I would like to add a few comments to Tom Donnelly’s well-thought-out and well-articulated editorial, “Won’t get fooled again” [May].
I personally know and have worked with three of the eight general officers who have come out publicly with severe criticisms of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the administration’s decisions and actions regarding Iraq. While I don’t agree with them, I have the utmost respect and admiration for two of them. There is no doubt in my mind that they have spoken from their hearts and with conviction with absolutely no thoughts of personal gain. The third general officer is, in my professional opinion, simply a lightweight who decided to pile on.
Americans are the freest people on earth and have the right to speak out on any issue. But with that freedom comes responsibility, especially from those individuals with great public stature who can influence the opinions of the electorate. Just as individuals can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater, these individuals, too, must be circumspect about voicing extreme criticisms when those same criticisms can be used by our enemies against us. And the criticisms by this small group of generals have, indeed, been used against our country. Simply stated, they have given sustenance to, as well as aided and abetted, Islamic terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan and probably other areas, too.
One thing I learned during my service in the Marine Corps was that I owed my superiors the best advice and opinions I could provide, even if my thoughts didn’t fit in with my superiors’ strongly held ideas. To the best of my knowledge, none of these general officers ever stood up, while on active duty, and said to his civilian bosses: “Sir, I respectfully disagree with your stated course of action for the following reasons ... .” Moreover, as retired flag officers, none of them, to the best of my knowledge, has asked for a meeting with the defense secretary or with the chairman, vice chairman or J-3 of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to express their serious concerns about the actions and policies of the U.S. in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Finally, I think these comments by our retired flag officers only serve to politicize our military. This is a concern to me because we have long had a tradition of civilian control of our military services, and this tradition has served America well for more than two centuries.
It is easy to be an armchair quarterback, and I am one of the best when it comes to sporting events, to be sure. But with regard to our nation’s policies and actions in wartime, I believe retired military officers should go directly to the source to express their concerns, or they should stay quiet. Our nation and our troops in harm’s way deserve command unity.