Monday 28 June 2010
The New York Times' David Brooks minimized General Stanley McChrystal's remarks in Rolling Stone magazine as "kvetching." For the Times' Maureen Dowd, McChrystal and his "smart-aleck aides" were merely engaging in "towel-snapping" jocularity. The Washington Post editorial board noted that Afghan President Hamid Karzai called McChrystal the "best commander of the war," and concluded that the general should be retained as the Afghan commander. The Post and Times' editorial boards have called for the replacement of President Obama's key civilian advisors on
There is no more important task in political governance than making sure that civilian control of the military is not compromised and that the military remains subordinate to political authority. Unfortunately, President Obama has demonstrated too much deference to the military, retaining the Bush administration's secretary of defense as his own; appointing too many retired and active-duty general officers to such key civilian positions as national security adviser and intelligence tsar; and making the Pentagon's budget sacrosanct in an age of restraint.
The reappointment of General David Patraeus as commander of forces in Afghanistan places the general on an extremely high political plateau that makes it more difficult to discuss alternatives to the failed counter-insurgency strategy, and places too much influence in the hands of the Pentagon on decisions involving war and peace. President Obama recognized the McChrystal affair as a challenge to civilian control and leadership, but the appointment of Petraeus enhances the political power of the military and could become an obstacle to the president's exercise of civilian control in the near term. Too many influence people view Petraeus as the answer to our Afghan problems; he isn't.
The imbalance in civilian-military influence is far more threatening to the interests of the
The contemptuous remarks of McChrystal and his aides are very familiar to anyone who has spent a great deal of time around senior military officers, particularly special operations officers. Upon arrival at the
Special operations officers are even more conservative than their traditional brethren, and it is noteworthy that the nickname for all commanders of the Joint Special Operations Command, like McChrystal, is "The Pope." Ironically, McChrystal is a registered Democrat, a social liberal, and an Obama supporter in the 2008 election.
Key congressional figures and influential journalists are already calling for the resignation of the president's representative in Afghanistan, Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, who provided the White House with two important cables in November 2009 warning against any additional military deployments to
Eight months later, the situation in
It is time for President Obama to remind the Pentagon that decisions regarding national security must be made by civilian officials and that the service academies and the war colleges must stress the central importance of civilian control. During my 18 years at the
President Dwight D. Eisenhower's profound and prophetic Farewell Address in 1961 warned against the excesses of the military-industrial complex, and he also expressed the hope that his successors at the White House understood the demands of the military and the necessity for limiting and restraining those demands. Unfortunately, our most recent presidents in the wake of the end of the Cold War have not been willing to limit the influence of the military and have placed too much power in the hands of the Pentagon. President Obama must take note.
Melvin A. Goodman is national security and intelligence columnist for Truthout. He is senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and adjunct professor of government at
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs