Bob Gates or Bob McNamara? Gen. Petraeus or Gen. Westmoreland?

In his book about the failures of the Vietnam War, Dereliction of Duty, H.R. McMaster writes of how the delusion and hubris of President Lyndon Johnson, combined with the failures in judgment
and political courage of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, created a devastating tragedy for the American
military and American security.

Some enterprising journalist might ask McMaster, who is close to Gen. Petraeus: Are we not making the same mistakes today? 

For the last two months Gens. Petraeus, Odierno and Lynch, from Iraq, have been engaging in a systematic public relations and lobbying campaign to extend the escalation well into 2008.

For example, when Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) called for bringing 5,000 troops home by Christmas,
he was instantly criticized by Gen. Lynch, who claimed, falsely, that Warner's proposal was logically impossible and would hurt the mission if implemented.

First, it was utterly inappropriate for an active-duty commander to be engaging in naked politics and publicly debating a senator.

Second, let's give Gen. Lynch the benefit of the doubt and accept that he honestly believed what he said about Sen. Warner's proposal.

If so, his military judgment was incompetent, and his understanding of the logistics of troop rotations was ignorant, proven by the fact that Gen. Petraeus shortly thereafter proposed short-term withdrawals similar to, and beginning sooner than, Warner's.

Here are two examples, of many, that raise major credibility issues with Gen. Petraeus's performance in Washington.

In one of his famous charts, he refers to outside arms coming into Iraq. He draws major focus in the chart to arms coming into Iraq from Syria, but his chart says nothing about arms coming into Iraq from Saudi Arabia. The Syrian-arms focus is politically convenient for Bush and Petraeus;
Saudi-based arms into Iraq is not.

Second, one major reason that deaths in some areas have declined is that during the surge, or
more accurately the escalation, aggressive ethnic cleansing has been successfully finalized in a number of Iraqi communities.

If a neighborhood is mixed at the beginning of the escalation, and months later in that same neighborhood the Sunnis have been murdered by the Shiite militia, or forced out, or move into
exile, there are simply no more Sunnis left to kill. Of course violence in that neighborhood falls. Is Gen. Petraeus claiming credit for this? Why did he not discuss this in his testimony, or put it in one of his famous charts?

This has happened in both directions, Sunni and Shiite, yet it was barely mentioned in the hearings. There are various other examples illustrating how his presentation was grossly misleading, at best.

Let's return to McMaster. Everyone who follows the military, and knows the military, knows that
Gen. Petraeus's views are not supported by many in the Joint Chiefs of Staff, senior military commanders in the Army and Marine Corps, or by his boss, Adm. Fallon.

Yet Secretary Gates and Gen. Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated exactly the opposite in their press conference. They claimed, falsely, that the Petraeus view was unanimously agreed upon among the senior commanders beyond Petraeus.

We have reached the point where there is a moral duty of senior military leaders to  speak publicly and honorably about what they privately believe. No doubt careers  are being threatened and intimidation of military leaders has forced their silence, at great cost to our country and our troops.

Democratic leaders in Congress should call the 20 highest-ranking military officers in the nation, and ask them, clearly and publicly, for their military judgment and advice. There should be no more leaking their dissent and then issuing incoherent non-denial denials or untrue denials.

They should testify about the damage they believe the current course does to the mission in Afghanistan, the mission to kill Osama bin Laden, our global force structures around the world, our dangerously declining deterrent capability in trouble spots around the world and the cost of lowering recruitment standards as severely as they have been forced to do.

They should offer the Congress, and the people of the nation, their military judgment about what
many of them believe would be catastrophic damage that would follow if the president and vice president launch another pre-emptive war, this time against Iran.

What is needed is a serious, professional and honorable set of nationally televised hearings comparable to the Fulbright hearings during Vietnam to let all senior military officers state their own views, in their own way.

Let them take their stand with their best advice to the Congress and the country, and let them
accept their responsibility to the nation today, and the high court of history tomorrow, without fear or favor, without politics or public relations.

Our country and our troops deserve better than our leading military experts being subjected to, or willingly participating in, the failure to tell the truth, as they see it, to the nation.

Let them speak for themselves, and not let historians look back on their conduct today and compare Bob Gates to Bob McNamara, and compare Gen. Petraeus to Gen. Westmoreland, because the stakes are too high, and the damage too great, for our country to make that same mistake yet again.