In yesterday's Washington Post, retired United States Army major general Robert H. Scales offered a startling and revealing assessment of the military's mindset as the country contemplates war against Syria:
Go back and look at images of our nation’s most senior soldier, Gen. Martin Dempsey, and his body language during Tuesday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on Syria. It’s pretty obvious that Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, doesn’t want this war.
Dempsey's body language, Scales reports, is an affirmation—in "unspoken words"—of "the overwhelming opinion of serving professionals who have been intimate witnesses to the unfolding events that will lead the United States into its next war."
What would those words be, according to Scales? Our military professionals are "embarrassed to be associated with the amateurism" of the current administration. They are "repelled by the hypocrisy of a media blitz" that frames the desire to protect Syrian civilians as a matter of actual military need. They are "outraged." They are "tired of wannabe solders." They "lament our loneliness." They "resent civilian policymakers who want the military to fight a war that neither they nor their loved ones will experience firsthand."
Scales' specific example of such a know-nothing amateur—the official who provoked Dempsey's alleged nonverbal disdain—is John Kerry, the Secretary of State, all "thundering voice and arm-waving" as he argued for war. That would be former Navy lieutenant John Kerry, who collected a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts in Vietnam, the same (and only) war that Robert Scales fought in.
Here we have a useful demonstration that the Post's opinion editor, Fred Hiatt, is not just grossly cynical and intellectually bankrupt, but incompetent at the basic work of editing. How do you publish a piece in which the writer chooses a decorated combat veteran as an example of how officials know nothing of war? You do it by having complete contempt for the notion that an argument should have any sort of factual basis.
But setting aside the problem that Scales' chosen blustering civilian policymaker has solid military credentials, what are those uncredentialed policymakers really up to?
The U.S. military’s civilian masters privately are proud that they are motivated by guilt over slaughters in Rwanda, Sudan and Kosovo and not by any systemic threat to our country.
But what are they really up to?
These acts would be for retribution and to restore the reputation of a president.
It's wonderful, on one level, that the military has lost its appetite for phony war. But as Scales presents it, what the military has really lost is its appetite for answering to the elected government of the United States. It repels, outrages, and embarrasses them.
This neo-Praetorian world view—hostile to the foundational principles of American government—is being offered by the former commandant of the United States Army War College. Like most other toxic aspects of American life, this is largely Richard Nixon's fault. It was Nixon, struggling to carry on an unpopular war, who realized that by abandoning the draft in favor of a "volunteer" army, he could both purge uncooperative elements from the armed forces and end the general public's sense of being implicated in or endangered by American war policy. War would henceforth be for professionals.
And so we have arrived at a historic moment when even an anti-war argument is presented as an argument for military supremacy. It's not that intervention in Syria will be brutal or pointless or likely to promote the region's collapse into perpetual bloodshed. It's that the military is sick of unworthy "civilian masters" telling it what to do.
If that's truly how our military leadership thinks, there's a more Constitutionally sound way to express their disgust than writing menacing op-eds or displaying passive-aggressive body language: turn in your stars and your guns, and get your insubordinate asses out of our democracy's armed forces. We're better off without you.
[Image via Getty]