Blasting the Brass

BLASTING THE BRASS….Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, one of the officers responsible for the Army’s success in Tall Afar last year, has penned a blistering attack in the Armed Forces Journal aimed at our current military brass:

Despite paying lip service to “transformation” throughout the 1990s, America’s armed forces failed to change in significant ways after the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf War….Having spent a decade preparing to fight the wrong war, America’s generals then miscalculated both the means and ways necessary to succeed in Iraq….Privately, many senior general officers both active and retired expressed serious misgivings about the insufficiency of forces for Iraq. These leaders would later express their concerns in tell-all books such as “Fiasco” and “Cobra II.” However, when the U.S. went to war in Iraq with less than half the strength required to win, these leaders did not make their objections public.

….In 1997, the U.S. Central Command exercise “Desert Crossing” demonstrated that many postwar stabilization tasks would fall to the military. The other branches of the U.S. government lacked sufficient capability to do such work on the scale required in Iraq. Despite these results, CENTCOM accepted the assumption that the State Department would administer postwar Iraq. The military never explained to the president the magnitude of the challenges inherent in stabilizing postwar Iraq.

….After failing to visualize the conditions of combat in Iraq, America’s generals failed to adapt to the demands of counterinsurgency….After going into Iraq with too few troops and no coherent plan for postwar stabilization, America’s general officer corps did not accurately portray the intensity of the insurgency to the American public….The intellectual and moral failures common to America’s general officer corps in Vietnam and Iraq constitute a crisis in American generalship.

Phil Carter, who returned last year from a tour in Iraq, is impressed:

This is an incisive and brilliant article — it is precisely the kind of ruthless self-examination which is so necessary for an army at war. Unfortunately, Lt. Col. Yingling is one of the few officers with the moral courage to make this point so far. Although I’ve heard this argument made (in somewhat less sophisticated fashion) by a number of military friends and colleagues, I have not seen it made publicly and on-the-record by many. That speaks to a moral decline within the American military, and perhaps to the triumph of careerism over integrity. Perhaps I’m exaggerating here, but given the scope of these failures, I’m disappointed to see so few officers speaking out like this.

Here’s a question: Careerism probably explains why criticism like this is so rare among military officers, but why is it also so rare even among civilians? I suspect there are several dynamics at work. First, criticizing the brass seems a little too close to criticizing the troops, and no one wants to be caught anywhere even colorably close to that. Second, especially among liberals, no one wants to take the heat off the Bush administration, and sharp criticism of the military leadership inevitably suggests that the White House might not be entirely to blame for the Iraq debacle. And third, there’s a legitimate question of how strongly general officers should push back against their civilian leadership. There’s a line where that pushback morphs into bureaucratic resistance to presidential will (Bill Clinton ran into this more than once, where military leaders essentially manufactured scenarios that made presidential action impossible), and no one is quite sure where that line is.

These are understandable concerns, but they’re hardly compelling reasons for silence. Among other things, Iraq has made clear not just that our military isn’t equipped to effectively fight non-conventional wars, but that even now it continues to be largely uninterested in fighting non-conventional wars. It would rather have its toys, and in this it’s aided and abetted as it always has been by a Congress more interested in military pork for constituents and contributors than it is in figuring out what our military really ought to look like ten years from now. Yingling’s article is a wakeup call.