Yesterday’s news presented two articles (one by the Washington Post and the other on the blog, Medium) that seemed widely disparate, one about retired general David Petraeus remaining in the limelight well after his ignominious retirement, and the other about xenophobia in Germany against Muslim foreigners. What could these articles possible have in common? Samuel Huntington.

In 1957, Huntington wrote the seminal work on civil-military relations title The Soldier and the State. Aside from defining what makes officership a profession, Huntington laid out the responsibilities of senior military leaders. He names them in this order: 1. Tell the civilian leadership what you considers necessary for the minimum security of the state, 2. analyze and advise the civilian leadership on the implications of alternative courses of action, and 3. implement state decisions with respect to national defense even if those orders run counter to his judgment. Huntington makes it very clear that the officer is to be completely apolitical.

Author James Weirirck says, “At this point it is beyond question that Petraeus is a politician, in the worst sense of the word. He is willing to distort reality into any narrative that serves his ultimate purpose: the advancement of David Petraeus.” But it is not only that Weirirck says Petraeus is a politician now. Lots of military people have gone on to political office after separation from service. Weirirck says Petraeus was a politician while in office. Weirirck quotes Michael O’Brien of the Warfare Inc. blog accusing Petreaus and Colin Powell of going beyond their Huntingtonian responsibilities: “Petraeus is just like Colin Powell: he wanted to be a politician when he was being paid to be an army officer. They both had their priorities wrong, and look at the results we got out of them.”

So this blog post is not a hit on Petraeus or Powell, but a discussion of Samuel Huntington and his warnings from more than 50 years ago. Sure, lots of former officers run for and gain political office. But like Eisenhower and Marshall, they become the class that directs their former selves. They don’t run for office to be controlled by their former peers. I agree that military officers who engage in political maneuvering are lowering the professionalization bar for the entire officer corps.  We have an entire generation of officers now who act, in my personal opinion, brazenly and openly in the political arena to the detriment of their professionalization. And when senior general officers tell their mid-grade professionals that the target of our efforts must be the national political leadership to convince them to do what the military thinks is best, then we have upended the Huntingtonian admonition.

What is the alternative? How about General Ron Fogleman, former Air Force Chief of Staff, who resigned when he decided that he was no longer aligned in philosophy with the Secretary of the Air Force and Secretary of Defense. He resigned without a political speech. He stayed off TV and out of the papers. When asked by senior leaders to comment on issues, he did so privately.  When asked to be a senior mentor at exercises or to speak, he focused only on the specific issue at hand. Retiring as Chief of staff to private life hasn’t hurt his legacy.  His composure and life after service only made his legacy greater.

Now on to the other Huntington issue: xenophobia and civilizational clash. The Post’s Anthony Faiola writes about German attacks on foreigners and how those attacks are invigorating debate within Germany on the issue of treatment of refugees. In 1993, Huntington, writing in Foreign Affairs, asked whether the future would see a “Clash of Civilizations”.  His 1996 book of the same title concludes that stable civilizations are the best protector against world war and that clashes between civilizations would be ruinous to modernity.

There are many today who would argue that we are in the early stages of civilizational clash worldwide and that “the West” needs to protect its civilization from dilution or defeat. Others claim that movement between peoples and dilution are exactly what the world needs to prevent civilizational clash. So how is that working in Europe? The Post shows the number of refugees from the Middle East in each European country. Some numbers are very large given the size of the population.

In the United States, which was founded on a creed and not on a nationality, we are all descendants of immigrants. In countries based on historical ethnicity, it is easy to tell who is a foreigner by the way they look or accent with which they speak. Some have begun to ask themselves how far their obligation to assist refugees extends into the future. How many more do they have to take at the expense of their social welfare systems and resources. Most feel no need to integrate the refugee populations beyond giving them housing and the possibility to find jobs.

So my question is whether Europeans are unintentionally exacerbating a clash of civilizations by saying no more to refugees, or merely standing up for historical cultural norms which they see under threat from newly arrived people of other cultures. Would Huntington say that the civilizations hold each other in check only if geographically separated? What happens if they are intermixed?

Two interesting and difficult issues raised by two different authors for two different audiences on the same day, both tracing the exposition of their foundational theories to Samuel Huntington. Both are normative discussions of how things ought to be. In Soldier and the State, Huntington says this is how senior officers should act, and if not, then discusses consequences which ultimately lead to the endangerment of the state itself. In Clash of Civilizations, he says that civilizations must learn to live side-by-side with peaceful interchange and mutual respect.  But what happens when an intellectual tipping point hits one or more civilizations who believe those respectful and peaceful interchanges have been upset? Can we back down from either or both of these precipices? If not, then the near future could be a really uncomfortable time in which to interact with anyone but your closest neighbors and friends. Lets hope it isn’t so.