Thursday, August 19, 2010
Bernard Finel has a very good post on civil-military relations - a topic he's written very often on. His main points are concern over the politicization of generals driving policy, that blame doesn't really matter, that presidents can fire generals but doing so is tricky, and that presidents often use the uniforms to see wars. I have to say that I find Bernard's arguments compelling and on the mark.
Sure, generals are often over-political and too often drive policy and therefore there is an imbalance in what we should consider "normal" civ-mil relations. And he's right that everyone is to blame: the generals should know better and the politicians should have tighter reins. But I think he's leaving one point out: the nature of military leadership. U.S. military doctrine demands that leaders act based on their best interpretation of their commander's intent. If that intent is nebulous enough, subordinate leaders have wide flexibility of action. And that's where we've come to in Afghanistan.
Our Afghan strategy, if you could call it such, is horribly vague to the point of uselessness, which I see has a failure in leadership at the highest levels here in DC. Any general, with 30-plus years of leadership experience, will naturally fill that void with how he best interprets his commander's intent. In this case it seems to simply means: win in Afghanistan. So I think that is what Generals McChrystal and Petraeus were and are attempting to do. I don't see this as a power grab by the generals and I don't necessarily see the President as trying to use them to sell the war. Nor do I see it as a crisis - yet. But the civilians aren't providing the leadership they should and the generals are filling that void as their nature dictates they should. The only solution to this particular imbalance, in my mind, is not to fire generals, but instead create a viable strategy and policy and provide the generals the leadership they need and deserve.
UPDATE: Adam Elkus, via Twitter (@Simlaughter): "To some degree I think the scope of contemporary doctrine often reflects this strategic uncertainty" - This is quite likely. And if he's right, I think the probability of a civ-mil disaster is looming.