Friday, April 14, 2006

seven days in may

(cross-posted at daily kos)

what if they had a war and nobody came?

in his recent post "does the debate over iran matter?", constitutional law litigator glenn greenwald points out that there is frankly nothing — no law, no political body — that might stand in the way should bush decide to launch the attack, whether conventional or nuclear, that he has been threatening over the past weeks.

bush's attorneys have argued that even if the president lacks the congressional authority for such an attack — a position that they do not concede — he does have the inherent constitutional authority under article ii to exercise, unilaterally, any force he deems necessary in the conduct of his global war on terror:

we conclude that the constitution vests the president with the plenary authority, as commander in chief and the sole organ of the nation in its foreign relations, to use military force abroad — especially in response to grave national emergencies created by sudden, unforeseen attacks on the people and territory of the united states.

"yoo memorandum", september 25, 2001


since congress has yet to formally challenge this assertion, and since congress has already demonstrated during the nsa hearings its fawning acquiescence to the white house's expanding exercises of power, we cannot expect any potent resistance from that quarter, certainly not while congress remains under the control of the president's party.

but even if congress were today populated entirely by jealous and power-hungry democrats hellbent on obstructing bush's tiniest move, there exists no legal or procedural mechanism it can invoke that would bar the chief executive from unilaterally dispatching any kind of military action anywhere in the world, especially when this particular chief executive is fiercely determined to demonstrate his authority and his ability to exercise it. congress may decide to punish him afterwards, in any number of ways, from defunding his operation all the way up to impeachment, but it has no means to preemptively block such an action. the world's "sole superpower" truly sits under the sword of damocles, now dangled by a man whose constituents deem an "incompetent", an "idiot" and a "liar". and no one can predict whether the threat of that sword will serve to prevent or precipitate its fall.

a curious development at this phase of what appears to be a somnambulant second act to the iraq war is the never-before-seen and growing number of senior military personnel now taking the stage — on television, the radio and in print — to voice opposition to its civilian leadership and to specifically demand the resignation of secretary of defense donald rumsfeld:

army lieutenant general john riggs, retired, former director, objective force task force:

everyone pretty much thinks rumsfeld and the bunch around him should be cleared out. [they] made fools of themselves.

army major general charles swannack, retired, former airborne commander in iraq:

i feel that he has micromanaged the generals who are leading our forces there to achieve our strategic objectives. i really believe that we need a new secretary of defense.

army major general john batiste, retired, former division commander in iraq:

i believe we need a fresh start in the pentagon. we need a leader who understands team work, a leader who knows how to build teams, a leader that does it without intimidation. a leader that conforms and practices the letter and the law of the goldwater-nichols act ...

it speaks volumes that guys like me are speaking out from retirement about the leadership climate in the department of defense ...

when decisions are made without taking into account sound military recommendations, sound military decision making, sound planning, then we're bound to make mistakes. when we violate the principles of war with mass and unity of command and unity of effort, we do that at our own peril.


army general george joulwan, retired, former nato supreme allied commander:

it's our responsibility as military leaders to stand up and be counted on tough issues ...

i think we've got to get more officers to stand up and be counted at the table, when they're on active duty. i think you're going to see more of that because there is a degree of frustration with the way things are going ...

blitzer: what are you hearing from your friends at the pentagon, the top three, four-star generals right now behind the scenes? how frustrated, how angry are they with rumsfeld?

joulwan: many of them very much so, particularly the last two or three years. the issue was, they don't trust us. the team that secretary rumsfeld has surrounded himself with doesn't trust the military.

blitzer: ... would the country be better off, would the u.s. military be better off right now if the president found a new defense secretary?

joulwan: i'm going to leave that up to the president of the united states.


army major general paul eaton, retired, former office of security transition commander in iraq:

defense secretary donald rumsfeld is not competent to lead our armed forces. first, his failure to build coalitions with our allies from what he dismissively called “old europe” has imposed far greater demands and risks on our soldiers in iraq than necessary. second, he alienated his allies in our own military, ignoring the advice of seasoned officers and denying subordinates any chance for input.

in sum, he has shown himself incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically, and is far more than anyone else responsible for what has happened to our important mission in iraq. mr. rumsfeld must step down.

in the five years mr. rumsfeld has presided over the pentagon, i have seen a climate of groupthink become dominant and a growing reluctance by experienced military men and civilians to challenge the notions of the senior leadership ...

donald rumsfeld demands more than loyalty. he wants fealty. and he has hired men who give it ...

more vital in the longer term, congress must assert itself. too much power has shifted to the executive branch, not just in terms of waging war but also in planning the military of the future. congress should remember it still has the power of the purse ...


marine lieutenant general greg newbold, retired, director of operations, joint chiefs of staff:

i think i was outspoken enough to make those senior to me uncomfortable. but i now regret that i did not more openly challenge those who were determined to invade a country whose actions were peripheral to the real threat — al-qaeda. i retired from the military four months before the invasion, in part because of my opposition to those who had used 9/11's tragedy to hijack our security policy. until now, i have resisted speaking out in public. i've been silent long enough ...

with the encouragement of some still in positions of military leadership, i offer a challenge to those still in uniform: a leader's responsibility is to give voice to those who can't — or don't have the opportunity to — speak. enlisted members of the armed forces swear their oath to those appointed over them; an officer swears an oath not to a person but to the constitution. the distinction is important ...

the bush administration and senior military officials are not alone in their culpability. members of congress — from both parties — defaulted in fulfilling their constitutional responsibility for oversight. many in the media saw the warning signs and heard cautionary tales before the invasion from wise observers like former central command chiefs joe hoar and tony zinni but gave insufficient weight to their views ...

we need fresh ideas and fresh faces. that means, as a first step, replacing rumsfeld and many others unwilling to fundamentally change their approach.


newbold's avowal that "an officer swears an oath not to a person but to the constitution" and joulwan's call for officers to speak out while on active duty are almost incendiary. active duty officers are rigidly constrained in the proper channels and activities available to them for voicing opposition to an order or program or policy. participating in any overtly political activity of any kind is all but entirely verboten. express obedience is not merely the norm but the heart and spine of any military organization. deference to civilian authority is a fundamental safeguard of our republic. the implications of congress' abdication of its constitutional responsibilities have not been lost on them, who now shoulder an unfair burden. just how much longer will the fighting men dutifully follow the orders of demonstrably inept flight-suited civilians who will not listen to them and who do not trust them? will they really follow them over the cliff and into iran?

in the quiet 1964 drama seven days in may, the joint chiefs of staff, fearing soviet treachery, conspire to take command of the government before an unpopular president can succeed in passing a nuclear disarmament treaty. in that tale, of course, the joint chiefs are the bad guys, representing the same sinister forces president eisenhower warned the nation against three years earlier, in the final days of his term. he had been the first president to negotiate strategies for disarmament with the soviets:

we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. the potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. we must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. we should take nothing for granted.

what rich irony then, that the world's only hope against an insatiable corporate-industrial complex, led by a saber-rattling president, just might depend upon a mutiny by a disaffected military establishment!

as extraordinary and momentous as it might be to actually witness, do not expect this revolution to be televised. the white house would never allow the public to learn of bush's emasculation, nor would the pentagon allow itself to be brought before congress for treason. instead, a quiet agreement would be reached under the cover of an announcement, with great fanfare, of a "breakthrough in secret talks" with iran.

unfortunately, it is, of course, far more likely that bush will be able to find a boykin or a bork 1 to wage his iranian campaign. it is a big military, after all, with plenty of room for advancement. let us hope then, for the world's sake, that there is also plenty more room for dissent.

if there is any irony left to be had in this mad lurch towards nuclear armageddon, we shall know within the next few weeks.


1 a "bork" is a subordinate called to fulfill a legally or morally questionable task that his superiors refuse to perform. the term comes from robert bork, who fired watergate special prosecutor archibald cox at president nixon's insistence, when he assumed the role of acting attorney general after his superior john ruckelshaus was fired and ruckelshaus' superior elliot richardson had resigned. this series of firings and resignations became known as the "saturday night massacre".

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