Remember When Conservatives Distrusted the Generals?
Dave’s insightful post on the Republicans’ Afghanistan strategy — try to use Gen. Stanley McChrystal as a cudgel against President Obama — is a good guide to next week’s testimony from the commander of the Afghanistan war. But when Bill Kristol frames the war as something conducted by McChrystal and Gen. David Petraeus and not their commander-in-chief, it’s worth noting that his magazine didn’t always take that tack.
Way back in mid-2002, when the debate over invading Iraq was reaching its height, the media was full of stories about skepticism from the uniformed military about the wisdom of invading Iraq. There was a line of argument, mostly pushed by retired Gen. Anthony Zinni, that diminished the credentials of invasion advocates for their lack of service. And so the Weekly Standard put on its cover a review of a (rather good) book by Eliot Cohen, ‘Supreme Command‘, that argued, in the words of the Standard’s headline, ‘War Is Too Important to Be Left to the Generals.’ (President George W. Bush professed, after some prompting, to have read and absorbed it.) The piece, like the book, argued for increased civilian involvement in military affairs. And it was unafraid to place the book’s argument in the context of the looming Iraq war:
But they will have to get there someday if [Bush] is to keep his promise of regime change in Iraq. “Time is not on our side,” he said in his State of the Union speech on January 29. And does anyone take seriously the proposal, advanced by opponents of action against Iraq, that things will be just fine if we can get some general to overthrow Saddam in a coup?
To find a workable plan for action against Iraq, Bush is going to have to act more like Cohen’s supreme commanders than he has so far, and he is going to have to give full backing to Rumsfeld’s efforts as well. War is too important to be left entirely to the generals. It is time for the supreme commander to command.
So remember that the next time Kristol and his friends tell you that they always opposed Donald Rumsfeld and his “just enough troops to fail” approach to Iraq. But more substantively, remember it the next week, as the GOP attempts to drive a wedge between Obama and his generals. After all, even those generals say that a purely military approach to Afghanistan is doomed to failure.