Mackubin Thomas Owens wrote in National Review Online I see that my good friend and Naval War College colleague Derek Reveron has climbed aboard the military-should-be-the-lead-agency-in-domestic-catastrophes bandwagon. He's in good company. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the president, members of Congress, editorial writers, and pundits have been making the case for increased use of the military in domestic affairs. The only folks that seem to be opposed are the governors, but we can write off their opinion as an attempt to defend their own turf.
I am opposed. I believe the Governors are much closer to what is going on in their states, and they and the local Mayors should be the ones to work with the local First Responders. Louisiana screwed up by electing a Mayor who was totally unprepared, and a Governor that was ticked off at the Mayor for supporting her opponent in the last election, and who both wanted to teach him a lesson, and did not want to give up any control to the Feds. But that is what you get when you elect Democrats. The Governors of Florida, Mississippi, and Texas did not have problems getting their citizens support. Maybe it is that they read and used their disaster plans, rather than saying oh my look what happened, why is the government not bailing us out from our own stupidity.I certainly agree with Derek that the military is extremely well equipped to act as the lead agency in disaster relief. If we are looking for efficiency and respect, the military outshines most other agencies, whether at the local, state, or federal level. After all, generals and admirals become generals and admirals because they are good at getting things done — and often being outspoken. Who didn't love it when General Honore blasted a reporter for being "struck on stupid"?
But why stop at disaster relief? The American political system is messy and inefficient, but if efficiency is the main criterion in deciding who does what domestically, why not let the military take the lead in everything? The most obvious response is that there is a little document called the Constitution that established a federal republic. Domestic affairs are primarily the concern of the states, not the federal government, and most assuredly not the U.S. military.
A mere technicality.Of course there are many things the military can do on the domestic front, especially during natural disasters. But before we take steps to further involve the U.S. military in domestic affairs, we need to answer two fundamental questions: Do we really want the American public turning to the military for solutions to the country's problems?
No, and they should not be turning to the Federal government either. They should solve their own problems, and leave the Feds and the military to defend the country.And do we really want to saddle the military with a variety of new, non-combat missions, vastly escalating its commitment to formerly ancillary duties?
No. I would support them in providing border security, because protecting us from invasion is their job according to the ConstitutionIf we do, we will find that we have involved the military in the political process to an unprecedented and perhaps dangerous degree. These additional assignments will also divert focus and resources from the military's central mission of combat training and war-fighting.
The United States has avoided such extreme manifestations of "bad" civil-military relations as coups and military dictatorship. Nonetheless, some observers have argued that the state of American civil-military relations has deteriorated seriously since the end of the Cold War. They fear that current trends will result in a large, semi-autonomous military so different and estranged from society that it will become unaccountable to those whom it serves. They are also concerned about the politicization of the military, and the increased employment of the military in domestic affairs will only exacerbate this trend.
I think their fears of a coup or military dictatorship are way over blown, but I don't support use of the military in domestic matters except under extreme conditions.Indeed, concern about politicization of the military was the catalyst for passage of the Posse Comitatus Act in 1878. A perusal of recent articles reveals the undeniable fact that most commentators do not understand the Posse Comitatus Act at all: It does not constitute a bar to the use of the military in domestic affairs. It does, however, ensure that such use is authorized only by the highest constitutional authority: Congress and the president.