Friction between politicians and the military is age old, but in the United States today it is getting hotter. Back in November there was an interesting exchange between the new Joint Chief Gen Pace and SecDef Rumsfeld. In today's NYT, the "Marine infantry platoon commander currently assigned as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff" (General Peter Pace) gave a belated and rather lame explanation of the month old exchange.
When General Pace was asked again on Thursday by reporters in Bahrain about the exchange, he said for the first time that he and Mr. Rumsfeld had not really disagreed at all. General Pace said he was talking about the obligations of American soldiers in a war zone like Iraq or Afghanistan; Mr. Rumsfeld, he said, was talking about the obligations of Americans in a non-hostile setting like, say, Tokyo.
To refresh your memory, back in November the public disagreements between the General and the SecDef included a lack of union over terminology and responsibility. Not remembering to continue Rumsfeld's ending of the insurgency by changing the vocabulary, the General feel back to insurgent in the news conference:
GEN. PACE: ...I have to use the word "insurgent" because I can't think of a better word right now -- (soft laughter) -- take the --
SEC. RUMSFELD: Enemies of the Iraqi -- legitimate Iraqi government.
How's that? (Laughter.)
Reading the transcript of the news conference is interesting if not for the times the SecDef intercepts and answers a question specifically asked to the General. The transcript is really a good read for the disagreement on torture, er "inhumane behavior". However the WashingtonPost has a snippet of the transcript with comments. The question about treatment of persons in response to "excesses" of the Iraqi Interior Ministry was intended for the General but intercepted by the SecDef. However, General Pace felt it was important enough to follow up with a clarifier which was followed up by a clarifier by Rummy and then recently by the General. Highlight below, emphasis added:
Q And General Pace, what guidance do you have for your military commanders over there as to what to do if -- like when General Horst found this Interior Ministry jail?
GEN. PACE: It is absolutely the responsibility of every U.S. service member, if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to intervene to stop it. As an example of how to do it if you don't see it happening but you're told about it is exactly what happened a couple weeks ago. There's a report from an Iraqi to a U.S. commander that there was possibility of inhumane treatment in a particular facility. That U.S. commander got together with his Iraqi counterparts. They went together to the facility, found what they found, reported it to the Iraqi government, and the Iraqi government has taken ownership of that problem and is investigating it. So they did exactly what they should have done.
SEC. RUMSFELD: But I don't think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it; it's to report it.
GEN. PACE: If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it.
This is essentially a resurgence of the Geneva Convention debate... Also see this story by Milbank of the WashingtonPost immediately after the November press conference.