Views from the Military
Via Danger Room, some exerpts from a NY Times Magazine piece that isn’t yet online:
A captain named Matt Wignall, who recently spent 16 months in Iraq with a Stryker brigade combat team, asked Cody, the Army’s second-highest-ranking general, what he thought of a recent article by Lt. Col. Paul Yingling titled “A Failure in Generalship.” The article, a scathing indictment that circulated far and wide, including in Iraq, accused the Army’s generals of lacking “professional character,” “creative intelligence” and “moral courage.”
Yingling’s article — published in the May issue of Armed Forces Journal — noted that a key role of generals is to advise policy makers and the public on the means necessary to win wars. “If the general remains silent while the statesman commits a nation to war with insufficient means,” he wrote, “he shares culpability for the results.” Today’s generals “failed to envision the conditions of future combat and prepare their forces accordingly,” and they failed to advise policy makers on how much force would be necessary to win and stabilize Iraq. These failures, he insisted, stemmed not just from the civilian leaders but also from a military culture that “does little to reward creativity and moral courage.” He concluded, “As matters stand now, a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war.”
General Cody looked around the auditorium, packed with men and women in uniform — most of them in their mid-20s, three decades his junior but far more war-hardened than he or his peers were at the same age — and turned Captain Wignall’s question around. “You all have just come from combat, you’re young captains,” he said, addressing the entire room. “What’s your opinion of the general officers corps?”
Over the next 90 minutes, five captains stood up, recited their names and their units and raised several of Yingling’s criticisms. One asked why the top generals failed to give political leaders full and frank advice on how many troops would be needed in Iraq. One asked whether any generals “should be held accountable” for the war’s failures. One asked if the Army should change the way it selected generals. Another said that general officers were so far removed from the fighting, they wound up “sheltered from the truth” and “don’t know what’s going on.” …
In response to the captains’ questions, General Cody acknowledged, as senior officers often do now, that the Iraq war was “mismanaged” in its first phases. The original plan, he said, did not anticipate the disbanding of the Iraqi Army, the disruption of oil production or the rise of an insurgency. Still, he rejected the broader critique. “I think we’ve got great general officers that are meeting tough demands,” he insisted. He railed instead at politicians for cutting back the military in the 1990s. “Those are the people who ought to be held accountable,” he said.
I wonder about this. Consider the position of a general. Its 2002 or 2003. He’s already seen what happens to people who speak up, whether they are generals or not. Its not always easy to speak up – who wants to end a three decade career by being the guy to step forward? And then there’s the financial strain. On the other hand, keeping quiet means you are partly responsible for what follows. Its a tough place to be.
So whatever blame accrues to the generals, most of it has to lie with the people who put them in that untenable position – the administration, the cheerleaders, and those who bought in.
Update… I also have a question…. what do you think it does to morale if the folks at the middle and bottom of the chain of command think folks at the top should be held accountable, but aren’t?