October 18, 2007

Resign, Retire, Renounce

Fred Kaplan returns to his bread and butter of civil-military relations, with a sober assessment of the options of dissenting senior officers faced with a possible war against Iran. The broader topic of whether generals should salute smartly or fall on their swords has been discussed in nearly every corner of military echo chamber. (Charlie insists that her students read Paul Yingling's article, and you should too.) Kaplan asks,

So, if President George W. Bush starts to prepare—or actually issues the order—for an attack [on Iran], what should the generals do? Disobey? Rally resistance from within? Resign in protest? Retire quietly? Or salute and execute the mission?

Like most who have written on this subject, Charlie is understandably torn. Civilian control of the military is one of the cornerstones of Anglo-American democracy (to the point that when we discuss reform or training of foreign militaries we forget that for many their biggest fears are coups, not invasions). But what do you do when the civilians seem to be auditioning for Dr. Strangelove? (You can't fight in here! This is the War Room!)

Kaplan caveats that any of the 3R's must only be considered in the most extreme circumstances, and even then "perhaps at the behest of, civilian officials who agree with their positions—say, the secretaries of defense and state." In the end he concludes (a la HR McMaster):

They should arrange to be called before congressional committees and to be asked awkward questions, which would elicit their critical replies. At the final hour, they should threaten to retire or resign en masse and, if that didn't work, they should follow through. (Even if they quietly retired, the fact that three or four or six or eight generals did so at once would have some impact.)

This strikes Charlie as reasonable given the extraordinary circumstances. But in her more ornery moods, she wants to push Kaplan one further: if the Merkwürdigeliebe civilians are hell-bent on invasion, why shouldn't the Generals stand strong and wait to be fired? No constitutional violations (on either side), and the civilians get to put their money where their mouth is. Obviously this is a near impossibility, but so is three or four or six generals "retiring."

Unfortunately, this is no laughing matter (Charlie's alter ego is on record saying she expects the civil-military fall-out from the Iraq war to last throughout the next generation). And certainly recalcitrant generals have used "reasonable" arguments well "within their lane" to oppose operations in places like Bosnia and Kosovo (leading Charlie to be somewhat sanguine on civilians falling hook, line, and sinker for all military advice). But if the generals, because of their learned fecklessness or deep, unwavering belief in the sanctity of civilian control, aren't able to put the brakes on seriously destructive military and security policies, who will?