The suggestion, so popular right now among many Republicans (not to mention much of the media’s chattering elite), that it’s somehow offensive or even unpatriotic to criticize a military officer during time of war isn’t just wrong. It’s also un-American. General Petraeus doesn’t get to decide whether we will remain militarily engaged in the political/cultural swamp of Iraq. Ultimately, we the people decide that. And to the extent he puts himself forward as an advocate for a continued US military presence there, his opinions become fair game like anyone else’s
Notwithstanding the title of William Manchester’s book on Douglas MacArthur, we don’t do Caesars in America.
As the increasingly indispensable Glenn Greenwald notes:
In military dictatorships, War Generals have the right to demand that their claims about war be blindly accepted and believed, and that is the unquestioning mentality which Rudy Giuliani embraces and believes we should accord Gen. Petraeus (even in the face of a long history of highly dubious and inaccurate claims about the war) — “Hillary Clinton has no right to be attacking the integrity of an American general who has put his life at risk for this country,” Giuliani decreed. But most Americans, rather obviously, subject the claims of our military leaders to skepticism and scrutiny — the only rational course of action after being told for four straight years that the most disastrous war in American history was going swimmingly.
“War,” as Karl von Clausewitz famously said, “is nothing more than the continuation of politics by other means.” Are citizens of a democratic republic supposed to take dictation from military commanders on this most important of political issues? Didn’t Harry Truman put that one to rest by establishing that even MacArthur himself was answerable to the people’s elected representatives?
Hypocrisy has long been the stock-in-trade of the modern Republican Party. But this is a particularly dangerous version, since it cuts to the very heart of what it means to be a citizen of a free country. Thankfully, the American people — who have so often been out in front of “elite” opinion on Iraq — show every sign of seeing the current blather for what it is.
So unlike the neocons, who roam the globe looking to impose democracy on others, let me just say: God bless the version we have right here in America, and may it promptly bring our soldiers home.
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