--Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling, United States Army
Part I of "Judging the Generals" generated an array of feedback, much of which spoke in defense of our senior-most military officers. As I wrote previously, part of me wants to sympathize with the four-stars running the show. They have a tough job. They're involved in a war our military isn't designed to fight, they have been subject to the rule of very bad civilian leadership, and every new guy who steps up into a four-star billet inherits a nightmare that wasn't necessarily of his predecessor's making.
But let's look at a few realities. America, the sole superpower, spends more on defense than the rest of the world combined and yet is bogged down militarily in two third world potholes. If our senior generals and admirals don't bear a large measure of culpability for that, who does?
Revolt of the Light Colonels
Lieutenant Colonel Yingling's Armed Forces Journal article titled "A Failure in Generalship" has grabbed national attention. Thomas E. Ricks of the Washington Post describes it as "a blistering attack on U.S. generals, saying they have botched the war in Iraq and misled Congress about the situation there."
According to Ricks, Yingling decided to write his article after attending Purple Heart ceremonies for American soldiers. He found it "hard to look them in the eye." In an interview, Yingling stated, "Our generals are not worthy of their soldiers."
Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Brian Hanley offers a similar perspective in his recent Proceedings article (login required) titled "Now Hear This: Send the Best and the Brightest."
Like Yingling, Hanley decries the "intellectual and moral poverty of senior military leaders." Hanley believes our military education system is largely to blame. "General officers are drawn from the ranks of colonels who have completed one of the senior war colleges." But these war colleges are "less institutions of higher learning" than "finishing schools that measure success by the uniformity of temperament their graduates demonstrably possess."
This educational process, according to Hanley, is in keeping with well-established practices of careerism in the military officer corps. "You advance in the military by making your mind conform to that of your boss," he says. "To express a dissenting view on policy--no matter how beneficent or perceptive--is to risk being regarded as someone who is disloyal in outlook if not in deed."
Tying the educational and practical aspects of officer careerism together, Hanley says that like any bureaucracy, the military…
…encourages its most ambitious members to evaluate policy by the lights of “How does this make my organization look?” rather than “Is it true; is it right?” This outlook infiltrates our war colleges if only because an intelligent, persistently expressed dissatisfaction with the status quo—the wellspring of substantive innovation—will undermine, if not derail, one’s career prospects.
I agree with much of what Yingling and Hanley say about graduate-level military education. Entirely too much of it is driven by the pet theories and doctrines of three and four star officers who have parochial interests in shaping force structure and weapons acquisition programs. This influence also connects to the military industrial complex and to the hawkish, neoconservative think tank world that includes groups like the Project for the New American Century, the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation.
The negative effects of all these influences merged during the now infamous "battle experiment" Millenium Challenge 2002 (MC02), a $250 million war game that simulated U.S. forces liberating a country in the Persian Gulf region from an "evil dictator." The game was designed to "prove" favored military transformational concepts like "network-centric warfare" and "shock and awe."
A funny thing happened on the way to the "mission accomplished" ceremony. The opposition force commander, retired Marine Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper, managed to sink most of the U.S. fleet through use of low-tech weapons and tactics. The game masters called a time out, re-floated the fleet, and resumed the game with restrictions on the opposition force that would ensure a friendly force win.
Not surprisingly, Marine General Peter Pace was vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time, and was called on by his boss, Donald Rumsfeld, to explain why the war game had to be rigged. "You kill me in the first day and I sit there for the next 13 days doing nothing, or you put me back to life and you get 13 more days' worth of experiment out of me. Which is a better way to do it?" he said.
One could almost buy Pace's line of logic, except for the way the battle experiment proceeded from there. Van Riper was told to turn off his air defenses at times when "blue" air forces were scheduled to attack, and to move his land forces away from beaches where blue forces were scheduled to assault. As war gaming goes, that's moral and intellectual bankruptcy.
And it was exactly that kind of moral and intellectual bankruptcy that brought us to our present condition, with our ship of state bow down in a third world sand dune, and generals like Peter Pace own a large slice of the blame for that. As Tom Ricks wrote:
Many majors and lieutenant colonels have privately expressed anger and frustration with the performance of Gen. Tommy R. Franks, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno and other top commanders in the war, calling them slow to grasp the realities of the war and overly optimistic in their assessments.
Now we have General David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, telling us how Baghdad is showing "astonishing signs of normalcy" even as American soldiers are killed daily in that nation's capital city. Sorry, but I can't begin to think of describing that situation as any sort of "normalcy," and am frankly astonished that those soldiers' commanding general can.