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08 September 2008


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"I don't think the basic issue here is civilian control of the military in the United States. This concept is so bred into the US Military that it is not even remotely in question."

I know that the concept of civilian control has been deeply engrained in the uniformed folks in the past, Colonel, but I'm a bit fearful regarding the future. The religious right has been deliberately seeding the military for several decades and some of them who are now achieving an age to move into positions of real power and responsibility very likely share some of the Christian Dominionist tendencies that the recently selected GOP VP candidate apparently does. Thankfully there are organizations such as the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, established by an USAFA graduate, doing their part to call them to account.


Warren Street

I'd be curious to see a poll conducted amongst the American people--

Does an American citizen have to follow the orders of the Commander in Chief?

How many of our fellow citizens think the President of the United States can order them around?


For Rome, the price of empire was the collapse of the social and economic consensus that underpinned the republic. The growth of proconsular and military power was a direct outgrowth of the precieved military needs of dealing with the (small e) empire.

The military requirements for sustaining a large, long-term military force to pacify Roman Spain required longer terms for proconsuls and greater personal authority over the increasingly numerous legions under their control. Land, instead of being a prerequisite for military service became the reward for service. The backbone of the Roman social system, the moderately propertied farmers(like our middle class), were ruined by being forced to serve in the army, far from their farms, for years and years on end. Thus ruined, they flooded the cities as landless mobs while the upper class made fortunes out of provisioning the military. This dislocation of the traditional patron-client system meant that the mob(who no longer had set patrons) became increasingly angry and subject to influence by demagogues.

The war on terror with its imperial overreach, whether purposely or accidentally, is putting similar stresses on America's social and economic consensus, with obvious implications for our republic.

Duncan Kinder

The failure of the American polity following the collapse of the Soviet Union to demobilize to pre-WWII military levels certainly buttresses your argument, Col.

But it is easier, far easier, to become a warlord when when is enjoying victories than suffering defeats.

And for reasons you well know, when "the troops" come marching home from Iraq, while pundits may proclaim that "the surge has worked," the spectacle shall bear greater semblance to Caligula - having proclaimed his victory over the sea - marching into Rome bearing seashells and conchs as trophies than to Caesar crossing the Rubicon after having enriched Rome by crushing Gaul.

Cold War Zoomie

I need a King.

He makes me feel safe at night.

Mike Martin, Yorktown, VA

Pat, how do you see John McCain practicing the CinC role if he's elected? Particularly wrt his Navy background. As you say, civilian control of the military is ingrained in every one of us who has taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution. McCain's taken that oath - and there's no end date on it as far as I'm concerned.

It will be interesting to see if the Neocons retain power, likewise the advocates of the "unitary executive" theory.

Patrick Lang

Mike Martin

The oath we took is effective so long as the status for which we took it remains unchanged. It is legal, not sacramental.

McCain is a retired naval officer, not a former naval officer. He is also a US Senator. He remains bound in both categories by his oaths to "protect and defend the constitution of the United States agaisnt all enemies, foreign and domestic."

I am a student of the American Civil War. The question of the permanence of an officer's oath arises in regard to the Southern regular officers who resigned from US service at the secession of their states. The general legal opinion is that if their resignations were accepted by the Secretaries of War or Navy of the United States, then they were no longer bound by that oath. pl


Yohan said that the Roman "mob became increasingly angry and subject to influence by demagogues." Anybody else notice that these are the emotions that Palin is exploiting?

US elections are increasingly looking like a Super Bowl of politics. No issues, no substance. But everybody gets to vote on which Defense they prefer: the Patriots or of the Sheep...


The doctrine in Britain and Westminster system countries is called "The Separation of Powers", not sure if it's the same in the U.S.

The military chain of command is responsible to the crown or Head of State, but the Head of State is not a lawmaker. The lawmakers "advise" the Head of State what to do with the military, but don't actually have legal control.

To put it another way, one party has the power but can't use it. The other party can use the power but can't have it.

It's a nice legal fiction that's tested maybe once every fifty years or so, and I suspect it was tested in Britain in the lead up to the second Iraq war, but we will have to wait for the memoirs to find out.

I would like to think that a similar concept is deeply embedded in the American Officer Corps, but I am not as sure as you are Col. Lang. The British have a deeply engrained and healthy "contempt" (probably too strong a word) for their military. Kipling's "Tommy Atkins" expresses it rather well.

However this "love - hate" relationship is not mirrored in America and this is deeply unsettling to me. The Neocons have been stoking militarism in my opinion and the entire maudlin, phoney, "fallen warrior", "valiant sacrifice" narrative they spin makes me want to throw up.

Judging by the Pentagon's PR efforts, including the entire "Milblog" phenomenon, I believe that there are officers in the military who believe this same narrative, and are covertly supporting the Republicans in direct contravention of the principle of separation of powers - a principle that Bush deliberately misunderstands himself.

This situation is aided and abetted by a complaisant Congress that is derelict in it's duty of keeping the Presidency on the straight and narrow way, and that is the root of the problem in my opinion.

When you couple this creeping militarism, romantic glorification of war, and then conjure an amorphous, ever present foe, as Bush has done with the war on terror, you are asking for trouble.

Remember all military coups have a trumped up legal basis that provides the justification and an assertion that the plotters are not oath breakers. The usual one being that they need to take steps to preserve the Constitution.

frank durkee

Isn't the short term relevant issue that of "the War" and presidential powers? If we move off a declared war then much of the superstructure falls to the ground. the argrument and conversation changes. Bush et al saw this and opted for the 'forever war' as a way of controlling the argrument.


Bush Is a defacto king. He has repeatedly declared a divine right. He famously identified which father he listened to.

Woodward reports that with regard to the surge, Bush ignored the advice of the most senior commanders, and on the very next day announced to those gathered at Ft. Bragg that the surge had the blessing of the commanders. That was a lie and it resulted in death and injury to American military and Iraqi civilians.

If the presence of 140,000 troops in Iraq is a political ploy intended to hamstring the next admistration, that and the worsening situation in Afghanistan are the most reckless acts that can be perpetrate.

It would be nice if the military had the option to just quit and go home. Bush has screwed them.

What more does the Congress need to impeach Bush and Cheney, and why has Pace and the rest of them remained quiet?

Does McCain know he has been snookered? How in the world could Ms. Palin handle this situation should McCain die in the next six months?

The nation is in freefall yet half of it is too enthralled with Ms. Palin to take notice.


Col. When you answered Mike Martin, the person I considered was 5-Star GEN. Dwight Eisenhower. Now the issues were not the same, and I'm not trying to imply it. In some ways, they are similar. Eisenhower had a life time commission as 5-Star General of the Army, RETIRED, not former. But when he became President, he resigned his commission. This protects him from a whole host issues. Upon completion of his Presidential term, his commission as a 5-Star General of the Army, Retired was returned.


Frank Newbauer

Yohan's analysis is partially correct but misses the real reason why the Roman republic failed. The small farmer was ruined, not because they were forced to serve in long-term expeditionary forces to secure the empire, but because the changed economic conditions rendered their labor uneconomical. The Roman world became "flat". The conquest of the empire resulted in undercutting the economic base of the citizen farmer. The flood of slaves into Italy gave rise to the development of the latafundia - large-scale factory farms operated by slaves - and the extrajudicial expropriation of the citizen-farmers' land by the oligarchs. The economic division between the orders became greater and greater, with a fabulously wealthy few and the many in want - sound familiar? This rural proletariate enlisted in the Roman army to (hopefully) secure their and their families future. Those who went to the metropolis for employment could not compete with the highly skilled, but cheap, Greek slaves.

It was the failure of the republican government to adequately reward these citizen soldiers with land that led to the fall of the republic. Starting with Marius, the individual Roman general and later consul (or dictator) became the guarantor of this reward. Sulla, Pompey, Julius Ceasar became the champion the legionnaires looked to for security, not the state. Ceasar was the culmination of this (he was Marius' nephew) and saw the rot in the system. He was capable of taking control, but was killed by those who no higher aim than perpetuating the forms of the republic.

The internal contradictions of the Roman constitution were not capable of functioning in an empire. Those individuals who tried to change the system, such as the Gracchi, were destroyed, literally, by the Senators. Short term advantage trumped the security of the state.

That reminds of some other republic that had a sound footing, created a great nation, and then squandered it, paying off the masses with bread and circuses.

William R. Cumming

Wow! Great post and comments. "The Man Who Would Be King" a Kipling tale might be of interest. It was always of interest to me that political appointees often had never been elected officials although of course some were. Those who had been elected were more sensitive to the fact that their real service was owed to the people and not to the party or leadership that appointed them. Since PL is expert on the Civil War and I am not would be interested in his comments on election of officers in that war, north and south, and their performance. The modern military is self-contained but what is of interest is that in the period of time since General Haig served Nixon it is becoming increasing frequent that officers make rank based on their service to elected politicians and appointees. And of course the fact that the Senate votes on promotions is always of interest. When was the last truly open dialog in academia, the military or political circles on what civilian control of the military really means? Eliot Cohen's writings speak to elected politicians like Churchill and Roosevelt of having contibuted greatly to the cause of the democracies. But the debate over Hitler and his performance might lead to other conclusions. What is interesting however is that military service is increasingly unlikely in candidates and their grip on what actually motivates soldiers, sailors, and airmen and women is often lacking. I think that the Nurmemberg policy of not obeying orders that were unlawful continue to plague the issue of civilian control. On that basis alone I think participation by the US in the ICC (International Criminal Court) might focus attention of the military and civilians in their chain of command just as Churchill's comment on bullets passing close by without result. In this case, trial and punishment by the ICC is never an issue if the US were to take action on its own. But let's get serious, how many field grade officers have been punished since the end of the draft military? If they were punished what was it for? How many for disobeying a direct order and what were those orders? There is no question that international law has been violated by the US numerous times. Example, employment of Agent Orange was chemical warfare no doubt. In short, this long comment is directed at who is really accountable for the performance of the military in its fullest dimensions and what is the basis of that accountability? I think the current President's flirtation with military activity is similar to that of Kaiser Bill playing toy soldiers when young. Never a serious student but one who loved the uniforms and the pomp and circumstance. When serving in Germany in the late 60's and early 70's I actually had German officers (who were subjected to frequent democracy training) say that we (the US) were the new NAZIs because we polished our boots. Way off but yes we did redesign the Bundeswehr uniforms because those of the Werhmact were too spiffy. Maybe we need more training for all involved including appointees and elected officials as to their accountability. It would be easier with an ICC membership for the US.


There was an interesting discussion on the old Intel Dump site about CinC power. My takeaway was summarized by J D Henderson. See his 5:09 post at


For Zoomie:

For making you safe, George II is the man. He starts with the idea that "they" hate us for our freedom. This hatred makes us unsafe because it makes "them" want to attack our homeland. Therefore to make us safer obviously our freedoms must be reduced. As our freedoms dwindle so does the hatred and our safety increases in proportion. When our freedom is gone, the hatred vanishes and we are perfectly safe. What we'll be allowed to do when we are safe is a valid question.

As a corollary OIF was instigated to provide the Iraquis with freedom, as the name implies. Along with their freedom they will obviously acquire hatred. This will provide an outlet for those who can no longer hate us. See where logic leads with the proper premise?

Or as Mark Twain says in Life on the Mississippi:

"There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact"


(third quote)

Be safe


Patrick Lang


As I understand it, a five star general or admiral is like a European field marshal, never retired, always on active duty until death. Omar Bradley was the last. He had an army personal staff (small)and lived on post at Ft. Bliss until he died.

Eisenhower resigned to be president as you say and then was reinstated whrn he left office in 1960.

The same thing must have been true of Marshall. pl

Charles I

You have a "Magna Carta".
But the Gentry charged with enforcing it to secure their interests no longer operate in their own, their public, interests.

For a long period the feather-nesting and gerrymandering of incumbency nonetheless generally accorded to the sensible goals of a sound economy, local employment, public tolerance if not comity, secure borders and international status. But the interests of our present gentry, or rather their myriad paymasters, have been freed from any nationalistic tendencies by a fruitful long term campaign to discredit and sell the social contract, along with maintenance and governance thereof to the highest bidder.

Globalization was the uncoupling of the gentry from their former rent-producing holdings, and the human capital therein, the further monetary inflation of freed capital in flight affording fantastic profits coming and going, even as one's own erstwhile peasants were beggared in situ by same. Uncoupling that eliminated consequences of manufactured crises used to simultaneously increase costs and lower property values of social assets prior to sale and redevelopment or leaseback. Populist Clinton was a globalizer par none, so the American middle class manufacturing sector sublimated into global capital with allegiance to no state, an orgy of cheap credit, consumption and debt prescribed as cure.

Executive governance, in every sense of those words, similarly passed into a realm unfettered by the workings of the democratic electoral cycle that once empowered it, or indeed any class of shareholders outside of management, the latter, while handsomely rewarded no longer with tenure, as it were.

Cold War Zoomie feels safer with a warrior king.

That's all this system offers, given current foreign policy. Until such time as those so easily addled yet so assiduously seeded by the great Base of the Right into the hallways of Power cohere into a religiously charged cabal a la the flatheads that becomes incumbent - and charged with a very different kind of true mission. At that time the government shall stop ignoring the population, and set to great domestic projects with more skill, fervour and technology than has ever been applied to a congregation to date. Shock and Awe fit for a King is what I expect, because I don't believe Congress will ever step up. I'm thinking Total Information Awareness meets Margaret Atwoods' 'A Handmaid's Tale', applied with a system of gold stars, maybe colour-coded like threat levels according to you contributions, or lack thereof, to the Church of Homeland Security and Sanctity.

At which time I'll be pining for a King to rid me of a troublesome priest.

Patrick Lang


It is cslled the same thing here. Here the head of state is head of government and we actually do have a real separation of powers which you do not have in the "Westminster" model since real power is in the hands of the parliament.

The US military is good at purging officers who are too closely affiliated with a particular civilian ideology. Wait and see. pl


Dear Sir "(not necessarily deliberately)" I do not think the case can be made that, to use your term, the Jacobins are not deliberate. In particular the concept of the Unitary Executive is so seductive to the POTUS, no matter who, that it clings to the cosnstitution as blood upon the hands of Lady Macbeth.


I come from a family with a long history, early 1700's, in this country, the same area I live in at the present time. My Mother's and Father's Families were never considered "Favorites of the King" or "Conservatives".

Looking from the British point of view, the "Revolutionaries" were nothing more than an insurgent group of traitors. The whole group should all be taken out and hanged. But the feeling was mutual on both sides. But as these simple people worked together (Networking),remember everything they did was a life or death choice, you or them. They had a password system, it was a riddle. "Can you tell me which it is, is it the king is law OR is it the LAW IS KING? You better answer the question with "Law is King" or you are dead!

Let's just take a quick look at our Constitution, many swore an oath in support of it. The sequence is important.

Article I- Legislative - They write the Law.

Article II - Executive - They execute the Written Law.

Article III - Judiciary - They interpret the law,

I wonder, what do their actions say about their answer to the riddle, How do you think the Revolutionaries, who put everything on the line, including their families' and their own lives on the line, would answer this question? Well?!?!


Dear Colonel,
Would it be fair to call Madison our last true commander in chief of the Army and Navy, since he was the last president to strap on a sword and ride into battle?



The "CiC" ignored the Joint Chiefs and the Chain of Command and adopted American Enterprise Institute's battle plan to increase the number of troops in Bagdad and stove piped General Petraeus to take command.

Bob Woodward indicates there were three additional reasons for the decrease in violence besides additional boots on the ground:

1) "Fusion cells" using every tool available simultaneously, from signal intercepts to human intelligence and other methods, that allowed lightning-quick and sometimes concurrent operations.

2) Anbar Awakening, and

3) Moqtada al-Sadr ordered his powerful Mahdi Army to suspend operations.

John McCain’s Surge victory is 200 attacks a week. This was won by Gestapo tactics and multiple 15 month tours but can be lost in a second by a reversal by either the Sunnis or Shiites. A quandary left to the next CiC. Does he listen to his military and financial advisors or does he keep booting the can down the line as long as he can?


Vietnam Vet said:
"Fusion cells" using every tool available simultaneously, from signal intercepts to human intelligence and other methods, that allowed lightning-quick and sometimes concurrent operations."

That sounds like SOCOM got the crème de la crème of the available Intelligence multi-dicipline humanoid/systems talent with which to undertake stated high speed, low drag missions (much to the chagrin of the sad sack crunchy drones).

The problem is how do you evaluate the catch? How many garbage fish had to be gaffed over the side?
With all their talent, could the Snake eaters from Hell tell the difference (quality wise) between the sources they failed to ventilate and dragged in instead? If they could tell the difference, a senior officer's admission to trolling for garbage could be considered a career ender, could it not? Were there provable, significant reductions in Takfiri/Iranian ops in the sectors where these DA activities took place? Was there an over reliance on IA personnel to vet bad guys during the course of this offensive? And if so, how could their prejudices be evaluated?

If you do not know the answers to those questions within a reasonable degree of probability, are you not pissing in the proverbial wind, and checking off the latest box in your career progression?

Hint: has anyone ever seen an ass covering, fraudulent combat after action report before?

Patrick Lang

Frank Durkee

We do not have a declared war. pl

Patrick Lang


The Civil War armies north and south were artifacts of 19th century European and American history. During the Napoleonic Wars there arose in Britain what was called the "Volunteer Movement." In this movement, local citizens groups formed geographically based units for the duration of the emergency. These were wartime only units made up of local people; squires, tradesmen, farmers, etc. The members thought themselves voluntary patriotic associations, not to be confused with regular soldiers or disciplined the same way. In these units, company officers (lieutenants and captains) were elected. field officers (majors, and colonels appointed) by higher political authority.

This idea spread to the New World and established itself in both the US and Canada.

In the Mexican War a large volunteer force was raised. The units were given state designations, "Mississippi Rifles," etc. They supplemented both the Regulars and the militia of the states. At war's end they were disbanded and everyone involved got a presentation sword, a big reputation, the right to style himself colonel (of volunteers), etc.

This had worked rather well and so when the Civil war started, the leaders, who had all served in Mexico, raised the armies the same way.

So, there were; Regulars, Volunteers (the majority) and militia on both sides. Virginia even had something it called the Reserves.

We did the same thing in the Spanish War. After that the Regulars "put their foot down" and insisted that there would be no more of that.

What do I think of this?

It would have been a lot more efficient and effective to raise a unified national army as we did from WW1 on. The volunteer system resulted in whole armies of green troops taking the field in combat under officers, including generals, who had no military knowledge at all. They learned the hard way. A lot of Regular officers transferred to the volunteers for the duration of the war.

Maureen and I have a great grandfather who was first sergeant of a rifle company in a volunteer regiment. The regiment's fixed term of enlistment ran out in the Spring of 1864, just before The Wilderness. Those who were willing, re-enlisted for the rest of the war in the same regiment. The rest went home. Since it was legally a new regiment they re-elected company officers. Our ancestor was elected a captain and soldiered on to Appomattox. pl

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