Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Why Eugene Robinson is Wrong on General McChrystal

Eugene Robinson has written this op-ed for the Post in which he criticizes General McChrystal, the Commander of the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan for publicly making the case for more troops in Afghanistan. Mr. Robinson is completely wrong on this one.

Robinson's argues that the decision of whether to send more troops to Afghanistan or not is a political choice that military officers should not be making. The decision is the President's and Congress' as elected officials. But it is precisely because this is a political choice that we the public need to hear as much of the facts and arguments as can be aired in public.

First, in order to hold our political leaders accountable for the political choices that they make, we have to know, as best as we can, as much about the facts and choices that they face. Relatedly, it is best to hear the facts and to have a public debate ex-ante as opposed to ex-post after the troops are already committed and we come to learn that they were no weapons of mass destruction. Second, we cannot trust our political leaders to be honest with us about the choices they face. We cannot trust them to be forthright about the facts and to give us the pros and cons of various options. Further, they have an incentive to read the facts in a way that will best further their political careers or limit the political consequences. Thus, they have an incentive in limiting our ability to hold them accountable. Consequently, we ought to encourage practices that promote information and the public airing of political choices as opposed to a culture that promotes secrecy.

There is a world of difference between a scenario in which military leaders refuse to obey the lawful commands of the civilian leadership and a scenario in which military leaders make the case in favor or against military action. They ought to have their say so that we can make informed choices and they ought to respect the decision of the civilian leadership.

There are reasons for secrecy. But Mr. Robinson has not made the case. Indeed, the principle upon which he relies counsels in the very opposite direction of his conclusion. So, General McCrystal, continue to speak-up, inquiring minds want to know.

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