A man is known by the company he keeps!

Published: June 27, 2010

The writer is author of Military Inc. and a visiting professor at Johns Hopkins University, US (ayesha.siddiqa@tribune.com.pk)

General McChrystal’s infamous interview in which he castigated his country’s political management has shocked a lot of people in the US. People are wondering what might have prompted him to do so. While complex issues are being raised, no one dares mention that the partnership with Pakistan’s military and its generals might have rubbed off on the US commander who is now sacked.

The fact of the matter is that military commanders all over the world are dissatisfied with civilian leadership. Civil and military cultures are distinctly different. Military commanders, even in the best of democracies, can privately make fun of their civilian leaders and ridicule them privately for not showing discipline and a sense of leadership that is known amongst military circles. However, one of the factors which make one military different from the other is the dominant political culture. According to civil-military relations expert Peter D Fever’s principal-agent theory, a proactive civilian leadership ensures that the military stays in line. A leadership that allows its military commanders to go unpunished for their acts of omission or commission, as had happened when Mohammad Ali Jinnah failed to punish his top army generals for act of disobedience, sets a tradition of a powerful political military.

However, there are two other factors which play a critical role in shaping civil-military relations. Unfortunately, academic literature on the subject has not factored in these variables and the manner in which it impacts civil-military balance in a country.

The first factor relates to socio-cultural conditions. Societies that are highly militarised face problems in keeping the civil-military balance. Wars and conflict set a pace for the national psychology. Since it is military commanders who are seen as fighting the battles and on the frontline, they become more acceptable to the society as leaders. Wars tend to weaken political traditions. So, on the one hand wars are theoretically meant to ensure peace, stability, and, hence prosperity. On the other hand, they gradually challenge civilian control and increase internal stability.

The US has experienced wars since the 1990s starting with the first attack on Iraq. The hype regarding these wars were meant to draw public support necessary to seek approval for obtaining financial resources. Nevertheless, it seems to have increased the content of militarisation of society. This means that a civilian president has to be as hawkish as a military commander. While the underprivileged US may crave for a change, a militarised America has built an inner capacity for a Bush-Cheney kind of leadership but surely there are other factors as well.

The other factor, which the academia has not grappled with, is the expansion of the role of the military and its impact on civil-military relations. The growing economic power of the security sector vets a military commander’s appetite for organisational autonomy. Although private security companies and projects are theoretically for the welfare of soldiers, the net effect is to develop a sense of autonomy which is dangerous for the military.

In America’s case, the private security industry denotes partnership between a dominant private sector and the US military. The private sector uses its financial resources and political contacts to ensure the government’s commitment of resources for the war efforts. The military is a critical partner since it provides manpower, the know-how and technology which is sold by the private security industry. There is the emergence of the military-industrial-business complex which empowers the military politically.

Therefore, McChrystal’s statement is not an anomaly. He seems to have consistently challenged the US President starting with his statement during an earlier London conference. Political traditions allowed Obama to fire his commander. However, he must focus attention on the fragility of the evolution of the political culture which allowed the commander to challenge the writ of the civilian leadership and the Congress. McChrystal’s latest interview was an attempt at redefining policy.

So, a question which American analysts might ask themselves is: what would happen if a Cuban missile crisis were to take place in the US today? The military’s organisational autonomy and its cultural implications in particular may not throw up a decision which John F Kennedy was able to take.

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Reader Comments (23)

  • Jun 27, 2010 - 2:23AM

    This article makes it sound as if this was an attempt by the General to redefine civil-military relations. The fact remains General McChrystal’s statement, made amongst friends and aides, in an Irish pub in Paris, was far from planned and could be attributed to a bit too much honesty, lubricated by a few beers.Recommend

  • Aamir Ali
    Jun 27, 2010 - 3:19AM

    Why is the author commenting on an American internal issue in a Pakistani newspaper ?! Are there not enough Americans commenting on the same issue ?

    Mr El-Edroos is also right that Gen Chrysthal and his staff had been drinking and partying on a bus trip when they made those comments, and simply did not understand that all media is looking for is a scandal and to destroy someone’s career.Recommend

  • Jun 27, 2010 - 4:33AM

    Sorry, can’t see the point of this piece, apparently scribbled by the “visiting professor” when she may have felt a bit dazed from too much travelling. Her tasteless reference to Quaid-e-Azam reinforces this point: “as had happened when Mohammad Ali Jinnah failed to punish his top army generals for act of disobedience”.

    I have no idea what the lady is referring to. It is a blatant act of dishonesty to criticise Quaid-e-Azam in this underhand sort of way in an article related to the sacking of McChrystal. I am not a historian and I do not know if this wilful remark has any basis in fact. If the author chooses to fling mud she should at least try to offer a justification for her action. If The Express Tribune will continue to publish sub-standard articles of such abysmal standard, it will find it difficult to build up and maintain a large enough readership to sustain this new venture. Recommend

  • cmsarwar
    Jun 27, 2010 - 5:13AM

    With due respect to Nadir his observation appears to be rather superficial on an indepth,well-researched and very factual article by the writer.A General fighting a crucial American war would not be lubricated by a few beers.Also you have to look at General’s record.Tillman’s episode is still sticking to him.Recommend

  • Mukhtar Ahmed
    Jun 27, 2010 - 5:42AM

    It is a two way traffic,the civilian authority over the miltary commanders flourishes when they both beat at the same frequency.Battles are fought by Generals but to go to war is the decision of the civilians.If the war is not heading right course the civilian then must listen to commander.
    We all say that US is losing war in Afghanistan.So what if General McChrystal spoke the truth about war in Afghanistan.Barak Obama wanted a scaepgoat and the general provided him the opportunity that is what all it is about.Recommend

  • Jun 27, 2010 - 9:02AM

    Mr El-Edroos: McChrstal’s statement is not the cause but an impact. His earlier statement in the London conference was not made in a pub. It shows a military which is more powerful than it ever was. Recommend

  • Tariq
    Jun 27, 2010 - 12:25PM

    Linking Gen McCrystal’s issue to Pakistani generals is far fetched and mischievous. Recommend

  • kunwar khalid yunus
    Jun 27, 2010 - 2:16PM

    GEN Mc of afghanistan reminds me of Gen Mc OF Korea Fame; who shared the same fate from a US President. Perhaps in both general’s mind there were some political ambitions lurking & both the US presidents must be aware of.

    as for the relationships of first GG of pakistan with the first the CinC Was of the matter of conscience over Kashmir invasion.The British Gen had refused to violate the international border duly agreed between India & Pakistan’s leaders.Recommend

  • hassan shehzad
    Jun 27, 2010 - 3:33PM

    having been in ‘factual’ and ‘objective’ world of newsroom for about a decade, i find Aysha’s writings a refresher. if we understand that a military culture must be subordinated by a political culture, only then can we dream of world peace. this is in short what the writer tries to exert teacherly or what i think she does. jinnah might have, nah would have put his gnerals on the lead but for want of time. in that case, we would have not been subjected to disorder in institutions as well elaborated by in Dawn Saturday. so these things are well interlinked and anyone could see through these realities having taken in how presentation of shallow facts on media needs a theoratical orientation for a better understanding, reference to mere a statement of military general in question and not the entire military mindset on media being a case study. Recommend

  • Jun 27, 2010 - 3:49PM

    Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa is absolutely right; the militarization of America and India in recent years is certainly an observable phenomenon, but this does not yet pose a threat to constitutional government of either country.

    @Tariq writes: “Linking Gen McCrystal’s issue to Pakistani generals is far fetched and mischievous.” A professor once told me that analogy does not solve problems- but similarity in some respects between things that are otherwise dissimilar help us understand the issue.

    The Department of Defense has benefitted across the past nine years from an increasingly large proportion of the U.S. government budget. The amount has more than doubled from 2001 to what is requested for 2010. Sounds familiar?

    Some basic research will yield growing influence of Indian army as well.

    Question that I am trying to grapple with is this: at what point in the evolution of capitalism does military enterprise establishes and demonstrates clear control of the marketplace. Therein, I believe, lies the convergence of constitutional authority and the power of the soldier (in chief).Recommend

  • Bob Smith
    Jun 27, 2010 - 4:25PM

    McChystal and his band of cowboys thought they could do and say anything. This was proven time and again as he insulted NATO partners on a routine basis ( When talking about the US surge to a room full of NATO personnel…The surge will be like strapping a jet engine on to a WWI airplane) and questioned any action that was counter to his directive even before he had the details (A truck hit an Afghan child..before any details were released or known he referred to the driver as reckless). The RS story simply reflects his growing ego and the thought that he was above the law. His staff regularly took on his rank and if questioned, they always used his name to justify anything. I think the best thing about the story was the fact that he got busted while his staff were drunk. He used the excuse of his staff being hungover to get rid of alcohol on the camp. I can tell you that alcohol played no role in Mc being briefed late on the Kunduz bombing but he used it as an excuse. Meanwhile he stayed at the US Embassy and had his staff over on a regular basis for drinks. The fact that he is gone can only improve morale across the theater.Recommend

  • imran
    Jun 27, 2010 - 4:58PM

    plz dont be so critical…..when ever an army is involved in a long war some generals think they r more imp then the rest of the organs of the state…..thats what cost him…..not that patnership with Pak army rubbing off thing….Recommend

  • DR AKMAL KHAN
    Jun 27, 2010 - 5:19PM

    since the inception of pakistan , we are being ruled by a strong military bureaucracy which hs hampered our political system to gain its roots.as result we have produced incompetent political system whom always has to get NOC from GHQ for its policies.now we have been inoculated that without military strenght, we can not survive.though it is correct to some extent but this thinking has ruined our social set up and instead of nation , now we are a crowd.in this crowd the power lies in is might is right.
    in this context, Mr El-Edroos has tried to make fun of it, otherwise Dr Ayesha Siddiqa has presented a very beautiful horizon of thinkings.Recommend

  • Malik Rashid
    Jun 27, 2010 - 8:31PM

    Every state with a leadership role in history, had a strong military capability. The ambition to rule the world produces military that acquires significant importance. Does it necessarily jeopardize civilian rule? Firing of Mchrystal and military commanders during world war provides a negative reply. Post-Napoleon world is ruled by civilians who sit on top of decision making of state hence military adventures are subservient to political ambitions. This equilibrium is essential to prevent reckless militaristic adventurism and a collapse of state as a result.Recommend

  • Faris R
    Jun 27, 2010 - 10:32PM

    Dr. Ayesha did’nt share the details of Mccrystal’s dismissal and Pakistan Army nexus, this would have bore well for the local news fodder. I love her sarcasm and constant poking of the Army. US establishment is too army centric and the reason Obama came into power is to pack the bags of this growing entity. Mc Crystal should have been fired earlier when he delibrated that US surge right before Obama speech. Regardless, US has shown that it is a civil democracy and civilians are the incharge of Army. Tide has turned in Turkey agaisnt the Army and may be soon for Pakistan who takes it lines from Turks.Recommend

  • Callen
    Jun 28, 2010 - 12:10AM

    Honor, pride and dignity is lost among men of the land of Pure. We are weak, the race of men is failing, there is no hope, men are divided-scattered. Only a complete rebirth of the country might be the solution to thee “problems”. All who want to change shall have to die. Its time for war against ourselves!Recommend

  • Dr Fahad Ashraf
    Jun 28, 2010 - 12:38AM

    The article highlighted the civil military leadership and the balance between the two can make a state viable. The civilian power supremacy is prerequisite for this balance. The comparison with Quaid ‘s incident is not justified. Pakistan was at nascent stage and the General was not Pakistani Sovereign. McChrystal’s resentment is an outcome of US Forces defeat in battle. Obama’s policy is merely a fantasy, the ground realities of Afghan war are perplex and a seasoned Gen like McChrystal is aware of them. I believe, McChrystal’s incident exposed the fragile conditions of USA in Afghanistan. Thing will become clear till 2011. The writer has an in depth knowledge and dilated upon the issue in an eloquent mannerRecommend

  • Saif
    Jun 28, 2010 - 1:04PM

    Its a story which has its root in centuries. From earlier times, known are the Kings and their disobedient knights and commanders (Like Achilles himself). A politically motivated leader puts pressure on a commander to do more, and more importantly, according to the agenda developed by the leader. On the other hand, military commanders like to do it in their own manner, often refraining from the orders. These incidents, in a strong capitalist environment leads to the victory of a political leader (referring to Obama), while in a loosely built structure, military sacks the leadership.

    Ayesha is very right, to say that a political leader must be militarily educated, as well.Recommend

  • Jun 28, 2010 - 2:11PM

    In the context of the chicanery over Kashmir, below is a brief extract from Hector Bolitho’s “Jinnah: Creator of Pakistan”, referring to events in October, 1947.

    “As Governor-General he had to sift a question of dreadful manitude, immediately. … The Quaid wished to send in his half-formed army, to protect the Muslims. Field-Marshal Sir Claude Auchinlek flew to Lahore at an hour’s notice and reasoned with the Quaid: he explained that the presence of Indian troops in Kashmir was justified, since the Maharaja had acceded: any action by the Pakistan army would force him to withdraw all British officers, including the Commander-in Chief of both India and Pakistan. The desperate move was abandoned.”

    At that time the newly created state of Pakistan had an ill-equipped army, largely commanded by British officers. To compare the insubordination of the British commander-in-chief of Pakistan’s army in October 1947 to McChrystal’s folly in Afghanistan speaks volumes about this article.Recommend

  • Syed A. Mateen
    Jun 28, 2010 - 10:11PM

    General (Relieved) McChrystal’s comment against the civilian leadership is the beginning of a military coup in the US.Recommend

  • Ejaz Ahmad
    Jun 28, 2010 - 11:22PM

    @Ibrahim Sajid Malick

    Your comment is the most appropriate statement on this blog. In the 110 years since the Spanish-American war of conquest, imperialist capitalism has brought an endless cycle of wars, recessions, depressions and more wars. After each economic downturn, the system has had to resort to military expansion and financial manipulation to revive itself.

    During the depression of the 1930s, Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to get the economy going with the Works Project Administration and by allowing workers’ wages to rise. But by 1937-1938, after a brief uptick, there was a second depression. Only preparations for World War II and conquest in the Pacific and Europe revived the U.S. economy.

    Throughout the entire Cold War period, U.S. capitalism was dependent on military spending to keep its economy going. The growth of the military-industrial complex, with its web of prime contractors and tens of thousands of subcontractors thriving on Pentagon appropriations for war and for arms exports, was the principal means of keeping the capitalist economy from sinking into stagnation and depression.

    This history illustrates that since the turn of the twentieth century, capitalism, in order to sustain itself, has had to resort to artificial measures that bring disaster in their wake, in the form of war, depression or both.Recommend

  • Atiq Rehman
    Jun 29, 2010 - 10:35AM

    I was told that a man is known by the company he keeps and a woman is known by the company she keeps away from.

    Just a random thought.Recommend

  • H Saqib
    Jun 29, 2010 - 10:14PM

    Everybody is asking questions as to how could we make McChrystal out of Musharraf. The answer is simple; you need a president like Obama, a public like Americans and true democratic traditions. Is it not irony of fate that democratic traditions exist only in the armed forces where son of s sepoy can become Chief of Army Staff but a senior leader of a political party, what to talk of an ordinary worker, can not become party chief unless he belongs to the party’s ruling dynasty? With this moral poverty, you can only dream of sacking defying generals.Recommend

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