March 19, 2008

Free Speech for Officers

Larry Korb and Phil Carter, two left-of-center defense intellectuals, are debating whether or not military officers have or should have complete freedom of speech over on the L.A. Times website. (Abu Muqawama is siding with Phil regarding Admiral Fallon. If Korb becomes an Assistant Secretary of Defense in a Democratic administration, is he going to like it when some Marine general seeks out a member of the media to bitch about administration policy? Uh, no.)

This reminds Abu Muqawama of a long conversation he had the day before yesterday with counter-insurgency scholar Thomas Rid about officers and the political process. On the one hand, Abu Muqawama is from the old Eisenhower/Marshall school of thought that tends to believe U.S. military officers shouldn't even vote -- much less actively participate in the political process. (And Barry McCaffery may be right when he says the U.S. Army officer corps has become too closely associated with the GOP, which should be a cause of concern for any officer -- even those who vote Republican -- who cares about the long-term health of the officer corps.)

That said, in the COIN fight -- where sustaining popular support is critical -- it makes sense that active-duty military officers explain the war to the public, no? Who else is going to do that? Does it call for officers like Generals Petraeus and Odierno to take on a political role in society? It just might. But where do you draw the line? If you're going to let some major write an op-ed in the Washington Post defending the war effort, do you then allow a lieutenant to pen an op-ed in the New York Times calling for a withdrawal from Iraq? And what does the politicization of the officer corps mean for the long-term health of the military and for civil-military relations?