The Value Of Dissent From The Military

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on October 8, 2009

Kori Schake has an excellent post on why having the military speak out openly on the formulation of policy concerning Afghanistan is a good thing. Obviously, Schake’s post deserves to be read in full, but the question is why anyone needed to actually make this point anew.

As Schake writes, the very same people who are now objecting the blunt and outspoken language from the likes of General McChrystal were celebrating when active and retired generals spoke out against the military policies of the Bush Administration. One would think that these people wouldn’t want to be called out as hypocrites–especially in the Internet age, when their hypocrisy is quite obvious to all. One would also think that these people could read polls and understand the military culture; as Schake points out, the military is more popular than its Commander-in-Chief, and despite the asymmetry in popularity, the military wants to support the President, and since they know more about warfighting than does the President, Barack Obama ought to rely on them and appreciate their advice more.

Obviously, there is a chain of command, and it ought to be respected. But Shacke reminds us that General McChrystal also has to respond to the needs and wishes of the NATO high command; Barack Obama is not the General’s sole boss and constituency. This makes it quite acceptable–even laudable–that McChrystal spoke out as he did. Telling the General to “shut up and salute,” in Eugene Robinson’s fatuous phrasing, makes no sense whatsoever, in addition to being patently insulting.

At the end of the day, of course, the treatment of people like General McChrystal will reflect the direction the White House will ultimately want to take when it comes to Afghanistan. If the Obama Administration decides to engage American resources in defense of American interests, McChrystal will be afforded the respect he deserves. If it doesn’t, McChrystal will be dissed. It ought to be clear, however, that the General’s comments concerning Afghanistan are entirely correct and factual; enough so that other members of the military are rallying to the General’s defense. Perhaps the President ought to consider that General McChrystal has his Administration’s–and the country’s–best interests at heart, and afford more respect to his comments and suggestions, instead of sending out people like James Jones to give General McChrystal the back of the White House’s hand.

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