Shadow Government

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How did the civil-military candidates fare?

There are a thousand stories in an election of this magnitude and perhaps ten thousand prisms through which to analyze it. Here is one of particular parochial interest to me: How did the candidates who had a distinctive voice on civil-military relations (one of my academic specialties) fare? I counted seven such candidates, four of ...

WILLIAM THOMAS CAIN/Getty Images
WILLIAM THOMAS CAIN/Getty Images
WILLIAM THOMAS CAIN/Getty Images

There are a thousand stories in an election of this magnitude and perhaps ten thousand prisms through which to analyze it. Here is one of particular parochial interest to me: How did the candidates who had a distinctive voice on civil-military relations (one of my academic specialties) fare?

I counted seven such candidates, four of whom prevailed:

Democrat Ike Skelton, the current House chair of the Armed Services Committee, lost his re-election race in Missouri's 4th district, as I have already posted. He was one of the most thoughtful members of Congress on civil-military issues, regardless of party. I did not always agree with him, but I always learned something from him. Charlie Rangel was re-elected in New York's 15th congressional district. He is better known in the media for his quotability and, of late, his ethical difficulties. But for those of us who follow civil-military relations closely, he is known as the most ardent supporter of reviving the military draft. In my view, his devotion to the draft was partly sincere and partly as a way of expressing opposition to President Bush's national security policies. But I am somewhat in his debt because his efforts directed a small but steady stream of reporters my way asking for comment on the impact of a draft on the so-called gap between the military and U.S. society, and on the propensity to use force. Democratic candidate for Senate Joe Sestak lost in Pennsylvania. This was one of the most closely watched races in the country. There were two civil-military angles. First, Sestak, a retired vice-admiral, was the highest ranking military officer in Congress and an important voice on defense issues in the Democratic Party. There are still a few defense-minded Senators left in the Democratic Party (Dianne Feinstein from California, Carl Levin from Michigan, Jack Reed from Rhode Island, and Jim Webb from Virginia, and some others), but there are fewer today than there were yesterday. Second, he wrote an interesting Ph.D. dissertation on civil-military relations and the U.S. Navy Seventh Fleet that I found very helpful when I was doing my own research. (Yes, it is possible to be this parochial while analyzing an election of such national significance. In fact, I can get even more parochial… keep reading). Republican Senate candidate Mark Kirk won in Illinois. This, too, was one of the most closely watched races and seemed at points that it might turn on a narrow civil-military question of whether Mark Kirk exaggerated his military record. I thought that critique was unfair, and said so to reporters who called me for comment. I knew Mark from the days when we were in the same Naval Reserve unit. He was one of the most impressive members of a pretty impressive group of up-and-comers (not counting myself, of course) and I think he got something of a bum rap on that question. He will be a very good Senator and may well emerge as one of the more important Republican voices on national security. Richard Blumenthal won the open Senate seat in Connecticut. This race had some similar features to the Illinois race. Blumenthal also was criticized for exaggerating his military record. In this case, I think the critiques had more merit. But he was able to overcome them and win handily. I do not expect him to play a very prominent role in national security nor, after the campaign embarrassments, on civil-military relations. Tommy Sowers' bid to represent Missouri's 8th district failed. Sowers gained some national attention because he was running as a Democrat in "Rush Limbaugh's hometown" and because he fit perfectly the profile of a candidate who might have had a chance at winning in 2006 or 2008. He was a distinguished combat veteran, a Green Beret, and a very diligent campaigner. He ran against Obama's Afghanistan policy -- based on his Special Forces experience on the ground in combat -- his views had some national currency. However, I was especially interested in this race because his academic research played off my own "agency theory." Chris Gibson won election to New York's 20th district. This is probably the most obscure of the civil-military-related races, but in academic terms Gibson was the most accomplished of the civil-military scholars running. He published his dissertation as a book and has been a lively participant in academic debates on the nature of civilian control of the military. He is a strong critic of my work, which is neither here nor there when it comes to whether he will be an able member of Congress (some of my FP colleagues might say that his critique of me is the most hopeful thing about him). However, in light of all the other electoral developments, he is automatically among the tiny handful of members who have thought long and hard on this crucial issue and so is likely to become an important national voice.

There are a thousand stories in an election of this magnitude and perhaps ten thousand prisms through which to analyze it. Here is one of particular parochial interest to me: How did the candidates who had a distinctive voice on civil-military relations (one of my academic specialties) fare?

I counted seven such candidates, four of whom prevailed:

  • Democrat Ike Skelton, the current House chair of the Armed Services Committee, lost his re-election race in Missouri’s 4th district, as I have already posted. He was one of the most thoughtful members of Congress on civil-military issues, regardless of party. I did not always agree with him, but I always learned something from him.
  • Charlie Rangel was re-elected in New York’s 15th congressional district. He is better known in the media for his quotability and, of late, his ethical difficulties. But for those of us who follow civil-military relations closely, he is known as the most ardent supporter of reviving the military draft. In my view, his devotion to the draft was partly sincere and partly as a way of expressing opposition to President Bush’s national security policies. But I am somewhat in his debt because his efforts directed a small but steady stream of reporters my way asking for comment on the impact of a draft on the so-called gap between the military and U.S. society, and on the propensity to use force.
  • Democratic candidate for Senate Joe Sestak lost in Pennsylvania. This was one of the most closely watched races in the country. There were two civil-military angles. First, Sestak, a retired vice-admiral, was the highest ranking military officer in Congress and an important voice on defense issues in the Democratic Party. There are still a few defense-minded Senators left in the Democratic Party (Dianne Feinstein from California, Carl Levin from Michigan, Jack Reed from Rhode Island, and Jim Webb from Virginia, and some others), but there are fewer today than there were yesterday. Second, he wrote an interesting Ph.D. dissertation on civil-military relations and the U.S. Navy Seventh Fleet that I found very helpful when I was doing my own research. (Yes, it is possible to be this parochial while analyzing an election of such national significance. In fact, I can get even more parochial… keep reading).
  • Republican Senate candidate Mark Kirk won in Illinois. This, too, was one of the most closely watched races and seemed at points that it might turn on a narrow civil-military question of whether Mark Kirk exaggerated his military record. I thought that critique was unfair, and said so to reporters who called me for comment. I knew Mark from the days when we were in the same Naval Reserve unit. He was one of the most impressive members of a pretty impressive group of up-and-comers (not counting myself, of course) and I think he got something of a bum rap on that question. He will be a very good Senator and may well emerge as one of the more important Republican voices on national security.
  • Richard Blumenthal won the open Senate seat in Connecticut. This race had some similar features to the Illinois race. Blumenthal also was criticized for exaggerating his military record. In this case, I think the critiques had more merit. But he was able to overcome them and win handily. I do not expect him to play a very prominent role in national security nor, after the campaign embarrassments, on civil-military relations.
  • Tommy Sowers’ bid to represent Missouri’s 8th district failed. Sowers gained some national attention because he was running as a Democrat in "Rush Limbaugh’s hometown" and because he fit perfectly the profile of a candidate who might have had a chance at winning in 2006 or 2008. He was a distinguished combat veteran, a Green Beret, and a very diligent campaigner. He ran against Obama’s Afghanistan policy — based on his Special Forces experience on the ground in combat — his views had some national currency. However, I was especially interested in this race because his academic research played off my own "agency theory."
  • Chris Gibson won election to New York’s 20th district. This is probably the most obscure of the civil-military-related races, but in academic terms Gibson was the most accomplished of the civil-military scholars running. He published his dissertation as a book and has been a lively participant in academic debates on the nature of civilian control of the military. He is a strong critic of my work, which is neither here nor there when it comes to whether he will be an able member of Congress (some of my FP colleagues might say that his critique of me is the most hopeful thing about him). However, in light of all the other electoral developments, he is automatically among the tiny handful of members who have thought long and hard on this crucial issue and so is likely to become an important national voice.

Peter D. Feaver is a professor of political science and public policy at Duke University, where he directs the Program in American Grand Strategy.

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