Magazine article The New Yorker

RUMMYACHE; COMMENT Series: 1/5

Magazine article The New Yorker

RUMMYACHE; COMMENT Series: 1/5

Article excerpt

In the ongoing South Americanization of political culture north of the border--a drawn-out historical journey whose markers include fiscal recklessness, an accelerating wealth gap between the rich and the rest, corruption masked by populist rhetoric, a frank official embrace of the techniques of "dirty war," and, by way of initiating the present era, a judicial autogolpe installing a dynastic presidente--what has been dubbed the Revolt of the Generals is one of the feebler effusions. But it is striking all the same. By last week, the junta had swelled to six members: General Anthony C. Zinni, of the Marine Corps (four stars); Lieutenant General Gregory Newbold, also of the Marines (three stars); and Major Generals John Batiste, Paul D. Eaton, John Riggs, and Charles H. Swannack, Jr., of the Army (two stars). Some reckon that Wesley Clark (Army, four stars), William E. Odom (ditto, three stars), and Bernard E. Trainor (Marines, three stars) are entitled to spots as auxiliary members. All these generals have said devastating things about the job performance of the current Secretary of Defense, particularly with respect to the Iraq war. Their critiques vary--some of them see the war as a series of tactical blunders, others as a strategic disaster doomed from the start--but on one point the Pentagon Six are unanimous: Please. Bring us the head of Donald Rumsfeld.

This brass band of clarion calls for Rumsfeld's resignation or dismissal has occasioned a certain amount of hand-wringing about alleged threats to the constitutional principle of civilian control of the military. But, as military coups go, this one is pretty weak tea by hemispheric standards. Instead of seizing the radio stations and the Presidential Palace, our disgruntled generals are content to overrun the op-ed pages, the bookstore signing tables, and the greenrooms of the cable-TV news talk shows. Also (and this is not a small point), the generals in question, however youthful and vigorous some of them may appear, are retired. They are no longer links in the chain of command; not being subordinate, they can't be insubordinate. They are civilians. And they are every bit as entitled to express their views publicly, and to give their former civilian superiors a hard time in the process, as were Andrew Jackson in 1824, and Dwight Eisenhower in 1952--not to mention the nine other ex-generals who became President, beginning with General George Washington (ret.), in 1789.

There's nothing new, let alone unconstitutional, about the bitching of pensioned-off generals. What is unusual--unprecedented, apparently--is for so many to speak out so strongly against a prominent architect of an ongoing war and to demand his removal. But then it is also unusual (though not, alas, unprecedented) for the United States to fight a war of choice on the basis of ideological fervor and faulty or falsified intelligence. And it is not just unusual but unprecedented for the stated primary aims of such a war (in this case, to prevent Iraq from obtaining weapons of mass destruction and from aiding terrorist attacks on the American homeland) to have been achieved before a shot was fired, forcing the war's advocates to scramble for new ones.

The generals' revolt of 2006 has resonated. One reason, no doubt, is that the experience of these particular generals suggests that they know what they are talking about. Three of the six--Batiste, Eaton, and Swannack--held positions of command in Iraq; a fourth, Zinni, is steeped in the region, having served as chief of the U.S. …

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