Peter Principle: A colloquial principle of hierarchiology, stated as "In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence." Formulated by Dr. Laurence J. Peter in his 1968 book The Peter Principle, the principle pertains to the level of competence of the human resources in a hierarchical organization. The principle explains the upward, downward, and lateral movement of personnel within a hierarchically organized system of ranks.
Matt Bennett writes in Third Way Dispatch (The Peter Pandemic Takes Its Toll: H.R. McMaster is Passed Over) of a type of reverse Peter Principle where genuinely gifted and brilliant public servants who are kept far below the level to which they should ascend.
... There are, no doubt, scores of such talents in the federal bureaucracy, held down from their rightful rise by political calculation, petulance or oversight. But one recent and egregious example is the Pentagon's failure to promote (for a second time) Army Colonel H.R. McMaster.
Now you may be thinking, wasn't it H.R. McMaster that led the pacification of Tal Afar, an operation so successful that Bush devoted an entire speech to it just last year? Didn't I read about McMaster's brilliant strategy in a long New Yorker piece about him? Wasn't it McMaster who won a Silver Star in the Gulf War, leading troops so bravely and well that Tom Clancy wrote it up? And surely it was McMaster who's PhD dissertation became a hugely influential book, Dereliction of Duty, that the then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs made required reading for senior military types?
Well brace yourself -- the answer to all of your questions is yes. McMaster is a brilliant tactician, a decorated hero, a soldier's soldier, and a master of the very kind of war we're fighting in Iraq -- the counterinsurgency. In fact, he's back in Iraq now, helping soon-to-be-fall-guy David Petraeus try to fend off further disaster. But somehow McMaster's "superiors" -- the suits at the Pentagon who helped bring us the Fiasco that McMaster is attempting to clean up -- have decided that he isn't flag officer material...
Update: From the link (Colonel John Boyd: To Be Or To Do?) provided by Claymore in comments below:
Of all the things Boyd wrote or said, we probably get the most requests for his "To be or to do?" invitation. Although Boyd associated with many junior officers during his Air Force career, there were a few, perhaps half a dozen, that he had such respect for that he invited them to join him on his quest for change. Each one would be offered the choice: Be someone -- be recognized by the system and promoted -- or do something that would last for the Air Force and the country. It was unfortunate, and says something about the state of American's armed forces, that it was rarely possible to do both.
Boyd's biographer, Robert Coram, collected the invitation from an officer who got it and selected the "to do" option, and he confirmed its essence from several others.
"Tiger, one day you will come to a fork in the road," he said. "And you're going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go." He raised his hand and pointed. "If you go that way you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and you will get good assignments." Then Boyd raised his other hand and pointed another direction.
"Or you can go that way and you can do something -- something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. If you decide you want to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get the good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won't have to compromise yourself. You will be true to your friends and to yourself. And your work might make a difference." He paused and stared into the officer's eyes and heart. "To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That's when you will have to make a decision. To be or to do. Which way will you go?
Update 2: In response to an e-mail that questioned blaming the administration and "pretending to know more than selection boards is something again" for COL McMaster's non-selection to BG - I wrote this:
Matt Bennett of Third Way Dispatch is the one who blames the administration for COL McMaster not pinning on BG...
While I agree that "pretending to know more than selection boards is something again" I submit that many expressing opinions on this matter have at least some knowledge of selection boards. They have served on selection boards and, of course, have been either promoted or passed by the same. Opinions on the merits of this recent BG board are, in my humble opinion, informed.
Moreover, this issue goes well beyond one Soldier not advancing to flag. It has a lot to do with perception and I maintain this non-selection sends the wrong signal to the Iron Majors, Captains and Lieutenants - the one-third who "get it" and another third who are trying to get it when it comes to COIN. They are the ones who are debating on whether to stay in the Army or Marine Corps or move on. I mention Marine Corps here because I have received e-mails from Marines who are as disappointed by this as their Soldier brothers-in-arms.
COL McMaster bordered on "rock star" status to many of them - they studied his works and followed his career and he provided inspiration that developed into hope that we still might turn OIF around even with the missteps of earlier years.
H/T to Phillip Carter - Intel Dump (E-mail)
H/T to Noah Shachtman - Wired Magazine's Danger Room (Link)
Discuss at Small Wars Council - No happy campers here...
More Discussion - At World Affairs
Is the Pentagon Anti-Petraeus? - Time Magazine's Swampland (Joe Klein)
H.R. McMaster Passed Over - Reverse Peter Principle? - Outside the Beltway (James Joyner)
Col. McMaster - The Washington Monthly's Political Animal (Kevin Drum)
Stunning News on a Non Promotion - PrairiePundit (Merv Benson)
Is McMaster's Non-Selection Army Seppuku? - ROFASIX (NOTR)
They're Breaking My Army - Armchair Generalist (Jason Sigger)
You, Sir, are no Vinegar Joe Stilwell - Tapped (Robert Farley)