So, earlier today, I was arguing with Daveed Gartenstein-Ross about his post on Islamism, which I think is quite good by the way, although I felt it made an ill-conceived and pointless attempt to haul Rick Santorum into the mix in an ostensible effort to argue that American “Christianist” radicals are not really as radical as Islamist ones. Anyway, that is true as far as it goes, which isn’t very far since it is comparing apples to oranges in the sense that Santorum’s limits are defined, I think, more by the limits imposed by American institutions rather his ideology per se. In other words, GR is comparing institutionally unconstrained ideological positions with those heavy constrained by institutions. That has to matter… but that is a separate debate.
In this debate comes Aaron Ellis with a bit of pointless snark:
— AaronHEllis (@AaronHEllis) July 17, 2012
Now, I don’t mind a little snark. And I certainly don’t mind being reminded of my past mistakes. How else can you learn? But in this case, it is just wrong on so many fronts.
I never argued a coup was imminent, as the Seven Days in May reference suggests. What I did argue, from 2007 on, was that development in civil-military relations were extraordinary and far out of the usual American experience. I argued that having Petraeus be the face of Iraq policy was politically craven and that it was dangerous in that it politicized the military, as indeed the General Betray-Us ads clearly demonstrated. I later argued that the 2009 Afghanistan policy process was broken, and that military entrepreneurs such as Stanley McChrystal were going outside the bounds and trying to make policy. Again, basically all the published work since supports this position as well. Well, not Broadwell’s hagiography of Petraeus, but books by more respectable journalists have, I think, shown this to be true, including Chandrasekaran’s recent book. Then when McChrystal went off the reservation first at IISS and the in the Rolling Stone article, I suggested this was a MacArthuresque breach and that he should be fired. In the end, the President agreed with me on this score.
A lot of people pushed back throughout this process, including folks like Andrew Exum, Aaron Ellis, and Spencer Ackerman. Their argument, in short, was that I was hysterical and overreacting, and that nothing out of the usual was occurring at all. They claimed that I just disagreed with policy and was trying to blame it on the generals.
But look, that clearly wasn’t true, there was more going on. Once McChrystal was fired and Petraeus retired, things went back to normal. We still have a big war in Afghanistan, but General Allen isn’t the face of it. He’s not giving media circus Congressional testimony. He’s not appearing on the Sunday morning talk shows. He’s not inviting Rolling Stone reporters for boozy smoozefests in the hopes of winning over young liberals. He’s just, you know, doing his job.
We had a pretty major policy shift as we stepped up the drawn down date in Afghanistan, and guess what, there were no leaks of “strategic assessments” from military leaders to block/change the policy.
I mean, seriously, can anyone look at civil-military relations today and claim that they are the same as they were from 2006-2009? Of course not. Things are back to normal, and being back to normal we can appreciate how bizarre it was to have guys like Michael Hayden, Petraeus, and McChrystal running around with major policy roles, both in setting it and in selling it to the public.
In short, I was right. What was going on there was not the norm. So it is bizarre — and a little galling frankly — to see Ellis snarking it up when my arguments have been so well supported since.
UPDATE: Or think of the Libya decision, with which I disagreed, btw. Again, normal civil-military relations. Military in the background.