Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Are We There Yet? Civ-Mil Crisis, That Is

A friend asked on facebook whether Mattis's decision to hold off on Trump's ban of transgender folks in the US military counts as a crisis in civil-military relations.  Here is what I said:

There are civ-mil crises, and there are civ-mil crises.  Intra-civ crises over how to govern the military can be civ-mil crises if the mil takes sides.   So, if SecDef were a civilian like Gates or others, yes, this would count. That it is Mattis, who is really a general (sorry, recent retirement doesn't count for me, too much mindset is the same), yeah, this is a civ-mil crisis, because the top civilian has made a decisions that the generals are not implementing [conditional on whether the Trump orders actually contradict what Mattis is doing--I don't know the legalities of that].  When McMaster and Petraeus didn't do population centric counterinsurgency as Obama wanted, that was a crisis in civil-military relations, one that Gates bungled.

Of course, one qualifier: there is no consensus on what counts as a civ-mil crisis. Generally, the idea is that if the civs have preference A and mil has preference B, and then B happens, that is a crisis. But if civs have A and mil has B, and A is implemented, that's just the usual tensions that come with two distinct universes colliding. 

To be clear, I believe we have been having a civ-mil crisis since Day 1 of the Trump administration because:

  1. the SecDef is a general; 
  2. most of the usual civilians who play a role in national security are either non-existent (not appointed) or generals--recently retired or active (Flynn, McMaster); 
  3. State as an alternative source of info/influence/agenda is gutted; 
  4. Trump is an ignorant amateur who has no idea of proper way to handle civ-mil relations.
And it is not getting any better.  More generals is not more better.  Replacing Mattis might seem to be anathema since he is one of the few "adults" in the administration, but I have argued aplenty that none of the adults really matter that much with the baby President.   Having a SecDef who isn't a former general or admiral would be a good step, but hardly enough.  Until Trump leaves in 2021, we are going to have a perpetual crisis in civil-military relations.

Bad news for the US, good news for those teaching/researching civ-mil.  Oh, and what am I teaching this fall?  Civ-mil!

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