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Thus, when Gen. Batiste makes appearances on The Today Show, Good Morning America, and The Early Show all in one morning — telling Katie Couric, “My sole motivation, pure and simple, are the servicemen and women and their incredible families” — we should treat that statement as we would any claim made by a highly successful political or business leader. For the typical enlisted troops, noncommissioned officer, company grade officer, or even field grade or senior grade officer, Washington power struggles over cabinet-level appointments are about as much of a daily concern as the latest Congressional pay raise.
To the extent that this whole brouhaha is about powerful peoples’ egos, it is most emphatically not about the troops. As retired Lt. Gen. Dan Christman hinted to CNN’s Anderson Cooper, perhaps unwittingly, what actually precipitated the uproar was the perceived “treatment by the secretary of the flag officer community.”
INDEED, IT’S ENTIRELY POSSIBLE that Secretary Rumsfeld may have alienated this group of discontented generals long before the invasion of Iraq, when he put forth his vision of a significantly streamlined military in the summer of 2001 without bothering to consult them. Those in charge of government bureaucracies, whether they happen to wear business suits or fatigues, do not take kindly to public suggestions of slashing the manpower under their control.
Old grudges, it appears, really do die hard. Retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, calling for Rumsfeld’s resignation in the New York Times, couldn’t resist taking a swipe at the secretary’s “unrealistic confidence in technology to replace manpower.”
The former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, retired Gen. Richard Myers, probably pegged the situation best when he remarked, “It’s bad for the military. It’s bad for civil military relations. And it’s potentially very bad for the country, because what we’re hearing and what we’re seeing is not the role the military plays in our society under our laws — for that matter, under our Constitution.”
Gen. Myers, by the way, prudently declined at the time to weigh in on his former boss one way or another, reiterating that “it’s not the military that judges our civilian bosses.” Although he’s now technically a civilian, Gen. Myers apparently recognizes that any statement he makes would be perceived (and certainly be hyped by the media) as representative of the Pentagon brass.
The drafters of the Uniform Code of Military Justice seemed to understand this very concern, for they made Article 88 applicable only to commissioned officers. The narrow application of Article 88 may reflect the drafters’ sense that a contemptuous statement by an officer is more likely to be interpreted as an official statement of policy, and therefore all the more detrimental to morale and discipline within the ranks. If this is the case, then the highest ranking of officers ought to be the most careful about denigrating the military’s civilian boss as “abusive” and “arrogant.”
In a 1969 article for the Army’s Military Law Review, then-Maj. Michael Brown eloquently wrote, “The whole principle of military subordination to the civilian government, so clearly established in the Constitution, depends upon the discipline and respect of the military as regards their civilian superiors.” Without that, “it would not be long before the military establishment would become an island within our government looking only to its military leaders. The success of the United States in resisting a military takeover throughout the years of its existence has been primarily because of the idea of military subordination to the civilian government.”
Of what significance, then, is the assertion of a few retired generals that the defense secretary should resign? About the same as my opinion, or yours.