The rift between U.S. military and civilian leaders did not start with George W. Bush, but his administration's meddling and disregard for military expertise have made it worse. The new defense secretary must restore a division of labor that gives soldiers authority over tactics and civilians authority over strategy -- or risk discrediting civilian control of the military even further.
THE MILITARY'S PLACE
Richard B. Myers and Richard H. Kohn
Michael Desch's "Bush and the Generals" (May/June 2007) contains significant errors of fact and interpretation. One of us, Richard Myers, has direct knowledge and personal experience with the subject; the other, Richard Kohn, has been studying and observing American civil-military relations for 45 years.
Bush administration officials did not, as Desch charges, "overrule" the military "on the number of troops to be sent" to Iraq or "the timing of ... deployment." Both were the result of over a year of questioning and discussion back and forth, and the final plan contained contingencies for different numbers of forces depending on the course of the campaign. To be sure, the combatant commander often found the probing and questioning of plans by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the Joint Chiefs of Staff distasteful. But in the end, all involved supported the final plan regardless of the disagreements along the way.
Contrary to Desch's interpretation, the Kosovo intervention in 1999 was not evidence of poor civil-military relations. The Joint Chiefs, the secretary of defense, and President Bill Clinton all agreed on limiting the application of force in Kosovo -- overruling the advice of General Wesley Clark, the supreme allied commander for Europe, as was legitimate in the civil-military relationship.
There was no "truce" between the military and civilians after 9/11 because there had never been a war. There was just the friction and distrust (never open but exacerbated by Rumsfeld's approach and style) inherent in U.S. civil-military relations.
Desch charges that Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz's "cavalier dismissal of troop-requirement estimates by General Eric Shinseki, the army chief of staff," was "the clearest display of civilian willingness to override the professional military on tactical and operational matters." But it is not true that Shinseki's offered advice was subsequently overruled. In his congressional testimony, Shinseki told senators that such estimates should come from the combatant commander, and he never offered these troop numbers to either the Joint Chiefs or to the president. Desch is correct, however, that criticism of Shinseki's testimony by senior civilian officials was not conducive to proper civil-military relations...
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