Opinion

Babbin wrongly impugns U.S. military leaders

John Guardiano Freelance Writer

The American Spectator’s Jed Babbin is at it again, arguing that Iraq and Afghanistan are hopeless; and that America is destined to lose both wars. Babbin also argues that Generals Petraeus and McChrystal were “perhaps” insubordinate when, last year, they spoke publicly and candidly about the exigencies and requirements of war.

These are serious and weighty charges, which have gained much currency on the Right. However, they are demonstrably false and dangerous.

They are false because Iraq and Afghanistan are eminently winnable, albeit nontraditional, wars. Indeed, they require comprehensive counterinsurgency campaigns, which Babbin, as a military dinosaur, opposes. In Babbin’s mind, you see, counterinsurgency warfare is a euphemism for “nation-building.”

Counterinsurgencies do require some nation-building; this is true. But nation-building is not undertaken as an end in itself. Nation-building in this context is not some utopian liberal do-gooder scheme.

Instead, in a counterinsurgency, nation-building is undertaken in pursuit of a legitimate military purpose, which is to isolate and neutralize the enemy and thereby stabilize the country.

Our military leaders, moreover, have an obligation to inform and to educate the American people about the exigencies and requirements of war. This is not “insubordination”; it is called being honest and forthright with the American people and with policymakers.

In a democracy, in a constitutional republic, the people rule; they are sovereign. Our military leaders, therefore, are accountable to them.

Thus, Generals Petraeus and McChrystal were not trying to “corner” the president or force his hand when, last year, they spoke publicly and candidly about the exigencies and requirements of war. They were instead, as I explained last year in the American Spectator, simply

informing the American people and their elected representatives about the facts on the ground and what, in their judgment, must be done in Afghanistan. This is a public service that warrants praise and commendation, not rebuke and scorn.

The United States, moreover,

prides itself on having an educated and professional military. Thus, U.S. military leaders are not mere functionaries. They are not robotic automatons who mindlessly follow orders.

U.S. military leaders follow orders, of course. But they also think, cogitate and analyze; partake in professional military forums; and write for professional military journals — and we rightly expect this of them. The professionalization and education of the United States military is one of its defining characteristics, and thank goodness for that.

For these reasons, U.S. military leaders have every right — and, indeed, a solemn obligation — to engage the public dialogue and debate; and there is nothing “insubordinate” about this.

There is, however, something profoundly un-American about Babbin’s call to silence U.S. military leaders. After all, free speech and debate, and open intellectual inquiry, are fundamental aspects of our society. Indeed, they form the very basis of our constitutional republic.

The United States, moreover, doesn’t suffer from too much free speech and analysis of defense issues; quite the contrary: It suffers from too much public ignorance and apathy about U.S. military requirements. And for a constitutional republic such as ours, which depends upon an informed and educated citizenry, this is a real problem.

But what is most reprehensible about Babbin’s argument is his assertion — made with no supporting evidence whatsoever — that General Petraeus is willfully pursuing a counterinsurgency policy that “he knows will not succeed.”

No American military commander with an ounce of integrity — and General Petraeus embodies integrity — would ever send young American soldiers and Marines into harm’s way if he did not believe that doing so is necessary and integral to American military success.

Babbin should be ashamed of himself for suggesting otherwise. And he should seriously reconsider his retrograde thinking about Iraq, Islam and Afghanistan.

John R. Guardiano is a writer and analyst in Arlington, Virginia. He writes and blogs for a variety of publications, including FrumForum, the American Spectator and The Daily Caller. Follow him at his personal blog, ResoluteCon.com, and on Twitter: @JohnRGuardiano.