Military brass who disagree should quit
Note to a three-star from an old colonel: If you want to publicly criticize the policies of the president, do what I did and retire first.
The three-star to whom I refer is Lt. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, commander of United States Army Pacific, headquartered here at Fort Shafter. Mixon thinks that President Obama's plan to abolish the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy is a terrible idea. He doesn't agree with our elected commander in chief that gays and lesbians should be able to serve openly in our armed forces.
Mixon is entitled to think whatever he wants. But the general has done more than just think. He has tried to actively subvert the policies of the president of the United States, and he has encouraged other soldiers to do so, too.
In a letter published March 8 in Stars & Stripes, Mixon urged soldiers to write elected officials opposing repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." He called President Obama's proposal an "ill-advised" change to "a policy that has achieved a balance between a citizen's desire to serve and acceptable conduct."
What's wrong with this? After all, lots of people disagree with the president on lots of issues. The consciences of military officers are not hard drives to be reprogrammed with every new administration. Why not let the general advocate to keep gay soldiers in the closet?
The reason that serving military officers may not publicly challenge the president is because the U.S. Constitution makes the president the commander in chief and subordinates the armed forces of our country to the civil power. It is not required that serving officers in our military agree with the decisions of the president, but it is an act of insubordination to publicly campaign against them.
This point is one that inexperienced lieutenants — Ehren Watada comes to mind — sometimes fail to grasp. That an experienced lieutenant general should fail to understand this principle is inexcusable.
Mixon is not the first high-ranking Army officer to forget that the president is in charge, however. Douglas MacArthur tried to subvert President Truman's policy to limit the Korean War. Truman fired him. That is exactly what President Obama should do with Gen. Mixon.
I served as an Army intelligence officer in Iraq in 2005-2006. Well before I deployed, I concluded that the war policies of President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were idiotic at best, and quite possibly malignant. Nonetheless, during my year in Baghdad, I did not express my opinions beyond a circle of friends and colleagues, and I carefully refrained from publicly criticizing the commander in chief. Regardless of whether I personally thought Mr. Bush's war was a good idea, I did everything in my power to win it.
When I came home to Honolulu, I had a few months left before I had to retire. I would have liked to have served out a full 30 years, but I felt I had a greater service to perform.
I wanted to write on issues of defense and national security. I wanted to be able to criticize our presidents (and I have since criticized both Bush and Obama) free of the ethical and legal constraints of a serving officer. So I pulled the plug, said aloha to the Army that I loved, and retired. Since then, I have been published more than a dozen times. It was well worth it.
Those who have accepted the president's commission as officers of our country's armed forces know that this is what is expected. Gen. Mixon knows this, too. He has not set a good example for the officers that he commands. The officer corps waits and wonders what the general will do to reclaim our honor.