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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Sinking to new lows - attacking the motives of the war critic Generals

A remarkable parade of retired generals has come forward in the last couple of weeks to denounce Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, blame the disaster in Iraq on his incompetence, and demand his resignation. These Generals join people like William Buckley, George Will, and even Newt Gingrich in publicly declaring that the Bush administration's incompetence and hubris is to blame for the strategic disaster in Iraq, which at least some of them say is a war which, due to this incompetence, has been lost.

If you are a true believer neocon who was one of the leading advocates of this war, and you are petrified that the blame for this disaster will justifiably be pinned to your head forever, what to do about these Generals? Easy - attack their motives and patriotism and insist that nobody should listen to them on matters such as military strategy, but instead should continue to follow the armchair general pundits like Victor Davis Hanson who led us into this debacle. Here's Hanson today on what is truly motivating those Generals:

Currently, there are many retired generals appearing in frenetic fashion on television. Sometimes they hype their recent books, or, as during the three-week war, offer sharp interviews about our supposed strategic and operational blunders in Iraq — imperial hubris, too few troops, wrong war, wrong place, and other assorted lapses.

Apart from the ethical questions involved in promoting a book or showcasing a media appearance during a time of war by offering an "inside" view unknown to others of the supposedly culpable administration of the military, what is striking is the empty nature of these controversies rehashed ad nauseam.

These Generals -- to whom Hanson refers contemptuously as "Pensioned Army and Marine generals" (those freeloading socialists) -- aren't speaking out because they love their country, are concerned for its well-being under this administration or because they believe anything they are saying. Nope - they're just trying to hawk books and make money, and are acting unethically while they do it. These Generals who are criticizing the administration are just dishonest hacks who ought to be ignored and shunned. As always, Hanson plays around with military glory from the past and wonders why nobody except him and a few others are as noble or brave as those men were:

Imagine that, as we crossed the Rhine, retired World War II officers were still harping, in March, 1945, about who was responsible months during Operation Cobra for the accidental B-17 bombing, killing, and wounding of hundreds of American soldiers and the death of Lt. Gen. Leslie McNair; or, in the midst of Matthew Ridgeway's Korean counteroffensives, we were still bickering over MacArthur's disastrous intelligence lapses about Chinese intervention that caused thousands of casualties. Did the opponents of daylight bombing over Europe in 1943 still damn the theories of old Billy Mitchell, or press on to find a way to hit Nazi Germany hard by late 1944?

These Generals are not only money-driven and unethical. They are downright treasonous -- "harping" on criticisms of our military strategy while we try to Win The War. Don't they know their patriotic duty, these Generals? And it's not just Generals who are selling out their country for book profits, as Hanson reminds us:

So we know the nature of these weary debates. Both sides offer reasonable arguments. Fine. But let us not fool ourselves any longer that each subsequent "exposé" and leak by some retired general, CIA agent, or State Department official — inevitably right around publication date — offers anything newer, smarter, or much more ethical in this dark era that began on September 11.

Criticisms of the Administration come "right around publication date." That's because nobody really finds genuine fault with the Administration. They're just all trying to sell books. Anyone who criticizes the Administration has bad motives, places their own interest over their country, and is undermining our war effort for selfish reasons. Including these "Generals." The great war hero Hanson sees right through them.

These Generals need to just shut up because people like them are the reason that we are losing:

What we need, then, are not more self-appointed ethicists, but far more humility and recognition that in this war nothing is easy. Choices have been made, and remain to be made, between the not very good and the very, very bad. Most importantly, so far, none of our mistakes has been unprecedented, fatal to our cause or impossible to correct.

So let us have far less self-serving second-guessing, and far more national confidence that we are winning — and that radical Islamists and their fascist supporters in the Middle East are soon going to lament the day that they ever began this war.

We need "far more humility" -- just like the Bush administration and its warmonger supporters like Hanson have been trying to tell us for years. And after that, all we need is "far more national confidence that we are winning" -- we just click our heels three times and recite over and over that things are great. And then they will be. Why can't these wishy-washy, defeatist Generals see that?

Attacking the motives -- not the arguments or judgments, but the motives -- of a bunch of retired Generals, all because they expressed criticism of the administration's war efforts, gives you a pretty good idea of how these Bush supporters are feeling. Desperate and scared. That must be the feeling inside the White House, too -- everyone is abandoning them, criticizing them, blaming them. They look and feel weak, impotent, and small. And they definitely are going to do something about that.

Hanson's lashing out at these Generals is just a minute though illustrative symptom of what is likely to come. When people like George Bush and Dick Cheney feel weak and impotent, they seek out conflict to show their toughness. Their supporters said as much as the reason they supported the Iraq War. That's where all of that "we-need-to-kick-some-Arab-ass" came from to justify the invasion. We felt weak and impotent after the 9/11 attacks and needed a good war to compensate. No need to speculate about that. Many of them, not realizing what it reveals about them, came right out and said it. Jonah Goldberg's explanation for why we should send other people to invade Iraq remains the Gold Standard for illuminating this tough-guy war-mongering stance:

Q: If you're a kid and you've had enough of the school bullies pants-ing you in the cafeteria, what's one of the smartest things you can do?

A: Punch one of them in the nose as hard as you can and then stand your ground.

When people like this feel weak and small, they need to lash out, to re-establish their warrior credentials. Attacking the motives of these Generals is so utterly irrational and vile, but they aren't operating from a rational platform. They are wounded and humiliated by their failures, and are desperate to find some way to compensate for that. I've read in many places that Bush will be hard-pressed to commit to an attack on Iran if his popularity remains so low and there is not broad popular support for the attack, but the opposite could quite easily be true as well. I think that's the more likely relationship between his popularity and the probability of an attack - the more unpopular he is, the more likely is an attack.

The weaker and more stigmatized Bush becomes, the greater could be the likelihood of some spiteful, bitter, strength-seeking military offensive. Few things seem more unstable and dangerous than an isolated, unpopular, bitter, failed, frustrated President, sitting in the White House recalling the glory days when war and military might caused him to feel so good and strong.

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