McRaven does not know his place…


"In an unusually blunt column published Sunday in the Tampa Tribune, William H. McRaven, a retired four-star admiral, former Navy SEAL and former commander of the secretive Joint Special Operations Command, blasted members of Congress for a “disturbing trend in how politicians abuse and denigrate military leadership, particularly the officer corps, to advance their political agendas.”

Although McRaven did not single out lawmakers by name, he made clear that he was angry at the Senate for its treatment of Rear Adm. Brian L. Losey, the commander in charge of the Navy’s elite SEAL teams and other commando units. Losey, who formerly served under McRaven, was denied promotion last month and is being forced to retire after several senators from both parties pressured the Navy to hold him accountable for retaliating against multiple whistleblowers."  Washpost


There are quite a few flag officers in the US armed forces who do not seem to understand their relationship to the Republic as expressed in the US Constitution.  A lot of these have spent their lives as military technicians of one sort or another, are poorly read, and largely ignorant of or indifferent to the niceties of the limits of their positions.  These attitudes persist into retirement.

A retired US Army lieutenant general for whom I had once worked told me on one occasion that he did not think he had any responsibility to treat the legislative or judicial branches of the federal government as anything other than competitors of the president in the "struggle for power" and obstacles to the execution of the commander in chief's plans.  He said that to think otherwise would be "just too difficult."

On another occasion an active duty Army major general once commented to me and others present that the action of the US Senate in refusing to promote a particular officer was outrageous.  The officer in question was at the time under investigation for misconduct.  "What right do they have to block his promotion?" the major general  general said loudly in the Pentagon corridor outside the Joint Chiefs of Staff conference room (the Tank).  When told that it was the senate's constitutional responsibility to approve or disapprove all commissioned officer promotions, his response was that he had always assumed that they approved whatever list they were sent.

In this present instance of palpable and public insubordination, Admiral McRaven implicitly challenges the right and authority of the US Senate to promote whom it pleases.   He does not know his place.  pl

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43 Responses to McRaven does not know his place…

  1. Matthew says:

    Col: To paraphrase Churchill, the Senate is the worst of all institutions, except all the others.
    Do we hear an echo of Gaius Marius? The addition of the new Provinces to the Roman Republic made the “new men” question the wisdom of the Roman Senate.

  2. AEL says:

    Perhaps the defense budget is too big?
    Since the power and majesty of the American armed forces is truly world dominating, one might expect that the people who lead this mighty machine tend to believe that they likewise are awe inspiring. Thus, they will react poorly when politicians fail to bow to their wishes.
    If those leaders had to truly compete with other government institutions for the limited resources available, maybe they would have a better idea of who is in charge.

  3. Degringolade says:

    More and more, I am sensing among the actives that the military should be independent of political control. Your comment about “obstacles to the execution of the commander in chief’s plans” reeks of the Praetorians.
    Granted, my contact is among the lower ranks, mostly non-coms, but the feeling is not going away, just getting stronger. When I speak with the lower officer ranks, the impression only gets stronger.
    I find it worrisome.

  4. Fred says:

    When I first left active duty my Representative in Congress was Sam Gibbons. I don’t think he would have thought much of McRaven’s contemptuous comments regarding the elected members of the Senate, but then he was only a former major who had all his combat jumps into Europe. Maybe McRaven can get off his own ass and run for office and see what his fellow citizens think about his leadership. BTW isn’t Tampa home of the Patreaus mistress scandal? I’m surprised Hollywood hasn’t made a soap opera about “how the SOCOM turns.”
    From the WAPO:
    “McRaven’s description of Losey as an innocent victim is at odds with the findings of the Defense Department’s inspector general, which concluded that he had repeatedly violated whistleblower-protection laws.”
    If he were an E-8 rather than an O-8 he’d be in prison and not employed as a Chancellor of the Texas University System. McRaven hasn’t said anything about the DOD leadership. One has to ask why he choose to blame elected Senators rather than Obama appointed Sec Defs. That sure speaks volumes.

  5. Dubhaltach says:

    Colonel: At what point does this stop? If you have general officers who are insubordinate to civilian senators how far are you from officers who decide to ignore or disobey their civilian commander in chief?
    The more I see of all volunteer armies the more I think that our decision in Denmark a few years ago to abolish the draft was a catastrophic mistake – we should instead be going for something like the German army where they’re very much citizen soldiers and not the US/UK one.

  6. turcopolier says:

    We used to have the draft. The officer corps was no different then. Admirals and generals are necessarily chosen from the professional officer corps however the enlisted men are recruited. This has nothing to do with the draft and everything with letting generals and other officers believe that they are somehow chosen on the basis of intrinsic merit rather than at the convenience of the government. pl

  7. turcopolier says:

    The praetorians were a palace guard. What you need worry about are the legions. pl

  8. John Minnerath says:

    More and more senior officers need to be reminded that they do “serve” at the convenience of the Government and that it continues to apply after they have entered the retired list.

  9. mbrenner says:

    McRaven currently heads the University of Texas system of colleges and universities. I have heard him speak on a couple of occasions as he is active in promoting an already extensive program of sponsoring events here in Austin that feature prominent Pentagon and Intelligence officials. AOnthe last such occasion, he gave an extensive address on the country’s national security challenges.
    McRaven is intelligent, earnest and sane. He does, though, hold some dubious views as evinced by the incident noted here. The man sees the world as an endless source of threats – all of which should be dealt with by military actions: defensive, preemptive and preventive. His style is autocrat: this obviously is what should be done; let’s do it. This philosophy was articulated in his aggressive campaign, while head of US Special Operations Command, for having His special forces petty much supplant the State Department, the CIA, and just about everybody else in conducting America’s foreign relations. His speech here made to reference to the President, to Congress, or to the public.
    He occasionally still wears his uniform which registers 24 on the open-ended Petraeus ribbon scale

  10. Keith Harbaugh says:

    I know the military/civilian relation was covered in Army ROTC when I took it in the 1960s.
    Although I never advanced beyond O-3, I always assumed that military/civilian relations would be a key subject in the military war colleges.
    Are they or are they not?
    Further, now there is the CAPSTONE program for new O-7s:
    Not covered there?
    So my question is:
    Is this subject not covered in those finishing schools,
    or is it covered and are some flag officers just ignoring what they were taught?

  11. turcopolier says:

    Keith Harbaugh
    I am an Army War College graduate in the resident course. I don’t remember any material being taught there on civil-military relations, the expectation being that you should know that by then. pl

  12. bth says:

    “Soldier and the State” by Samuel Huntington. Perhaps I will send Gen. McRaven my copy.

  13. Lefty says:

    Thank you Col.
    There’s some opinion that after their experience with Rickover the boys in the admirals club didn’t let very many bright ones make flag. McRaven may be an example.

  14. The SOLDIER AND THE STATE originally published 1957. The 2009 book entitled AMERICAN CIVIL-MILITARY RELATIONS is a useful supplement to the Huntington text. The complexity of the military/civil interface alone today is one source of misunderstandings and having participated in high level exercises with both civil agencies and DoD organizations and the Armed Forces and real world events I can attest this entire arena needs comprehensive and competent study. Add in nuclear weapons surety and safeguards, employment and other concerns including technological changes and new chasms in military/civil knowledge loom.
    One new concern of mine is that mine is that the Uniformed Military culture and chain of command often violated by untutored personnel under the Chief Executive. And most of the Presidential biographies demonstrate almost complete misunderstanding of this crucial relationship for any democracy [Republic].

  15. LeCashier says:

    How does the fact that the last time the US Congress Declared War was in 1941, giving up that power to the Executive, influence McRaven’s attitude toward the Republic in general, and the Congress, in particular?
    Maybe in this political season a message for The Donald or HRC. My loyalty will be to you.

  16. turcopolier says:

    IMO the kind of people I wrote of have no interest in such things as declarations of war. pl

  17. annamaria says:

    What has been the purpose of the ME wars? Defense of the homeland? It seems that the boots on the ground in Syria are for one and only one purpose: to secure the Golan Height for Israel:

  18. turcopolier says:

    Your comment is completely OT. I would not have posted it if it did not give the chance to caution you about it. pl

  19. Green Zone Café says:

    If there is ever a coup d’etat in the USA, the leader will be the commander of SOCOM, not CJCS. That said, there is too much political witch hunting. I mean witches in Congress hunting officers. Tailhook was a big example.

  20. Bobo says:

    “Masterful in Managing Upwards” is the quote by the supposed whistleblower who was not the culprit, this man was wronged but still gave a glowing statement regarding the accuser. Obviously Admiral Losey was/is a fine officer with a stellar career but with a critical flaw. He was poor at managing civilians probably a very similar flaw within the Military Senior Officers. Seems none of his superiors helped him in resolving that problem as it is correctable once someone shines a light on it.
    What is it with these people as they rise to the top in the military can’t they just keep their mouths shut and move on. We know what you did for us and we Thank You but don’t make an idiot of yourself.
    Hopefully Admiral McRaven reflects on this situation and recognizes he could of bettered Admiral Losey who we wish the best in his new endeavors.

  21. turcopolier says:

    I do not agree. IMO there should be even closer congressional oversight of flag officers and any sign of caesarism should be cause for retirement. pl

  22. scott s. says:

    I knew many good officers who were derailed simply for the “sin” of being at TH convention for any period. There was no attempt to determine blame or conduct, just a blanket condemnation. And I say that as a former “black shoe” who has no particular love for AV8Rs (as we used to say “I have no problem with them getting flight pay, what I don’t understand is why they get base pay?”).
    IIRC “Soldier and the State” advances the view of the officer as the technical professional who just carries out the orders of civilians. But I think if you study history, the reality is more that senior officers are always political.

  23. turcopolier says:

    “The soldier and the state” is the expression of an ideal. pl

  24. SmoothieX12 says:

    “If there is ever a coup d’etat in the USA”
    Oh goody! Don’t even go there. US is the second (Canada?)largest land mass with the third largest population in the world. This is not going to be easy and, hopefully, those crazy ideas will not find any followers among those who, actually, can initiate something like this. And then, US is a nuclear super power–that can give the screenwriters and producers of the Red Dawn 2.0 some really bizarre ideas. Considering the present state of the US any coup d’etat in the US will lead only to a disaster of a biblical proportions. When USSR collapsed (according to US main stream media–bloodlessly, but what do I know about that) it was a very different population and a very educated one.

  25. VietnamVet says:

    This is way above my old pay grade.
    When the USA was a republic, civilian control of the military was necessary for the constitutional democratic government to function and win wars. This changed when America gained an overseas Empire and had unending colonial wars to fight. In addition, sovereign powers are being transferred to transnational institutions controlled by corporations.
    There are limited alternatives for the officer corps; use the revolving door to join the global elite, pull a new Western Emperor from behind the curtain who serves them, as Claudius was 2000 years ago, or retire to an uncertain future.

  26. Degringolade says:

    Green Zone Cafe:
    Don’t know as I agree with you, but it does make for some interesting thinking.
    (Please don’t take offense Colonel), but as a former enlisted level snake eater, it was my opinion that the management of “special operations” is quite good at the technical aspects of the military art, but truly suck at the logistics and political abilities to hold together a successful coup d’etat.
    However, the smarter flavors of the JCS would have such skills fairly well honed and would probably even read Luttwak’s book on the subject. I would highly recommend it should you not have already read it.

  27. turcopolier says:

    IMO there are very few officers who have either the talent or the inclination for a coup. “Seven Days in May” is altogether a fantasy. pl

  28. turcopolier says:

    If you want to live in a military dictatorship just keep thinking like that. I ended up in an “uncertain future” but it worked out fine for me and I deliberately avoided DoD and Beltway Bandits after I left. pl

  29. BraveNewWorld says:

    “There are quite a few flag officers in the US armed forces who do not seem to understand their relationship to the Republic as expressed in the US Constitution.”
    What I find interesting is that is can also work this way.
    There are quite a few politicians in Congress (or the WH) who do not seem to understand their relationship to the Republic as expressed in the US Constitution.
    But I fear that if things keep going the way they are it will be the first group that eventually saves the US from the second group. And if that happens it will set a very bad precedent.

  30. LeaNder says:

    Semi off-topic it feels.
    Apparently in both cases the soldiers don’t feel well led.* Worse somewhat left alone or given no clear orders.
    I find the complaints interesting. Are they suggesting money flows and foreign fighter sponsorship flowing across the border?
    * in our topic here seems to be based on the theory that some in Stuttgart tried to mob Losey out.
    From one WP article:
    “Losey did not respond to requests for comment placed through the Navy. Documents show that he vigorously contested the complaints, asserting that the staff members were poor performers and that he had acted within his authority as a commander.”
    If I dislike something seriously it is charge dealt with by countercharge. No matter what the context.

  31. bth says:

    I recommend reading Senator Grassley’s Senate speech of April 6 on this matter.
    There is no equivocating. He calls the admiral a serial retaliator. He says the latest investigative report was actually interfered with and evidence removed.
    While not the end of his speech and certainly not the peak, here is a quote from it,
    “Fourth, on January 14, 2016, there came a bolt out of the blue.
    The Senate Armed Services Committee fired a shot across the bow that stopped the Navy dead in the water.
    The Committee’s letter to Secretary Mabus began with this damaging assessment: After reviewing the investigative reports, we “maintain deep reservations” about Admiral Losey’s ability to successfully perform at the two-star level.
    This was the death knell, but the Committee’s condemnation did not end there.
    If it had known in 2011 what it knows today, the Committee said, it would never have confirmed Admiral Losey’s nomination. …”
    That nomination was for his first star, not the second.

  32. LeaNder says:

    Thanks, bth, greatly appreciated. One could easily meander as non-expert in military matters into ones own workplace experiences, after reading “the skipper’s” link somewhere above. Which admittedly, I did not read to the end. 😉

  33. oofda says:

    Not only does McRaven not seem to understand his position in relation to the Republic as expressed by the Constitution- he appears to not be a good judge of personnel and character. Losey made a number of poor judgements and acts, to be charitable, and in doing so, showed himself to be unworthy of serving further as a flag officer. He did it to himself. McRaven’s comments echo the sense of entitlement that is manifested of many flag and general officers. I saw it in years after Vietnam, when senior officers had the “I flew in combat in ‘Nam, and I am entitled to things.” The “things” often constituted UCMJ violations, particularly in financial and fraudulent dealings. And too often, a blind eye was turned by senior officials and officers. We are seeing it again.

  34. Sulla is probably more appropriate. Marius could never bring himself to stage a march on Rome to get what he wanted. Sulla didn’t hesitate.

  35. Tyler says:

    Well at least they’re not discharging the SF soldier who beat the kids out of an Afghan for raping a young boy.

  36. Old Microbiologist says:

    Insubordination is still punishable by Courts Martial for retired officers. Something I think should have been applied to Petraeus at a minimum for his Conduct Unbecoming, Dereliction of Duty, and Adultery (all committed while on active duty but continued as a retired General. This particular General can, and perhaps should, be at least reprimanded. He could also be demoted one grade just to prove the point of who is in charge of whom. Retired in the US does not mean actually out from under the UCMJ jurisdiction. Case law is actually very interesting on that and it is still up in the air whether we are retired on a pension or being paid for readiness to serve in the future. The SCOTUS applied the pension solution to settling divorces yet the involuntary recall (no age limit) to active duty clause is still in effect. But, we all know that will never happen to this guy. It would be fun to see though.

  37. turcopolier says:

    Yes. Retired US armed forces members, as opposed to former soldiers, are still members of the armed forces. That is why you can still use government facilities, space available air travel, etc. Basically, you receive a reduced amount of pay because you are not required to do duty every day. So, it is correct that McRaven could be recalled to active duty and then disciplined. The government does not want that kind of confrontation and so it will not happen, but it could. pl

  38. Daniel N. White says:

    I’ve caught McRaven at two events recently here in Austin, Texas. The first was at an annual Plan II (Liberal Arts honors program) alumni drag-the-sack event. I wrote about it here:
    The second event was UT’s annual Intel Conference, a dog-and-pony event that drags senior Beltway types down here to flyover states central for a quick visit. McRaven was the keynote speaker at the conference lunch event, and he bloviated extensively in his speech for the US to go to immediate war against ISIS/ISIL in Syria and Iraq. I asked him in the Q&A if in his just completed call for immediate war in the Middle East was he speaking as a retired 4-star Admiral, or as UT Chancellor, and did he think it appropriate to make this open and public call for immediate war here at this event, from this podium. McRaven responded with a forceful defense of his first amendment rights to say whatever he wanted whenever he wanted and how things like the first amendment were what made this country great and how everything he and his fellow members of the armed services fought for protecting those rights. There was no US flag on the stage for him to grab and wrap himself in as a finale. McRaven’s response got a big round of applause from the Beltway types in the audience. It got attention from a local TV crew, who saw the story here, and interviewed me afterwards, but their editors murdered the story prior to broadcast.
    So we have a four-star calling for an immediate war against side A one year, and then calling for a war against side B the next. Idiocy, pure and simple.
    UT screwed up badly by hiring McRaven. He can’t keep his mouth shut and he is unqualified and unable to perform work in the civilian sector at the professional level.
    Daniel N. White

  39. Procopius says:

    That’s the one I always remember and admire, but here’s a (possibly) later one:

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