The highest-ranking U.S. military officer has written an unusual open letter to all those in uniform, warning them to stay out of politics as the United States approaches a presidential election in which the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will be a central, and certainly divisive, issue.
"The U.S. military must remain apolitical at all times," wrote Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "It is and must always be a neutral instrument of the state, no matter which party holds sway."
"No matter which party" is a ridiculous statement. The Democrats hold power in the House and Senate as a matter of course. The Republicans hold power in the Executive Branch as a technical matter only, since they have proven they cannot govern or adhere to actual Congressional oversight.
The statement to the armed forces is the first essay for the journal Mullen has written as chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and veteran officers said they could not remember when a similar "all-hands" letter had been issued to remind military personnel to remain outside, if not above, contentious political debate.
The essay can be seen as a reflection of the deep concern among senior officers that the U.S. military, which is paying the highest price in carrying out national security policy, may be drawn into politicking this year.
The war in Iraq already has exceeded the length of World War II and is the longest conflict the United States has fought with an all-volunteer military since the Revolutionary War.
In particular, members of the Joint Chiefs have expressed worries this election year about the influence of retired officers who advise political campaigns, some of whom have publicly called for a change in policy or others who serve as television commentators.
This is what they are most concerned about--pushback against the policy of staying in Iraq for the next hundred years. The DoD is going to align itself with McCain for purely procurement reasons, even though McCain has forced the DoD to accept some bitter pills in recent years. (The air tanker issue being just one example.)
Among the most outspoken were those who joined the so-called generals' revolt in 2006 demanding the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary, as well as former officers who have written books attacking the Bush administration's planning for and execution of the war in Iraq.
The so-called general's revolt is exactly correct. It was not a revolt. It was a respectful and honest assessment that change was needed because the troops were paying too high of a price. It was a wake-up call to an out-of-touch defense secretary who had a laughing, dismissive "stuff happens" attitude that was entirely out of touch with reality. It is a proven lie--McCain never really did call for the "firing" of Don Rumsfeld. But for the DoD to consider aligning itself with McCain is proof that what they fear the most is a Democratic administration that will enforce ethics rules, turn off the lucrative spigot of procurement for many, and reduce the contractor work force.
While retired officers have full rights to political activism, their colleagues still in uniform fear its effect on those trying to carry out the mission, especially more junior officers and enlisted personnel. Active-duty military personnel are prohibited from taking part in partisan politics.
Is that name "Boylan" ringing any bells?
"As the nation prepares to elect a new president," Mullen wrote, "we would all do well to remember the promises we made: to obey civilian authority, to support and defend the Constitution and to do our duty at all times."
"Keeping our politics private is a good first step," he added. "The only things we should be wearing on our sleeves are our military insignia."
Mullen said he was inspired to write the essay after receiving a constant stream of legitimate, if troubling, questions while visiting U.S. military personnel around the world, including, "What if a Democrat wins?" and, "What will that do to the mission in Iraq?"
There USED to be an Honor Code, but that is, apparently, gone.
For the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to actually have to make that statement to a professional military is a clear indication that there ALREADY EXISTS a politicization of the military and that there ALREADY IS a problem that Mullen would like to distance himself from. Clearly, Mullen is getting some bizaare correspondence from officers who ought to know better but are, for some unknown reason, openly and flagrantly positing a very troubling question--should they retire en masse on January 20, 2009 or bureaucratically "resist" the orders of a Democratic President as many did against Bill Clinton in the early 1990s?
Given that Mullen felt "compelled" to have to make such statements, it is more than likely imperative that whoever wins in November will have a choice to make. Either cashier vast numbers of senior flag officers or be prepared to wage an ongoing struggle with an intransigent Pentagon bureaucracy.
There is one other point to make--this blog regularly carries a "Friday News Dump" of bad news released after regular business hours on Friday afternoons. The Pentagon does that to hide embarrassing details or information about certain events or policies from the public in order to benefit the Bush Administration. This is proof positive that there already exists a politization of the defense establishment. The next President, should that President be a Democrat, would do well to ensure that bad news is released when bad news happens, regardless of what day it is.