Yesterday General McChrystal expressed “regret” for some remarks he made in London that were seen as undermining the civilian decision-making process. Spencer’s always thought the story was overblown, which is what I thought at the time, but in retrospect I think the real story is a bit different. What we saw with that episode is that in real-world political terms the senior leadership of the military—when it’s in rough agreement—is so politically powerful that it’s pretty easy for generals to more-or-less accidentally undermine civilian control.
A very smart post from Yglesias. My two cents is that this is part of bigger problem related to what Mike Mazarr has called the hawk consensus.
Part of the reason the “hawk consensus” is so powerful is that respect for the military becomes synonymous with the assumption that the military is capable of anything… and the corollary to that is that military failures are likely a consequence of civilian mistakes (lack of political will, meddling, etc.). We never stop to say, “the mission was impossible” we almost always end up assuming that the problem is “the civilians wouldn’t get out of the way.”
The consequence of that is a creeping militarism and a subversion of civilian control since a failure to do everything and anything the military wants in this atmosphere inherently creates a “stab in the back” narrative.
My beef with Petraeus and McChrystal is that the either understand this and are exploiting it, or that they don’t understand it and are unintentionally feeding the dynamic. And folks like Ackerman and Exum who insist on calling anyone making this argument “hysterics” – aren’t helping.