Enough with Political Endorsements from Retired Military Officers

*Note: This essay was published at War on the Rocks on November 27, 2017. It can also be found online here.

Recently, Dan Helmer, a West Point graduate running for a U.S. House of Representatives seat in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, released a list of eight retired generals and admirals he calls his “National Security Advisory Committee.” At the top is retired Lt. Gen. Dan Christman, who formerly served as superintendent at West Point (akin to a college president) while I was a cadet. I looked up to him then.

But I’m not so sure about that now.

Christman’s and other public endorsements from retired military officers are legal, but are nonetheless inappropriate and harm both the military and country. Most Americans are naturally prone to see these retired officers — especially retired admirals and generals — as representing the entire military. As such, one person’s individual endorsement necessarily trades on the military’s reputation in service of a party, ideology, or candidate. This pulls the military into partisan politics.

Read the rest at War on the Rocks.

The Mike Flynn Problem is Actually a Profession of Arms Problem

*Note: This essay was originally published at War on the Rocks.

When twelve stars tell you to knock it off, there’s a problem.

At several points throughout this past presidential campaign, Lt. Gen. (ret.) Michael Flynn’s partisan political behavior, while legal, was so out-of-line for a member of the profession of arms that a trio of the nation’s elite retired officers reached out informally and publicly to tell Flynn to cease and desist. Flynn’s old commander and comrade, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, quietly urged restraint, and two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff wrote open letters to mark their disapproval: Gen. Martin Dempsey explained to the American people that Flynn’s inappropriate actions violated the profession’s “apolitical tradition,” and Adm. Michael Mullen amplified the same sentiment, that “for retired senior officers to take leading and vocal roles as clearly partisan figures is a violation of the ethos and professionalism of apolitical military service.”

Yet, despite three enormous red-and-white flags waving “stop,” Flynn, as a commission-holding retired military officer, continued to violate these apolitical values — etched in code, written in policy, deep in history, and reinforced every two years by service-supported voting education and assistance programs — yet, when pressed in an interview about this very criticism, Flynn responded combatively: “What’s Marty Dempsey going to do?” While troubling on its own, Flynn’s defiance raises a larger, more important question: What’s the profession of arms going to do?

Read the rest at War on the Rocks.

In Search of Seamless Interoperability in Korea

“You had better get back to Korea,” the messenger whispered in U.S. Army Colonel W.H.S. Wright’s ear.

Wright sat on a Tokyo church pew on Sunday, June 25, 1950, about to put his family on a U.S.-bound plane, when the North Koreans attacked the Republic of Korea. Wright immediately flew back to Seoul’s smoky confusion to command the Korean Military Advisory Group’s (KMAG) 472 American soldiers assigned to build the new ROK Army. Without warning, the next day the entire ROK Army headquarters moved south. Then Wright received a dispatch from Washington promising military reinforcement and the ROK Army headquarters returned to Seoul. The two organizations were reunited.

Read the rest of the article at War on the Rocks here.


The Strategist’s Mission Statement, Version 2

Image courtesy of War on the Rocks. Image courtesy of War on the Rocks.


Frank Hoffman and I are in raging, intense agreement – for the most part.

I wrote a short essay this past week describing my thoughts on a “Strategist’s Mission Statement.”  This was a return to first principles – what is a strategist and what does one actually do?  For example, if military strategists around the world, from Kabul to Korea, had a plaque on their desk citing their unique contribution to the nation, what would it read? Continue reading “The Strategist’s Mission Statement, Version 2”

Asking Big Questions: Containment and Rollback Ride Again

Image courtesy of Flikr user US Air Force. Image courtesy of Flikr user US Air Force.


Back in February, I agreed to write a two-part essay for another website – the first part was published – the second was sort of left floundering. I’d actually forgotten that I’d written something until the other day I came across a neat article about the group Ask Big Questions. It’s an educational/cultural initiative that grew out of Rabbi Josh Fiegelson’s experience counseling Northwestern University students.  In trying to get them to talk, constructively, about violence in the Middle East – he stumbled onto an important insight.  The more broadly one elevates the question at hand – the discussion can subtly become more useful/meaningful.  Here’s how (from the article cited above): Continue reading “Asking Big Questions: Containment and Rollback Ride Again”

Essay over at War on the Rocks: “The Civil-Military Bridge, Part 1: Simplification and Shorthand Abstractions

**Here’s the opening to an essay by Major Matt Cavanaugh over at War On The Rocksthe rest is available here.

The civil-military gap is both real and significant.  Its causes are many, but it is in large part a result of the fact that Americans simply do not know much about the military – and that many national security and foreign policy elites spend little time or effort communicating across this divide.  But while the moat that separates the two parties is wide, both sides need one another desperately; the habitants on both shores need help communicating to cross this perilous water hazard.  Security simplification and Shorthand Abstractions (SHAs) can be useful tactical tools for bridging the civil-military gap in the national security and foreign policy arenas.

Take your pick: when it comes to national security and foreign policy, Americans are either apathetic or confused.  At presidential campaign time, when Americans are asked what issues they consider most important, vast majorities say “the economy.”  Answers linked to “foreign policy or national security typically yield between 3 and 5 percent.” Professor Ivan Arreguin-Toft recently lectured on the lack of basic “military literacy” in the United States and how this is detrimental to a liberal democracy. He cited a worrying statistic: 70% of newspaper-reading Americans never turn to the foreign affairs section (and that’s of the paper-reading subset). The New York Times recently featured a story about the U.S. Army’s adaptation to garrison life. In a published response, one reader quoted an Army specialist, home from Afghanistan, who griped about “too many slow days.”  The letter suggested a “few projects” for the soldier, including: “playing sports with children whose parents don’t have time,” “road and bridge building,” and “delivering food to shut-ins.”  Though the letter may have been tongue-in-cheek about the soldier’s role in society, with such a small sliver of society (.5%) currently in uniform, maybe it wasn’t.  Those comments might just represent what Americans think soldiers are for.

**To continue reading, click here.