Monday, June 30, 2008

Gods and Generals

The blogosphere is going nuts over Wesley Clark's comments about John McCain's military service, and Obama's speech on patriotism in which he rebuked Clark's comments. I can't say I care a whole lot about either, but the whole overblown controversy led my friend Kyle at CFLF to make some really important points about McCain's concept of the relationship between the President and the military that I think hits on something that is just about always missed by commenters of all stripes. In the process, he also takes the opportunity to point out that much of the criticism of Gen. Petraeus' testimony on Capitol Hill is unfairly directed at a man whose job is not to tell Congress what he personally thinks. (I wish Kyle had also pointed out that much of the reliance on Petraeus' testimony by war supporters is misplaced for the exact same reasons).

Key 'graphs:

...McCain’s military experience doesn’t even necessarily seem to translate into a respectable understanding of how the military works. This as evidenced by one of
the most frequent attacks he launches at Obama for not being willing to “listen to the commanders on the ground.”

In a nutshell, that seems to be all that McCain’s foreign policy truly entails; listening to the commanders on the ground. But this gross misunderstanding on where the President sits in relationship to the military chain of command can only result in the kind of dangerous circular logic that got us here in the first place.

When we look at the military as a whole, it is a tool tha tis to be used at the discretion of the President, with the body of Congress acting as an important check on power.
It is the president who sets policy, congress that approves policy, and the military that enacts that policy.

The particulars are a little more complex than that, of course, but for the sake of brevity, that’s how it is supposed to work, with the President being the ultimate decision maker. What John McCain’s rhetoric essentially promises, though, is that McCain will hand over the decision making to the military.

That’s not their job, and we’ve already seen the kind of negativity that can result when you put the military in what is essentially a politician’s job in General David Petraeus. Petraeus, has taken much criticism, mostly from my friends on the left, for going to congress and delivering his testimony. But what many people fail to understand is that Petraeaus was given a task to perform. It’s not his decision to decide whether the task is doable, that rests completely with George W. Bush. Petraeus’ job is to accomplish the task by any means necessary.

Thus, when you remove the decision making prerogative of the President, you create a perpetual machine with no safety stop.

(My emphasis)

Read the whole thing.