In My View

By Kwiatkowski, Karen; Coram, Robert et al. | Naval War College Review, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

In My View


Kwiatkowski, Karen, Coram, Robert, Whitten, Robert C., Okun, Nathan, Naval War College Review


CIVIL-MILITARY RELATIONS

Sir:

I think Richard H. Kohn ["The Erosion of Civilian Control of the Military in the United States Today," Summer 2002, pp. 9-60] is largely correct, based on my twenty years of participation/observation. There are two areas, however, where I think he may be missing something. One is the so-called Republican affiliation of the military officers. You do find a preponderance of what used to be called conservative-we now call it paleoconservative-viewpoints in the military. But in party affiliation, due to the merger in ideologies of the two major parties in the last thirty years, a pretty fair representation of officers consider themselves independents, Democrats (hawkish, often southern Democrat in ideology, and libertarian-leaning), as well as registered Republicans.

For paleoconservatives (holding registration cards of several different political parties), an alarming trend in current politics in the Pentagon is the emergence of neoconservative political appointees, who in fact have ideological roots in the hawkish Democratic politics of Senator Scoop Jackson in the 1950s-1970s. As discussed in a 1990 Heritage Foundation interview with Senator Joe Lieberman, a Scoop Jackson Democrat (like himself) or neoconservative supports "both a strong international presence for the United States and a positive role for the federal government in creating a better economic life at home" (http://www.policyreview.org/summer90/lieberman.html). Richard Perle, of course, was a staffer for Scoop Jackson under Carter, and both he and Mr. Wolfowitz officially left the Democratic Party in the late Carter/early Reagan administrations. If you trace the political roots of many who make policy today in President Bush's inner circle, you will find similar trends.

These trends have direct implications for defense, sometimes toward adventurism, and we are all watching closely. Strikingly, the new National Security Strategy is notable in that it is itself a military, or at least militaristic, strategy that in a very real sense supersedes the upcoming National Military Strategy. Yet, appropriately and traditionally, the military in the Pentagon didn't participate in the development of the NSS but instead take it for guidance as we develop the NMS.

Thus, the political ideology or advocacy of the officer corps cannot be discussed accurately without a reflection of the political evolution of the Republican Party itself in the same time frame. Current Republicans making policy are neoconservatives, closer ideologically to traditional Democrats than any other modern U.S. political party. In fact, we have to go back to the Whigs of the mid- 1800s, precursors of Lincoln's Republican Party, to find similarly nationalistic advocacy of major federal/congressional intervention in domestic as well as international affairs.

My second point is that there are two classes of flag officer, and these are not distinguished in Dr. Kohn's article. There are those who intend after retirement to work for the military industrial complex (either as CEOs, advisers on boards, or lobbyists for business interests), and there are those (apparently far fewer in number) who will retire their stars entirely and do something else. Generals and admirals know in which group they are while still on active duty, and what they want for themselves afterward drives them, perhaps, to stray (as Kohn suggests) from the sole defense of the Constitution into proposing and lobbying within the system for particular policies.

I am very happy with the oath I took twenty years ago, and I believe my understanding of the Constitution has been strengthened by my military experience. It is a good oath, and if followed, it would address many of the problems that Kohn describes. I am also happy to be retiring soon from a military business-- place that I think has become at best a Spartacracy, at worst a self-licking ice cream cone.

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