Over a week ago, I heard Col. David Hunt tick off which feeds were going to which operational headquarters and which commanders and politicos were watching the carnage in real-time. Today he was on New England radio again and he said (paraphrasing):
If the State Department tells you, a general, no go, you call the New York Times immediately. But we don't have that kind of officer anymore.A young USAF intel analyst called a morning talk show in D.C. to explain the FLASH messaging system triggers and the protocols that would move message traffic up to the president in cases where an ambassador was missing or under attack. The host wanted to argue with him on the subject of Why didn't the generals act and the young analyst took great pains to explain to him what a U.S. general is, in fact, and that it would be very foolish to expect such action. The host could not absorb the information.
The difference between a Civil War general and a 2012 general is that a Civil War general needed significant political sponsorship to gain his rank (even at one star) and he needed sustained sponsorship to remain in command. A modern general needs political approval to serve at the three and four star level - the one and two star guys are selected by other generals, including the political powerhouse three and four star men.
We confuse ourselves as a culture by perpetuating the nonsense that the Civil War sidelined political generals in favor of technocrats who could perform. Generals are highly political, highly sensitive to politics, and could not achieve rank or function bureaucratically without all of the dark arts associated with politics.
Wesley Clark, to take an example, is not a "Clinton general" because he speaks out in favor of Clinton causes. He is a "Clinton general" because Clinton made him. Every four star combatant commander is a man made by the White House and/or Congress. Every modern general praises Robert E. Lee and Ulysses Grant (both were highly political generals, BTW) with his mouth while acting the Benjamin Butler with his other parts.
If we could fix Civil War history on this score, it would advance the general understanding of what a general is and does.
p.s. See this report on a CIA press release as well. The headline and analysis have reversed the meaning of the release.
Update, 10/27: Scalp number one.