Military thinkers discuss the unthinkable
Eternal vigilance being the price of liberty, Americans—who spent decades war-gaming a Soviet invasion and have taken more recently to daydreaming about “ticking bomb” scenarios—should cast at least an occasional thought toward the only truly existential threat that American democracy might face today. We now live in a unipolar world, after all, in which conquest of the United States by an outside power is nearly inconceivable. Even the best-equipped terrorists, for their part, could dispatch at most a city or two; and armed revolution is a futile prospect, so fearsomely is our homeland secured by police and military forces. To subdue America entirely, the only route remaining would be to seize the machinery of state itself, to steer it toward malign ends—to carry out, that is, a coup d’état.
Given that the linchpin of any coup d’état is the participation, or at least the support, of a nation’s military officers, Harper’s Magazine assembled a panel of experts to discuss the state of our own military—its culture, its relationship with the wider society, and the steadfastness of its loyalty to the ideals of democracy and to the United States Constitution.
The following forum is based on a discussion that took place in January at the Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Arlington, Virginia. Bill Wasik served as moderator.
ANDREW J. BACEVICH is a professor of international relations at Boston University and the author, most recently, of The New American Militarism. He served as an officer in the U.S. Army from 1969 to 1992.
BRIG. GEN. CHARLES J. DUNLAP JR. is a staff judge advocate at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. In 1992 he published an essay entitled “The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012.”  (His views here are personal and do not reflect those of the U.S. Department of Defense.)
RICHARD H. KOHN is the chair of the curriculum in Peace, War, and Defense at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and editor of the book The United States Military Under the Constitution of the United States, 1789‒1989, among others.
EDWARD N. LUTTWAK is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the author of many books, including Coup D’Etat: A Practical Handbook.
BILL WASIK is a senior editor of Harper’s Magazine.
BILL WASIK: Let us begin with the most straightforward approach. Would it be possible for a renegade group of military officers, or the officer corps as a whole, to simply plot and carry out a coup d’état in the United States?
EDWARD LUTTWAK: If somebody asked me to plan such a coup, I wouldn’t take on the assignment.
CHARLES DUNLAP: I wouldn’t either. [Laughs]
LUTTWAK: I’ve done it for other countries. But it just wouldn’t work here. You could go down the list and take over these headquarters, that headquarters, the White House, the Defense Department, the television, the radio, and so on. You could arrest all the leaders, detain or kill off their families. And you would have accomplished nothing.
ANDREW BACEVICH: That’s right. What are you going to seize that, having seized it, gives you control of the country?
LUTTWAK: You would sit in the office of the Secretary of Defense, and the first place where you wouldn’t be obeyed would be inside your office. If they did follow orders inside the office, then people in the rest of the Pentagon wouldn’t. If everybody in the Pentagon followed orders, people out in the military bases wouldn’t. If they did, as well, American citizens would still not accept your legitimacy.
RICHARD KOHN: It’s a problem of public opinion. All of the organs of opinion in this country would rise up with one voice: the courts, the media, business leaders, education leaders, the clergy.
LUTTWAK: You could shut down the media—
KOHN: You can’t shut it down. It’s too dispersed.
LUTTWAK: No, you could shut down the media, but even if you did shut down the media, you still wouldn’t be able to rule. Because, remember, in order to actually rule, you have to have acceptance. Think of Saddam Hussein: he was not a very, you know, popular leader, but he did have to be obeyed at the very minimum by his security forces, his Republican Guards. So there is a minimum group that one needs in order to control any country. But in this country, you could never control such a minimum group.
KOHN: I’ve raised this point before with military audiences: Do you really think you can control New York City without the cooperation of 40,000 New York police officers? And what about Idaho, with all those militia groups? Do you think you can control Idaho? I’m not even going to talk about Texas.
BACEVICH: And this comes back to the federal system. As Edward pointed out, even if you seized Washington, Americans are willing to acknowledge that Washington is the seat of political authority only to a limited extent. The coup plotters could sit in the Capitol, but up in Boston we’re going to ask, “What’s this got to do with us?”
DUNLAP: It’s also impossible given the culture of the military. The notion of a cabal of U.S. military officers colluding to overthrow the government is almost unthinkable. Civilian control of the military is too deeply ingrained in the armed forces.
BACEVICH: The professional ethic within the military is firmly committed to the principle that they don’t rule.
WASIK: So we can agree, then, that the blunt approach won’t work. Was there ever a time in our history when the United States was in danger of an outright military takeover?
KOHN: The closest, I would say, was a faction in the military at Newburgh, New York, in March of 1783. The army felt like it was about to be abandoned in the oncoming peace; officers were concerned about their reintegration into American society, that they wouldn’t get the pay that had been promised them. They got caught up in a very complex plot, in which they were used by a faction in the Congress that was trying to change the Articles of Confederation to give the central government the power to tax. Nationalist leaders in Congress basically provoked a coup attempt and then double-crossed the officers that they induced to do it by tipping off George Washington. All this led to a famous meeting of the officers when it was proposed that they see to their own interests, and either march on the Congress or, if the war continued, retire to the West and abandon the country. Washington faced down the conspirators in an emotional moment at Newburgh on March 15, 1783.
DUNLAP: He was reading a letter from a congressman, as I recall, and then at one point he said, “Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles. For I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.”
KOHN: And this caused a kind of emotional break at the meeting, according to the people who were there.
DUNLAP: Because they realized how much he had sacrificed. And it humiliated them.
LUTTWAK: So the point here is to make sure your army has excellent retirement benefits. This was an industrial action. It was about getting paid.
KOHN: The pay represented a lot more than just the money, though. There was deep political intrigue involved, and personal animosity.
LUTTWAK: In other words, the republic was in great danger in 1783. Which doesn’t cause immediate alarm th
ese days in the streets of Manhattan.
BACEVICH: But this does bring up another crucial reason there could never be a military coup in the United States: the military has learned to play politics. It doesn’t need to have a coup in order to get what it wants most of the time. Especially since World War II, the services have become very skillful at exploiting the media and at manipulating the Congress—particularly on the defense budget, which is estimated now to be equal to that of the entire rest of the world combined.
DUNLAP: I agree, though I wouldn’t characterize it negatively. The military works within the system to achieve its needs.
LUTTWAK: A few years back, the president of Argentina told the country’s air force that its budget for the next year would be $80 million. Now, Argentina has a fairly large air force; $80 million was enough for one base, basically. But the air force had no recourse, no back channels to Congress, no talk shows to go on. That could never happen in the United States.
BACEVICH: Right. Our military doesn’t need to overthrow the government, because it has learned how to play politics in order to achieve its interests.
WASIK: Are there any unforeseen circumstances in which a coup might become possible in the United States?
KOHN: One could conceive of situations in which the military would be invited to exercise extraconstitutional authority. Imagine rolling biological attacks, with the need to quarantine whole cities or regions. A military takeover might arise, indeed, from a politician wanting to simply retain order in the country. It might be supported by the American people—and Congress and the courts might go along.
LUTTWAK: Such a scenario would probably play out through a multi-stage transformation. After all, take any group of nice people on a trip; if five bad things happen to them in a row, they will end up as cannibals. How many adverse events are needed before a political system, arguably the most firmly rooted constitutional system in the history of the world, becomes uprooted? How many September 11ths, on what scale? How much panic, what kind of leadership? All of us can say that it is foolish to talk of a coup in the United States, but any of us could design a scenario by which a coup becomes possible.
DUNLAP: If there were a massive attack by a nuclear weapon, or by some other weapon of mass destruction, the immediate crisis might require the use of the armed forces. But obviously there are plans for those scenarios, and if they’re executed, then control would be maintained under the Constitution.
BACEVICH: But these are scenarios in which the military would be invited to overstep its role.
KOHN: Yes. I cannot conceive that in such a situation the military would aggrandize its position on its own.
WASIK: So a weapon of mass destruction might cause the military to assume greater power. What about a purely political crisis? Could the military step in if, say, the Constitution were unclear on a course of action?
DUNLAP: One interesting scenario would be a crisis between the branches of government that are expected to control the military. I.e., if the armed forces were caught between the orders of the president, the Congress, or even the courts, and there were no constitutional path to resolve the disagreement.
KOHN: Wouldn’t the armed forces simply freeze? They’d be paralyzed.
LUTTWAK: It’s a very interesting line of inquiry. Let’s say a president, exercising his proper and legitimate presidential authority, initiates a military action. Then Congress wakes up and says, “Wait a minute, this president is berserk; he’s starting a war, and we’re against it.” But in the meantime, the military force has already been put in a very compromised situation. If things were moving very fast, the military might well take an unconstitutional action.
KOHN: Something similar actually happened during Reconstruction: there were conflicting orders from the Congress and the president.
LUTTWAK: What were the details?
KOHN: It was 1867, when Grant was the commanding general.
BACEVICH: The president, Andrew Johnson, was in favor of a rapid reconciliation and minimal political change. The Congress, under the control of radical Republicans, wanted to impose change on the South, and also thereby consolidate Republican control of the region. This dispute came to a head when Congress passed laws that essentially stripped Johnson of his control over the army: as far as Reconstruction was concerned, Grant and Edwin Stanton, who was secretary of war, were to take their marching orders from Congress. When Johnson fired Stanton, Grant found himself both the commanding general of the army and the acting secretary of war. But he struck an obedient, apolitical pose, and he continued to do the bidding of Congress.
LUTTWAK: What about a situation in which the military was ordered to start a war that it did not believe could be won? Imagine that President Bush orders the American armed forces to effect a landing in Fujian province and march up to Beijing. The army would say, “Of course, Mr. President, we’re willing to obey orders. But we have to have a universal military conscription, we have to bring our forces up to four million and a half.” And imagine that Bush refuses.
BACEVICH: The military would leak it to the Washington Post, and the war would never happen. It’s the Bosnia case: when President Clinton wanted to intervene in Bosnia, General Barry McCaffrey testified to Congress and gave a wildly inflated projection of the number of occupation troops that would be required. By overstating the cost of the operation, the generals changed the political dynamic and Clinton found his hands tied, at least for a period of time.
WASIK: Let’s get back, though, to the subject of crises, whether real or contrived. It seems as though the American public wants to see the military step in during these situations. A poll taken just after Hurricane Katrina found that 69 percent of people wanted to see the military serve as the primary responder to natural disasters.
DUNLAP: People don’t fully appreciate what the military is. By design it is authoritarian, socialistic, undemocratic. Those qualities help the armed forces to serve their very unique purpose in our society: namely, external defense against foreign enemies. In the military we look to destroy threats, not apprehend them for processing through a system that presumes them innocent until proven guilty. And I should add that if you do try to imprint soldiers with the restraint that a police force needs, then you disadvantage them against the ruthless adversaries that real war involves.
WASIK: Then why do so many Americans say they want to see the military get involved in law enforcement, “peacekeeping,” etc.?
DUNLAP: Americans today have an incredible trust in the military. In poll after poll they have much more confidence in the armed forces than they do in other institutions. The most recent poll, just this past spring, had trust in the military at 74 percent, while Congress was at 22 percent and the presidency was at 44 percent. In other words, the armed forces are much more trusted than the civilian institutions that are supposed to control them.
BACEVICH: The question that arises is whether, in fact, we’re not already experiencing what is in essence a creeping coup d’état. But it’s not people in uniform who are seizing power. It’s militarized civilians, who conceive of the world as such a dangerous place that military power has to predominate, that constitutional constraints on the military need to be loosened. The ideology of national security has become ever more woven
into our politics. It has been especially apparent since 9/11, but more broadly it’s been going on since the beginning of the Cold War.
KOHN: The Constitution is being warped.
BACEVICH: Here we don’t need to conjure up hypothetical scenarios of the president deploying troops, etc. We have a president who created a program that directs the National Security Agency, which is part of the military, to engage in domestic eavesdropping.
LUTTWAK: I don’t know if this would be called a coup.
KOHN: Because it’s so incremental?
LUTTWAK: It’s more like an erosion. The president is usurping additional powers. Although what’s interesting is that the president’s usurpation of this particular power was entirely unnecessary. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, which approves terrorism-related requests for wiretaps, can be summoned over the telephone in a matter of minutes. In its entire history, it has said no to a request for surveillance only a handful of times, and those were cases where there was a mistake in the request. Really, even a small-town sheriff can get any interception he wants, so long as after the fact he can show a judge that there was reasonable cause.
BACEVICH: Bush’s move was unnecessary if the object of the exercise was to engage in surveillance. It was very useful indeed if the object is to expand executive power.
KOHN: Which is exactly what has been the agenda since the beginning of this administration.
LUTTWAK: Now you’re attributing motives.
BACEVICH: Yes, I am! If you read John Yoo, he suggests that one conscious aim of the project was to eliminate constraints on the chief executive when it comes to matters of national security.
DUNLAP: I will say that even if it was a completely legal project, there is a question of how appropriate it is for the armed forces to be involved in that kind of activity. Since, as I noted before, the American people have much less confidence in those institutions of civilian control than they do in the armed forces, we need to be very careful about what we ask the military to do, even assuming it’s legal.
WASIK: If we are talking about a “creeping coup” that is already under way, in what direction is it creeping?
BACEVICH: The creeping coup deflects attention away from domestic priorities and toward national-security matters, so that is where all our resources get deployed. “Leadership” today is what is demonstrated in the national-security realm. The current presidency is interesting in that regard. What has Bush accomplished apart from posturing in the role of commander in chief? He declares wars, he prosecutes wars, he insists we must continue to prosecute wars.
KOHN: By framing the terrorist threat itself as a war, we tend to look upon our national security from a much more military perspective.
BACEVICH: We don’t get Social Security reform, we don’t get immigration reform. The role of the president increasingly comes to be defined by his military function.
KOHN: And so our foreign policy becomes militarized. We neglect our diplomacy, de-emphasize allies.
DUNLAP: Well, without commenting on this particular subject—
KOHN: You shouldn’t. [Laughs]
DUNLAP: —is this not something that is decided at the ballot box? I mean, aren’t these the kinds of issues that the American people decide when they elect a president?
KOHN: But you imply by that statement, Charlie, that the ballot box exists as a kind of pristine, uncontextualized Athenian gathering at the square to vote. In fact, the ballot box in this country is the product of how things are framed by the political parties, by the political leaders. Also, very few of our congressional districts now are really contested, after gerrymandering. Very few of our Senate seats are real contests.
LUTTWAK: It becomes about personalities: you ask an American citizen to choose between Laura Bush and Teresa Heinz Kerry, and they choose Laura Bush. But it doesn’t mean that they favor the misuse of the American military to try and change the political culture of Afghanistan. This is madness—and it is bipartisan madness.
BACEVICH: That’s a key point.
LUTTWAK: Bipartisan madness. This is not even militarism. Militarism had to do with eminent professors of Greek desperate to become reserve officers so they could be invited to the military ball. That’s militarism. This is an intoxication about what the actual capabilities of any military force could be.
DUNLAP: This intoxication with the military’s capabilities certainly isn’t coming from the uniformed military officers.
BACEVICH: Except insofar as they are involved in the playing of politics, in constantly pressing for more resources. Meanwhile, we’ve underfunded the State Department for twenty-five years.
LUTTWAK: I once was privy to a peace negotiation conducted in the corridors of the State Department. The State Department literally had no funds to give lunch to the participants, a fact that both sides complained bitterly about.
DUNLAP: Well, I don’t think it’s anything new that the State Department is underfunded. The State Department has no bases in any state, so it does not have a constituency. But in terms of the expenditure of resources in the Department of Defense, that is very much controlled by civilians and not military commanders.
LUTTWAK: But it is still the military that has the resources.
BACEVICH: And so over time—because this has happened over time—you create a bias for military action. Which agency of government has the capacity to act? Well, the Department of Defense does. And that bias gets continually reinforced, and helps to create a circumstance in which any president who wants to appear effective, and therefore to win reelection, sees that the opportunity to do so is by acting in the military sphere.
WASIK: I want to address the question of partisanship in the military. Insofar as there is a “culture war” in America, everyone seems to agree that the armed forces fight on the Republican side. And this is borne out in polls: self-described Republicans outnumber Democrats in the military by more than four to one, and only 7 percent of soldiers describe themselves as “liberal.”
KOHN: It has become part of the informal culture of the military to be Republican. You see this at the military academies. They pick it up in the culture, in the training establishments.
DUNLAP: The military is an inherently conservative organization, and this is true of all militaries around the world. Also the demographics have changed: people in the South who were Democratic twenty years ago have become Republican today.
BACEVICH: Yes, all militaries are conservative. But since 1980 our military has become conservative in a more explicitly ideological sense. And that allegiance has been returned in spades by the conservative side in the culture war, which sees soldiers as virtuous representatives of how the country ought to be.
KOHN: And meanwhile there is a streak of anti-militarism on the left.
BACEVICH: It’s not that people on the left disdain the military but rather that they are just agnostic about it. They don’t identify with soldiers or soldiering.
LUTTWAK: And their children have less of a propensity to serve in the military. Parents who describe themselves as liberal are less likely to make positive noises to their children about the armed forces.
DUNLAP: Which brings up a crucial point. Let’s accept as a fact that the U.S. military has become more overtly ideological since 1980. What has happened since 1980? Roughly, that was the beginning of the all-volunteer force. What we are seeing right now is the result of twenty-five years
of an all-volunteer force, in which people have self-selected into the organization.
BACEVICH: But the military is also recruited. And it doesn’t seem to me that the military has much interest in whether or not the force is representative of American society.
KOHN: I don’t think that’s true.
BACEVICH: Where do you think recruiting command is focused right now? It’s focused on those evangelicals, it’s on the rural South. We are reinforcing the lack of representativeness in the military because of the concentrated recruiting efforts among groups predisposed to serve.
DUNLAP: They are so focused on getting qualified people. The military is going to the Supreme Court so that it can recruit on campuses where currently we’re not able to.
KOHN: That’s just law schools.
DUNLAP: But it has implications across the armed forces.
BACEVICH: The recruiters go for the rich turf, which is where the evangelicals are. You have to work a hell of a lot harder to recruit people from Newton and Wellesley, Massachusetts.
KOHN: Or anywhere in the well-to-do or even middle-class suburbs.
BACEVICH: In an economic sense, the services are behaving quite rationally. But in doing so they perpetuate the fact that we have a military that in no way “looks like” American society.
DUNLAP: The other part of the problem is the behavior of the politicians. They realize the affection that American people have for people in uniform.
BACEVICH: And so they land on aircraft carriers to prance around in the flight suit of a fighter jock. Both parties now see the military vote as being a part of politics, as a constituency. It’s a constituency that the Republicans think they own and intend to continue to own. It’s a constituency that the Democrats want to pry away.
KOHN: And partisanship in the military overall, i.e., the percentage of the military that identifies with a party as opposed to being “independent” or non-affiliated, is much greater overall. Not only are military officers more partisan than the general population; they’re more partisan than, say, business leaders and other elite groups. I’ve tracked the numbers of retired four-star generals and admirals endorsing a candidate in presidential campaigns, and it’s vastly up in the last two elections.
BACEVICH: Remember at the Democratic National Convention, where General Claudia Kennedy introduced General John Shalikashvili to address the delegates? Why were they up there? There was only one reason: to try to match the parade of retired senior officers that the Republicans have long been trotting out on political occasions.
KOHN: But is that to get military votes? Or just to connect with the American people on national security and patriotism?
BACEVICH: It’s both. In 2000, the Republican National Committee put ads in the Army Times and other service magazines attacking the Clinton/Gore record. To me that was, quite frankly, contemptible.
WASIK: It seems as if the two are related: if it’s reported that you have the support of the military—as was the case before the 2004 election, when newspapers noted that Kerry had less than 20 percent support within the military—then you get a halo effect among the rest of the voters. Does the partisanship of our military present a danger to the nation?
KOHN: One of the great pillars in our history that has prevented military intervention in politics has been the military’s nonpartisan attitude. That’s why General George Marshall’s generation of officers essentially declined to vote at all, as did generations before them. In fact, for the first time in over a century we now have an officer corps that does identify overwhelmingly with one political party. And that is corrosive.
KOHN: Consider this glaring example of political manipulation by the military: After every other American war before the Cold War, the country demobilized its wartime military establishment. Even during the Cold War, when we kept a large standing military, we expanded and contracted it for shooting wars. But in 1990 and 1991, the military—through General Colin Powell, who was head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time—intervened and effectively prevented a demobilization.
BACEVICH: More accurately, I’d say that he prevented any discussion of a demobilization.
KOHN: That’s right.
DUNLAP: We did have a reduction in the size of the military. There were cuts of around 9 percent, in both dollars and manpower.
KOHN: But it was nothing compared to the end of great American wars prior to that.
BACEVICH: Powell is explicit on this in his memoirs. “I was determined to have the Joint Chiefs drive the military strategy train,” he wrote. He was not going to have “military reorganization schemes shoved down our throat.”
KOHN: This was not a coup, but it was very clearly a circumvention of civilian political authority.
BACEVICH: Let us also consider the classic case of gays in the military. Bill Clinton ran for the presidency saying he would issue an executive order that did for gays what Harry Truman did for African Americans. He wins the election. When he tries to do precisely what he said he would do, it triggers a firestorm of opposition in the military. This was not the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff merely saying, in private, “Mr. President, I would like to give you my professional opinion.”
KOHN: It was the most open revolt the American military as a whole has ever engaged in.
KOHN: Open revolt, yes.
BACEVICH: Now, Clinton’s actions were ill-advised, to put it mildly. But what we got was something like rebellion. Two Marines published an op-ed in the Washington Post, warning the Joint Chiefs that if they failed to stop this policy from being implemented, they were likely to lose the loyalty of junior officers. I mean, holy smokes.
DUNLAP: Which brings up the issue: How transparent should the uniformed side of the armed forces be about their opinions? I will tell you, it is very difficult for serving officers to figure out exactly where the line is. There are points where they feel that their military values require them to speak out.
KOHN: I’m not sympathetic. As professional military officers, they are called upon to make far more difficult decisions in far more ambiguous and dangerous situations. The civil-military relationship is one of the most important parts of their profession, and if they are not educated and prepared enough to make the proper judgments, then they don’t belong in high-ranking positions.
LUTTWAK: It seems as though we should take into account the views of the armed forces in regard to military questions and nothing more. The military is like a surgeon. If you go to a hospital—even if you own the hospital—you will defer to the surgeon if he tells you that you need your appendix out rather than your leg cut off. But if the surgeon starts talking about religion or politics or homosexuality, you wouldn’t defer to him at all.
KOHN: But with gays in the military, the officers framed it in military terms. They said that revoking the ban would destroy the good order and discipline of the armed forces.
LUTTWAK: In the showers.
KOHN: Exactly. In retrospect, it was a foolish argument—but that was how they framed it, in military terms.
LUTTWAK: So how should it have been done differently? President Clinton comes in and wants to allow homosexuals to serve in the military. Do soldiers have the right to express themselves on this?
KOHN: Not publicly.
DUNLAP: By law, you can contact your
DUNLAP: That may be the answer. The answer may be you can just do it on an individual basis.
KOHN: On a private basis.
LUTTWAK: But let’s consider a more recent example. One day General Eric Shinseki, chief of staff of the U.S. Army, happened to be testifying on Capitol Hill. Somebody asked him about a possible invasion of Iraq, and General Shinseki—reflecting what, as I understand it, was the view of anyone who had ever looked at that country and counted its population—said that it would take several hundred thousand troops to control Iraq. Whereupon Shinseki was publicly contradicted by his civilian superiors, who ridiculed his professional opinion.
DUNLAP: Right. Dick, do you consider that to have been appropriate feedback for him?
KOHN: No, Shinseki behaved appropriately. In contradicting and disparaging him, the civilians signalled to the military that they did not want candor even when it is required, which is in front of Congress.
DUNLAP: There are two other interesting examples with General Pace, our current chairman. One was when he differed with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld about what a military person should do if he or she is present when there’s an abuse during an interrogation process. Pace insisted that the military had the obligation to intervene—which I think is the right answer.
KOHN: But afterward he fudged it and claimed that there was no disagreement with the secretary.
DUNLAP: Be that as it may, I think it was the right answer. The second and, I think, more difficult scenario was when Representative Jack Murtha said that he wouldn’t join the armed forces today, nor would he expect others to do so. General Pace publicly criticized Murtha’s remarks. Here was another instance in which the senior representative of the uniformed military spoke out in what was arguably a political context against civilian leadership. But in this case again, I thought it was appropriate.
WASIK: So it seems clear that whether we like it or not, the military has learned how to use the political system to protect its interests and also to uphold what it sees as its values. Thinking over the long term, are there any dangers inherent in this?
KOHN: Well, at this point the military has a long tradition of getting what it wants. If we ever attempted to truly demobilize—i.e., if the military were suddenly, radically cut back—it could lead if not to a coup then to very severe civil-military tension.
BACEVICH: Because the political game would no longer be prejudiced in the military’s favor.
KOHN: That’s right.
BACEVICH: But there is a more subtle danger too. The civilian leadership knows that in dealing with the military, they are dealing with an institution whose behavior is not purely defined by adherence to the military professional ethic, disinterested service, civilian subordination. Instead, the politicians know that they’re dealing with an institution that to some degree has its own agenda. And if you’re dealing with somebody who has his own agenda, well, you can bargain, you can trade. That creates a small opening—again, not to a coup but to the military making deals with politicians whose purposes may not be consistent with the Constitution.