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US Military Illiteracy Serves No Good

File photo: A soldier in the US Army.
by Philip Gold
UPI Outside View Commentator
Seattle (UPI) Apr 25, 2006
America needs citizen-soldiers: men and women who devote part of their lives, on active duty or in the National Guard and reserves, to the common defense. But to make those contributions effective in the age now upon us, America also needs soldier-citizens -- retired and (sometimes) active officers, especially senior officers, to educate the American people on vital matters of national security.

That is why the current "Revolt of the Generals" should be welcomed by all Americans, as a possible start to a fundamental change in the relationship of the American people and the military.

Problem is, it's the wrong revolt in the wrong place at the wrong time against the wrong enemy.

Over the past few weeks, six retired Army and Marine generals, and let's not forget former Secretary of State Colin Powell, have spoken out publicly against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and, in some cases, the Iraq war. At first, the lack of spontaneous rebuttals from the other 8,000 retired flag officers was deafening, and embarrassed the administration into a spin campaign that should have embarrassed America.

Manipulations have ranged from "You're doing a heck of a job, Rummy" endorsements to breathless revelations of how hard the secretary works, to Pentagon press memos proclaiming how often the secretary confers with senior brass. By official count, there were 273 separate meetings in 2005 and 74 so far this year, presumably excluding emails and chance encounters in the men's room.

Simultaneously, retired officers have started their own campaign, not in defense of Secretary Rumsfeld or the Iraq war or much of anything else, except the Rules of the Club. Serving officers, they explain, after making their views known privately, should either shut up and follow orders or resign. Retired officers should just shut up.

Not no more. But what they should be talking about publicly has yet to be determined. No one this side of Cindy Sheehan believes that officers have any right to defy or ignore lawful orders with which they disagree, or that resignations always serve the common good. And it has become clear that hissy-fitting over Rumsfeld's job prospects, and even the Iraq mess, has only diverted attention from two much larger problems: how to handle the years ahead, and how to create the forces to do so.

We are indeed in a "long war." We need, therefore, to take a longer view. America is slowly being trapped between the jihadi and the opportunists, between violent Islamic and other forms of terrorism and extremism, and a China relentlessly expanding its military power and global influence. This is indeed a struggle for survival. However, odd as it might seem, individual wars and campaigns will be largely of America's choosing: wars of policy, not of immediate necessity.

Afghanistan was not a war of survival for us. It was a choice, and a wise one, even if we've subsequently mucked it up. Iraq was clearly a war of choice. I opposed it -- full-disclosure time -- as a lousy idea from the spring of 2002, and have found Gen. Anthony Zinni's view of things both persuasive and prescient. Now comes Iran, another possible war of choice. And what of Asia a decade or so from now?

We are, alas, a nation of military illiterates. I would suggest, therefore, that retired and -- sometimes -- active military officers constitute a priceless resource for educating the American people, on all sides of all issues pertaining to present and future American wars of choice.

And perhaps more importantly, retired and -- sometimes -- active military officers must educate the American people on what kind of military is needed. To put it bluntly: at the very moment when the military should be expanding for the post-Iraq/post-Katrina world, it's shrinking. There are many reasons for this, from America's current inability to provide volunteers in adequate quantity and quality to the institutional inertia and corruption that favors "Cold War legacy" weapons and high-tech fixes to problems requiring far less technology and far more boots on the ground. Indeed, the United States is close to approaching a condition perhaps best described as "Defenseless on a Trillion Dollars a Year."

So will we be hearing a lot more from the brass? Probably not, at least for a while. Club Rules, you know. That and careerism, and post-retirement employment concerns, and inter-service rivalry, and old loyalties, and inertia, and all the rest of the catalogue of excuses and evasions. However, it might be appropriate to issue a challenge of sorts to the brass.

The common defense involves every citizen. The Armed Forces are your responsibility, but not your property. And in the end, war is too important to be left to the civilians. Especially the pundits.

Talk to us.

Philip Gold is author of "The Coming Draft? America's Military Meltdown and the Future of Citizen Service," to be published by Random House/Presidio this fall. United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.

Source: United Press International

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