What role should military leaders play in the contentious world
of partisan political debate? It's a minefield the top brass must
negotiate carefully as Obama pushes to continue an Afghanistan war that
is more popular with his Republican opponents than Democratic
supporters. General Stanley McChrystal, the military's chief in
Afghanistan, has fallen victim to politicization
by both sides, compromising his political objectivity (though not his
military leadership). Jim Jones, a retired general and Obama's national
security advisor, publicly rebuked
McChrystal for his dissent. Now David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central
Command, enters a political zone: the formerly vocal "face" of Bush's
Iraq surge is much more silent
under Obama, inviting speculation as to whether there is a political game at play.
- President Tops the Chain of Command Michael Cohen wonders
why Republicans forget the Constitution when the White House and
military clash. "This country is not ruled by a military junta; we are
ruled by elected
officials who make decisions about war and peace. General McChrystal
has offered his advice and recommendations to the president; now his
job in this particular strategic review is done - and the
Commander-in-Chief gets to make the decision on how to proceed," he
writes. "Now it should be noted that the placing of so much
the hands of Petraeus was largely a result of the White House and GOP
having such little credibility on Iraq that they needed a man in
uniform to seal the deal."
- Generals Don't Set Policy in Democracies Bruce Ackerman points out
in the Washington Post that federal law places civilian leadership
above the military. "As commanding general in Afghanistan, McChrystal
has no business making
such public pronouncements. Under law, he doesn't have the right to
attend the National Security Council as it decides our strategy," he
writes, calling it "a plain violation of the principle of civilian
control" for "McChrystal to pressure the president in public to adopt
strategy." Ackerman notes that Obama asked McChrystal to be honest, but
confidential. "Future presidents won't be so encouraging if they know
commanders might create political problems if they think that their
recommendations will be overruled. Instead, they will insist that their
commanders tell them only what they want to hear."
- Obama Shouldn't Decide Intra-Military Debates Michael Goldfarb argues
that the White House and Jim Jones are now deciding strategy issues
once left up to the military. "During the Bush administration, there
were legitimate debates about Iraq within the military about troop
numbers and strategy," he writes, citing debates over what strategy to
use in Iraq. "This time there is no debate going on within the
military. The debate
is entirely political and taking place entirely inside the White
House." Goldfarb slams Jones for helping the White House to work
against military leadership in "advancing Obama’s political agenda."
- Sec. Gates Warning McChrystal? Spencer Ackerman parses Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates's statement this morning as a warning to McChrystal not to stray. "Gates has fired a lot of
generals, including McChrystal’s
immediate predecessor, and so a meeting of hundreds of Army officers is
sure to get the message from the defense secretary that they had better
not try his patience if they’ve got a problem with the strategy
review." Ackerman says that the statement "designed to convey that
there isn’t a civilian/military split and the
Pentagon is not antagonizing and will not antagonize President Obama."
- Generals Dragged Into Political Fights Fred Kagan defends against politicians and pundits who would bash
or co-opt generals for political purposes. "The reality is that America’s
commanders over the last
eight years have consistently given their best professional military
advice, making the recommendations they thought would achieve the goals
set for them by their political masters," he writes. "The politicization of the
analysis of American generalship is one of the worst consequences of
the partisan excesses of the past several years. Whether it was Gen.
David Petraeus in 2007 or Gen. Stanley McChrystal today, far too many
commentators on both sides of the aisle have become comfortable saying
that commanders who offer recommendations the critics don’t like are
doing so because they have become captive of some ideology."
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