Retired General on ABC Rejects Premise Political Pressure Influences Military Leaders

Picking up on President Bush’s assurance, in his Tuesday night State of the Union address, that military decisions in Iraq will be made by military leaders, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews and Joe Scarborough rejected the notion of any such military independence, but during ABC’s coverage, when Charles Gibson similarly questioned if the military will be able to determine troop levels, retired General Jack Keane, Vice Chief of Staff of U.S. Army from 1999-2003, maintained that the feared political pressure is an illusion. Matthews asserted that the Generals in Iraq were not “really given the freedom to say how many troops they needed because when Shinseki said this is going to take a couple of hundred thousand troops, not a hundred thousand troops, he was cashiered. So this idea that these guys are free to think out loud, I thought, has been yet to be proven." Scarborough echoed: “They parrot, for the most part, the Generals and the Admirals, 99 percent of them parrot” the Pentagon. Keane contended on ABC that the idea that “the military commanders are under some kind of pressure from the administration” is false and military commanders will “call the shots as they see them.” (Transcripts follow.)

The MRC’s Brad Wilmouth noticed this discussion, during MSNBC’s three-hour post speech Hardball, from about 10:11pm EST:
Joe Scarborough: "Now, I thought it was very interesting also, the part of the speech where there was the biggest division seemed to be where the President said we were winning the war in Iraq, and then he followed up and said military decisions are going to be made by military leaders and not politicians in Washington, D.C. Obviously, we all immediately thought of Lyndon Johnson in the White House picking bombing targets during Vietnam. Democrats stayed seated, Republicans stood up."

Chris Matthews: "You know what I thought at that time? I thought I didn't think any of these Generals over there were really given the freedom to say how many troops they needed because when Shinseki said this is going to take a couple of hundred thousand troops, not a hundred thousand troops, he was cashiered. So this idea that these guys are free to think out loud, I thought, has been yet to be proven."

Scarborough: "And that's the thing that always irritated me on the Armed Services Committee where you'd have the Generals come up and they'd be speaking for the President. It was Bill Clinton when I was on the Armed Services Committee. Now it's George Bush. They parrot, for the most part, the Generals and the Admirals, 99 percent of them parrot what the Pentagon and what the-"

Matthews: "Or else."

Scarborough: "Or else, and what the President wants."

During ABC’s coverage, a little bit past 10:30pm EST, Charles Gibson asked his guest:

"The President said a couple of things, one, he said we are on the offensive in Iraq with a clear plan for victory. I wonder if military leaders really sense that there is a clear plan for victory. The military leaders that you know that are actually over in the theater. And secondly, he said those military commanders will make the decisions on when to withdraw, not the politicians in Washington. He got huge applause for that. But is that really true? Will they say to the President when it's time to go out?"

Retired General Jack Keane, Vice Chief of Staff of U.S. Army 1999-2003, from in front of a fireplace at a remote location: "Let me take the last one first. It's been sort of conventional thinking that the military commanders are under some kind of pressure from the administration, particularly Secretary Rumsfeld, imposing their will on them and somehow they're coopting their free thinking about what really is the situation and when should we withdraw the troops. The fact of the matter is that those commanders who I know personally, are absolutely standup people. They're going to call the shots as they see them, as the American people would expect them to do so. And that's what they've been doing all along."

Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center