OxBlog

Friday, December 22, 2006

# Posted 5:55 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SUPREME COMMANDER? From the WaPo:
Bush said he agrees with generals "that there's got to be a specific mission that can be accomplished" before he decides to dispatch an additional 15,000 to 30,000 troops to the war zone. But he declined to repeat his usual formulation that he will heed his commanders on the ground when it comes to troop levels.
The President is the one who should decide how many troops we have on the ground. Yet as the Post suggests, Bush's credibility on this point is compromised by his "usual formulation" that the commanders on the ground will decide.

Why should a President with limited military expertise decide how many troops we need to accomplish the mission? Why shouldn't the President just define our strategy and let his generals, the real experts, figure out how to implement it?

As far as I know, the best answers to those questions are provided by Prof. Eliot Cohen in his book Supreme Command. Conventional wisdom, both academic and popular, suggests that civilian Presidents and Prime Ministers should not interfere in purely military matters.

Yet as Cohen illustrates (through case studies of the Civil War, World War I and World War II), the implementation of strategy is no less of a political matter than the strategy itself. As Clausewitz famously observed, war is an extension of politics by other means. Both strategy and implementation must be informed by the political judgment of the head of government, in our case, the President.

Cohen's argument is persuasive but inconvenient. During the Clinton years, few Republicans argued for the supremacy of the Commander-in-Chief. These days, Democrats would prefer to have anyone but Bush making the big decisions. But in a truly democratic state, supreme authority must derive from victory at the polls, not from selective deference to unelected generals.
(5) opinions -- Add your opinion

Comments:
The Iraq War has showed just how bureaucratized the military has become, and how political the military brass is.

First, I remember when Gen. Tommy Franks retired after taking Irag in 2003, and thinking to myself how strange it would have been for Eisenhower to have retired after D-Day or Patton retiring after Sciliy. The whole system in the military of paygrades, promotions and career tracks smacks of the unnecessary, and dangerous, bureaucratization of America's warfighting capabilities.

Second, the United States has come to believe its own proganda that we can do more with less and on the cheap. The United States needs to build back numbers in the military to Cold War levels in all the services. I was reminded the other evening that the U.S. had over 500,000 stationed in Vietnam at the height of its involvement, and, yet, today the U.S. Army has
only 473,000 worldwide. During that same period the U.S. has grown by over 80 million people.

Third, the U.S. has fought the Iraq War on a variable strength scale;that is, our military will be scaled to be a bit bigger and stronger than the enemy we face. What is needed is overwhelming strength, but that is something the U.S. doesn't seemed too concerned about.

Finally, the United States is losing this war more than the enemy is winning. The Bush Administration knows what needs to be done but will not do it. Generals don't have much to do with this aspect of the war, civilian control of the military does.

Danny L. McDaniel
Lafayette, Indiana
 
'As Clausewitz famously observed, war is an extension of politics by other means.'

David, you have no idea what this actually means.
 
Oh yea, Eliot Cohen got so much right!

C'mon, now.
 
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/politics/la-na-iraqpol27dec27,1,4843110.story?coll=la-news-politics-national&track=crosspromo

"Biden, who was elected to the Senate during the Vietnam War and who is planning a 2008 presidential run, has been among the most outspoken critics of Bush's Iraq policies; on Tuesday, he called any increase in troops "the absolute wrong strategy."

"Only 12% of Americans back a troop increase, compared with 52% who prefer a timetable for withdrawal, a recent Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll found."

Military strategy driven by polls is just as bad as strategy decisions made by committees.

Concerning troop levels: There needs to be a decision on how many and what type of military forces must be available for key global contingency operations and those forces should be available as a reserve. All other active duty military forces need to be available for the main efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as other efforts in the Horn of Africa, the Phillipines, and other key locations in the global war on terror.

GEN Abazaid is currently slated to retire in early 2008. The incoming CENTCOM Commander needs to be involved in the decisions that will hit while he is in command.
 
David

The military have no inherent right to make any decision. Those decisions they do make are delegated to them by civilians; that delegation may withdrawn at any time. That includes operations and tactics--those areas the military jealously regard as their sphere. And there's a very practical reason civilians should at the very least oversight those areas, to do the principal-agent theory, ie to prevent (or at least minimise) shirking. The problem in most (all?) Western societies is that increasingly civilians lack the knowledge of military affairs needed to undertake that role, and increasingly the generals are prepared to defend 'their' turf, including in the media, making them political players. It makes sense to let the ostensible professionals do their thing, especially where it is a highly complex operation as in modern conventional warfare. But where coercive force is concerned, democratic society needs to ensure that it's the right thing, ie the thing democratic society has agreed to through its elected reps. Civilian control of the military (like democracy) is not an endpoint, but a continually managed process.

A further reason for strong civilian oversight and control is that without it, the generals risk losing the trust and control of their men: without civilians making the tough decisions, defending them and taking responsibility at the ballot box, the generals risk being seen as political players, using their men for political goals, without the right granted by civilian society for than purpose and the associated checks and balances. Witness the apparent popularity of Rumsfeld in junior ranks and noncoms vs amongst the staff officers, especially the more politically inclined.

These are all issues touched upon by Cohen in his book. I'd be interested to know how he interprets the Iraq War through the lens of civilian control; so far, the only comments I have seen of his re the war have been about its purpose and progress.
 
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