National Security Network

Conservatives vs. Military Leadership

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Report 13 April 2010

Terrorism & National Security Terrorism & National Security Arab-Israeli conflict climate change DADTR Guantanamo Bay iran NPR terrorism Torture


A troubling trend has emerged in American politics: conservatives in congress, conservative presidential candidates, and the conservative punditry have staked out radical positions that continually oppose the Pentagon's efforts to keep America safe.  On major issue after major issue confronting the military and our nation's security, conservatives have time and again attacked the military's advice in order to both obstruct progress and score political points against the Obama administration.  This politicking, which is often based on factual distortions, has pitted the conservative movement against the very institutions that safeguard our freedom and security.  As NSN Senior Advisor Major General Paul D. Eaton, U.S. Army (Ret.), recently wrote: "No one is safe it seems" from these pundits. 

Conservatives rebuke the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by attacking the Nuclear Posture Review,

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen: "The review has the full support of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mullen said. "We believe it provides us and our field commanders the opportunity to better shape our nuclear weapons posture, policies and force structure to meet an ever-changing security environment," Mullen said. "This Nuclear Posture Review reaffirms our commitment to defend the vital interests of the United States and those of our partners and allies with a more balanced mix of nuclear and non-nuclear means than we have at our disposal today." [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mullen, via the American Forces Press, 4/6/10]

Despite the full support of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, conservatives like Sarah Palin attacked the review. Palin told Fox News: "No administration in America's history would, I think, ever have considered such a step that we just found out President Obama is supporting today... It's kind of like getting out there on a playground, a bunch of kids, getting ready to fight, and one of the kids saying, 'Go ahead, punch me in the face, and I'm not going to retaliate. Go ahead and do what you want to with me.'" [Yahoo News, 4/9/10]

Conservatives recklessly call for military strikes on Iran, with careless disregard for the damage that such an attack would have on American national interests.

Pentagon leadership has clearly outlined the severe consequences of a military strike on Iran.  In February, CENTCOM Commander General David Petraeus said that a military strike "could be used to play to nationalist tendencies...that could be among the many different, second, third, or even fourth order effects (of a strike)." And in 2008, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mullen said on Fox News, "I'm fighting two wars, and I don't need a third one... I worry about the instability in that part of the world and, in fact, the possible unintended consequences of a strike like that and, in fact, having an impact throughout the region that would be difficult to both predict exactly what it would be and then the actions that we would have to take to contain it." [Gen. David Petraeus, 2/03/10. Admiral Michael Mullen, Fox News, 7/20/08]

Conservatives responded by making an aggressive and reckless case for a military strike on Iran, opposing the Pentagon's position. In a piece entitled "How to Save the Obama Presidency: Bomb Iran," Daniel Pipes wrote: "[Obama] needs a dramatic gesture to change the public perception of him as a lightweight, bumbling ideologue, preferably in an arena where the stakes are high, where he can take charge, and where he can trump expectations.  Such an opportunity does exist: Obama can give orders for the U.S. military to destroy the Iranian nuclear weapon capacity...Just as 9/11 caused voters to forget George W. Bush's meandering early months, a strike on Iranian facilities would dispatch Obama's feckless first year down the memory hole and transform the domestic political scene." [National Review, 2/2/10]

Conservatives oppose Pentagon leadership on ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell' repeal.

Before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen testified in support of a repeal of ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' saying "It is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do. No matter how I look at this issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens. For me personally, it comes down to integrity -- theirs as individuals and ours as an institution." [Admiral Michael Mullen, via Washington Post, 2/3/10]

Yet, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) flip-flopped and opposed the Pentagon leadership's position: "At this moment of immense hardship for our armed services, we should not be seeking to overturn the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy." This is despite the fact that just three years prior, McCain said "The day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says, 'Senator, we ought to change the policy,' then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it.'" [Sen. John McCain (R - AZ), via the Washington Post, 2/3/10]

Conservatives demonize the military for calling Middle East peace a U.S. national security imperative.

CENTCOM Commander General David Petraeus explained how U.S. security interests are impacted by the perpetuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: "The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in the AOR [CENTCOM Area of Responsibility]. Israeli-Palestinian tensions often flare into violence and large-scale armed confrontations. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas." [General David Petraeus, 3/16/10]

Rather than accepting the reality that Middle East peace is a key U.S. priority, conservatives attacked General Petraeus, questioning his motivations. Writing for the National Review, conservative columnist Andrew McCarthy excoriated Petraeus: "Petraeus is echoing the narrative peddled incessantly by leftists in the government he serves and by Islamists in the countries where he works." [Andrew McCarthy, 4/8/10]

Conservatives oppose the military leadership's recommendation to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility.

General Petraeus has expressed his strong support for closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, as this is a key element of the broader U.S. counterterrorism approach.  On Meet the Press, General Petraeus said "I've been on the record on that for well over a year as well, saying that it should be closed."  As he noted, it is not the first time he has expressed support for the closure of the facility.  In 2009, he stated his view that closing Guantanamo "in a responsible manner, I think, sends an important message to the world, as does the commitment of the United States to observe the Geneva Convention when it comes to the treatment of detainees." [General David Petraeus, Meet the Press, 2/21/10. General David Petraeus, 5/04/09]

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) goes against the advice of leaders like General Petraeus by saying that "Guantanamo remains the proper place for holding terrorists, especially those who may not be able to be detained as securely in a third country." Similarly, Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has also criticized President Obama's "brazen and naive pledge to close Guantanamo Bay without any idea where to put the Jihadists who will never stop trying to do us harm."

Conservatives advocate for torture policies that our military leaders criticize as both unnecessary and dangerous.

General Petraeus says that traditional interrogation methods work and that there are negative consequences for America when we torture. When asked if he wished that the use of torture or "enhanced interrogation" was available as a tool during interrogations, Petraeus answered: "I have always been on the record, in fact, since 2003, with the concept of living our values.  And I think that whenever we have, perhaps, taken expedient measures, they have turned around and bitten us in the backside...   Abu Ghraib and other situations like that are nonbiodegradables.  They don't go away.  The enemy continues to beat you with them like a stick in the Central Command area of responsibility.  Beyond that, frankly, we have found that the use of the interrogation methods in the Army Field Manual that was given, the force of law by Congress, that that works." [David Petraeus, Meet the Press, 2/21/10]

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, when discussing the use of the so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" said that "I feel very good about what we did. I think it was the right thing to do. If I was faced with those circumstances again I'd do exactly the same thing... I think it would have been unethical or immoral for us not to do everything we could in order to protect the nation against further attacks like what happened on 9/11... Was it torture? I don't believe it was torture." [Washington Times, 12/18/10]

Conservatives dismiss the Bush administration's own Secretary of Defense on how to handle terrorism.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, appointed initially by the Bush administration, stated how to handle terrorists: "The truth is, there's a lot of fear-mongering about this... This started 20 years ago when I was at CIA, and we captured a Hezbollah terrorist who had been involved in killing an American sailor on an aircraft that had been taken hostage in Beirut. We brought him to the United States, put him on trial and put him in prison." [Secretary Gates, 5/22/09]

As part of his campaign, Florida Senate Candidate Marc Rubio (R) has ignored expert advice and implied that he supports torture, promising to "get useful information" from terrorists before bringing "them to justice in front of a military tribunal in Guantanamo!" Similarly radical ideas have come from Liz Cheney and Bill Kristol's organization, Keep America Safe, which released a video calling into question the patriotism of attorneys who represented Guantanamo Bay detainees by suggesting that they themselves supported terrorism.  The video labeled the unnamed attorneys as the "Al Qaeda Seven," a move that a former Bush administration official described as "offensive" and "beyond a cheap shot." [Washington Post, 2/19/10. Washington Post, 3/4/10]

Conservatives ignore the dangers of climate change, a threat that the Pentagon has acknowledged and for which it must prepare.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus discusses the importance for the military of adapting to climate change: "How we as a military and we as a country deal with the ramifications of these issues will have dramatic impacts on our military strategy, our military capabilities and our force structure throughout this 21st Century. Changing the way we use and produce energy, and the fallout from climate change, are fundamentally issues of national security." [Ray Mabus, 3/23/10]

Ranking Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) denies that climate change is occurring.  Referring to advocates of climate change legislation as "alarmists" and efforts to address climate change and energy security as an "energy rationing project," Sen. Inhofe has dismissed the science behind climate change saying that "climate scientists [are] acting like political scientists, with an agenda disconnected from the principles of good science." He has gone so far as to call it a hoax, saying that "Between the years of 1998 and 2005, I was the only member of the United States Senate who would take on what I call 'the Hollywood elitists' and the United Nations on this hoax called global warming and I went through seven years of purgatory on that issue." [James Inhofe, US News and World Report, 3/23/10. Countrywide and the Sun, 6/26/09]

What We're Reading

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government said it would reject any moves by the Obama administration to set its own timeline and benchmarks for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

President Obama secured a promise from President Hu Jintao of China to join negotiations on a new package of sanctions against Iran, but Mr. Hu made no commitment to back specific measures.

Kyrgyzstan's ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev has said he will resign if the interim government guarantees his and his family's safety.

Despite reports of progress made during the nine years of U.S. involvement there, Afghan women are still struggling.

Following Iran's call for Sunni integration into a new government, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, lashed out at the country's neighbors for meddling in its affairs as Iraq tries to form a new government.

Sudanese politicians said poor logistics were preventing hundreds of thousands of voters from taking part in the country's first full election in 24 years, with some early turnout figures below 10 percent.

Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic's war crimes trial in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has resumed in The Hague.

Several days after Pakistani fighter jets killed 55 in the Khyber region near the Afghan border, villagers said all casualties were civilians.

The threat of new mudslides forced officials to begin evicting 2,600 families from at-risk areas in Rio de Janerio as they embarked on a slum demolition program on the city's hills.

An armed group in strife-torn eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo has kidnapped eight international Red Cross staffers -- seven Congolese and a Swiss delegate.

Commentary of the Day

Steve Clemons says with this week's nuclear summit, Obama is showing what a U.S.-led world order should look like.

Fred Kaplan explores how Sarah Palin's recent quips about President Obama's nuclear strategies show that conservatives will use any excuse to attack the President.

Shadi Hamid asks if Obama can erase ‘Bush nostalgia' in the Middle East.


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