Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Erasing the Red Line between Military and Civilian

I believe in the principle of civilian control of the military, but only if the civilians are in uniform. The fact that military operations are, and have always been, a mix of hard kinetic firepower and softer kinder activities such as building roads, schools, markets and providing health, security, economic, governmental assistance. Military and civilian skill sets are integrated vertically and horizontally, particularly in stability operations in the Arc of Instability on both sides of the battlefield. Islamic terrorism starts with building schools, clinics, and charities backed by a beheading or a bomb or two.

The very notion of vertically separation military and civilian authority has no objective or subjective basis in reality or in our laws. The Constitution makes no such rule. The President is an elected Commander in Chief. Militia units of old used to elect their own company commanders. The Congress, elected by the voters, have the specified authority under Article 1, Section 8, clauses 11 through 16 in addition to the money clause to determine what kind of military the nation should have and under whatever kind of leadership structure they want. Neither is there any such principle that applies to the state “militia” known today as the National Guard whose chain of command stops at the Governor unless in Federal service.

The belief in the superiority of the civilian structure over the military is political mythology, a mythology we pander to other nations as if this were a core democratic belief. The subordination of military personnel to a civilian authority in some cultures is a mortal insult to the very essence of their local warrior spirit.

One can no longer separate what is military from civilian solely based on the application of firepower as gentle persuader. “Civilians” from the intelligence community and contractors outside the government apply firepower just as dexterously as a uniformed trigger puller. Nor can it be divided vertically as civil considerations are a part of the Strategic Marine Sergeant or Tank Company commander’s responsibilities are essentially the same spectrum dealt with at the Three Star level.

What’s the real basis for the myth of civilian authority? In part it is due to the political necessities of placing the people the boss can control in the subordinate positions after the takeover. Basic Merger and Acquisition theory. That is why both military and civil service experienced people come under the thumb of political hacks.

In addition, the civil service structure which is based on position and turf unlike the military service which is resume centric and approbation based. Defense of the rice bowl for a civilian is to assert superiority over the temporaries in uniforms that pass through the local maze of cubicles. For the military it is to such up and move up hopefully with an enhanced resume.

The sad side of this silliness is that the military’s personnel grooming is to produce a well rounded, experienced, and educated leader capable of handing the unexpected as a matter of routine. The civilian needs predictability and turf protection, and is not bound by the need to exceed. The national interest in defense calls for the cultivation of the flexible over the fixed which mitigates towards keeping what civilians needed for stability in their place … under military control.

Having a civilian with commensurate military qualifications would allow the flexibility when needed in emergencies and provide stability in between, reserving the ReServes to provide the reserve capabilities for both contingencies.

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