U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, says the nation needed Gen. David Petraeus to think for himself and challenge Bush administration failures in Iraq -- not soldier on as an "apologist" for what Harkin believes is a military-disabling and foreign policy-crippling debacle.
Harkin and U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.V., were the only two senators to recently vote against the appointment of Petraeus as commanding officer for Central Command, which oversees both Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Here’s one of the biggest apologists for our war in Iraq,” Harkin said in response to questions from Iowa Independent on a conference call with media.
Harkin said Petraeus either buys into a broken plan or is functioning as a blindly loyal general.
“Someone like that whose been so promotive of what we’ve been doing in Iraq, why should we reward that?” Harkin said. “Either that’s what he believes or he’s just following the orders of Bush. You might say, ‘well a military person is supposed to follow orders.’ Well, not necessarily. We expect more of our officers, especially high-ranking officers to exercise independent judgment.”
“We’ve had generals who have retired because they oppose Bush’s policies in Iraq,” Harkin said. “I have a lot of respect for that because I think some of those who retired felt that military this was not the right thing to do and it was ruining our military.”
Harkin, a Vietnam-era Navy pilot, said his vote on Petraues was specific to the man, not an indictment of the military or career officers. In an earlier interview he had suggested that U.S. Sen. John McCain's military family tree has him rooting in "dangerous" ground for responding to foreign policy matters.
“I was an officer in the military so I don’t have anything against the officer corps for crying out loud. There are a number of great officers in the military and I’ve met a lot of them. Not only are they smart and bright but I think they have a healthy outlook on the role of the military in terms of what we’re doing in the broader context of the world community.”
Harkin's views of war and chain of command issues, the need to challenge authority in the military in certain situations, were formed early in his career as a young aide for former U.S. Rep. Neal Smith, D-Iowa, during a trip to Vietnam.
As a staff member accompanying a congressional delegation to South Vietnam, he revealed to the world the infamous "tiger cages" inside a South Vietnamese prison camp at Con Son Island. Withstanding tremendous pressure to withhold the sensitive information, Tom's photographs and detailed account of the tiger cages were published in Life Magazine, exposing a cover-up and unearthing the shocking, inhuman conditions political prisoners were forced to endure. As a result, hundreds of tortured political prisoners were released.
This story cross-posted at Iowa Independent.com.