Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Republicans vs. the Military

Steve Benen commented yesterday in the Washington Monthly on how remarkable it is that Republican political leaders increasingly seem to find themselves at odds with the judgment of top military commanders.  General Petraeus and Defense Secretary Gates say that terrorists should be tried in federal court, not before military commissions.  Senator McConnell disagrees.  These same military leaders support closing Guantanamo; most Republican politicians oppose it.  The military opposes the use of torture; many politicians continue to advocate torture.  Then there was Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, testifying forcefully yesterday in support of repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.  Most conservative politicians continue to oppose changing this policy.  Perhaps these criticisms just represent the Republicans' shift from being the defenders of the past administration, to the opponents of the current administration, but this change in role sometimes veers into blatant hypocrisy, such as when Republican leaders like Dick Cheney and Rudy Giuliani, attacked the Obama Justice Department for reading the underwear bomber his rights, and preparing for trial in civilian court, when the Bush administration treated the shoe bomber the same way. 

When Republican politicians start criticizing the Pentagon brass, however, something stranger is going on.  As Benen states:
Keep in mind, it wasn't too terribly long ago that Democratic politicians simply weren't supposed to say that Petraeus, Gates, and intelligence leaders were wrong about national security matters. Indeed, for Dems to say that they knew better than Petraeus, Gates, and intelligence leaders -- that their judgment was superior to military leaders' -- was grounds for mockery, if not condemnation.

And yet, Obama has spent a year following the guidance of military leaders, and Republicans have spent a year breaking with the judgment of the military establishment.

It's a fascinating dynamic. On everything from civilian trials to Gitmo to torture, we have two distinct groups -- GOP leaders, the Cheneys, Limbaugh, and conservative activists on one side; President Obama, Gen. Petraeus, Secretary Gates, Colin Powell, Adm. Mullen, Adm. Blair, and Gen. Jones on the other.

Remember when Move-On had the audacity to take out ads criticizing General Petraeus before he testified before Congress on the surge policy in Iraq? Congress fell all over itself, not to have an honest debate about the validity of the criticisms, but to condemn this organization for daring to criticize a distinguished general.

Of course I'm not saying that anyone should question the patriotism or the judgment of a politician, just because he finds himself in disagreement with military experts. The whole point of civilian control of the military is to make sure the judgment of military commanders is subservient to the democratic process. I'm just saying that it is . . . interesting, that many of those who did question the patriotism of past dissenters during the Iraq war, and who did argue that we must follow the views of the generals on the ground, now feel free to criticize some of those same generals, and feel no need to explain why their past deference has changed.

(New York Times photo)

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