Tags: Battleship | Generals | Parade

Battleship Generals on Parade

Tuesday, 18 April 2006 12:00 AM

Like most media-generated firestorms, the current Get-Rumsfeld campaign relies on the sensational and hopes that nobody will notice that it is just another example of bruised egos on parade – of the professional military simmering with resentment over civilian leadership they resent.

A handful of retired general officers, all with distinguished military careers, are lashing out at Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, criticizing his conduct of the war in Iraq and demanding his resignation. And the media, careful to avoid any discussion of the past or what really lies behind the controversy, are eating it up.

According to the media, the primary complaint being voiced by the generals against Rumsfeld revolves around the Iraq war and his alleged shortcomings in prosecuting that conflict. With the current difficulties on the ground in Iraq – the bombings, the internecine warfare between various religious sects and the failure of the politicians to form a functioning government – the complaint seems to ring true.

This is not, however, the primary motivation of the secretary's critics. The problem lies much deeper. What is being portrayed as a revolt by some general officers against the secretary's handling of the war is in reality a revolt of the battleship generals.

Last month, retired Major General Paul Eaton, who oversaw the training of Iraqi troops until 2004, let the cat out of the bag when he wrote in the New York Times, "Rumsfeld has put the Pentagon at the mercy of his ego, his Cold Warrior's view of the world

And therein lies the rub. What we are witnessing is just another rerun of military officers burning with resentment over policies adopted and pursued by the military's civilian leadership, against which they are powerless to resist. At the root of the battleship generals' resentment against Rumsfeld is his ongoing reorganization and modernization of the military, with strong emphasis on technological advances.

I am indebted to retired Major General Bob Scales, the brilliant former commander of the Army War College and himself a distinguished officer, for his recollections of the great war between the battleship admirals and the carrier admirals that was waged between the two world wars and in the immediate aftermath of World War II.

Scales explained that Rumsfeld's modernization program involves what is called the Army's Future Combat System : "a collection of many smaller systems ranging from light armored vehicles to aerial drones and ground robots The entire suite of technologies is tied together with an expansive information network. While the system is complex, its purpose is fairly simple: to elevate the Army into the third dimension. Experience in Iraq and Afghanistan reinforces the truism that ground forces will never be effective against an enemy who goes to ground in distant places unless they can lighten their weapons sufficiently to reach the battlefield and stay the longer periods demanded by unconventional wars."

Wrote Scales: "During the two decades between the world wars a few far-seeing admirals recognized that command of the seas would depend on the ability to command the air above the seas." Recalling that Admirals Simms and Moffet "fought a campaign inside the navy and in the halls of Congress to built a fleet of large deck carriers capable of destroying the Japanese fleet at a distance – from the air," Scales wrote that "the 'Battleship Barons' argued that carriers and aircraft were too vulnerable and battleships too invincible to be destroyed from the air. The Japanese would be defeated by besting them with a few more knots of speed, inches of armor and longer-ranging guns."

The Army, he explained, "is substantially in the same place today. A legion of battleship generals, most of them retired officers, have come out of the woodwork to proclaim that today's fleet of massive Cold War fighting vehicles are good enough."

The battleship generals maintain, he wrote, that "what was good enough for Patton and Schwartzkopf will meet the needs of a 21st century army. The battleship generals are a dangerous lot because they are as wrong today as the battleship admirals were seven decades ago. Today's ground forces are too massive and immobile to be effective in a war against a distributed, dispersed, elusive enemy who has learned to avoid the superior killing power of American weapons by hiding in places that iron monsters cannot reach."

That's what it all comes down to. Add to that Donald Rumsfeld's aggressive manner, which rubs the wrong way some subordinates accustomed to being slavishly deferred to by their own subordinates, and you have the makings of a simmering resentment rising to the surface.

I don't know Donald Rumsfeld. Back in 1963 when I was working for the House Republican Policy Committee and by virtue of the requirements of my job was required to work closely with the majority of Republicans in the House, I don't recall having any real contact with Donald Rumsfeld, who had been elected to Congress in 1962.

My only memory of him is seeing Rep. Ed Derwinski, a great bear of a man, rubbing Rumsfeld's crew cut while in the process of taking down a peg the outspoken and cocky freshman congressman in his overeagerness in promoting his peculiar views at a conference of GOP members.

Rummy is opinionated and he tends to rub subordinates the wrong way. That, however, is not a valid reason for demanding his resignation. He is excessively brilliant, thinks out of the box, does his job and does it well, and he's well on his way toward bringing the military into the 21st century. For heaven's sake, generals, climb down from the riggings of your 20th century battlewagons and let him get on with it. Like it or not, he's the boss.

Phil Brennan is a veteran journalist who writes for NewsMax.com. He is editor & publisher of Wednesday on the Web (http://www.pvbr.com) and was Washington columnist for National Review magazine in the 1960s. He also served as a staff aide for the House Republican Policy Committee and helped handle the Washington public relations operation for the Alaska Statehood Committee which won statehood for Alaska. He is also a trustee of the Lincoln Heritage Institute and a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers.


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Like most media-generated firestorms, the current Get-Rumsfeld campaign relies on the sensational and hopes that nobody will notice that it is just another example of bruised egos on parade - of the professional military simmering with resentment over civilian leadership...
Tuesday, 18 April 2006 12:00 AM
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