Pundits or Puppets Cont.
Glenn Greenwald notes today on his blog that several media organizations continue to evade questions raised by Sunday's New York Times article on relationships between their military pundits and the Pentagon. Glenn takes great umbrage at this silence, saying it amounts to "height of hubris, and unmistakable proof of their core corruption." I wouldn't go that far, though the Times piece certainly reflects poorly on the judgment of the media organizations who knew about these ties and failed to disclose them.
After thinking about this story for a few days, however, the more interesting questions seem to be about the relationship between American society and its military -- questions that cut to the core of our democracy and how we choose to wage war and peace.
Politicization of the Officer Corps. Over the past 30-40 years, a civil-military divide has emerged in this country. The divide results from a number of factors. One is the way the all-volunteer force self-selects, and in many ways, perpetuates itself -- children of veterans are significantly more likely to join the military. A second is the gradual geographic isolation of the military. Its bases sit away from major cities and are concentrated in Southern and rural areas. This reduces contact between the military and broader society. It also shapes the cultural character of the military. Socially, culturally and politically, the career servicemembers have become more conservative relative to society. And they're more likely to be affiliated with the Republican Party. As my colleague Rosa Brooks writes: "In 1976, 25% of civilians characterized themselves as Republicans, while 33% of military officers were Republicans -- a military-civilian 'gap' of only 8%. By 1996, the military-civilian gap on party affiliation had grown to 33%; while 34% of civilians self-identified as Republicans, so did a whopping 70% of military officers." This provides a partial explanation for the unusually cozy relationships between some retired military officers and Republican political appointees at the Pentagon.
A Failure of Generalship. It's not like today's generation of lieutenants, captains, majors and sergeants really needed another reason to dislike senior military officers. As my friend Melissa Tryon wrote in the Washington Monthly last year: "most troops don't like generals. Generals don't think like the other 99 percent of troops, because generals are political animals as much as they're military animals." Quite right. And to echo Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, today's generals haven't done a bang-up job. In case you've missed it, the operational and strategic leadership in Iraq and Afghanistan has been quite poor; it's taken five years to adopt something close to a decent strategy for securing the population and tamping down the insurgency in Iraq. And now we hear about retired generals reportedly debasing themselves in exchange for access, notoriety and possibly more. In letting themselves be spun, these generals betrayed the men and women on the ground doing the fighting today.
The Unitary Executive. The Times article is also a reminder of the Bush administration's modus operandi, which goes something like this: "We know what's best for you; we'll tell you what you need to know; trust us." Once the administration decided on its strategy for Iraq, it adopted that position with all possible certainty, leaving zero room for doubt, dissent or discussion. Every organ of the administration focused on marshaling support for this policy. In the public affairs arena, that meant delivering a message that supported the policy -- regardless of the ground truth. The Bush administration didn't trust us, the people, with the truth, because, as Col. Nathan R. Jessup memorably said in A Few Good Men: "You can't handle the truth!" Our democracy has broken down as the result of this logic, with the result that the people no longer support this war, yet the war grinds on anyway. Call it the strategic failure of the unitary executive; if only he'd read his Clausewitz.
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: IRR Soldier... | April 22, 2008 1:18 PM
Posted by: IRR Soldier ... | April 22, 2008 1:39 PM
Posted by: IRR Soldier ... | April 22, 2008 2:05 PM
Posted by: seydlitz89 | April 22, 2008 2:14 PM
Posted by: Oregon Vet | April 22, 2008 3:35 PM
Posted by: Zathras | April 23, 2008 12:31 PM
Posted by: Zathras | April 23, 2008 12:51 PM
Posted by: seydlitz89 | April 23, 2008 6:46 PM
Posted by: boscobobb | April 23, 2008 8:00 PM
Posted by: Publius | April 23, 2008 8:56 PM
Posted by: Pluto | April 23, 2008 9:33 PM
Posted by: seydlitz89 | April 24, 2008 7:28 AM
The comments to this entry are closed.