New Army Chief

Ed Offley at Soldiers For the Truth has this good short piece about Rumsfeld’s selection of Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker to be the new Army Chief of Staff.

As Offley correctly notes, the press misses the story when it focuses on who is scoring bureaucratic points. The point here is, as he puts, “civilian control of the military.” This is the theme of Eliot Cohen’s book Supreme Command. As Cohen shows, it is a constant struggle to make the military do what the country needs done. The need for firm (and unpopular) control by the executive is particularly acute in our times, when the “iron triangle” of the Pentagon, defense contractors and Congress is so powerful.

Our successful wartime presidents strong-armed the military services into waging the war that needed to be waged. Lincoln is the most famous example, well addressed by Cohen. FDR’s conduct is also worth revisiting. (See the excellent book Commander in Chief: FDR, His Lieutenants and Their War by Eric Larrabee.) For example, it may be strictly true that no retired general has been selected to be chief of staff. But it is worth recalling that FDR reached far down the seniority list to pick George C. Marshall, and he reached into the list of soon-to-be-retired Admirals to select Ernest J. King to be chief of Naval Operations. This type of appointment sends a message to the whole bureaucracy that big changes are in store.

This whole episode is yet further evidence that the Bush administration is serious about the war on terror and about reshaping the military for the present and the future. Demanding answers and solutions from the military is hard but necessary work for the civilian leadership. Those who duck this obligation, for example, Bill Clinton, ill-serve the country. Inertia is not the way for Team Bush.

Does this mean that everything that Rumsfeld and Bush will do will be right? No. But it does mean that they are not going to just do business as usual, on autopilot. And that is almost certainly going to lead to a better, more effective military and a more secure America and a more peaceful world. If Rumsfeld has to be a much-hated bastard to achieve this, that’s a price he is manifestly willing to pay.

(See also Phil from INTEL DUMP on this topic).