Creeping Coup

Creeping Coup

by digby

This article about the military beginning to openly advocate for defying the civilian leadership is the creepiest thing I've read in a while (and that's saying something.)Apparently, some scholars are even creating an intellectual defense for it, precipitating a rather vociferous argument among the brass itself.

Military resistance to civilian authority has been rare until recently, when bungling by the Bush administration in Iraq drew the ire of active-duty and retired generals. Gregory Newbold, a Marine lieutenant general, fought Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over inept planning for Operation Iraqi Freedom – and then resigned in quiet protest. Four years later he went public, explaining that "we must never again stand by quietly while those ignorant of and casual about war lead us into another one and then mismanage the conduct of it.''

But the current unrest among midcareer officers is new. One reason may be that today's majors, lieutenant colonels and colonels grew up in counterinsurgency warfare, leading men into combat as young platoon leaders and having to create new ways of operating in dangerously complex political and social environments never imagined by their elders.

"We've been telling our officers for almost 10 years to become comfortable with strategic communications, key leader engagements, political nuance, etc.,'' Lt. Col. Paul Yingling told me in an e-mail. "Many have taken the message to heart." An Army officer who served three combat tours in Iraq, Yingling has been highly critical of the old generation of military brass, whom he accused of failure of command in Iraq. No wonder, he wrote, young officers are "chafing at traditional restrictions on engaging in policy debates.''

This coincides with our new fetish for everything military, including the president of the United States announcing over and over again that he would "listen to the commanders on the ground" which likely gave more than a few of them the idea that they were the ones in charge. When you add that to the canonizing of the The Man Called Petraeus during the Bush years, this seems like a logical outcome. (I would also add that more than a few of them may be part of the religious "crusade" that some of the evangelical military brass are involved with.)

Even more chilling is the fact that some of these people may not be just kvetching or writing scholarly tracts:

But rather than chafing, some officers are simply throwing over the old restrictions and ethics of military decorum. In his new book, "Obama's Wars,'' Bob Woodward writes of Col. John Tien, an Iraq war veteran on the White House's National Security Council staff, instructing the president that he must override his own misgivings and give in to the military's demands for more troops in Afghanistan. Tien's "advice'' to the president comes across as a threat, highly unusual – to say the least – coming from a relatively junior staff officer.

"Mr. President,'' Tien said in Woodward's retelling of the scene,"I don't see how you can defy your military chain here. ... You just can't tell him [McChrystal], just do it my way, thanks for your hard work, do it my way. And then where does that stop?''

In a post on Small Wars Journal, Yingling writes: "There is no constitutional principle more important to a democracy than civilian control of the military. Unless the armed guardians of the state remain strictly subordinate to civil authority, no other liberty can long remain safe.''


Still, there is no question that many in the officer corps are smoldering. "Reading letters to the editor confirms that Colonel Milburn's essay resonates with more than a few military professionals,'' writes David H. Gurney, the former editor of Joint Forces Quarterly, who selected Milburn's essay for publication last month. "His candid essay,'' says Gurney, is "too important to ignore.''

In fact, Yingling writes, Milburn should be thanked for making his "regrettable'' views public. "Many others who apparently share his views lack his candor,'' Yingling writes. After all, they are "made of the same genetic material as the centurions who followed Caesar across the Rubicon'' to wage war against Rome's civil authorities. "Anonymous military officers' bitter condemnations of civil authorities are now far too common features of public discourse,'' Yingling continues. "These are the officers we should truly fear -- those who skulk sullenly in corners with like-minded victims of alleged civilian malfeasance, drawing their wages while condemning the society that pays them.''

After reading Milburn's essay, he writes, "I fear the Rubicon may be closer than we think.''

We are living in a time when all the elite institutions are failing and the continued respect for the military (and the cultural prohibition against virtually any kind of criticism of it) makes this something to keep a very close eye on.

Read the whole article.