Monday, April 12, 2010

What Should a Retired Officer Do?

Tom Ricks was at a conference this weekend with a bunch of military officers, discussing various issues of civil-military relations.  Check out the blog entries as they are most interesting.  I found one of them to be, well, wrong-headed.  It had several officers, retired and active, basically arguing that retired senior officers should largely disappear.  That they should not  enter the public debate at all.  It messes up civil-military relations, they say. 
I disagree and posted this entry on the comments section:
There is much to disagree with here. Yes, having retired military officers line up behind one or other candidate is problematic.
But so too is it problematic that the folks with the most military experience, especially the most politico-military experience, might be silenced. Retired generals and admirals have much expertise. If they cannot provide it to the public and the government, then they can only help who? Defense contractors?
And MG Mattis is clearly wrong on one part of civil-military relations. If an officer feels a policy is so destructive to the country's national interest that he or she feels compelled to resign, then that very costly act should not have to be a private one. Otherwise, there is no real signal sent.
Yes, there are delicate questions of civil-military relations here, and it takes both "sides" to make it work. But eliminating the experts who have less at stake from the field is a mistake. The case of General Myers demonstrates that, as his inability to provide an independent voice from that of Rumsfeld testifies to the need for experts who are not tied by career interests/mind-melds.
And we should remember, one of thing that finally pushed Rumsfeld out of power was when a series of retired Generals condemned Rummy's handling of Iraq.  Getting rid of Rumsfeld was the best decision Bush made, and a necessary step for making progress in Iraq.

Yes, there are difficult tradeoffs, but I would rather have a cacophony of voices than silence. 

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