Yingling and the Generals


I'm not sure what to make of the Lieutenant Colonel's evisceration of military leadership in the Armed Forces Journal. But his analysis of the failure seems acutely on-target to me. Money quote:

The most fundamental military miscalculation in Iraq has been the failure to commit sufficient forces to provide security to Iraq's population. U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) estimated in its 1998 war plan that 380,000 troops would be necessary for an invasion of Iraq. Using operations in Bosnia and Kosovo as a model for predicting troop requirements, one Army study estimated a need for 470,000 troops. Alone among America's generals, Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki publicly stated that "several hundred thousand soldiers" would be necessary to stabilize post-Saddam Iraq. Prior to the war, President Bush promised to give field commanders everything necessary for victory. 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.

Given the lack of troop strength, not even the most brilliant general could have devised the ways necessary to stabilize post-Saddam Iraq. However, inept planning for postwar Iraq took the crisis caused by a lack of troops and quickly transformed it into a debacle. 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.

It is equally true that a president has a responsibility to make sure he gets the best military advice - including advice that he doesn't want to hear. Bush didn't. He was out of his depth. And then politics precluded honesty, and we got ourselves into the mess we have. A military reader who has emailed me very reliably over the years offers an insider's take:

I can tell you, Andrew, this guy is not just revered, he's - and this is no understatement - beloved. His troops are wildly loyal to him and his former commanders routinely call upon him for advice. 

The debate is whether or not it is proper for a sitting general officer - whether or not he is charged with the responsiblity - to speak out when he is ordered to execute plans he knows full well may be either poorly planned, under-manned, poorly equipped, or dangerously over-reaching. The argument among many in the civilian leadership - both in and outside of the Pentagon - is that they should remain quiet, salute smartly, and simply execute the orders they are given ... and that to do otherwise is to be disloyal, to be laying the groundwork for a military coup. Others though, believe that they are indeed charged with presenting their long-studied, long-prepared-for alternative points of view. Points of view which are based upon an adult lifetime of measured responses and reason. 

I'm in the latter camp. Of course, this only applies to 4-stars. A 3-star who has spent his entire adult life working with combat Soldiers or Marines would be wasting all that effort. This speaking out business is not for all officers. But from our 4-star leadership - we demand it - and it is there where our current and recently retired batch have failed us all.

Many of us failed in this war. Many journalists failed to be as skeptical as we should have been; the generals should not have acquiesced in the Cheney-Rumsfeld happy-think. The country has suffered - and the troops who are risking their lives bear the worst. Ultimately, however, this has to be the president's responsibility. I wonder if he will ever really take it.

(Photo: A U.S. Army soldiers of the D-CO 2/325 AIR 82nd Airborne Division take part in a dismounted movement to conduct early morning raids on homes April 26, 2007 in Baghdad, Iraq. By Joe Raedle/Getty Images)