A professional military must be non-partisan and objective. On the one hand, the armed forces must serve the orders of the civilian government. Yet it must also serve as professional mandarins – security experts who advise and inform the civilian government to shape the most rational policy.
Perhaps the war is worth fighting, perhaps it is not. Any operation may not be worth the cost. That’s an economic decision, not a security one. The government sent the military to fight the war and gave it the resources to do so. The military is just explaining to Congress how it intends to accomplish this mission. Please do not ignore this information or attack the military as a partisan institution.
Non-partisan professionalism is no longer enough to deter partisan attacks. MoveOn.org is preparing a campaign against General Petraeus, calling him “General Betray Us”. Even more mainstream critics like Sen. Feinstein are labeling Petraeus and the military as Bush cronies. Sen. Reid and Durban declared that Petraeus is a liar, in so many words.
John McCain responds to these criticisms:
“I know this man, and many people know this general. He’s not going to allow politicization of the dedication and service that not only he is providing, but the brave young men and women under his command.”
I mean, you can’t even respond to this kind of strange attack without descending into partisanship. The military has always encouraged constructive criticism and debate within its ranks, so long as it aids in accomplishing the mission. Gen. Petraeus actually encourages this to an even greater extent. To say, or even imply, that he is a lying BushCo Crony following the party line is an insult. Even more so to make the accusation without offering any evidence.
For starters, the “Bush Report” criticism is asinine. BlackFive took apart this myth. Congress mandated that the White House deliver a report updating them about the COIN operation and asked for Petraeus’s testimony. Now Congress, in its infinite wisdom, declares that the report is biased because it comes from the White House. Eh?
Go ahead and debate whether to cut off funding or continue it. But I think it is very important to put aside partisan bickering when discussing military operations themselves. Soldiers know the military science and art better than the non-experts. They provide more rational evaluations of security operations through greater experience and knowledge – whether this is nation-building, peacekeeping, policing or warfare.
I previously compared this to a doctor explaining to his patients how vaccines and antibiotics work. Listen to them, that’s all.
Politicizing security affairs is destructive over the long term.
So about Iraq, many civilians probably do not have the foggiest idea of what is going on. Counterinsurgency is the “graduate-level” of military operations. Most soldiers are probably a little confused. Officers have to understand all the conventional war-fighting and advanced intelligence techniques, economic reconstruction methods, as well as the local politics of alien cultures just to get started.
The military has been deeply critical of operations in Iraq and various problems there, pointing out long-term issues such as local corruption, Rumsfeld’s management, the lack of a counterinsurgency plan. These criticisms lead to Petraeus’ promotion.
But if you are uninformed, reality looks distorted. You have no framework to understand events, so “bad” things are blown out of proportion. The newsmedia makes this worse, not because of partisan bias but because the nature of the medium uses anecdotes and misleading vividness which pull events out of their context.
What I find strange, but perhaps unsurprising, is that many civilian critics are unable to offer any alternatives. Critics do not say “You should change strategies to X or Y.” They do not mention “inkblots”, intel reforms, tribal relationships, or any specific alternative. Rhetoric aside, they’re not even advocating actual withdrawal. Politicans speak in vague platitudes which may sound good to the public but are qualitatively useless.
I previously praised Rep. Keith Ellison and Brian Baird for touring Iraq, listening to officers, and learning what the military does. Ellison learned that the military partnered with tribal and religious leaders – they’re not just randomly bombing and shooting people. I want to sarcastically say, obviously, yet it’s sadly not obvious anymore.
Rep. Baird, for instance, opposes the war but understands the mission. That’s all the military can ask for. Please just put aside partisan bickering and listen for a moment.