Saturday, April 15, 2006

The American relationship between civilian leadership and the military

Two excellent articles on the ongoing is-Rumsfeld-the-guy-for-the-job debate spurred on by some retired flag and general officers.

From Andrew J. Bacevich, a professor of international relations at Boston University, we find this essay.
In one sense, the unedifying spectacle of disenchanted generals publicly attacking their erstwhile boss does serve a useful purpose. It reveals the dirty little secret that the Pentagon has attempted to conceal ever since Vietnam: At the upper echelons of the national security establishment, relations between soldiers and civilians are mired in dysfunction.

A relationship that requires candor and mutual respect is instead based on mistrust and manipulation. The rituals of deference and warm regard displayed at news conferences or on ceremonial occasions can no longer conceal this reality.

An effective partnership between the brass and their civilian masters implies balance. When it comes to conducting the fight, politicians ought to allow their generals a certain autonomy. When it comes to defining a war's purpose and establishing its parameters, the generals must recognize that the authority of the politicians is supreme.
Supreme? Read on.
BUT IN THEIR eagerness to settle scores, Rumsfeld's pursuers are flirting with ideas that can only be regarded as subversive. Newbold, for one, has resurrected the notion that a senior officer's primary obligation lies not to those atop the chain of command but to the Constitution.

This theory last surfaced during the Korean War, when Gen. Douglas MacArthur publicly derided the proposition that soldiers "owe primary allegiance and loyalty to those who temporarily exercise the authority of the executive branch." In citing a higher allegiance, MacArthur was attempting to justify the flagrant insubordination that had cost him his job. Wrong in 1951, MacArthur's theory is equally wrong today. To grant even the most narrowly drawn exceptions to the principle of civilian control is to open up a Pandora's box of complications.
And then there's this piece by Scott Shane over at the New York Times following General Peter Pace's recent comments in support of the Secretary.
"This is what the chairman of the Joint Chiefs is expected to do by tradition and law," said Dennis E. Showalter, a military historian at Colorado College who has taught at the Air Force Academy and West Point. Short of submitting his own resignation, General Pace had little choice but to offer a public show of support, Mr. Showalter said.

"If he had not spoken out, he would have been making a very strong statement," he said.

The idea that civilian leaders, as representatives of the people, should have the ultimate say in how the country's military power is wielded dates to colonial resentment of British rule and is embedded in the Constitution.

Tensions between civilian leaders and the military brass are routine and occasionally erupt into public view. But the principle of civilian supremacy has never been seriously challenged; the last plotters of a military coup d'├ętat in American history were disgruntled officers faced down by General George Washington at Newburgh, N.Y., in 1783.
What to do? Dr. Bacevich suggests "serious and sustained legislative attention" in the form of a Congressional joint committee "to evaluate the war's conduct."

Just what we need: more hot air.

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