Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Hacking the Officer Corps

David H. Hackworth []: "Recently in Iraq, an Army two-star general put himself in for the Silver Star, a gallantry award, for just being there, and for the Combat Infantryman Badge, an award designed for infantry grunts far below the rank of this division commander. "

I enjoy David Hackworth's writing, website, and public campaigns on behalf of the backbone of the military: the fighting soldier. He's an odd egg, a reforming progressive militarist conservative, and following his website is an interesting way of highlighting the disturbing politicization of the military in our society which both threatens the integrity of our political system and its insistent constitutional divide between the military and civilian priorities and control of the use of force, and simultaneously weakens our military and endangers the lives of our soldiers. Hackworth may be the most-decorated combat veteran since Audie Murphy, but his real heroism is on speaking up on behalf of a military that ought to be focussed on fighting and winning necessary wars at minimal casualties.

If you read through it, you'll see a disturbing dichotomy between the frontline soldiers and the Pentagon Brass, with the trail of career military officers behind them, that is rapidly becoming a political class with force in civilian electoral politics and policy-making. The men who do the fighting in Iraq don't get the supplies they need, they don't get the clear missions, they're lied to repeatedly about when they'll be able to go home. In the meantime, the brass pin medals on themselves and line themselves up for lucrative post-military careers consulting for Halliburton and Bechtel.

This two-star going for combat medals is an emblem of self-aggrandizement while our troops in Iraq are getting screwed. It calls to mind the elites of the French aristocracy gilding their outhouses while the peasants starved. In this case, some troops don't even get enough water and MREs while the Bush administration is trying to cut their basic pay allowances; but the brass always get theirs.

The larger trend here is the increasing identification of the Officer Corps with the Republican Party. Some surveys have shown as many as 95% of career officers in the military identify themselves as Republicans -- as opposed to about 50% as recently as 1970. Don't get me wrong -- any American has the right to affiliate with a political party. Federal employees and those involved in the security apparatus of this country, of course, are under restrictions about how much they can do with these affiliations, a safeguard supposedly against the usurpation of the political process through the power of the federal treasury and police powers. And the military as a group are far more likely to be naturally-inclined to the Republican Party, simply because the Democratic Party represents many of the flakier, less regimented, and decidedly anti-disciplinarian elements of our society. So enlisted personnel are still more likely to describe themselves as Republicans, even if they're not nearly as likely to vote or form political affiliations as their officers.

One must understand that the typical enlisted person is not likely to do particularly well by the military. A disturbingly large number of enlisted people with families end up having to take government assistance (such as food stamps) for such basics as food. Even with better pay allowances than have been available historically, most soldiers are not going to get out with the kind of pension and security for life -- or the revolving door job prospects -- of the career officer. It's a hard life, and it rarely has been harder since WWII on the families.

It's no small irony that it's largely been a handful of Democratic congressional representatives who have protected enlisted pay, Veteran's benefits, force safety measures and policies, and advocated a conservative, mission-oriented approach to deployment of troops overseas. But at the same time, it's a shame the Democrats haven't done a better job at addressing the core issue emerging. It's the military of the UNITED STATES, not a particular party. I don't doubt that Republicans, on average, have a better understanding of the military, but it's not because there aren't Bob and John Kerrys out there. (Here's where I note that at least Al Gore was IN Vietnam while W. was AWOL from the Alabama National Guard.) It's because so few of those types of heroes stay in the military, and are so unlikely to join it now because of the atmosphere. I doubt seriously any officer who doesn't express conservative political beliefs could ever rise past the rank of Commander or Lieutenant Colonel these days; hell, they'd be lucky to get into the Lieutenant's course.

I'll get to the crux of the matter.

  • What does it matter if the military skews to one party or another?
  • How did this happen?

The great politician-general of the last century, Dwight Eisenhower, gave a surprising farewell address in which he warned: “In the councils of government, 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.”

Ike's warning has apparently gone unheeded. What he was cautioning against was a world in which military contracting, military preparedness, and the political decisions to use military force became muddled by a revolving door. The Bush administration's conduct in Iraq is perhaps the worst instantiation of what Ike warned about -- a Vice-President and Secretary of Defense who earned millions doing business with our enemy, Iraq, for defense contractors and who in turn have awarded huge contracts to those same companies to rebuild Iraq now that we've taken it over. Screw the American taxpayer, screw the American interest, and screw the GI who has to go clean up the camel dung piles and just might be suffocated by the stench.

This happens, of course, because it's the same in-bred group of people being selected for senior military leadership roles, rotated into cushy private sector jobs, contributing money to one party, and inserting themselves into the national security apparatus as political appointees. Diversity of opinion and dissent within the policy-making apparatus is squelched -- look no further than the Wilson-Plame affair for how this works in 2003. W came into office on the lie that he wanted to be a uniter, not a divider. How does this administration hold up in the light of another passage in Ike's farewell address?"

    As we peer into society's future, we – you and I, and our government – must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without asking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.

    Down the long lane of the history yet to be written America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.

    Such a confederation must be one of equals. The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral, economic, and military strength. That table, though scarred by many past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield.

Note that Ike linked three strengths -- military, economic, and moral strength. He wasn't referring to sexual politics when he was referring to morality. He was referring to that "proud confederation of mutual trust and respect."

The right-wing tactic of calling any criticism of this administration as being "unpatriotic" is a sickening repudiation of what was once a non-partisan commitment to our national security and the effective functioning of our military. So the rare critic of our military conduct -- whether it's a con siding with the dogface like Hack, or a slick member of the establishment like Wesley Clark -- is instantly smeared. Hard as it may be to believe, it only took a day after Clark's announcement for hacks from Fox and the right-wing media to not only smear Clark's outstanding record in resolving modern conflicts in Kosovo and the balkans, his leadership in NATO, but even to question the relevance of his combat record in Vietnam! Of course, Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, et alia join a long list of people who never saw a day in uniform who are now dictating policy. That's the hideous irony of the current military-industrial complex: it not only weeds out any potential political dissenters, it weeds out effective officers who question military decisions based on the politics, not effective military decision-making. Clark is an odd bird, and while I'm not sure I'm going to vote for him, I wish him well. He may not be a real Democrat, but in dissenting on principle, he's proved to be a person of great integrity and a Real American, and a real democrat in that small-d sense.

I've heard some serving officers of senior rank express political opinions to the ranks that twenty years ago would've been considered wildly inappropriate. Reading the political landscape is one thing: it's a necessary part of running a military organization. Bringing it into operational contexts is, at best, a form of indoctrination, and at worst would set the armed forces up as an instrument of power of one party. The orientation of the military towards the ends of the career officer corps is perhaps the most disturbing trend in policy-making this side of the consolidation of the media into fewer and fewer gigantic corporations.

It's OUR military. It's not a Republican military, or a Washington military, or a military for the benefit of its officers. Every time I hear of a two-star putting himself in for a medal while some poor slob is blown up by a Fedayeen bomb for god knows what real purpose, I weep.

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