April 11, 2011

The Crisis in Civil-Military Relations That Wasn't

When the president fired Gen. Stan McChrystal last year, a chorus of pundits rushed to proclaim the United States faced a crisis in civil-military relations. I do not want to argue that civil-military relations are entirely healthy, because I do not believe they are*, but it seems clear in retrospect that L'Affair Rolling Stan was not as symptomatic of a crisis as we were initially led to believe. As Hew Strachan correctly noted, "This was a cock-up, not a conspiracy. [McChrystal's] dignified response, and his
refusal to try to justify or explain away the remarks attributed to him,
confirmed his disciplined acceptance of his own constitutional

I think today's news*** only confirms what Strachan argued, though the next time Gen. Petraeus disagrees with someone in the White House about the pace of Afghanistan troop withdrawals, you can count on pundits to reliably begin screaming anew about a crisis in civil-military relations.

*Richard Kohn offers the most exhaustive list of reasons to be worried about civil-military relations in this 2008 essay. As with this other essay by Kohn, I do not endorse everything he argues but nonetheless found it enlightening and powerful.

**Strachan went on to argue that the affair revealed a more immediate
problem with our strategy in Afghanistan. Read his essay here.

***In the interests of full disclosure, my employer is a partner of the White House in this welcome new initiative focusing on military families. Also, I think readers of this blog understand I have both long admired Stan McChrystal and completely understood the president's decision to replace him in the aftermath of that Rolling Stone article.