Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Chain of Blame

From a comment I made at Phil's new blog:

I am so sick of hearing how the Army was unprepared for counterinsurgency warfare in Iraq. It is BS. It is not true.

We had full-spectrum capability in March of 2003. We trained to fight in full-scale "high intensity warfare" using tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, heavy artillery, etc. We did it too, and successfully, in the first Gulf War and again in the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. We knew how to do that in March of 2003.

We trained in mid-intensity combat as well, prepared to fight modern foes in urban terrain with more limited heavy forces and with noncombatant civilians on the battlefield - we trained for it for years at the JRTC. And we did it too, in Panama for instance (and what we did wrong we discussed - such as not having enough civil affairs, relief supplies, etc.) We knew how to do that in March of 2003.

We trained in low-intensity combat scenarios as well, including counter-insurgency. It was part of every rotation at the NTC (during RSOI week) and at the JRTC, and we even have an entire branch expected to master it - the Special Forces branch. But SF is not expected to wage such wars alone. Many units had FID/UW mission on their METL, and our experiences in Vietnam left a whole host of literature on the shelf - something I was expected to know as a junior "conventional" infantry officer. We even had debates about "nation-building," remember, long before the "election" of 2000? And we did it too, or were prepared to do it, in places like Macedonia, Bosnia (SFOR for instance), and Columbia (advisors and aviation only for the latter). And we watched as other nations struggled with such missions, including European nations in the former Yugoslavia, or Russia in Chechnya. We knew how to do counter-insurgency in March of 2003.

We even trained for smaller-scale contingencies, which used to be called "OOTW" - operations other than war. And we did it too, in places like Haiti, or with Cuban refugees, and in disaster relief operations after earthquakes and hurricanes. We knew how to do that in March of 2003.

And in Iraq the Army was ordered - ORDERED - not to plan for the post-war occupation and EXPECTED insurgency. Why? Because each time the Army began to plan for it the result was clear: the Administration was lying to Congress and the People about what it would take to win in Iraq. And the Army, through the Chief of Staff, warned that it would take hundreds of thousands of more troops, and billions more dollars, and many more years, to succeed in Iraq - and he was ignored. When he retired he was snubbed. Turns out the Army was exactly right.

The story that the Army did not know what to expect and did not understand what was coming and did not possess the capability to respond is false. It is a lie. It is a way to blame the Army for the sins of the president - and the sins of a rubber-stamp, cowardly congress that cared little about anything but avoiding being painted by Rove as weak on national security after 9/11.

And why would they fear that? Because a frightened and uninformed public refused to pay attention to anything other than 30-second commercials and 10-second sound bites. In short, ALL OF US ARE TO BLAME. We were a stupid electorate, and we got a stupid government in response. That is how democracy worked. We are to blame.

But not the Army. Had it been allowed to do what it knew best to do, what it said must be done, without partisan political interference by this worst-ever of all administrations, it would have and could have succeeded - but only at great cost. There was never a way to easily succeed in Iraq - the nation is too large, and our presence too unwelcome, to be easy. But it was possible - even probable - if resourced and fought properly. We have done it before - in the Philippines. In Occupied Germany and Japan (and don't forget Italy, which was even more quickly successful). And in our own nation after our terrible civil war. And at least the cost of success in Iraq would have been known upfront, before we invaded, and the American People could have made a knowing and informed decision about whether they were prepared to make sacrifices to win in Iraq, or instead preferred other options.

Instead the president lied. And ordered the Army not to plan so that the public would not find out the true cost of success. And our reaction at learning there were no weapons of mass destruction? We re-elected Bush in 2004. Hell, why not lie to the public? There is apparently no cost in doing so, they don't seem to recall they were betrayed and lied to and ended up in a terrible and bloody war by mistake. In 2004 we returned Bush to office. We might have been lied to, but we subsequently authorized the lies, telling our children and generations yet to come that it was ok with us that we were betrayed and lied to and manipulated. That is, apparently, just fine with us. Start a war on false pretenses after ignoring all professional military opinion, and then lose that war due to gross incompetence and interference with the military and serial neglect and old-fashioned stupidity? Get re-elected. Cut taxes. Don't draft. Send the same men off to die, year after year after year. Our Army today has more combat experience, on average, than any Army in American history. Think about that. Our soldiers, on average, have spent more time under fire than in any war we have ever fought. Their reward? PTSD and a neglected and underfunded VA.

And still many blame the Army for this war because men like Gen. Sanchez and Petraeus and Pace wear a uniform and parrot the administration and betray their own, sending others to risk lives while they won't even risk their career. And why not? Those officers who spoke out, like Gen. Shinseki, were ignored anyway. (Thank you Gen. Shinseki for honoring your oath. Men like Gen. Pace or Casey or Miller can kiss my ass).

Quit blaming the damn Army for our own mistakes. This mess was not the result of an unimaginative, incompetent Army, nor the result of a hide-bound, unimaginative, plodding officer corps. It was the result of partisan, petty, stupid politics. The idiot generals that parrot the administration and betray their oath have always existed. In every service, in every nation, in every society, throughout human history, you can always find an ass-kissing yes man if you look hard enough. Such men are not in the majority in our Army - but they were the only ones rewarded during this war. Case in point? Sanchez, who should be court-martialed for dereliction of duty. But fools like Sanchez are ALWAYS available. The key is to pick others - to pick the best men - while weeding out those who do not succeed, even if they kiss your ass all day long and you personally like them because they tell you what you want to hear.

Now think of how many generals, or colonels, who have been relieved of command during this war. Contrast that with now many were cashiered in WWII. We won WWII. See the difference? It is called "accountability." It is called taking responsibility. It is called leadership. And we don't have it, and have not since January 20, 2001. Why? Because the electorate did the same thing as Bush did - rewarded those politicians that told them what they wanted to hear, and fired those who told them what they needed to hear, who spoke unwelcome truths. Bush did the same with his generals.

The Army was put into an impossible situation after warning it would be a mess. Now some want to blame the Army for the mess. They want to talk about how "conventional" officers didn't understand insurgent warfare, how the Army paid too much attention to high-intensity armored combat, and not enough to light-infantry combat and insurgencies. How if the Army had smarter people a lot of this would not have happened.

And it is another lie, one of many in this failure of a war.

In March of 2003 the Army had the institutional expertise and experience to successfully wage insurgent warfare. It was forbidden from doing so. Soldiers were even forbidden from describing the situation in Iraq honestly - the use of words like "guerrilla war" and "insurgency" and "civil war" - all technical military terms, yet made partisan by this administration. Remember that? Civil war is a technical term, a military term, and you are either in one or you are not. Insurgency, same thing. Instead the Army had to use incorrect terms like "terrorist" to describe insurgents - and insurgents fight differently, and respond differently, than terrorists do, but the Army had to fight against "Terrorists" while being attacked by insurgents. And then people who are smart enough to recognize "hey, that is stupid" wonder why the Army can't figure out it simply won't work that way.

Blame Bush. Blame the Republican Party. Blame those many (MANY, including Hillary) Democrats who enabled and often actively supported Bushco. Blame ourselves.

But stop blaming the Army. Hasn't our nation betrayed the soldiers enough, still today fighting a holding action without proper resources or manpower five years later while we all go shopping? Haven't we learned that our Army will do what we order it to do - and if we issue stupid orders, the Army will do stupid things even if soldiers die in the process? The Army obeys our orders. We issued those orders. We own it.

We were warned. We allowed this to happen. And the Army pays the price, not us.

What a tragic and unnecessary and entirely-avoidable F'ing mess. But we get the government we deserve. And when we aren't paying attention, or when we do stupid things, we deserve exactly what we get. For good or ill, in a democracy the People get what they deserve. That can even be tyranny, if the People are foolish enough to prefer safety from a small bunch of fanatics over freedom and civil rights.

We get - or will get - what we deserve. Not the soldiers though.

They deserved - and deserve - better.


mike said...

I don't blame the military. I do blame Bush. I do agree with everything you say including many Dems share some blame for enabling Bush's idiocy.

But you left someone out. You should also blame politicians such as Obama, who said in July 2004 that we had an "absolute obligation" to remain in Iraq long enough to make it a success. During his 2004 Senate race, he supported keeping troops in Iraq to stabilize the country. In the same time frame, Obama endorsed Kerry's view that the United States had too much at stake in Iraq to withdraw. In November 2005, after saying the US should scale down its presence in Iraq, he still claimed that American troops were "still part of the solution" in Iraq.

I have no problem with pols evolving their positions when situations change. But those like Obama who enabled continuation of Bush's war to get elected to the US Senate after using opposition to the war to get elected to the Illinois Senate are not to be trusted. Especially as he then seesawed back to opposition again to get a presidential nomination while trashing his fellow candidates for a position he himself said he would have taken if he had access to the same info that they had at the time.

I expect him to change his position on this issue again. The man is Bush reincarnated as a Democrat.


J.D. said...


Thanks for your comments.

I did the same as Obama. I do not think I was wrong to do so - although I respect the opinion of those who disagree. We should never have invaded - but once we did, there were many other possible outcomes for Iraq besides the one we have. Mr. Bush ensured the worst possible outcome due to his aggressive stupidity, but it was not inevitable. Things were destined to be bad regardless of what we did after we invaded, but they did not have to be this bad, and we could have done much better and for less cost in lives and money. Our failure was not inevitable, and I advocated other courses of action in 2004-2007. Instead we simply continued to do exactly the wrong thing every time. This is not hindsight - I, and Mr. Obama, predicted where we would be if Mr. Bush continued his disastrous "stay the course" path, and we ended up exactly where Mr. Obama, and I, warned we would be. But this was not the only path, and I thought - and think - that other courses of action would have made things better, not worse.

Under international law, an occupier of a sovereign state has an obligation to assume the role of the former government and provide security, emergency services, police, etc. - all of the required infrastructure of a modern nation-state. That is well-settled international law and it makes a great deal of sense. To paraphrase Secretary Powell, we broke it and thus we have the responsibility to fix it (not "own" it - Iraqis own Iraq, but we broke stuff and should have tried to fix what we destroyed). Destroying the government and then leaving chaos behind is not only unwise, it is against international law.

However, we did not do what we should have done. We did exactly the wrong thing. We responded foolishly, stupidly, and now the cost of "success" - which I define as an Iraq that is stable and presents no threat to others or to its own people - is exceedingly high. We set Iraq on a path to chaos and urged it on, and we ended up with chaos. The invasion was wrong, but our failure in Iraq - and the scope of that failure - was not inevitable. We could have done much better, for ourselves and for the Iraqi people.

We as a nation are clearly unwilling to pay the price for stability in Iraq. We were told upfront by Gen. Shinseki the price of success: hundreds of thousands more troops (not another 30K or 50K as in the so-called "surge," but another 150K to 250K troops - something it is very clear we are not willing to do) and billions more dollars. Due to our serial failures in judgment in Iraq, the price of success is even higher than it was before we invaded - we are further away from success in Iraq than before we started this foolish war.

The People have spoken clearly in the election of 2006. We are not willing to have a draft, and thus we do not have the manpower from an all-volunteer force alone. The troops needed to succeed simply do not exist. This did not have to happen this way, but it did. That does not mean I was wrong in 2003, 2004, etc. I warned we would fail if we did not change course. We did not change course. That does not mean I, or Mr. Obama, were wrong. I think we were right, but there is no way to prove that to you.

Mr. Obama, and myself, always opposed the invasion, but after we invaded the situation changed. I don't think Mr. Obama's positions can be explained as simply as supporting or opposing the war. He tried to prevent war, as did I, but once the People, through Congress, started this war it was no longer a matter of anti or pro-war, it was a matter of "what is the best course of action NOW?" Mr. Obama had suggestions, as did I, of how we could have done better than we did. Instead Mr. Bush refused to listen to reason, and the Iraqi people and our military have paid a high price for his criminal negligence and abject and arrogant stupidity. That does not prove Obama wrong. It seems to me it proves him right.

Now it is clear that we have failed. We could have reversed that failure, but only at a price we were clearly unwilling to pay. Accordingly, we should begin withdrawing now, announce our intentions to do so, and work with the UN to see what can be done to avoid civil war or ethnic cleansing.

Since we are not willing to pay the cost to achieve a better outcome (and I don't think we should at this point, we can not afford it) the only options Mr. Bush has left us is to lose quickly or lose slowly - but we have already lost. We COULD win, theoretically, if we had a full national mobilization and drafted 500,000 citizens into the Army and Marines, while spending billions more on nation-building programs (the military can never win stability alone, and has said so repeatedly). That is what it would take. Since there is no chance of that - we won't send more troops and even today, years after the Army told Congress that it could not do the job with military resources alone, the Army (and Marines) are still mostly on their own - we should accept the outcome. We beat the Iraqi military of Saddam, but we could not successfully occupy Iraq without paying a high price, a price we were not willing -and remain unwilling - to pay.

In 2003, 2004, 2005, even as late as early 2007, we could have done much more for less cost. Failure was not inevitable. There were other pathways we could have taken, such as those suggested by myself and Mr. Obama. Bush simply did the wrong thing every step of the way, from the initial (and foolish) decision to invade until today, and now it is nearly impossible and the cost of success has increased with every idiot move he made.

I don't think that means Obama was wrong. I thought, and still think, he was right, but now we have failed, and he supports getting the hell out. He is right to do so, and I don't think he should be considered to have "seesawed" or flip-flopped. He has consistently suggested ideas that have never been put into action, he and many others have suggested actions that Mr. Bush has simply ignored, and now the worst-possible outcome has come to pass, as Mr. Obama warned.

I think he has the most proficient foreign policy of any of the candidates.

And I understand you disagree, and I respect your opinion.

BillD said...


Very good post. I look forward to your comments both here and at Intel Dump. You write very well, your positions are cogent and I do enjoy your passion. Keep it up.

Aviator47 said...


Great stuff about a not so great phenomenon.

As I post over and over again, Rumsnamara was obsessed with making the manpower level of the Armed Forces as small as possible. People were an obstacle to whatever it was he had in mind. Definitely he despised the fact that the payroll and benefits took money away from his high tech toys. And, I am willing to bet that the outgrowth of this was an attitude close to contempt toward a fair number of categories of troops.

To conduct OIF in a doctrinally sound matter would have blown away this theories of operational warfare. Thus, he created his alternate reality and screwed the pooch while generating a plethora of excuses to make it seem otherwise.

Little by little, the DOD is casting aside many of Rummy's ideas.

he was a dunce.


srv said...

The Army is to blame if the only leader it produced who could keep his oath was Shinseki.

An entire organization, bar one or two, rolled over. I'm tired of this passing the buck. The institution is just as rotten as the executive branch, playing the game, accepting whatever snow-flake of the day as a substitute for doing their duty.

And so it goes, just like on 9/11, when many of us wondered where the Dept. of Defense was. Nowhere accountable, that's for sure.

J.D. said...

The Army is to blame if the only leader it produced who could keep his oath was Shinseki.

I have to agree and disagree. If it were true that only Shinseki was honest, then you are right.

But that is not the case. Time and again generals have spoken out - both in uniform (Gen. Wallace) and retired. The retired generals were ignored. The active-duty ones were transferred out. The yes-men were promoted.

Mr. Bush had to hunt for the yes-men, and it is to the Army's credit that they were not easy to find.

Please recall that after Shinseki was retired, the acting chief of staff did not accept the position (Gen. Keane). So both the Chief of Staff and his deputy were not yes-men.

Then the Bush administration looked for a yes-man for the chief of staff position. They did not find one. They ended up, for the first time in American history, calling back a retired general to be chief of staff. Why? Because so many of the active-duty guys either refused, or were salivating at the chance to speak out publicly and challenge the administration.

To even suggest that the only general willing to hold true to his oath was Shinseki is insulting to all of those - the majority - who remained loyal to their duty.

That all we hear is the yes-men is by design, not something the Army should be blamed for. After picking a general from retirement because nobody on active duty would play ball, and after picking the newest 3-star general (Sanchez) to take on the most important 3-star job, it appears clear (to me anyway) that yes-men in the senior ranks were quite rare. If they were easily available there would be no need for the Bush administration to look so hard for the yes-men it needed to continue its disastrous policies.

mike said...

JD -

You did not do the same as Obama. Your conscience led your thinking, while Obama's political calculations fueled his change.

You would be a better nominee and a better president than either Obama or McCain. But now, because of Doctor Dean's voter suppression and because of undemocratic caucuses I and tens of millions of other Democrats will be given a devil's choice. As for me, I will hold my nose and vote for Obama over McCain but I won't like it.

"We get - or will get - what we deserve. Not the soldiers though.

They deserved - and deserve - better."

Second and third sentences are absolutely correct. First sentence is only partially correct. Only the idiots that voted for Bush in 2000 and 2004 got what they deserved. Only the people who voted or caucused for Obama and McCain in the 2008 primaries will get what they deserve. Please do not blame me or the tens of millions of people who voted otherwise. I and my children and grandchildren did not deserve Bush and we do not deserve Obama.

Too bad that again, we aren't paying attention.

FDChief said...

JD: I'm pulled both ways by your impassioned defense of my Army.

A big part of me wants to straight-up agree. The majority of the bad decisions WERE political; the bulk of the fuckups WERE done by those outside the uniformed heirarchy.


The nasty little voice inside my head keeps asking...

Why - if Eric Shinseki could do the thired-grade-level math to figure out how many boots we needed on the ground - couldn't any of his successors? Could this have something to do with the Army's go-along-get-along style o general officer grooming?

And more to the point, it's not as though the JCS and the Army Staff couldn't go to the encyclopedia brittanica and find the slim entry for "Successful foreign occupations/FIDs post-1945".

You say that this was winnable, and yet the track record for Western military interventions in South and Southeast Asia, post-WW2 is pretty weak. If our Army - which is supposed to be the expert resource for the civilian government on all things military - had stood up to the loathsome neocons and found some three-star with a passing knowledge of military history to wrestle down Tricky Dick Pearle and Paulie Shore Wolfowitz (not to mention the other droogs in the OVP who had so much to do with this goatscrew) Operation Iraqi Hoodwink might have had a little harder time getting the votes needed for the AUMF. State got most of the details right, but State has been reduced to a cipher. The Army, as a Pentagon player, could and should have been in play.

To insist that the Army is supposed to be nonpolitical is to elide Clausewitz's observation that war IS political. The Army could have made a much stronger case for 1) a wiser discussion of the initial decision to invade as well as 2) a better invasion and particularly occupation plan.

Look at our military history. Officers like George Marshall had a huge, often critical input, in everything from the "Pacific First" grand strategic policy all the way to theatre decisions like going to North Africa first rather than continental Europe. But that assumes that your general officers are groomed to be serious geopolitical thinkers and not just technocrats of war. We've chosen the latter path and I think that our present situation vis-a-vis the Middle Eastern tar baby reflects it.

Was the Pentagon "to blame"? No. Was it part of the problem, rather than part of the solution? Yes. Not a particularly satisfying answer, but one we need to focus on if we're ever going to get a better-rounded officer corps, one that produces more Marshalls and fewer Sanchezes.

J.D. said...


It comes down to "who speaks for the Army?" When the process of selecting general officers was mostly nonpartisan, such as PRETTY MUCH ANY TIME PRIOR TO GEORGE W. BUSH, we ended up with excellent officers.

When officers are selected based on their willingness to parrot partisan political points, we end up with Sanchez, Pace, that air force chairman of the joint chiefs whose name I don't even recall now (good), etc. Or in political wars past, we end up with Westmorelands.

When the Army selected non-partisan officers as generals, we ended up with brave Eric Shinseki as chief of staff, with acting chief of staff Keane, and with so many generals unwilling to do what you accuse them of doing - the go-along-get along style of generalship, which I call betraying their oath, that the president had to call a general back from retirement!

But yes, those hand-selected to speak for the Army parroted the Bush administration's madness and betrayed their oath - which is why they were picked. And seven years down the line, many of those in the higher ranks are now partisan political hacks.

But this change from brave and honest men like Gen. Shinseki, and apparently, almost all if not all general officers who likewise would not be chief of staff to Bush's liking, to today's wreck and the Paces and Caseys and Sanchezes and other ass-kissing toadies, was forced upon the Army. It was shoved down the Army's throat. Those who would not betray their oath were sidelined and/or retired. Those few who gladly participated in harming our nation to advance their careers? They were rewarded. They are now in charge.

Our Army in 2003 was magnificent. Our Army in 2008 is worn down, not just by this endless and idiotic and mismanaged war, with frequent back to back deployments and no relief in sight and worn out equipment - it is also worn down by the same tactics we saw happen to the US Attorneys in that scandal, to the EPA scientists in that scandal, to the NASA scientists in that scandal, and on and on - the selection and promotion of Bush loyalists over more qualified candidates. It happened in every government agency that Bush could or did control - including but not limited to the Army.

After almost 8 years, yes FD the Army is how you describe it, with a go-along to get-along general officer corps that does not speak truth and has more personal loyalty to a political party and a far-right conservative ideology than to the Constitution. It was NOT like this in 2003.

So is the Army really to blame?

Who allowed the Army to be so misused and abused? Who ignored those brave men that spoke out about the war in Iraq even before it began? Who authorized that disastrous war? Who failed to hold our leaders responsible, not just for beginning a war on false pretenses, but for gross dereliction of duty and mismanagement of that war?

WE ARE TO BLAME. We elected, re-elected, and did not impeach Bush and his rubber-stamp cronies.

Blaming the Army, or even the general officer corps, seems only to add insult to the very grave injury we inflicted on that noblest and selfless of our institutions, the United States Army.

And still the Army endures the hell of Iraq. The performance of our all-volunteer Army has been better than we could have ever dreamed or dared to hope for back in 1973 when our experiment began. The ways we used that magnificent force is shameful, harmful, dishonorable, and downright disgusting.

Who is standing up to protect the Army and our brave soldiers from being misused and abused and neglected? No one.

No sir, I do not blame the Army for this mess any more than I blame IRS employees for my tax rate.

I blame us, the American People who did not do the right thing and voted out of fear rather than for what is right. We are to blame. All of us - even those who voted the other way. That is how democracy works - we are all of us responsible for the actions and mistakes - and crimes - of our government. And Bush will leave office un-impeached, the equivalent of an honorable discharge for a very dishonorable man.

So what are we going to do about it?

Aviator47 said...


You are addressing just one symptom of a greater problem, a failing government fueled by the ineptitude of this administration. Our beloved Army is not immune to the toxic environment in which it operates, and has some serious failings of its own that need not be thrown on the back of the "generals" alone.

I think it was FDChief who wrote about the attitude of "government is bad" leading to a tacit acceptance of "bad governance" We've got a dozen friends visiting right now. All refer to our having what can be summed up as a "failed or seriously failing" federal government.

The Army is an arm of the government. Its means of accountability are patterned along the line of that required by the federal government. It should come as no shock that when it served as part of the most unaccountable administration in years that the Army will lose some of its direction.

When We, The People, put the town idiot and his best friends at the helm, then we are fools not to expect the ship to run aground.


FDChief said...

JD: I agree that the loyal Bushies first, and the American public as accomplices, have screwed this pooch.

That said...the Army had every reason to figure out on its own that it had shoved its weenie into the warp drive back in 2003. The guys on the ground knew what they were up against, even if they couldn't say it in public?

So what took us so long? Why weren't the theatre commanders quietly activating the COIN skills we earned at JRTC while publicly parroting the Bush line? Hell, the quality of reporting from there has been so poor (there's another group to blame: the supinely ignorant press) that it'd been 2005 before anyone here figurd out that the guys incountry were imitating McMaster in Tal Afar rather than Odierno in Ramadi!

ISTM that self-preservtion should have been the operational mode once the mines and boob-traps (okay, okay..."IEDs") started exploding. And yet the vast majority of our maneuver commanders were out playing whack-a-muj long after the handwriting was on the wall...

Likw I said: Bush and his cronies are the grifters and should be tried and jailed as uch. But no con man can succeed very long without the foolishness of the mark. I'd argue that the Army, between our conservative political offiver corps, our geopolitical callowness, and our unwillingness to think outside the box, was a pretty good mark. We need to smarten up, quick, if we don't want to be flim-flammed over and over again my every plausible sonofabitch in the Middle East.

Over, say, Iran...

Publius said...

Sigh. Here comes JD again with his unqualified love affair with the Army. JD, IOTM that you're just as black and white about this particular issue as is Bush about, well, every issue.

The performance of the Army during the Bush years is a mixed bag, some good, but a lot not good, either. And blinding ourselves to that reality does us no good. I'm with FDChief here: yes, the Army was and is abused, but, yes, there is a hell of a lot the Army could have done about it. The Army is its own worst enemy and it continually refuses to clean up its own act.

Most junior officers and enlisted personnel of all ranks seem to have generally performed very well in the Bush wars of choice. There have been some glitches, but we've not seen some of the breakdowns in discipline and performance seen in previous strange wars.

The performance of senior officers can only be found wanting. Spare us the PR about how they were always COIN experts, but hid it from plain view. The Army as an institution has spent the years since Vietnam running from COIN; they got caught with their pants down in the first test of the 21st Century. Sure, they're coming around now, but let's not substitute wishes for reality. In addition to being characterized by a lack of imagination on the ground, as FDChief notes, they have a seeming inability to think in any sort of a geopolitical context. One wonders if apolitical mechanic is what the people of the nation think of when they think of a general.

Hate to say it, but today's Army—and military, for that matter—is a shade too corrupt for my tastes. Al provides us the link to the contracting abuses, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Corruption takes many forms and it specifically does not need to include feathering one's nest. For example, how corrupt is a general who does not tell his constitutional superiors—which includes the American people—the simple, unvarnished truth? Shinseki is no hero by any measure. That you seem compelled to call him one merely serves to highlight the dearth of generals who will actually tell the truth.

Lot of cleanup work to be done in the Army, JD. And most of it really has very little to do with who might be president. Much of it might be accomplished simply by putting some teeth back in the old expression, "an officer's word is his bond."

J.D. said...

Publius, you don't seem to understand my point, which is that the senior ranks are, to an unprecedented degree in the history of our nation, being filled solely on the basis of loyalty to the far-right extremist ideology - by, as they put it themselves in the US Attorney scandal, "loyal Bushies."

So let me put it like this: say you are on a quiz bowl team, sort of like a Jeopardy game, and you have four members of your team competing against other teams. You have 12 members of the team, but the top four are chosen for the competition, the others are back-ups.

You win, again and again, until you have a reputation as the best team around. Then the manager of your team is replaced. He picks his four kids, who have only been back-ups so far, to compete. They are stupid - really not capable at all. They lose and lose and lose again. They get really simple questions wrong. Your team is eliminated from the competition.

So your team sucks, right? If only you had smarter people on your team it would have done better, but instead you only had idiots, right? Or was the problem the manager, who kept choosing exactly the wrong people to compete, based not on ability but instead on personal relationships. If you don't get to choose the manager, and you can't be the one answering the questions, what can you do?

OR use a sports team analogy - you have a bunch of home-run hitters and a guy that can't even bunt. But that guy kisses manager butt, so he is your designated pinch hitter. Your team really needs to work on improving its hitting, right? All of you should take more batting practice, right? Or is the problem instead in poor management, in choosing the worst possible person for the job?

Now think about invading Iraq in 2003. The smart-guy conventions in the antenna farms all thought there were really dumb ideas being suggested. The smart guys kept asking questions about Phase IV, manpower levels, whether we had enough boots on the ground, whether we had resources for an occupation, whether invading Iraq would detract from the search for Bin Laden & company, and that grand no-no of a question: is invading a smart thing to do?

Naturally they were ignored, sidelined, retired, pushed out of the way.

Now what kind of Army line officer would think the plan that was developed was a good idea? A dumb one. What kind of senior Army officer would agree that we had all we needed? A dumb one or worse, a boot-licking one that will tell his superiors what they want to hear. What kind of officer would agree that we could invade, overthrow a regime, install democracy in a nation with no history of it, when we had few who even spoke the language, and we could be home in a few months? Well, guess what kind of officer has turned into the senior leadership of the US Army today? Not all, of course, but far too many get-along to go-along dishonorable wastrels have been rewarded by the Bushies.

Given that history, the way the Army develops general officers appears, to me, to NOT be the problem. Think about the generals we had in 2003 (and the fact, mentioned above, that no general on active duty - none - was considered "suitable" by the Bushies to be chief of staff after Shinseki - and after Keane honorably refused the job - so that for the first time ever a general was recalled from retirement to be chief of staff).

Think about that wargame prior to the invasion - you know the one - where the marine general playing the OPFOR resigned in disgust. What became of that? Nothing, he was gone and the yes-men remained.

The problem is that those hand-picked to be in charge of our Army are loyal Bushies. That is the problem - not the Army as an institution.

And yes, the Army's performance has suffered - but blaming the Army for that seems wrong to me, since the Army did not pick its generals. It used to do so, traditionally the chief of staff of the Army picked just about everybody but his successor, or at least produced the "short list" from which political appointees like the Secretary of Defense would choose. Rummy and Bush changed all of that. Even 0-6s had to pass the Rummy test.

However, we are the ones who selected Bush to be in charge of our Army. So who is to blame for the problems in the Army today - the Army, or the idiots who kept deliberately screwing it up? Or, to be honest, US for selecting Bush?

If you ran a race and I tripped you so that you lost, is the problem that you don't run fast enough? Is that why you lost the race? Or was my tripping you a much more important factor?

Same thing here - sure, the Army has performed very poorly in strategic terms. Who is in charge of strategy? Not the Army, not since January 20, 2001.

And strategy drives tactics. Tactically our Army's performance is excellent. The problem is we were using the wrong tactics. We kicked in doors and conducted raids and captured prisoners, and we did an excellent job. The fact that every door kicked in was a step toward failure and away from success was a problem in strategy, not tactics. The redneck agenda triumphed.

For goodness sake, the Army had well over two centuries of officially abhorring torture - and yet we tortured. Was that due to problems in the Army? I say the problem was further up the chain of command.

By way of example, the excellent book Thunder Run has a passage about several brigade commanders meeting in Baghdad shortly after the airport was taken and Saddam's palaces occupied. Saddam's military was defeated, but Saddam had not been captured. These colonels looked out over the burning city, looked at one another, and then one asked, "What now?"

And nobody had any fucking idea. There they were, in a city that had just fallen, in a nation that had just been defeated, on the other side of the world. They had just accomplished their assigned mission. And now they sat and had no idea what they should do next.

That is NOT the fault of the Army, which tried to, but was ordered not to, answer that question long before we ever started this stupid-ass war. Again I say, the Army was ordered to NOT plan for success. I mean it - it is a fact. The former commander of Fort Belvoir, VA confirmed that Rummy threatened to fire the next person that mentioned Phase IV to him. The Army was issued a lawful order to NOT plan for what to do after the Iraqi military was defeated.

That same interference continued and continues to this day. Hell, Gen. Odierno appears to me to be a drooling idiot that could fuck up a one-truck convoy. I don't know if he could count his balls and come up with the same number twice in a row. Col. HR McMaster appears to be an outstanding officer, very capable, dedicated, intelligent, and well-read. Who gets promoted and rewarded and has more of say in what - and how - we do in Iraq? You know it is Odierno. Is that the fault of the Army?

Yes, there is a lot of clean-up work to be done in the Army, but I disagree that it has very little to do with the president. Just like with FEMA - a formerly excellent agency that failed miserably in Katrina, just like with the US Attorney scandal - a formerly excellent group that was replaced by "loyal Bushies" and launched partisan political prosecutions (persecutions might be more apt), just like with the EPA, a formerly excellent agency that had to be sued and ordered by the Courts to do its job, the Army was excellent but was mishandled and mismanaged for partisan political purposes.

I am no knee-jerk defender of the Army. But I don't blame the EPA for its poor performance of late, I know the EPA is not the root of the problem. I don't blame FEMA for Katrina, I know FEMA was not the root of the problem.

If you take an outstanding company, with motivated soldiers and excellent NCOs, and you put an incompetent but aggressive CO in charge, in a few months that company will suck. You know it and I know it. Would you blame the NCOs for the failures in that company, even after those that tried to speak out and do the right thing were demoted, transferred out, received poor NCOERs, and despite appeals to the Battalion and Brigade commanders, were never supported by their chain of command? Would the fault be in the NCOs, or in the idiot who put an incompetent fool in charge and backed them up every step of the way?

You are blaming the NCOs here. By blaming the entire institution, or blaming general officers as a class, you are ignoring the root of the problem.

One of the wisest lessons I ever learned in the Army is that there are NO BAD UNITS, only bad leaders. It is true. I once turned around a poorly-performing unit and made it excellent. A year later I had pretty much the same soldiers, but it was a much better unit. Was the problem in the soldiers? Or was the problem in leadership? I once served in a great unit that had an outstanding CO, but he was replaced by a man I can only describe as, well, an asshole. A year later that unit was not nearly as proficient or effective, but the soldiers were the same. Where was the problem?

We allowed the Bushies to hand-pick 0-6s, 0-7s, 0-8s, 0-9s, and 0-10s (Colonels, Brigadier Generals, Major Generals, Lieutenant Generals, and Generals). It should be no surprise that among those promoted, there were many poor performers, many yes-men, many who took the easy wrong over the hard right. Is the problem that the Army is failing to produce competent officers?

I don't think so. Yes there is corruption - but the corruption is not an Army problem, it is an American problem. Yes there are huge problems - but the root cause of those problems was not in the way the Army developed officers. It was above their pay grade.

A fish rots from the head. We put Bush in office, and he has screwed up the Army. And you want to blame the Army? Really? Who the heck put Bush in charge?

Hint: It was not the US Army.

Yes, the performance of senior officers has been terrible.

BUT WHO DECIDED THOSE OFFICERS SHOULD BE SENIOR? That, sir, is the root of the problem.

The problems you have identified are real, and they have everything to do with the president.

And to all who disagree, you are welcome here and I respect you.

Publius said...

JD, I love your passion. But just as you think I'm missing your point, I have to say that I think you're missing MY point.

My point is simply this: I don't disagree about the culpability of the Bush Administration in the appointment of certain senior officers to certain positions. What you're refusing to recognize is that the very same Army that you say was wonderful as recently as 2003 nurtured such officers through the years, to the point where they were available to do BushCo's bidding. These guys didn't magically appear as officers during the Bush Administration; they've been there since the '70s and '80s.

Yeah, they've been there since the '70s and '80s, being suck-ups and betraying troops all along the way. There's the rub, sir. The Army taught these men how to roll over for Rumsfeld and Bush. If they didn't teach them, they rewarded them. Either way, this says something about the Army officer selection and promotion system, something that can't be attributed to George Bush.

This is not a new issue in the Army. Army thinkers—and there are way too few of them—have agonized over it forever. Yet you blithely ignore the fact that the Army routinely promotes people of questionable character to ranks where corrupt politicians can find them and use them. To you, the Army as an institution is totally blameless. To me, the Army has always been this way: an Army where truly diligent and dedicated officers are often discarded in favor of wastrels and petty martinets.

The root cause of a lot of the Army's malaise is an anti-intellectual and frightened officer corps. Ungrounded and uncaring about our national heritage, the Army's generals are ripe for the picking by unscrupulous politicians. And the Army as an institution comforts itself by saying, "hey, it was those damned politicians. It was wasn't us, we're America's Army."

And meanwhile the generals all get rewarded in retirement, often by finding jobs where they pose as unbiased expert military observers, without ever mentioning that their analysis consists of repeating words they've been fed by low-level DoD flacks.

Fasteddiez said...

Publius, JD, ALl:

I surrender!

Nicht Schissen, Kamarad!

I've been in a bad mood of late, and have assaulted on blogs to relieve tension. Methinks I will just lurk awhiles.