President Barack Obama has a problem with the military. It has not split into an open rift yet, but it is a boiling cauldron of extremely serious issues that, carried through to their logical conclusion, could spell the end of civilian control of the military. Plus, who would have suspected that his problem started with a war that began before he was born and ended when he was a teenager?
I will start at the logical point: the beginning of the problem and that is the all volunteer military force. Please do not start screaming hysterically that I am anti-military. I have demonstrated that my direct family line has opened a vein time and time again when this country goes to war from the Revolutionary War onward. In fact, the reason that I am writing this is because I want to defend the sacrifices my family has made. Civilian control of the military is the most integral part of our government as formed by the Founding Fathers. Why? Because the military is the part of our society that wields the force to compel our laws and values at home and abroad. The start of this problem began with Vietnam because Vietnam is what caused the societal schism that brought about an all volunteer military to start with. The government gave up conscription because the public at the time did not want it (even though it had been a part of our military from the beginning) and it was simpler and more efficient because the more motivated people were joining up and leaving the slackers and lightweights that conscription brings behind. It looked great, for a while at least.
Much has been made of the "Vietnamization" of politics after the war in which service in the war played a part in every presidential campaign onward. Clinton was a draft dodger, Al Gore was a sissy reporter with a camera and John Kerry was an unrepentant anti-Vietnam veteran. All three played significant roles in their presidential campaigns and were the tipping point in losing for Gore and Kerry. The "Vietnamization" of our military has gone on as an unnoticed undercurrent throughout this and has finally started to become more clearly visible now that a president that was too young to serve in Vietnam has ascended to the White House.
Flash to today. The all-volunteer military is fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the war in Iraq, according to every single poll and the last election's results, is a war that the majority of the public no longer wants to be involved in. Problem is that Obama is sending clear signs to disengage and the message is not being received well by the military and, frankly, who can blame them? As the all-volunteer military has progressed it has become more like a fraternal order than ever before. Because it draws the same two types of people (people that want to fight and people that need the economic benefits, more importantly the former) that means that relatives, friends and other close associates of military members are coming from families with long histories of military service and, thus, similar beliefs. They have now gone through a war in Iraq in which everyone in the public but their close associates and military aficionados have detached from them because the average American no longer has a family member or close friend serving in the military and they feel, rightly, betrayed. Furthermore, they have been fighting in Iraq for six years next March and over these years they have watched relatives and close friends become casualties of the Iraq war. This is personal loss and, for those that have lost more than one (and there are many), it is personal loss upon personal loss with each making the latest more difficult than the last. Now put yourself in their shoes and imagine a president that never volunteered for military service in his life elected by a public that largely forgot about you is now saying "Okay, time to go home or go to Afghanistan." What is your reaction? The same one playing out in the high command of the military: "Are you ****ing kidding me?" Vietnam was hard enough to break away from because it entailed the public admitting that 58,000 of its sons had died for no discernible gain whatsoever. How does a reasonable person think that a smaller group bearing 4,165 dead and 30,182 wounded sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and friends is going to take it after they already took one for the team by volunteering for the military to start with when the order comes down to break off engagement when essentially nothing has been accomplished in Iraq except the execution of Saddam Hussein? In short, not well. They are being ordered by a president elected by a public with nothing but a monetary stake in the war to leave after accomplishing no long-term objectives. Their reasoning is simple: "Who the hell are they to tell me to quit fighting when me and my crew are bearing the fighting and dying?"
The all-volunteer military had another unintended consequence, rather like that which turned Rome into an empire from a republic: It put a demoralized volunteer military into the hands of each individual president to fund as he chose. This gave them the power that Caesar wielded: the ability to buy the military's loyalty. This is when the military started playing favorites politically when Ronald Reagan boosted military spending and invaded Grenada to give the military its pride back after the Vietnam debacle. Reagan not only lavished them with funds, he gave them their pride back. As a result, everyone still in the military that was in that military during Reagan's eight years tends to revere him as the anti-Jimmy Carter and, then, that loyalty branched out to Reagan's successors: the Bushes. Even when George W. Bush did not fund the VA right or made poor strategic decisions that cost lives, the military and veterans largely refused to hold him accountable because it has become silent doctrine that Republicans are pro-military and Democrats are anti-military. Some in the military resist this notion; many others from Vietnam families come with that belief already firmly intact.
Is it any wonder then that much of the high leadership in the armed forces is seeking to drag its feet, bureaucratically delay Obama's withdrawal order and considering trying to go around their Commander in Chief and change the public's opinion about Iraq because they're unwilling to fight another war where many died for nothing discernible?
Where exactly does this military model end up and what are the consequences, if any, for the country and civilian control of the military?