By handing off Afghan War decisions to “his generals,” President Trump may be conceding his unfitness as commander in chief, but he is also betraying voters who hoped he might end the war, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.
By Paul R. Pillar
The comment of Georges Clemenceau, premier of France during World War I, that war is too important to be left to the generals was a sage observation even amid the total war in which his nation was then engaged.
The importance of maintaining a strong sense of political purpose and political control can be appreciated by contrasting Clemenceau’s France with what was happening in Germany. There, General Erich Ludendorff, who held the title of quartermaster general, functioned during the last year of the war as almost a military dictator of Germany, with his influence extending to domestic and economic policy as well as operations at the battlefront. The warped political perspective involved had echoes in Ludendorff’s postwar activities, which included his pushing the “stab in the back” explanation for Germany’s defeat, his participation in Adolf Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch, and his propounding a doctrine in which total war is considered permanent and unending, with peace being only a brief interruption to the struggle.
The importance of clear political purpose and political control should be at least as evident when a total war is not being waged and national security decisions involve the use of military resources in a more calibrated way, with degrees of risk of small military involvement escalating into something larger and costlier. It is thus regrettable to see President Trump repeatedly sloughing off to the Pentagon what should be presidential (or presidential and Congressional) decisions. The most recent and clearest instance is his delegating to Secretary of Defense (née General) James Mattis the determination of how many U.S. troops should be in Afghanistan.
That delegation of authority is wrong not because civilian leaders necessarily have better judgment on such…