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A dangerous direction for the military

By       Message Dan Fejes     Permalink
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Last week I wrote about the back and forth between Glenn Greenwald and Colonel Steven A. Boylan, spokesman for General David Petraeus. Boylan disputed authorship of the initial email and the dispute took off from there. At the time I posted there still seemed to be a lot up in the air over it, so I just referred to the "response" to Greenwald; I didn't attribute it to Col. Boylan since that didn't seem settled.

It's now been over a week since Farhad Manjoo published what seems like the last word on the controversy. It goes into considerable detail on how the email was almost certainly from Boylan or someone authorized to act on his behalf. As far as I know Manjoo's analysis hasn't been disputed anywhere and since it appeared in the same outlet where the controversy began I think it's safe to say all concerned parties are aware of it. All of which leads to the following conclusion: Boylan wrote it, and in it played a childish word game to dispute political influence on the military from the White House. His actions prove that that is precisely what is happening, and is the latest sign the military is in the midst of an attempt to compromise its integrity. How it responds may shape how much trust America places in it in the future.

From a distance it looks like one side is led by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and CENTCOM head Admiral William Fallon. The people in this camp believe in the traditional role of the military as a strictly nonpartisan operation and understand that its effectiveness is greatly diminished if that stops. They understand the military implications of keeping Guantánamo Bay open, the folly of using our presence in Iraq to initiate a war in Iran, the cross purposes soldiers and mercenaries currently live under, and in general appreciate the real-world difficulties of our situation at the moment. Those problems can't be glossed over or ignored - even if they conflict with some (maybe dubious) larger narrative or grand design. They need at least to be acknowledged.

The other side looks to be a Bush/Cheney/Petraeus operation that seems to prefer military action as something less than a last resort. With the heightened climate of fear after 9/11 and the traditionally strong Republican leaning of the military it must have been irresistible for the administration to make use of it: some ominous sounds, get Congress to agree to a nearly blank check and have the military go along with gusto. Now that antiwar candidates are getting almost three quarters of the military's campaign contributions it's probably safe to say at least a plurality and maybe a sizeable majority of service members disagree with the administration's policy. All of which means the struggle for the soul of the military pits a handful of politically minded officers at the top and their allies at the White House against the career (and to my mind more professional) officers who know they will stay in the military as politicians and their parties wax and wane.

There has been no shortage of people who have swallowed reservations about the administration until they could no longer do anything about it, so if the career officers do so as well it won't be a huge shock, but it will be a huge setback for our government. What does it say about control of the military that the President has sent political advisors to Iraq to help spin the war in the most favorable way to him? What does it say that in advance of Petraeus' September testimony the Pentagon set up a campaign-style war room to quickly respond to politically unfavorable reports? Or that a Pentagon press secretary (presumably with a straight face) said "[i]t's more like a library" and a "smarter way of doing business"? What business are they trying to do smarter, and more importantly why more word games?

General Petraeus is clearly political and would like to follow in the footsteps of Washington, Grant and Eisenhower. His future ambitions align nicely with the Administration's current ones and he seems only too happy to use the military to assist in that. Those generals who will be left behind to clean up the mess need to make some important decisions in the next year or so. Under the Constitution the President commands the military in the field but Congress ultimately controls its use. Do they agree with that or not; if called to testify before Congress will they do so as impartially as possible or will they look to give the administration political cover; and if they are pressured to mouth (or worse, act on) Bush's talking points against their better judgment how do they intend to respond? How about if it isn't just against their better judgment but their understanding of their obligation to the country? It looks from this far away as though that battle may already have been joined. Here's hoping they prevail.

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Dan Fejes lives in northeast Ohio.

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