Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Dereliction of Duty Redux?: Post-Iraq American Civil-Military Relations

Dereliction of Duty Redux?: Post-Iraq American Civil-Military Relations


The protracted war in Iraq has exacerbated existing tensions and dysfunctional elements inherent in American civil-military relations. Many in the national security community were worried that civil-military relations were far from satisfactory well before the war.1 For too long this dimension of “the American way of war” had been allowed to drift without resolution. The Iraq conflict could result in a further deterioration in this crucial component of strategic effectiveness due to mutual “scapegoating, blame-avoiding and willful institutional refusal to recognize and act on the sources of defeat.”2 This essay explores the current precarious nature of civil-military relations in this country. It also explores the emergence of a “stab in the back” thesis among the military community, and various issues raised by the ongoing Long War. Based on this evaluation, the article concludes with some proposals to remedy or lessen the strains that exist today. These remedies seek to better define the compact and code of conduct that governs the overall relationship between the masters of policy and the dedicated servants we ask to carry out those policies.

[1] Richard H. Kohn, “Out of Control: The Crisis in Civil-Military Relations,” The National Interest, Spring 1994, pp. 3-17; A. J. Bacevich, “Civilian Control, A Useful Fiction?”Joint Force Quarterly, Autumn/Winter 1994/95, pp. 76-79; Don Snider and Miranda Carlton-Carew, U.S. Civil-Military Relations: In Crisis or Transition?, Washington, DC: CSIS, 1995; Thomas E. Ricks, “The Widening Gap Between the Military and Society,”The Atlantic Monthly, July 1997, pp. 66-78; Eliot A. Cohen, “Civil Military Relations,”Orbis, Spring 1997; Peter Feaver, “The Gap: Soldiers, Civilians and Their Mutual Misunderstanding,” National Interest, Fall 2000, pp. 29-37.

[2] David Betz, “Redesigning Land Forces for Wars Amongst the People,” Contemporary Security Policy, Vol. 28, No. 2, August 2007, p. 221. For an explicit example see Ricardo S. Sanchez, Speech before the Military Reports and Editors Association, 12 Oct. 2007, accessed at

Read the full article here.