Friday, May 05, 2006

How we treat the military

Orson Scott Card writes some of the best science fiction to be found, but he is very in touch with the current events of the world as well, as he proves in his World Watch column of April 16. He gives his viewpoint on the retired generals v. Sec. Rumsfeld, on the view of the military in television, and how it all affects the perception of U.S. citizens and others around the world.

I wish I had a hope of writing as well as this:

Donald Rumsfeld did not go down to the Pentagon with a blank purchase order on which the generals could write down their wishes, which it would be Rumsfeld's job to grant.

Instead, he went there as one of the most accomplished and conniving bureaucratic maneuverers ever to work in Washington -- and that's saying something.

Rumsfeld had an agenda, partly derived from President Bush and partly from his own experience in the past. Rumsfeld knew that the military, if left to itself, would choke on its own institutional debris.

For all fulltime professional military cultures share some common traits. For one thing, during peacetime, it is not the great military leaders who rise, it is the conniving bureaucratic generals. As a conniving bureaucrat himself, Rumsfeld knew exactly whom he was dealing with, and he was better at the game. (Plus, he had the ear of the Commander-in-Chief, and he was a civilian.)

So all the standard means by which a Washington bureaucracy captures and coopts its politically-appointed "leaders" simply did not work on Rumsfeld. They could not get around him. They could not delay and obfuscate and bloviate until he went away. When he said "hop," he kept watching until he saw some hopping behavior.

Now, Rumsfeld is no fool. His agenda was to remake the military into a force that could deal with modern asymmetrical warfare -- where a big country (us) must deal with a teeny-weeny country or a nontraditional military.

And there were people already in the military who knew exactly how to do the job. How to create a highly mobile, effective force that could, openly or clandestinely, counter terrorism, insurgency, guerrilla warfare, warlords, or rogue states.

Rumsfeld found those people. Rumsfeld made sure they were listened to.

Some of them had been struggling for years to get the bureaucratic generals to listen to them. But the old ways of warfare were so thoroughly intrenched that they could barely be budged.

Rumsfeld budged them.

 Go here to read the whole piece.