Dazzled by America's blitzkrieg victory over Iraq, Sen. Bob Kasten, R-Wis., has put forth a resolution that the architects of this triumph, Gens. Colin L. Powell and H. Norman Schwarzkopf, be promoted to five-star rank.
"This is the least we can do," he said.
Actually, the Congress can't do it. Mr. Kasten's resolution asks President Bush to offer such appointments, which the Senate would speedily approve. Obviously, Democrats being castigated as wimps on the war would have a hard time opposing the rush to heap honors on the commanders of America's legions as they come home to Rome.
In a recent television interview, General Schwarzkopf was asked by an adoring Barbara Walters whether wearing five stars would mean a great deal to him.
His self-deprecatory, "aw shucks" reply didn't slam the door on the idea, but his answer hinted at a good reason to pause.
"I can't even begin to visualize myself as a five-star general. . . . When I think of the people who are five-star generals, I can't even see myself standing in their shadow," he said, referring to the illustrious shadows cast by George C. Marshall, Douglas MacArthur, Dwight Eisenhower, Henry "Hap" Arnold and Omar Bradley, the only officers to hold the five-star rank of "generals of the Army."
General Schwarzkopf was right.Except for Bradley, who got his fifth star in 1950, Eisenhower et al. won five-star rank in 1944, with World War 11 still on. Why create five-star generals when the war with Iraq already is over?
Moreover, our country was at stake in World War II. We could have lost. The outcome of the war with Iraq was never in doubt. Give Messrs. Schwarzkopf and Powell gold medals for pinning down a static Iraqi force and going around it. They fought the war correctly, but it would have been a disaster if they hadn't. Nor should we overlook the irony of promoting two Army generals for a war won mostly in the air.
Ike was given five-star rank to give him more clout in dealing with Britain's Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. As supreme commander, the four-star Ike had been in the awkward position of being outranked by the commander of his ground forces.
For similar reasons,Bradley got a fifth star in 1950. Ike was commanding all U.S. forces in Europe, and it was deemed inappropriate that Bradley, as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, should be outranked by a general in the field.
Mr. Kasten is proposing to get around this same problem in 1991 by promoting General Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, along with General Schwarzkopf.
However, as a field commander, General Schwarzkopf led corps (groups of divisions), whereas Ike led armies (groups of corps) and ultimately army groups totaling more than 3.5 million troops.
Just the combat engineers in Ike's massive command numbered more than 320,000. General Schwarzkopf's entire command topped out at 540,000 U.S. troops.
Moreover,for Generals Schwarzkopf and Powell,promotion to five star-rank could complicate any political ambitions they may harbor.
Appointment to five-star rank is permanent. If, say, General Schwarzkopf ran successfully for the Senate, as some have suggested, he would have to resign his commission to avoid the constitutional bar against holding another federal office while serving in Congress. By resigning, he would forfeit $100,000 a year in pay.
Eisenhower set the precedent. He resigned in July 1952, and was reappointed a general of the Army in March 1961, after his two terms as president.
General Schwarzkopf would have to do likewise. But, then, neither he nor Colin Powell aspired to be generals for the money.
David Evans wrote this commentary for the Chicago Tribune.