Monday, May 28, 2012

Debate at West Point about Counter-insurgency doctrine in Afghanistan and Iraq

In general, military officers are expected to avoid questioning or critiquing national strategy or foreign policy. This normative reticence to question policy is understandable in that once a decision is made one expects the officer to say "yes sir" and follow his orders. Fortunately, there a few institutions in the Army where the faculty and students are specifically exempted from the norm in the interest of "academic freedom.". These institutions include the war colleges, the staff colleges and West Point, the U.S. Military Academy. In practice, many officers continue to avoid policy debate for fear of jeopardizing their careers. In addition, the brass at the Pentagon are inconsistent with their toleration of permitted dissent. In my own experience as a West Point professor for twelve plus years (ending twenty years ago), I wrote quite extensively and often critically about U.S. Middle East policy. My immediate bosses tolerated, even encouraged my writing, but I certainly felt the occasional weight of pressure to shut up (I did not) and I had enemies in high places to be sure. I should add that the Social Sciences Department, where I hung my hat, was not always liked by luminaries of the day, such as Norman Schwartzkopf, and I always took that to be a good thing. I am happy to see that debate is live and well at West Point, as illustrated in this NYT piece.

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