Sunday, April 23, 2006

Control Freak-Out

I don't usually have a particularly sensitive bullshit meter. However, in the debate over Rumsfeld, there's one thing that's making it blare like an air-raid siren during the Blitz. And that is the claim that the retired generals, by criticizing the secretary of defense, are undermining the principle of civilian control of the military.

This is nonsense for several reasons. First, they're retired generals. Which means that they are civilians now. So basically, one group of civilians is calling for the ouster of the civilian leadership. They knew that they couldn't do that as members of the military, since that would have been insubordination and therefore a big no-no. That's why they waited until they retired to speak out.

Second, the generals are not questioning the idea that the SecDef should be the one ultimately making the decisions. They are accusing Rumsfeld of a) making the wrong decisions, and b) not listening to the advice of his underlings. I know of very few successful managers who routinely ignore their underlings' suggestions. Sure, they might not follow all of them, but they at least take them into consideration.

The point is that when a manager screws up, he/she should be held accountable. Especially when the manager could have avoided screwing up by listening to those under his/her command. So it is with Rumsfeld. He made some obvious blunders: not committing enough troops, overdoing the de-Baathification to the point of creating chaos, underestimating the insurgency, etc. Therefore the question at hand is whether Rumsfeld committed a fireable offense. Obviously the former generals believe so. Since they are no longer in the military, it is their right to say so.

This whole thing about "civilian control over the military" is a smokescreen aimed at protecting Rumsfeld from legitimate criticism and accountability. Indeed, these generals followed the orders that they were given while they were in the service, and those that they claim to speak for currently in the military continue to follow orders. No one's saying that SecDef shouldn't be the one making decisions. They're just saying that when SecDef makes the wrong decisions consistently out of sheer arrogance, he should be held accountable. What's wrong with that?


Ben said...

I think it's the fact that they claim to be speaking for people in the military. Not just "this is what they would be saying", but "this is what they have told me they are thinking and have asked me to speak for them." That, I think, crosses the line.

Of course, Rumsfeld and BushCo are using that as a smokescreen. Their concern is shielding Rummy from criticism, not upholding civilian control.

(Undermining civilian leadership or not, it's still fascinating to see what younger officers are thinking right now. See the article I linked to in my blog.)

Mike said...

I must admit that accountability is definitely the first thing that comes to mind when I think of the current White House administration. Certainly not spinning things to avoid accountability. Certainly not.

Ben said...

Odd....your blog says there are zero comments.

Mike said... soon as Ben posted that, your blog suddenly revealed that there were, in fact, 3 comments. Er, 4 now.