Friday, April 14, 2006

Clinton's politicization of the military

First it was Wesley Clark. Then Eric Shinseki and Anthony Zinni. Now the New York Times reports on Paul Eaton, Gregory Newbold, John Batiste, John Riggs and Charles Swannack.

What do these former generals have in common?

Well, they are all criticizing the Bush administration and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

But what else do they have in common? Clinton's politicization of the military.

I've blogged about this issue before, citing Jed Babbin's American Spectator article.

PowerLine has an entry about this politicization citing Dafydd ab Hugh and Victor Davis Hanson.

But what isn't mentioned is the detectable pattern with Clinton, first with the judiciary, then with the military. Certainly, we have always had contrarian generals.

But Dafydd makes a point:

"These generals appear to be mostly from the Clinton era.
Why is that important? Because, while progression through the
rank of Colonel is more or less based upon military performance,
elevation to flag rank is by direct presidential appointment.
They are, in a sense, Clinton appointees."

So, if Dafydd and I are right or wrong about this Clintonian politicization of the military, it ought to be clear from documentary evidence such as who recommended each of these men to become a general and what assignments they received during the Clinton administration.

If you have any information on this, either to confirm or deny this line of reasoning, please post!


David Thomson said...

If nothing else, President Clinton almost certainly appointed military commanders who agreed with his affirmative action policies. Loyalty to the doctrines of the Democratic party was tacitly required. Do not forget that Bill Clinton was elected to be our “End of History” leader. The world was moving into a peaceful direction and military might was no longer deemed to be of paramount importance.

Knucklehead said...

A list of flag officers who would prefer to fight no wars at all but if forced to fight wars, dammit, are deeply committed to fighting the wars they planned for in the 90's rather than the ones facing us today.

terrye said...

This is not new. Truman dealt with the same thing from certain Republican Generals and Korea. The most notable would be MacArthur, and Eisenhower. Repubicans ran a campaign in 52 on communism, corruption and Korea.

Lincoln not only fired McLellan, he was forced to run against him.

Clinton might be guilty of many things but I am afraid that mixing politcs and war is a time honored tradition.

I think the whole thing stinks of the "If they had just listened to me" club trying to take advantage of what they think is a bad situation. But I remain impressed with the military's performance in the war.

cf said...

dt--Think Karpinski and Abu Ghraib.

Retired LTC said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Syl said...

I don't care what their politics are. I just care about the cherry-picking of retired officer opinion.

We have DISSENTERS. WOW! That means Bush and Rumsfeld are 100% wrong.

The world is changing, and we're changing with it. I'm sorry some people just can't keep up.

ex-democrat said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Syl said...

I was being sarcastic in honor of the previous poster.

ex-democrat said...

retired - would you let us have a list of those officers whose opinions you agree with, and must be kept free from challenge, and those whose views you disagree with who are therefore (obviously) Bush's cronies. thanks.

terrye said...

Back in the days when I listened to NPR I remember hearing a story about Rumsfeld making enemies in the military because he intended to change the military top to bottom. In fact that was before 9/11.

I know that when Zinni and a lot of these other guys were in the military is when a lot of the dangers we face today were growing. Seems to me they had no problem keeping their mouths shut back then.

terrye said...


Ground rules. I am the contrary old biddy who removed your post.

Don't call people stupid.

We disagree with each other all the time, but that does not mean we call each other stupid.

Be civil.

BTW, those darling young people who ran off military recruiters on campus did not belong to the Young Republicans. No siree.

And I can think of some other Generals who do not share the opinions of a bunch of retired brass who might be a little pissed because Rumsfeld showed them the door when they failed to make the changes necessary. Needless to say any of them would gladly take his job.

Like it or not, in America it is the civilians who run the military. So says the Constitution.

And there is a big difference between brass and the soldier in the field.

So feel free to post again. Just try to be a grownup about it.

brylun said...

It seems there are a number of opinions on this. But does anyone know which president recommended each of the above-named persons to become general? The recommendation itself is a fact, not an opinion. And I am curious to see how this breaks out.

Rick Ballard said...


I don't think Clinton had a handle on the military in the beginning - remember, the Chiefs threatened resgnation en masse when he tried his "it's OK to be gay" initial proposal. Aspin wasn't much of SecDef but Cohen knew his way around the shop. He wasn't a Dem and I doubt that he would have been happy watching the service secretaries stacking the selection boards.

There are always some political implications in advancement but I don't believe that party politics really plays that big a part. Certainly not in the selection of Brigadier and Major Generals who are not very scarce to begin with. The current authorized number of flag officers is around 880 and attrition is rather high. That pyramid gets awfully small above two star rank. By January 2009 most generals who had reached that rank during the Clinton years will have retired. That's just a function of the system - you don't get to hang around if you aren't going to advance.

Retired LTC said...

Your implication that these generals are political in their criticism is what's immature, but I'll set aside for now.

Clark made his first and second star under George HW Bush. Zinni is a contemporary of Clark's so I'd assume he made general under the first Bush as well.

John Batiste and Charles Swannack were both 2-star division commanders in Iraq, both fairly recently. It is therefore extremely likely, almost certain, they got their first stars under George W.

Tommy Franks made his first, second and third stars under Clinton. The first two stars came pre-Cohen.

Your "Blame Clinton" theory doesn't hold water. Military officers, almost to a man, put the good of the nation before partisanship. The military life is too hard and the pay too low for them to have any greater motive.

Rick Ballard said...


That's a very good rebuttal. Actually, Batiste and Swannack got their first star under Clinton and Eaton was a LTC in '94 so he would have been late Clinton or early Bush II for his star.

The promotion boards are actually pretty damned tight and I don't know how Clinton could have jiggered them even if he wanted too. I will say that Secretary of the Army Togo West was as blatant a political operative as I've ever seen in that slot and I will also say that Congresses mandate of percentage quotas for ranks throughout the military stinks.

The military system of advancement is probably the most meritorius in existence and anything that detracts from it is unworthy of support.

Thank you for your service, sir.

PS Lots of us here have been civilians for a very long time and some of us spent our military time staying away from officers, if at all possible. Sergeants too.

terrye said...

There are thousands of retired and active Generals and I am not willing to hang up Rumsfeld because some of them do not like him.

What ahout the ones who do? The point is Rumsfeld is very controversial and controversial people stir things up.

I think that once Clark and Zinni went political, people began to assume that any one else having a problem with any of the Bush people were also political. That is what happens when the atmosphere becomes hyper partisan.

But the timing of this makes me wonder. Election year and all that.

brylun said...

Retired LTC: I am an old Vietnam Veteran, I also want to thank you for your service. Your sacrifices are greatly appreciated.

Now back to the discussion.

If you look at the record of Clinton's judicial appointments, and you can find some factual background here, it is clear to me the highly partisan nature of these appointments.

Because of the results of his judicial appointments, in my mind legitimate questions arise concerning Clinton's military appointments.

If you read Jed Babbin's column, he says that Zinni, Clark, Shinseki and others "had to earn [their] political spurs in order to earn higher commands." Babbin was a deputy undersecretary of defense during the first Bush Administration.

As I said in the post, Dafydd makes the claim that these generals are Clinton appointees.

I concluded my post by asking for information.

So what are the facts?

Can anybody refute what Babbin said about Zinni, Clark and Shinseki? Rick Ballard said that Batiste and Swannack got their first star under Clinton. No facts have surfaced yet about Eaton, Newbold and Riggs.

I thought that they published the names of the new generals in the federal register. Some record should exist for names and dates of military promotions.

With all due respect, based upon what I have read so far, I am inclined to maintain my view that there is a political component to the actions on the part of these generals. And the political roots go to promotions during the Clinton administration.

If you disagree, please provide some facts. I intend this to be an intellectual discussion, if possible.

Rick Ballard said...


Reid laid this out in a memo in March. Reid's Revolting Generals are definitely part of a political campaign but they have earned the right to say what they wish and I don't think their ascension was necessarily politically controlled.

Gengens have egos the size of truck and trailer rigs - they wouldn't cut it in the military if that wasn't true. It's tough hanging up the stars and losing the cars and drivers and all the crap that goes with being a gengen - and their views on politics are worth no more than Private Joe Smith's who was sworn in today.

The thing is - they trusted Dems - how smart can they be?

Rick Ballard said...


The only one I would class as a "political" like Clark, Zinni and (maybe) Shinseki is Batiste - he has the "perfumed prince" odor that attaches to Clark. Eaton was at Mogadishu but not in a command element.

I've gone through the DoD site and checked these guys as Bulls but the transitions aren't that easy to find except for Batiste and Swannack who were definitely '97.

terrye said...


I appreciate the service of these people and anyone else who claims to have served, but the point is the military are not the Borg, they often disagree with one another. I am not sure that everyone would support anyone Bush came up with.

4uandi said...

Retired LTC

Here's my theory:

Zinni was CentCom commander in the late 1990's. On his watch the following occurred:

He failed to do anything about the Taliban.

He failed to deal with Al Queda

He failed to enforce UN sanctions on Iraq.

He failed to respond to Kobar Towers and the African Embassy.

He failed in the no fly zone and allowed Iraq to flaunt their non compliance.

He failed to explain to countries Like Pakistan and the UAE that " you are either with us or the terrorists".

Zinni is the poster child for the "BlackHawk Down" school of leadership.

Since history will judge him a military buffoon, he has actively sought to undermine our policy in Iraq to justify his abject failure as a military commander.

The idea these guys should be treated with respect is pathetic. Since these guys are of the Vietnam and post Vietnam era, they should know better than anyone what type of damage public undermining current policy has on our efforts and troops. I have no problem with stinging critism; but class and patriotism dictates that it should be in private.

My only hope is that they are quickly and severely humiliated. Then they are relagated to the ashheep of history.

Retired LTC said...

I joined the Army in the mid-1970s. I never served in Vietnam, but I worked for and with many great soldiers who did.

The one attitude that was wide-spread within the military in those years was the senior leadership had failed the troops by not speaking up to the civilians, and resigning if necessary.

Colin Powell wrote in his book that he wished some of the generals had spoken out. There is a story that Creighton Abrams went to his grave wishing he had resigned in protest.

These generals all either served in 'Nam or came onto active duty right after. They want to make damn sure they don't make the same mistake their superiors did.

If you don't know what it's like to be in their shoes, you don't appreciate how much courage it takes for them to speak out, even in retirement (and of course, they were not free to before). They should be applauded.

4uandi said...

Retired LTC

What are you talking about

4uandi said...

Retired LTC

I feel for the generals in Vietnam. Johnson and McNamara were disasters in every sense of the world.

This should not be applied to:

The inept previous commander at CentCom who allowed this to happen. I suppose you would praise Walter Short for "speaking out" against incompetence in WW II

The guy who ran Iraqi training in 2003-2004. If there was any "mistake" over the past three years, it's his failed efforts.

Some dude busted in rank for procurement improprieties.

Do you need help assessing the military situation over the past three years?