The civil military

The US military has always been ‘us’ and tradition has it with significant civilian control and participation. Michael O’Hanlon notes Our Dangerous, Growing Divide (WaPo 05NV28). The column is a good worry about a unity that has helped the US avoid devolving into a military dictatorship. Some of his opinions or judgments in arriving at this worry should raise questions. But the observation he notes stands as an important fact to consider and think about.

One problem is that both sides are presented as equally at fault; the military too optimistic and the civilians too fatalistic. This is a common rationalization of why people differ that avoids any consideration of right or wrong. By not looking into which side has the better argument, the source of the difference is easily overlooked.

Members of both camps have plenty of evidence to support their view. But the risk is that each group is starting to selectively ignore information that does not fit with its increasingly firm conceptions about how things are going.

What this means is that one side has a lot of good gross and aggregate measures and the other side can pick nits, find anomolies, or otherwise pull something out of the pile to impugn the aggregate measure.

Another problem is that of the presumption that top military leaders are deluded by their projects. A good reading of WW II military leadership shows that these generals don’t get to leadership positions by deluding themselves about the real scene on the battleground.

The military’s enthusiasm about the course of the war may be natural among those four-star officers in leadership positions, for it has largely become their war. Their careers have become so intertwined with the campaign in Iraq that truly independent analysis may be difficult. But it is striking that most lower-ranking officers seem to share the irrepressible optimism of their superiors. In talking with at least 50 officers this year, I have met no more than a handful expressing any real doubt about the basic course of the war.

What this says is that those close to the action have a common view. The investment in the outcome is not as O’Hanlon presumes it to be. Therefore it is “striking.”

The conclusion also demonstrates the presumed reality, a reality that may or may not exist. In doing so, O’Hanlon misses the real import of a military and civilian divide.

By contrast, if military officers see the good news more than the bad, they may feel increasingly cut off from the rest of the country. They may fail to understand why their recruiting efforts are not always appreciated by parents. They may be too reluctant to change tactics away from overly muscular combat operations that have accorded insufficient emphasis to protecting the Iraqi population. They may not feel enough urgency about advocating changes in policy that are needed there — like much better protection for Iraqi security forces, which remain badly under-armored, and a jobs program to directly target the high unemployment rate.

“reluctant to change tactics away from overly muscular” ?? Perhaps the stories about civil reconstruction, schools, kids, and the nature of special ops has yet been heard?

“insufficient emphasis to protecting the Iraqi population” ?? By what measure? Does this kind of protection come from within or can it really be provided externally? Can police prevent crime or do they just react to it? How is the proper emphasis to be determined?

The real question is why those at the battlefront have one view and those back home another. This implies that the true story of Iraq is not getting heard. If that is true, it means that politics back home is pushing poor decision making about what to do next.

The real worry is that of a military that is being distanced from the civilization it serves. That one has a lot of history to look at and worry about.

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