Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Politicalization of the Military

Owen West, in a special Wall Street Jounral op-ed, discusses the great national divide about the military in this nation. It is not a great secret that the gulf between the general population of America and the U.S. military has been widening for several decades. Whether you ascribe the cause to the implementation of the all-volunteer force, the a strengthening economy where military service loses its appeal as a means to get ahead, or the general blinders that many citizens wear, believing warfare to be a thing of the past, we as a nation have a problem and one that we need to address if we are to continue to field the greatest fighting force that has ever existed.

West's piece has a great deal worth reading and I hope you do, but a couple of statistics he pointed out should jump out at everyone:
In July's Gallup Poll on America's most trusted institutions, the military ranked highest with a 69% confidence rating. Congress ranked last (below HMOs), with a 14% confidence rating.

So it was surprising to see that, according to an August CNN poll, 68% of Americans said Gen. David Petraeus's congressional testimony on Iraq this week would not sway their personal view one way or the other. Worse, 53% of Americans do not trust him to report what's really going on in Iraq, according to a USA Today/Gallup Poll published Monday....

Monday's advertisement, which depicted Gen. Petraeus as a traitor, has been dismissed by Sen. Reid as an inconsequential distraction. But according to the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan research group, the ad reflects the growing distrust of a Democratic Party that may be taking cues from its leadership. Last month 76% of Republicans expressed confidence in the military to give an "accurate picture of the war," while only 36% of Democrats did.

This explains the collective skepticism surrounding Gen. Petraeus's comments but does not excuse it. For while the country can thrive as a politically divided nation, its ability to defend itself diminishes alongside faith in the fidelity of the military. The unbalanced portrayal of the conduct of our soldiers has done damage enough. To impugn our warriors' motives as political is thoroughly corrosive and hurts all Americans. (emphasis added)
I highlight the two numbers because their relationship cannot simply be coincidental.

While it cannot be said that 31 percent of Americans don't have any confidence at all in the military, that same 31 percent must feel there is some reason why they have less confidence in the military than say some other entity. At the same time, over 1 in 3 American believe that our commanding general in Iraq will not be truthful in his report to Congress.

The trouble I suppose I am having with this is that when a man or a woman joins the military, they must swear an oath to "Protect and Defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foriegn and domestic" and to follow the orders of the Commander in Chief and all others lawfully placed above them. In short, the oath does not permit a person to choose which class of Americans to defend, whether they be white or black, natural born citizens or naturalized citizens or immigrants, or more importantly Democrats or Republicans.

But more and more, as West points out, members of both parties are using the military to score political points and that process must stop. The military, more than any other institution in America, must be above petty partisan politics. The military exists to protect our rights to act like partisan hacks and jerks (and I include my own party in that group). The military must be entrusted with and trusted to provide a non-partisan defense of the United States national security interests and despite what personal ideologies a member of the military may have they shouldn't and cannot interfere with his or her obligation to do their duty. The fact that partisan hacks may ascribe political overtones to their reports and actions does not make it true and if the public believes such intimations, then shame on us.

West counsels us on two matters:
Stepping back from the froth, this week will strengthen the country if our political leaders recognize two things. First they must resist the urge to engage in what traders call "backtrading" and prevent hindsight bias from clouding future decisions. Whether or not the decision to invade Iraq was correct, whether or not our presence created al Qaeda in Iraq or attracted them or emboldened other enemies, we now face the complex task of securing America while living up to some responsibility in Iraq.

Second, they must recognize that a bipartisan course of action must be chosen in the context of a much larger war on terror. If the politicians continue pulling the country apart, this game of chicken will end badly and imperil both Iraq and the U.S. If America were hit tomorrow there would be more finger-pointing than ranks closing. That must change.
The latter piece of advice is particularly appropos in light of yesterday's anniversary. We cannot let our partisan bickering of the past influence our response in the future. We cannot let our current political bickering influence our treatment of the military.

The Framers, in their wisdom, placed the control of the military in civilian hands. The nature of our political system means that parties fight and campaign to hold that ultimate top position; the Presidency, for better or worse, is a political office with political agendas. With a political office held by one party ultimate comes a, hopefully loyal, opposition. Such is our Constitutional system.

We ask of young military men and women, all of whom volunteer, to possibly make the greatest sacrifice possible in the defense of their nation. We should not and cannot impugne their honor simply because we don't like their civilian bosses.

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