WASHINGTON -- Last time around, the anti-war left did not have a very high opinion of generals. A popular slogan in the 1960s was "war is too important to be left to the generals.'' It was the generals who had advocated attacking Cuba during the missile crisis of October 1962, while the civilians preferred -- and got -- a diplomatic solution. In popular culture, "Dr. Strangelove'' made indelible the caricature of the war-crazed general. And it was I-know-better generals who took over the U.S. government in a coup in the 1960s best-seller and movie "Seven Days in May.''
Another war, another take. I-know-better generals are back. Six of them, retired, are denouncing the Bush administration and calling for Donald Rumsfeld's resignation as secretary of defense. The anti-war types think this is just swell.
I don't. There are three possible complaints that the military brass could have against a secretary of defense. The first is that he doesn't listen to or consult military advisers. The six generals make that charge, but it is thoroughly disproved by the two men who were closer to Rumsfeld day-to-day, week-in-week-out, than any of the accusing generals: former Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers, and former Marine Lt. Gen. Michael DeLong. Both attest to Rumsfeld's continual consultation and give-and-take with the military.
A second complaint is that the defense secretary disregards settled, consensual military advice. The military brass recommends X and SecDef willfully chooses Y. That in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. Rumsfeld's crusade to "transform'' a Cold War-era military into a fast and lean fighting force has met tremendous resistance within the Pentagon. His canceling several heavy weapons systems, such as the monstrous Crusader artillery program, was the necessary overriding of a hidebound bureaucracy by an innovating civilian on a mission.
In his most recent broadside, retired Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste accuses the administration of "radically alter(ing) the results of 12 years of deliberate and continuous war planning'' on Iraq. Well, the Bush administration threw out years and years and layer upon layer of war planning on Afghanistan, improvised one of the leanest possible attack plans and achieved one of the more remarkable military victories in recent history. There's nothing sacred about on-the-shelf war plans.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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