Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Losing The Military

"Today, the Army, Marine, Air Force and Navy Times, civilian-owned papers which are effectively the trade papers of the military, ran editorials calling for the ouster of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Myers," according to The Raw Story.
"General Myers, Rumsfeld and their staffs failed to recognize the impact the scandal would not only have in the United States but around the world," the editorial reads. "On the battlefield, Myers and Rumsfeld's errors would be called a lack of situational awareness — a failure that amounts to professional negligence."

The editorial was acquired by CBS and read Sunday by CBS News Chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer.

"This was not only a failure of leadership at the local command level," it continues. "This was a failure that ran straight to the top. Accountability is essential, even if that means relieving top leaders from duty during a time of war."
Only this brief excerpt from the editorial is available - it won't go up on the Army Times website until tomorrow, and even then will only be available to subscribers. (Not so; see update at bottom of post) So I can't tell whether Rumsfeld and Myers are being criticized for creating a leadership climate which resulted in U.S. troops and contractors torturing prisoners, or whether it's just their botched handling of the scandal and the investigation. Either way, the message is devastating. The "just a few, low-ranking bad apples" argument is not holding at any level of military, public, or world opinion. Soon it should be clear even to the Bush Administration: they won't be able to drape this one with the flag. It's not going away.

It's impossible to understate the importance of this editorial. The usual attempts to bluster through criticism of the war effort with appeals to patriotism, to "supporting our troops," to the "harsh realities of war," simply won't hold up when some of the strongest condemnations come from veterans and serving members of the military. These are people who understand exactly how our troops are imperiled by the abuse of Iraqi prisoners. These are people who understand the personal responsibility inherent in military command. And they won't be brushed away by reproofs that they don't know what it's like for our poor boys under fire.

I think Rumsfeld is history, and possibly Myers. I suspect that, as it becomes increasingly clear that the scandal isn't going to go away, Bush will jettison them and then argue that the problem has been solved. But what's needed is nothing less than a re-working of the Administration's entire Iraq strategy - particularly the attempt to rely on far too few troops - and their entire philosophy on how prisoners should be treated in the War on Terror. We need to shine a bright light on Guantanamo Bay and on prisons in Afghanistan. We need to re-visit the detention and mistreatment of War on Terror suspects in the United States. This problem won't be solved by one high-level official accepting symbolic responsibility and resigning - it's going to require profound systemic change.

Joe Biden had it right on Face the Nation: [PDF]
Karen Tumulty: Senator, you did say a few days ago that if this goes all the way to Rumsfeld, he should go.

Biden: Well, by--he should go. I me--mean, in my view, he should go, but--but I--I'm almost reluctant to say that...

Tumulty: Well, do you think...

Biden: ...because that makes it seem like that is the answer to the problem. [...] I mean, this is about accountability, but it's well beyond Rumsfeld is the only point I'm trying to make.
UPDATE: I discover, via New Century, that the full editorial is available online after all. And it's good. For example:
There is no excuse for the behavior displayed by soldiers in the now-infamous pictures and an even more damning report by Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba. Every soldier involved should be ashamed.

But while responsibility begins with the six soldiers facing criminal charges, it extends all the way up the chain of command to the highest reaches of the military hierarchy and its civilian leadership.

The entire affair is a failure of leadership from start to finish. From the moment they are captured, prisoners are hooded, shackled and isolated. The message to the troops: Anything goes.

In addition to the scores of prisoners who were humiliated and demeaned, at least 14 have died in custody in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army has ruled at least two of those homicides. This is not the way a free people keeps its captives or wins the hearts and minds of a suspicious world.