Monday, April 24, 2006

A Sudden Love of Generals

The past few weeks saw what can loosely be described as a semi-orchestrated smear job of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The embattled SecDef has been the vocal target of a handful (and, it should be noted, only a handful) of retired generals who played a role in the planning and execution of the Iraq War. The media have seized upon this criticism and drawn two unsupported conclusions from their self-created frenzy: one, that the generals’ criticisms of Rumsfeld as a poor manager and strategic planner are self-evidently true; and second, that these self-evident truths obviously necessitate his resignation from the position of Defense Secretary.

There are, however, some truly interesting features of not only the criticism being leveled by the generals against Rumsfeld, but also of the coverage of that same criticism.

The coverage of the so-called generals’ revolt neglects to mention that there are thousands of generals who are retired from active military service – which must mean that there must be at least dozens of whom who are now retired but were actively involved in the planning and execution of the Iraq War.

The curiosity here is that the coverage utterly and totally fails to disclose the overwhelming majority of generals who have not joined the chorus of criticism against Rumsfeld, and completely soft-shoes when it comes to generals like Eric Shinseki, who keep whatever ill feelings they might harbor toward the administration to themselves. (Please note that I am not making an MSM-like leap in saying that all generals are in total agreement with Rumsfeld’s planning and execution of the war. I am merely saying that it is irresponsible to say that six retired generals out of a pool of thousands constitute a consensus about Rumsfeld’s alleged inability to make strategic decisions.)

What has also gotten precious little coverage is that some of the military hierarchy’s dislike of Rumsfeld has little to do with Rumsfeld’s civilian guidance of the war and more to do with Rumsfeld’s initiation of policy changes within the military. Indeed, this is a dispute that predates September 11th, and the accompanying tectonic shifts in foreign and military policy, and goes back to Rumsfeld’s very first days in the Pentagon.

Recall that Rumsfeld was tasked by the Bush administration with the seemingly daunting task of reshaping the military, with the ultimate goal being to streamline it, boost its efficiency, and remove its clunky over-reliance on heavy equipment in favor of a new-century equilibrium between manpower, vehicles, and technology.

Not surprisingly, generals have been resistant to such changes for good and bad reasons, and some have undoubtedly made their resistance known to Rumsfeld and the administration since January 20, 2001. In that context, it should therefore come as no surprise that the handful of whiny generals seeking to scuttle Rumsfeld’s leadership of the Department of Defense would choose this moment (i.e., in the wake of the vesting of their respective federal pensions) to launch their criticisms.

Finally, the coverage of this borderline-non-story is notable for its omissions as well as its content. Absent from the telling of this story is all of the media’s usual “Seven Days in May” style mistrust of the military and the military-industrial complex; on display in its place is an apparent unquestioning embrace of military leadership and its positions – just so long as that leadership and its positions remain critical of President Bush, Rumsfeld, and the rest of his evil administration. For the sake of convenience, the media have all but forgotten the reasoning behind – and their preference for – civilian control of the military.

Perhaps the only thing that has received accurate coverage during this phony story is the fact that Rumsfeld is going nowhere because he still has President Bush’s support. Good for Rummy.


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