The Military and the Politicians: An Emerging Constitutional Issue
Schwartzkopf: "I would regard an 'acceptable' number of casualties as zero."
General Robert E. Lee to his generals after the Confederacy's great victory at Fredericksburg, Virginia: "It is a good thing war is so terrible, else we should love it too much."
This will be one of many columns that will deal with emerging issues of great political significance. Today, I'll look at a "settled" issue that shows signs of becoming unsettled: civilian control of the military.
Let's start with some truth in blogging: I recently told a few friends that I found myself wishing that General John Abizaid, rather than President Bush and the loony congressional Democrats, was in charge of this nation's War on Terror. My heretical view reflected my belief that the civilian leadership of the U.S. is failing badly in its efforts to keep the country secure from its enemies.
I don't mean this as a form of disrespect to George W. Bush, whom I regard as a great man -- even if he's not exactly a great (i.e., successful) President. At times, Bush 43 resembles Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, buttonholing everyone who might listen to his sad story.
As John Abizaid's recent appearance before House and Senate committee shows, being a general allows him to speak frankly, a luxury most politicians don't have. Abizaid doesn't suffer fools gladly, even when its his constitutional obligation to answer their questions.
The U.S. constitution establishes -- in somewhat less than clear, compelling language -- that the military should be under the control of elected leaders. The President serves as a hybrid, an elected official who's also Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.
The media and most politicians react to the clarity of an Abizaid with a mixture of what we might call shock and awe. Most of today's politicos and nearly all the media have no military experience -- and no points of reference other than the political. So, there isn't much real dialogue with the generals, especially someone as tough and principled as Abizaid.
Inside the Beltway, a "battle royal" isn't the U.S. versus the Japanese at Iwo Jima or the U.S. versus Al Qaeda in Al Anbar Province. Instead, it's the Pelosi-Harman catfight or the Murtha-Hoyer blowout.
The best person to "interpret" what a general is saying is another senior officer. Consider one of the country's most interesting military figures, Lt. Gen.Daniel W. Christman, who served as superintendent at West Point and now in military retirement is a vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
An occasional military analyst for CNN, Christman is a member of the Democratic Leadership Conference (DCL) -- the "moderate" group that served as a launching pad for Bill Clinton's run for the presidency. Christman was one of 12 retired general officers who endorsed John Kerry for President in 2004.
As readers of this blog will have observed, I usually don't have much tolerance for garden-variety Democrats, especially backers of John Kerry types. However, I do like some tough-minded members of that party, including Rep. Jane Harman and, especially, Christman.
He's not afraid to lay the wood to his fellow Democrats when they deserve it. In an October 21, 2005, article in the DLC publication, he condemned a Baker's Dozen Democrats who habitually refused to nominate anyone from their districts for the service academies.
Recently, on CNN, Christman was thinking the unthinkable and saying the usually inexpressible: he foresaw a coming conflict between Abizaid and those who think like him against the country's political powers.
He indicated Abizaid believes it's possible for the U.S. to prevail in Iraq, to fulfill the mission. Many of the political class, along with a majority of the electorate, are more interested in getting American troops out, no matter the consequences.
Frankly, Abizaid hates the ideas of timetables and "phased redeployments" as much as all terrorists -- and many Democrats -- like them.
He apparently believes that a redeployment puts U.S. troops in a position where they'd be sitting ducks for terrorist raiders. His related fear is that the "redeployed" soldiers would sooner rather than later have to fight a much bigger war in the Middle East.
A quick redeployment ensures a Viet Nam like situation, where hundreds of thousands of people who sided with America and a democratic Iraq, are at the mercy of mass-murderers.
America's rapid departure from Iraq would embolden countries like Iran and Syria, and it would give them control over much of the world's oil supplies. Faced with a hostile Iran, Syria, and Iraq, countries like Kuwait, the UAE, and even Saudi Arabia would be very much at risk.
The U.S. and its Western allies would lose all their leverage to block Iran's development of nuclear weapons. Also, a country like North Korea would determine that bin Laden was right: that America's liberal politicians flee the scene when they see the sight of blood.
In short, today's dangerous world would become tomorrow's nightmare.
General Abizaid and others with similar responsibilities should continue to oppose cut-and-run proposals, whether they come from addled Democrats or the aging worthies of Jim Baker's "Study Group."
We can speculate what's going on Abizaid's mind: that precipitous withdrawal -- even with the fig leaf of phased redeployment -- will result over time in the death of many U.S. servicemen and servicewomen.
He probably suspects that the Murtha, Rangel, and Pelosi types calling for a pullout will someday be the first people calling for the military to save their sorry skins
Abizaid knows he has an obligation to respect the U.S. Consitution. However, he has perhaps a greater duty to ensure that not one more flag-draped coffin comes home than is absolutely necessary.
If this all leads to a constiutional crisis, perhaps it's one the country needs.