Dempsey: Military Must Remain Apolitical

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has a message for those who wear and have worn our country's uniform: "We are not elected to serve; rather, we elect to serve."

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has a message for those who wear and have worn our country’s uniform: “We are not elected to serve; rather, we elect to serve.”

American Forces Press Service (“Dempsey: Political Activity Erodes Public Trust in Military“):

Using the uniform for partisan politics erodes the trust the American people have in their military, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said today.

During a discussion with reporters aboard a C-17 returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff addressed a question about a group of Navy SEALs who have put together a political action committee.

Dempsey has been outspoken that service members have truly earned their right to vote, and that all Americans are entitled to private and personal opinions.

But, the chairman said, he and his fellow members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are the stewards of the profession of arms, and must ensure service members don’t cross an important line.

“One of the things that marks us as a profession in a democracy is it’s most important we remain apolitical,” he said. “That’s how we maintain our trust with the American people. The American people don’t want us to become another special interest group. In fact, I think that confuses them.”

Dempsey said he believes partisan groups made up of former service members cloud the issue as well. “If someone uses the uniform for partisan politics, I’m disappointed in that,” he said. “I think it erodes that bond of trust we have with the American people.”

The chairman noted he has expressed this opinion before on his blog, and he said he has had incredible conversations in the blogosphere on the subject. He also discussed this soon after a young Army reservist appeared in uniform at a campaign rally, he said.

“We must understand why our military as a profession embraces political neutrality as a core value,” he wrote in his blog in June. “We show fidelity to the Constitution every day by embracing this foundational principle. We are not elected to serve; rather, we elect to serve.”

And maintaining this bond of trust between the American people and its military is key to the survival of both, the chairman said. The American people trust that the professional military will remain out of partisan politics, he added. The U.S. military does not stage coups to topple governments and place their own in charge, he said, and the American military is justifiably proud of serving the Constitution and following the orders of elected leaders.

“We’re not a profession simply because we say we’re a profession,” Dempsey wrote in a letter to the joint force upon assuming office as the nation’s top military officer last year. “We must continue to learn, to understand, and to promote the knowledge, skills, attributes and behaviors that define us as a profession.”

This is a lesson that was drummed into me starting from my first days as a cadet—amazingly, more than a quarter century ago now—but one that seems constantly in danger of being overrun. The military, and especially its officer corps and special operations community, sees itself as a Praetorian Vanguard that’s more noble, ethical, and American than the citizens they serve. And, increasingly, our politicians and the citizenry themselves agree. That’s not a good thing.

I commend to your attention, as I have many times over the years, Charlie Dunlap’s “The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012.”  [PDF] Written two decades ago as a paper by the then-Air Force colonel as a student at the National War College, it still holds up remarkably well.

Less humbly, I’d recommend my own May 2011 essay for The American Conservative, Military Service is a Job, Not a Duty.”

 

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, Quick Takes
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. al-Ameda says:

    Of course Dempsey is right, however our political culture is in a sorry state today.

    Americans have decided that just about every aspect of our lives somehow falls along a partisan divide, and this definitely includes which party’s President is the Commander-in-Chief of the military.

    It probably dates to the Vietnam debacle, however we didn’t have military veteran interest groups jumping into the fray so prominently until recently. The 2004 campaign introduced us to the Swift Boat Veterans for “Truth” and in 2012 we have the SEAL Team – both veterans’ groups willing to lie or shade the truth in order to benefit conservative Republican politics.




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  2. legion says:

    The military, and especially its officer corps and special operations community, sees itself as a Praetorian Vanguard that’s more noble, ethical, and American than the citizens they serve. And, increasingly, our politicians and the citizenry themselves agree.

    I think you’ve got it a bit backwards there, James – it’s the GOP that has always portrayed the military as “more American”, especially when they could reliably count on their votes. It’s unsurprising that a certain percentage of them have bought into the spin and actually believe themselves to be somehow better suited to tell people how to vote. And its doubly unsurprising to see poltroons like these OPSEC people come out of the woodwork now that the GOP _can’t_ just assume the military is still their own private vote bloc…




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  3. JKB says:

    @legion: these OPSEC people come out of the woodwork

    An interesting slip, you using OPerational SECurity instead of SPEC OPS. OPSEC does seem to be the guiding force behind some of the increased political activity. When the civilian leadership decides to refuse to face the enemy. An enemy who has conducted action with multiple deaths inside a domestic base. When the civilian leadership with lockstep assistance of senior flag officers classify enemy action as “workplace violence” then the BS meter pegs to the right. And the rank and file decide they need to do politics just like the generals.

    If General Dempsey wants an apolitical military then he should work to see the senior flag ranks don’t sign off on obvious BS. The troops deal with the real world. Politicians and generals do the lying but the troops do the dying and they won’t die to support a lie that is not in the interest of the Constitution or American people.




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  4. Scott says:

    The military, and especially its officer corps and special operations community, sees itself as a Praetorian Vanguard that’s more noble, ethical, and American than the citizens they serve. And, increasingly, our politicians and the citizenry themselves agree. That’s not a good thing.

    Amen. I think part of it is that we are now an all-volunteer force and therefore self-selection goes on. With the American public increasingly separated from the military, it is increasingly important for the military to go into the community and be part of it. Also, I find it more common today to have multi-generational military families which contributes to a sense of separateness and “tribalism”.




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  5. legion says:

    @JKB:

    When the civilian leadership decides to refuse to face the enemy. An enemy who has conducted action with multiple deaths inside a domestic base.

    You’re talking about right-wing extremist terrorists, yes? You must be talking about right-wing extremists. That stuff is usually spearheaded by DHS, not the military.




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  6. JKB says:

    @legion:

    Perhaps you fail to remember the murder of Army personnel at a home base in Texas by a radical jihad officer of the medical corps? You know, the one they knew was in contact with enemy commanders but failed to monitor his communications? If not, google up “Army, workplace violence, Fort Hood”. Now explain the difference between the Fort Hood attack and the murder of US military personnel by Afghan police and military member inside base facilities.

    But it certainly doesn’t help when the civilian leadership does nothing to counter the designation of former military members by the internal security agency solely based on their service while refusing to even investigate serving officers with know ties and sympathies to the enemy.




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  7. David M says:

    @JKB:

    An interesting slip, you using OPerational SECurity instead of SPEC OPS. OPSEC does seem to be the guiding force behind some of the increased political activity. When the civilian leadership decides to refuse to face the enemy. An enemy who has conducted action with multiple deaths inside a domestic base. When the civilian leadership with lockstep assistance of senior flag officers classify enemy action as “workplace violence” then the BS meter pegs to the right. And the rank and file decide they need to do politics just like the generals.

    They gave themselves the OPSEC moniker.




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  8. anjin-san says:

    Perhaps you fail to remember the murder of Army personnel at a home base in Texas by a radical jihad officer of the medical corps?

    Right. Let’s flush fundament American principles because of the actions of one nutjob.

    Bin Laden is laughing in his grave…




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  9. legion says:

    @JKB: While I don’t disagree with your conclusion,

    If General Dempsey wants an apolitical military then he should work to see the senior flag ranks don’t sign off on obvious BS.

    that particular incident appears to be more of an FBI-led eff-up than the Army’s call… The FBI are the ones who didn’t respond in a timely manner to Hasan’s attempts to e-mail Awlaki; they’re the ones who couldn’t determine if Awlaki was actually giving Hasan direction or support; as near as I can make out from the trial reports so far, they’re they ones whose confusing reports drove the ‘workplace violence’ idea.




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  10. JKB says:

    @legion:

    The Army Chief of Staff signed off on the workplace violence BS, he is the one responsible for refusing to face the enemy. He and the DoD leadership.




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  11. An Interested Party says:

    …but the troops do the dying and they won’t die to support a lie that is not in the interest of the Constitution or American people.

    Oh really? Certainly more than enough troops died in Iraq…




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