“Just asking” dep’t

How many of the pundits complaining about the threat to civilian control of the military from retired generals and admirals complaining about Rumsfeld’s mismanagement offered similar complaints when Colin Powell led the active-duty brass in a thoroughly insubordinate, and completely successful, campaign to overturn Bill Clinton’s executive order ending discrimination against gays in the military?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

11 thoughts on ““Just asking” dep’t”

  1. Oooh! Oooh! I know! I know!
    (Dontcha hate it when people answer rhetorical questions?)

  2. Good point, Mark, and let me use it as a springboard for a theme that still isn't getting enough attention–the day when six generals appear on the front page of the NYT telling the civilians how to do their business–that is a calamatous day for American democracy. Yes, yes, they are retired (but you'd barely notice that from the look of the pictures). And yes of course they have a right to their political opinions. But we're in way too deep on glamorizing the military here and this one just pushes us off the edge.

  3. Since when is the issue of having outed gays in the military sufficiently similar to screwing up a war?
    Sometimes we need to actually compare the underlying facts before asserting an analogy.
    Unlike some who welcome the generals' criticism, I recognize there is some turf battle going on as Rummy was trying to significantly change some protocols in the Pentagon. But, really, Rummy's screw up in managing the Iraq War is startling enough that I, for one, am glad these retired military men are speaking up.

  4. One more comment, gentlemen:
    Does the difference between retired military men speaking against Rummy's screw ups and Powell's active military men speaking out against gays in the military have any significance?
    I think it does, further weakening the analogy.

  5. Deep apologies, Mark. I got screwed up myself when reading Bruce's comment–my perception flipped and I thought YOU were being critical of those who supported the generals. What a putz I am! I'm shutting up now.

  6. This would be a good time to haul out a copy of Michael Bacevich, the New American Militarism, where he explains how the military rehabilitated itself after Vietnam (trans.: restored themselves to money and prestige) by planning for a war that would never be fought, and making sure nobody used the toys for anything else.

  7. I am not clear that the campaign in question was insubordinate. Specifically, I am not clear the executive order was legal, given that it would alter military law – military law that was instituted by Congress. That should (and did) require an act of Congress.
    Since the matter concerned the internal workings of the military itself, I'm also not clear that the military was out-of-bounds to oppose it. Although I am sure since it was Clinton implementing the policy, D's will be certain it was pure insubordination.
    Reversing the party in power, I suspect that the reason that Alberto Gonzalez was required to give such a tortured (pun intended) opinion on the legality of non-torture was precisely because of the above. Bush was willing to simply order that the Geneva conventions be overturned, and they decided that wouldn't fly so they came up with an essentially exculpatory decision that could be shown to anybody who complained.
    Note the distinction here: civilians thought that ending discrimination against gays was great and the military opposed it, so there was a lot of rumbling but when Congress passed a law, the rumbling mostly disappeared. There was no rumbling about the torture policy because of the conditions of late 2001 and because they had the exculpatory opinion. (Or at least, no rumblings to begin with, until it became clear what the WH meant by torture.)
    No usurpation of power happened in either case, because the military eventually followed the policy established by the President. Like any other beauracracy.
    The retired generals are citizens of the United States who happen to have actual expertise in the field in discussion. In fact, it's pretty interesting how in every other field the expert is treated as though he can render the opinion of God Himself, but asking actual military people about military policies is a no-no.
    where he explains how the military rehabilitated itself after Vietnam (trans.: restored themselves to money and prestige) by planning for a war that would never be fought, and making sure nobody used the toys for anything else.
    Another way to look at it, is that the United States has become steadily more Imperial since the Phillipines war, and after a century of that, every President feels he deserves his own idiot little war. That combined with the total elite disconnection from the military, results in 'civilian control' meaning a bunch of weasel-people treating the military as essentially a mercenary force that can sent all over hell and creation (that is, the Empire, even if it's a namby-pamby multilateral Empire) at will.
    Once the Legions military notices that Caesar the various Presidents have been callous, self-serving twits, totally ignorant of military matters and not the least little bit concerned with the best interests of the United States, they might decide that their blood has earned them a lot more respect and influence.
    Maybe our lovely political people could maybe consider this. Or they can harumph about civilian control of the military until the day the proscription lists are issued.
    ['So it goes.']

  8. There's much useful in what ash said, though I'm not sure I follow it all. Along with Bacevich, might be useful to dust off our copy of Eliot A. Cohen, Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen and Wartime Leadership (2002), for some useful insights about how real civilian leaders deal with their commanders.

  9. Coupla things:
    1. Re: (quasi-?)insubordination during Clinton's presidency: Like Tom Hilton, I was thinking of Clarke's book. *Inter alia*, he notes that the military was so opposed to following orders from Clinton that they actually went out of their way to oppose him. During the Tomahawk strikes against al Qaeda, the WH told the military that if they used ship-launched missiles, this was likely to be detected by the Pakistanis and OBL was likely to be warned. They suggested sub-launched missiles instead, but didn't want to micro-manage. The Navy didn't like Clinton and didn't want him telling them what to do, so they used ships anyway. There's a decent chance that that's why we didn't get OBL in '99.
    2. Just thought I should note that this comparison just tells us about the hypocrisy of of the pundits in question, but nothing really about the permissibility of the generals' actions in either case. It's entirely possible that both cases of opposition were/are permissible. This is probably too obvious to point out.

  10. And y'all forgot the Powell doctrine. As sensible as it may have been, it was still the US military dictating the terms under which a (Clintonite) White House would send it to war. It disappeared under King George II.

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