Saturday, October 3, 2009

Civil-Military Relations and the New Surge

Good post at Salon, responding to the criticisms of Obama for daring to think first before agreeing to McChrystal's recommendations. Besides the argument there about the proper role of civilians in the chain of command--the Constitution makes the President Commander-in-Chief, there is also another, often under-stated aspect here. The war in Afghanistan, as all wars are, is a political one, but especially so as counterinsurgency requires deft political efforts to build a legitimate alternative to the insurgents. So, who is the best judge of whether the outsiders can do this? McChrystal, a smart military guy, or Obama, a smart political animal?

War is too important to be left to the generals, even if Rumsfeld made civilian control of the military to look like a bad idea. Micro-management is often bad (including blunt caveats and strict force caps or ceilings) , but civilians must make the call on larger, strategic concerns, including balancing Afghanistan versus other demands. The problem is that Petraeus was so much smarter and thoughtful than the civilians around Bush that it made it appear to be the case that the military should have the say.

One other thing--this episode reminds this impatient scholar how impatient the media is. We can take a month or two to figure this out. As someone reported in recent days, it took Bush far longer to decide about the surge (took him forever to get rid of Rummy). It reminds me of how impatient people were after two or three days of bombing Kosovo and after a few days of invading Iraq. We are still trying to figure out the big question of how to produce some kind of legitimate governance in the aftermath of the election fraud that is Karzai.

Give Obama the time to do some due diligence.

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