I’ve often pondered that one of the great surprises of history is that America has never been involved in a coup d’état. Considering the fact that the military chain of command starts at the top with two civilian officers – the President and the Secretary of Defense – it is difficult to believe that none of the brass below has ever attempted to alter that command line through a coup, which is one of the great surprises of American history. Up until a few years ago, the military coup was the most popular method used to transfer governments around the world. Now that Democracy has taken a real foothold in our modern society, the trend seems to be reversing; however, there are generals who still want to hold supreme power, and we must wait and see to determine if coups become a relic of the past.
In a real sense, our nearly 250 years of unbroken civilian leadership is a true testament to the ideal of Democracy. With that being said, do I sense some tension in the ranks over civilian leadership with the publication of the RollingStone’s article titled, “The Runaway General,” where 4-star, General Stanley McChrystal and his staff were dismissive and critical of the President and his administration? As a consequence to this public denigration of the Obama Administration, McChrystal was fired.
Certainly, if McChrystal took the risky approach of criticizing Obama publicly, then one could reasonably argue that this RollingStone’s article was not the first time that he made his opinions known. As urgent as a victory in Afghanistan is to Obama’s presidency, one must wonder why he did not have any informal lines of communication built into his strategic approach to the Afghan War. It is the old Godfather proverb of keeping your enemies close but your friends closer. It is unfortunately an axiom that holds as true today in politics as it did during the 1972 film.
Many organizations use these informal lines of communication – gossip lines, grapevines, rumor-mill, etc. – to keep their fingers on the pulse of how the organization is really thinking. How many regional managers will condemn a firm’s CEO for what they believe are ridiculous policies during a formal, corporate staff meeting? However, that same regional manager is more willing to pour his opposition into the grapevine, and if the CEO has “ears” listening to the grapevine, then he/she will at least have the unvarnished and unguarded opinions of his/her subordinates. Understanding the “pulse” of an organization is essential in a bureaucratic setting, but it becomes imperative during a war, where one wrong policy can spell death and disaster at a minimum, but it could sow the seeds of defeat and destruction of an entire civilization in a worst case scenario.
Although there is no place in the American military for McChrystal’s insubordination, I do see an upside: This incident should place President Obama on notice that there are men in the military who do not embrace his war-time leadership…but after a moment of reflection, shouldn’t he have known that? President Clinton had his detractors during his tenure for lacking military experience, as did George Bush, who got a “cushy” job in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War. Obama has no military experience, and he certainly had less international expertise than his predecessors. Consequently, it is self preservation to know of his critics within his own administration, and if not, then his staff is falling asleep at the switch.
Notwithstanding the current shake up in Afghanistan, the bigger question is Why did President George Bush invade Iraq and Afghanistan? If you said September 11th, then the propaganda campaign of plausible intentions convinced you too. I have written extensively on this blog concerning the egregious mistakes that were made by the Bush administration in planning for war in the Middle East, so I will not rehash the same arguments. (Please see An Appraisal of the Bush Presidency – Parts 1-4 in the People’s Pulse.)
Let us back-peddle for a moment and consider the “initial” impulse for our invasion into Afghanistan and Iraq: George Bush wanted to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction; to end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism (particularly al-Qaeda); and bring democracy to the Iraqi people. The U.S. went into Afghanistan, because the Taliban run government refused to hand over Osama bin Laden and to discontinue its support of the al-Qaeda terrorist. Both of these motivations appear on their face to be noble objectives: certainly if Saddam had anything to do with September 11th, and if the Taliban was supporting bin Laden, then it would be our leaders’ patriotic and constitutional responsibility to overthrow both governments and bring them to justice. However, after more than seven years in Iraq, we have not uncovered one morsel of evidence that Iraq supported al Qaeda and neither did the Bush Administration find the weapons of mass destruction that we were assured were there. And certainly after nearly nine years in Afghanistan, there are no signs of al Qaeda. The only terrorists that America seems to be fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are the ones that were created because of its occupation in the Middle East.
If we consider that this country’s initial motivation to invade the Middle East was flawed at best and illegal at worst, do we have a moral imperative to apologize? If so, then that responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders of President Obama. But I’m sure that some of the president’s own supporters, who condemned the war initially when it was launched by Bush, will defend him by saying that he had nothing to do with the initial decision to go to war and his only obligation is to win and get out. Well, isn’t this the same resistance that whites have today about apologizing for the egregious act of slavery that was committed by their forefathers? Why should they have to apologize?
I say that Obama must consider apologizing to preserve America’s moral leadership in the world, and to reverse the law of causality; which says “what goes around, comes around,” or “you’ll reap what you sow.” This is a universal truth, and not even the mighty United States of America can escape the jaws of this divine law.
You’ll see in An Appraisal of the Bush Presidency that I demonstrate that there were clear signs that Bush was headed for disaster when he committed this country’s resources and young men and women to war. Without an intelligence apparatus, I knew Bush’s “damn-the-torpedoes” pathology in his run-up to war in Afghanistan and Iraq was possibly illegal. And he had at his disposal the resources of the finest intelligence system that the world had ever seen, and he still got it wrong. But, the real question is, do countries such as America make mistakes in judgement of that magnitude? Once you pierce through the propaganda campaign that is designed to condition the citizenry to patriotically embrace the war drums, it is very difficult to consider that Bush had the F.B.I., the C.I.A., the N.S.A., Naval Intelligence, the D.I.A., and a host of other intelligence agencies, and he still fumbled the ball. This is a challenge for me to believe! Consequently, I must conclude that his foray into the Middle East had a deeper purpose that we are not privy to.
If Bush lied about our involvement in a military campaign, he would not be the first U.S. president to do so. More recently, President Johnson expanded the war in Vietnam after lying to the public about an attack on an American military vessel in the Gulf of Tonkin, and President Reagan lied about a private war in Nicaragua where he was funding the Contras, which later became known as the Iran-Contra Affair after the scandal broke. Lying seems to come with the Oval Office. Although Obama did the right thing by firing McChrystal, I would like to hope that this 4-star general stuck to his guns in his private meeting with Obama and did not back away from his criticism. He owes the president an apology for betraying the single rule of conduct that must be followed from the foot soldier to the top in order to preserve discipline among the ranks: He failed to give deference to those who are in authority. However, if he stayed true to his criticism, then hopefully Obama will become stronger as a war-time leader, and a clear message will have been sent to the rank and file that insubordination will not be tolerated. If we fail to grasp those two points, then perhaps this perfect string of 44 democratic elections will be in jeopardy and the divine law of reaping what one sows will rear its unwanted head, if it hasn’t already.
…to be continued