Monday, July 02, 2007

Dissent and the Generals

This post from Friday at Intel-Dump discusses the present Generals and dissent from below. I think this holds true for most wars, though I wonder how either side of the argument can make a clear analysis seeing that both parties are not disinterested.
Greg Jaffe writes in today's Wall Street Journal (alt link) about the intellectual battles gripping the U.S. Army as the force struggles to persevere in Iraq and Afghanistan. The fights revolve around fundamental questions of soldiering and leadership, like how to face emerging threats such as insurgencies, how to shape the force for "full spectrum" operations, and how to best select, train and promote Army leaders. Jaffe's piece suggests that these debates rival those which occurred after Vietnam, when a generation of officers argued similar questions as part of the Army's rebuilding in the 1970s and 1980s. The difference, of course, is that we're still at war, making these contemporary discussions somewhat unprecedented.
Discourse and dissent are healthy for a military organization. As I wrote a few days ago, warfare is a complex endeavor where the common denominators are chance, uncertainty, and chaos. Vigorous discussion of core assumptions and strategies is critical; sharp criticism is essential for that discussion. The intellectual arrogance displayed thus far by America's caste of generals and senior Pentagon officials has been startling, and stunningly myopic. It virtually guarantees that we will adopt stale, inflexible strategies with zero chance of success.

When I've engaged senior leaders on these questions, I've gotten back answers which were some variation of "You don't understand, captain, because you haven't been there at my level." Quite right, I haven't. The closest I've come to that level is a year as a division planner, and a short tour in the Pentagon. My riposte? "Sir, you don't understand, because you haven't been there either."
There is a problem though that isn't addressed and that comes from the Generals being answerable to politicians. Not the CIC specifically, but to the politicos who perpetually whine about how the US is failing while completely ignoring that patience is needed for the present conflict. Senator Lugar again proves this point in that his recent speech completely ignores realities on the ground and further slows integration of new tactics. Unfortunately, the Generals have little choice but to stand up and speak the truth to the politicians, who will continue to ignore reality.

The Captains and Colonels that are complaining now will likely find themselves in similar straights in the future as they have in the past. As with all large institutions, change isn't something that comes fast. But they can at least try to force change and allow change at the levels that they have control of.

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