Can Someone Get Jon Kyl a Copy of the Constitution?
Posted by Michael Cohen
On Sunday I wrote about how the leak of the McChrystal review represented a troubling breach of civil-military relations. But in some respects the real problem in civil-military relations, over the past several years, comes not from the military, but instead from civilians have given the the military a virtual final say over national security decision-making.
Case in point Senator Jon Kyl and the comments he made Sunday on CNN:
Why? Does Jon Kyl really not know the answer to this question or is he so infected with partisan fervor that he is willing to throw the Constitution under the bus to score a few cheap political points against Barack Obama? The most obvious answer is that this country is not ruled by a military junta; we are ruled by elected officials who make decisions about war and peace. General McChrystal has offered his advice and recommendations to the president; now his job in this particular strategic review is done - and the Commander-in-Chief gets to make the decision on how to proceed. (It should also be mentioned here that McChrystal is far from being even the president's top military advisor. The notion that his views would trump even those of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or the Secretary of Defense is perhaps even more troubling from a chain of command perspective).
Yet Kyl's comments are very much at pace with what happened during the Bush years - the gradual ceding of decision-making to the military.
In June 2008, GOP candidate
John McCain declared that “General Petraeus will tell us in July when we are
[able to withdraw]” from Iraq.”
This came on the heels of President George W. Bush’s earlier declaration that a withdrawal of US troops from Iraq would depend not on a strategic decision by the President but almost exclusively on the recommendations of Petraeus. "My attitude is,” said Bush “if he (Petraeus) didn't want to continue the drawdown, that's fine with me. . . I said to the general: 'If you want to slow her down, fine; it's up to you.' "
Of course, that decision is actually up to the President.
Now it should be noted that the placing of so much responsibility in the hands of Petraeus was largely a result of the White House and GOP having such little credibility on Iraq that they needed a man in uniform to seal the deal. But the current debate about Afghanistan strategy - and General McChrystal's striking and inappropriate public lobbying - seems to show the dangers in civilian leaders placing too much power in the hands of the military. To listen to McCain, Bush and now Kyl is to believe that the military is a co-equal branch of government . . . or perhaps one that should have the final say over national security decision-making. And it certainly seems like General McChrystal is acting that way.
Now to be completely fair, not all blame can be laid at the feet of Republicans. Bill Clinton must bear some responsibility as well; not only in giving the military too much influence in the implementation of US foreign policy, but also refusing to stand up to the military at times when they pushed back against him (the gays in the military imbroglio of 1992/3 is perhaps the best example). And during the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama couldn't spend enough time getting photographed next to retired generals - many of whom were given jobs in his Administration that are usually filled by civilians. For national security vulnerable Democrats, the support of the military has become the great validator.
But perhaps the balance is shifting. Ultimately, the current White House review on Afghanistan policy is . . about Afghanistan. But the clear subtext is re-establishing the notion of unambiguous civilian control over national security decision-making. The fact that Jim Jones publicly rebuked McChrystal and now it seems the President privately did the same seems to suggest that this White House understands when it comes to sending troops into harm's way . . . it's their call, not the generals.