U.S. Civil-Military Relations

“Let’s see who we’ve got here tonight. General Moseley, Air Force Chief of Staff. General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They still support Rumsfeld. Right, you guys aren’t retired yet, right? Right, they still support Rumsfeld. Look, by the way, I’ve got a theory about how to handle these retired generals causing all this trouble: don’t let them retire! Come on, we’ve got a stop-loss program; let’s use it on these guys.”
                                              – Comedian Stephen Colbert
                                                  2006 White House Correspondents’ Dinner

The state of U.S. civil-military relations conjures up some of the most difficult and oldest problems of human governance via the subordination of the military to civilian leadership.   Over the course of our nation’s existence, civil-military relations have been forced to evolve with the changing geopolitical environment.   From as recent as Goldwater-Nichols Act in the 1980s, the Powell Doctrine in the 1990s, the tragic events on September 11, 2001, and the Iraq Surge in 2007 – each experience helped shape the civil-military environment into what we have today.   While it is important for senior military leaders to be knowledgeable and observant of the political process – they must also know the boundaries of the professional military ethic and support the concept of objective military control.   In order for the civil-military relationship to have success in the future, it is imperative that the military institution take time to educate the military officer corps on professionalism.
Admittedly, the military has failed miserably to teach its ranks the importance of military professionalism and explain the concept of objective civilian control.   Even for the most senior military personnel, there seems to be a lack of general understanding of what is appropriate and professional to discuss as a member of the armed forces (retired officers are still subject...