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Jim Golby @jimgolby
, 20 tweets, 7 min read Read on Twitter
<Thread> We’re ending 2018 in a precarious place re: civil-military relations - our nation is polarized, political leaders & pundits routinely politicize the military, retired GOFOs can’t keep their mouths shut, & service members are caught in between & increasingly partisan. 1/
President Trump isn’t the first political leader to politicize the military. It’s part of a trend that’s been developing for more than 30 years, but his statements openly courting support of the mil and making partisan speeches in front of troops have shattered previous norms. 2/
The behavior of service members was also concerning. It is likely true that they did not strictly violate regulations (tho the AF captain with the banner probably did), they violated the spirit of DOD Directive 1344.10 & created a partisan impression. 3/…
And the official response to these incidents was inept & inadequate. The behavior did not violate the law, but it was not proper or appropriate for members of a non-partisan profession that serves all Americans. 4/
But the responses to his recent trip show that the problem of politicization is much bigger than any one man. Pundits & political leaders have fallen into the trap of arguing about whose “side” service members are on & who they’re against. 5/
Claiming the troops or vets are “on our side” is problematic for a number of reasons. First, as research by @Jason_K_Dempsey me & others have shown, our military is quite diverse and it’s political opinions really aren’t unique once you control for demographic factors. 6/
I have raised concerns at @smallwars about increasing partisanship within the ranks, especially among the officer corps, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is simply incorrect to claim the “military” is on anyone’s side when it comes to politics. 7/…
Second, as @ahfdc & Mara Karlin have pointed out, these trends risk putting military service on a pedestal & making the troops or veterans the legitimate arbiters of purely domestic political decisions. This is antithetical to liberal democracy. 8/…
Vets and service members make up less than ten percent of the population, and as @PeterLucier continues to remind us in his beautiful writing, military service doesn’t grant any particular wisdom about life or about politics. 9/…
In the words of @KoriSchake: “The Trump administration is providing a welcome reminder for us that our veterans, like the rest of our fellow Americans, are a diverse bunch. Jim Mattis is a model of Roman virtues; Michael Flynn is now a felon.” 10/…
Military leaders do have narrow expertise, and there are times where their voices help national security decision-making, but I hope they’ll be more restrained in 2019 in sharing political opinions. 11/
Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I don’t see how comments from GEN (Rey.) Stanley McChrystal add to our political discourse. His views are only notable because he’s a prominent military figure and his comments will do more to stoke politicization than anything else. 12/
Similarly, it’d be nice if political leaders and pundits had thicker skin and chose not to respond. I’m skeptical this is going to change in 2018, but I’m not optimistic. 13/
Although I’ve been vocal about the need for the military to do better in bridging the civ-mil divide at @Strategy_Bridge & elsewhere, fixing the problem of military politicization needs to begin with civilian leaders not with those of us in uniform. 14/…
As my dissertation & research by @m_robinson771 has shown, this is especially true for conservatives. They benefit most from the current pattern of civ-mil relations and blind support for the military has become a component of their political identity. 15/
But Peter Feaver & I have shown that both Republicans & Democrats like the military more when they believe it shares their partisan leanings. And both have incentives to politicize the military which will have corrosive effects on military expertise, discipline & cohesion. 16/
So, in 2019, if you’re a civilian or a political leader, resolve not to claim the troops are on your side. Don’t ask them to take sides at all. If your political opponent politicizes the military, resist the urge to counter with more politicization. Just call them out. 17/
If you’re a retired general/flag officer, resolve to share your mil expertise but to keep personal political opinions to yourself. Everything you say gives the impression you’re speaking on behalf of the troops to someone. 18/
If you’re in uniform, don’t take sides in political fights & don’t do things that create the perception that the military is partisan, regardless of the party/issue. If you’re a vet, participate in politics but don’t create the impression that you speak for those in uniform. 19/
We can make policy reforms & I’ll write more about those in 2019, but if we can’t all agree on the fact that politicization of the military is bad for the country (even if it’s in our short-term interest), U.S. civil-military relations are only going to get worse in 2019. 20/20
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