When Brave soldiers were led by Timid Generals
Posted Mar 14, 2008

When Brave soldiers were led by Timid Generals

by Mirza A. Beg

Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced on March 11th that Admiral William J. Fallon’s request for early retirement had been granted regretfully. The 63-year-old admiral was appointed with great fanfare as the head of the U S Central Command only about a year ago, after serving as head of US Pacific Command. He became the commander of the US forces in the Middle East, responsible for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (as General Petraeus’ boss). And if Bush had his way in engineering a war with Iran, Admiral Fallon would have been saddled with this third war as well, while still being mired in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A fall out of the Republicans losing control of the Congress in the November 2006 elections was the resignation of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. Bush was forced to appoint people like Secretary Gates, Admiral Fallon and General Petraeus, because the traditional yes-men could not be confirmed by a Democratic Congress.

Admiral Fallon’s frank testimony before the Congress and occasional pronouncements emphasizing diplomacy over war in dealing with Iran, were regular irritants to Bush and his cohorts. His backing of further troop withdrawals from Iraq to boost the forces in Afghanistan reversing the long trend of neglect of Afghanistan brought to focus the open secret that Afghanistan was spiraling out of control.

An article in Esquire magazine describing Admiral Fallon standing between the Bush administration and the war with Iran was the final straw. It became too obvious that unlike many of his predecessors, Admiral Fallon would not be a toady to the brazen, ill-conceived Bush follies. The public spat of Secretary Gates with the Europeans about more forces for Afghanistan, while the US is mired in Iraq and Bush is craving for a war with Iran, did not help either.

So the Admiral had to be fired, and he was.

Young soldiers in their teens and early twenties follow orders and serve on nebulous front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan as a patriotic duty.  They bravely put their lives on the line in the mistaken belief that they are being led by a sane and caring policy executed by their officers who care for them as surrogate parents.

Generals seldom die in wars. How many generals have died or been maimed in Iraq? What bravery, courage and sacrifice are expected from the generals? 

The bravery expected from the generals is that they speak “truth to power”. The courage expected is to be ready to resign, if they consider the policies of the administration to be injurious to the country they love and the constitution they have sworn to defend. The sacrifice expected is to give up lucrative careers for the sake of the soldiers under their command; the soldiers whose sacrifice and bravery they swear by; the soldiers who put their lives on the line for the generals.

General Shinseki was fired in 2003 before the Iraq war. His sin was, an honest testimony before the congress contradicting the contrived rosy and gross underestimates of troops required for the Iraq war by Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz. It drove the point home to many generals that expression of honest opinion was inimical to their careers. The Staff officers bold enough to express their opinions with courage and tenacity were shunted to obscure positions or were cashiered. The message was loud and clear, generals who fell in line were rewarded with promotions. Rumsfeld and Bush chose only those generals who lived by the “lofty ideals” of spineless subservience.

Dozens of retired generals have been very critical of the Bush policies and the contrived war in Iraq from the beginning. Some of the well known names are General William Clark, former commander of NATO and General Anthony Zinni, the former commander of the Central Command, one of the predecessors of Admiral Fallon. Lately even some of the generals, who danced to the Bush-Rumsfeld tune, have discovered spine after retirement and have become critics of the policies and the conduct of the Iraq war.

It is customary to say that we oppose the war, but support the brave troops. It is an inherently thoughtless and contradictory position. Politicians afraid of the backlash from a misinformed public take this position to hedge their bets. Most soldiers indeed are brave, but to support them is to bring them home away from this misbegotten war. It is craven lip service to keep the soldiers in harms way, to use a hackneyed phrase. To keep funding the war means that soldiers will keep dying and killing, in an immoral war based on proven lies and deceit.

By resigning, Admiral Fallon has really served the country and has risen to the moral high ground of supporting the constitutional supremacy of the civilian authority of the elected officials over the military. He has come to the conclusion that the President’s policies are indefensible and are doing tremendous harm to the constitution and the country he loves. It is time for him to speak bravely and clearly to tell the nation and his peers in the services about his struggle to serve his country above and beyond the lure of promotions.

Visit Mirza A. Beg’s site at http://mirzasmusings.blogspot.com/