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Memo to the President: How to Transform Civil-Military Relations

“To make civil-military relations an asset rather than a headache, the next president will have to take steps early to get everyone working from the right playbook.”

Relations among political leaders, civilian agencies and the military blow hot and cold. At this point, things are rather chilly.

For more effective coordination between civilians and soldiers, the next occupant of the Oval Office will need to instill a better leadership style, review the command at the Pentagon, and renew the ethical foundation of government service.

Managing the mix of civil-military affairs always invites controversy. The Constitution blends authority in way to prevent one from eclipsing the other, delivering both a delicate balance and constant friction. As chief executive officer of the federal government and commander-in-chief of the military, the president’s goal is always to maximize the competing virtues of both. The Constitution provides for a strong civilian executive who can wield military power as a unified instrument. On the other hand, the Founders didn’t want an armed force that would be a mere tool of its political master. Hence, for example, members of the armed forces swear their allegiance to the Constitution rather than to the commander-in-chief.

The constitutional framework leaves plenty of space for throwing sharp elbows.

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