A Failure in Generalship

In this morning's Washington Post Tom Ricks reports on an Armed Forces Journal article that should be required reading for anyone who cares about our nation's capability to successfully prosecute the LONG WAR.

Army Officer Accuses Generals of 'Intellectual and Moral Failures':

An active-duty Army officer is publishing a blistering attack on U.S. generals, saying they have botched the war in Iraq and misled Congress about the situation there.

"America's generals have repeated the mistakes of Vietnam in Iraq," charges Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, an Iraq veteran who is deputy commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. "The intellectual and moral failures . . . constitute a crisis in American generals."...

The article, "General Failure," is to be published today in Armed Forces Journal. Its appearance signals the public emergence of a split inside the military between younger, mid-career officers and the top brass.

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...

Armed Forces Journal - A Failure in Generalship by Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling:

For the second time in a generation, the United States faces the prospect of defeat at the hands of an insurgency. In April 1975, the U.S. fled the Republic of Vietnam, abandoning our allies to their fate at the hands of North Vietnamese communists. In 2007, Iraq's grave and deteriorating condition offers diminishing hope for an American victory and portends risk of an even wider and more destructive regional war.

These debacles are not attributable to individual failures, but rather to a crisis in an entire institution: America's general officer corps. America's generals have failed to prepare our armed forces for war and advise civilian authorities on the application of force to achieve the aims of policy. The argument that follows consists of three elements. First, generals have a responsibility to society to provide policymakers with a correct estimate of strategic probabilities. Second, America's generals in Vietnam and Iraq failed to perform this responsibility. Third, remedying the crisis in American generalship requires the intervention of Congress...

The Responsibilities of Generalship:

... To prepare forces for war, the general must visualize the conditions of future combat. To raise military forces properly, the general must visualize the quality and quantity of forces needed in the next war. To arm and equip military forces properly, the general must visualize the materiel requirements of future engagements. To train military forces properly, the general must visualize the human demands on future battlefields, and replicate those conditions in peacetime exercises. Of course, not even the most skilled general can visualize precisely how future wars will be fought. According to British military historian and soldier Sir Michael Howard, "In structuring and preparing an army for war, you can be clear that you will not get it precisely right, but the important thing is not to be too far wrong, so that you can put it right quickly."...

Failures of Generalship in Vietnam:

... America's generals not only failed to develop a strategy for victory in Vietnam, but also remained largely silent while the strategy developed by civilian politicians led to defeat. As H.R. McMaster noted in "Dereliction of Duty," the Joint Chiefs of Staff were divided by service parochialism and failed to develop a unified and coherent recommendation to the president for prosecuting the war to a successful conclusion. Army Chief of Staff Harold K. Johnson estimated in 1965 that victory would require as many as 700,000 troops for up to five years. Commandant of the Marine Corps Wallace Greene made a similar estimate on troop levels. As President Johnson incrementally escalated the war, neither man made his views known to the president or Congress. President Johnson made a concerted effort to conceal the costs and consequences of Vietnam from the public, but such duplicity required the passive consent of America's generals...

Failures of Generalship in Iraq:

America's generals have repeated the mistakes of Vietnam in Iraq. First, throughout the 1990s our generals failed to envision the conditions of future combat and prepare their forces accordingly. Second, America's generals failed to estimate correctly both the means and the ways necessary to achieve the aims of policy prior to beginning the war in Iraq. Finally, America's generals did not provide Congress and the public with an accurate assessment of the conflict in Iraq...

The Generals We Need:

... If America desires creative intelligence and moral courage in its general officer corps, it must create a system that rewards these qualities. Congress can create such incentives by exercising its proper oversight function in three areas. First, Congress must change the system for selecting general officers. Second, oversight committees must apply increased scrutiny over generating the necessary means and pursuing appropriate ways for applying America's military power. Third, the Senate must hold accountable through its confirmation powers those officers who fail to achieve the aims of policy at an acceptable cost in blood and treasure...

Read the whole AFJ article.

More:

Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam by H.R. McMasters

The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century by T.X. Hammes

Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq by Thomas Ricks

Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq by Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor

Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam by John Nagl

Update: Small Wars Council discussion on A Failure in Generalship

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