Saturday, April 22, 2006

New York Times and the Rumsfeld Debate

In today's New York Times, Thom Schanker and Eric Schmitt wrote a rather pedestrian article on junior officer opinions concerning Secretary Rumsfeld. The article begins:

The revolt by retired generals who publicly criticized Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has opened an extraordinary debate among younger officers, in military academies, in the armed services' staff colleges and even in command posts and mess halls in Iraq.

Junior and midlevel officers are discussing whether the war plans for Iraq reflected unvarnished military advice, whether the retired generals should have spoken out, whether active-duty generals will feel free to state their views in private sessions with the civilian leaders and, most divisive of all, whether Mr. Rumsfeld should resign [Emph added].

The article goes on to detail that (surprise) officers hold a plethora of wide-ranging views about things like the Iraq War, SECDEF, and politics in general. This should hardly come as a surprise to anyone who is familiar with the military, especially the Army. The fact that Schanker and Schmitt believe this to be unprecedented betrays a lack of familiarity of military culture on the authors' part.

Dissent is hardly stifled in the military. Read any military professional journal and you are likely to find critical analysis of what the Army is doing (or not doing). Also, those pursuing Master's degrees on the Army's dime are paid to research and publish theses that are often at odds with current Army or DOD policy. An Army Colonel, Douglas Macregor, wrote a revolutionary book a few years back that basically argued the Army's entire organization for combat was obsolete. He survived, and many of his ideas have actually been implemented in the Army's transformation under Secretary Rumsfeld.

Yes, the Army's officers, while executing their duties, take time to think about what they are doing, and at times are critical of politics, operations, and policy. That is just business as usual in the green machine. Any major, or seemingly minor policy change or event inspires thousands of internal debates. When General Shinseki decided to change the Army's headgear in 2000, it seemed to many that the earth had stopped turning in all of the tumult!

Like any dynamic organization, there is always a large supply of healthy debate and critical analysis occuring within the services; the day that it stops would be the time to publish an article like this above the fold, and to be alarmed.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Our military leaders know that there is no substitute for victory. They also know from history that a DEFENSIVELY fought urban guerilla/civil war cannot be won. Does anyone remember the DEFENSIVELY fought jungle guerilla war called VIETNAM?
Secretary Rumsfeld apparently hasn't read the seminal book by former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara entitled "In Retrospect." Rumsfeld is involved in making the same mistakes that McNamara made and WARNS against making AGAIN. Many will die for the ignorance of a few, and that sadly includes the President of the United States.

Bob W. said...

anonymous:

You missed the point of my post entirely. I was merely stating that the military's debating of policy and leadership is hardly anything new, despite what the New York Times is reporting.

I also think that although the U.S. made mistakes at all levels in this war (strategic, operational, and tactical) we have adapted quickly and are close to achieving our goals in Iraq; this is a marked difference from our experience in Vietnam. It shows that not only have we incorporated the lessons learned from that war, but that our military has learned and adapted its tactics and strategies in THIS war as well.

JuliaMazal said...

Re: the article. Surprise, surprise - generals are people too!