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Jim Golby @jimgolby
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<thread> Most people have been focused on the question of whether it was a good idea for ADM (Ret) McRaven to violate a civ-mil norm by writing a letter criticizing the President, but Ken raises a good point about whether it will make an impact. I think that’s unlikely. 1/
I’ve done research related to whether endorsements from retired generals & admirals influence elections. The short answer is they probably don’t, and there’s little reason to think McRaven’s letter will either - but it’s not clear-cut. 2/
In the aggregate, the study we did for @CNASdc showed no aggregate effects of endorsements by retired officers in advance of the 2012 election. 3/…
But we did find some evidence that endorsements might help President Obama among independents, which we believed (based on a question we asked about the military’s partisan lean) was because it was surprising to many voters thar retired officers would back the Dem candidate. 4/
We found a similar effect among low information voters who don’t pay much attention to foreign policy, but again these effects were not very strong. 5/
But, as to Ken’s specific point, we didn’t find much evidence that those on the opposing side were influenced at all. In fact, we found some weak evidence of blowback among veterans who saw a mil endorsement for Obama, but we weren’t sure why. 6/
Since we used a relatively sterile survey experiment, it’s possible that repeated exposure could strengthen/change these effects. But it’s also likely that media bubbles & partisan feedback loops will filter out news or frame it in ways that are unlikely to trigger opposition. 7/
@Susan_Hennessey makes the case that ADM (Ret) McRaven’s letter isn’t focused on the public. Instead, it could have a cascading effect, making it possible for other leaders to take a stand in solidarity with less fear of reprisal. She might be right. 8/…
I personally think that’s unlikely because I doubt it will have the necessary impact among voters in GOP primaries, the place it would need to happen most to have the effect she suggests. Without electoral incentive, legislators are unlikely to shift IMHO. 9/
@KoriSchake has a similar, but more nuanced, view in an excellent piece for @WarOnTheRocks, suggesting that ADM(Ret) McRaven’s letter may have come in response to the first-mover norm violation by the administration. 10/…
I disagree a bit here because I think theses norms have been degrading on civ-mil & on other fronts, including checks on executive power, for decades now. @ProfSaunders & @JimGoldgeier have an excellent piece related to this point here: 11/…
But, in any case, it leaves us with the realization that ADM (Ret) McRaven’s letter is unlikely to have much effect. I personally think it seems unwise to be willing to trade in important norms to try to create an effect that sacrificing those norms is unlikely to create. 12/
The major concern I have after a few days reflection is one expressed by @smsaideman here, namely that it is deeply problematic for us to expect the military to save the day. 13/
It also means that we, as a country, believe that civilian leaders need military cover to take political action. If that is true, which it may be, that is far more troubling than any single norm violation we’ve seen in recent years. 14/
It’s been rare in U.S. history that politicization of vets & retired mil hasn’t been quickly followed by politicization of serving officers & those still in uniform. It’s really hard to hold the line. We’ve seen this at the founding, the Civil War era & during the Gilded Age. 15/
Norms about civil-military relations and civilian control shouldn’t be treated as lesser included norms that can be cast aside in difficult times. Doing so may be a cure worse than the disease. 16/
Asking the military to come to the rescue in domestic political disputes, even - & perhaps esp in divisive & trying times - rarely ends well for anyone, except maybe the mil elite or those most closely aligned with them. And it could precipitate rather than prevent crisis. 17/17
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