What stinks about the whole “retired generals speak out” issue

I’ll probably be accused by some of the hardcore lefties who read this blog of “questioning the patriotism” of the six retired generals who’ve called for Rummy’s ouster, but before I get started let me be clear: that is not what this post is about. It’s about questioning the wisdom of the generals in question as to the timing of their criticism of Rummy. I wrote this tonight at a message board I frequent, and am resposting it here:

[Regarding the issue of a possible court martial or removal for speaking out]: if these generals felt the level of DOD incompetence was bad enough to the point that we were risking lives unnecessarily, don’t you think instead of waiting 2- 3 years after the war started while the problems that started happening shortly after the fall of Baghdad that they have alleged only got worse as a result of that incompetence that they’d have risked removal or court martial in an attempt to stop anymore unnecessary bloodshed?

That is what stinks about all of this. Yes, these retired generals have the right (and obviously the experience) to speak out about where they believe the bulk of the blame should be placed, but what’s essentially happened here is that these generals, who now claim to have had serious reservations and misgivings – reservations and misgivings that they kept quiet about while they were serving – about how the post war plan was being carried out and the decisions Don Rumsfeld made chose to keep silent about it until they were safely retired. Instead of standing up and saying “something’s not right here – our troops are needlessly dying and they’re doing so because the Defense Sec. screwed things up” they chose to keep quiet about it. Now that they are retired, when they have nothing to lose, they speak out?

Whatever happened to standing on principle? Standing on the courage of your convictions? If you’re a military general and you think that the post war decisons made by the Sec. of Def. have been that bad while you’re still serving, and you think that our troops are dying unnecessarily because of the alleged gross incompetence of the Sec. of Defense, what do you do? Do you risk it all to try and prevent more bloodshed, or do you keep quiet about it and allow it to continue without speaking out until your career with the military is over (via retirement)?

Is that asking too much? I don’t think so. Because no matter who you are, whether you’re in the military or you work in the corporate world or a hospital or wherever, if you stand by and keep quiet while your gut feeling is telling you that what your superiors are doing is wrong simply because you’re afraid that either you’ll lose your job or be retaliated against, then you (general you) are part of the problem because you’ve chosen to put your career ahead of doing what your gut is telling you is right. If these generals had that big an issue with Rumsfeld, they should have said so while they were serving because it would have given them a lot more credibility because they’d be putting their careers on the line to try to right what they perceived to be wrongs. Some people would say “well that’s a pretty big risk you’re asking them to take” – and the response to that would be “the military is all about risk.” If you believe that the men and women under your command are dying unneceessarily due to an incompetent Sec. of Defense you say so *then* – you don’t let the bloodshed continue until after you’ve safely retired all the while the men and women you think are being forced to take unnecessary risks are still doing so, in part, because you refused to speak out about it.

This would like if I was a doctor in the hospital and believed that bad hospital policy was hurting patients and in some cases costing them their lives – and said nothing about it until I retired because I was afraid I’d lose my job and/or be retaliated against by the hospital management. What kind of doctor would that make me look like in the eyes of the community? One who sat around and turned a blind eye to what was happening, because I was too afraid to stand up and do what was right because I didn’t want to risk my job. And in the process, countless lives are harmed and in some cases lost unnecessarily.

You (general you) simply do not stand around and say nothing while you think those around you are losing their lives because in your opinion the Sec of Defense is an incompetent a**. You say something THEN because if you don’t, the problems still keep going on all the while you wait until you’re safely retired (and in some cases preparing to release a book about your experiences) in order to speak out about them.

When you look at things from that perspective, it doesn’t make them look like the ‘brave mavericks’ that people are making them out to be, does it?

Update: Just catching up on blogosphere opinion on this and I see the Godfather of the blogosphere made a similar point earlier:

If things were so bad before, they should have resigned in protest instead of complaining publicly once they were safely in retirement and, in some cases, had books to promote.


Expose the Left has video of Rummy commenting on the suggestion that he should retire.

Others talking about this issue: Hugh Hewitt, Tony Blankley, Junkyard Blog, John Hawkins, Dean Esmay, Flopping Aces, Outside the Beltway (good link roundup there), Judith Apter Klinghoffer, chez Diva, Don Surber, Jack Kelly, Kim Priestap at Wizbang

Update: Kevin Drum, someone I rarely agree with, makes some great points in this post. Snippets:

Two things. First, Newbold isn’t just complaining that Donald Rumsfeld ignored professional military advice. He’s saying he thought this was an ill-conceived war and the uniformed military should have spoken out about it. Second, he’s plainly claiming to speak for some active duty generals and he’s encouraging them to go public.

There’s really nothing to like about this. Whether the war was “unnecessary” or not, that’s a political decision, not a military one. And if active duty generals follow his advice and start to speak out whenever they think the president is going to war unwisely, we’re going to have a serious problem on our hands.

There’s no question that military leaders should forcefully offer their best advice in private and should testify honestly in public on operational matters. When General Eric Shinseki gave his opinion that the invasion of Iraq required “several hundred thousand” troops, he was acting properly. That was a professional military opinion, and the way he was treated for expressing it was shameful. But that’s quite a different thing from speaking out simply because you think a war is a bad idea on policy grounds.

He’s right on that last point regarding a general speaking out to oppose a/the war simply on policy grounds. That’s an aspect I hadn’t considered. It’s bad enough, while serving, for a general to stay silent when they’ve got issues with the way a war is being managed. It’s another thing altogether to be a general opposed to the war in and of itself.

Wed. AM Update: These two gentlemen are also saying their complaints should have been voiced while on active duty :

The retired general officers who have recently called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld want to convince the public that civilian control has silenced military wisdom regarding the war in Iraq. They have chafed at Rumsfeld’s authoritarian style and they may even have legitimate differences of opinion with his decisions. But, while their advice and the weight of their experience should be taken into account, the important time for them to weigh in was while they were on active duty.

The two of us have experienced many of the circumstances confronting Rumsfeld. Our experience and connections at the Defense Department tell us that these generals probably had numerous opportunities to advise and object while on active duty. For them to now imply otherwise is disingenuous and quite possibly harmful for our prospects in Iraq. And it misrepresents the healthy give-and-take that we are confident is widespread between the civilian leadership at the Pentagon and the capable military hierarchy. A general officer is expected to follow orders, but he is also entitled to advise if he thinks those orders are flawed.

Who wrote that opinion piece?:

Melvin R. Laird was a Republican representative from Wisconsin before serving as secretary of defense from 1969 to 1973. Robert E. Pursley, a retired lieutenant general in the Air Force, was military assistant to three secretaries of defense.

Read the whole thing. (Hat tip: Betsy Newmark)

Wed. Update II: In my initial post about the war on Rummy, I linked up to this post written by McQ, who was an active duty officer in the Army who shared his story of being in the position of refusing a direct order that he thought unnecessarily risked the lives and safety of the troops in his company. It’s well worth mentioning again (hat tip: Jon Henke):

I left the Army because I refused a direct order that I thought unlawfully and unnecessarily risked the lives and safety of the troops in my company if it was followed. As it turns out, the investigation that followed my refusal agreed that my refusal was proper and exhonorated me. But because of the culture within the army, my career was finished (wave makers and boat shakers need not apply), and I ended up resigning (and entering the reserves). Unfortunately, that same culture survives to this day and the above is the result.

But you know what, had one of my troops been killed or injured because I didn’t take that stand at the time, I’d have had to live with my moral cowardice for the rest of my life. It was one of the hardest decisions I ever made in my life. It cost me my career in the army. But it was the right decision and one I’ve never regretted. I was an RA infantry officer who had a career in the army guaranteed had I just kept my mouth shut and gone along with the order.

Wed. Update III: CavalierX weighs in with his thoughts.

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