General George Patton On the Middle East Today
Godspeed Christiana Hendrix

Against Politicizing the Military

I'm thinking this morning about the Harpers' piece that conflated military officers with "the administration," the Kos video, and and today's piece in Salon from Mr. Greenwald.

Until this moment in the conflict, the military has been recognized as an apolitical, professional force that protects all Americans.  It is engaged in a controversial war in Iraq, but it is a war that was authorized by both the Congress and the Executive branches.  One of the points the Kos satire makes is this:

And we should say we support them, because, frankly, it just doesn’t get said often enough. Imagine, for example, if anytime any politician mentions any aspect of the war they prefaced their statement by saying ‘I support our troops’, or ‘I support our brave troops' ....  And not just politicians, but religious leaders, news people, commercial businesses, beverage makers, car companies, defense lobbyists - they should all say they support our troops whenever they’re trying to sell their products or pimp their talking points.  Because it’s the right thing to say.   

He's right to point out that the phrase is a commonplace of American society.  And he's right about the reason:  because it's the right thing to say.  These guys are fighting at our orders.  They are dying at our orders.  Our representatives either voted to authorize this conflict, or found themselves in the minority in opposing it.  The military is not a political creature.

That was what struck me first about Mr. Silverstein's piece:  that he asserted that the Blogger's Roundtables were about 'parroting the administration,' when no one from the administration participated.  We have spoken only with professional military officers, career men.  These are not political figures. 

The reason absolutely everyone in America says they support the troops, from beer companies to politicians of either party, is that the troops belong to all of us.  They serve and defend all of us.  We all owe them true faith, friendship and loyalty in return.

What we are seeing now is an attempt to drag the military into the realm of politics.  Mr. Silverstein already refuses to recognize that the military is not part of the Bush Administration.  I wrote Harpers' to demand a correction, but as yet there has been no response.  I hope they will recognize that this is a fundamental mistake, and correct themselves in the future.

Today, in Salon, Mr. Greenwald asserts that the military is politicizing itself.  He cites an exchange of letters with Petraeus' office, trying to get an interview with the general like Hugh Hewitt did.  You can read the exchange for yourself at the link above.  What strikes me about it is that the PAO replied professionally and politely, even though Mr. Greenwald was trying to bait him; and the PAO pointed out that the general would not involve himself in political questions, which is exactly correct.

The military has to stay in its lane, as we discussed in the piece on Silverstein and Harpers.  Nevertheless, there are questions of fact as well as the political questions, and the military is specially placed to answer those questions of fact.  To what degree is the surge working as hoped?  To what degree is Iran or al Qaeda involved?  What's going well, and what isn't?  These and other questions aren't political questions, but factual ones. 

Mr. Greenwald and others assert that General Bergner is involved in politics, because his answers to some questions of fact match the White House's answers.  One is surprised by the assertion.  The intelligence the White House is using is likely arising from military operations, after all.  It's not really shocking that the assessment of those in the elected, civilian branches is similar to that of the military professionals who saw the intel on its way up.  Indeed, we'd expect that to be the normal condition.  We'd be surprised when it was not that way.

Instead, Mr. Greenwald essentially calls General Bergner a liar and a tool of the administration.  The first question is one of honor, to which I expect the General is able to reply on his own if he feels Greenwald is worthy of a response.  The second one is a genuinely dangerous assertion.

The attempt to conflate the military with the administration; the assertion that the military is acting as a mouthpiece for the administration; and the attack on the underlying public support that nearly all Americans have heretofore felt for the military are of a piece.  It is these men who are trying to politicize the military.  I gather they are doing it because they do not like the answers to the "questions of fact" that the military are giving; so they would like to portray them as "questions of politics" instead.  But they are not forays into political questions:  they are a provision of facts from the ground.  Those facts may inform the political debate, but they are not a part of it. 

The Republic is stronger because Americans know that -- however divided we may be on political questions -- we have a common defense.  The military swears its oath to the Constitutional order.  That order is the space in which all our liberty exists, in which all Americans flourish and prosper.