Mitt Romney and Ron Paul had an interesting exchange in last night’s Republican Presidential debate. Mitt Romney appeared to say that it’s time to bring the troops home from Afghanistan, but he then hedged to the familiar refrain of having to base the decision on conditions on the ground and the advice of the generals. Paul gently reminded him that the President, as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, is the top general; that we have civilian control of the military; and that such a CiC is well-equipped to make the call on troop withdrawals.
ROMNEY: I think we’ve learned some important lessons in our experience in Afghanistan. I want those troops to come home based upon not politics, not based upon economics, but instead based upon the conditions on the ground determined by the generals. [...]
KING: Congressman Paul, do you agree with that decision?
PAUL: Not quite. I served five years in the military. I’ve had a little experience. I’ve spent a little time over in the Pakistan/Afghanistan area, as well as Iran. But I wouldn’t wait for my generals. I’m the commander in chief. I make the decisions. I tell the generals what to do. I’d bring them home as quickly as possible. And I would get them out of Iraq as well. And I wouldn’t start a war in Libya. I’d quit bombing Yemen. And I’d quit bombing Pakistan.
The “conditions on the ground determined by the generals” dodge is essentially a giveaway to the military to make decisions that they are not Constitutionally authorized to make. Any military general will not tell you to withdraw or that he or she needs less resources. It’s a recipe for perpetual war, which we’ve seen over the last decade, as the “conditions on the ground” dodge has been picked up by leaders of both parties. Paul’s comment may be jarring, but it’s grounded in the actual Constitutional rendering of authority to the commander in chief of the armed forces.
On a related note, here’s a good op-ed on the way forward in Afghanistan, from Michael Cohen and Michael Wahid Hanna.