Blame the generals?

posted at 9:34 pm on August 27, 2007 by Allahpundit

Here’s something for our military readers that I meant to link yesterday but didn’t get to. It’s a sequel of sorts to Lt. Col. Paul Yingling’s now famous indictment of the brass for failing to speak up about troop levels and other flaws in the planning before the Iraq invasion began. Fred Kaplan tries to figure out what went wrong. Were they too respectful of the constitutional principle of civilian leadership, such that they felt it wasn’t their place to challenge Bush on logistics? Or were they just doing what they’d been trained to do by a military culture that rewards efficient execution more than creativity?

“The crux of the problem in our Army,” Wass de Czege wrote, “is that officers are not systematically taught how to cope with unstructured problems.” Counterinsurgency wars, like those in Iraq and Afghanistan, are all about unstructured problems. The junior and field-grade officers, who command at the battalion level and below, deal with unstructured problems — adapting to the insurgents’ ever-changing tactics — as a matter of course. Many generals don’t, and never had to, deal with such problems, either in war or in their training drills. Many of them may not fully recognize just how distinct and difficult these problems are.

Kaplan sees a crisis of confidence in the brass developing among the junior officers who’ve had to learn how to adapt in the crucible of battle in Iraq. That’s potentially good news in the long term as the juniors get promoted and remake the culture in their own image — but only if they don’t quit from frustration first, of course, and only if their senior commanders are willing to reward the more unorthodox and adaptable thinkers among them with promotions. To see which way the wind is blowing on that, Kaplan points to the case of Col. H.R. McMaster, who wrote a celebrated book about the hazards of installing yes men in military leadership positions and who masterminded the successful counterinsurgency strategy at Tal Afar. He’s been passed over for promotion to brigadier general two years running. Bad sign.

It’s long but give it a shot. It’s potentially very important. I’ll leave you with a question posed implicitly by this paragraph:

Capt. Garrett Cathcart, who has served in Iraq as a platoon leader, said: “The culture of the Army is to accomplish the mission, no matter what. That’s a good thing.” Matt Wignall, who was the first captain to ask General Cody about the Yingling article, agreed that a mission-oriented culture was “a good thing, but it can be dangerous.” He added: “It is so rare to hear someone in the Army say, ‘No, I can’t do that.’ But sometimes it takes courage to say, ‘I don’t have the capability.’ ” Before the Iraq war, when Rumsfeld overrode the initial plans of the senior officers, “somebody should have put his foot down,” Wignall said.

The question: If the Army’s culture is to accomplish the mission, no questions asked, no matter how long the odds, how do we explain the absurd degree of risk aversion that’s hobbled the search for Osama?

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I read this whole article yesterday and was pretty impressed with Kaplan’s take on it. The commissioned promotion system, in my limited experience, is very political, and friend and family influences can carry an otherwise non-stellar individual much farther than they would make it on their own.

BadgerHawk on August 27, 2007 at 9:49 PM

Sigh. I feel so much better when I think the Military is in large, caring hands. Like Geraldo’s.

Also, NRO had a good piece on the dismal quality of some of the officers. Aparently a large number of captains etc. haven’t served a tour in Iraq while others have served 2-3. I believe it is in the Tank, or mabey the Corner. Check it out.

VolMagic on August 27, 2007 at 9:50 PM

I’m not sure just what “risk aversion”is. One place I read where it’s officers not wanting to sully their records with failures and elsewhere I read where it’s just fear period. I’d appreciate a definition as I suspect it’s going to come up frequently in the future.

jeanie on August 27, 2007 at 9:55 PM

With the caveat that I am not one of HA’s military readers, I will note the following from Michael Gordon’s October 2006 piece on the new counterinsurgency doctrine:

The military generally turned its back on counterinsurgency operations after the Vietnam War. The army concentrated on defending Europe against a Soviet attack. The marines were focused on expeditionary operations in the Third World.

“Basically after Vietnam, the general attitude of the American military was that we don’t want to fight that kind of war again,” said Conrad Crane, the director of the military history institute at the Army War College, one of the principal drafters of the new doctrine.

A common assumption was that if the military trained for major combat operations, it would be able to easily handle less-violent operations like peacekeeping and counterinsurgency. But that assumption proved to be wrong in Iraq. In effect, the military entered Iraq without an up-to-date playbook. Different units improvised different approaches. The failure by civilian policy makers to prepare for the reconstruction of Iraq compounded the problem.

And I had seen it reported that Gen. Petraeus had been “exiled” to Ft. Leavenworth (though that may be subject to interpretation).

It certainly would not be the first time that the US military resisted “out of the box” thinking.

I hasten to add that the US military does seem better than most large orgs at turning things around, as compared with the rest of the USG.

Karl on August 27, 2007 at 10:01 PM

McMaster has been passed over? The hero of 73 Easting, the greatest tank victory by a company sized unit ever? The hero of Tal Afar? The Ph.D. in History and author of a book that was required reading at the War College? Holy crap! This old sergeant is stunned. That explains him being at a think tank in London. What a mistake not promoting him would be. If anyone was a shoo-in for a star or four, it was McMaster.

The Opinionator on August 27, 2007 at 10:01 PM

Well done Allah.

Griz on August 27, 2007 at 10:09 PM

I do think there’s a lack of emphasis on creativity in the military in general, not just the Army officer corps. I saw it frequently in the enlisted side of the Air Force, and that was between the gulf wars during peacetime. There’s a fear of failure (because of the negative effect that any failure will have on a career) that feeds into that at the command level and that fear is coupled with constant injection of legalese into the battlespace. Officers especially have to have a little lawyer on their shoulder second-guessing every move they make, not in tactical or strategic or moral terms, but in terms of how will a JAG officer view their actions after the fact. If that lawyer isn’t there, they all know that any move they make could turn them into the next Illario Pantano or Allen West. So I think that that’s part of it.

There’s also the fact that we’re in a time of transition, from conventional tactics of maneuver and counter-manuever to take and hold territory to the globalization of guerrilla warfare and postmodern war. We will have to adapt our forces to be able to fight conventional and unconventional warfare from here on out, because both types of war remain possibilities and sometimes we’ll fight both at the same time (or in Iraq, first conventional against a state military followed immediately by unconventional, against the remnants of that defeated military and other players in Iraq and the region). That’s one of the prices we’ll pay for going soft on terrorists during the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, granting them rights they haven’t earned under Geneva and granting murderers like Arafat some legitimacy on the world stage. Legitimizing Arafat without getting him to renounce terrorism was probably the single stupidest move of the latter part of the last century.

Bryan on August 27, 2007 at 10:13 PM

Again I have problems with the premise. In 2003 Bush’s goal was to just get rid of Saddam. The miscalulation of Iraq isnt that we didnt do our job(we got rid of Saddam) but rather than Al Queda was able to turn Iraq into a war on Islam.

Liberals and the press never understood the downside of attacking the US military or overplaying Hadiatha or Abu Girahb. It wasnt wrong to punish anyone guilty of wrongdoing but in their rush to smear the troops they gave propaganda to the enemy

And Al Queda ran with it. Abu Girahb became a rally cry for Islam to stand up to the west. Now instead of a war with Iraq we have a war with all of Islam.

The invasion of Iraq only continued a war we have been fighting since 1979 and before. The west and Islam are now on a collusion course. Not because of Iraq but because we have given the fanatics the belief that they can win and not only in Iraq but all over the world

That is why we seen the uproar over the Islamic Cartoon. The numberous flashes of “rage” over insults to Islam. The rise of Hamas and Hezbullah. The Fanatics are now convincing the moderates that they can win a war against the west and they are inflaming them to do more.

Daily we see the same stuff that came out of Nazi Germany being spread in the Islamic world. And the west feeds the flames every time it calls for a retreat from Iraq.

It isnt peace that we will get if we leave Iraq. It will be a war for survival.

William Amos on August 27, 2007 at 10:18 PM

The question: If the Army’s culture is to accomplish the mission, no questions asked, no matter how long the odds, how do we explain the absurd degree of risk aversion that’s hobbled the search for Osama?

Doesn’t that depend on whether you’re referring to a General or a PFC? It’s the duty of the PFC to follow the (sometimes) absurd orders given to them, and accomplish the mission no questions asked. We can’t say the same for higher ranking officials giving those orders and following political directives instead of common sense.

thedecider on August 27, 2007 at 10:19 PM

Doesn’t that depend on whether you’re referring to a General or a PFC?

Note, though, that it’s a captain who articulates that point, not a PFC. Kaplan is saying that one of the reasons the generals themselves didn’t pipe up about the lack of troops is that they thought they had to accomplish the mission. It permeates all ranks.

Allahpundit on August 27, 2007 at 10:21 PM

The question: If the Army’s culture is to accomplish the mission, no questions asked, no matter how long the odds, how do we explain the absurd degree of risk aversion that’s hobbled the search for Osama?

Because they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If they are too quick to attack and cause a lot of collateral damage or suffer huge losses they get attacked. If they decided to not take a chance due to sketchy information, mission planning or lack of necessary resources, they get attacked. They can’t win unless things go virtually perfectly. But, what do I know? I’m stupid.

TheBigOldDog on August 27, 2007 at 10:27 PM

Allahpundit on August 27, 2007 at 10:21 PM

I guess it’s something new since the Army’s complaints about men, training and planning kept them virtually out of the original invasion of Afghanistan. Maybe they didn’t complain because they genuinely thought they had what they needed? Na, too simple. It’s gotta be some big, systemic problem that can’t be solved easily.

TheBigOldDog on August 27, 2007 at 10:32 PM

Note, though, that it’s a captain who articulates that point, not a PFC

I understand the context. I suppose I liken it to what I know best – corporate America. Whether it’s the board room or the war room, the ills of a bloated beauracracy really don’t change. Mostly illogical, unworkable or impractical decisions are made by people who are generally much higher ranking, far-removed from the situation at the front line, and who don’t fully appreciate the consequences of the decisions they make. Meanwhile, much lower-ranking people are simply expected to make it happen and not complain. That’s the context I really see this in. The generals didn’t “pipe up” from a lack of appreciation on what was really needed. Perhaps it was to just accomplish the mission, but in the end, bad consequences happen when you don’t foster an environment that values feedback from those who have to live with your decisions.

thedecider on August 27, 2007 at 10:54 PM

Don’t they hand out Mao’s “Guerrilla Warfare”, Klauswitz, Sun Tzu, Mushashi’s “The Book of Five Rings”, and other useful guides in the military colleges? (Or even “Ghost Soldiers” and “The Scourge of the Swastika”?)

What the “war is hell” are they reading?

profitsbeard on August 27, 2007 at 11:08 PM

If the Army’s culture is to accomplish the mission, no questions asked, no matter how long the odds, how do we explain the absurd degree of risk aversion that’s hobbled the search for Osama?

That’s exactly the problem. The risk of speaking out possibly being a career-killer transfers into planning. I didn’t do a lot of tactical planning, just in service schools when we worked with other branches (the trigger-pullers especially), but I did interact with a lot of higher-ups at the War College and in the Division. Type-A personalities are always under stress.

Stashiu3 on August 27, 2007 at 11:09 PM

The officers doing the criticizing are all below the rank of General officer. If they were so smart, why is it they did not attain that rank. I would like to know what other conflict we have been involved in for this length of time has had a casualty count so small. That is not to discount the losses we have had, but we lost more troops in the battle of Kasserine Pass then in all of the fighting in Iraq. No one said it would be easy.

Zelsdorf Ragshaft on August 27, 2007 at 11:13 PM

I still think that 10 years from now, with the second hindsight that comes with victory, all this hand-wringing is going to seem pretty overwrought. Transforming a 4000 year old culture of 25M people in the course of a decade with ±4000 casualties.

Extravagantly unprecedented.

“More troops” is the fantasy league of the armchair general, where every play is perfect and every call fair. But the numerical strength of the surge in 2003, without the strategy (or the strategist) to accompany it, may have played out very tragically different than the wishful fever dreams of the Powell!heads.

Successful businesses are lean businesses. Fewer ways to screw up. I can’t see how the military somehow magically transcends the basic laws of economics.

a4g on August 27, 2007 at 11:21 PM

This insurgency is unlike anything in U.S. history. Next war we’ll know a lot better how to do business.

The great thing about this war was, despite tremendous effort, the Dhemocrats/MSM were unable to force us to lose. That, in and of itself, is a tremendous victory.

Mojave Mark on August 27, 2007 at 11:52 PM

Zelsdorf Ragshaft,

You make some good points, Kasserine Pass being the main one. However, the people that are doing the criticizing have not, by and large, been in the army long enough to attain general rank. A captain reaches his rank at roughly 4 years and is promoted to major at about 10. Yingling is a light colonel and was commissioned in the 80′s, as was McMaster. Only Col. McMaster has been in long enough to make general. Interestingly, his sin is criticizing past generals, not the current ones.

The Opinionator on August 27, 2007 at 11:54 PM

Recommend reading

http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20070901faresponse86511/richard-b-myers-richard-h-kohn-mackubin-thomas-owens-lawrence-j-korb-michael-c-desch/salute-and-disobey.html

Retired General Richard Meyers as well as Owens, Korb and Desch comment on the subject of military and civilian roles and ‘blame’.

I liked Meyers view the best and this quote particularly

“Ultimately, there is no such thing as a “proper civil-military balance.” What is necessary for effective policy, good decisions, and positive outcomes is a relationship of respect, candor, collaboration, cooperation — and subordination. Nothing would undermine that relationship more than a resignation by a senior military officer. The role of the military is to advise and then carry out lawful policies and orders, not to make them. To threaten resignation — taking disagreement public — directly assaults civilian control of the military. Political and international strategic considerations are the responsibility of civilians, elected and appointed. No military officer, even at the very top, can know all that is involved in the highest levels of decision-making, which is inherently political (in the generic, not partisan, sense). In other walks of life, professionals can resign, but a military leader sworn to defend the country would be abandoning it, along with the people under his or her care or command.

There may be some extraordinary or dire situation in which an officer must for personal reasons ask to be relieved or retired: for example, when people would be slaughtered for no explicable or conceivable reason or the existence of the country jeopardized with no conceivable justification. But one individual’s definition of what is moral, ethical, and even professional can differ from someone else’s. There is no tradition of military resignation in the United States, no precedent — and for good reason. Even the hint of resignation would encourage civilians to choose officers more for compliance and loyalty than for competence, experience, intelligence, candor, moral courage, professionalism, integrity, and character.

The fact is that the president and the secretary of defense have the authority and the right to reject or ignore military advice whenever they wish. That is the law, in accordance with the Constitution and consistent with U.S. historical practice. Even if Desch does not understand or accept that, the military does — and so, too, do the American people.”

Bradky on August 28, 2007 at 12:31 AM

The officers doing the criticizing are all below the rank of General officer. If they were so smart, why is it they did not attain that rank.

A lot of officers never make General for many reasons. Some branches have only had General Officer slots for 15 years. Also, just because someone does make rank doesn’t mean they’re a good officer. Just like anywhere else.

That being said, I think the “zero-defect” mindset is even more prevalent in the media (others aren’t allowed defects, they believe they’re incapable of them) with everything the military does being a defect. It doesn’t matter what the administration, the military, or the Iraqi government does… there’s always a way to make it sound evil or incompetent. While nobody I know thinks OEF and OIF were done perfectly, they’ve been done better than any other time in history.

The point is, the Army is supposed to learn from the mistakes of the past and these officers are trying to help that happen. Appropriate critiques are not going to upset the chain-of-command, just make it better. If they are wrong, that will be recognized as well.

Stashiu3 on August 28, 2007 at 12:38 AM

Aren’t most of these critical officers Captains? If so, most would be in their twenties, a little young to make General.

MB4 on August 28, 2007 at 12:49 AM

Over on theatlantic.com Kaplan has an article titled,
rereading vietnam, which discusses a long list of books about the vietnam war. I intend to read every one of them on that list.

Those of you who view the nyt article as ‘a bad thing’, I would suggest to you that actually it is ‘a good thing’, where the young turks are forcing the old dinosaurs to adapt. The very fact this article was printed, and these open discussions are public demonstrates that the young turks are forcing changes.

Also, there are two kinds of soldier, the garrison troop the ones who can dress up and parade, and then there are the dirty ugly guys who like to fight. This has been known about the military since the stone Ax was invented.

This type of argument is not new, ask historians about Montgomery, in Europe during the big one, WWII. As I remember it, Monty did well in North Africa, and not so great in Europe.

Finally, after the fact, these critiques are important, but I have learned it is rare that someone can tell you, before the fact, what is going to happen. After wards, everyone and their cook can tell you what, and why it went wrong.

This self examination will make the US Military better. It is not a sign of an ineffective, incompetent fighting force.

rockhauler on August 28, 2007 at 12:54 AM

Those of you who view the nyt article as ‘a bad thing’, I would suggest to you that actually it is ‘a good thing’, where the young turks are forcing the old dinosaurs to adapt. The very fact this article was printed, and these open discussions are public demonstrates that the young turks are forcing changes.

rockhauler on August 28, 2007 at 12:54 AM

I’d disagree a bit with you on this. Most captains have at most 12 years time in service. He or she will usually wait another 6 years beyond that before being in a commande’s role. The O-6 and Generals are pushing 25-35 years time in service. While they may be “dinosaurs” at times, the experience helps them accomplish the mission while keeping as many of the troops as possible under their command alive.
Young blood is not a bad thing at all and commanders welcome the enthusiasm and ideas they bring in.
But as many of us older folks know, a college education and a few years experience does not an expert make.

Bradky on August 28, 2007 at 1:02 AM

how do we explain the absurd degree of risk aversion that’s hobbled the search for Osama?

Peace time political micromanagers that can’t operate in real time in charge of war actions they neither understand nor have the courage to carry out, much less willing to take the heat needed to be successful.

Or, multiple individual team member failure due to yellow belly cranialfeceitis leading to joint clusterf**k syndrome.

Speakup on August 28, 2007 at 1:17 AM

Peace time political micromanagers that can’t operate in real time in charge of war actions they neither understand nor have the courage to carry out, much less willing to take the heat needed to be successful.Or, multiple individual team member failure due to yellow belly cranialfeceitis leading to joint clusterf**k syndrome.

Too simplistic and patently unfair to the troops at large.

Bradky on August 28, 2007 at 1:24 AM

Too simplistic and patently unfair to the troops at large.

Bradky on August 28, 2007 at 1:24 AM

You want simplistic? You’re misguided.

Speakup on August 28, 2007 at 1:34 AM

“Americans love a winner. Americans will not tolerate a loser. Americans despise cowards. Americans play to win all of the time. I wouldn’t give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed.” Speech to the 3rd Army 1944.

bnelson44 on August 28, 2007 at 1:41 AM

“War is not merely justifiable, but imperative upon honorable men, upon an honorable nation, where peace can only be obtained by the sacrifice of conscientious conviction or of national welfare”
Theodore Roosevelt

Speakup on August 28, 2007 at 1:50 AM

“Preventive war was an invention of Hitler. Frankly, I would not even listen to anyone seriously that came and talked about such a thing. When people speak to you about a preventive war, you tell them to go and fight it. After my experience, I have come to hate war.”

- Dwight D. Eisenhower, 5 star General and 34th President of the United States of America.

MB4 on August 28, 2007 at 1:56 AM

this mindset stems from three factors… ones which our forefathers did not have to deal with…

Right now, the White House situation room, and the Pentagon can dial into TACTICAL communications. The amount of data they now collect and analyze does not allow for any miscalculation at all.

Add in that all of this data is now analyzed not by war fighters, but by lawyers, and you have a serious problem. EVERY American casualty now has to be independently investigated as to circumstance…. its a legal nightmare.

Add in that ANY misstep when the press is around, real or imagined, will destroy your carreer???

And you have the trifecta… to MUCH oversite, by politicians, media, and lawyers.

No wonder they are now gun shy.

Romeo13 on August 28, 2007 at 1:56 AM

Nobody every defended anything successfully, there is only attack, and attack, and attack some more.”- Patton.

profitsbeard on August 28, 2007 at 2:00 AM

Though fraud in all other actions be odious, yet in matters of war it is laudable and glorious, and he who overcomes his enemies by stratagem is as much to be praised as he who overcomes them by force.
-Niccolo Machiavelli

MB4 on August 28, 2007 at 2:03 AM

In the practical art of war, you must be prepared to fight at any time in the future. In the impractical art of war, you should have been prepared quite some time ago, and it’s probably already too late. You’re screwed.
- Sun Tzu’s nephew

MB4 on August 28, 2007 at 2:13 AM

In every battle there comes a time when both sides consider themselves beaten, then he who continues the attack wins.
Ulysses S. Grant

Speakup on August 28, 2007 at 2:14 AM

If your enemy wins the war, you are defeated.
- Sun Tzu’s nephew

MB4 on August 28, 2007 at 2:19 AM

Re: Old Soldiers vs. Young Soldiers

At the Small Wars Journal blog, Brigadier General (Ret.) Huba Wass de Czege — founder of the Army’s elite School for Advanced Military Studies — recently noted the import of the fact that serving field grade officers (Majors, Lt. Cols and Cols) have far more sustained combat experience than the younger generation of retirees acting as contractors or serving on CGSC and War College faculties.

Karl on August 28, 2007 at 3:32 AM

You want simplistic? You’re misguided.

Speakup on August 28, 2007 at 1:34 AM

No I said that you are being too simplistic in calling our troops “yellow bellied” and “lacking in courage”.

Too simplistic and patently unfair to the troops at large.

Bradky on August 28, 2007 at 1:24 AM

Bradky on August 28, 2007 at 4:36 AM

Doesn’t that depend on whether you’re referring to a General or a PFC? It’s the duty of the PFC to follow the (sometimes) absurd orders given to them, and accomplish the mission no questions asked. We can’t say the same for higher ranking officials giving those orders and following political directives instead of common sense.

thedecider on August 27, 2007 at 10:19 PM

Just check what happened to any officer who dared disagree with Rumsfield and his lapdog Wolfowitz… There is one phrase that sums up the rumsfield pentagon: “Groupthink”.

That is why they had to bring in a retired general to take over Army CoS. Noone wanted it. Why? Because the civilian leadership thought they could run the military better than the generals and this attitude pervaded long before Iraq or Afghanistan. There was many Army Times articles about how Rumsfield shunned most, if not all, Generals in his ‘Rush’ to modernize the military to his own exacting standards.

As an officer it IS your job to think not just blindly follow orders. When you have “issues” or logistical problems you are supposed to bring them up to your higher… but there is always the possibility (as has happened to me in command of a company in OIF1) that your CO will look at you and say “Noted, drive on anyway”. If you have done your job, you have notified your commander of what you need to accomplish what he wants done and how your shortfalls, if not filled, will affect the mission. It is then up to him to a. give you all or some of what you need b. change or chancel the mission or c. tell you to do it anyway. At that point, there is no “puting your foot down”. Somebody has seen too many movies.

As for the guy who claims that the Army was unprepared for Afghanistan when it started… as I recall the 3/101st (187 infantry) was one of, if not the, first US unit in Afghanistan and the 10th MTN was there also.

BadBrad on August 28, 2007 at 7:11 AM

Why so risk-averse? The answer is simple. The extremely competitive nature of the promotion system for officers turns each Service into a ‘one-mistake’ AF, Army, Navy, or Marine Corps. (The mistake has to be fairly significant to count, but when it does, you’re done and there’s almost no hope of recovery.)

James on August 28, 2007 at 7:51 AM

“Americans love a winner. Americans will not tolerate a loser. Americans despise cowards. Americans play to win all of the time. I wouldn’t give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed.” Speech to the 3rd Army 1944.

bnelson44 on August 28, 2007 at 1:41 AM

More specifically, Gen. George S. Patton, Speech to the 3d Army.

As Savage likes to say, we need more Patton and less patent leather.

Freelancer on August 28, 2007 at 8:23 AM

The Guardian did a piece in February 07 talking about Petraeus’ staff calling them “Baghdad brains trust”

The team comprises an unusual mix of combat experience and high academic achievement. It includes Colonel Peter Mansoor, Gen Petraeus’s executive officer and a former armoured division commander who holds a PhD in the history of infantry; Col H R McMaster, author of a well-known critique of Vietnam and a seasoned counter-insurgency operations chief; Lt-Col David Kilcullen, a seconded Australian army officer and expert on Islamism; and Col Michael Meese, son of the former US attorney-general, Edwin Meese, who was a member of the ill-fated Iraq Study Group.

Also don’t believe the hype about McMaster being passed over to BG. He went from LTC and Cav Squadron Commander in 1999-2002, to COL and Cav Regiment Commander in 2004. He might be eligible for promotion to one star, but he does not enough time in rank because he is already on the FAST TRACK.

BohicaTwentyTwo on August 28, 2007 at 8:47 AM

But as many of us older folks know, a college education and a few years experience does not an expert make.

Bradky on August 28, 2007 at 1:02 AM

The intemperate enthusiasm of youth vs the wisdom of the old lion.

In the Armed Forces Journal article referenced, Yingling opens with:

“You officers amuse yourselves with God knows what buffooneries and never dream in the least of serious service. This is a source of stupidity which would become most dangerous in case of a serious conflict.”
- Frederick the Great

And closes the article with:

This article began with Frederick the Great’s admonition to his officers to focus their energies on the larger aspects of war. The Prussian monarch’s innovations had made his army the terror of Europe, but he knew that his adversaries were learning and adapting. Frederick feared that his generals would master his system of war without thinking deeply about the ever-changing nature of war, and in doing so would place Prussia’s security at risk. These fears would prove prophetic. At the Battle of Valmy in 1792, Frederick’s successors were checked by France’s ragtag citizen army. In the fourteen years that followed, Prussia’s generals assumed without much reflection that the wars of the future would look much like those of the past. In 1806, the Prussian Army marched lockstep into defeat and disaster at the hands of Napoleon at Jena. Frederick’s prophecy had come to pass; Prussia became a French vassal.

What is important here is that both sides reexamine, and re evaluate their conclusions, and learn from the experience.

In the heat of the moment, for most of us low lifes, BadBrad said it well:

If you have done your job, you have notified your commander of what you need to accomplish what he wants done and how your shortfalls, if not filled, will affect the mission. It is then up to him to

a. give you all or some of what you need

b. change or chancel the mission or

c. tell you to do it anyway.

At that point, there is no “pouting your foot down”. Somebody has seen too many movies.

The critics who claim this article, and others, are proof of a badly flawed military are missing the most important point; this debate is proof that the US Military is adapting, and is learning how to do it better. This is an ongoing, never ending process; there is no final answer.

The ultimate proof is the improvement in Iraq, however small it might appear.

rockhauler on August 28, 2007 at 9:12 AM

The commissioned promotion system, in my limited experience, is very political, and friend and family influences can carry an otherwise non-stellar individual much farther than they would make it on their own.

BadgerHawk on August 27, 2007 at 9:49 PM

Speaking from personal experience, your statement can be summed up thusly.

Officer Corp: Form (appearance & connections) over substance takes precedence.

Enlisted Corp: Substance (ability & performance) over form takes precedence.

cmdrsubfleet on August 28, 2007 at 9:32 AM

“The crux of the problem in our Army,” Wass de Czege wrote, “is that officers are not systematically taught how to cope with unstructured problems.” Counterinsurgency wars, like those in Iraq and Afghanistan, are all about unstructured problems.

{sigh} Here’s some facts to chew on:

In 1989 I attended Officer Basic Course where we studied strategy and tactics of Operations Other Than War (OOTW). In 1991 I attended Officer Advance Course where we were taught higher level strategy and tactics of OOTW. In
1998 I attended Combines Arms and Services Staff School where we studdied staff coordinatino and planning for OTTW. And at various point along this time line I attended numberous training excercises focussed on OOTW.

What is OOTW focus? It is coping with unstructured problems such as counterinsurgency wars, like those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now… relook at the recent success in Iraq. The recent changes in strategy and tactics have been as much about Petraeus taking over and letting his “well trained” staffs and subordinate commanders do what they were trained to do.

The micromanagement of the combat from the Pentagon has been replaced with trained field commander hands-on management on the ground. At it is working. Amazing, isn’t it?

Lawrence on August 28, 2007 at 9:40 AM

Rumsfeld was an idiot! Didn’t we learn anything from Vietnam? Our military should be given an objective by their civilian leaders and then the civilian leaders should stay the hell out of the daily command decisions! Rumsfeld had no business managing daily military matters. He lacked the training and experience and we and our troops suffered the end results!

sabbott on August 28, 2007 at 10:12 AM

Peace time political micromanagers

Too simplistic and patently unfair to the troops at large.

Bradky on August 28, 2007 at 1:24 AM

political interpretation problems?

Wheres the reference to the troops?

You want need simplistic? You’re misguided.

Same answer.

Speakup on August 28, 2007 at 10:34 AM

Another perspective worth considering is the recurring problem of sending peacetime commanders to fight a war. In American military history, you often find that the kind of commanders who succeed in peacetime fail in wartime, and vice versa. The values of a peacetime military differ from a military actively engaged in combat. Very often, the commanders so adept at organizing and preparing an army for war are incompetent to fight. General McClellan of the Civil War is the premiere example: an outstanding organizer but mediocre fighter.

When America goes to war, what often happens is that the peacetime commanders are dismissed and replaced by their young Turk subordinates who are more aggressive and willing to take on more risk. For example, in WWII virtually all the submarine commanders in the US Navy were replaced by younger, more aggressive subordinates willing to place their boats in harm’s way. In the US Army, virtually all the general officers who won WWII were field grade officers at the beginning of the war. Eisenhower was never a full colonel, skipping right from lieutenant colonel to general.

I suspect that the excessive credentialization and ticket punching of the peacetime officer promotion process has bred a tamer, more orthodox, conformist military officer more adept at jumping through neat bureaucratic hoops than fighting a messy war.

Tantor on August 28, 2007 at 11:18 AM

Bohica,

I hope you are correct about McMaster. If he has been passed over twice, usually that means once below the zone (fast track) and then in the Zone. Perhaps he got two below the zone looks, in which case he will get another look. Problem for me is that if he misses then he goes to the above the zone look which is not a good sign. Even if promoted at that point, BG is about as far as he would go.

Brad,

about the only way a captain in the army has 12 years of service is if he counts his college time or has been passed over. Typical below the zone look for Major is at 9 years service.

The Opinionator on August 28, 2007 at 11:25 AM

The Opinionator on August 28, 2007 at 11:25 AM

Minimum Time in Grade for COL is 3 years. So if McMaster made O-6 in 2003, he could get looked at for BG in 2006. Also, they don’t take into account Below the Zone or In The Zone for General Officer promotions. If you want to look into it further, try DA ‘Pamphlet’ 600-3 Commissioned Officer Development And Career Management. Its just a few pages shy of 500 pages and deals mostly with ranks below general.

BohicaTwentyTwo on August 28, 2007 at 12:32 PM

Rumsfeld was an idiot! …

sabbott on August 28, 2007 at 10:12 AM

Yes! But, he was a loyal idiot, that told the Shrub what he wanted hear!

(former Bush supporter, still a conservative and little “r”epublican.)

cmdrsubfleet on August 28, 2007 at 12:40 PM

Lawrence,
{sigh}

Now… relook at the recent success in Iraq. The recent changes in strategy and tactics have been as much about Petraeus taking over and letting his “well trained” staffs and subordinate commanders do what they were trained to do.

I don’t think Wass de Czege was suggesting that you and others got no classes in OOTW. I think he was suggesting that the O4-O6ers have some very real experience that is directly relevant to the current situation (and beyond) that others do not. Petraeus — with his time in Mosul — is an excellent example also. That’s a reason why we now have a new counter-insurgency manual. The suggestion of people like the late Capt. Travis Patriquin that we could win in Anbar by cultivating the tribal sheikhs would be another example. Mind you, ABC News was unaware of the extent to which we were doing that already when they reported on it, but that’s a separate issue. And I did note in my original comment how good the US military is at adapting, so I don’t think the difference in opinion here — if any — is all that large.

As for Allah’s title, “Blame the Generals?” is provocative and gets people involved. But I wouldn’t blame the Generals for a phenomenon that occurs in so many major conflicts, whether it’s McClellan/Grant, Westmoreland/Abrams, etc. The first strategy, or first batch of leaders may not win, but the US military (again) is very good at adapting.

Karl on August 28, 2007 at 1:25 PM

What so many arm chair military students always fail to note is the utmost obvious. In war, there are no take and returns, no innocents, no safe religious zones. This penchant for surgical methods of combat is stupid and doomed to fail. Sherman and Sheridan understood this and made sure their enemy’s back was broken. We either don’t have the stomach to win a war or the Roman Empire’s fall is about to be repeated soon. We enlisted folks always reminded each other that it was we snuffies who fought not the officers for the most part. Even von Clausewitz understood that much!

MNDavenotPC on August 28, 2007 at 2:18 PM

MNDavenotPC on August 28, 2007 at 2:18 PM

You don’t break the back of an insurgency by scorching the earth. Massive firepower isn’t always the right answer. The Germans pounded Stalingrad into rubble, but the Russians still fought back.

What you are suggesting is not the warfare of Clausewitz, which was about attacking the center mass of your enemy, its the Crush Your Enemies of Conan.

BohicaTwentyTwo on August 28, 2007 at 3:27 PM

I am aware of that Bohica…. but in Iraq we haven’t even tried to destroy the center mass of the enemy which is the Shia/Sunni, Mahdi triumverate. As a 37 year student of warfare and as one experienced in it hence my knowledge of what your name means, I wouldn’t use a Staligrad offensive ( winter killed it another thing Clausewitz warned against).But , let’s be honest, we haven’t even tried to continue the all out offensive we started when we went in there.

MNDavenotPC on August 28, 2007 at 3:54 PM

Bradky on August 28, 2007 at 1:24 AM

Just wondering if you ever had the stones to admit you were wrong.

Don’t worry I didn’t expect you did.

Speakup on August 28, 2007 at 4:37 PM

I wouldn’t use a Staligrad

Well, choose any insurgency where extreme violence and war crimes failed to break their back. How about the Japanese occupation of China? They raped a whole city, but the Chinese still fought on.

BohicaTwentyTwo on August 28, 2007 at 5:10 PM

Speakup on August 28, 2007 at 4:37 PM

My stones are just fine thank you – quit touching my foot by the way. I take it you didn’t look up the mission statements…
NORAD is a defensive operation, period. So having Fred stroll into the wrong command post as you suggested is as silly as the idea that all of the world’s problems can be vaporized – may have seemed real in “War Games” but it was inaccurate. And if he doesn’t run for president (and win) he’d get jacked up by the security folks for being in an unauthorized area, deep voice or not.

Bradky on August 28, 2007 at 5:59 PM

My stones are just fine thank you – quit touching my foot by the way. I take it you didn’t look up the mission statements…
NORAD is a defensive operation, period. So having Fred stroll into the wrong command post as you suggested is as silly as the idea that all of the world’s problems can be vaporized – may have seemed real in “War Games” but it was inaccurate. And if he doesn’t run for president (and win) he’d get jacked up by the security folks for being in an unauthorized area, deep voice or not.

Apologies for attributing wrong comment to you above

Double checked and see you made the comments

Peace time political micromanagers that can’t operate in real time in charge of war actions they neither understand nor have the courage to carry out, much less willing to take the heat needed to be successful.Or, multiple individual team member failure due to yellow belly cranialfeceitis leading to joint clusterf**k syndrome.

to which i replied

Too simplistic and patently unfair to the troops at large.

Bradky on August 28, 2007 at 1:24 AM

For that you owe an apology to our military folks — nothing for me to admit being wrong about

Bradky on August 28, 2007 at 6:24 PM

Bohica, I note you keep referencing conflicts of extreme barbarisms and totalitarian regimes. Of course they failed. At the risk of sounding righteous, I think it’s high time we just put the pedal to the metal a bit harder.

MNDavenotPC on August 28, 2007 at 6:38 PM

Peace time political micromanagers

Too simplistic and patently unfair to the troops at large.

Bradky on August 28, 2007 at 1:24 AM

political interpretation problems?

Wheres the reference to the troops?

You want need simplistic? You’re misguided.

Same answer.

Speakup on August 28, 2007 at 10:34 AM

Some day you’ll catch on that political leaders aren’t associated in the the same way military leaders are.
Civilian political leaders are separate from military leaders comprende’?

If your stones are just fine you can admit your wrong now

and

misguided, however I doubt you can much less will.

All you have to do to gain my apology is point out my reference to the military.

Speakup on August 28, 2007 at 10:09 PM