Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Change Doesn’t Always Equal Change

Here’s an example of why I don't think the departure of Donald Rumsfeld would necessarily bring about the dramatic changes that many seem to believe it would.

The tide turned under Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who entered office in 2001 with an agenda to transform the military. For years the norm of American civil-military relations, as defined in Samuel Huntington's The Soldier and the State, was military control of operations as a corollary to civilian control of the military institution.[13] The George W. Bush administration clearly has taken an alternate view (more closely following Clemenceau) that "War is too important to be left to the generals." Eliot Cohen, in contrast to Huntington, argues that civilians need to give active direction to military leaders and engage in selective meddling. His 2002 book Supreme Command attracted much discussion in Washington, and was reportedly President Bush's holiday reading.[14] The rest of America saw these alternate perspectives play out in exchanges between Secretary Rumsfeld and military leaders—active duty and retired—during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.

If you've never read much about the issue of the civil-military relationship outside of mainstream media reports, this isn't a bad place to start.

In a comment or two on other blogs, I've stated my position that it would have been better had Rumsfeld resigned, or whatever, quite a while ago. But what I've quietly tried also to suggest is that I'm skeptical as to whether this would make a real difference, given the particular philosophy of the civil-military relationship currently espoused by our present administration--for good AND for ill. Given President Bush’s vehement defense of Rumsfeld, not only does it appear that the latter is staying put, at least for now, but also that the president is still firmly committed to the Cohen vision, as opposed to the Huntington one. If that's the case, then how would Rumsfeld's departure fundamentally change anything?

What I'm seeing in the current public debate (whether in the mainstream media, the blogosphere or in real life) is a tendency to think if we change "X” right now, then so will "Y," right away.

No. It ain’t necessarily so. When it comes right down to it, Rumsfeld is the implementer of a particular philosophy adopted by this administration. Should he leave, it won't automatically mean the philosophy goes out the door with him. The issue is larger than just one particular man.

I'm also quite surprised to see that many who would normally be wary of saying "the military should be in control" are doing just that. Are they being opportunistic? Cynical? Or just completely unaware of the implications of what they're saying?

And, first and foremost, what do they mean when they say that? What’s their vision?

What’s yours?

Update: Wow, that's weird. The link that I provide in the first sentence of this post is now broken, even though I had the page open in my browser as I was publishing and then checking the links. The URL in the post is the correct one, or was. If I can find an alternate link, I will, so for now I'll leave this post up.

Update: Well, it just seems as if that document suddenly isn't there anymore or there's some other problem on that end. Maybe it's temporary, so I'll leave the excerpt and original link up. But here's a cached copy of the article.

In looking around, I also found a link to this article, which appeared in the Fall 2000 issue of The National Interest.

In a quick skim-through, I found this passage on page 9:

Emerging professional norms within the officer corps promise more friction in civil-military relations. As Eliot Cohen points out in his accompanying article in this issue, the principle of civilian control is well entrenched in the United States, but the military officers we surveyed showed some reluctance to accept one of its basic premises: namely, that civilian leaders have a right to be wrong. Contrary to the traditional understanding of civilian control, a majority of elite military officers today believes that it is proper for the military to insist rather than merely to advise (or even advocate in private) on key matters, particularly those involving the use of force--for instance, "setting rules of engagement", developing an "exit strategy", and "deciding what kinds of military units (air vs. naval, heavy vs. light) will be used to accomplish all tasks." Most likely a result of the Vietnam debacle--which the military still blames on civilian micromanagement, failed strategies and "go along" military leaders--this assertiveness has already caused friction among policymakers and will continue to do so. It may lead in some instances to unprofessional behavior. Many military officers we briefed disagree with our interpretation of this finding. Ironically, many of them invoked a reading of Dereliction of Duty, H.R. McMaster's widely read and influential analysis of civil-military relations under President Johnson and Secretary McNamara, to justify a norm that military officers ought to insist that their advice be followed, and resign in protest if the senior civilian leadership seems to be pursuing a reckless policy. [14]

The article provides much to ponder.