January 06, 2010

Crisis? What Crisis?

My friends Laura Rozen and Michael Cohen are way off base if they think the report written by Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn on the failure of military intelligence in Afghanistan constitutes a crisis in civil-military relations. Some folks in the public affairs shop at the Pentagon were predictably upset that they were not in the loop regarding the report's release, but this is Pentagon spokesperson Geoff Morrell speaking today on behalf of his civilian boss, the Secretary of Defense:

[The report] is exactly the type of candid, critical self-assessment that the secretary believes is a sign of a strong and healthy organization. This kind of honest appraisal enriches what has been a very real and hearty and vigorous debate that, frankly, has been taking place within this building, within this department and within this government for years now.

So, uh... where, exactly, is this civ-mil crisis that Michael and Laura are worried about? I am writing as a guy who both served as a volunteer advising the Obama Campaign on defense policy issues and as a guy who served a volunteer advising Gen. McChrystal on operations in Afghanistan.* I fail to see, yet again, how the latter is supposedly undermining the former. The report that Maj. Gen. Flynn published through CNAS was above all an indictment of his own branch of the U.S. Army. (General officers have no branch, I know, but Maj. Gen. Flynn rose up through the ranks as a military intelligence officer and currently serves as Gen. McChrystal's intelligence chief.) This report should cause some shockwaves, but those waves should be felt primarily within the defense intelligence community. After all, this report was in part prompted by the inability of military intelligence officers to get their civilian bosses the kind of answers they requested this fall. How an attempt to better serve civilian decision-makers gets spun into a revolt on the part of uniformed officers is, as my dad says, more twisted than color TV.

*I had to settle down Evan Hill, one of the editors of the awesome website The Majlis, regarding my "work" for the Obama Campaign. I never advised the Obama Campaign on Afghanistan issues, and I ceased all work for the campaign in November 2008 before starting my work at CNAS in March 2009. My "work" for the campaign was decidedly unsexy, too. I was just one of what I suspect were hundreds of graduate students who volunteered for a few hours a week. Longtime readers of this blog will remember that I did not allow any discussion of the 2008 presidential campaign on the blog in order to keep our discussion of COIN operations and strategy as nonpartisan as possible. The only reason I mentioned the fact that I had volunteered on the campaign was to note that I quite admire the president and Gen. McChrystal and can't understand those who think the latter is out to get the former.