Dr. Don M. Snider of the Army’s Strategic Studies Institute recently proposed a solution to a source of controversy over the last few years–the problems presented by retired flag and general officers commenting on official policies. The crux of the issue, in Dr. Snider’s mind, is this:
But it is not just the American people that the leaders of military professions serve. Under the long-standing norms of our civil-military relations, they also serve the civilian leaders elected or appointed over them, and they serve those officers and soldiers below them within the ranks. In particular, it is the younger professionals who watch so carefully and take their cues from their respected senior leaders, even after their retirement.
I see a key problem in this argument–none of these officers ever took an oath to serve elected or appointed individuals; they took an oath to support and defend the Constution. Personal and organizational loyalty is important, to be sure, but there’s a reason “U.S.” comes before “Navy” in this organization. And, to be honest, in my 22+ years in uniform I’ve never heard anyone say, “I’m not going to support or execute this policy because Gen. Smith (Ret.) doesn’t like it”, so I’m not convinced the effect of a retired officer speaking out has much day-to-day effect on the devotion to duty of those currently serving.
To get back to Dr. Snider’s points, what he is proposing is for retired three- and four-star officers to voluntarily register their affiliations and political connections so listeners can better judge the things these retired officers say. While the plan is workable, I have doubts about whether anything would be revealed any good journalist (or blogger, for that matter) could dig up.
What say you?