This is an excellent article about General Petraeus, the Iraq War and recent history. It covers the recent ascension of mediocre desk jockies as generals and leaders, and the difference between smart fighters these desk bound generals and the (in my opinion moronic short sighted criminal assholes) Chicken Hawks who got the US into recent wars.
It gives a history of thinking of US military leaders, here citing Thomas Ricks’s “The Generals, "After the war in Vietnam, American generals banished the idea of counter-insurgency, perhaps figuring that if they didn’t plan for such a war they wouldn’t have to fight one. Military academies were dominated by such notions as the “Powell doctrine,” which held that future wars should be fought with maximum force and brought to an end as quickly as possible. In Ricks’s telling, the American military, by the time of the attacks of September 11, 2001, was a sclerotic institution that rewarded mediocrity and punished innovative thinking."
And one thing I like about reading mags such as The New Yorker, it makes me google stuff, like the word sclerotic: Becoming rigid and unresponsive...
The article also cites other books and writers, notably The Insurgents:
"In coming years, Petraeus’s Mosul experience became the American strategy for all of Iraq. The way it did so is the subject of Fred Kaplan’s forthcoming book “The Insurgents.” (The title is ironic: the insurgents in Kaplan’s compelling story are a dissident group within the Army.) In Kaplan’s telling, a small group of men, with Petraeus the most prominent, found one another and mounted an end run around the military bureaucracy, thereby saving Iraq, and probably the entire Middle East, from a war even more cataclysmic than the one we already had."
This is a great read that informs about US policies, the history of the military, the mess in Iraq and how Patraeus and other's successfully changed the war and analyzes also the Afghanistan War.
Hmm, a thought-provoking little piece, isn't it?
Where does one start? The "Powell doctrine" - well, that was clear in Gulf War 1. Nothing new here except that for Gulf War 2, Rumsfeld deliberately limited the number of US troops. He rejected the military argument for overwhelming numbers ("it takes numbers to annihilate" is the informal doctrine) because he wanted a small technically advanced force - and that's what Rumsfeld got. A cap of 100,000 US Troops is my recollection. US Technology would close the gap.
It's common knowledge that Rumsfeld was given a plan for post-war reconstruction and threw it in the bin. FFS. How's that for lack of foresight in your Secretary of Defense??
The US does not like to see itself as 'Imperialist' preferring to believe that Democracy can be delivered and US forces returned to CONUS. This was never likely in 'Mesopotamia'. I use that deliberately to invoke its history - going all the way back to Biblical times. Still, it's what the 3 Horsemen wanted - and what they got, irrespective of any questioning of the laughable shortcomings of the 'WMD' claims and the deceit of Curveball. They wanted it, you got it.
The price: well, in Blood and Treasure: too much. Remember the photos of US coffins being Repatriated in the Cargo holds of commercial airliners? Never any Risk to the children of Dubya, Cheney, nor Rummy: yet all have avoided effective military service in their youths. $400Billion? Good Lord. Unlike Gulf War 1, you'll never get that money back...
The argument put forward by the author re Napoleon's 'give me a lucky general' is really bogus. Marshal Ney was Brave but bone-headed. Bravery is a must in junior officer but Intellect ESSENTIAL in senior officers. Why would their men follow them into battle otherwise? A Brave General gets too many of his own men killed yet likely never shares the Risk cf. WW1 "Chateau Generals". Allegedly, Lt Gen Kiggell was taken toward the front line and broke down crying saying, increduously: "We sent men to die in this??" In contrast, when General William Slim was preparing to return to Burma to force out the Japanese, he gave a pep talk. At its end, a voice called out "Don't worry sir, we're right behind you!" He replied: "Don't you believe it Sergeant! When the time comes, I'll be a long way behind you!" The soldiery laughed. They knew - and Accepted - what he meant. He also famously said, "There are no bad regiments. There are only bad officers".
The acme of Military skill is to win with minimal loss of blood.
Education is essential in modern military training. The US and Brits spend $/£Millions on training either specific military skill-sets for wider education i.e. MA International Relations. MA War Studies (Kings College London) and more.
Despite the easy throwaway comment on conformity to achieve high rank (Apocalypse Now - Colonel Kurtz??) many military officers had sufficient nous and flexibility to read afresh TE Lawrence's principle of dealing with the Arabs. You don't get too many dumb, constrained, buttoned-up military officers these days. They get a wide education which includes "The Psychology of Military Incompetence" by Norman Dixon.
Moving to the author's comment re Gen George Marshall, he was indeed a Great General (certainly Churchill thought so) but he was essentially a Bureaucrat. Yet he understood the Sinews of War, the Logistics and the need to have a Plan. Look how Germany was re-built following the defeat of the Nazis. In contrast, the US decision to disband the Iraqi Police and Army was a MASSIVE mistake...and of course, Paul Bremer was always going to leave early.
Ok, I'm not an expert, but I'm not unread - and hopefully not stupid.
Reading: "Occupational Hazards" by Rory Stewart.
"The Places In Between" by Rory Stewart
"Bad Days in Basra" by Sir Hilary Sinnott.
"Butcher and Bolt" by David Loyn
"Losing Small Wars" by Frank Ledwidge
Good points. I obviously can read more! Petraeus of course has a Phd from Princeton, he is very smart and educated - and admittedly not on the fighting line, he was physically tough, very tough and a realistic smart strategian. The military should be a culture that values accountability and leadership and it failed. Promotions were easy and generals joined "a back slapping old boys network." And I agree with the author's assessment of Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez as a poster boy for mediocrity. And they never got into, in my recollection without rereading it, items like General Abizaid totally fucking up the campaign in Fallujah.
I think his point on Marshall was that, unlike today's army, he got rid of generals who didn't perform. While the Iraq War was, like Vietnam, micro managed by civilians, his identifying individual Generals for crummy leadership rings true. Only after years of a worsening situation did the neo-cons face reality and look how Petraeus had succeeded while everywhere else was a bloody mess.
Have you read
About Face: Odyssey of an American Warrior by David H. Hackworth? He was both, a thinker and a fighter. And between combat tours in Vietnam did a tour in the Pentagon where he found he was the only officer to EVER check out and read the books about Vietnam. Books by the French and Vietnamese, including stuff by Vo Nguyen Giap - who when in exile in China, had his wife, sister, father and sister-in-law arrested, tortured and later executed by the French colonial authorities. Nice guys those French, that Truman supported the fucking French while the US soldiers in Vietnam repeatedly advised the Pentagon to back Ho is almost equal to the US invading Iraq for stupidity.
Hackworth was one of my heroes.
I must order or library a copy of his other book,
Steel My Soldiers' Hearts: The Hopeless to Hardcore Transformation of U.S. Army, 4th Battalion, 39th Infantry. While a confirmed tree hugging peace freak, I read books about military and spies, that being the bottom lines of reality, all else being propaganda - years ago I read that to understand a country's morality study their secret police cause all else is bullshit.
I read "About Face" over 20 years ago. There were some interesting pointers in it. For example, the US policy was to rotate as many Officers through Vietnam to gain military experience hence they served 6 months as against 12 months for soldiers of the US Army and 13 months for Marines. It must have made it difficult for the soldiers to accept and bond with their platoon leader when his tour was shorter than theirs....
Hackworth sought to remedy perceived shortcomings in 'Field' practice (they'd likely get their soldiers killed through the familiarisation phase necessary) so he sent them to the Australian SAS: a great idea when you think about it and a recognition of the professionalism of the SAS whether it be UK, Oz, NZ: all are subject to searching Selection and then trained to the highest standards. When the novice platoon leaders returned to Hackworth, they were much the better for it.
To my recollection he also refused to make a Bronze Star Recommendation for a bloke who was aloft in an aircraft calling down fire and otherwise observing. He was right too; it's not as if the aircraft warrior actually shared the Risk that the US soldiers did on the ground. The bloke apparently was Bernard Rogers, who went on to be a Full General and SHAEF Supreme Commander. The medals process really did debase itself, although it's amusing that when the Pentagon turned on him for his analysis that the Doctrine would fail, and sought to denigrate him and demanded the removal of a RANGER tag, they found that he was entitled to some 10 Silver Stars. Well, that's what I remember.
So, yes, it pays to follow the Party Line and it may fit - and this is alluded to in Apocalypse Now and the move by Kurtz into the SF world at the expense of possible General Rank.
Afghan. One book I forgot to mention is "Cables From Kabul" by Sherard Cowper Coles , the former UK Ambassador. He made the point that the solution must be political and he opposed the simplistic aggressive intent of one British Brigadier whose policy was to man Outposts against which Taliban insurgents would beach themselves (read that as be killed). This was short-sighted and only invited further attacks by those who lost brothers etc and assumed a Blood Oath; moreover, it ignored the fact that some Afghan families adopt the pragmatic practice of back both sides....
Another point is that Pakistan fears a unified, strong Afghanistan because of the territorial dispute over the Durand Line which partitions the 2 states....hence the ISI continuing to support the Taliban - and the reason why the US did NOT inform the Pakistan Generals before it sent in the SEALS to take out Osama.
Back to Sherard: he identified that a political solution was imperative and a successor to the British Brigadier agreed with him as did a second Brigadier (in charge of a 2nd Tier Brigade) yet produced a superb performance which made the seniors take note and got him promoted to Major-General and he was openly critical of the aggressive intent of his predecessors.
Was it worth it? No. The opportunity was there before Dubya started bombing etc. The Taliban were caught between their sense of honour and safety of its guests - and Bin Laden was their guest. However they thought he had abused their position by his sponsorship of the murderous attack on the Twin Towers and were, apparently, were thinking of requiring him to leave. Dubya and others were not prepared to wait and started the destabilisation by bombing etc.
There was a vacuum when the Taliban were driven out of Kabul BUT instead of profiting from this and resolving it, Dubya, Cheney and Rummy wanted to overthrow Saddam on specious grounds. They did. Even before this was complete Cheney wanted to target Iran. The Press were even reporting this at the time. In my view, their additional target was North Korea (owing to their nuclear programme and its threat to South Korea and Japan.
The result of all this: a Bankrupt USA and in hock to China (FFS!) to the tune of US$Trillions.
Feel free to disagree cos I could be talking out of my arse.
I'm reading the article now. It must be excellent, if it ran in The New Yorker and yet has gotten this positive reaction from you. The New Yorker is the epitomie of New York City mentality, usually.
Originally Posted by patfromlogan