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Afghanistan and Gen. McChrystal's predicament
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swchandler



Joined: 08 Nov 1993
Posts: 5761

PostPosted: Tue Jun 22, 2010 5:28 pm    Post subject: Afghanistan and Gen. McChrystal's predicament Reply with quote

With all the recent news of the McChrystal article in the latest Rolling Stone, to include the upcoming Obama/McChrystal meeting tomorrow, there's been a lot of news and commentary coming out.

I thought this one by Bruce Ackerman in the LAT was an interesting take on the bigger picture, particularly in light of our rather dubious, never ending involvement waging war in the Islamic world.


"An Increasingly Politicized Military"

It is tempting to compare Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's criticism of Obama administration officials to Gen. Douglas MacArthur's defiance of President Truman during the Korean War. But something important has changed over the last 60 years. Although MacArthur challenged Truman, the larger officer corps was then thoroughly committed to principles of civilian control. But today, McChrystal's actions are symptomatic of a broader politicization of the military command.

During the early 20th century, strict nonpartisanship was the professional norm. The overwhelming majority of officers even refused to vote since this required them to think of themselves as partisans for the time it took to cast a secret ballot. As late as 1976, 55% of the higher ranks (majors and above) continued to identify as independents.

Vietnam marked a decisive change. With leading Democrats challenging the Cold War consensus, party politics began to threaten key military interests, and many officers began abandoning their detached stance. With the political rise of Ronald Reagan, the top rank of the officer corps moved from 33% Republican in 1976 to 53% in 1984. By 1996, 67% of the senior officer corps were Republicans, and only 7% were Democrats — the basic pattern continued through 2004.

If we look to the service academies, the future promises more politicization. A West Point survey taken in the run-up to the 2004 election indicates that 61% of the cadets who responded were Republicans, 12% were Democrats and the rest were independent. Almost half of the cadets said that "there was pressure to identify with a particular party as a West Point cadet." While Republican cadets tended to minimize this pressure, other cadets disagreed. Two-thirds of non-Republicans affirmed its existence, as did four-fifths of the small minority who identified themselves as Democrats (in a confidential survey).

Increasing partisanship places obvious pressure on the fundamentals of civilian control. But the officer corps doesn't have a firm grasp of basic principles. Studies over the last dozen years suggest that "a majority of active-duty officers believe that senior officers should 'insist' on making civilian officers accept their viewpoints"; and 65% of senior officers think it is OK to go public and advocate military policies they believe "are in the best interests of the United States." In contrast, only 29% believe that high-ranking civilians, rather than their military counterparts, "should have the final say on what type of military force to use."

Viewed against this background, it is hardly enough for President Obama to insist on McChrystal's resignation. He should take steps to invite the officer corps to rethink constitutional fundamentals. By all accounts, the curricula of the service academies and the war colleges give remarkably little attention to the central importance of civilian control. They do not systematically expose up-and-coming officers to intensive case studies and simulations designed to give them a sense of the principle's real-world implications.

This should be the aim of a canon of military ethics. Like the comparable canon of ethics for judges, it should presume that the officer corps is dedicated to the principles of constitutional government, but that these principles require clarification in the modern world. The primary aim should be the elaboration of context-sensitive guidelines for good practice, not to identify conduct for criminal punishment.

Defining the new canon cannot be the exclusive preserve of the military. The guidelines would have implications for civilian policymakers at the Pentagon, in the White House and on Capitol Hill. Real progress requires both civilian and military leaders to engage in a sustained effort at developing a realistic code of conduct.

The best way forward is through a presidential commission on civil-military relations. Leadership from the White House would signal the importance of the project and encourage the recruitment of top people. It would also suggest the right time frame for action: not a few months, not a few decades, but a couple of years of sustained discussion leading to a concrete proposal — which the president, as commander in chief, would then put into effect.

This ongoing project would serve as a fundamental response to the accelerating politicization of the military. The canons would provide the officer corps with something more than a set of practical guidelines. It would provoke a deeper reorientation to the entire question of civilian control. Through its active participation, the officer corps would be working with civilian society to construct a new military ethos.

Bruce Ackerman, a professor of law and political science at Yale University, is the author of the forthcoming book "The Decline and Fall of the American Republic."

Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times
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keycocker



Joined: 10 Jul 2005
Posts: 3322

PostPosted: Wed Jun 23, 2010 3:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I am told by my military relatives that you often do not vote in secret if you are in a war zone. Your ballot is faxed and it is possible that your senior officer can see how you vote. Plani and simple, though it didn't always happen, you felt at risk if you didn't vote for Bush,. It just wasn't wise to vote dem since you couldn't be sure. Many Dems took the safe path and did not vote. Unless you had strong feelings it seemed best to vote GOP if you wanted to advance your career.
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isobars



Joined: 12 Dec 1999
Posts: 14032

PostPosted: Wed Jun 23, 2010 12:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

keycocker wrote:
I am told by my military relatives that you often do not vote in secret if you are in a war zone. Your ballot is faxed and it is possible that your senior officer can see how you vote. Plani and simple, though it didn't always happen, you felt at risk if you didn't vote for Bush,. It just wasn't wise to vote dem since you couldn't be sure. Many Dems took the safe path and did not vote. Unless you had strong feelings it seemed best to vote GOP if you wanted to advance your career.


My wife and I have a combined 45 years in service with the Air Force, and her career also involved close work with the Navy. We've never heard of any voting pressure or risk of vote compromise. A much bigger career factor was how many advanced degrees an officer earned, but that faded in the '80s because piling on degrees became an end in itself and got in the way of one's real responsibilities. At one military lab where I worked virtually all the colonels had PhDs in laser physics, and most physicists are absolutely lousy at managing anything or DOing squat. (That’s why so many people are so totally dumbstruck that Obama put a Nobel Prize winning PHYSICIST in charge of plugging the oil leak; it’s comparable to assigning an artist to put man on the moon.)

By far the bigger reason that most of us in the all-volunteer military vote Republican is based on our belief in the most basic principle of conservatism, that this nation was best defined by its founders, not by modern liberals who want to shift everything far towards socialism and sure as absolute HELL not by Progressiveism as defined by ITS extremist founders. First and foremost to that end, most of the modern military members understand that a nation of our size and power must remain a superpower or be utterly defeated. No acceptable intermediate status is sustainable for a king of the hill; they either stay on top or collapse.
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swchandler



Joined: 08 Nov 1993
Posts: 5761

PostPosted: Wed Jun 23, 2010 1:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I wonder if isobars read Ackerman's commentary.
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keycocker



Joined: 10 Jul 2005
Posts: 3322

PostPosted: Wed Jun 23, 2010 11:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I only spoke to active duty grunts who were serving in Irag at the time, so perhaps the situation with absentee voting is different if you are serving stateside. On the other hand the article said in a survey the Repub officers denied any such pressure and nearly all the Dems confirmed it.
My soldier relatives were not officers and have no real politics, just guys serving their country and trying to get ahead.
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isobars



Joined: 12 Dec 1999
Posts: 14032

PostPosted: Thu Jun 24, 2010 2:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

keycocker wrote:
My soldier relatives were not officers and have no real politics, just guys serving their country and trying to get ahead.


And how does that differ between "guys" and officers?

Mike
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keycocker



Joined: 10 Jul 2005
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 24, 2010 3:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

As my lifelong conservative friends and family can attest, the words liberal, dem, and socialist were rarely used with the same meaning until the Bush years.
There were liberal and conservative Dems and liberal and conservative GOP. Moderates were the largest group in both parties.
Socialists, were same as now a minor third party.
The nonfactual media such as talk radio and internet sites have changed the whole thing, providing fake opinions for the Dems to get ratings and extract money from the more gullible members of the right.
Poor leadership in the Party has driven out many of the educated middle of the road conservatives from the GOP, leaving us with no party to support.The tea baggers, despite my agreement with many of their ideas are full of folks with personal problems and their candidates like Paul are an embarrassment to many traditional conservatives.
Those liberals who are flaming socialists, and want the terrorists to win, hate America, and deny the Constitution are very hard to find in the real world. The actual opinions of real humans beings in the Democratic party differ greatly from those assigned them by the remaining members of the GOP.
The word progressive at one time applied to both Repub and Dems who wanted the world to improve its policy implementation.,while retaining our principles.
Conservatives who want a better world, less polarized, and more respect for the ideas of others are going to have to wait until the blowhard talk guys lose their appeal and the dialogue starts up using the real opinions of all parties.
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mac



Joined: 07 Mar 1999
Posts: 5117

PostPosted: Sun Jun 27, 2010 10:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

How quicky we forget that McChrystal was the general officer involved in the cover-up of Pat Tillman's death by friendly fire. Even Fox news reported it (http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2010/06/24/mcchrystal-pat-tillman-bar-lev/)

Can we all say good riddance to liars and arrogant bastards?
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mac



Joined: 07 Mar 1999
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 27, 2010 11:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Would that any of the righties on this forum even read George Will, much less had the sense to copy or reference him. While I don't necessarily agree with him, and while Obama has always told us where he intended to go, I think it makes sense to consider rethinking our approach. Nobody says it better than Will, copied here from the Seattle Times:
Quote:
Gen. McChrystal's ouster could be a blessing if Afghanistan strategy is re-evaluated
By George F. Will

Syndicated columnist

WASHINGTON β€” In 1932, during a lunch in Albany with Rexford Tugwell, an adviser, Gov. Franklin Roosevelt paused to take a telephone call from Louisiana Gov. Huey Long. When the call ended, FDR referred to Long as the second-most dangerous man in America. Who, Tugwell asked, is the most dangerous? FDR answered: Douglas MacArthur.

As Army chief of staff, MacArthur had just flamboyantly conducted the violent dispersal of the bedraggled "bonus army" in Washington. Nearly 19 years later, he was to become most dangerous to himself, as another commanding general has now done. But Stanley McChrystal is no MacArthur.

MacArthur had some of the genius and much of the egomania of a former artillery captain, Napoleon. This made MacArthur insubordinate and got him cashiered by a former artillery captain, Harry Truman. Although McChrystal is a fine soldier who rendered especially distinguished service in Iraq, there is no reason to ascribe to him either egomania or insubordination. He did, however, emphatically disqualify himself from further military service, and particularly from service in Afghanistan. There the military's purely military tasks are secondary to the political and social tasks for which the military is ill-suited, and for which McChrystal is garishly so.

The American undertaking in Afghanistan is a fool's errand and McChrystal is breathtakingly foolish. Even so, he and it were badly matched. This, even though the errand is of the president's careful devising and McChrystal was the president's choice to replace the four-star general who had been commanding there.

It may be said that McChrystal's defect is only a deficit of political acumen. Only? Again, the mission in Afghanistan is much more political than military. Counterinsurgency, as defined by McChrystal's successor, Gen. David Petraeus, and tepidly embraced by Barack Obama for a year or so, does not just involve nation-building, it is nation-building.

This does not just require political acumen, it requires the wisdom of Aristotle, the leadership skills of George Washington and the analytic sophistication of Tocqueville. But, then, the grinding paradox of nation-building is this: No one with the aptitudes necessary for it would be rash or delusional enough to try it.

The McChrystal debacle comes as America's longest war is entering a surreal stage: The military is charged with a staggeringly complex task, the completion of which β€” if completion can even be envisioned β€” must involve many years. But when given the task, the military was told to begin bringing it to a close in a matter of 18 months.

The not quite seven months that have passed since the president announced his policy have seen sobering military disappointments and daunting evidence of how intractable is the incompetence and how manifold is the corruption of the Kabul government. For as long as we persist in this Sisyphean agony, the president will depend on forthrightness from a military commander whose judgment he trusts.

That could not be McChrystal. If he had been retained, he would have henceforth been chastened, abject, wary and reticent. It is unthinkable that he could still have been a valuable participant in future deliberations with the president and his principal national-security advisers. The president demanded, and the Americans in harm's way in Afghanistan deserve, better.

It is difficult, and perhaps unwise, to suppress this thought: McChrystal's disrespectful flippancies, and the chorus of equally disdainful comments from the unpleasant subordinates he has chosen to have around him, emanate from the toxic conditions that result when the military's can-do culture collides with a cannot-be-done assignment. In this toxicity, Afghanistan is Vietnam redux.

In July 1945, with the war in the Pacific still to be won and Winston Churchill engaged in the Potsdam conference, the British electorate turned him out of office. When his wife Clementine suggested that this might be a blessing in disguise, he replied: If so, it is very well disguised indeed.

The shattering of McChrystal is a messy blessing if the president seizes upon it as a reason for revisiting basic questions about whether Afghanistan matters so much and what is possible there and at what cost. It may be said that with the Afghan mission entering β€” or soon to enter; it is late and now may become more so β€” a crucial military phase in Kandahar, the cradle of the Taliban, McChrystal is indispensable. Any who may say that should heed the words of another general, one of the 20th century's greatest leaders and realists. Charles de Gaulle said: The graveyards are full of indispensable men.

George F. Will is a columnist for The Washington Post, writing about foreign and domestic politics and policy. E-mail: georgewill@washpost.com
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keycocker



Joined: 10 Jul 2005
Posts: 3322

PostPosted: Mon Jun 28, 2010 1:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I don't always agree with Wills very conservative views, but he is always smart and well informed.He knows something that nearly everyone who has been to Afghanistan and has Afghani friends-we can not "win" there in the modern sense of warfare.
No group, including the Soviet Union, has ever won in that way since the the campaigns of Alexander the Great.
Lets hope Obama knows this too. He should.
I heard Petraeus tell them this in a Senate hearing on Fox.
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