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Many analysts do say there is a rift between the military and civilian leaders, but it's a problem that can be fixed, says Michael Desch.


Desch is the Robert M. Gates Chair in Intelligence and National Security Decision-Making at Texas A&M's George H.W. Bush School of Government and Public Service.

In a recent issue of Foreign Affair, Desch writes that tensions between the military and the administration are at an all-time high.

Dr. MICHAEL DESCH (Texas A&M): You had what I think is the historically unprecedented situation of six recently retired general officers calling for the resignation of the secretary of defense in the middle of a war. That hasn't happened at any time really in American history. And then you've also had episodes with younger officers like Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling writing very critical articles about the senior military leadership. So it seems to me there is no doubt that Iraq has really frayed the American military and particularly the U.S. Army.

COHEN: You've written that the best solution to what's going on right now is to return to what you call an old division of labor, where civilians give deference to the military professional advice in terms of tactical and operational realms. And in exchange, the military needs to kind of let the politicians be the ones in charge of strategy and politics.

If you were to look at things starting today, what would you change? What would you do from here on out to make it more of a separation between the civilian side and the military side?

Dr. DESCH: Well, I think the big issue that is going to come up in the future is going to be the drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq. And there's going to be a lot of to-ing and fro-ing about the details, how many go, where are they're deployed, all sorts of issues like that. The White House is going to have to make the larger decision about national priorities and how long we stay. The modalities somehow we draw down I would leave to the military professionals.

COHEN: It seems that part of the problem that's creating the tension between these two groups is the fact that the military seems to be fearful of the fact that if they express their true opinions, it could wind up being career suicide for them. Do you get that sense, and is there any chances that that might change in the future?

Dr. DESCH: That's part of it for some people. But I think part of it is also a commitment - at least the rhetorical principle of civilian control of the military. That is such a important part of the military's professional culture that the idea that you would do something dramatic when you disagree with civilian policy makers, you know, comes very hard to a lot of these guys.

And that was compounded, I know, in a number of cases with a concern that we're in the middle of a war and if somebody were, for example, to resign in protest, they'd be leaving their subordinates sort of holding the bag. But there's also, I think, a principled argument, which is that senior officers just aren't sure how far they should go in protesting policies they disagree with. And there's not a black and white answer to that question.

COHEN: Michael Desch holds the Robert M. Gates Chair in Intelligence and National Security Decision-Making at Texas A&M's George H.W. Bush School of Government and Public Service. Thank you so much.

Dr. DESCH: You're welcome, Alex.

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