Since General Stanley McChrystal released a report demanding a massive military escalation in Afghanistan, two things have happened: The Obama administration has taken time to review all its options, and the rest of Washington has collectively freaked out at the prospect of a president doing anything other than rubber-stamping military demands. The latter reaction betrays a disturbing -- yet predictable -- authoritarianism inside the Beltway, a kind of authoritarianism, as I show in my latest newspaper column, that insults the Constitution.
The Founders were pretty damn clear that the president and the Congress -- not generals -- are "the deciders" when it comes to military policy. That was for a reason: specifically, to avoid America becoming Napoleon's France or Stalin's Russia or modern-day Burma -- that is, to avoid America becoming the kind of military junta that arises when civilian elected leadership is not vested with final military decision-making authority.
The fact that the Beltway media and Republican politicians either don't know this -- or worse, know it and don't care -- is not a surprise. Since the Vietnam War, the mantra in D.C. is that a commander-in-chief essentially serves at the pleasure of generals, not the other way around. That ideology was a way for the military-industrial-political complex to fight the so-called Vietnam Syndrome -- and the ideology obviously survives today.
Frankly, I'm disturbed that Gen. McChrystal is giving public speeches that seem aimed at trying to pressure his bosses -- the commander-in-chief and America's elected civilian leadership -- to bow to his demands. I'm also thrilled that President Obama and his administration are taking the time to think through the strategy -- and I'm further encouraged that even some Bush holdovers in the administration may be starting to back off their knee-jerk hawkishness. I'm not at all saying I want them to deliberately ignore the advice and counsel of military commanders -- I'm just saying I'm encouraged that they are trying to ask questions and explore all options, military or otherwise. While the White House may ultimately make the decision to escalate (a decision I oppose), it's nonetheless good to know that they are trying to instill a different paradigm about military decision-making - one that actually respects the constitution.
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