Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

Over the Horizon: Warning Signs in U.S. Civil-Military Relations [Shades of "Oathkeepers?"]
World Politics Review ^ | October 20, 2010 | Professor Robert Farley

Posted on 10/21/2010 11:54:26 PM PDT by 2ndDivisionVet

In June, Rolling Stone helped bring down Gen. Stanley McChrystal by publishing "The Runaway General," a Michael Hastings article depicting McChrystal's staff as contemptuous of civilian authority. Last month, Bob Woodward's "Obama's Wars" suggested that the uniformed military had boxed President Barack Obama into an escalation of the Afghanistan War. In tandem, the publications re-awakened concerns about the health of civil-military relations in the United States. Although the military has not directly challenged civilian authority, some observers worried that contempt in the ranks and the effort to control policy in Afghanistan could spell trouble for civilian supremacy.

The Winter 2010 issue of Joint Force Quarterly did nothing to reassure them. An organ of the National Defense University Press, JFQ typically publishes short articles on joint or integrated military operations. But the Winter 2010 issue offered one titled, "Breaking Ranks," by Marine Corps Lt. Col. Andrew R. Milburn, who argued that military officers have a moral duty to the Constitution, rather than to the civilian leadership of the United States. Accordingly, officers have a responsibility to openly disobey "immoral" orders, regardless of their legality. Milburn characterized this responsibility as a check on foolish or impractical civilian authority, and as part of a remedy for congressional abdication of foreign policy responsibility.

Milburn's article met harsh criticism from both civilian and military sources. Lt. Col. Paul Yingling referred (.pdf) to Milburn's essay as "chilling" and "regrettable." Dr. Richard Kohn of the University of North Carolina called it "an attack on military professionalism that would unhinge the armed forces of the United States."

Milburn's argument collapses under close scrutiny. Although constitutional interpretation in the United States does not rest solely with the Supreme Court, it goes without saying that assigning each and every military officer the responsibility of constitutional interpretation threatens the breakdown not only of civilian control, but also of the entire military hierarchy. Milburn's argument also makes no clear distinction with regard to the rank of officers obligated to disobey orders. Conceivably, junior officers could interpret the orders of senior officers to be legal but morally repugnant, thus further disrupting the chain of command. Milburn's criteria for disobeying an order include the well-being of the nation, of the military, and of the officer's subordinates. But all of these are political judgments that by their very nature are contestable. People disagree over both means and ends with regard to the well-being of the nation. Individuals also disagree as to the value of the military as a means of guaranteeing the security of the United States. Indeed, the very purpose of the civilian political process is to resolve these disagreements.

Milburn ignores these truths, and as a result, rather than leading to a disciplined military carefully subordinated to appropriate political authority, his schema would produce cacophony.

Milburn's essay represents just the latest warning about the state of civilian control of the military in the United States. Concerns about the health of civil-military relations smoldered throughout the Cold War, flaring most famously in Gen. Douglas MacArthur's removal by President Harry Truman during the Korean War. In the 1980s and 1990s, concerns emerged over the "Weinberger Doctrine" (later known as the Powell Doctrine), which placed informal limits on the ability of civilian policymakers to order military action. The 1990s also saw acts of near-open insubordination from officers who were contemptuous of President Bill Clinton and angered by his efforts to integrate gays into the U.S. military.

Since 2001, civil-military disputes have grown more heated. University of Notre Dame Professor Michael Desch locates the source of the most recent threats to civil-military relations in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. Desch blames both civilians and military officers, arguing that Bush administration civilians ran roughshod over military advice in Iraq, while senior military personnel have tried to severely constrain presidential decision-making in Afghanistan. Desch also suggests that the COIN strategies adopted in Iraq and Afghanistan have exacerbated the problem by giving the military an explicitly political role. Soldiers in Afghanistan are expected not simply to break things, but also to rebuild them -- including the country's political order. Desch's case is supported by Hastings and Woodward's depiction of the situation in Afghanistan and the process through which the escalation decision was made.

However, I am not as convinced as Desch of the centrality of COIN to the problem of civil-military relations. Rather, I suspect that the larger problem lies with the civilian concession of an ever-greater share of policymaking responsibility to the military. The United States military now conducts, on a daily basis, a huge number of tasks normally termed "political." These tasks include day-to-day management of institutional relations with scores of foreign countries, as well as assistance, training, and disaster relief. The military has become more knowledgeable about and capable of such tasks than its civilian agency counterparts. Washington Post journalist Dana Priest chronicled the expansion of the military's political responsibilities in her 2003 book, "The Mission." Combatant commanders have become, as several commentators have noted, akin to imperial proconsuls in their areas of responsibility, controlling vast resources that dwarf those available to the State Department and other civilian agencies. The assignment of political roles to military officers invites, and indeed almost requires, a breakdown in the traditional conception of civil-military relations.

Charles Dunlap foresaw the potential for just such a breakdown as early as 1992, when he penned "Origins of the Coup of 2012" (.pdf). Set in the aftermath of a fictional coup, Dunlap's article identifies the expansion of military responsibility into civilian realms as the primary cause of the disaster. In particular, Dunlap warned of a civilian inclination to use military forces in humanitarian and nation-building roles, tasks that would invariably involve the uniformed military in civilian governance. Of course, Dunlap also warned that the military would take over the civilian policing function in the United States, and that Congress would attempt to unify the military services. Neither of these "predictions" have yet come to pass. Moreover, the civil-military difficulties in the United States remain substantially short of a coup.

Nevertheless, Dunlap understood the potential problems that a global foreign policy based on military stakeholders presented for civil-military relations.

There is, to be sure, a certain dangerous seductiveness in Milburn's conception of military obligation. The idea of an apolitical force dedicated only to service to the nation appeals to both left and right. In France, Turkey and elsewhere, the military is perceived as a defender of democracy from internal as well as external threats. In the later years of the Bush administration, some hoped that the uniformed military would effectively veto any plan to attack Iran. A professional military dedicated to democratic principles could provide the check of last resort in times of political distress. But this hope, while understandable, carries with it a basic contempt for democratic decision-making. A military given the responsibility for defending the constitutional order cannot always be trusted to conduct itself as we would like.

Other NATO members do not seem to suffer from a crisis of civil-military relations, in spite of their military commitments in Afghanistan. By contrast, although pursuit of a global military presence is not quite unique to the United States, the U.S. certainly maintains the world's most far-flung defense framework. That raises the possibility that poor civil-military relations may be an unavoidable consequence of the decision to maintain a large standing military with global responsibilities. If so, that consequence may remain tolerable for now. Isolated articles in defense journals and complaints about civilian leaders indicate trouble, but do not constitute a crisis. Even the military's positioning over escalation in Afghanistan took place against the backdrop of long-term civilian debate.

However, warning signs are warning signs, and American strategic thinkers would be well-advised to take seriously the institutional consequences of global military engagement.

********

Dr. Robert Farley is an assistant professor at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky. His interests include national security, military doctrine, and maritime affairs. He blogs at Lawyers, Guns and Money and Information Dissemination. His weekly WPR column, Over the Horizon, appears every Wednesday.


TOPICS: Editorial; Foreign Affairs; Government; Politics/Elections
KEYWORDS: afghanistan; babycheyenne; constitution; iran; iraq; military; oathkeepers; obama; wot
Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-2021-34 next last
If the generals, admirals and other officers were contemptuous of President Clinton, can you imagine their feelings about the present occupant of the Oval Office?
1 posted on 10/21/2010 11:54:28 PM PDT by 2ndDivisionVet
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: 2ndDivisionVet

This could be very dangerous....


2 posted on 10/21/2010 11:58:20 PM PDT by JSteff ((((It was ALL about SCOTUS. Most forget about that and HAVE DOOMED us for a generation or more.))))
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: JSteff

And the reason our military personnel should not be bothered by Presidential and Congressional incompetence is?

Incompetence that results in death and injury?


3 posted on 10/22/2010 12:06:59 AM PDT by OldArmy52 (Obama & the "Dem Party" have proved America is ready for Fascism/Socialism.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

Comment #4 Removed by Moderator

To: JSteff

Dangerous to the survival of America.

We cannot allow a man (whoremonger) like Bill Clinton to lose the nuclear codes and the likes of this America hating president to be in charge of national security.


5 posted on 10/22/2010 12:20:41 AM PDT by Carley (For those who fought for it, freedom has a flavor the protected will never know.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: 2ndDivisionVet

LTC Milburn is correct. Military Officers takes an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic, and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same. It seems that some take it seriously and pillow biters like Dr. Farley don’t like it. I think Dr. farley is either a moron or a political hack.


6 posted on 10/22/2010 12:21:25 AM PDT by jospehm20
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: 2ndDivisionVet
Oh my goodness, we better have some sort of civilian group of folks as large and well funded as the military as a counterbalance!!

We can call it the Social Alternative, or SA and give them a nice uniform and everything. They could patrol elections to make sure no one is intimidating voters, help control the situation when groups show up in DC to protest, and even point out which businesses are guilty of being evil price gouging capitalists. Aren't you glad we have a fearless leader who already saw the need?

And democrat thugs call other people Nazis, jeez. It looks like the kickoff of the campaign ensure that the military doesn't take their oath to protect and defend the Constitution to heart and confront these bastards.

Regards

7 posted on 10/22/2010 12:23:36 AM PDT by Rashputin (Obama is already insane and sequestered on golf courses or vacations so you won't know it)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Neil E. Wright

Bump...and ping...


8 posted on 10/22/2010 12:29:44 AM PDT by dcwusmc (A FREE People have no sovereign save Almighty GOD!!! III OK We are EVERYWHERE)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: 2ndDivisionVet

There is far more within the uniformed ranks that spell trouble for the military culture. The US Coast Guard will reward a member who recruits a new Coastie. If the recruit is white, a day of shore leave is awarded. But, if a non-white is recruited, a Letter Of Commendation is awarded. This letter is of more consequence as it can add an additional point to promotion scores, etc. If the senior offices and NCOs do not step in and willfully allow political correctness to prevail, there goes the an honorable service, part of America’s “Fundamental Transformation”.


9 posted on 10/22/2010 12:36:15 AM PDT by Dapper 26
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: 2ndDivisionVet
That raises the possibility that poor civil-military relations may be an unavoidable consequence of the decision to maintain a large standing military with global responsibilities electing a communist ideologue to be commander and chief.
10 posted on 10/22/2010 12:41:50 AM PDT by dajeeps
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: 2ndDivisionVet
If the generals, admirals and other officers were contemptuous of President Clinton, can you imagine their feelings about the present occupant of the Oval Office?

--------------------------

Barry: 'See, I ended the war, give me my due!'

What a P.O.S. PUTZ!

Obama delivers remarks-2sm

11 posted on 10/22/2010 1:07:40 AM PDT by BobP (The piss-stream media - Never to be watched again in my house)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: 2ndDivisionVet

There have been times of late, that to not have contempt for some the actions of our supreme commanders, would have been contemptous.


12 posted on 10/22/2010 1:22:03 AM PDT by LetMarch (If a man knows the right way to live, and does not live it, there is no greater coward. (Anonymous)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: 2ndDivisionVet

http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/politics/Troops-chafe-at-restrictive-rules-of-engagement_-talks-with-Taliban-1226055-105202284.html


13 posted on 10/22/2010 1:31:35 AM PDT by MestaMachine (Only the sane ask why. The insane simply are.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Yehuda

I agree. That line is revealing of Farley’s agenda, which is to constrain the military from actions not approved by the left.

It’s also interesting that he fails to even mention the use of the courts to override DADT. If he is really concerned about civilian/military relationships there is hardly a better example of institutional disrespect for the military. We have a Federal judge with no military experience or training arbitrarily and unilaterally deciding the impact of a decision on readiness, troop morale, recruitment, and retention. And demanding the military submit to her dictates with no recourse.


14 posted on 10/22/2010 1:43:48 AM PDT by Da Mav
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 4 | View Replies]

To: Yehuda

I agree. That line is revealing of Farley’s agenda, which is to constrain the military from actions not approved by the left.

It’s also interesting that he fails to even mention the use of the courts to override DADT. If he is really concerned about civilian/military relationships there is hardly a better example of institutional disrespect for the military. We have a Federal judge with no military experience or training arbitrarily and unilaterally deciding the impact of a decision on readiness, troop morale, recruitment, and retention. And demanding the military submit to her dictates with no recourse.


15 posted on 10/22/2010 1:43:52 AM PDT by Da Mav
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 4 | View Replies]

To: Rashputin

“We can call it the Social Alternative, or SA and give them a nice uniform and everything”

We can call it Social Services, or SS.


16 posted on 10/22/2010 2:30:12 AM PDT by rickb308 (Nothing good ever came from someone yelling "Allah Snackbar")
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 7 | View Replies]

To: Yehuda

Y, thx for the tip on this wanker, Farley. I especially like the video with Farley and Reason.
http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2010/10/with-the-blogging-and-the-heads#comments


17 posted on 10/22/2010 2:39:42 AM PDT by iopscusa (El Vaquero. (SC Lowcountry Cowboy))
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 4 | View Replies]

To: rickb308
We already have Social Services, that's the bunch that ensures all the plantation dwellers are looked after and provided with just enough to ensure they'll be around to vote for the right folks in the next election and not getting any silly ideas like taking care of themselves.

Regards

Oh, they help unwed mothers, too, in order to make sure there isn't any overcrowding on the plantation by having too many little plantation patsies born.

18 posted on 10/22/2010 2:43:53 AM PDT by Rashputin (Obama is already insane and sequestered on golf courses or vacations so you won't know it)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 16 | View Replies]

To: 2ndDivisionVet

Interesting article. Statists, Globalists, One Worlders must be quaking if military goes “Oath Keeper” en masse.


19 posted on 10/22/2010 2:44:23 AM PDT by UCFRoadWarrior (They don't let you build churches in Mecca)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Egon

Reference bump


20 posted on 10/22/2010 2:47:43 AM PDT by RhoTheta (Wipe out capitalism, no more money. You following me camera guy?)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]


Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-2021-34 next last

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794
FreeRepublic.com is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson