The factionalism is fueled by the drive by weighty sections of the ruling class, led by the Department of Defense, to carry out a transformation of the military into a leaner and more agile force trained for combat to carry out a long war across the globe in the coming decades to safeguard U.S. imperial interests.
A host of liberal and some conservative politicians and commentators have lined up behind the disaffected officers. Some middle-class radicals who oppose the war on Iraq have joined the chorus too.
Other top military officers have come out publicly to defend Rumsfeld. These include Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; former joint chiefs chairman Gen. Richard Meyers; and Thomas Franks, the general who led the invasion of Iraq. The White House has issued a statement supporting Rumsfeld as well.
The six generals have focused their recent criticisms on the Pentagons tactics in fighting the war in Iraq. At the root of the argument, however, is the historic shift in military strategy, order of battle, and global deployment of Washingtons armed forces. As a resolution of the Socialist Workers Party, adopted at its 2005 convention put it, In seeking to accelerate transformation, the U.S. rulers are aggressively working to break through the conservative bias of the imperialist officer caste formed during the Cold War and marked especially by their political experience during the war in Vietnam. This determined push is sparking the most bitter factionalism within the officer corps of the armed forcesand of the intelligence servicessince the opening years of the U.S. Civil War in the mid-nineteenth century. Many within the bureaucracies of the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, and CIA stand to lose (or win) not only promotions but control over big resources. The resolution, titled Their Transformation and Ours, is published in issue 12 of the Marxist magazine New International.
The Army finds itself severely undermanned, Gen. Paul Eaton complained in an opinion column in the March 19 New York Times. Only Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff when President Bush was elected, had the courage to challenge the downsizing plans. A retired Army general, Eaton is a member of the current anti-Bush/Rumsfeld faction. He commanded the training of Iraqi security forces in the year after the fall of Baghdad.
Shinseki was at the center of the resistance to many of Rumsfelds reorganization plans within the Army. He fought to defend the $11 billion Crusader heavy artillery program, built on Cold War military strategy, which Rumsfeld axed. And he resisted Pentagon efforts to scale down the size of the military in favor of leaner, lighter, and combat-hardened forces.
Rumsfeld responded to his critics in an April 18 press conference. Weve had the largest base-closing effort I think in history, he said, bringing forces home from Europe and from Korea. He pointed out that Washingtons elite combat troops, the Special Operations Forces, have been dramatically increased and given new authorities. He pointed to the cancellation of major weapons systems, which, he said, caused a major uproar.
Every one of those changes…has met resistance, Rumsfeld said. People like things the way they are, and so when you make a change like that, somebodys not going to like it.
Liberal commentators who have lined up behind the attacks on Rumsfeld have often done so to argue this is necessary to fight the next wars U.S. imperialism needs to conduct to defend its interests. Senior New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman said in the papers April 19 edition that Rumsfeld must go so a new face at the Pentagons helm can lead a war against Iran more effectively. I have zero confidence in this administrations ability to manage a complex military strike against Iran, let alone the military and diplomatic aftershocks, Friedman wrote.
Conservative columnist William Kristol, who has argued that Washington should prepare a military assault against Iran, has also pushed for replacing Rumsfeld.
Left joins fray
Some middle-class radicals who oppose the war in Iraq have sought to give a positive spin to the actions of the dissident generals. Among them are leaders of the Communist Party USA. The April 20 Peoples Weekly World, which expresses the views of the CPUSA, published an article by Tim Wheeler, headlined, Generals stick by demand: Fire Rumsfeld. Wheeler said it was notable that of the generals who called for Rumsfelds resignation, none has recanted in the face of White House and Pentagon attempts to intimidate them.
The article tried to put an antiwar veneer on one of these officers, Marine Lieut. Gen. Gregory Newbold, after acknowledging that most of them object to how the Pentagon has led the war, not to the war itself. Wheeler quoted retired Army Col. Dan Smith, now an adviser to the pacifist Friends Committee on National Legislation, saying, Newbold comes as close as any to a rejection of the need for a war with Iraq.
But whatever disagreements he might have had on how the war was conducted, Newbold is for keeping the troops in Iraq. In a column in the April 9 Time magazine, Newbold said, I am not opposed to war. I would gladly have traded my generals stars for a captains bars to lead our troops into Afghanistan…. And while I dont accept the stated rationale for invading Iraq, my viewat the momentis that a precipitous withdrawal would be a mistake.
Others have argued that open factionalism in the military sets a dangerous precedent for the rulers. An editorial in the April 18 Washington Post said the rebellion by these officers threatens the essential democratic principle of military subordination to civilian controlthe more so because a couple of the officers claim they are speaking for some still on active duty.
Will the rest of the generals, retired or serving, now have to declare themselves as to which camp they belong? asked conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer in the April 21 Investors Business Daily. It is precisely this kind of division that our tradition of military deference to democratically elected civilian superiors was meant to prevent. Today it suits the antiwar left to applaud the rupture of that tradition. But it is a disturbing and very dangerous precedent that even the left will one day regret.
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