November 2009 Archives

Ruger: Military leaders have a duty to stay out of politics, by William Ruger, Texas State University, Statesman.com Sunday, 08 November, 2009

Ruger, an Assistant Professor at Texas State University, makes an often-cited argument that military personnel, especially military leaders should stay out of politics and public policy. Interestingly these comments seem directed more towards Generals Petraeus and McChrystal who are saying that their strategy of counter insurgency, combined with more troops, could yield positive benefits in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet seldom are those military leaders who call for reductions told they need to be silent.

At the core of the argument is the principle that the US military is under civilian control. That fact is indisputable and is a key principle that sets the American military apart from other militaries. However, to say that that means military personnel should sit idly by and have no opinion is mis-guided. While I agree that the military leaders should not publicly debate the civilian leaders; that does not mean that they should attempt to hide their beliefs. The reality is that today's military leaders tend to be highly educated people with vast amounts of real-world experience. Many of these leaders could be university professors and may well be once they retire.

Another factor that is often over-looked is that the nature of the military today has changed. The military in Iraq and Afghanistan is doing civil-military relations work, in large part because there are not enough civilians who are willing to serve in the countries. In effect the military is making public policy, helping to establish governments, providing aid to the citizens of the countries but Dr. Ruger and others argue that the military should pretend they only "kill people and break things".

What if the military leaders in Vietnam had been more forceful and truthful about what was happening there? Would there not have been even greater calls to change strategy? I believe the American people are smart enough to hear the various options being proposed and to make up their own minds as to what should or should not be done without having military advice filtered by political administrations. Now, once the President makes a decision, then I do agree that it would be time for the military leadership to either execute the plan or resign. But, even then, if things start to go badly, then I would expect them to speak up once again or else we may well end up with another Vietnam.

I for one value the opinions of today's military leaders and weigh them against those of our civilian leaders to form my own opinion. Such is the privilege of being an American.

What happened at Fort Hood is a tragedy and my sympathy goes out to all those who have suffered as a result. However, I remain concerned about what might happen if people do not follow the recommendation of Admiral Mullen, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and withhold judgment until the facts are in. We have become a nation too quick to attribute violence committed by a Muslim to terrorism and continuing to do say could well result in a loss of the diversity and acceptance that makes this nation what it is.

Unfortunately, an event such as this simply provides too many opportunities for political grandstanding. In a Wall Street Journal article today titled "Lieberman Suggests Army Shooter Was 'Home-Grown Terrorist'", Senator Lieberman is quick to say that the shooting " could have been a terrorist attack, and that he would launch a congressional investigation into whether the U.S. military could have prevented it." He may be right but is it not a little early too early announce a "congressional investigation?"

General Casey pointed out that he too cannot rule out that this was an act of terrorism but that we need to refrain from speculation and let the investigation run its course. I suggest Congress should follow the General's advice and let the investigation continue before speculating. Let the Army conduct its investigation and see what they find then, should Congress be unhappy with the findings, Congressional hearings could be held.

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