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November 13, 2009

Everybody Grab a Four-Star
Posted by Michael Cohen

Courtesy of Mike Crowley at the Plank, I thought Marc Ambinder's take on who leaked the Eikenberry memo is pretty interesting:

But I do have a hunch that the leak today that our ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, a retired Lt. General and commander in Afghanistan, is wary in the extreme of a big buildup there wasn't an accident. You could see it a few ways. One is that opponents of a buildup, fearing that Obama is leaning toward a bigger influx of troops per the advice of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, leaked this as an effort to strengthen their hands. My Washington-trained gut says it's the opposite, a trial balloon because Obama will go with a smaller buildup, and putting Eikenberry's concerns out there serves as a counterweight to McChrystal. It, in effect say, "Look I have smart generals who don't want a buildup."

This makes a lot of sense. And as someone who opposes a troop buildup in Afghanistan my view is, 'any port in a storm.' But there is something deeply depressing about the idea that President Obama needs the imprimatur of a four-star general to justify acting in, what he believes, is the country's national interest. Crikey, the man is Commander-in-Chief! Ask yourself, if Karl Eikenberry had never served in the military - and was a career diplomat - do you think his words would have the same impact as they seem to be having right now? I think not.

Indeed, the fact that Obama may feel the need to use the cover of a retired general to justify NOT sending 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan is at pace with what has to be one of the most depressing recent poll results that I've seen in a very long time:

While Americans oppose Gen. Stanley McChrystal's proposal, they want U.S. generals to make the decisions when it comes to troop levels. A full 62 percent said they had more confidence in "the generals running operations in the country," while only 25 percent said they had more confidence in the president and the secretary of Defense, when it comes to troop decisions.

To hell with the McChrystal leak; this is truly a crisis in civil-military relations! By more than two to one Americans believes the military - and not their civilian overseers - should be making decisions about how US troops are deployed overseas. That is a recipe for unceasing and perpetual military conflict and a dangerous indication of exactly how powerful and influential the military has become in American society. It's not just a co-equal branch of government (as dangerous as that may be) it may end up becoming the most powerful branch of government.

Hey President Obama, remember when you said that you wanted to change the mindset that got us into Iraq in the first place? This might have been what you were talking about at the time. There are more reasons than I can name here for not sending more troops to Afghanistan, but the simple reminder to the body politic that it is civilians and not generals who make decisions about war and peace in this country isn't a bad one to add to the list.


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I'd like to see this poll on trust of civilian vs. military leadership broken down by political party affiliation.

Is it mainly Republicans who trust the generals over their elected civilian government? Regardless, this is the result of the GOP fetishizing the military for eight years in a cynical effort to hide behind them. I've actually heard friends say that the president must "obey" his military advisors.

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