Thursday, April 13, 2006

Armchair Generals, Sour Grapes

Each day this week, it seems like a recently retired General has taken the time out of a busy post military career schedule to get interviewed or write to a newspaper and call for Secretary Rumsfeld's head. Today, former 82nd Airborne Division Commander Chuck Swannack became the fifth flag officer to condemn the SECDEF in print:

"We need to continue to fight the global war on terror and keep it off our shores," General Swannack said in an interview. "But I do not believe Secretary Rumsfeld is the right person to fight that war based on his absolute failures in managing the war against Saddam in Iraq."

Let's save the analysis of the military's role in a liberal society for a later discussion (but check out this post here for yesterday's analysis), and let Wilsonizer veer close to ad hominem territory for a moment:

  • At least one of these critical retirees (all of whom are now comfortably drawing a 75% base pay pension on a lofty salary, by the way) was responsible for U.S. military operations and policy in the middle east from 1996-2000; while he is universally lauded for his tenure and plain-spoken demeanor, this General presided over a command that failed to take decisive action against Al Qaeda (remember the pathetic missile attacks on bin laden's camp?) during a time when the terrorist organization was, by its own statements and actions, at war with the United States. While an immense amount of "engagement" and "bridgebuilding" in the middle east occured during his command, a relentless enemy was nonethless able to plan, resource, and execute deadly terrorist attacks with impunity throughout the region. And these attacks foreshadowed the spectacular terrorist attacks that came later, emanating from the an area of the world that this general had been responsible for. . .
  • At least one of these critical Generals was assigned the critical task of overseeing the training and employment of Iraqi security forces, and during his tenure saw the Iraqis that he was responsible for virtually dissolve overnight. Nary a complaint was heard from him during the execution of his duties; only later, when the man retires after overseeing a catastrophic failure and only in retirement (a retirement that is no doubt earlier than he would have liked), does he raise his voice to be heard.
  • At least two of these Generals retired early after not being recommended by the civilian leadership of the military to receive another star (promotion).
Wilsonizer provides these "factlings" not to muddy the waters in this debate; rather the intent is to demonstrate that some of the men now calling for the SECDEFs head (again, I might add, from the luxurious safety of a VERY comfortable retirement) have demonstrated the same inability to accomplish their mission when they were the top man in their respective organizations. These little stubborn facts also identify the possibility that bitterness at leaving one's lifelong calling before accomplishing all goals, and under a slight cloud, could leave nearly anyone feeling the urge to fire off a nasty op-ed to the local paper.

Chew on this for awhile dear readers. No doubt tomorrow and Easter sunday will bring more disgruntled retired generals off of the country clubs and onto the editorial pages, seeking nothing more than to speak "truth to power". This story has legs, and virtually writes itself, after all.

In the next post on this topic, Wilsonizer will explain where he thinks these retired General Officers, if they truly desired to follow the spirit of their oath of commissioning, could better serve American interests.


Gateway Pundit said...

This is good information you won't see too much in the mainstream. That's for sure.

CatoRenasci said...

I think you make excellent points with respect to both the effectiveness and connections of these retired general officers. As you point out, these Generals are almost all among those who rose to flag rank during the Clinton administration. That means they were competent enough to have made colonel, which is about as high as anyone goes without political interest, but also means that they had to be at least politically acceptable to the Clinton administration. That doesn't mean they're all hacks, but it does mean they're sympathetic to the mindset of the Clinton administration.

There is another factor I think is at least as important in thinking about the substance of their critiques: they seem mostly general officers who want to do things the traditional American army way.

Generals have been accused of wanting to fight the last war for thousands of years, and oftentimes it's true. Rarely are the generals who were prominent in a pre-war period the ones who emerge as the successful strategists and, especially, commanders of victorious forces. Our experience with MacArthur in WWII (after having ben Chief of Staff in the early '30s and a division commader in WWI) is the exception.

I am currently reading Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife by John Nagl, a book examining British counterinsurgency operations in Malaya and the American experience in Vietnam, and contrasting them rather unfavorably. One of Nagl's key findings, is that the American general officer corps was insistent on treating Vietnam essentially as a conventional battlefield and applying the techniques that worked there, rather than learning from the experience of the British in Malaya and the experience of our own Special Forces and junior officers, all of whom saw the need for applying different approaches.

With Nagl's book in mind, and my own experiences in the military R&D community when I was on active duty in the 1970s, I see the opposition of these generals in a different light.

They represent a group of general officers brought to prominence by an anti-military administration that discouraged innovative military thought and remained during their tenure comfortably wedded to the ideas that won the Civil War, WWI, WWII and Desert Storm -- the 'modern battlefield' of every edition of FM-100-5 for the last 35 years. These are the guys who probably thought Westmoreland was right on Vietnam rather than Abrams, and who agreed with Lyman Lemnitzer that JFK was oversold on counterinsurgency.

In short, I'm not impressed with them.

From my own viewpoint as a once well-informed former officer, now a layman, I think it's important to maintain the kind of conventional warfighting capablities these generals probably would prefer, but not at the expense of developing the kinds of techniques and capabilties that make our forces effective in the kind of warfare we now find ourselves involved in.

Overall, I have more confidence in Rumsfeld's strategic vision than in that of Clinton's generals.

Alan Kellogg said...

They had a choice? "Civilian oversight", remember those words? No acting on your own initiative, you do what your Commander in Chief says, and if he says "hands off" it's hands off.

Clinton is to blame for the lack of response and the inappropriate responses. Him and him alone. It was Clinton who insisted on treating the attacks as a criminal matter instead of a military matter, it is Clinton we need to focus on.

The generals? Eh, they're ticked because Bush gets it, whereas Clinton didn't. They're having a snit. An hour in their rooms without phone or computer should set 'em straight

Bob W. said...

Thanks for all of your great comments today in the wilsonizer everyone; I included some of your points in my latest post on this subject too, by the way.