Tuesday, June 28, 2005

I feel like Chicken Tonight...

Christopher Hitchens has an interesting article on the notion of "Chicken Hawks" and whatnot.

It's a somewhat uneven article. I think he's far too fast to pour scorn onto people like Andrew Bacevich, whose "The New American Militarism" is a very interesting, tightly-argued and non-strident treatment that makes persuasive arguments that there is something increasingly disfunctional in the field of civil-military relations.

On the other hand, he makes a very important point regarding civilian control of the armed forces that far too many opposition-minded people are missing - a lavish irony given that much of it is coming from the Left. Similarly with intelligence.

It is, of course, one thing for a politician to "dissemble" or to misrepresent or to outright lie. But ultimately there's something sterile about the extent to which civil servants' (in uniform of out) opinions are used to second guess the judgements of elected representatives. Of course, there's nothing wrong with this up to a point: I do it myself - up to a point. But the extent it's increasingly being used - including by the BBC - on any variety of issues you'd be forgiven for wondering aloud why we actually bother having elected representatives in the first place, since seemingly their job is merely to provide a front for decisions already made by civil servants.

A good example - admittedly non-military - was on display in tonight's edition of Newsnight regarding the narrow victory of the government in the Commons on the issue of ID cards (Full disclosure: I oppose the introduction of ID cards on principle). David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, was being interviewed on the matter (the Tories oppose ID cards) by Martha Kearney and she leapt upon him (verbally) with the apparent knock-out point that, "The police and the security services are both very strongly in favour. How can you answer that?"

To which the only reasonable response (which Davis didn't give, presumably through a desire not to be seen to turn puce of face and froth at the mouth, which is what i'd have done) is, "Because in a liberal democracy it's not the job of the police to make - let alone demand - policy. Nor is it their job to make judgement calls regarding the very delicate calibration of civil liberties in this country. And you and your colleagues would be the first to start screaming to the rafters if we suddenly turned around tomorrow and announced that from now on it would be."

Honestly, it drives me mental.

But yes, a rather uneven column in my view, although James Joyner (who's a very sensible chap) approves pretty unequivocally.


Blogger phil said...

"there is something increasingly disfunctional in the field of civil-military relations."

Where? I keep hearing about this supposed civilian-military gap or divide and I think it's a phony issue. It is usually accompanied by a nostalgia for the draft and the period between WW2 and the end the the draft in the early 70s.

5:09 PM  

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