U.S. Military Leaders should be encouraged to speak publicly about Afghanistan and other military matters.
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U.S. military leaders absolutely must work within the chain of command; however, the chain of command is a two-way street. It runs up to the commander-in-chief, President Barrack Obama; and it runs down to the young sergeants and corporals who are risking their lives in Helmet Province.
General McChrystal is accountable to both. He is accountable to his civilian overseers and he is equally accountable to the courageous young men and women under his command. Indeed, McChrystal’s recent public pronouncements are about keeping faith with his young charges.
As far as loyalty up the chain of command is concerned, a four-star general like McChrystal does not undermine the chain of command when he engages the public dialogue. Quite the contrary: he strengthens the chain of command when he informs and educates the public to which the chain of command is ultimately responsible. That’s because the chain of command and the public both require good, accurate and substantive information upon which to base their decisions.
The United States, remember, is a constitutional democracy. The American people do not serve the military; the military serves the American people. That’s why public dialogue and public discussion about military matters are so crucially important: because they empower the American people who are the ultimate decision-makers and the ultimate source of power in our republic.
Some analysts like the Brooking Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon agree that McChrystal’s public pronouncements have been “well with bounds,” but fault the general for being insufficiently “nuanced” and too “blunt and impolitic.”
Oh, please. We’re talking about a wartime general, not a blowhard, blow-dried politician. If oh-so-sensitive, politically correct etiquette must govern our military leaders, then America will deprive itself of some truly great military talent.
Rough-hewn Generals Andrew Jackson, George S. Patton, and Walton “Johnnie” Walker, for instance, all would have failed the PC test. If McChrystal’s candor rubs some bureaucrats in the White House and in the Pentagon the wrong way, then too bad. These bureaucrats should grow up, be adults, and get a thicker skin. General McChrystal’s words and conduct have been exemplary and in accordance with the highest standards of military bearing and professionalism.
A more serious but still misplaced concern involves the leak (to the Washington Post’s esteemed Bob Woodward) of McChrystal’s confidential Afghan assessment. Some critics argue that leaks are illegal (or at least unauthorized) and that they compromise national security.
Some leaks are unauthorized and some leaks do compromise national security, but not all leaks and not this leak.
Leaks of ongoing intelligence operations, and leaks of tactical troop movements, for instance, certainly jeopardize our troops and their missions. But in an act of patriotic grace, Woodward and the Post redacted from McChrystal’s assessment information that Obama administration officials said might jeopardize future U.S. military operations.
Moreover, the leaked Afghan assessment addresses the overarching strategic issue of America’s overall policy in Afghanistan in light of the deteriorating situation there. This overarching strategic issue is rightfully and necessarily a matter of public concern.
Indeed, in the American system of government, the President and the Congress, acting on behalf of the American people, set the overall strategy or policy, and the military executes that policy in all of its myriad details.
For these reasons, Secretary Gates’ attempt to censor McChrystal is seriously mistaken. U.S. military leaders already are far too reticent to speak publicly about military matters. The Defense Secretary’s mild but unmistakable admonishment that they speak just privately and with the President only will exacerbate this long-standing problem.
More than a decade ago the distinguished social scientist and United States Senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY), lamented the institutionalization of a vast culture of governmental secrecy, which, he said, needlessly and counterproductively restricts the American people’s access to information.
“But secrecy,” the Senator observed, “need not remain the only norm. We must develop,” he said, “a competing culture of openness, fully consistent with our interests in protecting national security, but in which power is no longer derived primarily from one’s ability to withhold information.”
Senator Moynihan was right then, and his words ring true today. The United States needs a culture of openness in which our military leaders are not punished for sharing information with the American people.
A military leader’s position ought not be secure simply because he refrains from public communication. To the contrary: military leaders ought to be rewarded and promoted in part because of their willingness and ability to smartly engage the public dialogue. The well-being of our democracy requires that. Let it be, and bring it on.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?