Sunday, July 29, 2007

More Disturbing Questions

[posted by Callimachus]

What Michael Yon notices here in Iraq is no doubt broadly true:

I have wondered now for two years why is it that American military leaders somehow seem to naturally know what it takes to run a city, while many of the local leaders seem clueless. Over time, a possible answer occurred, and that nudge might be due to how the person who runs each American base is referred to as the “Mayor.” A commander’s first job is to take care of his or her forces. Our military is, in a sense its own little country, with city-states spread out all around the world. Each base is like a little city-state. The military commander must understand how the water, electricity, sewerage, food distribution, police, courts, prisons, hospitals, fire, schools, airports, ports, trash control, vector control, communications, fuel, fiscal budgeting, fire, for his “city” all work. They have “embassies” all over the world and must deal diplomatically with local officials in Korea, Germany, Japan and many dozens of other nations. The U.S. military even has its own space program, which few countries have.

In short, our military is a reasonable microcosm of the United States – sans the very important business aspect which actually produces the wealth the military depends on. The requisite skill-set to run a serious war campaign involves a subset of skills that include diplomacy and civil administration.

But it doesn't bring me much comfort. No doubt the same thing would be broadly true anywhere in the U.S., too. It was so in New Orleans after the hurricane. It's not the competence of the military that displeases me -- I'm proud of them -- it's the failure of civic institutions to match it. After World War II the military and civilian authorities together, and the whole nation in its way, joined to turn occupation of the defeated lands into reconstruction. Generals served alongside college presidents. Now lieutenant colonels try to jump-start cities while college administrators blog bile about Abu Ghraib and chickenhawks and the bulk of the nation watches TV.

Bad things happen to nations when the military is the sole entity capable of getting anything done. Especially democracies. Because one other thing the military lacks, unmentioned by Yon, is democracy.