Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Navy Lt. Kessler: Col. Anderson is wrong to call on General Dempsey to resign

By Lt. Mike Kessler, U.S. Navy Best Defense guest columnist It is unfortunate to read another call from the officer ranks for threats of resignation to be used by flag and general officers to influence national policy. At its best, it represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the oft-cited "dereliction of duty"; at its worst, it ...

via Wikimedia/U.S. Navy
via Wikimedia/U.S. Navy

By Lt. Mike Kessler, U.S. Navy
Best Defense guest columnist

It is unfortunate to read another call from the officer ranks for threats of resignation to be used by flag and general officers to influence national policy. At its best, it represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the oft-cited "dereliction of duty"; at its worst, it brandishes pockets of willingness among the officer corps to compromise the principles of our oath.

In Dereliction of Duty, General McMaster's point was that, while attempting to hold the military together during the challenges of the 1960s and 1970s, the Chiefs traded their silence for the parochial interests of their services. Nowhere does he imply that the Chiefs ought to have resigned in order to influence national policy during the Vietnam War. 

By Lt. Mike Kessler, U.S. Navy
Best Defense guest columnist

It is unfortunate to read another call from the officer ranks for threats of resignation to be used by flag and general officers to influence national policy. At its best, it represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the oft-cited "dereliction of duty"; at its worst, it brandishes pockets of willingness among the officer corps to compromise the principles of our oath.

In Dereliction of Duty, General McMaster’s point was that, while attempting to hold the military together during the challenges of the 1960s and 1970s, the Chiefs traded their silence for the parochial interests of their services. Nowhere does he imply that the Chiefs ought to have resigned in order to influence national policy during the Vietnam War. 

Advocating threats of resignation for political disagreement implies that the military has a writ to subvert national policy if individuals find it warranted. Extrapolate down this slippery slope to strategic demise at the peril of the nation and the society we serve. While the officer corps has a seat at the table, Dr. Eliot Cohen articulates the relationship — where civilian control of the military is absolute — as an "unequal dialogue." The chairman is playing it correctly: honest, and truthful in public when testifying to Congress about his future recommendations for ground forces. This hardly makes him a political pawn, but reaffirms that when policy decisions are made, he’ll lead to the best of his ability after fervently dispensing his professional advice to our civilian masters — of both the executive and legislative branches.

Our strategic future would be served best by officers with a clear sense of their responsibilities under the Constitution and their oath, as well as an ethos that embodies the delicate balance between political fluency and apartisanship.

Lieutenant Kessler is a submarine officer serving on the staff of the naval inspector general. His opinions do not reflect the opinions of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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