Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Monday urged the next generation of commanders to “tell blunt truths” to their military and civilian leaders — but he also cautioned them to air their “respectful dissent” only through official channels.
Addressing one of the most sensitive issues in the tradition of civilian control of the military, Mr. Gates said differing opinions among officers should be viewed as a sign of health in the armed forces and that young officers must be able to trust that their military and civilian bosses would not penalize those who offered honest disagreements.
But in speeches to cadets here and to the Air War College in Alabama earlier in the day, Mr. Gates coupled his invitation to be candid with an equally clear warning. He said the armed services must not try “end runs” around the Pentagon or the White House by lobbying Congress when they disagreed with decisions to curtail or cancel high-cost weapons. Mr. Gates referred only obliquely to the fact that some senior military advisers to President Bush and the former defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld, have been criticized as being overly compliant in the run-up to the war in Iraq.
Instead, Mr. Gates took a longer view, saying tension in civilian-military relations had arisen from Korea to Vietnam to Somalia to Iraq today — all conflicts that he said were “frustrating, controversial efforts for the American public and for the U.S. armed forces.”
“Each conflict prompted debates over whether senior military officers were being too deferential or not deferential enough to civilians, and whether civilians in turn were either too receptive, or not receptive enough to military advice,” Mr. Gates told West Point cadets. “Then, as now, the American people relied on the candor and credibility of military leaders in order to judge how well a campaign is going, and whether the effort should continue.”
Mr. Gates left his Pentagon office overlooking the Potomac River for the commanding view of the Hudson River offered by the United States Military Academy, where he answered questions in a class on advanced national security issues and delivered an evening address to more than 4,000 cadets.
“If as an officer you don’t tell blunt truths — or create an environment where candor is encouraged — then you’ve done yourself and the institution a disservice,” Mr. Gates said. – nytimes