The retired generals, who claim to speak for their active-duty brethren, premise their uprising on two complaints. First, many (though not all) say we should not have gone into Iraq in the first place. Former Lt. Gen. Greg Newbold calls it “the unnecessary war,” and former Gen. Anthony Zinni claims that “containment worked remarkably well.”

That is a highly questionable judgment, and one that is not for generals to make. They are experts in how to wage war, not when to wage it. If we had listened to their advice, we would not have gone into Kuwait or Bosnia or Kosovo. ~Max Boot, The Los Angeles Times

When Max Boot puts it that way, I am beginning to see the virtue of letting generals make these sorts of decisions. He is trying to say that not going to Kuwait, Bosnia and Kosovo would have been Very Bad Things (why, Kosovo’s churches might still be standing, and we couldn’t have that!), but as time goes by the generals’ advice looks wiser and wiser every day.

Perhaps if civilian leaders were not so astonishingly foolish in jumping into wars that do not serve the American interest, all of which in the last 16 years have been unnecessary, retired military men would not now be inclined to question the strategic judgement of the civilians.

Neo-imperialists, such as Boot, want to have a splendid military with which to remake the world, but they think that they will forever be able to keep the military men from taking an increased interest in the shaping of geopolitical strategies that they are asked to carry out. You can either have a quiescent (and usually small) military in a peaceful republic, or you can have an empire in which the Praetorian Prefects and their equivalents dictate the shape of the empire’s policies and, given enough time for long-standing restraints to break down, ultimately challenge the would-be emperor and his ministers for control of the entire state apparatus. Maybe this is why real, old-fashioned republicans want a small military or, ideally, no standing army at all. We have been extraordinarily lucky that a century of overseas adventurism has been tempered by the strong commitment of the military men to our form of government; in most other similar situations, the temptation for military men to take political power has been too great and the institutional checks an internal restraints against that happening were too weak. In their celebration of the supremacy of incompetent and unaccoutable civilians, the Max Boots of the world ensure that such restraints will be weakened for the future.

Let’s be clear: today’s retired generals are not like Gainas with his band of Goths in Constantinople, but another century of the sort of interventionist and neo-imperialist policies Boot wants America to have will bring us to a time when we will have our own Gainas or Bonaparte seize power from what will appear to him to be an effete and corrupt civilian establishment. Those who want to prevent even the slightest hint of direct intervention of the military in policymaking would be well advised to scupper interventionist policies that will, given enough time, lead to a more radical militarisation of the state and our entire political life, as there will come a time when dopey elected civilians with no qualifications will not be allowed to become President, select ideological confreres to run important departments and make fundamental decisions about national strategy. The Empire will demand someone with more “hands-on” expertise from someone who has served in the imperial marches, and in the end the army will become the only important power-broker. The age of chickenhawks will one day come to a close, when military men coming of age in a more debased America will no longer allow their institutions to be misused by those who have no understanding of the realities of war–the logic of Max Boot’s own preferred neo-imperialism will make sure that this happens. The only good thing about that development is that future generations will not have to endure their own versions of Max Boot.

No deliberately interventionist or expansionist empire has ever ultimately prevented the military from playing a decisive role in the internal politics of its state. To make civilian rule of the military secure, stop starting wars and intervening overseas. It is elementary. Another two or three generations of these sorts of bungled wars and Americans may no longer see the virtues in letting incompetent civilians start wars that they do not understand how to win.