Tuesday, April 17, 2007

In their own words: Generals Sheehan and MacArthur

The recent firestorm about the administration looking for someone to coordinate and honcho the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan seem to be gathering speed. Yesterday, General John J. Sheehan, USMC Retired, addressed his critics in an op ed piece published in the Washington Post.

He wrote,
Service to the nation is both a responsibility and an honor for every citizen presented with the opportunity. This is especially true in times of war and crisis. Today, because of the war in Iraq, this nation is in a crisis of confidence and is confused about its foreign policy direction, especially in the Middle East.

When asked whether I would like to be considered for the position of White House implementation manager for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I knew that it would be a difficult assignment, but also an honor, and that this was a serious task that needed to be done.
He then went on to describe what he sees as three strategies for dealing with Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Middle East. He's taken a strategic approach, one that would be wise to follow, at least in process.

Gerd Schroeder in his piece Whatever Happened to "Duty, Honor, Country"? suggests that military men and women should serve because it is the right thing to do. He suggests that disagreement with a president should be subordinated.

Major Schroeder writes,
Generals, officers, and enlisted are looked at as men dedicated to "Duty", "Honor", "Country", above the ulcers. Willing to give a full, honest effort, or die trying. When the President calls, we answer the call. These generals that withhold their advice from the President and retire, and then instead, put forth a full effort to ridicule the President, have, in my view, retired like General MacArthur: in disgrace. Notwithstanding their brilliant careers they throw their reputation to the dogs of journalism. The words are used as a weapon against the just war we are fighting.

The words of these retired generals are used abroad, by our enemies, to support their fight against us; and at home, against the American people to demoralize them, and so, cause them to slowly withdraw their support from the military. A media induced hopelessness fed by the words of the very men and women that were trusted with the defense of this country.

It seems that every week some retired General is voicing to the media his or her displeasure at the President's policies. They are authorities in military matters. They have a deep wealth of knowledge that has been gained by intensive study and practice over decades of service. However, rather than commit that knowledge to the war, they commit it to enriching themselves in retirement; and when asked to continue to serve they, instead give a snide, sophomoric, smart-mouthed answer to the President.
I'll not take on the good Major line-by-line, but I'll respectfully disagree. While those in uniform serve at the pleasure of the President, there is not an expectation that those in uniform check their brain at the door and blindly follow.

I do agree that those who serve for many years in uniform are "are authorities in military matters."

I'd also note that there aren't many, if any, senior civilian administration officials, elected or appointed, who have worn the uniform for any real length of time... they are not authorities in military matters, and yet they take on that role without listening to the good counsel from those who do know.

General Sheehan can stand tall when he says,
I concluded that the current Washington decision-making process lacks a linkage to a broader view of the region and how the parts fit together strategically. We got it right during the early days of Afghanistan -- and then lost focus. We have never gotten it right in Iraq.
As Major Schroeder noted, General MacArthur stated that in Duty, Honor, and Country are three hallowed words:
those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you want to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying point to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith, to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.
Perhaps the best a man, or woman, can do in terms of Duty, Honor, and Country, is to speak the truth, to speak truth to power, to not turn away when the emperor parades down the street buck naked, his fashionable clothing but a figment of his imagination.

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