In 2008, retired generals and admirals lined up with candidate Obama.
On an email list where folks are discussing how to encourage our rulers to wind down their farflung wars and stop starting new ones, somebody mused the other day:
When empires are declining, losing their grip, historically their generals have often stepped in to prop up and then take over inept central governments -- think Rome, the Ottoman Turks, etc. After all, the army bled for the empire; if the civilians can't run it properly, don't the generals almost have a duty to push those dithering politicians into a back seat? Or so many come to believe. We shouldn't think this is entirely a phenomenon of the distant past among "less modern" people -- it nearly happened in France in the late 1950s.
The epic muddle that is the Afghanistan war is raising these question in this country among "National Security" thinkers. (Anyone else remember a time when that label was confined to obscure Washington bureaucrats, spooks and a few slightly scary professors?) They are concerned. Bernard Finel (Georgetown University plus thinktanks) writes:
He spells this out:
Scary, huh? Jason Fritz who writes as "Gunslinger" at the "national security" blog InkSpots thinks he understands why the Afghanistan muddle is almost pushing the generals into action.
Those poor military leaders just can't help themselves -- they just have to take over, don't they? It's what they were trained to do.
Viewed from lower military ranks, these general officers pushing their Afghanistan agendas don't appear quite so innocent. Did you hear about the reserve colonel, a vet of both Iraq and Afghanistan, who got bounced out of Kabul for complaining about the command staff's addiction to meaningless PowerPoint presentations? He's not so impressed with the generals' professionalism or superior wisdom about the wars.
Colonel Sellin's distress with his commanders points to another historically common phenomenon in declining empires. Once military leaders have pushed those useless politicians off the scene sometimes their subordinates, who know the foibles of their leaders, think they could do an even better job. Once a hierarchical order jumps the rails, the potential for violent chaos rises exponentially.
Obviously we are not there yet. But these are the dangers in empires losing their predominance and the United States is that. Failed wars heighten threat and we have several such wars these days.