Talk about an opportunity squandered.
One of today’s hottest national personalities has plopped himself down on Rochester’s lap, but nobody is asking the right questions.
Major General John Batiste came here recently to become head honcho at Klein Steel. The new Brighton resident left the military as a kind of, sort of protest against Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld’s prosecution of the Iraq war and conduct of the occupation. (I think the qualifiers are merited, considering what must be a cushy, non-sacrificial retirement for the general after 30-plus years in uniform.)
Batiste is just one of a half dozen top-brass retirees who've recently criticized Rummy and the war effort. I suppose it’s meaningful on some level that these guys are doing this. In my experience – and here I speak as an irrevocably and joyfully retired USMC Reserve corporal – most high-ranking officers are Yes Men of the first rank. Things have really got to be bad if they open their mouths. Even when they turn into civilians and, inevitably, CEOs.
Still, neither Batiste nor the others will displace another major general, Smedley Butler, USMC, in the hearts of peace activists and leftists. Butler’s declarations (“I was a gangster for capitalism,” etc.) set him comfortably apart from any loyal opposition.
But on to the important questions for Batiste and company:
The Uniform Code of Military Justice, the governing document for all people in uniform, keeps coming up in discussions of Abu Ghraib, attacks by US troops on Iraqi civilians, etc. But for all its emphasis on the duties of subordinates, the UCMJ makes it clear that military personnel have a duty to obey lawful orders only (cf. the Nuremberg principles).
And it follows that if US actions in Iraq were and are unlawful, any orders related to carrying out the US mission there are equally unlawful.
So, dear Generals, why are you beating around the bush with issues like leadership, troop strength and deployment strategies?
Give us the goods: Do you think the war is legal or not? The world wants to know.
And here's another angle. If you thought the war was illegal back when you were in charge, why didn’t you refuse to follow or give orders in connection with the war effort, or failing that, resign immediately and make the matter public when it would really have meant something?
Conversely, if you thought or think the war is legal and should be fought until there’s some kind of conclusion, does it acually make much difference if a boob like Rumsfeld is in charge? You were moving in the circles of power, and you presumably have some good stories to pass along in this regard.
Whatever your feelings about the war’s legality, you couldn’t be unaware that the US occupation of Iraq is a disaster, that it’s making things there worse, and that the Iraqi people want US forces to get out with all deliberate speed. So why not, like Representative Jack Murtha and others, call for a withdrawal of US troops? Are you prepared to show some political courage? Or will you stay with the straight and narrow, the high and tight?
That’s what it comes down to, Generals. You need to ask yourselves some questions the media, if not some tribunal, should be asking you.