neocons watch your back: Revolt of the Generals


Richard Moore

      In late September Batiste, along with two other retired
      senior officers, spoke out about these failures at a
      Washington Democratic policy hearing, with Batiste saying
      Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was "not a competent
      wartime leader" who made "dismal strategic decisions" that
      "resulted in the unnecessary deaths of American servicemen
      and women, our allies and the good people of Iraq."
      Rumsfeld, he said, "dismissed honest dissent" and "did not
      tell the American people the truth for fear of losing
      support for the war."

Original source URL:

Revolt of the Generals
By Richard J. Whalen
The Nation
Thursday 28 September 2006

A revolt is brewing among our retired Army and Marine generals. This rebellion -
quiet and nonconfrontational, but remarkable nonetheless - comes not because 
their beloved forces are bearing the brunt of ground combat in Iraq but because 
the retirees see the US adventure in Mesopotamia as another Vietnam-like, 
strategically failed war, and they blame the errant, arrogant civilian 
leadership at the Pentagon. The dissenters include two generals who led combat 
troops in Iraq: Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack Jr., who commanded the 82nd Airborne 
Division, and Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who led the First Infantry Division (the 
"Big Red One"). These men recently sacrificed their careers by retiring and 
joining the public protest.

In late September Batiste, along with two other retired senior officers, spoke 
out about these failures at a Washington Democratic policy hearing, with Batiste
saying Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was "not a competent wartime leader" 
who made "dismal strategic decisions" that "resulted in the unnecessary deaths 
of American servicemen and women, our allies and the good people of Iraq." 
Rumsfeld, he said, "dismissed honest dissent" and "did not tell the American 
people the truth for fear of losing support for the war."

This kind of protest among senior military retirees during wartime is 
unprecedented in American history - and it is also deeply worrisome. The retired
officers opposing the war and demanding Rumsfeld's ouster represent a new 
political force, and therefore a potentially powerful factor in the future of 
our democracy. The former generals' growing lobby could acquire a unique veto 
power in the future by publicly opposing reckless civilian warmaking in advance.

No one should be surprised by the antiwar dissent emerging among those who have 
commanded our legions on the fringes of the US military empire. After more than 
sixty-five years of increasingly centralized and secret presidential warmaking, 
we have concentrated ultimate civilian authority in fewer and fewer hands. Some 
of these leaders have been proved by events to be incompetent.

I speak regularly to retired generals, former intelligence officers and former 
Pentagon officials and aides, all of whom remain close to their active-duty 
friends and protégés. These well-informed seniors tell me that whatever the 
original US objective was in Iraq, our understrength forces and flawed strategy 
have failed, and that we cannot repair this failure by remaining there 
indefinitely. Fundamental changes are needed, and senior officers are prepared 
to make them. According to my sources, some active-duty officers are working 
behind the scenes to end the war and are preparing for the inevitable US 
withdrawal. "The only question is whether a war serves the national interest," 
declares a retired three-star general. "Iraq does not."

How widespread is antiwar feeling among the retired and active-duty senior 
military? And does it extend into the younger active-duty officer corps? These 
are unanswerable questions. The soldiers who defend our democracy on the 
battlefield fight within military, and therefore nondemocratic, organizations. 
They are sworn to uphold the Constitution and obey orders. Traditionally, they 
debate only on the "inside."

Earlier this year, Gen. George Casey, the top American commander in Iraq, 
drafted a highly classified briefing plan that was leaked to the New York Times 
in June. It called for sharply reducing US troop levels in Iraq from the current
fourteen combat brigades to a half-dozen or so by late December 2007. The plan 
contained a great many caveats, and events soon rendered it obsolete. Now 
General Casey says the Iraqi security forces may be ready to take the lead role 
in twelve to eighteen months, but he says nothing about troop withdrawals.

Casey's leaked plan revealed the thinking of some of today's top-level officers.
These senior military men believe that our forces will have to win the 
potentially decisive battle for Baghdad before the United States can leave. In 
August the Army announced an urgent transfer of American forces from insecure 
western Iraq to the capital in preparation for that coming battle. The move 
barely doubled the number of troops in Baghdad, to only 14,000 GIs spread over a
sprawling metropolis with a population exceeding 7 million.

On August 3 the commander of US forces in the Middle East, Gen. John Abizaid, 
the universally respected, Arabic-speaking warrior-scholar who knows Iraq 
intimately, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that worsening 
Iraqi sectarian violence, especially in Baghdad, "could move [Iraq] towards 
civil war." In private, senior officers openly refer to civil war, and have 
indicated that the Army would depart in such circumstances to avoid being caught
in the crossfire.

The dissenting retired generals are bent on making Iraq this nation's last 
strategically failed war - that is, one doggedly waged by civilian officials 
largely to avoid personal accountability for their bad decisions. A failed war 
causes mounting human and other costs, damaging or entirely destroying the 
national interest it was supposed to serve.

Let me interject a personal note. At the height of the Vietnam War, between 1966
and 1968, I was a conservative Republican in my early 30s on the campaign staff 
of the likely next President, Richard Nixon. What I heard from junior officers 
returning from Vietnam convinced me that US military involvement there should 
give way to diplomacy. We no longer had a coherent political objective, and were
fighting only to avoid admitting defeat. I wrote Nixon's secret plan for "ending
the war and winning the peace," a rhetorical screen for striking a summit deal 
with the Soviet Union, followed by a historic opening to China that would allow 
us to extricate ourselves from what we belatedly recognized was an anti-Chinese 

After I left Nixon's staff in August 1968, I helped end the draft. In 1969-70, I
co-wrote and edited the Report of the President's Commission on an All-Volunteer
Armed Force. Our blockbuster proposal to end the draft combined political 
expediency and libertarian idealism. Our staff's numbers crunchers calculated 
that if we raised enlisted men's pay scales, retention rates among the sons of 
lower- to middle-income families would stay high enough to create a de facto 
all-volunteer Army. So why not take credit for acting on principle? Nixon's 
domestic adviser Martin Anderson pushed it, the private computers of consultant 
Alan Greenspan (who would go on to become chair of the Federal Reserve System) 
confirmed it and I delivered the text that the commission accepted. Nixon, for 
once, enjoyed the media's acclaim. The draft was swiftly abolished.

The Iraq War only confirms the wisdom of the nation's commitment to the 
all-volunteer armed forces. A draft would merely prolong the Iraq agony, not 
avoid defeat. More than 2,700 GIs killed and more than 20,000 wounded, along 
with tens of thousands of dead and wounded Iraqis, are enough to carry on the 
nation's conscience.

Some of the officers from the first generation of the volunteer Army, now mostly
retired, are speaking out and influencing their active-duty colleagues. Retired 
Lieut. Gen. William Odom calls the Iraq War "the worst strategic mistake in the 
history of the United States" and draws a grim parallel with the Vietnam War. He
says that US strategy in Iraq, as in Vietnam, has served almost exclusively the 
interests of our enemies. He says that our objectives in Vietnam passed through 
three phases leading to defeat. These were: (1) 1961-65, "containing" China; (2)
1965-68, obsession with US tactics, leading to "Americanization" of the war; and
(3) 1968-75, phony diplomacy and self-deluding "Vietnamization." Iraq has now 
completed two similar phases and is entering the third, says Odom, now a senior 
fellow at the Hudson Institute. In March he wrote in the newsletter of Harvard's
Nieman Foundation:

Will Phase Three in Iraq end with U.S. helicopters flying out of Baghdad's Green
Zone? It all sounds so familiar. The difference lies in the consequences. 
Vietnam did not have the devastating effects on U.S. power that Iraq is already 
having. On this point, those who deny the Vietnam-Iraq analogy are probably 
right. They are wrong, however, in believing that staying the course will have 
any result other than making the damage to U.S. power far greater than would 
changing course and making an orderly withdrawal.... But even in its 
differences, Vietnam can be instructive about Iraq. Once the U.S. position in 
Vietnam collapsed, Washington was free to reverse the negative trends it faced 
in NATO and U.S.-Soviet military balance, in the world economy, in its 
international image, and in other areas. Only by getting out of Iraq can the 
United States possibly gain sufficient international support to design a new 
strategy for limiting the burgeoning growth of anti-Western forces it has 

The fact that so many retired generals are speaking out against the war and 
against Rumsfeld, and are doing so at such forums as New York's prestigious 
Council on Foreign Relations, reflects the depth and intensity of the military's
dissent. Traditional discipline and career-protecting reticence prompt many 
disillusioned field-grade officers (majors and above) to keep silent. These are 
"the Carlisle elite," who attend the US Army War College in Carlisle, 
Pennsylvania, and from whose ranks are selected the generals and top leaders of 

The military's senior active-duty leadership will not openly revolt. "We're not 
the French generals in Algeria," says Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton. "But we damned well 
know that the Iraq War we've won militarily is being lost politically." The 
well-read retired Marine Lieut. Gen. Gregory Newbold wrote in a Time magazine 
essay: "I retired from the military four months before the [March 2003] 
invasion, in part because of my opposition to those who had used 9/11's tragedy 
to hijack our security policy." Newbold calls the Iraq War "unnecessary" and 
says the civilians who launched the war acted with "a casualness and swagger" 
that are "the special province" of those who have never smelled death on a 

When civilian Pentagon officials bungled the long, dishonorable endgame of the 
Vietnam War, disciplined senior soldiers kept silent. After that war ended in US
defeat and humiliation, a flood of firsthand military accounts of the war 
appeared. Embittered generals and other officers, like future general Colin 
Powell, vowed it would never happen again.

Today, a retired major general privately asserts: "For our generation, Iraq will
be Vietnam with the volume turned way up. Three decades ago, the retired 
generals who are now speaking out against the Iraq War were junior officers in 
Vietnam. The seniors who trained and mentored us, and who became generals but 
who kept silent, did not speak out after retirement against Vietnam." Now, even 
before the Iraq War has ended, generals have shed their uniforms and begun 
publicly to fight back against Rumsfeld's bullying and a new generation of 
Pentagon civilians' bloodstained mistakes. These former generals despise 
Rumsfeld, with several, like Batiste, describing him as totally dismissive of 
their views. They recall repeatedly trying to warn Rumsfeld before the Iraq 
invasion that the US forces he was planning to deploy were barely half the 
400,000 they said were needed.

Rumsfeld publicly humiliated all who dissented, beginning with Army Chief of 
Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, who was virtually dismissed the day he honestly gave 
his views to Congress. Rumsfeld's deputy, neoconservative ideologue Paul 
Wolfowitz, listened respectfully before rejecting the generals' advice. As the 
Iraqi insurgency grew, the generals found Rumsfeld "completely unable and 
unwilling to understand the collapse of security in Iraq," says Army Maj. Gen. 
Paul Eaton, now retired. The severely understrength US forces have never been 
able to provide adequate security. Once Iraqi civilians lost their trust and 
confidence in America's protection, the war was lost politically. As General 
Newbold says: "Our opposition to Rumsfeld is all about his accountability for 
getting Iraq wrong from day one."

Bureaucratic accountability comes hard and very slowly. According to a stark 
consensus of global terrorism trends by America's sixteen separate espionage 
agencies, the US invasion and occupation of Iraq "helped spawn a new generation 
of Islamic radicalism and [expand] the overall terrorist threat." This highly 
classified National Intelligence Estimate is, according to the New York Times, 
"the first report since the war began to present a comprehensive picture" of 
global terrorism trends.

There's blame enough to go around. In his recently published bestseller Fiasco: 
The American Military Adventure in Iraq, Thomas Ricks, the Washington Post's 
senior Pentagon correspondent, offers a devastating, heavily documented 
indictment of almost incredible civilian and military shortsightedness and 
incompetence, such as the foolish decisions that encouraged the Iraqi 
insurgency. "When we disbanded the Iraqi Army, we created a significant part of 
the Iraqi insurgency," explains Col. Paul Hughes, whose advice to retain the 
army was rejected. Before he retired he told Ricks, "Unless we ensure that we 
have coherency in our policy, we will lose strategically." The most critical 
political-strategic decisions about post-Saddam Iraq's future were made by 
deeply mistaken civilian officials in Washington and in the Green Zone by our 
"viceroy," Paul Bremer, administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority.

The senior military dissenters will not rest until they indict the mistakes of 
Rumsfeld and his principal civilian aides at Congressional hearings. The 
military always plays this game of accountability for keeps. Should the 
Democrats gain control of a Congressional chamber in the November midterms, 
televised Capitol Hill hearings in 2007 will feature military protagonists 
speaking of "betrayal" and "tragically wasted sacrifices." The retired generals 
believe nothing would be gained, and much would be lost, by keeping the truth 
about Iraq from the families of America's dead and wounded.

Says retired two-star General Eaton: "The repeated rotations of Army Reservists 
and National Guardsmen are hollowing out the US ground forces. This whole thing 
in Iraq is going to fall off a cliff.... Yet we have a moral obligation to see 
this thing [the Iraqi occupation] through. If we fail, it will cause America 
grave problems for several decades to come." These earnest, if contradictory, 
sentiments echo what some conflicted US military officers told me thirty-five 
years ago, as Vietnam was being abandoned. After President Nixon's Watergate 
disgrace and resignation, a fed-up American public and a heavily 
Democratic-controlled Congress finally pulled the plug on our Saigon ally, 
allowing South Vietnam to fall.

Over the past year, the United States has pressed into service newly trained 
Iraqi army, police and security forces, replacing elements of the 140,000-plus 
US troops. But the Iraqi forces lack everything from body armor to tanks and 
helicopters. Major General Eaton, who in 2003-04 was in charge of training Iraqi
security forces, says the United States needs another five years to train the 
Iraqi army, and as much as another decade to train and equip an effective Iraqi 
police force.

Gen. Barry McCaffrey, a hero in the 1991 Gulf War who visited Iraq and Kuwait 
this past spring, writes in an unpublished report: "We need to better equip the 
Iraqi Army with a capability to deter foreign attack and to have a leveraged 
advantage over the Shia militias and the insurgents they must continue to 
confront. The resources we are now planning to provide are inadequate by an 
order of magnitude or more. The cost of a coherent development of the Iraqi 
security forces is the ticket out of Iraq - and the avoidance of the constant 
drain of huge U.S. resources on a monthly basis."

Thus, the crucial "Iraqification" process has barely begun and is mostly still 
self-deception. New York Times Iraq correspondent Dexter Filkins reports that 
Baghdad has become "a markedly more dangerous place" over the past year. This 
undercuts "the central premise of the American project here: that Iraqi forces 
can be trained and equipped to secure their own country, allowing the Americans 
to go home," a replay of the failed Vietnamization scenario.

The retired generals' revolt may be inspired by their apprehension over a wider 
Mideast conflict spreading to potentially nuclear Iran, writes former Pentagon 
planner and now antiwar critic Karen Kwiatkowski, a retired Air Force lieutenant
colonel and a razor-sharp PhD. Writing in, she speculates that 
the generals are trying to get rid of Rumsfeld now to head off a conflict with 
Iran. The Bush Administration reportedly has contingency plans to bomb Iran's 
UN-disapproved nuclear sites. Some underemployed Navy and Air Force officers are
lobbying to strike Iran, but the overstretched ground combat forces 
overwhelmingly oppose it as the worst of all possible wars. She writes: "If 
Rumsfeld retires, we will not 'do' Iran under Bush 43." Such concern over Tehran
is well founded. According to Kwiatkowski and retired Air Force Col. Sam 
Gardiner, American Special Forces are already secretly inside Iran, identifying 
potential targets for future air strikes. The Iranians are of course aware of 
their uninvited visitors.

The obvious diplomatic recourse is for the Bush Administration to talk to Tehran
about our pending exit from Iraq, but the White House refused to do so until 
late September, when the Bush family's longtime political fixer, former 
Secretary of State James Baker, entered the picture as a deal-maker. Baker is 
co-chair, with retired Indiana Democratic Representative Lee Hamilton, of the 
Congressionally created Iraq Study Group (ISG), which is due to issue a 
comprehensive report on US options in Iraq after the November elections. After a
four-day visit to Iraq, Baker, Hamilton and the eight other members of the 
bipartisan task force returned to Washington with an obvious recommendation: 
Start talking to Tehran. After receiving President Bush's immediate approval, 
Baker invited an unidentified "high representative" of the Iranian government, 
as well as Syria's foreign minister, to meet with the ISG. Baker realizes the 
leverage is largely on Iran's side of the table.

An expert on Shiite Islam, Professor Vali Nasr of the Naval Postgraduate School,
sees a glaring missed opportunity the ISG could help seize. He suggested in the 
July-August Foreign Affairs that "Iran will actively seek stability in Iraq only
when it no longer benefits from controlled chaos there, that is, when it no 
longer feels threatened by the United States' presence. Iran's long-term 
interests are not inherently at odds with those of the United States; it is 
current U.S. policy toward Iran that has set the countries' respective Iraq 
policies on a collision course."

General McCaffrey warns that "U.S. public diplomacy and rhetoric about 
confronting Iranian nuclear weapons development is scaring neighbors in the 
Gulf. Our Mideast allies believe correctly that they are ill equipped to deal 
with Iranian strikes to close the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. They do not 
think they can handle politically or militarily a terrorist threat nested in 
their domestic Shia populations."

The recent war in Lebanon has only made the prospect of war with Iran more 
problematic. As Richard Armitage, the astute onetime Navy SEAL and former Deputy
Secretary of State, told reporter Seymour Hersh: "When the Israel Defense 
Forces, the most dominant military force in the region, can't pacify little 
Lebanon [population: 4 million], you should think twice about taking that 
template to Iran, with strategic depth and a population of 70 million."

McCaffrey's report raises the possibility that US forces will have to fight 
their way out of Iraq. He says, "A U.S. military confrontation with Iran could 
result in [the radical Islamic Mahdi Army's] attacking our forces in Baghdad or 
along our 400-mile line of communications out of Iraq to the sea." The Bush 
Administration needs Iranian cooperation for the eventual safe exit of our 
troops, as General McCaffrey advises. This assumes that the Iranians will not 
risk World War III by trying to entrap our hostage Army in a humiliating 
Dunkirk-in-the-desert. After successful negotiations, the United States should 
be able to withdraw via the southern exit route leading through Kuwait to the 
Persian Gulf and the blue waters beyond.

Once we get our troops safely out, a newly elected, post-2008 administration in 
Washington may be able to begin reassembling America's scattered global allies 
to address the region's problems anew, next time multilaterally, and through 
diplomacy rather than pre-emptive unilateral military force.

America is a uniquely favored nation that redefines itself in each generation. 
But we have had a lifetime of embracing one democratic global war, and numerous 
presidentially inspired, politicized and secret smaller wars that have turned 
out badly. Sixty-five years after Pearl Harbor, we owe it to the past three 
generations to resume the debate on our national identity, suspended on December
7, 1941, and foreshortened on September 11, 2001.

In the post-cold war era, we have severely cut back our military manpower, 
reducing the regular Army to only 480,000 troops, but we have not cut back 
fantastically expensive Air Force weapons systems or the somewhat more useful 
but still gold-plated Navy. Nor have we redefined our strategic goals to fit 
realistically within reduced budgets. We have "paid" for the invasion and 
occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan by borrowing heavily from foreign 
dollar-holders, such as China, that are awash in trade surpluses, and have left 
debt service to future US generations.

A key argument in the ex-generals' indictment is this undeniable fact: Our armed
forces are too small to police and reorder the world and intervene almost 
blindly, as we have in Iraq. That invasion acted out the world-changing 
daydreams of pro-Israel neoconservative policy intellectuals like Paul 
Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and others who gained warmaking power and influence 
atop the Pentagon but who evidently never asked themselves, Suppose we're wrong?
What happens then? Sober, realistic Israelis privately fear the neocons' 
"friendship," and where it has led America, more than any Arab enemies. In the 
inevitable post-Iraq War tsunami of US political recrimination, such Israelis 
foresee Christian Zionist evangelicals, whose lobbying muscle in Congress was 
decisive in the run-up to the Iraq War, attempting to scapegoat the high-profile
neocons and endangering Israel's all-important security ties to the United 

Growing public disgust and frustration with the Iraq War has begun to arouse a 
self-defeating desire to retreat into isolationism. Rather, the United States 
should revive the traditional but recently neglected realistic approach to 
foreign policy, as the ISG is starting to do, and it should begin with a renewed
multilateral approach to peacemaking in the Middle East.

Escaping the Matrix website
cyberjournal website  
subscribe cyberjournal list     mailto:•••@••.•••
Posting archives      
  cyberjournal forum  
  Achieving real democracy
  for readers of ETM  
  Community Empowerment
  Blogger made easy