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Bush Assails the JAG Corps


One of the myths of the Bush Administration regards its relation with the military. The facts are very stark. This Administration consists largely of men and women who evaded military service and who have little respect for those who serve in uniform. They have a passion for heavy-handed use of the armed forces, for foreign escapades which they pursue with little planning and shoddy design, but they are uninterested in taking the advice of the career military about how to pursue these matters. Their mantra is consistent: We know better. But in fact it should be: We know nothing.

The men and women who serve in uniform generally reflect the nation as a whole in most respects, including in political outlook; the military has, of course, always been a bit more conservative than the country as a whole, and for the officer corps, the Southeast has consistently been overrepresented, while for the enlisted ranks, the armed forces have in recent years drawn more heavily from exurban and rural areas. This reflects a number of factors—a culture which romanticizes military service, more limited economic opportunities for certain demographics—but, broadly, these groups are disproportionately Republican. And the military has therefore tended to be more Republican in its outlook than the country as a whole, the officers corps dramatically so.

Polling shows these numbers are changing. That’s largely in response to a sense that the military is disrespected by the Bush Republicans, and that its role is being abused. Just looking at the headlines over the last, fairly typical week, we see that abuse in a number of stories. For instance, polls show that military families have turned against Bush and now have an on-balance negative view of his performance as president. A group of more than thirty generals and admirals,(PDF 864 kb) including many very prominent names, called on Congress to defy a threatened presidential veto and to pass a bill that would state still more explicitly the existing outlawing of the Bush Administration’s torture techniques. Even the Armed Forces Journal, a right-leaning bulwark of military thinking, issued harsh words against Rudolph Giuliani and Attorney General Mukasey over their irresponsible comments on the subject of waterboarding and abusing detainees.

What is the Bush Administration’s response to this? It wants to politicize the military. It seeks to introduce a system in which officers are reviewed on their politics in connection with promotions. We see the trend to politicization in the way the Bushies respond to criticism from retired military already. Any general or admiral who raises a critical voice towards them is instantly labeled as a “Clinton general”—and if he or she makes a critical attitude plain before departing, something far more vicious is likely to happen. I catalogued some of the cases in which generals were viciously assailed for expressing mild criticism of an Administration policy or decision here. The truth is that military promotions have long rested on a careful process of peer review, resisting political intervention for all but the highest echelons of generals. This is a system designed to build professionalism and self-confidence and to break away from the American military legacy of the nineteenth century in which officer appointments were the subject of constant political gamesmanship–with disastrous results.

The Bush Administration has picked its laboratory for the politicization of the military. It is the JAG Corps. No doubt the reason for the choice–JAG leaders stood up against the Administration’s torture policies, going to Capitol Hill to oppose them. More recently, senior JAGs have exposed the frauds that are being committed in Guantánamo and elsewhere through a sick perversion of the military justice system. All of this was engineered by loyal Bushies operating mostly out of the Justice Department—which has emerged as the nerve center of the Bush Administration’s efforts to corrupt many aspects of our society, including the criminal justice system.

As usual, Charlie Savage at the Boston Globe is the man on top of this story. He covers it in Saturday’s paper:

The Bush administration is pushing to take control of the promotions of military lawyers, escalating a conflict over the independence of uniformed attorneys who have repeatedly raised objections to the White House’s policies toward prisoners in the war on terrorism. The administration has proposed a regulation requiring “coordination” with politically appointed Pentagon lawyers before any member of the Judge Advocate General corps – the military’s 4,000-member uniformed legal force – can be promoted.

A Pentagon spokeswoman did not respond to questions about the reasoning behind the proposed regulations. But the requirement of coordination – which many former JAGs say would give the administration veto power over any JAG promotion or appointment – is consistent with past administration efforts to impose greater control over the military lawyers. The former JAG officers say the regulation would end the uniformed lawyers’ role as a check-and-balance on presidential power, because politically appointed lawyers could block the promotion of JAGs who they believe would speak up if they think a White House policy is illegal.

Retired Major General Thomas Romig, the Army’s top JAG from 2001 to 2005, called the proposal an attempt “to control the military JAGs” by sending a message that if they want to be promoted, they should be “team players” who “bow to their political masters on legal advice.” It “would certainly have a chilling effect on the JAGs’ advice to commanders,” Romig said. “The implication is clear: without [the administration’s] approval the officer will not be promoted.”

And who, exactly, would be making the call? The key figure would be William J. (“Jim”) Haynes II, Rumsfeld’s general counsel at the Pentagon. Mr. Haynes is a principal architect of the nation’s torture policy, a man widely accused of “failing to properly advise” Rumsfeld on these matters. Haynes was put up for a judgeship on the Fourth Circuit, but his nomination was blocked by Republicans outraged over his unethical conduct at the Defense Department. Haynes has in fact been little more than putty in the hands of David Addington, Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, and the man who really crafted the torture policy. Haynes would, under this system, have ultimate control over who gets a promotion. And Guantánamo chief prosecutor Colonel Moe Davis recently told us exactly the sort of performance Haynes summoned–he instructed Davis to line up a series of juicy prosecutions to be carried out, with certain results (Haynes controls the other end, too) just in time for the 2008 presidential elections–political show trials.

The United States has had a tradition of civilian control over the military. It is one of the essential features of our democracy—one that George Washington himself insisted upon, taking off his uniform and never wearing it once he became president. Note by contrast how Michael Hayden, now a political appointee, struts about wearing his Air Force uniform. This shows a different tradition. But the American tradition pre-Bush 43 has focused on military officers being non-political, which is to say uninvolved in partisan politics—not stripped of the right to hold political views. The Bush Administration has made partisan fidelity an essential aspect of its ethos in the Pentagon, and so far it has gotten away with a policy that eats away at the fabric of our military culture.

John Yoo, the man who authored the Administration’s torture policy and other abominations, and who rather surprisingly continues to roam freely across the political stage, is the dark figure behind this move as well. He authored a shocking piece in the UCLA Law Review recently in which he viciously, and falsely, attacks the JAGs and suggests aggressively that they need to be brought under political control. I discussed his piece here. Now we see the control measure that has been settled on.


Yoo frequently parrots the German legal philosopher Carl Schmitt. But on this point, he has another model: Leon Trotsky. Given responsibility by the Bolsheviks for crafting a new army which reflected the Communist state ideology, Trotsky quickly concluded that it was essential that the officers corps be put to careful tests of fidelity to the party and its leadership. To this end, party functionaries were to have control over all decisions as to promotions of military officers, and the military commissioner (the so-called ??????? for ??????? ????????) were instituted to keep an eye on those already in place. All of this is laid out in the first volume of Trotsky’s How the Revolution Armed from 1919. And since any number of the Bush Administration’s Neocon advisors are recovering Trotskyites (not to mention Condoleezza Rice, who wrote her thesis on this subject), I’m sure there are no shortage of cadres familiar with Trotsky’s plans for controlling the military hanging around the White House.

One thing’s for sure: this does not reflect the Founding Fathers and their conception of civilian–military relations. Nor does it reflect the values of a democratic society. Many of the problems of the last six years come from the administration failing to heed the advice of a professional military, which has been trained to render advice of a high professional level to civilian leadership. The attitude of the Bush Administration has been to attack those who show objectivity and independence. They want people who mouth the party line, not people who give them the benefit of professional analysis. That, indeed, has been the hallmark of this administration and the cause of many of its more spectacular failures.

This proposal will give us a new generation of politicized military leaders. Instead of figures of integrity and objectivity, it will give us political sycophants and stooges. It’s yet another abysmally bad idea from people who have no shortage of them.

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