Yet Mr. Kohn said he found the chorus of attacks disquieting. He was disturbed, he said, by an assertion made by Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, who retired from the Marines, in an essay for Time magazine, that he was writing “with the encouragement of some still in positions of military leadership.”

“That’s a fairly chilling thought,” Mr. Kohn said. “Chilling because they’re not supposed to be undermining their civilian leadership.”

He also said he feared that the public statements would “poison the civil-military relationship inside the Pentagon and with the president,” sowing mistrust between senior civilians and officers.

“It’s not the military that holds the civilian leadership accountable,” he said. “It’s Congress, the voters, investigative journalists. Things have been turned upside down here.” ~The New York Times

In my last post, I did not dwell on the rather silly question of whether the “Generals’ Revolt,” as it has been called, undermines civilian control of the military. I call it silly not because undermining civilian control of the military is an unimportant problem, but because this situation is so far, far removed from any threat to civilian control of the military that it suggests a kind of paranoia about the role of the military in this country’s politics on the part of those doing the worrying.

In Europe, Latin America or elsewhere, military coups and the resulting authoritarian governments have occurred either because of a crisis in the civilian government’s basic ability to maintain law and order or stem from a basic political hostility on the part of military officers to the form of government run by the civilians. No one among these generals questions the basic framework of civilian control of the military, and none of them has strong convictions that would encourage hostility to the present form of government; the problem under dispute is strictly related to the specific management of a foreign war, and has nothing to do with the government’s ability to ensure public order or national security. People who feel the “chill” of incipient military intervention in political life are people who think Seven Days in May is a good and realistic movie. In other words, these are fairly silly people (who also have terrible taste in movies).

But what about the objection that this is not the job of retired generals? Surely, there’s no need for military men to say anything–Congress and the public will hold the executive accountable! Yeah, right. How well have they done so far? Congress is filled for the most part, and with only a very few exceptions, with quite a lot of presidential bootlickers on one side of the aisle and a gaggle of incoherent, cowardly time-servers on the other. They have failed time and again to hold the President accountable for anything he has done, and their oversight of this war effort has amounted largely to rubber-stamping Mr. Bush’s every funding request and occasionally making some noises on Sunday talk shows about the need for a better plan. Not that they are doing anything to formulate a better plan. Not that they have challenged the President seriously about any of his decisions. After all, it is wartime. The few who do challenge set policy, be it Ron Paul or John Murtha, are not heeded by anyone else in Congress.

The public has been even more dopey–they are waiting for someone to tell them what they ought to do, and otherwise seem generally uninterested in holding anyone accountable for failures in the war. After all, it is wartime (except that, legally speaking, it isn’t). Let’s not even talk about the press, which has been about as vigilant a guardian of the public interest as Droopy Dog. Most serious criticism has come from dedicated antiwar pundits and scholars, who are usually consequently ignored by policymakers because these critics are reflexively opposed to the war.

The only people in high places who seem willing to make genuine, serious calls for change in strategy or policy are these retired generals. Set aside for the moment that their calls for Rumsfeld’s resignation won’t accomplish anything, even if Mr. Bush acceded to them. The fact is that these retired generals are taking up the slack for a completely indifferent or cowardly Congress, media and populace and have just started publicly making the kinds of criticisms Congressmen and journalists should have been making regularly in 2003. They are doing what ordinary citizens ought to be doing all the time–questioning the competence of their leadership when it seems to be deeply flawed. That is what self-government is supposed to be, and the American people these days are generally unconcerned to bother with it.

How much more so should citizens be vigilant about the conduct of their government in wartime! But that is what those “unpatriotic” types do. The chattering of some about the dangers of an uppity, unruly military is just another way of hiding their heads in the sand and avoiding confrontation with the administration. Suggesting that the military will suffer in the public’s eye because some of its retired officers are finally doing what they, the public, ought to have been doing all along is to suggest that no one should really question the political leadership of this country. After all, it’s wartime.