Friday, January 13, 2012

The Meaning of Control

I lectured on Wednesday about the concept of control in civil-military relations and then the media blows up about four US Marines urinating on some dead Taliban.  Yes, this is upsetting and the Marines in question should be punished, but this is not a question of policy or a military out of control.

No, control means that the civilians determine the policies with the military providing the best advice they can, that the military figures out how to implement the policies with the civilians paying attention to the bigger how questions.  If some soldier in a very large organization does something wrong, that is a problem but it is not an evidence of the loss of civilian control.  The question of civilian control right now is how do the civilians and military handle it.

Deploying thousands of troops will mean that bad things happen, that some soldiers/marines/sailors/air-folk will stray from the intent of their officers.  The question really is: did these Marines have officers who created a permissive environment where this kind of behavior was seen to be ok?  We don't know.  We do know that Rumsfeld and the folks under him did create a permissive environment where abusing prisoners at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib not only could happen but would happen.

The pissing incident was clearly not part of US policy.  Torture was.  I am not excusing or justifying what the Marines did, but making it clear that this incident, until we know more, tells us very little about civilian control of the military.

What it does remind us is: the strategic corporal or private.  That, in today's warfare, the actions of a grunt on the ground can have big ramifications.

Still, this action, as stupid and as offensive as it is, is far less odious than what the Taliban does on a regular basis--blowing up innocent kids with no regard for anyone else.  Indeed, treatment of prisoners and such--not a Taliban strength.  Again, this does not justify or excuse what the Marines did, but just put things into perspective.

Anyhow, this term looks to be fruitful for all kinds of civ-mil issues.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Somewhere dark and forlorn, John Yoo is hurriedly crafting a memo on the legality of corpse desecration.