They had a lean and hungry look.



Andrew Bacevich has an oped piece in today's Post that closely parallels my own views on what to do about Afghanistan and the takfiri jihadi threat generally. 

Senators Jim Webb and Jon Kyl debated this point on "Meet the Press" today.  Webb argued for presidential freedom of action in deciding policy and Kyl argued that Obama should do what the generals want him to do.

I listened to the talking heads on Fox News Sunday and was struck by Senator Kit Bond's apparent support of the putative resistance of at least some flag officers to the authority of the president of the United States.  Bond spoke strongly in favor of having Generals McChrystal and Petraeus explain to Congress what their opinion is (as opposed to the opinion of the president/commander in chief) as to what the policy and strategy of the United States should be.

This is actually an incitement to mutiny.


The Congress has certain functions with regard to the armed forces of the United States.  They are delineated in the Constitution and have to do with organization, funding, acquisition of equipment and supplies and the establishment of a military legal system, that kind of thing.  The powers of Congress with regard to war policy and strategy do not exist.  The Congress has no authority at all with regard to operations.  The Congress can refuse to declare war, but when was a declaration of war last thought necessary?

The armed forces are commanded by the president.  Mullen, McChrystal and Petraeus and everyone else in the armed forces are the military subordinates of the president and not of anyone in the Congress nor of the Congress collectively.  Thaddeus Stevens, Charles Sumner and their friends in the Civil War Congress created a "Joint Committee on the War" in order to use the testimony of various Union Army generals against Lincoln.  What a disaster that was!  What an inducement to the poltical vanities and ambitions of the brass!

In demanding the testimony of the generals independent of the establishment of policy by the president, the Congress is encouraging the generals and admirals to publicly oppose the independence of action of their constitutional commander.  What a foolish thing to do.

People like Senator Bond are implying by their statements that McChrystal should be treated as an equal by the commander in chief and that the president should defer to the opnion of this general or any other general.  Have we given up believing in the principle of civilian control of the military?

Obama might change his mind with regard to strategy?  Emerson said that "Consistency is a virtue of small minds."  

He was right.  pl

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28 Responses to They had a lean and hungry look.

  1. WILL says:

    Jefferson Finis Davis & Alexander Hamilton Stephens in the pix but the connection to the thread?

  2. WILL says:

    just haven’t had enough coffee after the mule days festivites. of course, rebellion, mutiny!

  3. turcopolier says:

    Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner. “Mule Days?”. Pl
    Sent wirelessly via BlackBerry from T-Mobile.

  4. Frank Newbauer says:

    What a difference a change in Administration makes. For eight years the Republicans shouted from the rooftops that the Commander in Chief should not be questioned in any way, by anyone, that to do so was tantamount to treason. Who was that CinC? And why should it be any different today? One of the bedrocks of our republican form of government is civilian control of the military. Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution is unambiguous: “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual service of the United States . . .”
    That, of course, does not mean that the President is infallible. As a citizen, and not a member of the military, the President is not my Commander in Chief, and I and every other citizen not in the active military have a right to criticize or praise his decisions. But those brave men and women who take an oath to protect this country from enemies foreign and domestic have a solemn duty to carry out the lawful commands of the President. Flag officers, as well as civilian advisers, certainly play a crucial role in the development of policy, but they do not make policy – that is the terrible responsibility of the President of the United States alone. To suggest otherwise subverts the Constitutional order, and is a dire threat to to our system of government. Civilian officials – such as members of Congress – also take an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. Some parts of the Constitution are open to interpretation; this one is not.

  5. fanto says:

    Colonel and distinguished Contributors,
    the impression I carry away from the last few years, but especially last few months, that the US governance is becoming more and more dysfunctional and this bodes very ill for our future. Am I too pessimistic?

  6. Ben Cronin says:

    I think the Emerson quote goes: “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”
    Keep up the interesting commentary, Colonel.

  7. Steve Shervais says:

    I think your discussion overly simplifies the situation. The President doesn’t have nearly the level of power that a straightforward reading of the Constitution implies. The world has changed since then (just ask Bill Clinton about gays in the military). Congress has the power to declare war, but (as another commenter said) when has that been thought necessary? If Bush had asked for a declaration of war on Iraq, would he have gotten the same support in Congress? Probably not, so most modern Presidents have weasled around that requirement. Then again, Congress has the responsibility to budget for the military, and withold money for things they feel should not be funded — abortions in military clinics, in some Congresses, or bombs to be dropped on Afghanistan, in others. In any event, Congress has the right and the duty to get information however they can. If the generals are not allowed to testify, then Congress is dependent upon the President for information, and we saw how well that worked last time. Of course, what they should be testifying on is that which is within their area: operational impact of policy decisions under consideration. What they should NOT be doing is leaking documents, or parts of documents, or (to heark back to an earlier era) sitting in Tokyo threatening to bomb China.

  8. Stanley henning says:

    TV? Isn’t the NSC where strategic affairs should be discussed? In other words
    some dunderheads want to rush in where fools fear to tread and turn this into a
    Philippine style occupation. Guess what! The Moros are still a problem there. We
    can’t even get our internal affairs straightened out — health programs, jobs, etc.
    Strategy is supposed to consider our civil-military mix first and then consider the
    pluses and minuses of sinking into potential quagmires.

  9. turcopolier says:

    Steve S.
    If you do not maintain the integrity of the constitutional system .. Pl

  10. VietnamVet says:

    “The Long War is a losing proposition; it will break the bank and break the force.”
    I have long been a proponent of containment. The only force that works to pacify an insurrection is a native police. If an empire is going to occupy a foreign country it has to work the ethnic divisions and build a native state that can police itself. This worked more or less until WWII. However, the AK-47, IED, cell phones, internet, and excess oil money make it impossible for a Jewish or a Christian country to occupy and pacify the Muslim people.
    Containment and Energy Independence are the only strategy that will work for Western Civilization. These are the only schemes that won’t bankrupt the Middle Class. Unfortunately for America’s future, all the government Stakeholders have s game to play and wedge politics has neutered the Middle Class voter.

  11. Jackie says:

    When I read Bacevich’s op-ed this morning, I wondered if you would comment on it. I am hoping the administration has reached out to him for consultation, especially in light of last week’s McChrystal leaks.
    I hope Obama pulls a Truman if these military men keep trying to dictate policy. They really must be reminded who is the commander in chief.
    As for Afghanistan, we need to remember it isn’t ours and we can’t want something for them more than they want it. Would we allow a foreign presence to tell us what we must do and want?
    Just from an informal poll I’m conducting, friends and acquaintances are saying it is time to leave Afghanistan.

  12. Jose says:

    If the Generals were in support of Obama, the Republicans would want nothing to do with them.
    Since they appear capable of embarrassing the President…
    I wonder what is the impact the troops learning to “lead by example” from these Stars.

  13. turcopolier says:

    “Reach out to him?” You must be joking. They have reached out to me, but
    it is not serious. Pl

  14. J says:

    Remember that Mr. Kit Bond was a let’s water-board/torture everybody/anybody for anything we can possibly think of, and also Mr. Kit Bond slammed former Ambassador Joe Wilson and his wife former CIA Covert operative Valerie Plame Wilson, and launded Bush-Cheney for ‘ratting out’ that dastardly Wilson-Plame crew that dared to call Bush-Cheney for their Iraq Yellow-Cake/WMD lies.
    And to think Mr. Kit Bond is on the Senate Intel Committee. Imagine all the cogs and wheels turning in Mr. Bond’s cranium over the latest Iran brew-ha-ha.

  15. There is no role for Congress in the “Chain of Command” from the Commander-In-Chief to the end of the line. What is of interest however is the Congress senses a hestiancy that might just result in the American people adopting a political philosophy of voting the “INs” “Out” in 2010 and they are worried sick that there might just not be enough lobbying jobs to encompass all those former Members of Congress needing work. So expect all kinds of efforts to try and label AF-PAK whatever the immediate decision as resulting in mistakes by the Administration. Personally, I think that President Obama is just now getting his first lessons in the reality of the 24/7 and 365 day a year news cycle and a totally incompetent Congress. The leadership of both parties just is not up to the task of dealing with the 21st Century challenges facing the American people when they have to totally rely on what their key campaign contributors want. And by the way funding the military/industrial/acacademic complex provides a gloss that thoughtfulness transpires for the desperate need for campaign funds. What we really are now witnessing in both AF-Pak and Iraq is the US coming up against its own ignorance and lack of competence in military and foreign relations and affairs. Where do we get such men (and women)?

  16. One would think the traditional idea about the Constitution is that we support it, all of it in its entirety. That was my understanding when I took a federal oath to defend it from all enemies foreign and domestic.
    I believe the last formal Congressional declaration of war was for WWII. Years ago, I knew the Parliamentarian of the US Senate who helped handle that wartime session and the war declaration procedure.
    IMO Congress failed to guard its “war powers” subsequently: Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Congress in effect let the Executive usurp this fundamental power and became a rubber stamp. The last time Congress attempted to assert its war powers was about 1973.
    As Senator Taft and other authentic conservatives noted sharply at the time of the Korean War, the Truman Administration was dragging us in by the back door and going around Congress. Bush and the Neocons simply reran the Truman (and Johnson) techniques. Congress dutifully rolled over.
    The usurpation by the Executive Branch of Congressional war powers, and Congress permitting it, takes us further down the road of Caesarism. The gradual “cumulation” of executive power by Augustus Caesar and the consolidation of the “principate” is analogous in some ways to our present situation, IMO.
    “Cae·sar·ism n.
    Military or imperial dictatorship; political authoritarianism.Caesar·ist n.
    Caesar·istic adj.
    The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
    The Europeans experienced this sort of process in Italy and Germany during the last century.

  17. charlottemom says:

    This is turning into a TV ambush — or is it? Does Obama want his hand forced. I have been unimpressed with Obama’s leadership and feel he’d just as soon play the role of Pontius Pilate.
    Now Gates chimes in:
    “Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Sunday it would be a “strategic mistake” for the U.S. to put a timeline or exit strategy on its presence in Afghanistan — a position that appears to put him at direct odds with the president.
    Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Gates insisted that far from being a quagmire, Afghanistan was a country that could be pacified and stabilized if the right policy was adopted. One thing the United States should not do, he added, was set deadlines or outline an approach by which military forces would eventually leave the country.”
    Read more at:

  18. jr786 says:

    Your reference to Cassius seems a bit out of place here Col., given sic semper tyrranus. However, it would be nice to hear a Senator or two stand up to both imperialism and military adventurism, in the manner of Ben Tillman. Here I’d like to see a bit of imperium and gravitas on the part of the Philosopher-King in standing up to his provincial governors, starting with Petraeus Mesopotamianus (prostrate).
    I doubt he has the spine. He wants to be loved, unlike Caesar, and that will be his downfall.

  19. DCExile says:

    When will Obama dispatch McChrystal and Petraeus? Clearly he is at his MacArthur moment. If he does not act soon, he will boxed in and a one-termer.

  20. otiwa ogede says:

    as the economic consensus that binds the different factions of the US governing elite fractures the nation appears to an outsider like me to be becoming ungovernable.
    “TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.”

  21. Cato says:

    Col. Lang:
    You make a good point about both the chain of command and the political wisdom of keeping a clear notion of who’s in charge. But you may be surprised to discover that who’s in charge constitutionally is not as neat or tidy as the Commander-in-Chief image, or the sparse language of Const. Art II Section 2, would suggest.
    Who is in charge? As Federalist 51 puts it: “In republican government, the legislature necessarily predominates.” It would assist your argument greatly if the U.S. Constitution said something like the Commander in Chief is empowered to make “Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval forces.” That would help to clarify who’s in charge in such matters. The problem is that that exact language is found in Article I Section 8, and thus empowers Congress, not the President, as to policy. Who’s in charge? If Congress doesn’t like a particular policy, they can shut it down, as the Boland amendment ultimately did a few years ago. Under any reasonable, long-term understanding of power, the body that govern the rules and writes the checks has enormous authority, and has to be reckoned with in time. You could even say in practice and in a very important sense: they’re in charge.
    I don’t doubt for a second the correctness of your claim that as to the prosecution of the war (i.e., implementation of the policy once established, or accepted), there’s only one guy in charge constitutionally, and that guy currently is Pres. Obama. But that’s an unremarkable constitutional assertion. That’s what the Executive branch does. So we shouldn’t misunderstand each other. However, as to whether we should go there in the first place; whether we should stay or go; how extensive or intensive a policy we should follow; all of that is assigned to the Congress. The President doesn’t even have enough inherent authority to shut down a steel strike if he thinks it necessary for the prosecution of the war, but the Congress has seen fit to deny him the grant of that specific power (that’s the Youngstown Sheet and Tube case under Pres. Truman). So, even though we can split hairs over where the exact lines are or should be drawn as between the Congress and the Commander in Chief, I don’t think it can be maintained that the Constitution commits the determination of our policy in Afghanistan to the President. That’s just not historically or legally supported.
    Furthermore, the specific facts of the case matter, as well as a sense of what’s proper. McCrystal should well exercise supreme caution when discussing these policy issues in the press, for all sorts of prudential reasons. However, SecDef Gates is another matter entirely under the Constitution. So powerful were the “principal Officer[s] in each of the executive Departments,” [Art. II, Section 2] that the Founders found it necessary to explicitly empower the President to “require the Opinion, in writing…upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices….” In other words, the President couldn’t even get a memo out of these Cabinet officers were it not for that specific language. So these are not inconsequential figures. The founders understood that the Gates of the world would, and should, be pretty heavy political actors under the Constitution. I would suggest that they are not to be so easily muzzled, though again, as a matter of comity and prudence, I think that decorum, dignity, and discretion obviously have their place. That is not to say, however, that as to the substance of the policy, they should line up behind their Commander and tow the party line. No, not at all.
    The Constitutional system envisions that the the loopy and the daft, Sen. Kyl included, discuss these matters of policy so as to determine whether they are “provid[ing] for the common defence….” That’s their job. That, in fact, is their Constitutional duty. So, no, it’s not at all improper for Congress to haul McCrystal or any other general up to the Hill to ask them, essentially, what the heck is going on, or what should be going on in their opinion. You are simply incorrect in your legal assertion that such a move would be outrageous. It would be both routine, as a matter of constitutional theory, and required.
    Might it provoke a political firestorm? Ya, sure, you betcha. You’re doubly right on that one. It likely would and would even implicate the wisdom of the President’s actions. But that does not a constitutional crisis make. The founders well knew that we might find ourselves in a slog someday. They, in their wisdom, thought that more speech on the matter, rather than less, was the proper course. And I, for whatever it’s worth, agree.
    These dividing lines between Congress and the Pres. are uncertain, so it won’t be difficult to find a strong opposing–or several different–opposing views, not least on prudential grounds. But I am confident in the essential correctness of the mechanism I’ve described above, whether or not, on some extreme version of facts, some wag might predict that I’ve got some detail or other wrong.
    I quoted Prof. George Anastaplo in another post on this blog; he’s worth quoting again: “…suppose a President decides that the Country should go to war but Congress refuses to declare war or to appropriate funds to conduct a war. May he go to war or secure such funds on his own? Surely not, the Framers of the Constitution assumed, however much well-intentioned usurpation there might have been here in the twentieth century.”
    There has been no usurpation by Congress in the suggestions for testimony to which you referred. What would be foolish would be for the Congress to shirk its duty when inquiring into the policy that the nation should be following. Yes, it would be foolish if certain individuals lost a sense of virtue or proportion and needlessly provoked bad relations between the branches of government. But the greater danger would be to forget the utter primacy of Congress, ultimately, and the foolishness of any President who would outrun the capacity of the people to understand or support a policy, because, in that event, he will learn to his dismay who’s ultimately in control.

  22. Addressing Pat Lang and Cato,
    Intending to be somewhat coherent, I have a couple of points to comment on. The oracular founding fathers were definite but sparing in their directions on foreign affairs and command of the army, navy and militia. The president is commander in chief of those forces and, in that sense, is a the highest ranking officer in the command structure and all in that structure are ultimately answerable to him. To the congress is reserved the responsibility raising and supporting armies, providing a navy, declaring war, and, as mentioned by Cato, making rules for the government and regulation of those forces. Thus, it would be in their purview to call on officers for information on the support and maintenance and the government and regulation of the armed forces. The power to declare war must surely comprehend against whom and to what end wars are to be fought and congress should be duty bound to conduct inquiries and summon responsible officials for testimony as to those things. Where the president’s prerogatives should be paramount , is in the supervision, direction, and use of the armed forces, and Generals McChrystal and Petraeus, as I read constitution,cannot be required to express opinions to congress on operations, except by direction of the president.
    It all sounds like a beautiful arrangement, but there are wars and there are wars. Through our history, conflicts such as the Indian Wars and punitive expeditions have been undertaken without much interest or supervision from the congress and the authority for the executive to undertake and conduct them has grown like topsy. We’re now in a situation which has seen America, since the Second World War, engage in, by any standard, full scale warfare in Korea, Vietnam, the First and Second Iraq Wars and Afghanistan without declarations of war. As Clifford Kiracofe pointed out, the executive branch has usurped the process and expanded the fairly narrow authority of the president as commander in chief.
    Thank you, Cato, for quoting George Anastaplo. He’s a wonderful teacher and it was a privelege to discuss this very subject in his class.

  23. Rider says:

    Has no one the courage to call Sen. Bond and the others for inciting mutiny?

  24. Vigilante says:

    Excellent point, P.L.! Excellent. Generals advise, President decides. Civilian control of the military. If the Generals don’t like it, they can resign & retire with full honor, and comeback, like MacArthur, speak before Congress and “just fade away”.

  25. Patrick Lang says:

    I have taken note of the piece posted by Mr. Perry concerning his advocacy of revolution in this country.
    I am utterly opposed to such a notion as are the overwhelming majority of military people.
    He should understand that once broken in the way he advocates, republican government in this country will never be fully restored. pl

  26. Langvir says:

    Colonel –
    I have to say that I think this is less a reflection of any confusion over the role of the military and more of the same cynical and cowardly use of the military to provide political cover that the Bush administration used whenever they were questioned about the war in Iraq.
    If you will recall, whenever questions arose about Iraq, the White House always replied that they were waiting for General Petraus’ report. Unfortunately, no Democratic congressmen at the time had the courage to speak up and ask why General Petraus was the one defending the policy in the first place. I wish someone had said something like: “General Petraus, why are you here today? Isn’t it your role to carry out the administration’s military policies in Iraq? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate for you to report to your commander in Chief, and shouldn’t the President then be the one to make the case for his policy?”
    Unfortunately no one said this at the time, which allowed the Bush, Cheney, Runsfeld, etc. to be cowards and hide behind the military (and accuse all critics of “not supporting our troops”), and contributed to the mistaken impression that the military was actually responsible making policy in Iraq. Republicans now are cynically trying to use the same strategy again.
    That’s my impression. Does it make sense to you?

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