Politicizing the Pentagon

by Laura Snedeker

The long arm of the U.S. military establishment reached out and touched the Clinton campaign last week when Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman issued a statement criticizing U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton’s demands for answers about a possible U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

“Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq, much as we are perceived to have done in Vietnam, Lebanon, and Somalia,” the letter stated.

These days, the Pentagon and the Bush administration interpret any criticism of America’s disastrous foreign adventures as a crime akin to quartering members of al-Qaeda in the basement. I’m no fan of Hillary Clinton: She’s the latest corporate insider playing the role of sensible establishment candidate and she’s not going to shake up Washington and put an end to the covert activity that spawns terrorism. But she wasn’t writing fan letters to Osama; she questioned the government, something we all have a right to do.

Edelman’s letter indicts not only Clinton’s public and private discussions with Pentagon officials, but attempts to silence the voices of the 74 percent of Americans who believe the war is going badly. I can see the headline: “High Court Tries 74 Percent of Americans for Aiding Enemy, KBR Receives Prison Contract.”

Interesting that Edelman should draw such parallels to the Vietnam War. The United States withdrew from Vietnam when the public outcry combined with the mounting death toll on both sides forced Congress to revoke the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney elected not to fight in Vietnam (they had better things to do) and have objected to all comparisons between that war and Iraq. Like in Vietnam, the “light at the end of the tunnel” is not that of a shining beacon of democracy, but that of a gun barrel.

The Pentagon is incapable of admitting that the Iraq War is lost, that winning is not simply a matter of rounding up a few troublemakers and settling some squabbles among government ministers. No one knows how long it will take for the brass to accept the facts, but they must eventually, if only because there is a limited supply of soldiers, not to mention a limited supply of generals willing to take the risk of being the last general to fight the losing war in Iraq.

More disturbing than the Pentagon’s blindness is its foray into the political arena. While the use of military force is always political, Pentagon officials should not act as partisans of the ruling party in domestic affairs, especially during the run up to elections in which the Iraq War is the most controversial issue. The Pentagon’s instinct to protect the best interests of the arms industry has caused it to overstep its bounds as America’s defense force.

The price we pay for having a standing army is vigilance against its tendency to step into political affairs. The American military establishment is not an aberration: Like the armed forces of some of our best friends in the Third World, it too has power rivaling that of any of the coequal branches of government. It is only better kept in check by laws and traditions that discourage its involvement in domestic politics, laws and traditions that have been too often brushed aside in the War on Terror.

Acceptance of abuses of power is the death knell of democracy, and if we wish to keep our republic, we must challenge them whether they come from the White House or the Supreme Court or the Pentagon.

(Political graphic courtesy of Xark! and used with permission. As noted, Xark! is one of the blogs we heartily endorse.)

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