A Crisis of American Generalship

“As matters stand now, a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war.”

From A failure in generalship, by Lt. Col. Paul Yingling. RTWT — this officer probably just jettisoned his career to write the truth as he saw it, so take a look at what he has to say. It is a convincing denunciation of the leadership in the current war in Iraq. Interview with Yingling, here. discussion of the article on Small Wars Council. Hat tip: Zenpundit.

11 thoughts on “A Crisis of American Generalship”

  1. He is mostly looking to congress for help. Has he really looked at congress lately? If Iraq is a new Vietnam it’s because we have an old Vietnam era congress.

  2. Ah, a grad from University of Chicago. Must be pretty smart. He forgets, though, that it is the Secretary of Defense and the Chief of Staff et al to advise the proper people, and that those people send the information and proposals and needs on to the president and he to the congress for funding and changes needed. I have seen no evidence that Congress has turned down military requests thus far. In fact, in the past Congress has been known to give more than had been requested by the military. What we might have learned from Viet Nam is to ask: why do we want to be at war there? So too Iraq

  3. One of the traits in this and the articles on strategy is one gets a feeling of viewing from the outside and not the inside. Missed are all the environmental and organizational culture elements which influence and direct

    Let me touch on a few points.

    One, not only do troops ‘rotate’ through the theater of war, but so do commanders. Back in the old days, the senior command was there for the duration or till relieved. Could you imaging Eisenhower being replaced after a year or 18 months to allow another fresh commander to come in? Somewhere in the 50s and 60s a peacetime management system wrapped itself around how we conduct war. What was procedure during peace became the rigid personnel system of war. Parallel to this was the promotion system. Officers in the field in the ‘old days’ could be advanced by events on the ground and promoted in rank, authority, and position without having to get tickets punched at schools, out of theater assignments , and standing in personnel management arranged lines. There is no ‘wartime’ personnel system. It’s one size fits all. It is also the creation of Congressional directives and laws, not just the product of a self inflicted wound by the service. The ‘system’ isn’t influenced by coulda, woulda, shoulda. Go look at the Goldwater-Nichols Act and see both the causal factors that created it and the rigidity it introduced in the personnel system.

    Two, military operations are hamstrung over two hundred years since the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution. They never saw the United States as a world power. I suspect they would have had less then charitable comments about anyone even thinking that it should pursue that future. Well versed in ‘classical’ history, they understood the consequence to the Roman Republic in its expansion through the Mediterranean and the impact upon the stability of their government. As former Englishmen, the causes and consequences of the English Civil War would be reflected in their new national law. For the Constitution is very specific that Congress “To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;”. The Constitution places no such limits on the Navy. Thank you Charles I and Oliver Cromwell. Google POM cycle. The civilian will go “what?” So how do you implement long term strategy and operations when funding is subject to the whims and fates of petty politicians posturing for the next election cycle and not fate of the nation? Its easy to sweep one’s arms and deliver nebulous directives on what should be done, its another to try to make it work within the mechanisms you’re handed. Those are some of the parameters that the generals are handed to deal with what the world throws at them.

    These are just a couple examples of dozens where things out of sight and mind to the general public have significant impact on their military’s ability to bring force to bear or to pursue alternate methodologies in any given situation.

    Generals don’t lose wars, nations do. Though various societal mechanisms, nations choose their generals and establish the rules by which they play. It’s when generals choose their nations that you really have problems. So nations set up sets of rules and procedures which in the end trade off efficiencies and effectiveness as a hedge against historical behaviors that have undesirable consequences.

  4. For the second time in a generation, the United States faces the prospect of defeat at the hands of an insurgency.

    I read that first sentence and stopped. The US was never defeated in Indochina by an insurgency. The defeat came by means of large scale conventional military action directed against allies we had abandoned. They lost because we sawed off the branch they were sitting on.

    I;ll comment further when I have the time.

  5. I read through the article last night. I’m unsure of the author’s Vietnam analogy, as Shannon mentions above. The other criticism’s are a mix of previously debated options, esp. the larger troop number, that can hardly be said to have been unexplored or hidden.

    I’m sure the author is frustrated and very concerned. Interestingly, the failures of the general officers he finds wanting are, in part, the lack of an advanced degree and an international outlook, including fluency in a foriegn language.

    Isn’t it a coincidence that the author has a master’s degree in Poli Sci, and is, presumably, fluent in one or more foriegn languages. His main complaint seems to be that the generals aren’t just like him, or that he should replace the generals.

    He may very well be right, but there is a distinct flavor of intellectual snobbery in the piece that detracts from its effectiveness. There’s plenty of criticism for mistakes and poor planning to go around, as in any military action, but some of this author’s assertions sound a little self-serving.

  6. Very Retired – I caught that too. Given the disease of post-modernism is endemic to our Social Sciences and Humainities departments (see David Foster’s last post, and one of mine forthcoming) – I don’t see the absence of such a degree in a general as a problem. Lack of foreign languages I tend to see as more of a problem for many reasons, some of which may not be related to the ones he has in mind.

    My major beef with his premise is that he dismisses technical degrees. A graduate degree in engineering, computer science or systems design might be even more useful than a Poli Sci one. And a graduate degree in pretty much any Humanity except History would proabably be a waste of time.

    But note his rank (O-5). He’s about to be bounced because he’s hit the ceiling and hasn’t been slated for advancement.

  7. I’m not claiming everything he says is merely sour grapes. I’m sure some of his points are well taken. I just noticed that, in effect, he was saying that the problem with the general officers is that they are not like him.

    In that, he is not unlike a great many people whose basic position is that everything would be OK if everybody was just like them. Indeed, that seems to be the true educational philosophy that drives academia, not any fearless search for truth or relish for vigorous debate.

  8. “In that, he is not unlike a great many people whose basic position is that everything would be OK if everybody was just like them. Indeed, that seems to be the true educational philosophy that drives academia…”

    Oh boy, do I have some stories about that. Bitter ones. Not about my own career, but about time wasted on potentially lucrative patents I co-authored. My advisor thought that every person in his lab ought to be able to work out the physics of what we were doing, when in fact we deperately needed some biological and O-chem type post docs to move the project forward. Which is why Industry beats Academia hands down in the deveopment of new products.

  9. Even if the generals advised the president that significantly more forces would be necessary how would Iraq be different? Probably a lot more order, but still a lot of IEDs? And what would happen to the govt we installed after the forces left? That question seems more like a political judgement than a military one.

  10. I dont think anything would that much different than what it is now.

    Until Jihad is discredited or becomes overpowering, there will be a war of attrition.

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