Retired four-star General George Casey Jr. spoke to a room of law students and military members on Thursday about the relationship between the military and its civilian overseers.
Casey was introduced by the Hon. Christopher Muse, an associate justice for the Massachusetts Superior Courts and BC Law professor, who noted his long time friendship with Casey, in addition to addressing the general’s extensive list of accomplishments.
Casey served for 41 years in the United States Army. He was deployed in a variety of foreign countries, ranging from Bosnia to Kosovo before serving for 30 months as the commander of the multi-national force in Iraq. Following his stint as a commander in Iraq, Casey became the 36th Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army which led him to oversee 1.1 million people from the end of the Bush Administration in 2007 through the middle of the Obama Administration in 2011.
Casey began his talk on the relationship between elected politicians and military leaders by discussing the Constitutional Convention of 1787. He dedicated time to explaining how the Founding Fathers laid the groundwork for the dynamic—one that still exists in the same form today—between the military and civilian leaders.
He demonstrated how the pressures facing the U.S. at the time, such as clashes with Native Americans, threats of a British invasion, and the vulnerable eastern seaboard, which led the Founding Fathers to dictate the way in which the army and the navy would function in relationship with the elected leaders. He also mentioned how a series of historical events, like Shay’s Rebellion and the Newburgh Conspiracy, influenced the Founding Fathers’ decision-making process.
“The Constitution was actually directed at enabling the government to protect us,” Casey said. “It is a series of carefully crafted compromises.”
From there, Casey transitioned to what he called a “Civics 101” lesson regarding historically significant times when the relationship between civilians and the military was pivotal.
His first case study was World War II. Casey explained how military commanders had to settle differences of opinion between themselves, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and British Prime Minister Churchill. He made the point that if the military didn’t respect the president’s right to make decisions pertaining to the military, then the U.S. would have been hopeless in effectively deciding a war strategy.
Casey noted that Army Chief of Staff George Marshall’s execution of Roosevelt’s military decisions—despite his disagreement with them—as a perfect example of “civilian control over the military.”
“Politics is a factor in every decision that the president makes,” Casey said. “The military is just one of the many elements that the president has to deal with … the president is going to make sure that [the military] fits in to the national priority.”
Casey went on to discuss a series of rules that he has developed based on studying Marshall. He said that he believes that it is the task of the Armed Forces to carry out the policy of the president and Congress. Additionally, he said that it was the military’s job to educate civilian leaders and discuss issues in their entirety, tell “unpleasant truths,” and keep civil-military disagreements private.
For his second and final case study, Casey chose the first 10 months of Obama’s presidency when he was deciding whether or not to “surge” in Afghanistan. Casey chose this case study because it was an example of how the civil-military relationship has become more complicated in the modern media age.
Casey talked about how civil-military disagreements with document leaks and sound bites complicating relationships like never before. He mentioned that he had submitted a letter of dissent to President Obama in September 2009 that never leaked, showing that the military and government officials are capable of conducting matters without public pressure if they so choose.
“It is a lot harder to get things done today and to have intelligent, private discussions about what is going on and to make the hard decisions that need to be made,” Casey said. “The issues are so damn hard that if you don’t have disagreement [between national security advisers], then you get a consensus agreement, which are, by their nature, suboptimal.”
Featured Image by Jonathan Ye / Heights Editor