Politics and professionalism in the modern military

Lucian Truscott thinks the officer corps is too politicized to remain professional.

Responding to my thoughts on the problem of balancing and integrating career service with political appointment in filling top public jobs, Lucian Truscott (of Full Dress Gray fame) writes:

I’m afraid it’s highly likely that you’re wrong about the Coast Guard Vice Admiral put in charge of the Katrina rescue/recovery. The likelihood that he’s not a political hack is low, in my opinion.

A little known study of the political opinions of senior military leaders was done by Duke University a few years ago. The study — of Colonels and above, up to and including 4 star Generals — revealed that in this time of the volunteer military that some 66% described themselves as conservative Republicans, and something like 5% described themselves as Democrats. The rest described themselves as “independents.”

Friends of mine at the Pentagon and in the military at the time the study was done said the real numbers are far worse. One friend, a West Pointer with a Phd. from Harvard who taught me economics at West Point in the late 60’s and who recently retired from being an Asst. Secretary of the Army, told me the so called “independents” included savvy senior officers who were actually very conservative Republicans but who realized how it would look if the numbers were “bad” and so labeled themselves as “independents.” My friend said the senior military is more likely 90% or more conservative Republican, with few if any independents.

As an aside, I personally know two West Point Captains who were run out of the Army by their senior commanders when it became known that they had voted for Clinton in 1996, so the political leanings of senior officers are not an abstract thing. The far-right leanings of senior military officers have real consequences. If you have any doubt of this, see also the reporting on what you might call the take over of the Air Force Academy –including its most senior leadership — by fundamentalist Christians in recent months. See also what they did to the one (female) chaplain who dissented from the prevailing wisdom on religion at AFA. She was fired and reassigned and has resigned from the Air Force. One guess which political party the fundamentalist “leaders” of the Air Force Academy belong to.

If you have any doubts about whether or not these highly-politicized senior “leaders” of our military are political hacks occupying empty uniforms, please try to recall how much dissent against the criminal bumbling of the CPA among the senior military — generals in Iraq and stateside both — you read about in 2003-2004. How much dissent did have register against Rumsfeld’s “war on the cheap” planning in the run-up to the war? What happened to the single senior general (Shinseki) who dared to deviate from the Approved Script for war on the cheap? How many have dissented since the war began, especially with respect to the obvious lack of a sufficient number of troops for a proper occupation of Iraq?

Many of these guys are the mililtary equivalent of Michael Brown — political hacks with pumped-up military resumes signed-off on by their political brethren in uniform. The American military of today, which has become what amounts to an arm of the Republican Party, resembles nothing so much as the Soviet military under Stalin and his successors. If you’re not a member of the Party in the Armerican military today, you will not be promoted, and in some cases, will be dismissed as unworthy of service.

I wouldn’t be too quick to get my hopes up about New Orleans and the Gulf Coast now that the so called “Cavalry” in the person of the Coast Guard Admiral has arrived.

You’re not going to catch me pretending to know more about the military than Lucian Truscott, but it still seems to me that there’s a big gap between a politicized officer corps — as frightening a development as that is — and a world full of Michael Browns.

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