Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Side By Side

Back in June, I wrote a post entitled "The General and the Tactician" which noted the differences in how each approaches a state of war. The tactician (by which I mean a political tactician) sees war as a political object, and thus will view it through political lenses. He isn't wholly unconcerned with actually winning the war, but he will freely utilize spin, PR offenses, insinuations, and other such devices in order to maintain a lead in the polls--even if it comes at a disadvantage to the troops on the ground. The general, by contrast, is much more reticent to do so, because at the end of the day it is his men who are out there bleeding and dying. This isn't to say generals always give the straight and narrow, but they are less likely to hew to a partisan line when it is to obvious military detriment.

It is in that context that I found this article in the Washington Post very interesting. It reported on a joint meeting with the press by Joint Chief of Staff Chairman Peter Pace (the General) and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (the Tactician). When put up side by side, it was incredible to see just how unwilling Gen. Pace was to toe the line Rumsfeld laid out. At first it was on issues of little consequence: Rumsfeld wanted to change the moniker "insurgent" to "enemies of the legitimate Iraqi government"; Pace just couldn't bring himself to say it. But soon it moved to a major dispute over an issue of critical importance:
When UPI's Pam Hess asked about torture by Iraqi authorities, Rumsfeld replied that "obviously, the United States does not have a responsibility" other than to voice disapproval.

But Pace had a different view. "It is the absolute responsibility of every U.S. service member, if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to intervene, to stop it," the general said.

Rumsfeld interjected: "I don't think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it; it's to report it."

But Pace meant what he said. "If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it," he said, firmly.

Pace, of course, is absolutely right. And the reason he's adamant is because the more torture becomes mainstream, the more risk our soldiers face when they fall into the hands of the enemy. Certainly, al-Qaeda will continue to be brutal regardless of what the US does. But the precedent will be laid down for future wars and conflicts, ones in which the enemy, perhaps, is more morally ambiguous. It's good to see Pace recognizes that. It's better to see he's willing to take Rumsfeld to task when he doesn't.

Others commenting:
A big "Semper Fi!" to General Pace for standing up to the SecDef in public, and laying down a clear, ambiguous bright-line rule on how US forces are supposed to respond, even if they see Iraqi government forces treating prisoners inhumanely.

Andrew Sullivan:
Thank God for decent soldiers like General Pace and Ian Fishback. I have to say I do not recognize the Don Rumsfeld I once knew in the callous, reckless, immoral stances he has taken these past three years. It is a matter of urgency that he be replaced, if this war is to regain its moral standing and military effectiveness.

I give Gen. Pace credit for sticking to his guns, but the fact that this mini-debate took place — at the podium during a Pentagon press briefing — is not reassuring. These two are supposed to be conveying Defense Department information to the nation and they can't even agree on how the U.S. military responds to torture by Iraqi officials? What kind of message does that convey?

Kevin Drum, CIP.

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