Pentagon Backs Dual Leaders in Domestic Crises
The Pentagon’s top homeland defense official told the Senate yesterday that one of the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina is that active duty and National Guard forces should have separate commanders during crisis situations.
A single military commander should not lead both active-duty and National Guard forces during a domestic crisis, a senior Defense Department official said Thursday. Paul McHale, the Pentagon’s assistant secretary for homeland defense, told senators during a hearing that he has changed his mind concerning whether one person should have been placed in charge of all military forces involved in the response to Hurricane Katrina.
After the storm plowed into the Gulf Coast at the end of August, McHale recommended to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that a single military officer command active-duty forces and National Guard troops in Louisiana. President Bush agreed, but Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco rejected the idea.
McHale told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that he has now come to realize that the concept, which is commonly referred to as dual-hatting, will not work during a domestic catastrophe. “A dual-hatting command falls apart if you have a difference of opinion between two executives,” he said. “In a crisis environment, I think it’s almost inevitable that the president and a governor will have differences of opinion. To put an officer in a crossfire between the two of them, I think is untenable.”
McHale said he still believes that giving one commander total authority during a noncrisis situation, when there is time to plan, makes sense.
It would appear that the Pentagon either learned the wrong lesson from Katrina or is letting political considerations trump military efficiency.
Unity of command is the oldest and most fundamental of military principles. If there is disagreement over fundamental strategy between a governor and the president, one of them has to prevail. If that is to be the governor, so be it. Governors command their National Guard forces unless they have been federalized. If, however, a governor decides he can not handle the situation on his own and requires the intervention of federal troops, then command naturally shifts to the federal government.
The bottom line is that military forces, whether in war or a domestic emergency, must work toward a single set of operational objectives set by a single civilian controlling authority. To divide one’s forces is folly, pure and simple.