David W. Barno, a retired Army lieutenant general, is a senior adviser and senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. He commanded U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005.
The Sept. 6 commentary by retired Maj. Gen. Robert H. Scales [“A war the Pentagon doesn’t want,” Washington Forum] marks a dangerous breach of the fundamental civilian-military relationship in the United States. Its corrosive premise — that our civilian leadership is not up to the task of deciding the nation’s course in war — must be addressed before our military begins to believe that it should have the biggest say in decisions to go to war.
Scales, a military historian and former commandant of the U.S. Army War College (from which I graduated), is a powerful voice among the Army’s retired generals. His words are all the more dangerous because they carry such weight.
Civilian control of the military is a fundamental principle of democracies and is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. Our Founding Fathers worried deeply about the potential for abuse of military power and designed numerous constitutional safeguards to ensure the military would remain a servant of the state.