liberalism.

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Countering Violent Extremism

In his retirement, Donald Rumsfeld must be enjoying a good chuckle right now as he reads that the Obama administration has decided to rename our war against the … whatchamacallit. Out is the Global War on Terror (GWOT). That’s so Bush administration. The preferred name of the Obama folks is “Countering Violent Extremism,” or CVE.

Reading that report, I knew the term was somewhat familiar but couldn’t quite place it. Where had I heard it before? Oh yeah, that’s right. It’s nearly identical to the wording Rumsfeld tried to enact in 2005 when he began referring to the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism (G-SAVE). That was ultimately nixed by the White House, which (for once) didn’t appreciate the defense secretary’s freelancing.

It’s funny how the search for euphemisms — nobody wants to say we’re fighting Islamist fanatics — leads the current gang to adopt a nearly identical version of a slogan coined by their bête noire. Perhaps that’s fitting because on many fronts — especially in the use of targeted assassinations via Predators, in wiretap authority, in renditions, and in holding terrorist suspects indefinitely without trial — the Obama administration has continued the policies of its predecessor. It’s actually whacking more terrorists in Pakistan than the Bush administration ever did. The changes so far have been mainly cosmetic — notably the so-far-failed effort to shut Gitmo and the equally failed effort to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammad in a civilian court. Substance is ultimately more important than sloganeering and, for all my differences with the Obama administration, I have to admit their anti-terrorism policies are, on the whole, better (i.e., tougher) than we could have expected from the Nobel Laureate.

In his retirement, Donald Rumsfeld must be enjoying a good chuckle right now as he reads that the Obama administration has decided to rename our war against the … whatchamacallit. Out is the Global War on Terror (GWOT). That’s so Bush administration. The preferred name of the Obama folks is “Countering Violent Extremism,” or CVE.

Reading that report, I knew the term was somewhat familiar but couldn’t quite place it. Where had I heard it before? Oh yeah, that’s right. It’s nearly identical to the wording Rumsfeld tried to enact in 2005 when he began referring to the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism (G-SAVE). That was ultimately nixed by the White House, which (for once) didn’t appreciate the defense secretary’s freelancing.

It’s funny how the search for euphemisms — nobody wants to say we’re fighting Islamist fanatics — leads the current gang to adopt a nearly identical version of a slogan coined by their bête noire. Perhaps that’s fitting because on many fronts — especially in the use of targeted assassinations via Predators, in wiretap authority, in renditions, and in holding terrorist suspects indefinitely without trial — the Obama administration has continued the policies of its predecessor. It’s actually whacking more terrorists in Pakistan than the Bush administration ever did. The changes so far have been mainly cosmetic — notably the so-far-failed effort to shut Gitmo and the equally failed effort to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammad in a civilian court. Substance is ultimately more important than sloganeering and, for all my differences with the Obama administration, I have to admit their anti-terrorism policies are, on the whole, better (i.e., tougher) than we could have expected from the Nobel Laureate.

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Hunting Heads

If Christmas Day airline bomber Umar Abdulmutallab had been identified by Special Forces in Yemen, rather than being detained in Detroit, he could well have been summarily killed in a drone strike instead of being read his rights. Such are the features of the Obama approach to the war on terror.

The AP has a story today outlining something that has been apparent for months: that President Obama is relying to a much greater degree than Bush did on standoff drone attacks against terrorists in Asia and the Middle East. The AP piece presents this as a fresh, successful strategy, one applauded by Pakistani officials and made possible by the drawdown in Iraq, which is freeing up drones and intelligence assets for use elsewhere. In the AP analysis, moreover, Obama’s choice to leave behind terms such as “radical Islam” and “Islamo-fascism” is amplifying his effectiveness by abetting a policy of reaching out to Islamic allies.

This is one way of looking at it – but it’s a narrative that omits important context. Obama’s strategy isn’t a matter of increasing our reliance on drone strikes while at the same time maintaining the politically comprehensive Bush approach to combating Islamist terrorism. It involves instead shifting our approach away from Bush’s indispensable political element – fostering liberalization, consensual government, and civil security in the Islamic world – toward an emphasis on simply killing individual terrorists. But Obama has also adopted this strategy in the context of a kid-gloves policy toward foreign terrorists who happen to fall, still alive, into the clutches of the U.S. justice system.

We might certainly call the latter factor an ethical paradox, or perhaps simply a double standard. In neither guise does the Obama policy come off as principled from any universalist ethical sense. A policy of what amounts to assassination overseas, coupled with legalist zealotry for the rights of the accused at home, can’t help looking like a cynical combination tinged with domestic-constituency tending and rank hypocrisy.

Terrible things are done in war, of course; and the terrorists being targeted in standoff attacks are known to be ringleaders, most with ghastly bombings on their rap sheets. But the “big picture” justification for this tactic, the mitigating strategic objective of promoting a “better peace” in the Islamic societies, is something Obama has been at pains to shed. This policy trend must at some point call into question the purpose of our campaign of force. I’ve written here and here about Obama’s turn away from the core Bush tenet of fighting terrorism by means of promoting civil outcomes abroad. Whether by excising the promotion of freedom and democracy from our national objectives, or by envisioning for Afghanistan a “less-capable national government and a greater tolerance of insurgent violence” than in Iraq, the Obama administration has backed off significantly from Bush’s policy of shaping conditions for the better overseas.

It bears repeating that Bush chose to go all-in on that policy – with the surge decision in late 2006 – because the lighter-footprint approach favored by Donald Rumsfeld wasn’t working. There is a real risk with the light-footprint strategy that using head-hunting tactics against terrorists will begin to look more and more like taking the worst kind of law-enforcement approach: one that dispenses with the inconvenient constraints of law. Indeed, a diligent UN official has already made this point about our drone strike campaign.

Minimizing our own “skin in the game” may seem like a prudent policy in the short run. But it will not be to our advantage over the long run if Afghans, Pakistanis, or Yemenis come to see us as having arrived not to foster a better future for them, but rather to use their territory as a sniper perch.

If Christmas Day airline bomber Umar Abdulmutallab had been identified by Special Forces in Yemen, rather than being detained in Detroit, he could well have been summarily killed in a drone strike instead of being read his rights. Such are the features of the Obama approach to the war on terror.

The AP has a story today outlining something that has been apparent for months: that President Obama is relying to a much greater degree than Bush did on standoff drone attacks against terrorists in Asia and the Middle East. The AP piece presents this as a fresh, successful strategy, one applauded by Pakistani officials and made possible by the drawdown in Iraq, which is freeing up drones and intelligence assets for use elsewhere. In the AP analysis, moreover, Obama’s choice to leave behind terms such as “radical Islam” and “Islamo-fascism” is amplifying his effectiveness by abetting a policy of reaching out to Islamic allies.

This is one way of looking at it – but it’s a narrative that omits important context. Obama’s strategy isn’t a matter of increasing our reliance on drone strikes while at the same time maintaining the politically comprehensive Bush approach to combating Islamist terrorism. It involves instead shifting our approach away from Bush’s indispensable political element – fostering liberalization, consensual government, and civil security in the Islamic world – toward an emphasis on simply killing individual terrorists. But Obama has also adopted this strategy in the context of a kid-gloves policy toward foreign terrorists who happen to fall, still alive, into the clutches of the U.S. justice system.

We might certainly call the latter factor an ethical paradox, or perhaps simply a double standard. In neither guise does the Obama policy come off as principled from any universalist ethical sense. A policy of what amounts to assassination overseas, coupled with legalist zealotry for the rights of the accused at home, can’t help looking like a cynical combination tinged with domestic-constituency tending and rank hypocrisy.

Terrible things are done in war, of course; and the terrorists being targeted in standoff attacks are known to be ringleaders, most with ghastly bombings on their rap sheets. But the “big picture” justification for this tactic, the mitigating strategic objective of promoting a “better peace” in the Islamic societies, is something Obama has been at pains to shed. This policy trend must at some point call into question the purpose of our campaign of force. I’ve written here and here about Obama’s turn away from the core Bush tenet of fighting terrorism by means of promoting civil outcomes abroad. Whether by excising the promotion of freedom and democracy from our national objectives, or by envisioning for Afghanistan a “less-capable national government and a greater tolerance of insurgent violence” than in Iraq, the Obama administration has backed off significantly from Bush’s policy of shaping conditions for the better overseas.

It bears repeating that Bush chose to go all-in on that policy – with the surge decision in late 2006 – because the lighter-footprint approach favored by Donald Rumsfeld wasn’t working. There is a real risk with the light-footprint strategy that using head-hunting tactics against terrorists will begin to look more and more like taking the worst kind of law-enforcement approach: one that dispenses with the inconvenient constraints of law. Indeed, a diligent UN official has already made this point about our drone strike campaign.

Minimizing our own “skin in the game” may seem like a prudent policy in the short run. But it will not be to our advantage over the long run if Afghans, Pakistanis, or Yemenis come to see us as having arrived not to foster a better future for them, but rather to use their territory as a sniper perch.

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There Are Prophets … and Then There Are Prophets

Over at the Huffington Post, Jim Wallis of Sojourners praised the president for his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, which included, in Wallis’s words, a much-needed “plea for civility in our political discourse.” Wallis quoted Obama, who said:

Progress doesn’t come when we demonize opponents. It’s not born in righteous spite. Progress comes when we open our hearts, when we extend our hands, when we recognize our common humanity. Progress comes when we look into the eyes of another and see the face of God. That we might do so — that we will do so all the time, not just some of the time — is my fervent prayer for our nation and the world.

Nice words all the way around.

But what makes all this so darn strange is that Wallis’s Dr Jekyll can, when it serves his narrow ideological purposes, turn into Mr. Hyde. For examples, when George W. Bush was president, here is what Mr. Civility in Public Discourse wrote:

I believe that Dick Cheney is a liar; that Donald Rumsfeld is also a liar; and that George W. Bush was, and is, clueless about how to be the president of the United States. And this isn’t about being partisan. … I’ve heard plenty of my Republican friends and public figures call this administration an embarrassment to the best traditions of the Republican Party and an embarrassment to the democratic (small d) tradition of the United States. They have shamed our beloved nation in the world by this war and the shameful way they have fought it. Almost 4,000 young Americans are dead because of the lies of this administration, tens of thousands more wounded and maimed for life, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis also dead, and 400 billion dollars wasted — because of their lies, incompetence, and corruption.

But I don’t favor impeachment, as some have suggested. I would wait until after the election, when they are out of office, and then I would favor investigations of the top officials of the Bush administration on official deception, war crimes, and corruption charges. And if they are found guilty of these high crimes, I believe they should spend the rest of their lives in prison — after offering their repentance to every American family who has lost a son, daughter, father, mother, brother, or sister. Deliberately lying about going to war should not be forgiven.

I don’t know about you, but this seems to me to come kind of close to demonizing an opponent. Nor do I get the impression that when Wallis looks into the eyes of Bush and Cheney, he is prepared to extend his hand, or open his heart, or see the face of God. According to St. Jim, they are beyond redemption and forgiveness.

I have documented before why Wallis’s claims about Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld were ignorant, false, and misleading. It’s hard to escape the judgment that Wallis is not only guilty of a glaring double standard; he is also guilty of employing his faith as a crude instrument to advance his own hyper-partisan politics.

There is a season for everything and a season for every activity under heaven — a time for civility and, for Jim Wallis, a time for vicious slander. It all depends on what advances his ideology.

The corruption of faith in the pursuit of politics is a dispiriting thing to witness, especially in one who claims to be a “public theologian,” a “preacher,” an “international commentator on ethics and public life” and — I almost forgot — one who is in the “prophetic tradition.”

Somehow I rather doubt that Wallis will ever be confused with Isaiah or Micah.

Over at the Huffington Post, Jim Wallis of Sojourners praised the president for his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, which included, in Wallis’s words, a much-needed “plea for civility in our political discourse.” Wallis quoted Obama, who said:

Progress doesn’t come when we demonize opponents. It’s not born in righteous spite. Progress comes when we open our hearts, when we extend our hands, when we recognize our common humanity. Progress comes when we look into the eyes of another and see the face of God. That we might do so — that we will do so all the time, not just some of the time — is my fervent prayer for our nation and the world.

Nice words all the way around.

But what makes all this so darn strange is that Wallis’s Dr Jekyll can, when it serves his narrow ideological purposes, turn into Mr. Hyde. For examples, when George W. Bush was president, here is what Mr. Civility in Public Discourse wrote:

I believe that Dick Cheney is a liar; that Donald Rumsfeld is also a liar; and that George W. Bush was, and is, clueless about how to be the president of the United States. And this isn’t about being partisan. … I’ve heard plenty of my Republican friends and public figures call this administration an embarrassment to the best traditions of the Republican Party and an embarrassment to the democratic (small d) tradition of the United States. They have shamed our beloved nation in the world by this war and the shameful way they have fought it. Almost 4,000 young Americans are dead because of the lies of this administration, tens of thousands more wounded and maimed for life, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis also dead, and 400 billion dollars wasted — because of their lies, incompetence, and corruption.

But I don’t favor impeachment, as some have suggested. I would wait until after the election, when they are out of office, and then I would favor investigations of the top officials of the Bush administration on official deception, war crimes, and corruption charges. And if they are found guilty of these high crimes, I believe they should spend the rest of their lives in prison — after offering their repentance to every American family who has lost a son, daughter, father, mother, brother, or sister. Deliberately lying about going to war should not be forgiven.

I don’t know about you, but this seems to me to come kind of close to demonizing an opponent. Nor do I get the impression that when Wallis looks into the eyes of Bush and Cheney, he is prepared to extend his hand, or open his heart, or see the face of God. According to St. Jim, they are beyond redemption and forgiveness.

I have documented before why Wallis’s claims about Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld were ignorant, false, and misleading. It’s hard to escape the judgment that Wallis is not only guilty of a glaring double standard; he is also guilty of employing his faith as a crude instrument to advance his own hyper-partisan politics.

There is a season for everything and a season for every activity under heaven — a time for civility and, for Jim Wallis, a time for vicious slander. It all depends on what advances his ideology.

The corruption of faith in the pursuit of politics is a dispiriting thing to witness, especially in one who claims to be a “public theologian,” a “preacher,” an “international commentator on ethics and public life” and — I almost forgot — one who is in the “prophetic tradition.”

Somehow I rather doubt that Wallis will ever be confused with Isaiah or Micah.

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Human Rights Watch: The World Needs More Corrupt and Politicized “International Justice”

Predictable, of course. Clive Baldwin, a “senior legal adviser” to HRW, finds it “most embarrassing of all” that the British attorney general “gave a speech in Jerusalem on 5 January declaring that the government was ‘determined that Israel’s leaders should always be able to travel freely to the UK.'”

Can’t have that, can we?

This really isn’t about international justice, of course. It’s about the desire of many human-rights activists — today they unfortunately are almost exclusively drawn from the far Left — for more political power. Here’s how the international justice game is played:

Groups like HRW rely on fraudulent or biased testimony in Gaza and Lebanon (or Iraq) combined with creative interpretations of the “laws of war” to produce claims of war crimes; these claims are received as legitimate and trustworthy in UN bodies, among allied NGOs, and in the international press; activist lawyers use the now-laundered allegations to file universal jurisdiction lawsuits with sympathetic British judges; arrest warrants are issued. But then government officials recognize the awful reality of this politicized little merry-go-round and speak out against the practice — prompting HRW to protest that politicians are interfering in the independence of the court system. Chutzpah.

There are at least a few people left in the UK who understand the perniciousness of “universal jurisdiction.” One is MP Daniel Hannan, who wrote a terse seven-point refutation of the idea yesterday (h/t Andrew Stuttaford):

1. Territorial jurisdiction has been a remarkably successful concept. Ever since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, it has been broadly understood that crimes are the responsibility of the state where they are committed. … Western liberals might say: “Since Karadzic won’t get justice in Serbia, he should get it at The Hague.” But an Iranian judge might apply precisely the same logic and say: “Adulterers in Western countries are going unpunished: we must kidnap them and bring them to a place where they will face consequences”. …

2. International jurisdiction breaks the link between legislators and law. Instead of legislation being passed by representatives who are, in some way, accountable to their populations, laws are generated by international jurists. …

7. The politicisation of international jurisprudence seems always to come from the same direction: a writ was served against Ariel Sharon, but not against Yasser Arafat. Augusto Pinochet was arrested, but Fidel Castro could attend international summits. Donald Rumsfeld was indicted in Europe, but not Saddam Hussein.

What you’ll always find about the international-justice hustle is that its proponents never explain how these fatal problems can be resolved. In this case, the problems, of course, are the solutions. That’s because universal jurisdiction isn’t about justice. It’s about power.

Predictable, of course. Clive Baldwin, a “senior legal adviser” to HRW, finds it “most embarrassing of all” that the British attorney general “gave a speech in Jerusalem on 5 January declaring that the government was ‘determined that Israel’s leaders should always be able to travel freely to the UK.'”

Can’t have that, can we?

This really isn’t about international justice, of course. It’s about the desire of many human-rights activists — today they unfortunately are almost exclusively drawn from the far Left — for more political power. Here’s how the international justice game is played:

Groups like HRW rely on fraudulent or biased testimony in Gaza and Lebanon (or Iraq) combined with creative interpretations of the “laws of war” to produce claims of war crimes; these claims are received as legitimate and trustworthy in UN bodies, among allied NGOs, and in the international press; activist lawyers use the now-laundered allegations to file universal jurisdiction lawsuits with sympathetic British judges; arrest warrants are issued. But then government officials recognize the awful reality of this politicized little merry-go-round and speak out against the practice — prompting HRW to protest that politicians are interfering in the independence of the court system. Chutzpah.

There are at least a few people left in the UK who understand the perniciousness of “universal jurisdiction.” One is MP Daniel Hannan, who wrote a terse seven-point refutation of the idea yesterday (h/t Andrew Stuttaford):

1. Territorial jurisdiction has been a remarkably successful concept. Ever since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, it has been broadly understood that crimes are the responsibility of the state where they are committed. … Western liberals might say: “Since Karadzic won’t get justice in Serbia, he should get it at The Hague.” But an Iranian judge might apply precisely the same logic and say: “Adulterers in Western countries are going unpunished: we must kidnap them and bring them to a place where they will face consequences”. …

2. International jurisdiction breaks the link between legislators and law. Instead of legislation being passed by representatives who are, in some way, accountable to their populations, laws are generated by international jurists. …

7. The politicisation of international jurisprudence seems always to come from the same direction: a writ was served against Ariel Sharon, but not against Yasser Arafat. Augusto Pinochet was arrested, but Fidel Castro could attend international summits. Donald Rumsfeld was indicted in Europe, but not Saddam Hussein.

What you’ll always find about the international-justice hustle is that its proponents never explain how these fatal problems can be resolved. In this case, the problems, of course, are the solutions. That’s because universal jurisdiction isn’t about justice. It’s about power.

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Time to Clean House?

Yuval Levin raises an interesting point about the Obami:

They have made it impossible for themselves to change course without a massive loss of face and of political capital. But however costly, that change will now need to come. You have to wonder if the people responsible for setting this course—and especially Rahm Emanuel and the House and Senate leadership—will still be standing when it’s all done with.

Obama isn’t big on firing people. It took a weekend of angst before Van Jones was shown the door. No one lost his job over the national security debacle that resulted in the Christmas Day near-catastrophe. So will he now clean house, after his domestic agenda has blown up in the Bluest State, his approval rating has plummeted, his party has formed a circular firing squad, and his congressional majorities are at risk? It seems that the Obama political brain trust — which thought its expertise extended to Afghanistan war strategy and the Middle East “peace process” — wasn’t very good at the jobs in which they were supposedly expert. Rahm Emanuel understood Congress. David Axelrod understood political salesmanship. But they, along with Obama of course, made a perfect mess in only a year.

It might be smart for Obama to toss some of them out. For starters, it might elevate the tone of the White House, which has been languishing in the partisan sewers for a year. And it might signal to panicked Democrats in the House and Senate that Obama doesn’t intend to plow them under. But most of all, it would be a message to the country that the president has learned a lesson and is setting a new direction.

Other presidents have shoved advisers aside at opportune moments. George W. Bush fired Donald Rumsfeld. Ronald Reagan fired Donald Regan. Bill Clinton fired Mack McLarty. In all those cases, the presidents and the country were the better for it. Obama might think hard about following his predecessors’ lead. Really, he could hardly do worse than his current staff.

Yuval Levin raises an interesting point about the Obami:

They have made it impossible for themselves to change course without a massive loss of face and of political capital. But however costly, that change will now need to come. You have to wonder if the people responsible for setting this course—and especially Rahm Emanuel and the House and Senate leadership—will still be standing when it’s all done with.

Obama isn’t big on firing people. It took a weekend of angst before Van Jones was shown the door. No one lost his job over the national security debacle that resulted in the Christmas Day near-catastrophe. So will he now clean house, after his domestic agenda has blown up in the Bluest State, his approval rating has plummeted, his party has formed a circular firing squad, and his congressional majorities are at risk? It seems that the Obama political brain trust — which thought its expertise extended to Afghanistan war strategy and the Middle East “peace process” — wasn’t very good at the jobs in which they were supposedly expert. Rahm Emanuel understood Congress. David Axelrod understood political salesmanship. But they, along with Obama of course, made a perfect mess in only a year.

It might be smart for Obama to toss some of them out. For starters, it might elevate the tone of the White House, which has been languishing in the partisan sewers for a year. And it might signal to panicked Democrats in the House and Senate that Obama doesn’t intend to plow them under. But most of all, it would be a message to the country that the president has learned a lesson and is setting a new direction.

Other presidents have shoved advisers aside at opportune moments. George W. Bush fired Donald Rumsfeld. Ronald Reagan fired Donald Regan. Bill Clinton fired Mack McLarty. In all those cases, the presidents and the country were the better for it. Obama might think hard about following his predecessors’ lead. Really, he could hardly do worse than his current staff.

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Nervously Waiting

Anticipating Obama’s speech at West Point, David Brooks writes:

What’s emerging appears to be something less than a comprehensive COIN strategy but more than a mere counter-terrorism strategy — shooting at terrorists with drones. It is a hybrid approach, and as we watch the president’s speech Tuesday night, we’ll all get to judge whether he has cut and pasted the different options into a coherent whole. It’s not the troop levels that matter. What matters is how this war will be fought.

Some very smart people say that the administration’s direction is already fatally flawed. There is no such thing as effective COIN-lite, they argue. All the pieces of a comprehensive strategy have to be done patiently and together because success depends on the way they magnify one another.

Others are concerned that there will be too much “exit strategy talk.” Tom Ricks observes:

Perhaps most importantly, is his heart in it, and can he bring along a good portion of the American people, especially part of his base? Or is he gonna say we’re giving it 12 months and then we’re outta here? … If he uses the phrase “exit strategy,” or dwells on the subject, then you’ll know you’re probably looking at a one-term president. In other words, file under “Jimmy Carter,” not “Abe Lincoln.”

All this, of course, is what comes from months of public agonizing and a sense that domestic politics, and domestic political advisers, had overtaken the process of developing a winning war strategy. In a feverish effort to keep the unplacatable Left placated, Obama runs the risk of making his own job — leading us to victory — more difficult.

This is obviously not a role he relishes nor a process he has excelled at. There are choices to be made: McChrystal or not, exit-strategy limited or not. It is excruciating to watch the White House try to please this and that constituency as if this were an ag bill. But as Donald Rumsfeld once said of the Army, we fight wars with the president we have. This president has a chance to — for once — put aside pedestrian domestic concerns and demonstrate he understands both the nature of our enemy and the requirements of fighting a self-described critical war. If he does that, the politics will sort themselves out. If not, he’ll have far greater problems than keeping Nancy Pelosi happy.

Anticipating Obama’s speech at West Point, David Brooks writes:

What’s emerging appears to be something less than a comprehensive COIN strategy but more than a mere counter-terrorism strategy — shooting at terrorists with drones. It is a hybrid approach, and as we watch the president’s speech Tuesday night, we’ll all get to judge whether he has cut and pasted the different options into a coherent whole. It’s not the troop levels that matter. What matters is how this war will be fought.

Some very smart people say that the administration’s direction is already fatally flawed. There is no such thing as effective COIN-lite, they argue. All the pieces of a comprehensive strategy have to be done patiently and together because success depends on the way they magnify one another.

Others are concerned that there will be too much “exit strategy talk.” Tom Ricks observes:

Perhaps most importantly, is his heart in it, and can he bring along a good portion of the American people, especially part of his base? Or is he gonna say we’re giving it 12 months and then we’re outta here? … If he uses the phrase “exit strategy,” or dwells on the subject, then you’ll know you’re probably looking at a one-term president. In other words, file under “Jimmy Carter,” not “Abe Lincoln.”

All this, of course, is what comes from months of public agonizing and a sense that domestic politics, and domestic political advisers, had overtaken the process of developing a winning war strategy. In a feverish effort to keep the unplacatable Left placated, Obama runs the risk of making his own job — leading us to victory — more difficult.

This is obviously not a role he relishes nor a process he has excelled at. There are choices to be made: McChrystal or not, exit-strategy limited or not. It is excruciating to watch the White House try to please this and that constituency as if this were an ag bill. But as Donald Rumsfeld once said of the Army, we fight wars with the president we have. This president has a chance to — for once — put aside pedestrian domestic concerns and demonstrate he understands both the nature of our enemy and the requirements of fighting a self-described critical war. If he does that, the politics will sort themselves out. If not, he’ll have far greater problems than keeping Nancy Pelosi happy.

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Remember Iraq?

In today’s New York Times, David Carr has a piece about the dwindling media coverage of the Iraq War. Carr begins writing about war fatigue and soon descends into a lament about Pentagon restrictions on media and, of course, the human toll of the war. When a media expert cites the success of the troop surge as a possible cause for decreased coverage, Carr is quick to minimize the point:

“Ironically, the success of the surge and a reduction in violence has led to a reduction in coverage,” said Mark Jurkowitz of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. “There is evidence that people have made up their minds about this war, and other stories – like the economy and the election – have come along and sucked up all the oxygen.”

But the tactical success of the surge should not be misconstrued as making Iraq a safer place for American soldiers.

(Anyone interested in “misconstruing” the definition of success to actually mean success, should go check out this Los Angeles Times article about the four-year-low in Iraq violence.)

The MSM has reasons beyond widespread anti-war, anti-Bush sentiment to keep post-surge good news out of the headlines. H. Fred Garcia, media consultant at Logos Consulting Group, cites the five C’s that make a story newsworthy: Conflict, Contradiction, Controversy, Cast of Characters and Colorful Language. With the progress made in the last year, the Iraq War has disappointed in delivering the five C’s to outlets like the New York Times. Let’s consider them one-by-one:

Conflict: A more stable Iraq means, by definition, less conflict. Where there was once talk of civil war, there is now talk of reconciliation. Stories about parliamentary sessions don’t contain body counts, and pictures of bill-signings don’t make it to the front page as frequently as battle scenes.

Contradiction: General David Petraeus is in the honorable habit of telling it like it is. Whereas jettisoned personalities like Donald Rumsfeld could be relied upon to observe setbacks and brag of successes, Gen. Petraeus is circumspect when testifying about hard-won progress. How can the media trip up a man who readily concedes that the success he’s seeing is “fragile and reversible”? Furthermore there’s greater public agreement coming out of the Pentagon and the State Department than there was in the early days of the war. The Petraeus plan has been settled upon and there’s very little in-fighting to leak out.

Controversy: If you go to google.com/news and type in “Iraq scandal”, you’ll get hits for Abu Ghraib, Guantanemo Bay, Walter Reed, insufficient body armor, and Blackwater. These are all years-old stories of varying merit. Try as they might, the MSM has been unable to make any fresh controversy stick to the coalition’s effort in Iraq.

Cast of Characters: Iraq isn’t a soap opera anymore. The days of Donald Rumsfeld and Baghdad Bob are over. There is no more hubristic overstatement, wise-cracking insouciance, or delusional ranting. On the American side Gen. Petraeus and Ryan Crocker don’t project primetime appeal. They appear before cameras to make their case and then go back to work. On the Iraqi side, there’s no more Saddam Hussein or Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The classic villains have been slain. (The aged and puny Tariq Aziz is currently standing trial for war crimes and no one even notices.) The MSM salivates over Moqtada al-Sadr’s every bark and growl, but as he continues to be marginalized the effort to turn him into a larger-than-life personage grows evermore challenging. As Prime Minister al-Maliki goes about the unglamorous business of Iraqi statehood, he fails to cut the dashing image of, say, (one-time prime minister hopeful) Ahmed Chalibi.

Colorful language: The lexicon of battle is far more lurid than the lexicon of reconciliation. We’ve gone from the pyrotechnics of “Shock and Awe” and the exotic horror of exploding golden domes to the legalese of parliamentary decisions. The most hysterical effort at maintaining the electrified language of war can be found in the lede of a July 27 New York Times story about ice in Bagdhad: “Each day before the midsummer sun rises high enough to bake blood on concrete, Baghdad’s underclass lines up outside Dickensian ice factories.” Blood can bake only so many times as violence decreases.

So: We’re left with the humdrum narrative of slow and steady progress. Happiness, they say, writes white. While no one would characterize Iraq as happy, there’s been more boring good news coming from Mesopotamia in the past year than the MSM knows what to do with.

In today’s New York Times, David Carr has a piece about the dwindling media coverage of the Iraq War. Carr begins writing about war fatigue and soon descends into a lament about Pentagon restrictions on media and, of course, the human toll of the war. When a media expert cites the success of the troop surge as a possible cause for decreased coverage, Carr is quick to minimize the point:

“Ironically, the success of the surge and a reduction in violence has led to a reduction in coverage,” said Mark Jurkowitz of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. “There is evidence that people have made up their minds about this war, and other stories – like the economy and the election – have come along and sucked up all the oxygen.”

But the tactical success of the surge should not be misconstrued as making Iraq a safer place for American soldiers.

(Anyone interested in “misconstruing” the definition of success to actually mean success, should go check out this Los Angeles Times article about the four-year-low in Iraq violence.)

The MSM has reasons beyond widespread anti-war, anti-Bush sentiment to keep post-surge good news out of the headlines. H. Fred Garcia, media consultant at Logos Consulting Group, cites the five C’s that make a story newsworthy: Conflict, Contradiction, Controversy, Cast of Characters and Colorful Language. With the progress made in the last year, the Iraq War has disappointed in delivering the five C’s to outlets like the New York Times. Let’s consider them one-by-one:

Conflict: A more stable Iraq means, by definition, less conflict. Where there was once talk of civil war, there is now talk of reconciliation. Stories about parliamentary sessions don’t contain body counts, and pictures of bill-signings don’t make it to the front page as frequently as battle scenes.

Contradiction: General David Petraeus is in the honorable habit of telling it like it is. Whereas jettisoned personalities like Donald Rumsfeld could be relied upon to observe setbacks and brag of successes, Gen. Petraeus is circumspect when testifying about hard-won progress. How can the media trip up a man who readily concedes that the success he’s seeing is “fragile and reversible”? Furthermore there’s greater public agreement coming out of the Pentagon and the State Department than there was in the early days of the war. The Petraeus plan has been settled upon and there’s very little in-fighting to leak out.

Controversy: If you go to google.com/news and type in “Iraq scandal”, you’ll get hits for Abu Ghraib, Guantanemo Bay, Walter Reed, insufficient body armor, and Blackwater. These are all years-old stories of varying merit. Try as they might, the MSM has been unable to make any fresh controversy stick to the coalition’s effort in Iraq.

Cast of Characters: Iraq isn’t a soap opera anymore. The days of Donald Rumsfeld and Baghdad Bob are over. There is no more hubristic overstatement, wise-cracking insouciance, or delusional ranting. On the American side Gen. Petraeus and Ryan Crocker don’t project primetime appeal. They appear before cameras to make their case and then go back to work. On the Iraqi side, there’s no more Saddam Hussein or Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The classic villains have been slain. (The aged and puny Tariq Aziz is currently standing trial for war crimes and no one even notices.) The MSM salivates over Moqtada al-Sadr’s every bark and growl, but as he continues to be marginalized the effort to turn him into a larger-than-life personage grows evermore challenging. As Prime Minister al-Maliki goes about the unglamorous business of Iraqi statehood, he fails to cut the dashing image of, say, (one-time prime minister hopeful) Ahmed Chalibi.

Colorful language: The lexicon of battle is far more lurid than the lexicon of reconciliation. We’ve gone from the pyrotechnics of “Shock and Awe” and the exotic horror of exploding golden domes to the legalese of parliamentary decisions. The most hysterical effort at maintaining the electrified language of war can be found in the lede of a July 27 New York Times story about ice in Bagdhad: “Each day before the midsummer sun rises high enough to bake blood on concrete, Baghdad’s underclass lines up outside Dickensian ice factories.” Blood can bake only so many times as violence decreases.

So: We’re left with the humdrum narrative of slow and steady progress. Happiness, they say, writes white. While no one would characterize Iraq as happy, there’s been more boring good news coming from Mesopotamia in the past year than the MSM knows what to do with.

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Gates on Low-Intensity Warfare

As the Iraq War has gone on and on, serious doubts have been raised within the military about whether we are becoming overly focused on low-intensity warfare. Many officers fret that skills at conventional warfighting are deteriorating, and this is cited by some as cause to pull more forces out of Iraq faster. Defense Secretary Bob Gates offered a trenchant rebuttal to those critics in a speech today at a Heritage Foundation event in Colorado.

He rightly warned against “a tendency towards what might be called “Next-War-itis–the propensity of much of the defense establishment to be in favor of what might be needed in a future conflict.” While the military has to be prepared for all kinds of scenarios, he noted that “it is hard to conceive of any country confronting the United States directly in conventional terms–ship to ship, fighter to fighter, tank to tank–for some time to come.”

On the other hand, the threat from unconventional forces of the kind we’re facing in Afghanistan and Iraq is real, and it’s not going away. “The implication, particularly for America’s ground forces,” he continued, “means we must institutionalize the lessons learned and capabilities honed from the ongoing conflicts….What we must guard against is the kind of backsliding that has occurred in the past, where if nature takes it course, these kinds of capabilities –that is counter-insurgency–tend to wither on the vine.”

He closed with a powerful point that military critics of the war effort need to come to terms with: “The risk of overextending the Army is real. But I believe the risk is far greater–to that institution, as well as to our country–if we were to fail in Iraq. That is the war we are in. That is the war we must win.”

One might think that what the defense secretary is saying is simply common sense–except that it runs counter to the view of his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, who was very much in thrall to “Next War-itis.” On this matter, as on so many others, Gates has been a welcome and refreshing change.

As the Iraq War has gone on and on, serious doubts have been raised within the military about whether we are becoming overly focused on low-intensity warfare. Many officers fret that skills at conventional warfighting are deteriorating, and this is cited by some as cause to pull more forces out of Iraq faster. Defense Secretary Bob Gates offered a trenchant rebuttal to those critics in a speech today at a Heritage Foundation event in Colorado.

He rightly warned against “a tendency towards what might be called “Next-War-itis–the propensity of much of the defense establishment to be in favor of what might be needed in a future conflict.” While the military has to be prepared for all kinds of scenarios, he noted that “it is hard to conceive of any country confronting the United States directly in conventional terms–ship to ship, fighter to fighter, tank to tank–for some time to come.”

On the other hand, the threat from unconventional forces of the kind we’re facing in Afghanistan and Iraq is real, and it’s not going away. “The implication, particularly for America’s ground forces,” he continued, “means we must institutionalize the lessons learned and capabilities honed from the ongoing conflicts….What we must guard against is the kind of backsliding that has occurred in the past, where if nature takes it course, these kinds of capabilities –that is counter-insurgency–tend to wither on the vine.”

He closed with a powerful point that military critics of the war effort need to come to terms with: “The risk of overextending the Army is real. But I believe the risk is far greater–to that institution, as well as to our country–if we were to fail in Iraq. That is the war we are in. That is the war we must win.”

One might think that what the defense secretary is saying is simply common sense–except that it runs counter to the view of his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, who was very much in thrall to “Next War-itis.” On this matter, as on so many others, Gates has been a welcome and refreshing change.

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Never Mind

For years Democrats have been singing John McCain’s praises each time he crossed swords with the Republican establishment. Whether on torture or campaign finance or global warming or Donald Rumsfeld, McCain was every Democrat’s favorite Republican. They liked him so much they tried to recruit him to join their party, and then their ticket, in 2004. (Mitt Romney ran an ad on just this topic during the primary.)

So when a YouTube clip of Barack Obama lauding the McCain-Lieberman climate control amendment surfaces, you can bet this is not the only one in the RNC’s vault. We can expect, as the campaign progresses, to go down YouTube’s memory lane with a parade of Democrats cheering McCain as he opposed the Bush administration and many Republican Congressional measures. Will there be an equal number of bipartisan oldie-but-goodie moments for Barack Obama? Not likely, since there’s been no one more faithful to the strict liberal voting line than he.

So the question is: what will Obama and the Democrats say in rebuttal? “Never mind”?

For years Democrats have been singing John McCain’s praises each time he crossed swords with the Republican establishment. Whether on torture or campaign finance or global warming or Donald Rumsfeld, McCain was every Democrat’s favorite Republican. They liked him so much they tried to recruit him to join their party, and then their ticket, in 2004. (Mitt Romney ran an ad on just this topic during the primary.)

So when a YouTube clip of Barack Obama lauding the McCain-Lieberman climate control amendment surfaces, you can bet this is not the only one in the RNC’s vault. We can expect, as the campaign progresses, to go down YouTube’s memory lane with a parade of Democrats cheering McCain as he opposed the Bush administration and many Republican Congressional measures. Will there be an equal number of bipartisan oldie-but-goodie moments for Barack Obama? Not likely, since there’s been no one more faithful to the strict liberal voting line than he.

So the question is: what will Obama and the Democrats say in rebuttal? “Never mind”?

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Wiser in Battle?

In the Washington Post today, I point out some of the problems with retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez’s new memoir, Wiser in Battle. But even a 1,000-word review is insufficient space to deconstruct all of the myths, misunderstandings, and false impressions that Sanchez tries to peddle. On his own blog, Phil Carter offers trenchant thoughts on what else Sanchez got wrong.

I was particularly struck by Phil’s comments on what Sanchez has to say about the lessons of Vietnam. As Phil notes, Sanchez peddles the old stabbed-in-the-back thesis, writing that

civilian leaders in the White House micromanaged many aspects of the Vietnam War. They did not allow the U.S. armed forces to utilize the full extent of its resources to achieve victory. Instead, the military was forced to fight incremental battles that led to a never-ending conflict.

This was the conventional U.S. Army takeaway from Vietnam, as exemplified by Harry Summers’s influential book On Strategy. Unfortunately, more recent historical work has largely refuted the notion that civilian micromanagement was to blame for our defeat. Sure, it didn’t help that LBJ personally chose bombing targets in the Oval Office, but even more corrosive was the inability and unwillingness of the U.S. Army in the early years of the war to adapt to counterinsurgency warfare. It’s noteworthy that Sanchez, who fails to comment on this lack of adaptation in Vietnam, was guilty of a similar failure to adapt to conditions in Iraq when he was in charge in 2003-2004.

And, just like many of the Vietnam War generals, he tries to lay the blame at the feet of civilians. Of course, civilians–notably President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld–do bear the ultimate responsibility. But Sanchez is off-base when he writes, “I observed intrusive civilian command of the military, rather than the civilian control embodied in the Constitution.” Sanchez seems to be under the misapprehension that the Constitution designates the President as “controller in chief” rather than “commander in chief.”

The problem in Iraq wasn’t that the President was too intrusive; it was that he deferred too much to a military chain of command that made huge mistakes and was slow to correct them. Rumsfeld, while nit-picking minor details, also washed his hands of big strategic decisions (such as the disbanding of the Iraqi armed forces).

The proper lesson of Iraq, then, is the same as the lesson of Vietnam. It is not that we should have less civilian command of the military; it is that we should have better civilian command.

In the Washington Post today, I point out some of the problems with retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez’s new memoir, Wiser in Battle. But even a 1,000-word review is insufficient space to deconstruct all of the myths, misunderstandings, and false impressions that Sanchez tries to peddle. On his own blog, Phil Carter offers trenchant thoughts on what else Sanchez got wrong.

I was particularly struck by Phil’s comments on what Sanchez has to say about the lessons of Vietnam. As Phil notes, Sanchez peddles the old stabbed-in-the-back thesis, writing that

civilian leaders in the White House micromanaged many aspects of the Vietnam War. They did not allow the U.S. armed forces to utilize the full extent of its resources to achieve victory. Instead, the military was forced to fight incremental battles that led to a never-ending conflict.

This was the conventional U.S. Army takeaway from Vietnam, as exemplified by Harry Summers’s influential book On Strategy. Unfortunately, more recent historical work has largely refuted the notion that civilian micromanagement was to blame for our defeat. Sure, it didn’t help that LBJ personally chose bombing targets in the Oval Office, but even more corrosive was the inability and unwillingness of the U.S. Army in the early years of the war to adapt to counterinsurgency warfare. It’s noteworthy that Sanchez, who fails to comment on this lack of adaptation in Vietnam, was guilty of a similar failure to adapt to conditions in Iraq when he was in charge in 2003-2004.

And, just like many of the Vietnam War generals, he tries to lay the blame at the feet of civilians. Of course, civilians–notably President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld–do bear the ultimate responsibility. But Sanchez is off-base when he writes, “I observed intrusive civilian command of the military, rather than the civilian control embodied in the Constitution.” Sanchez seems to be under the misapprehension that the Constitution designates the President as “controller in chief” rather than “commander in chief.”

The problem in Iraq wasn’t that the President was too intrusive; it was that he deferred too much to a military chain of command that made huge mistakes and was slow to correct them. Rumsfeld, while nit-picking minor details, also washed his hands of big strategic decisions (such as the disbanding of the Iraqi armed forces).

The proper lesson of Iraq, then, is the same as the lesson of Vietnam. It is not that we should have less civilian command of the military; it is that we should have better civilian command.

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Bob Gates on Dissent

If you’re wondering why Admiral Fox Fallon had to step down as Commander of Central Command, it’s worth reading the speech that Secretary of Defense Bob Gates delivered at West Point on April 21. Gates never once mentioned Fallon’s name, but the testy admiral’s shadow loomed over his remarks on the role of dissent within the military chain of command.

He urged the cadets to tell the truth, even if it hurts: “if as an officer–listen to me very carefully–if as an officer you don’t tell blunt truths or create an environment where candor is encouraged, then you’ve done yourself and the institution a disservice.” But he also argued that, after an officer has had a chance to vent his disagreement, he must still carry out his orders, whether he likes them or not. In this regard, Gates cited the canonic example of George C. Marshall.

In 1940, he noted, “Marshall believed that rearming America should come first. Roosevelt overruled Marshall and others, and came down on what most historians believe is the correct decision–to do what was necessary to keep England alive.”

He went on:

The significant thing is what did not happen next. There was a powerful domestic constituency for Marshall’s position among a whole host of newspapers and congressmen and lobbies, and yet Marshall did not exploit and use them. There were no overtures to friendly congressional committee chairmen, no leaks to sympathetic reporters, no ghostwritten editorials in newspapers, no coalition-building with advocacy groups. Marshall and his colleagues made the policy work and kept England alive.

Fallon undoubtedly met Gates’s directive “to provide blunt and candid advice always.” But, unlike Marshall, he fell short on two other measures laid out by the defense secretary: “to keep disagreements private” and “to implement faithfully decisions that go against you.”

Fallon was all too public in his differences with regard to administration policy on Iraq, Iran, and the broader Middle East. His downfall came shortly after he bared his thoughts to Thomas P.M. Barnett in Esquire magazine.

Beyond Fallon’s fate, the rules that Gates laid out seem like a very sensible distillation of the proper relationship between officers and their civilian superiors. In some respects the most noteworthy theme he struck was not that dissent can sometimes go too far but that he believes dissent and debate is healthy and should be encouraged–attitudes that, rightly or wrongly, were not seen as hallmarks of Donald Rumsfeld’s days at the Pentagon.

If you’re wondering why Admiral Fox Fallon had to step down as Commander of Central Command, it’s worth reading the speech that Secretary of Defense Bob Gates delivered at West Point on April 21. Gates never once mentioned Fallon’s name, but the testy admiral’s shadow loomed over his remarks on the role of dissent within the military chain of command.

He urged the cadets to tell the truth, even if it hurts: “if as an officer–listen to me very carefully–if as an officer you don’t tell blunt truths or create an environment where candor is encouraged, then you’ve done yourself and the institution a disservice.” But he also argued that, after an officer has had a chance to vent his disagreement, he must still carry out his orders, whether he likes them or not. In this regard, Gates cited the canonic example of George C. Marshall.

In 1940, he noted, “Marshall believed that rearming America should come first. Roosevelt overruled Marshall and others, and came down on what most historians believe is the correct decision–to do what was necessary to keep England alive.”

He went on:

The significant thing is what did not happen next. There was a powerful domestic constituency for Marshall’s position among a whole host of newspapers and congressmen and lobbies, and yet Marshall did not exploit and use them. There were no overtures to friendly congressional committee chairmen, no leaks to sympathetic reporters, no ghostwritten editorials in newspapers, no coalition-building with advocacy groups. Marshall and his colleagues made the policy work and kept England alive.

Fallon undoubtedly met Gates’s directive “to provide blunt and candid advice always.” But, unlike Marshall, he fell short on two other measures laid out by the defense secretary: “to keep disagreements private” and “to implement faithfully decisions that go against you.”

Fallon was all too public in his differences with regard to administration policy on Iraq, Iran, and the broader Middle East. His downfall came shortly after he bared his thoughts to Thomas P.M. Barnett in Esquire magazine.

Beyond Fallon’s fate, the rules that Gates laid out seem like a very sensible distillation of the proper relationship between officers and their civilian superiors. In some respects the most noteworthy theme he struck was not that dissent can sometimes go too far but that he believes dissent and debate is healthy and should be encouraged–attitudes that, rightly or wrongly, were not seen as hallmarks of Donald Rumsfeld’s days at the Pentagon.

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Good News for Iraq

The Bush administration has had more than its share of disastrous personnel moves. You might call it “Brownie Syndrome,” after Michael Brown, the FEMA chief who had to resign after Hurricane Katrina. A number of these missteps–the short-lived appointment of Admiral Fox Fallon to head Central Command and the long-lived appointment of Donald Rumsfeld to head the Department of Defense–have concerned the armed forces. So it was with some surprise (and a big gulp of relief) that I read the news that General David Petraeus is being sent to Central Command and General Ray Odierno is heading to Baghdad as his replacement at the head of Multi-National Forces-Iraq (MNFI).

Odierno spent the year from early 2007 to early 2008 working closely with Petraeus to supervise the implementation of the surge. They were by far the most successful team of commanders we have had in Iraq–potentially the Grant/Sherman or Eisenhower/Patton of this long conflict. Yet there was a strong impetus back in DC to break up the winning combination–as seen in Odierno’s rotation home earlier this year and in persistent rumors that Petraeus would be sent to NATO. That is something I warned against in a January post, in which I suggested that a better move would be to send Petraeus to Centcom and Odierno to MNFI. But, based on his track record, I knew I could not necessarily count on the President doing the right thing. Now he has. That gives us a chance to build on the initial success of the surge in the challenging months that lie ahead.

Of course, whether or not Petraeus and Odierno will have a free hand to implement their best military advice will depend on the outcome of the November election. The Democratic candidates seem determined to pull troops out of the country based more on domestic political considerations than on the long-term prospects of success in the war effort.

The Bush administration has had more than its share of disastrous personnel moves. You might call it “Brownie Syndrome,” after Michael Brown, the FEMA chief who had to resign after Hurricane Katrina. A number of these missteps–the short-lived appointment of Admiral Fox Fallon to head Central Command and the long-lived appointment of Donald Rumsfeld to head the Department of Defense–have concerned the armed forces. So it was with some surprise (and a big gulp of relief) that I read the news that General David Petraeus is being sent to Central Command and General Ray Odierno is heading to Baghdad as his replacement at the head of Multi-National Forces-Iraq (MNFI).

Odierno spent the year from early 2007 to early 2008 working closely with Petraeus to supervise the implementation of the surge. They were by far the most successful team of commanders we have had in Iraq–potentially the Grant/Sherman or Eisenhower/Patton of this long conflict. Yet there was a strong impetus back in DC to break up the winning combination–as seen in Odierno’s rotation home earlier this year and in persistent rumors that Petraeus would be sent to NATO. That is something I warned against in a January post, in which I suggested that a better move would be to send Petraeus to Centcom and Odierno to MNFI. But, based on his track record, I knew I could not necessarily count on the President doing the right thing. Now he has. That gives us a chance to build on the initial success of the surge in the challenging months that lie ahead.

Of course, whether or not Petraeus and Odierno will have a free hand to implement their best military advice will depend on the outcome of the November election. The Democratic candidates seem determined to pull troops out of the country based more on domestic political considerations than on the long-term prospects of success in the war effort.

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Who is Thomas P. M. Barnett?

In the LA Times today, Max Boot effectively takes down the Esquire profile of Admiral William Fallon, who just resigned as head the U.S. Central Command in a spat with the Bush administration over Iran policy:

Its author, Thomas P.M. Barnett, a former professor at the Naval War College, presents a fawning portrait of the admiral — a service he previously performed for Donald Rumsfeld. But evidence of Fallon’s supposed “strategic brilliance” is notably lacking. For example, Barnett notes Fallon’s attempt to banish the phrase “the Long War” (created by his predecessor) because it “signaled a long haul that Fallon simply finds unacceptable,” without offering any hint of how Fallon intends to defeat our enemies overnight. The ideas Fallon proposes — “He wants troop levels in Iraq down now, and he wants the Afghan National Army running the show throughout most of Afghanistan by the end of this year” — would most likely result in security setbacks that would lengthen, not shorten, the struggle.

Max calls Barnett’s portrait “fawning.” Max is a master of understatement. Here are some excerpts:

The first thing you notice is the face, the second is the voice.

A tall, wiry man with thinning white hair, Fallon comes off like a loner even when he’s standing in a crowd.

Despite having an easy smile that he regularly pulls out for his many daily exercises in relationship building, Fallon’s consistent game face is a slightly pissed-off glare. It’s his default expression. Don’t fuck with me, it says. A tough Catholic boy from New Jersey, his favorite compliment is “badass.” Fallon’s got a fearsome reputation, although no one I ever talk to in the business can quite pin down why.

And in truth, Fallon’s not a screamer. Indeed, by my long observation and the accounts of a dozen people, he doesn’t raise his voice whatsoever, except when he laughs. Instead, the more serious he becomes, the quieter he gets, and his whispers sound positively menacing. Other guys can jaw-jaw all they want about the need for war-war with . . . whomever is today’s target among D.C.’s many armchair warriors. Not Fallon. Let the president pop off. Fallon won’t. No bravado here, nor sound-bite-sized threats, but rather a calm, leathery presence. Fallon is comfortable risking peace because he’s comfortable waging war.

Along with such treacle, the Esquire portrait also contains a dose of the same kind of poison pedaled by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. Barnett writes that Fallon’s articulation of a soft line toward Iran amounts to “fighting words to your average neocon — not to mention your average supporter of Israel, a good many of whom in Washington seem never to have served a minute in uniform. But utter those words for print and you can easily find yourself defending your indifference to ‘nuclear holocaust.'” Thanks largely to Mearsheimer and Walt, this kind of Charles Lindbergh-Henry Ford-style discourse has seeped into the discourse of even third-rate hacks.

But perhaps even more notable is Barnett’s account of Fallon’s travel to a Chinese city when he was in charge of American forces in the Pacific:

Early in his tenure at Pacific Command, Fallon let it be known that he was interested in visiting the city of Harbin in the highly controlled and isolated Heilongjiang Military District on China’s northern border with Russia. The Chinese were flabbergasted at the request, but when Fallon’s command plane took off one afternoon from Mongolia, heading for Harbin without permission, Beijing relented.

Did a U.S. military aircraft really enter Chinese airspace without permission? Under what circumstances are U.S. military aircraft ever granted permission to fly over China, let alone over a military district? What really happened here? My first bet is that either Barnett made this stuff up or he was sold a bill of goods by the man with the “calm, leathery presence.” I knew Barnett back in grad school at Harvard, and my second bet is the latter.

Barnett became famous at Harvard for another fawning article he wrote, in this case about the Romanian tyrant Nicolae Ceausescu. Describing Ceausescu as a “shrewd and farsighted politician,” Barnett noted that the Romanian leader had recently been “unanimously reelected at the recent Communist Party congress,” and his “grip on power appears firm.” Barnett’s op-ed appeared in the Christian Science Monitor on December 11, 1989. Fourteen days later, Romania was in full revolt and Ceausescu was dead — not of natural causes.

Let’s put aside Admiral Fallon’s views on Iran. If for nothing else, he deserved to be relieved of his command for collaborating with such a malign goofball in anything, let alone a campaign of insubordination.

In the LA Times today, Max Boot effectively takes down the Esquire profile of Admiral William Fallon, who just resigned as head the U.S. Central Command in a spat with the Bush administration over Iran policy:

Its author, Thomas P.M. Barnett, a former professor at the Naval War College, presents a fawning portrait of the admiral — a service he previously performed for Donald Rumsfeld. But evidence of Fallon’s supposed “strategic brilliance” is notably lacking. For example, Barnett notes Fallon’s attempt to banish the phrase “the Long War” (created by his predecessor) because it “signaled a long haul that Fallon simply finds unacceptable,” without offering any hint of how Fallon intends to defeat our enemies overnight. The ideas Fallon proposes — “He wants troop levels in Iraq down now, and he wants the Afghan National Army running the show throughout most of Afghanistan by the end of this year” — would most likely result in security setbacks that would lengthen, not shorten, the struggle.

Max calls Barnett’s portrait “fawning.” Max is a master of understatement. Here are some excerpts:

The first thing you notice is the face, the second is the voice.

A tall, wiry man with thinning white hair, Fallon comes off like a loner even when he’s standing in a crowd.

Despite having an easy smile that he regularly pulls out for his many daily exercises in relationship building, Fallon’s consistent game face is a slightly pissed-off glare. It’s his default expression. Don’t fuck with me, it says. A tough Catholic boy from New Jersey, his favorite compliment is “badass.” Fallon’s got a fearsome reputation, although no one I ever talk to in the business can quite pin down why.

And in truth, Fallon’s not a screamer. Indeed, by my long observation and the accounts of a dozen people, he doesn’t raise his voice whatsoever, except when he laughs. Instead, the more serious he becomes, the quieter he gets, and his whispers sound positively menacing. Other guys can jaw-jaw all they want about the need for war-war with . . . whomever is today’s target among D.C.’s many armchair warriors. Not Fallon. Let the president pop off. Fallon won’t. No bravado here, nor sound-bite-sized threats, but rather a calm, leathery presence. Fallon is comfortable risking peace because he’s comfortable waging war.

Along with such treacle, the Esquire portrait also contains a dose of the same kind of poison pedaled by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. Barnett writes that Fallon’s articulation of a soft line toward Iran amounts to “fighting words to your average neocon — not to mention your average supporter of Israel, a good many of whom in Washington seem never to have served a minute in uniform. But utter those words for print and you can easily find yourself defending your indifference to ‘nuclear holocaust.'” Thanks largely to Mearsheimer and Walt, this kind of Charles Lindbergh-Henry Ford-style discourse has seeped into the discourse of even third-rate hacks.

But perhaps even more notable is Barnett’s account of Fallon’s travel to a Chinese city when he was in charge of American forces in the Pacific:

Early in his tenure at Pacific Command, Fallon let it be known that he was interested in visiting the city of Harbin in the highly controlled and isolated Heilongjiang Military District on China’s northern border with Russia. The Chinese were flabbergasted at the request, but when Fallon’s command plane took off one afternoon from Mongolia, heading for Harbin without permission, Beijing relented.

Did a U.S. military aircraft really enter Chinese airspace without permission? Under what circumstances are U.S. military aircraft ever granted permission to fly over China, let alone over a military district? What really happened here? My first bet is that either Barnett made this stuff up or he was sold a bill of goods by the man with the “calm, leathery presence.” I knew Barnett back in grad school at Harvard, and my second bet is the latter.

Barnett became famous at Harvard for another fawning article he wrote, in this case about the Romanian tyrant Nicolae Ceausescu. Describing Ceausescu as a “shrewd and farsighted politician,” Barnett noted that the Romanian leader had recently been “unanimously reelected at the recent Communist Party congress,” and his “grip on power appears firm.” Barnett’s op-ed appeared in the Christian Science Monitor on December 11, 1989. Fourteen days later, Romania was in full revolt and Ceausescu was dead — not of natural causes.

Let’s put aside Admiral Fallon’s views on Iran. If for nothing else, he deserved to be relieved of his command for collaborating with such a malign goofball in anything, let alone a campaign of insubordination.

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Farewell, Fox Fallon

Today’s Los Angeles Times carries an article by me on the resignation of Admiral Fox Fallon from Central Command. In it I applaud his departure. Fallon was on the wrong side of so many issues–from opposing the surge in Iraq to making public statements that made it more difficult to maintain pressure on Iran. But his departure also raises a broader issue that I didn’t have room to address in the article: When is it appropriate for military commanders to break ranks with their civilian overseers?

This has been a hot issue for years. A decade ago, one of the most capable officers in the entire army, H.R. McMaster, published a best-selling book, Dereliction of Duty, which took the Joint Chiefs of Staff to task for not quitting in protest because President Johnson supposedly ignored their best military advice about the Vietnam War. More recently, a group of retired general officers came out against the Iraq War and against Donald Rumsfeld when he was still Secretary of Defense. Many in the military have suggested there should have been more protest and, if necessary, resignations among the senior ranks to protest the misguided decisions made by the Bush administration about the Iraq War.

There is little doubt that senior officers should have ample opportunity to engage in debate and dissent–in private. The President and secretary of defense should hear a wide variety of views before making a decision. But it’s another matter altogether when senior officers go public with their disagreements, especially when disagreeing with policy decisions that have already been made by their civilian superiors. That is an untenable situation, and–as with George McClellan, Douglas MacArthur, and now Fox Fallon–there is no choice but for such general officers to resign.

A further distinction should be made. Military officers are experts in how to wage war, not when to wage it. Their advice is most needed when it comes to tactics and operations, not for building grand strategy. Bush and Rumsfeld would have been well advised to pay closer attention in 2003 to the misgivings of generals such as Eric Shinseki, who warned that a larger force would be required in Iraq. And today the administration should certainly listen to Fallon or other officers about which military options, if any, are viable in the event of war with Iran.

But that’s a different matter from Fallon publicly carping that the U.S. should make nice with Iran and not threaten the mullahs with military action. Those decisions are above his pay grade, and while he should get a say in internal deliberations, his views should not necessarily be translated into policy.

Even when it comes to tactics and operations, generals shouldn’t necessarily carry the day. Fallon, after all, was wrong in opposing the surge. If the President had followed his advice we would not now be winning the war in Iraq. The trick, from the standpoint of a commander in chief, is to listen to a wide variety of views and not to defer automatically to the military hierarchy. Some officers will necessarily be unhappy with the final decisions if they run contrary to their own views. But once the President issues a directive, it is the job of the armed forces to salute and march out–not to mouth off to Esquire. If any officer can’t in good conscience carry out his orders, he has only one option left: to resign. And that’s just what Fallon did.

Democrats will try to make a scandal out of Fallon’s departure. But in fact it shows the system of civilian control of our armed forces working as intended. That is something any future President, Democrat or Republican, should be grateful for.

Today’s Los Angeles Times carries an article by me on the resignation of Admiral Fox Fallon from Central Command. In it I applaud his departure. Fallon was on the wrong side of so many issues–from opposing the surge in Iraq to making public statements that made it more difficult to maintain pressure on Iran. But his departure also raises a broader issue that I didn’t have room to address in the article: When is it appropriate for military commanders to break ranks with their civilian overseers?

This has been a hot issue for years. A decade ago, one of the most capable officers in the entire army, H.R. McMaster, published a best-selling book, Dereliction of Duty, which took the Joint Chiefs of Staff to task for not quitting in protest because President Johnson supposedly ignored their best military advice about the Vietnam War. More recently, a group of retired general officers came out against the Iraq War and against Donald Rumsfeld when he was still Secretary of Defense. Many in the military have suggested there should have been more protest and, if necessary, resignations among the senior ranks to protest the misguided decisions made by the Bush administration about the Iraq War.

There is little doubt that senior officers should have ample opportunity to engage in debate and dissent–in private. The President and secretary of defense should hear a wide variety of views before making a decision. But it’s another matter altogether when senior officers go public with their disagreements, especially when disagreeing with policy decisions that have already been made by their civilian superiors. That is an untenable situation, and–as with George McClellan, Douglas MacArthur, and now Fox Fallon–there is no choice but for such general officers to resign.

A further distinction should be made. Military officers are experts in how to wage war, not when to wage it. Their advice is most needed when it comes to tactics and operations, not for building grand strategy. Bush and Rumsfeld would have been well advised to pay closer attention in 2003 to the misgivings of generals such as Eric Shinseki, who warned that a larger force would be required in Iraq. And today the administration should certainly listen to Fallon or other officers about which military options, if any, are viable in the event of war with Iran.

But that’s a different matter from Fallon publicly carping that the U.S. should make nice with Iran and not threaten the mullahs with military action. Those decisions are above his pay grade, and while he should get a say in internal deliberations, his views should not necessarily be translated into policy.

Even when it comes to tactics and operations, generals shouldn’t necessarily carry the day. Fallon, after all, was wrong in opposing the surge. If the President had followed his advice we would not now be winning the war in Iraq. The trick, from the standpoint of a commander in chief, is to listen to a wide variety of views and not to defer automatically to the military hierarchy. Some officers will necessarily be unhappy with the final decisions if they run contrary to their own views. But once the President issues a directive, it is the job of the armed forces to salute and march out–not to mouth off to Esquire. If any officer can’t in good conscience carry out his orders, he has only one option left: to resign. And that’s just what Fallon did.

Democrats will try to make a scandal out of Fallon’s departure. But in fact it shows the system of civilian control of our armed forces working as intended. That is something any future President, Democrat or Republican, should be grateful for.

Read Less




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