Thursday, June 14, 2007

Criticising the Military

Tony Snow at today's press briefing:

MR. SNOW: Remind me when he comes here, and I'll make proper comments about him at the time.

The President today met with, as you know, with General Martin Dempsey, where they talked about ongoing efforts in Iraq. We are a little bit concerned about some reports on the Internet that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in a conversation with liberal bloggers, had referred to General Pete Pace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, as incompetent, and apparently, again according to the reports, had said disparaging things also about General David Petraeus. We certainly hope it's not true, because in a time of war, for a leader of a party that says it supports the military, it seems outrageous to be issuing slanders toward the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and also the man who is responsible for the bulk of military operations in Iraq.

Indeed, Senator Reid has, at some point, declared the war lost, and also has declared the surge a failure, even though it has not yet been fully enacted. I don't know if it's true or not. If it is true, I certainly hope he does apologize.

Now this whole issue of Harry Reid commenting on General Pace has gotten a lot of play on the blogs today. See here, here and here, just for starters (I could write here about a dozen times just from what I've seen, and I've not looked hard). So others have covered well the background and significance of Reid's actual remarks. Given the state of Iraq under Pace's command and the unceremonious manner in which the Bush administration has dumped Pace as a commander, describing him as incompetent is hardly surprising.

But another thing strikes me about the comments by Tony Snow, something that stands out from his comments alone. Snow at no point defends Pace's competence. He does not, at any point, describe Pace as an excellent, successful, competent General who is being grossly mischaracterized by the term incompetent. The closest Tony Snow comes to doing so is to describe Harry Reid's comments as "slanders", but Tony Snow never explains why they should be considered wrong, let alone deliberately dishonest.

So the upshot of Snow's comments are that it is bad for political leaders to describe a General as incompetent, whether or not the General is actually competent. That there is less of a concern as to the actually ability of these leaders as to how people in Washington discuss them. Let us make clear too, that that is a sharp point of disagreement between Mr. Snow and his fellow conservatives, and myself. The central requirement is that these leaders actually be able to perform their duties at a very high level of competence. If Mr. Snow and Mr. Bush want to have the country, and the opposition party, refrain from naming as incompetent their choice for military leaders, it is incumbent upon them to put competent leaders into those positions.

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