In his monthly column at the Washington Post, Holbrooke lays out the situation as plainly as is possible:
The calls by a growing number of recently retired generals for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have created the most serious public confrontation between the military and an administration since President Harry S. Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur in 1951. In that epic drama, Truman was unquestionably correct -- MacArthur, the commanding general in Korea and a towering World War II hero, publicly challenged Truman's authority and had to be removed. Most Americans rightly revere the principle that was at stake: civilian control over the military. But this situation is quite different."Challenge those still in uniform to give voice to those who can't -- or don't have the opportunity -- to speak." Calling on those still in service to speak out against the Secretary of Defense!
First, it is clear that the retired generals -- six so far, with more likely to come -- surely are speaking for many of their former colleagues, friends and subordinates who are still inside. In the tight world of senior active and retired generals, there is constant private dialogue. Recent retirees stay in close touch with old friends, who were often their subordinates; they help each other, they know what is going on and a conventional wisdom is formed. Retired Marine Lt. Gen. Greg Newbold, who was director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the planning period for the war in Iraq, made this clear in an extraordinary, at times emotional, article in Time magazine this past week when he said he was writing "with the encouragement of some still in positions of military leadership." He went on to "challenge those still in uniform . . . to give voice to those who can't -- or don't have the opportunity to -- speak."
It goes further than that:
Second, it is also clear that the target is not just Rumsfeld. Newbold hints at this; others are more explicit in private. But the only two people in the government higher than the secretary of defense are the president and vice president. They cannot be fired, of course, and the unspoken military code normally precludes direct public attacks on the commander in chief when troops are under fire. (There are exceptions to this rule, of course: In addition to MacArthur, there was Gen. George McClellan vs. Lincoln; and on a lesser note, Maj. Gen. John Singlaub, who was fired for attacking President Jimmy Carter over Korea policy. But such challenges are rare enough to be memorable, and none of these solo rebellions metastasized into a group, a movement that can fairly be described as a revolt.)So, the retired generals are calling on those still in active duty to respond to what they see as a higher calling of loyalty to the Constitution rather than their careers!
This has put President Bush and his administration in a hellish position at a time when security in Iraq and Afghanistan seems to be deteriorating. If Bush yields to the generals' revolt, he will appear to have caved in to pressure from what Rumsfeld disingenuously describes as "two or three retired generals out of thousands." But if he keeps Rumsfeld, he risks more resignations -- perhaps soon -- from generals who heed Newbold's stunning call that as officers they took an oath to the Constitution and should now speak out on behalf of the troops in harm's way and to save the institution that he feels is in danger of falling back into the disarray of the post-Vietnam era.
The Bush/Cheney/NeoCon adventure in Iraq, combined with the apparent preference for a military 'solution' in connection with Iran has brought the U.S. Military to the point of near insurrection.
Since late last year, there have been stories circulating about how the military (particularly the Army) risked collapse if things did not radically improve in Iraq. The Bush administration and their sycophants would even dignify the predictions with a reaction. But, as events have continued to slide in Iraq and the administration appears intent on launching yet another ill-timed, poorly thought out war against Iran, the military officer corps (retired and, Holbrooke predicts, active duty) has begun to put country before career and gone public with their concerns. Soon, the question could be not "who lost Iraq," but "who lost the Army?"
Now, if only members of Congress had such principles and courage!