Saturday, October 14, 2006

Ours is not to question, ours is to do or die

A few days ago the lead General of the UK's army said that "we" weren't invited into Iraq, that "our" presence in Iraq was making the situation worse, as an uninvited presence in Iraq "we" are the ones responsible for it being worse, and "we" should withdraw. He was talking about the UK's military forces but I think his comments apply to the U.S. and other foreign armies as well.

Since those statements the General in question has done a little backpedaling, and on Prime Minister Tony Blair's part he has stated complete agreement with the backpedaled statements.

In a Times (of London) opinion piece titled I agree with every word that Dannatt said. But he has got to be sacked Matthew Paris invokes a precedent from American History. After World War II general MacArthur saw an opening in the power structure of the Pacific region and ...

MacArthur’s desire was to press the military advantage, take up arms alongside Taiwan, and attack Communist China with nuclear weapons. President Truman disagreed. MacArthur started issuing statements to the press. Truman relieved him of his command. And that was the end of General MacArthur.

Many then thought the President’s policy was wrong and General MacArthur’s right; fewer argued that any general had the right to undermine the authority of a democratically elected president. MacArthur was way out of order, and had to go.

Truman fired MacArthur rather than follow the plan he proposed. Why? Because as Mr. Paris goes on to explain

The Armed Forces are not in charge of government policy; ministers are — democratically elected ministers. The Armed Forces are there to implement policy, not attack it. They can and must offer advice, of course, but the advice that Service chiefs offer ministers must be absolutely private. It is not their job to try to influence public debate by making statements to the news media.

Hmm.... This raises some interesting quandries.

A General, especially the top General, has a position of power. If the General sees something that could be done, perhaps the General should use that power to have that action take place. What Mr. Paris suggests is that General instead only use that power in private conversations with other government leaders.

The flip-side of the General determining government policy is that it can lead to a military dictatorship. We can think of zillions of examples in history where the Generals seized power. The most recent is in Thailand where the Prime Minister was on a state visit to the U.N. and while there the Generals seized power, supposedly with the blessing of the King.

Supposedly the Political leaders are answerable to the people, while the Military leaders are answerable to the Political leaders.

In Ministers say general was out of order - then concede his job is safe it's reported that many in the Military have stepped up to defend this General. In short, this makes it a battle of willpower between the political and military leadership. Is the political branch willing to go against a popular General and defend the political branch priority in determining policy?

You can see here the possibility of a military Coup. Suppose the battle of wills goes further and neither side backs down, one side saying it's ridiculous to stay in Iraq, the other demanding the Military must follow civilian and political Authority. What then?

For the record, here is Time Magazine quoting General Dannatt:

"It's an absolute fact that in some parts of the country, the fact that we are there causes people to attack us, and in that sense, our presence exacerbates violence," he said. The original hope of installing a liberal democratic government is out of reach and might have been "na├»ve." "We should aim for a lower ambition," he argued — just keeping Iraq a unitary state. He has "much more optimism we can get it right in Afghanistan" than in Iraq. Though the British army "doesn't do surrender," he said he wanted its 7,000 troops out "sometime soon" because "time is not our friend -- we can't be here forever at this level. I have an army to look after, which is going to be successful in current operations, but I want an army in five years' time, ten years' time; I don't want to break it on this one."

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