The Best Defense

I think this is the fundamental problem in U.S. civil-military relations these days

The other day I was speaking on an Army base to a bunch of bright officers. Talking and listening, I came away with this thought: The fundamental problem in 21st century American civil-military relations is that we need presidents willing to listen and learn from dissenting generals -- and generals who know how to dissent in strategic discussions, and are willing to do so.

This is not just a hit on President Obama, though I think he has stumbled in this area with Admiral Mullen and General Mattis.

Think, for example, of Tommy Franks, unable to see that Phase IV of the Iraq war was his responsibility, and that if he thought it wasn't, be willing to send up a rocket about that. And think of President Bush, seeking consensus in discussions of Iraq, rather than using those sessions to explore assumptions and bring differences to the fore -- which is the essence of strategy. If you don't solve civil-military splits around the table, they will persist in the field, as happened with General Sanchez and Ambassador Bremer in Iraq in 2003-04.

Remember, if you are comfortable while making strategy, you probably aren't making strategy, you are just listing goals.

Getting generals who are willing and able to educate their presidents in strategic thinking, and presidents willing to respond in kind -- yeah, that's the hard part.


The Best Defense

Hunter: Wash Post obit of Gen. Mundy was a shamefully disguised editorial

By Duncan Hunter
Best Defense guest columnist

Using an obituary to editorialize against a man is the worst of bad taste. 

Matt Schudel's obituary for the Washington Post on former Marine Corps Commandant General Carl Mundy appeared to be more of an editorial espousing liberal views on gays in the military and women in combat. The column served neither the truth nor the legacy of a great Marine general. 

Schudel excoriates Mundy for his stand against allowing homosexuals into the ranks and resisting the movement to place women in combat positions. Further, he takes Mundy to task for refusing to cut the Marine Corps below their traditional level of 170,000. The Army unfortunately was more acquiescent during the same period, allowing its forces to be cut almost in half with only 10 out of 18 divisions remaining when President Clinton exited the White House.

Ten years later, during the Iraq war, thousands of Army families were punished by multiple 15-month tours in the combat zone. Through his previous resistance to cuts, Mundy spared his Marine Corps the same fate.

It was also Clinton who made a campaign promise to remove the ban on gays in the military. Mundy battled back. The result was a continued ban, a result of the American people and both houses of Congress standing with Mundy.

Schudel further criticizes Mundy for his stand against permitting young women in close-quarters combat. Yet as secretary of defense, Les Aspin, a liberal Democrat, had issued a policy banning women in combat. He apparently agreed with Mundy's statement that direct combat is "a very dirty, distasteful and physical business."

Mundy's views were formed in the brutal cauldron of combat in the jungles of Vietnam. Years later, the primal, house-to-house battle for Fallujah validated his views. It was difficult after seeing film clips of Fallujah to argue that young American women should have been in the middle of that battle. 

Mundy, like many Marine commandants, was forged and tempered on the battlefield. Sometimes complicated U.S. foreign policy resolves into life and death struggles in remote parts of the world. Prevailing in these conflicts is the paramount security interest of this country.

For 200 years, Americans like Mundy have stepped forward -- forthright and courageous, with a sense of honor. We should respect Mundy for his tremendous service to this country and thank God for his career. 

If men like Mundy stopped coming forward, America would lose. 

Duncan L. Hunter served in the House of Representatives from 1981 to 2008. He is a former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.