Endless War, a Recipe for Four-star Arrogance

Endless War, a Recipe for Four-star Arrogance - Andrew J. Bacevich, Washington Post opinion.

Long wars are antithetical to democracy. Protracted conflict introduces toxins that inexorably corrode the values of popular government. Not least among those values is a code of military conduct that honors the principle of civilian control while keeping the officer corps free from the taint of politics. Events of the past week - notably the Rolling Stone profile that led to Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's dismissal - hint at the toll that nearly a decade of continuous conflict has exacted on the U.S. armed forces. The fate of any one general qualifies as small beer: Wearing four stars does not signify indispensability. But indications that the military's professional ethic is eroding, evident in the disrespect for senior civilians expressed by McChrystal and his inner circle, should set off alarms.

Earlier generations of American leaders, military as well as civilian, instinctively understood the danger posed by long wars. "A democracy cannot fight a Seven Years War," Gen. George C. Marshall once remarked. The people who provided the lifeblood of the citizen army raised to wage World War II had plenty of determination but limited patience. They wanted victory won and normalcy restored.

The wisdom of Marshall's axiom soon became clear. In Vietnam, Lyndon B. Johnson plunged the United States into what became its Seven Years War. The citizen army that was sent to Southeast Asia fought valiantly for a time and then fell to pieces. As the conflict dragged on, Americans in large numbers turned against the war -- and also against the troops who fought it...

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How about move the combat elements of the Coalition into the FATA?

Nobody else recognizes the Durand Line, why should we?

A LITTLE PULLER
A LOT OF SHERMAN,
R

Bacevich is a bitter, disillusioned, isolationist, dreaming of a military that never was (as has been stated, the draft is not what Bacevich suggests). He has gone from a man who loved the US to a "man without a country". Sad. As others have said, his stuff is now worthless. I have not read any solution of how the US, as well as other non-Muslim nations, should strategically deal with the threat of radical Islam--the threat of the 21st century. Until he comes up with a strategic proposal for this, other than containment [I seem to recall he wrote something about containing radical Islam, and "how stupid is that?"], he ought to take a cup of "shut the hell up".

Well, I guess if you want to consider history spinning....then that's your prerogative. Enjoy that world view!

Steve,

Now you are just spinning. The draft was important for the Civil War, WW1, WW2, Korea and Vietnam. I distinctly remember the war protesting during Vietnam. The draft prostesting was a factor, which is why Nixon ended it. However, I will agree with you partially on the point about "...much more complex social changes..." Namely the rise of cowardly men in our society.

"If politicians are more afraid of popular unrest, they are less likely to take aggressive action..." Nonsense. The population will support aggressive action that ends the wars quickly. It is the non-aggressive pandering to the enemy and the intellectuals that leads to these quagmires. The current ROEs are but one example.

Actually Anon, the draft played only a small role in the perceived rebellion of the populace during Vietnam. There were other, much more complex social changes going on during that period, and I suspect that the draft was more of an excuse for some than a real reason. And draft exemptions actually ramped up during the last year of Korea and expanded in the following years. Sure, they "drafted" Elvis, but that was a great bit of PR for the army.

And your contention about the anatomical abilities of political leadership runs counter to your seeming enchantment with the draft. If politicians are more afraid of popular unrest, they are less likely to take aggressive action (your "do what it takes to win") unless they are more afraid of popular reaction if they DON'T take those steps (see the Pacific theater for an example of this). So, by extension, unless the Reds are "at the doorstep" you would see a very risk-averse policy group.

The draft is an historical anomaly in the U.S. Like it or not, that's the fact. Its impact in World War I was minimal, it was necessary for WW 2, still had its uses in Korea, and was destroyed by Vietnam. It was a joke during the Civil War (substitutes for hire, anyone?) and was the source of riots in New York City among other places.

Yawn right back at ya Steverino.

The draft took us well through several wars, all the way to Vietnam. That's when the "exceptions" started being made at those levels of society you referred to. Regardless, not only did (1) our populace rebel because they had a stake in the war because of the draft, but (2) we also had the same types of idiots (politicos and some brass) back then that we have running these wars today, i.e, showing the lack of cojones to do what it takes to win.

Now back to your nap time.

Yawn.

The draft wouldn't change anything. The draft in the US has NEVER hit all levels of society, and it never will. There will always be loopholes, exceptions, you name it. And if, for the sake of argument, it did, people would most likely see an extremely isolationist United States along with a poorly-trained and most likely poorly-motivated military that wasn't capable of serious activity. Without the looming Red Threat (which was great for postwar popular motivation), you wouldn't see the intensity of training or motivation that people seem to cling to when looking at the Korea-era draftees. A more realistic level would be Vietnam-era draftees from say 1968-69.

"...I'm done responding..."

Your capitulation is accepted.

In summary Bacevich is correct.

1. Most Americans have no stake in this war. They are comfy sitting on the sidelines watching the game. No stake for them if they do not have to step into the arena.

2. Troops are motivated to win. Generals and politicians are motivated by (a) Wilsonian precepts to mold the world nicely, and (b) to look enlightened by the cocktail party crowd inside The Loop. Troop motivation vs. senior leadership motivation are not compatible.

3. The Wilsonian approach comes largely from poorly thought out policy-making drivel taught at Ivy League schools.

"I agree with you that 'motivation' is not an issue. Certainly not of our troops. However, when the populace has a stake in the war (like a draft), then the politicians are more likely to fear for their jobs and hence are motivated to either finish the job correctly."

Actually we are not in agreement. If you think that the national leadership has the knowledge or skill, but that motivation has been lacking, then we're in sharp disagreement. This war is going poorly because it is not the type of war we are well suited to fight.

"The Ivy League tag is the perfect hyperbole for this Hearts & Minds nonsense. Politician or general, these schools specialize in castration when it comes to foreign policy, and have so since Vietnam."

Given that you are using it as a pejorative, perhaps ad hominem is a better description than "hyperbole." And given your obvious lack of familiarity with the manner in which operations are being conducted, perhaps it is best to not even comment. I'm done responding.

Schmedlap,

I agree with you that "motivation" is not an issue. Certainly not of our troops. However, when the populace has a stake in the war (like a draft), then the politicians are more likely to fear for their jobs and hence are motivated to either finish the job correctly, which to me means killing the enemy without the concerns for all these ROE niceties, or possibly not even get involved in these lengthy mistakes in the first place.

The Ivy League tag is the perfect hyperbole for this Hearts & Minds nonsense. Politician or general, these schools specialize in castration when it comes to foreign policy, and have so since Vietnam.

"These wars would have been over years ago if the populace had stake in the fight, LIKE A DRAFT."

The problem is not a lack of motivation. The problem is that we took on a mission with a very low probability of success and the odds are now playing out.

"They do this as experiments. Brought to you by these Ivy League generals like Gens. P, McC, Abizaid, etc."

It was not Ivy League Generals who started or escalated these wars. It was Ivy League politicians. And the Ivy League adjective doesn't really add anything.

I usually don't like Bacevich writings, but he does make a good point here in that most Americans do not feel we are at war. Instead, they think they have stadium seats at a football game.

There is no real stake for most Americans. If there was, then the populace would be demanding that these enemies be destroyed and that these wars be won. These wars would have been over years ago if the populace had stake in the fight, LIKE A DRAFT.

So, instead of trying to win quickly, our intellectually elite generals and politicians are trying to turn some of these Islamistan countries into Sweden and New Zealand. They do this as experiments. Brought to you by these Ivy League generals like Gens. P, McC, Abizaid, etc. They get to experiment while soldiers get to ride around in jeeps and get blown up.

Bacevich's self-righteousness and lofty maxims about the nation being put at risk get kind of tiresome.

The theme of his article is that some perceived crisis in civil-military relations has come about as a result of current conflicts, which have fostered arrogance within the officer corps. Sorry, but even if one agrees with his assessment of the current state of civil-military relations, any degradation of that relationship can hardly be attributed to the current conflict. See this earlier piece from Parameters, which was written before 9/11 and highlights the very same problem.

"There is a widening difference in values and perspectives between Americans serving in our armed forces, including the Army, and the society they serve... officers surveyed... (including Army War College students, future senior Army leaders) believed the values of the military institution were not just different from, but also in several respects better than, those of the society they are protecting. This is a pernicious perspective for an officer corps serving under precepts of civil-military relations that posit selfless service as motivating the soldier, and the supremacy of civilian values over those of the subordinate profession. Triumphalism within the officer corps with respect to martial values simply does not support the professional military ethic; what thinking soldier will sacrifice his life on a lonely battlefield for a society and way of life he does not love and respect?"

Bacevich is well acquainted with correlation. He should arrange to meet Mr. Causality.

He worries too much.

Generals are always arrogant, comes with the territory. As I believe Forrest Pogue once said "Would you want your sons and daughters going to war under a guy with an inferiority complex?"

The view most soldiers, all ranks, have of their civilian masters -- a concept they do not question -- in my experience is somewhat less then totally respectful. One can take orders from a person one does not fully respect, people do it every day. Of course it does help if those giving orders earn respect. It helps -- but it isn't easy. Or obligatory.

The Cohen article "Will there be an Afghanistan Syndrome" is more balanced...

Ken White