The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have forced civil-military relations in the United States to grow up and leave behind a naive adolescence that prevailed at the start of the last decade. Before the wars began, the "normal" theory of civil-military relations, described in Eliot Cohen's book Supreme Command) still ruled. Under the "normal" theory, civilian leadership determines war policy and then leaves the generals and admirals alone to run the war. Thankfully those days are gone; hardly a month passes without the secretary of defense or some other senior figure heading out to the field, questioning not just generals, but also colonels and sergeants about their tactics. Likewise, soldiers now deeply immerse themselves in questions about the connections between policy objectives and military strategy, the evidence for which can be found every day at websites such as Small Wars Journal. By dropping the normal theory and letting policymakers and military officers into each other's "lanes," the result has been a generally smarter use of military power.
Friday, March 12, 2010
I don't typically get a lot of satisfaction out of Robert Haddick's "This Week at War" columns at Foreign Policy. It may be that I spend enough time at SWJ that most of what Haddick covers amounts to a recap, or it may be a product of the lowest-common-denominator sort of writing that FP seems to encourage. Recognizing that "This Week at War" is expressly designed to deliver a dumbed-down summary of SWJ's original content to a more general audience -- as evidenced by the ludicrous subhead "What the four-stars are reading" -- I suppose I ought not fault either Haddick or the site for that.
But there are a couple of recurring themes that jump out at me and rub me the wrong way a bit, like the sort of low-grade, snide China hawkery or the off-putting suggestion that Haddick's got an exclusive handle on what constitutes "correct" civil-military relations. It's on this latter subject that this week's edition focuses.
Really? When did that happen? I'm shocked by this assertion. What evidence do we have of any "smarter use of military power" over recent months or years? It's hard to believe that Haddick could be talking about the process through which President McChry... er, Obama arrived at his Afghanistan escalation plan. (Bernard Finel wrote extensively on this subject late last year. I don't want to suggest that I agree completely with Bernard on this subject, because I don't, but only to present the alternative case to what Haddick suggests is "mature" and "smart.")
Where else has the use of military power been "generally smarter"? Is it the fact that the Obama administration has wholeheartedly accepted the dictums of the COIN crowd in Afghanistan? Or the refusal to get directly involved in Yemen and Somalia? Or decisions about the withdrawal timeline in Iraq, which have been pretty well settled for a while now?
What evidence is there, really, to suggest as Haddick does that "U.S. civil-military relations are more mature" now than ten years ago?
For me, an advancement in U.S. civil-military relations would constitute the following: (1) politicians learning how and when the capabilities possessed by the military can be used to effect certain desired end-states, and taking the proper decisions with regard to funding and organization to facilitate the military bringing these capabilities to bear; and (2) military officers expressing an understanding for and appreciation of the ways that military action can effect these changes, that is to say, a better understanding of the linkage between the operational and the strategic, between design and result. I don't know how you measure these sorts of changes, but then, I don't know exactly on what basis Haddick asserts that positive change has already taken place.
Haddick cites Mackubin Owens in calling for a closer integration between policy and strategy, which all sounds good to me. Maybe we all agree and I'm just too dense to figure it out.