Monday, January 29, 2007



29 January 2007

Well I must say working in Washington D.C. has some distinct benefits that I never thought of when I accepted a job here. As a history and political junkie I was pretty excited about the idea of spending endless weekends wandering around town checking out the famous buildings and monuments and catching the far to often motorcade jam up the streets… a side note my apt is right next door to the main parking area for the motorcycle division of the Police department which provides escort riders for every motorcade (The VP gets 16). Now I’m a Harley owner and fan but man I can’t wait for an administration that doesn’t start the day at 0500.

Sorry and back to the point…….I never in my wildest dreams ever imagined that I would get to attend a Peace Rally but that all changed on Saturday 27 January 2007. The allure of seeing Jane Fonda, Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins was enough to convince me to walk over to the mall and catch the action. To start with I must say I was disappointed with several parts of the rally: First the signs…..a couple make me giggle and were pretty creative the rest were obviously created by the kindergarten children of the protesters I’m sure……I mean if “Bush Sucks” is the best you can do to express your obviously passionate feelings towards a war then you need to take a creative writing class. Next on my disappointment list was the crowd itself…….I was promised up to 300,000 people by the organizers pre-rally press releases…….I mean I was ready for a Forest Gump moment here but I was pretty disappointed……I admit I’m no expert in crowd estimating and the authorities no longer provide official estimates but based on my limited experience of crowds I can’t imagine there having been any more than 30,000 people at the peak of the rally and in fact for most of the 3 ½ hours that I was there no more than 10-15,000. My last disappointment came with the speeches…….while the sound system was pretty good and I was only about 50 yards from the stage it was the content that seemed lacking. There was passion but other than bring the troops home now and Neville Chamberlandisk peace at any price talk nothing offering a solution to the problem.

Now I’m not naïve and I didn’t expect anything other than drivel from the celebrities and Jesse Jackson but I was expecting more from The House Judiciary Chairman Rep John Conyers (D) who caught me off guard when he said the following “George Bush has a habit of firing military leaders who tell him the Iraq war is failing”. He went on to say to the crowd “He can’t fire you” and I assume referring to congress “He can’t fire us”. Well finally something I could sink my teeth into.

How many Generals has President George Bush actually fired or relieved of their commands? The official answer is NONE. Nope not one, although to be perfectly honest some have been allowed to retire early and in the case of General Casey promoted out of his command position which in a few paragraphs you’ll see has happened before.

Now I don’t want to take a position on whether or not any General should have been fired or relieved or moved on during this piece but will only show that throughout modern history Presidents from both parties in almost ever prolonged war have allowed Generals to retire, have directly fired them or have moved them laterally or upward so they are no longer responsible for the command of the war / combat operations.

Our first Republican and probably best known, President Lincoln was a very active Commander in Chief during the Civil War and was certainly not one to shy away from firing or moving aside Generals very quickly when they weren’t successful or were dithering. In total 7 Generals commanded the Union Army during the War and only one wasn’t relieved in one form or another.

Winfield Scott – Was allowed to retire after the first major battle of the war which was a huge defeat for the Union known as the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861. He was considered to old and out of touch with modern tactics.

George McClellan – Relieved of Command of the Army, although he was allowed to remain on active duty for not moving quickly enough to go on the offensive and disagreeing with Lincoln’s assessment that the number one military priority was protecting the capitol.

John Pope – Relieved of command after the defeat of the Union Army at the Second Battle of Bull Run

George McClellan – Relieved again, this time for not moving quickly enough to reorganize the Army and move to the offensive.

Ambrose Burnside – Relieved of command after the Union Army was defeated at Fredricksburg

Joseph Hooker – After a defeat at Chancellorville and losses early in the Gettysburg campaign he was relieved of Command.

George Meade – After success at Gettysburg Meade was relieved of Command for not promptly following up and chasing the defeated Confederate Army

Ulysses S Grant – The last Commander of the Union Army and the only commander not to be relieved.

It should also be noted that the Secretary of War was never relieved or fired during the Civil War.

A look at WW II shows that no General officers were directly fired or relieved by the President but numerous Generals were relieved in a purge before the start of combat operations in 1942 (after a large exercise showed the Army very unprepared for modern warfare) and during the war by both the Commander of Allied Forces Dwight Eisenhower and by George Marshall the Commander of the Army. In fact they were both ruthless and public when they agreed to relieve George Patton who was successful on the battlefield but had become a publicity problem for the overall Allied war effort. Fortunately his battlefield skill won the day and he was given another command which was very successful and certainly helped shorted the war significantly.

Korea shows us one of the most famous cases of a Commander in Chief reaching down and firing a General officer conducting combat operations when that general isn’t respecting the nature of the relationship between a President and his combatant commander. President Truman although under tremendous pressure from both the public and Congress never backed away from relieving Douglas MacArthur of his command. History is still debating the validity of that decision and impact it had on the outcome of the Korean War.

Vietnam also gives us a very high profile example of how perceived disaster on the battlefield or a lack of perceived progress and pressure from the public, media and Congress can lead a President to relieve his commander in the field. President Johnson relieved General Westmoreland shortly after the Tet offensive of 68 even though the offensive was a decisive defeat for the NVA and their Viet Cong allies.

So as you can see it is not uncommon for Presidents to take their responsibilities as Commander in Chief literally and either relieve or fire their Generals. History tells us that sometimes they’ve been justified and correct and sometimes not so much but in every case the reality has got to be that at the end of the day it’s the Commander in Chief who is either a hero or a bum. I wonder what would have happened to the United States if Lincoln hadn’t replaced some of his Generals who weren’t achieving his aims and he wasn’t re-elected. People seem to forget that he wasn’t doing well in the polls until Atlanta fell shortly before the election.

While nobody knows why some Generals leave I certainly have enough experience to understand that when good Generals disagree with the chain of command or the Commander in Chief they resign before their time and that has most certainly happened during the current Presidents reign. I’d be shocked if it hadn’t. Have you ever witnessed the blood letting of many corporations after a new CEO comes on board?

At the end of the day it is not only the President’s right, but his duty to replace Generals who will not or can not achieve the aims laid out by the President in the strategic mission statement and find the Generals who believe they can. In the case of General George Casey and General David Petraeus specifically……..General Casey is becoming the Army Chief of Staff (a technical promotion) as opposed to being relieved but guess what happened to General Westmoreland…….that’s right folks he became the Army Chief of Staff because deep down both those Presidents Bush and Johnson understand that you can win on the battlefield and still need to be replaced.


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