Agenda-Setting Civilian Elite More Militarized Than Top Brass?

Micah Zenko on Op-Ed militarism:

There is no body of civilians that more consistently makes unrealistic demands for the use of military force than editorial boards and opinion-page writers of major American news outlets. These appeals range from full-blown cockamamie schemes to semi-practical, tactical uses of force to resolve complex and enduring political problems of debatable relevance to U.S. national interests. This practice is a bipartisan exercise, ranging from the quixotic militarist, Nicholas Kristof, to the military-planning staff embedded inside the Wall Street Journal editorial page.

…Having read hundreds of these “tactics-first” proposals for using the U.S. military over the past fifteen years, two underlying themes is that the authors are impatient and the current nonmilitary strategy is not having a demonstrable impact. There is a cognitive bias called hyperbolic discounting, which is defined as “the tendency for people to increasingly choose a smaller-sooner reward over a larger-later reward as the delay occurs sooner rather than later in time.” I suspect that the desire to resolve an enduring problem in the near term explains many of these tough-guy (or girl) proposals. Given that it costs nothing to propose sending someone else to bomb or occupy another country, it’s the least tough and most thoughtless thing for someone to write. Why should we take these proposals seriously?

Zenko also notes that Robert Gates, in his memoirs, writes “In more than twenty years of attending meetings in the Situation Room, my experience was that the biggest doves in Washington wear uniforms.”

I’ve noted previously how interesting it is that most military leaders are, for example, against going to war with Iran, while naive politicians and their surrogates in the major newspapers push and push and push for the “military solution.” We see the same kind of thing with Syria: a flood of commentary about how we ought to launch a war to oust Assad and eliminate Iran’s main ally in the region, contrasted with sober reckonings about why we shouldn’t intervene from top military brass. It says quite a bit about how militarized the civilian elite are in this country and how irrepressibly pugnacious our political discourse has become.

6 thoughts on “Agenda-Setting Civilian Elite More Militarized Than Top Brass?”

  1. Well stated. In my past, misguided years as a seagoing legionnaire, I found that, with relatively few exceptions, the active duty senior officer (and senior enlisted, for that matter) community was FAR more realistic about war than either the younger, more junior troops or the civilian community.

    The problem is that, as cautious, concerned, and opposed to current policies as the senior and flag-level officers might be, their own careers and the perquisites that come with them are infinitely more important to them than integrity, truth, and honesty. This is why one rarely, if ever, encounters a senior active-duty officer publicly expressing reservations or countervailing opinions on national military policy, even if ASKED by their civilian leaders to do so. This is not only true of the U.S. military, but has been true throughout much of human history. A comparable case in point is the views held by the majority of the senior general staff of the Nazi German Wehrmacht. The overwhelming majority of the leadership, which consisted of men of noble background who were conservative monarchists rather than Nazis, thought Hitler to be a quixotic fool whose recklessness and ignorance of military strategy would eventually be fatal to Germany. Yet due to a combination of the soldier's code of honor, fear, and concern for their social status, they fell in line with the Nazi program and went along to get along, the few acts of resistance in the end being little too late. We all know how things ended for Germany and its people.

    1. Always with the comparing everything evil the US and Israel does to Hitler and the Nazis on this site. You need to read a little more truth about Hitler and the Third Reich. It was those very same conservative monarchist German officers who were in favor of Hitler, a decorated veteran of the Great War himself, becoming Chancellor, lest Germany fall completely to the Communists at that time. Most of the German people were behind Hitler, even up to the final defeat in 1945. And it was Hitler who devised Operation Barbarossa when it was evident Josef Stalin was planning on invading and Communizing Europe in the summer of 1941, and Hitler beat Stalin to the punch by only three weeks when he invaded the Soviet Union. Stalin would have lost if it weren't for Roosevelt sending him massive military and economic aid–so-called Lend-Lease. The US and Britain fought on the wrong side in WW2, in my opinion by siding with the Communists, and things would have turned out a whole lot better for Germany and its people, and half of Europe would not have been handed to Stalin by the traitorous acts of FDR and Churchill at the Yalta Conference. Hitler was fighting for a free Europe and to smash Communism.

      1. Umm… Well, actually, Hitler was never elected. On January 30, 1933, President Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler chancellor of Germany after two previous appointees resigned shortly after their appointments because the Nazi's brought so much noise and chaos to the streets. The National Socialists never captured more than 37 percent of the national vote, however, held a minority of cabinet posts and fewer than 50 percent of the seats in the Reichstag. His party never was embraced by a majority of the German people. He was a message boy (a relatively safe job) for the higher ups on the Western Front in WWI and allegedly inhaled some mustard gas. It was quite unusual for someone in his position to be decorated, but it was also well-known that those who rub elbow with superior officers are looked on more favorably for such things. Britain started the idiotic war with its foolish protection agreements, and there was no reason whatsoever for Roosevelt to drag the US into the fight except for his mad dreams of empire. Had the US stayed out, no doubt the war (which most certainly was no business of the USA) would have been considerably shorter and less lethal. No need even to go into the atrocities visited upon Japan after they were willing to surrender. Sure, Hitler was fighting for a free Europe all right. Look at the movies of all those happy Poles and French greeting him. Totally overjoyed. Right.

  2. Well, the civilian elite (elitists) better get cuttin' if they want more wars, B4 there's nothing left of the armed forces but the top brass, cuz they sure ain't doing the fighting.

  3. Correct. The top brass have job security in a lousy economy, and as per job description, do not do the fighting..One summary of this adolescent "more wars are needed" stand, proposed by immature politicials – and all but one of our present candidates for President. My father, a WWI and WWII veteran, then a mechanical engineering graduate and math teacher at Georgia Tech, was an adamant opponent of war and a proponent of the sentiments expressed in "War Is A Racket" by Brig. General Dudley Butler, the most decorated hero of WWI, who mentioned policians still living who planned US entrance into that war. My father explained wars: "They have always been about 'you and him fight!'"

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