Politico relays outrage that the president ‘overrode’ his generals on Afghanistan

The military doesn’t make US foreign policy decisions and there’s a reason for that.

If any one instance can illustrate Washington’s deference to the military on U.S. foreign policy decision making, it’s an article from Politico reporting on reaction from the Pentagon to President Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. 

In fact, these assumptions are neatly packaged in the article’s title — “‘The Pentagon is not making these decisions’: How Biden’s team overrode the brass on Afghanistan.”

Yes, of course the Pentagon isn’t making these decisions. That’s because in our country we have this thing called civilian control of the military, and it’s the president — not the defense secretary, the joint chiefs of staff, or any other top military officer — setting the course of U.S. foreign policy. 

So yes, Biden “overrode the brass” because he’s the commander-in-chief and that’s what he’s allowed to do if he so chooses. In fact, if one of the previous three presidents had overridden the military brass, we probably wouldn’t have been mired in an endless and extremely costly conflict in Afghanistan that those same military higher-ups often admitted behind closed doors could not be won.

That tone — incredulity that President Biden had the gall to overrule the generals — is distributed equally throughout the piece, as it relays anonymous concerns that “Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan who are truly ‘running the Pentagon,’” and quotes current and former military officials — for example, Jack Keane and David Petraeus — “have lingering concerns about the withdrawal.”

The reality is that we don’t really know how the Pentagon and the entire U.S. military feel about withdrawing from Afghanistan. But available evidence shows that at least a majority support it. 

How Washington reporters cover U.S. foreign policy issues contributes significantly to American militarism; look no further than the run-up to the Iraq war for direct evidence. But most often their coverage — as in this case mentioned above — is more subtle in advancing hawkish viewpoints. That, in turn, buttresses a mindset that defaults to the Pentagon in search of answers to complex challenges abroad that most often require painstaking diplomacy and other non-military means.

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