I sort of hate slippery slope arguments, but it seems to me that this is the very definition of a dangerous slippery slope. For example, would people be comfortable if Petraeus characterized an anti-war march as a threat to the US mission in Afghanistan? Or what if Petraeus condemned a Congressional vote to cut funding for a weapons program as a threat to US soldiers in the field? Such behavior would almost certainly overstep not just the letter of civil-military relations, but certainly the spirit. It's very hard to see how Petraeus's actions here are much different: well except for the fact that most people would generally agree that these folks in Florida are acting like complete jackasses - but acting like a jackass is a constitutionally protected right in this country.
Ackerman is unsure about the propriety of the general's remarks:
Michael deserves credit for sticking up for a principle and using a case that he clearly disagrees with to do it. On the one hand, it’s fair for people to bristle when an active-duty general goes outside of his lane to offer his opinion on a clearly civilian issue. On the other, I’m not convinced the slope slips as far as he’s convinced it slips. Petraeus has, for instance, offered the view that the American people are justifiably distressed when it comes to the trajectory of the war in Afghanistan. So it’s not as if the guy seeks to chill free speech.
Another example, it seems to me, was the general's and defense secretary's plea not to release the remaining photographs of the torture carried out by the Bush administration.
It was, of course, not a public plea, but it was made out of a legitimate concern that the images of atrocity could deeply wound the military mission and risk US lives.
I think what this reveals is something quite critical about this war. It is just as much in the psyche as it is on the battlefield. Petraeus gets this. Gates gets this. Obama gets this. This is a war that cannot be restricted to the strict battlefield, which itself is amorphous. And how Americans conduct themselves politically and culturally, the rhetoric they use, the symbols they invoke have a direct impact on our ability to win.
In my view, the general crossed a line. But he did so out of a sense of responsibility - as in his insistence on the importance of the Israel-Palestine question to the broader war. Alas, I see the American far right - in which I include the likely Republican candidates for president - crossing far worse lines of incitement out of irresponsibility and cheap politics. And then a farce like Palin - who wants more aggressive Israeli settlement in the West Bank and conflates the Cordoba complex with bin Laden - simultaneously declares her love for the troops.
And what is the price for her? It wins her votes. It flatters her vanity. It rouses the true believers. And it helps lose the war.