Feature

How they see us

Is civilian control of the military passé?

Has the U.S. Congress no authority left at all? asked Switzerland’s Le Temps in an editorial. Voters nine months ago gave Democrats control of both houses of Congress “with an obvious mandate to bring the boys home from Iraq.” Yet they still haven’t set a deadline to pull out the troops. Instead, as last week’s events in Washington proved, the feckless Democrats continue to allow the “unelected military” to set the terms of a debate on whether a paltry increase of 30,000 extra troops has been a success. The sight of so many lawmakers showing excessive deference to the sparkly medals on Gen. David Petraeus’ chest was discouraging, to say the least. “It’s as if American democratic institutions have admitted their incompetence”—or irrelevance.

Congress is just following President Bush’s lead—and passing the buck, said Denmark’s Politiken. “It is President Bush, and he alone, who is responsible for the U.S. presence in Iraq, now and for the rest of his term of office.” But by pretending that the decisions rest not with him but with the military, Bush forces the Democrats to criticize a respected general. That makes them look unpatriotic, as if they don’t support the troops—the gravest sin possible in America today. For Bush, the maneuver is clever politicking, but it comes at a grave price. “The principle of the civilian leadership’s supremacy over the generals is being weakened.”

Still, you can’t say that Petraeus is a Republican stooge, said Dietmar Ostermann in Germany’s Frankfurter Rundschau. Ultimately, his report disappointed “both sides” in Washington. The general nixed any possibility of a speedy U.S. exit from Iraq, saying the resulting bloodbath would be a security nightmare. But he also ruled out military success, at least any time soon. Perhaps most notably, Petraeus did not once parrot the “prevailing Republican line” that the problems in Iraq are “the Iraqis’ own fault.”

It doesn’t matter whether Petraeus is a stooge or the noblest of men, said Sylvain Cypel in France’s Le Monde. The point is that Americans trust him more than they trust their political leaders—and that is simply dangerous. When MoveOn.org, a leftist pressure group, took out a childish ad in The New York Times calling Petraeus “Betray-us,” Democrats as well as Republicans fell over themselves to praise the general and insist that they backed him 100 percent. The latest poll shows that 68 percent of Americans believe that “military leaders” have the best hope of “solving” Iraq—compared with just 21 percent who picked Congress and 5 percent who picked Bush. An America that prefers generals to elected officials is a new development—and an unnerving one.

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