Small Wars Journal

Effective Civil-Military Relations in the 21st Century

Tue, 04/26/2011 - 10:00am
Effective Civil-Military Relations in the 21st Century

Book Review by F. G. Hoffman

Download the Full Book Review: Effective Civil-Military Relations in the 21st Century

Mackubin Thomas Owens, US Civil-Military Relations After 9/11: Renegotiating the Civil-Military Bargain, New York: Continuum Books, 2011, 211 pgs, $22.95.

Protracted and indecisive conflict often generates serious fissures between policy makers and military leaders. It can also lead to profound cracks between societies and the military institutions they raise up and sustain to defend themselves. The United States has been at war for about a decade against enemies whose fighting style and tactics confound us, challenge our view of warfare and thwart our traditional sources of power. Victory has been elusive, but the costs are tangible and growing.

Against such a backdrop, one would have expected the oft conflicted elements inherent to American civil-military relations to have produced some crisis or dysfunctional undertow by now. In fact, even before the war, distinguished historians concluded that relations between our uniformed leaders and senior elected officials were "extraordinarily poor" and that the national fabric had been rent. There have been alleged crises; the purported Revolt of the Generals during the Bush Administration, Admiral "Fox" Fallon's apparent public policy disagreement with the White House over Iran, and the fallout from the Rolling Stones article where General Stan McChrystal's staff torched his career with what can only be charitably described as diarrhea of the mouth.

Despite the elongated situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the extraordinary pressures that have been placed upon the Armed Services by its constant deployment cycle and the personal costs of the war, the supposedly rent fabric is holding up. Flawed operations and strategic missteps there have been, but the sort of crisis predicted even before 9/11 has not emerged. But war is both an arbiter of and influence upon societies and military institutions, and long wars, conclusive or not, generate pressures to national institutions. Thus, Dr. "Mac" Owens' refreshingly lucid book is well timed to explain the foundation and evolution of U.S. civil-military interactions over the past decade.

Download the Full Book Review: Effective Civil-Military Relations in the 21st Century

Frank Hoffman is a retired Marine Reserve officer and works for the Department of the Navy.

About the Author(s)

Frank Hoffman is a retired Marine infantryman and veteran Pentagon policy and program analyst. The comments in his articles reflect his own positions and not those of the Department of Defense.