Micromanagement or proper oversight?

Insightful piece by Micah Zenko in Foreign Policy on the principal-agent relationship between politicians and the military:

Yet, in every conversation I have had with civilian and military officials, I cannot recall a military officer — at any level — having received guidance or direction that was helpful in developing plans or in fulfilling a mission. The recalled examples of interference are always detrimental, wasteful, or, at best, pointless. The fact of the matter is that many senior military officers who do not receive the autonomy, latitude, or funding to do what they want to do — within the timeframe that they want to do it — claim they are being “micromanaged.” But it’s important to recognize that this impression is both subjective and selective. One person’s intrusive micromanagement is another’s proper attention to detail.
The demonstrable rise in civilian deaths from U.S. airstrikes is most likely the result of several factors, as discussed in previous pieces I’ve written. But the basic point is that Mattis’s judgment has proven incorrect. That should be no surprise. Everything we know from organizational studies suggests that managers and staffers immersed in day-to-day repetitive tasks (like military campaigns) eschew competing values-based priorities — particularly when senior leaders direct them to accelerate their efforts and narrow their mission, as has been true with the war against the Islamic State under Mattis’s watch.

Civilian oversight is so inconvenient but man, do we need it. The whole article is well worth the read.




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