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Thread: Top-ranking officer warns U.S. military to stay out of politics

  1. #1
    Council Member AdamG's Avatar
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    Default Top-ranking officer warns U.S. military to stay out of politics

    The highest-ranking U.S. military officer has written an unusual open letter to all those in uniform, warning them to stay out of politics as the United States approaches a presidential election in which the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will be a central, and certainly divisive, issue.

    "The U.S. military must remain apolitical at all times," wrote Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "It is and must always be a neutral instrument of the state, no matter which party holds sway."

    Mullen's essay appears in the coming issue of Joint Force Quarterly, an official military journal that is distributed widely among the officer corps.

    The statement to the armed forces is the first essay for the journal Mullen has written as chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and veteran officers said they could not remember when a similar "all-hands" letter had been issued to remind military personnel to remain outside, if not above, contentious political debate.

    http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/05/25/america/pent.php

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    Last edited by Jedburgh; 06-02-2008 at 02:54 PM. Reason: Added link.

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    Thumbs up It's about time!

    I hope that candidates take this advice to heart as well. I am a big believer in the military being apolitical. And though I have always had some strong and heavily slanted political views, I never voted while I was in the Army or expressed my views in the company of other members of the armed forces. Some would disagree on whether refusing to even vote goes a bit too far, but that was what I believed and that was how I conducted myself and I recognize that others have different opinions and I respect that.

    Now that I am out of the military, I have registered to vote (Independent) and regardless of party or ideology, I refuse to vote for any candidate who makes their service in our current conflicts part of their campaign in order to lend credibility to their assertion that we should or should not embark upon some change/continuation of policy in Iraq/Afghanistan/elsewhere. I think it is worse than unprofessional - it is anti-professional. It undermines the value of selfless service that is central to the professionalism of our officer corps by making service self-serving rather than selfless. Even before 9/11, I knew a small handful of individuals who chose to serve in the military purely as resume padding for a future run for office - granted it was not at the national level. I suspect that this motivation has been exacerbated today, especially with the instant celebrity status that can accompany such service if you hold convenient political views in certain circles.

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    Council Member ODB's Avatar
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    Default Why vote at all?

    Sorry but under the belief that when the popular vote elects the POTUS and not the electoral college then it will be worth it. Just my view on it and believe it should be that way. As far as staying apolitical while serving, why? Are these not the same people who decide how much I get paid? How much money I'll get for training? How well equiped I will be? The list goes on and on, point being I should be able to help decide who these decision makers are. Don't misunderstand my initial statement, I vote in local elections and for Congress members but will never vote for POTUS until the electoral college is dissolved.

    Finally if anyone should be heard more than others it is the service members, simply because our lives are influenced more than others based on who holds these offices.
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    Council Member Chris Albon's Avatar
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    These are the types of things that make me proud of the US military.

    As a political scientist, I think the media and general public takes the effort the armed forces puts in being apolitical for granted.

    Good on them!
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    Chris Albon,
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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default This isn't supposed to be a political Board. But...

    Quote Originally Posted by ODB View Post
    Sorry but under the belief that when the popular vote elects the POTUS and not the electoral college then it will be worth it. Just my view on it and believe it should be that way.
    Most Americans and the Constitution disagree.
    As far as staying apolitical while serving, why?
    Because AR 600-20 pretty much wants you to do that?
    Are these not the same people who decide how much I get paid? How much money I'll get for training? How well equiped I will be? The list goes on and on, point being I should be able to help decide who these decision makers are. Don't misunderstand my initial statement, I vote in local elections and for Congress members but will never vote for POTUS until the electoral college is dissolved.
    You can help decide, you're encouraged to vote -- what you're discouraged from doing is taking public sides while you can be identified as being in the Armed Forces. That is due to the fact that your Oath is to the Constitution and not any one person or party and everyone has a right to expect you to serve faithfully and honorably regardless of who gets elected. It is also to prevent any news media or political activists from getting hold of a serving member and making political fodder out of him or her.
    Finally if anyone should be heard more than others it is the service members, simply because our lives are influenced more than others based on who holds these offices.
    Everyone's entitled to their opinion. Mine and yours differ significantly on that topic. My life was and is no more influenced by who held or holds what office than any other US citizen and nobody made me stick up my hand and take that oath any one of the seven times I did it...

    I know that the Armed Forces are a reflection of the society from which we all came and I know Americans are a contentious lot. Theoretically, though, we're professionals today and a professional military is almost by definition apolitical. There are those who exclude the NCO from the 'professional' categorization. I strongly disagree and I do not believe those who try to do that should get any ammunition to reinforce their view.

    Mullen did the right thing -- it's just a shame he had to do it.

    Having said all that, obviously you're entitled to your beliefs and I'm in no way saying you're wrong; just that we don't agree on most of that.

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    Council Member 120mm's Avatar
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    Default Where the hell did this come from???

    I'm just wondering why this is an issue, now. I don't see ANY of the candidates saying ANYTHING to differentiate themselves from each other. Other than skin tone or plumbing, they are the same person.

    I also am hearing NOTHING from my peers or those I train with that would indicate that this upcoming election will even come anywhere near touching issues that can be remotely considered controversial.

    This is much ado about nothing. Past elections have been different, but this one...meh... who really cares?

    I'm thinking the top-ranking officer is making a mountain out of a molehill. Good on him, I guess

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default I suspect his ideas are colored by what he's hearing

    in the DC area; always been a bunch more political jabber there than elsewhere in the services.

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    Council Member MattC86's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 120mm View Post
    I'm thinking the top-ranking officer is making a mountain out of a molehill. Good on him, I guess
    I think this is because in the campaign as a whole, and in recent weeks, you've seen a lot of competition between the candidates for the national-security credential of having that wonderfully vague generalisation "the generals" in your camp. Obama was not very subtle in suggesting his approach to Hizbollah and Hamas, as well as with Iran, is more in line with what the military thinks; and McCain's campaign revival was built on his national security resume and his claims of being knowledgeable about what the military needs (see his defense of his vote on Webb's "new GI bill.") If she stays in long enough, Hillary Clinton will claim not only that "the generals" support her, but that she and several "generals" dodged sniper fire in Bosnia.

    You combine that with the always entertaining race for retired GO endorsements (Delta Air Force General McPeak always seems a popular choice amongst the Democrats, and now they're big Sanchez fans suddenly - why is my party such a bunch of losers?), and you have a perceived stake for candidates in having the overt backing of the military.

    Admiral Mullen is giving a perhaps unnecessary reminder that as the crapfest that is our election cycle heats up, the "support" of the military - or maybe just that cabal of generals everybody is always talking about - will be intensely contested by all the candidates,* and it is the duty of those in uniform to remember where their loyalty lies. It's better safe than sorry.

    Shame he doesn't still have jurisdiction over the retired mouth-flappers. . .

    *although I don't think Nader is out for too many GO endorsements.

    Regards,

    Matt
    "Give a good leader very little and he will succeed. Give a mediocrity a great deal and he will fail." - General George C. Marshall

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Yes...

    Quote Originally Posted by MattC86 View Post
    ...Shame he doesn't still have jurisdiction over the retired mouth-flappers. . .
    Best Abrams quote: "Generals should be noted for their silences."

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    Council Member Cavguy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 120mm View Post
    I'm just wondering why this is an issue, now. I don't see ANY of the candidates saying ANYTHING to differentiate themselves from each other. Other than skin tone or plumbing, they are the same person.

    I also am hearing NOTHING from my peers or those I train with that would indicate that this upcoming election will even come anywhere near touching issues that can be remotely considered controversial.

    This is much ado about nothing. Past elections have been different, but this one...meh... who really cares?

    I'm thinking the top-ranking officer is making a mountain out of a molehill. Good on him, I guess
    A few weeks ago I was in an office making travel plans for some TDY. The individual who was processing the orders (A DA CIV), literally had his cubicle plastered with right wing bumper stickers, placards, signs, etc. Some were very critical of a former president and current presidential canidate, and others were extremly hostile to those of other political persuasions.

    Regardless if I agreed with the politics, I just thought it inappropriate for a government office staffed by a government employee to allow such blatent political bias and even critical statements of former presidents. It's fine in your house or on your own time, but not at a government place of business.

    I have seen several other troubling displays and attitudes from some of the officer corps. I think the chief sent a timely and needed message - for all sides.
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    Council Member wm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MattC86 View Post
    Shame he doesn't still have jurisdiction over the retired mouth-flappers. . .
    The chain of command does have jurisdiction if it wants to exercise it.You might find this excerpt from the UCMJ (10 USC Chapter 47) interesting:
    802. ART. 2. PERSONS SUBJECT TO THIS CHAPTER
    (a) The following persons are subject to this chapter:
    . . .
    (4) Retired members of a regular component of the armed forces who are entitled to pay. (emphasis added)
    I suspect a charge under Article 133 (actions unbecoming an officer) or Article 134 (actions prejudicial to discipline and good order) could be sworn against some of your "mouthflappers."
    Vir prudens non contra ventum mingit
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    Default Short memories

    I have to smile when I read about the non-politicization of the officer corps. As I mentioned in my intro, I have no party politics and was counseled early on that professional officers don't. Party membership is not against the law, as some political activities are, but being independent makes professional life a lot easier.

    It was not always so. Many colorful histories from the Civil War era show political maneuvering that is unbelievable by current standards. Don't agree with your commander-in-chief, run against him for president. More recently, GEN MacArthur was exceptionally political.

    SOOOOO -- it hasn't always been so, but the current system suits our military well.

    P.S. Don't get me started on the Guard and reserves.

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    Council Member AmericanPride's Avatar
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    Question: how are partisan politics separated from policy development/promotion (on all levels)?
    When I am weaker than you, I ask you for freedom because that is according to your principles; when I am stronger than you, I take away your freedom because that is according to my principles. - Louis Veuillot

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    Quote Originally Posted by AmericanPride View Post
    Question: how are partisan politics separated from policy development/promotion (on all levels)?
    They're not. We just continually strive to do it and recognize that we will always fall short, though we occasionally get close. Kind of like Sisyphus.

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    Council Member Uboat509's Avatar
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    Default This is an old problem.

    It has always been difficult to find the balance between the politician and the soldier. As a professional Army made up of citizen soldiers, I think it is unrealistic to expect us to remain steadfastly apolitical. As Ken noted, we are a reflection of the society from which we came. Furthermore, we are a key component of this nations power and to suggest that we not have a voice in how that power should be used just because we are soldiers is irresponsible, in my opinion. These days, the average American probably doesn't even know anyone who has served all that well and gets much of his view of the military and its members from movies and TV. Our elected officials aren't going to change that except as it suits their needs and desires. A nice quiet apolitical military is not doing this country any favors. We are the ones who have the knowledge and experience about this key element of American power, about its capabilities and limitations and about the real cost of its use. I think that it is worth noting that the Wehrmacht of the 1930s was proud of how apolitical they were and when they saw the bad road that they were on most of them chose to ignore it because it was not their place to say.

    Now I am not advocating getting on the soapbox in uniform. Certainly overpolitization of the military isn't going to do the country an favors either but I have always found it odd that we are expected to do the most and have the most to lose while simultaneously having the least voice in the matter.

    SFC W

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    Council Member Hacksaw's Avatar
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    Default Great Thread...

    I avoided opening this thread because the title seemed like it would lead no where productive. I was wrong.

    Ken... Thanks for the always insightful and well cited lesson in Military 101 for dummies. I want to be clear, that is said with the utmost sincerity. We too often get too fond of hearing/reading our own words. I shall now prove my point

    CAVGUY... Great example of the GS employee who thinks their cubicle is campaign central, and that their non-verbal message is welcome and needed to educate the ill-informed masses. Unfortunately, GS and (to a lesser extent) contractor employees are the most poorly supervised elements of the Army team. As further example, we both know that there is recently publicized guidance regarding this type of "political activity" here at FTLKS. I think the supervisor needs a call.

    WM... Can you imagine trying to enforce UCMJ action on the collective group of retired officers... Wow what fun!! It will never happen, but we can all envision the food fight. Just the thought of seeing the type of outcry that would accompany trying to shut down political activity would be amazing... ACLU and GEN McPeak on the same team... This is a great concept for a screen play. On a more practical note, it is pretty tough to call down the fire on a community of folks if in the recent past DoD used the same group to carry the STRATCOM water in the media.

    UBOAT... I understand your frustration and perspective. Clearly there is an intuitive logic that says, "if you want an expert opinion, ask an expert." That works well until you ask that same expert to include the domestic political ramifications associated with the military actions under consideration. Then things are in danger of coming off the rails. I agree we should all participate in the political process as a citizen, and we should exercise those rights to the fullest extent consistent with our interests. None of that activity is curtailed with the exception of political activity in the work place and perhaps political advertising in Gov't Housing areas. However, for the same reasons that I think our gov't gets carried away by comparing every penny ante dictator to Hitler, I also think you carry your analogy too far when you compare the dangers of an apolitical US military to the 1930's Wehrmacht. The biggest difference we have a well established process checks and balances and method for managing the peaceful transference of power every 4 years. Not sure you could say the same for Germany in the time of the Fuhrer.

    Schmedlap... I disagree regarding whether a person's personal experience in the GWOT ought to be brought to bear in their own political campaign. I don't even know how it would be possible for the candidate to not reference his/her previous experience (for most at least last 8 years) in forming their opinion wrt a compeling campaign issue. I'm not saying you must/should agree with same opinion based on their "personal experience" (we are all victim of our experiences), but to call the candidate unprofessional is a step too far. That's OK, we are just exercising our freedom of speech and right to agree to disagree.

    Finally 120mm... My first thought was the same as yours. Was this open letter/directive really needed? For the majority, no! However, for that pesky minority who seem to always consume a disportionate amount of a leader's time, the answer seems to be yes. Not to mention as Ken noted, the differences between dirt CTC and dirt D.C. worlds are distinct and to a large extent nausea inducing.

    Again, many thanks to all for one of the more plesant surprises this week.

    Live well and row
    Hacksaw
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hacksaw View Post
    I'm not saying you must/should agree with same opinion based on their "personal experience" (we are all victim of our experiences), but to call the candidate unprofessional is a step too far.
    You're right. I just went back and read what I wrote, and what I wrote made no sense. What I should have written was:
    "I refuse to vote for any candidate who makes their service in our current conflicts the central part of their campaign in order to exploit the celebrity status of veterans..."

    That would be anti-/un-professional in my opinion. The original statement was describing a different peeve of mine that is unrelated to the topic but was on my mind because I had just talked to someone about it just before posting. (That peeve: people who justify a worthless opinion on some strategic issue by preceding it with, "well, I served 3 years in the Marines" or "I was in the Army in 1983" - like that makes the person a strategic planner or something - totally off topic, but I guess it was still on my brain).

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    The apolitical US regular officer is barely as old as the large standing force; is there any particular reason for this cultural shift?
    PH Cannady
    Correlate Systems

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Not so. The apolitcal officer in the broad sense

    Quote Originally Posted by Presley Cannady View Post
    The apolitical US regular officer is barely as old as the large standing force; is there any particular reason for this cultural shift?
    existed in the regular force from the early teens through the 1960-70s. MY father and most of his peers did not register, did not vote and did not discuss politics. He served from the 30s through the 60s; didn't vote until he retired. If you'll check, you'll find that lack of an absentee ballot process in many States was a big issue during the Korean War and both Congress and Truman tried to jawbone the States into fixing that -- with little success. As late as the early years in Viet Nam, absentee ballots were spotty at best and no one in the regular forces was political to speak of.

    Were there occasional exceptions and people who didn't play fair? Sure, always are -- but the regular, active duty Armed Forces didn't start registering to vote and making much noise about politics until the 70s. Even then it was relatively muted. As it should be.

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    Council Member sandbag's Avatar
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    Marshall had it right all along. As an officer, it's OK (and maybe even important) to know how politics and government work, but taking sides is foolish vanity.

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