In McClellan’s footsteps?

My friend Mac Owens is a former Marine infantry platoon leader in Vietnam and current professor at the Naval War College, where he is writing a history of American civil-military relations. He addresses Bob Woodward’s new book on the Bush administration in “Our generals almost cost us Iraq” in today’s Wall Street Journal. Mac concludes:

Although the conventional narrative about the Iraq war is wrong, its persistence has contributed to the most serious crisis in civil-military relations since the Civil War. According to Mr. Woodward’s account, the uniformed military not only opposed the surge, insisting that their advice be followed; it then subsequently worked to undermine the president once he decided on another strategy.

In one respect, the actions taken by military opponents of the surge, e.g. “foot-dragging,” “slow-rolling” and selective leaking are, unfortunately, all-too-characteristic of U.S. civil-military relations during the last decade and a half. But the picture Mr. Woodward draws is far more troubling. Even after the policy had been laid down, the bulk of the senior U.S. military leadership — the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, the rest of the Joint Chiefs, and Gen. Abizaid’s successor, Adm. William Fallon, actively worked against the implementation of the president’s policy.

If Mr. Woodward’s account is true, it means that not since Gen. McClellan attempted to sabotage Lincoln’s war policy in 1862 has the leadership of the U.S. military so blatantly attempted to undermine a president in the pursuit of his constitutional authority. It should be obvious that such active opposition to a president’s policy poses a threat to the health of the civil-military balance in a republic.

Mac is the first commenter on Woodward’s book (of whom I am aware, anyway) to find the scandal hiding in plain sight, unnoticed by Woodward himself. Mac’s column demands attention in its entirety, but his conclusion warrants special attention, as does the question of the veracity of Woodward’s account on which the last paragraph hangs.

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