Listen to the Generals

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I keep hearing people -- irrespective of political party -- imply, or state explicitly, that if the civilian authority (President, Secretary of Defense, and so on) acts against the views of the military generals, then they are therefore doing something wrong.

Nothing could be further from the truth. There's a reason why the Constitution puts the civilians in charge of the military: because we do not want the military in charge of the military, and hence, everything else. I don't know about you, but I don't want a military government, an unelected police state (NB: if you respond to this with a crack about Bush being unelected or the U.S. being a police state now, you'll expose yourself as a moron; this is a discussion about the real world, not your hyperactive imagination).

That's not to say the opinions of generals are unimportant. It is very important to know whether generals asked for more troops, when they asked, why they asked, what the civilian authority response was, and why, all in order to judge the quality of the decisions made by the civilians. But at the end of the day, the quality of the decision is not judged entirely, or even primarily, according to whether it agreed with the military, else we wouldn't have bothered to put the military under civilian control in the first place.

The recent editorial in the Army Times says, "when the nation's current military leaders start to break publicly with their defense secretary, then it is clear that he is losing control of the institution he ostensibly leads," and therefore he must go. This is ceding way too much authority to the military leadership. By this standard, the military could reject anyone who didn't let them do anything they wanted to do, thereby effectively removing civilian control of the military.

That's not to say there's not plenty of legitimate criticism against Donald Rumsfeld. For example, it is reasonable to simply say that Iraq is a failure, so therefore he should resign. I disagree, but it's a legitimate position. But saying Rumsfeld must go because the military disagrees with him is simply wrong. It literally subverts the Constitutional system of civilian control of the military.

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