Monday, April 23, 2007

Seven Days in April

THE NEW SOFT POWER OF THE “RETIRED GENERAL.”


The best job title to have in the military right now is “retired.”

Groups of retired U.S. generals have recently sounded the alarm about climate change and slammed President Bush’s “surge” plan from big-media megaphones and the floor of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

This morning’s Wall Street Journal ices the cake with “The Courting of General Jones,” an account of a politically hot retired Marine Corps general. James Jones is friendly with bigs in both major political parties and has indie cred, causing those parties to chatter about how he could help them in presidential politics:

Gen. Jones is a freshly retired Marine Corps general who stands 6-foot-5, speaks fluent French and served until December as supreme allied commander in Europe. He says he thinks that the troops should stay in Iraq but that the U.S. should close the Guantanamo military prison “tomorrow.” He advocates engagement with friends and enemies alike. And, more to the point, he pledges allegiance to no political party.

All of which has made Gen. Jones one of Washington’s hottest political commodities. As they look toward an election sure to be dominated by issues of war and national security, candidates from both major parties are clamoring to get Gen. Jones on their side.

How have generals (and admirals) gone from being the cagy coup-plotters of Seven Days in May to being accorded unlimited access and attention?

—They’re in a position to know the true state of the military and the situation on the ground worldwide, especially in Iraq.

—Their words, resumes and appearance are polished and measured, thanks to a lifetime of high-level education, grooming, and successful movement within the Pentagon bureaucracy.

—They have had to keep their personal opinions hidden for decades and are now presumed to be telling the unvarnished truth.

—They are usually tilting against the Bush administration—which is only expected from those wronged by the administration, like Anthony Zinni, but which is surprising in so many successful, high-level military men whose retirements were handled more gracefully.

The courtship of General Jones isn’t surprising; for those too young to remember the Eisenhower example, Gen. Colin Powell was similarly feted in 2000, declared himself a Republican and was anointed Secretary of State for the first Bush Administration. Unfortunately, at that point he had to participate in making U.S. policy rather than executing it, and had to either get on board with the Iraq war or resign. Powell chose the former, destroying much of his soft power and causing him to vanish from public life.

Will today’s crop of retired generals remain on the sidelines in blue-ribbon commissions and CNN green rooms, or will they jump into actual policymaking Wesley Clark-style, and risk success or failure in their second (civilian) careers? Watch for much side-taking and policy-making from today’s retired generals as grow more comfortable in their civilian suits.

1 comment:

MountainRunner said...

I don't think the generals "insurrection" (my words not yours) of the generals is directly related to Zinni or Shinseki but indirectly so. The military leadership, flag officers on down, find themselves more frequently being ignored, reversed, or reprimanded and they are at the end of their careers and taking action. They are their own "pentathletes", skilled in more than the pure military arts. They see the military machine that is falling apart despite their appeals for all manner of financial, material, and strategic support over the last several years. The generals are coming out because they do see -- as you point out -- what's really happening (and what is not). There has been a trend of officers retiring out of the service not just earlier than normal but coming out and running as democrats.

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