How many times have we heard conservatives say that “government should be run like a business”? I never agreed with the premise, since government usually ends up with tasks that aren’t designed for profitability, but let’s assume that you’re a conservative and you like the idea.
In that case, what was this little hootenany about this last week?
In what private sector job do you get to do your own performance review, as General Petraeus just did? Petraeus came to Washington, told us about how terrific all the progress is, Bush says, “Okay, good,” and now we’re all supposed to bow our heads in agreement?
Besides, the general is required to give a good report. Every time a general comes back with negative news to report, Bush yanks him.
Certainly, it’s tempting for a President to simply validate what the military is saying. Here are people devoting their lives to the defense of our country, experts in the field. Even if you make a mistake in backing them, you can always say, as Bush does, “They’re the military. Naturally, I listened to what they said, not to some politicians in Washington.”
Just two minor problems with that idea. One, in this country it is the specific job of the politicians to tell the military what to do. Our Constitution is nothing more than an 18th century placemat, without the fact that our elected civilian officials have power over the military.
Second, at key moments in American history, we were saved by Presidents who refused to follow their generals’ advice. President Lincoln sacked General McClellan in the Civil war, President Truman countermanded General MacArthur in the Korean War, and if President Kennedy had listened to his generals during the Cuban Missile Crisis, much of North America would be a nuclear wasteland right now.
It’s fine and dandy to have a President who has the support of our military. It’s far more important to have someone in the job who’s willing to tell them “no.”