A while back I made a promise to myself that I would post an entry on this blog at least once a week. I think that was seven weeks ago. So, yeah, I haven’t been as committed as I should be, so I am happy that Frosty, Slim Charles and everyone else is carrying the weight for me. Anyway, I have taken a break from my normally onerous schedule of deviant sex, mind altering drugs, and face melting rock ’n roll (read: graduate school, job searching, and Civilization 3) to comment briefly about an event that happened back in mid-January. Two months ago, a team of senior military officials from CENTCOM briefed Adm. Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the Arab world increasingly perceived the US as being unable to control Israel, and that Israeli belligerence against the Palestinians was threatening the effectiveness of the US military in the region. Gen. Petraeus went on to request that Gaza and the West Bank be placed in CENTCOM’s area of operations (they are in EUCOM) in order to aid the perception that the US made the connection between the region’s most omnipresent conflict and its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan (his request was denied). Later, Adm. Mullen paid a visit to Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi , the Israeli Chief of General Staff, impressing on him that Israel needs to see the Palestinian conflict in a broader context. More recently, the debacle between VP Joe Biden and PM Ben Netanyahu over Israel’s planned expansion into East Jerusalem illustrates the concerns that CENTCOM expressed to Adm. Mullen two months ago.
What I want to comment on very briefly is this notion of the military’s involvement in political affairs. Traditionally, the two have been kept separate: politicians give the military a political objective, the military carries it out to the best of its ability, and then it reports the end results back to the politicians who adjust the political objective accordingly. However, given the nature of post-Cold War conflicts (and by this I mean asymmetric warfare, insurgencies and counter-insurgencies) the political and military aspects of conflicts are so intertwined that the information gap between political leaders and military leaders is causing a lot of problems. Adm. Mullen gave a speech earlier this month, in which he said that the military shouldn’t do the all the hard post-conflict work unless diplomats and development experts are capable of handling the difficult tasks involved in nation-building. The military recognizes the connection between its actions, the political environment, and the end results that it desires; but the appropriate method of addressing this connection is still very controversial. If Generals get actively involved in regional politics, don’t they start to resemble proconsuls? If they don’t get involved then doesn’t that hinder their ability to accomplish the goals outlined for them by the politicians back home?
In short, I see a tradeoff here between military effectiveness and democratic values (namely, an independent, apolitical military). In my own humble, semi-professional opinion, I feel we (the Americans) should ere on the side of democratic values, and take Adm. Mullen’s suggestions seriously and give more resources to the diplomatic organs of our government. What we have here is an agency problem, and we can correct it either by conglomerating the military and political establishments, or by increasing the coordination between them. Coordination is more expensive, but in the long run I think it will be a worthwhile investment.
So, here is my post. I will try to write more often in the future. I thought about writing on some economic issue, but honestly national security is more interesting (read: economics is pretty boring). Still, maybe later in the week I will post some riveting commentary about interest rates, and you all can listen to me rant about how much I dislike John Keynes.