Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Reminder: The biggest danger in civil-military relations isn’t making a coup

Rather, it is letting things slide, and winding up with a poor formulation of national strategy.

fun_slide
fun_slide

Best Defense is on summer hiatus. During this restful spell we offer re-runs from the past 12 months. This item originally ran on Oct. 12, 2016.

Rather, it is letting things slide, and winding up with a poor formulation of national strategy. The focus on the prospects of a coup is a canard. But when the civil-military dialogue is strained, strategy suffers.

It is the duty of military leaders to give their unvarnished views. It is the obligation of their civilian overseers to listen to them carefully, and then to do their best to examine assumptions and explore differences. This may be require uncomfortable moments: “Admiral, that was interesting. . . . General, what is your personal view of the admiral’s plan?”

Best Defense is on summer hiatus. During this restful spell we offer re-runs from the past 12 months. This item originally ran on Oct. 12, 2016.

Rather, it is letting things slide, and winding up with a poor formulation of national strategy. The focus on the prospects of a coup is a canard. But when the civil-military dialogue is strained, strategy suffers.

It is the duty of military leaders to give their unvarnished views. It is the obligation of their civilian overseers to listen to them carefully, and then to do their best to examine assumptions and explore differences. This may be require uncomfortable moments: “Admiral, that was interesting. . . . General, what is your personal view of the admiral’s plan?”

FDR was very good at forcing these differences to the surface. He did that not to undercut the military, but rather to look into what drove the differing views.

By contrast, a good example of a civil-military failure to probe this was President President George W. Bush’s apparent desire not to ask a lot of questions about what happened once we got to Iraq — and the military’s willingness to let that slide.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.