Tuesday, December 6, 2016

All The President's Generals


45's announcement that he intends to nominate multiple retired Generals from those who fear that installing those cats would jepardize civilian control of the military. Those critics are mistaken. Previous service in uniform shouldn’t disqualify nominees, and, as the Iraq war demonstrated, civilians with no military experience are perfectly capable of making catastrophic mistakes themselves.

It is a mystery how a phrase that is both as ungrammatical and incorrect as “civilian control of the military” has become so widely accepted. First the grammar—“military” is an adjective, not a noun. The institution is the “armed forces.” When used correctly, the adjective raises real issues—“the military mind,” or “the military-industrial complex,” for example. Used in sloppy fashion as a noun, the word evokes a somewhat sinister blob of an institution, attitude, culture, and pressure group.

U.S. political leaders have traditionally trusted our military with a latitude rare in liberal democracies, because our military has rigorously disciplined itself to exercise that influence only to advance the president’s decisions. Once the civilian leadership has set policy, the military knows to salute and support the policy or resign their commissions. Those are the only two options.

And why shouldn’t the country’s most informed defense experts transition to civilian roles, provided they perform civilian functions and are rigorously vetted in congressional confirmation? Forty-five years into an all-volunteer force, and with small numbers relative to our population, few Americans are directly affected by decisions about our military forces. It is not particularly surprising they look to this widely admired institution for understanding, and have confidence the institution will act with integrity. Nor is it surprising that veterans feel a strong obligation to contribute to better defense policies because they care deeply about the United States and about the young men and women putting their lives on the line to defend it.

Civil-military relations in America remain an unequal relationship, though: political leaders have a responsibility to seek unvarnished military counsel, but they are under no obligation to take that advice. We elect national leaders to aggregate our societal preferences, including whether to go to war, and how much of blood, treasure, and effort to expend on these wars.