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As Long as We Remember...

April 14, 2006

Good Generals' Revolt

Roy Meachum

Appropriately for this Good Friday, we learned this week of the chorus swelling among the military's top brass calling on Donald Rumsfeld to resign or being replaced, in the nation's best interest.

Writing in Time's current issue, Marine Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold accused Mr. Rumsfeld of mistakes very much like those made in the Vietnam era by Robert McNamara. The former secretary of defense admitted his fatal errors and took complete blame for the thousands of lives wasted.

General Newbold was the operations chief for the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Iraq invasion. Also on the growing list appears Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton. He oversaw the Pentagon's "great hope," training the new Iraqi army.

In a New York Times opinion piece, General Eaton offered the opinion that Mr. Rumsfeld be replaced along with "many others unwilling to fundamentally change their approach."

That may be the closest any criticism comes to the White House; although on the retired list, all the generals are subject to military conventions. The sitting president is their commander-in-chief until they die.

Even within that select group, Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste stands out. He commanded "the Big Red One," the First Division, until last year. When offered a third star, he reportedly declined for reasons of principle; he decried the secretary of defense's authoritarian style, as yesterday's Washington Post put it, "for making the military's job more difficult."

On CNN early this week, the once senior military assistant to Paul Wolfowitz pointed to the revolt's growing numbers:

"It speaks volumes that guys like me are speaking out from retirement about the leadership climate in the Department of Defense."

General Batiste also went on record in The Washington Post as believing that the handling of the Iraq war has violated military principles, particularly the unity of command and unity of effort. In other words, the military's left hand frequently does not know what the right hand is about.

The former division commander also cited the violation of another fundamental military tenet: making sure there is enough force to ensure success.

On March 19, 2003, it was widely known that Mr. Rumsfeld ordered U.S. tanks across the Kuwaiti border before all the troops and their support were in place. The secretary chose to believe informants that Air Force bombs could finish off Saddam Hussein, but only if they hit a Baghdad restaurant that evening.

As the world quickly knew, the Iraq president was not present when the guided missiles destroyed the building, killing a slew of innocent Arabs and creating the chaos that has grown into today's killing fields.

Nevertheless, the war was on and fought fiercely by the same brass that now are standing up in opposition. Why did they not stand up before?

The answer lies in their conditioning: armies must rely on instant affirmative response to orders. Even now, after retirement, speaking out cannot come easily. At the time of Iraq's invasion, it was not possible.

From personal experience, I know full well the treatment accorded me as a public opponent to the war before the jets were launched. There are still people who question my patriotism, even after the disaster has become clearly apparent. My own service record and times overseas does not count.

Unlike the early spring on Kuwait's border, much more is at stake for me.

Christopher George Meachum survived his first tour; new orders can be expected. They still need tank drivers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The generals' rising chorus is not only welcome for my grandson's sake but desperately needed for his generation's young women and men; they should not be thrust in harm's for a cause that cannot be won by all their dedication and bravery.

That's the bottom line behind all the former high brass are saying.

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