For a military accustomed to quick, easy victories, the trials and tribulations of the Iraq War have come as a rude awakening. To its credit, the officer corps has responded not with excuses but with introspection. One result, especially evident within the U.S. Army, has been the beginning of a Great Debate of sorts.
Anyone who cares about the Army’s health should take considerable encouragement from this intellectual ferment. Yet anyone who cares about future U.S. national-security strategy should view the debate with considerable concern: it threatens to encroach upon matters that civilian policy makers, not soldiers, should decide.
What makes this debate noteworthy is not only its substance, but its character—the who and the how.
The military remains a hierarchical organization in which orders come from the top down. Yet as the officer corps grapples with its experience in Iraq, fresh ideas are coming from the bottom up. In today’s Army, the most-creative thinkers are not generals but mid-career officers—lieutenant colonels and colonels.
Like any bureaucracy, today’s military prefers to project a united front when dealing with the outside world, keeping internal dissent under wraps. Nonetheless, the Great Debate is unfolding in plain view in publications outside the Pentagon’s purview, among them print magazines such as Armed Forces Journal, the Web-based Small Wars Journal, and the counterinsurgency blog Abu Muqawama.