Thursday, April 26, 2007

Serving Officer Accuses Generals of 'Intellectual and Moral Failures'

By Cernig

Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, an Iraq veteran who is currently deputy commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment has published a stinging ctitique of the military's upper echelons in today's Armed Forces Journal. I urge you to read the whole thing.

Yingling isn't a desk-jokey theorist playing Monday morning quarterback. He's been intimately involved in both the theory and the practise of the war on some terror. From the Washington Post:
Yingling's comments are especially striking because his unit's performance in securing the northwestern Iraqi city of Tall Afar was cited by President Bush in a March 2006 speech and provided the model for the new security plan underway in Baghdad.

He also holds a high profile for a lieutenant colonel: He attended the Army's elite School for Advanced Military Studies and has written for one of the Army's top professional journals, Military Review.
His former C.O., Col. McMaster, is now part of Petraeus' "dream team" in Iraq. Reports have it that that team have their own misgivings about how swimmingly well things are going in Iraq.

Yingling, in his article, pulls no punches as he writes for his peers.
At the dawn of the 21st century, the U.S. is fighting brutal, adaptive insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq, while our armed forces have spent the preceding decade having done little to prepare for such conflicts.

Having spent a decade preparing to fight the wrong war, America's generals then miscalculated both the means and ways necessary to succeed in Iraq. The most fundamental military miscalculation in Iraq has been the failure to commit sufficient forces to provide security to Iraq's population. U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) estimated in its 1998 war plan that 380,000 troops would be necessary for an invasion of Iraq. Using operations in Bosnia and Kosovo as a model for predicting troop requirements, one Army study estimated a need for 470,000 troops. Alone among America's generals, Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki publicly stated that "several hundred thousand soldiers" would be necessary to stabilize post-Saddam Iraq. Prior to the war, President Bush promised to give field commanders everything necessary for victory. Privately, many senior general officers both active and retired expressed serious misgivings about the insufficiency of forces for Iraq. These leaders would later express their concerns in tell-all books such as "Fiasco" and "Cobra II." However, when the U.S. went to war in Iraq with less than half the strength required to win, these leaders did not make their objections public.

Given the lack of troop strength, not even the most brilliant general could have devised the ways necessary to stabilize post-Saddam Iraq. However, inept planning for postwar Iraq took the crisis caused by a lack of troops and quickly transformed it into a debacle. In 1997, the U.S. Central Command exercise "Desert Crossing" demonstrated that many postwar stabilization tasks would fall to the military. The other branches of the U.S. government lacked sufficient capability to do such work on the scale required in Iraq. Despite these results, CENTCOM accepted the assumption that the State Department would administer postwar Iraq. The military never explained to the president the magnitude of the challenges inherent in stabilizing postwar Iraq.

After failing to visualize the conditions of combat in Iraq, America's generals failed to adapt to the demands of counterinsurgency. Counterinsurgency theory prescribes providing continuous security to the population. However, for most of the war American forces in Iraq have been concentrated on large forward-operating bases, isolated from the Iraqi people and focused on capturing or killing insurgents. Counterinsurgency theory requires strengthening the capability of host-nation institutions to provide security and other essential services to the population. America's generals treated efforts to create transition teams to develop local security forces and provincial reconstruction teams to improve essential services as afterthoughts, never providing the quantity or quality of personnel necessary for success.

After going into Iraq with too few troops and no coherent plan for postwar stabilization, America's general officer corps did not accurately portray the intensity of the insurgency to the American public. The Iraq Study Group concluded that "there is significant underreporting of the violence in Iraq." The ISG noted that "on one day in July 2006 there were 93 attacks or significant acts of violence reported. Yet a careful review of the reports for that single day brought to light 1,100 acts of violence. Good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals." Population security is the most important measure of effectiveness in counterinsurgency. For more than three years, America's generals continued to insist that the U.S. was making progress in Iraq. However, for Iraqi civilians, each year from 2003 onward was more deadly than the one preceding it. For reasons that are not yet clear, America's general officer corps underestimated the strength of the enemy, overestimated the capabilities of Iraq's government and security forces and failed to provide Congress with an accurate assessment of security conditions in Iraq. Moreover, America's generals have not explained clearly the larger strategic risks of committing so large a portion of the nation's deployable land power to a single theater of operations.
I've bolded a bit for a reason - I think many of us will fill in the blanks for Yingling here. The reason the generals were so reticent is that they were playing politics and brown-nosing their civilian superiors. People like Pearle, Wolfowitz, Rumsfield, Cheney and Bush aren't interested in facts that clash with their theories - they make their own reality. And they certainly didn't want Congress being told the actual facts!

Yingling has little sympathy for this though. he writes that:
While the physical courage of America's generals is not in doubt, there is less certainty regarding their moral courage. In almost surreal language, professional military men blame their recent lack of candor on the intimidating management style of their civilian masters.
He also says that the US is on the brink of a massive defeat under the guidance of these failed generals (and by extension, of their civilian superiors who appointed them to be yes-men instead of men of moral fibre). His answer is to have Congress step up to its own responsibilities.
Neither the executive branch nor the services themselves are likely to remedy the shortcomings in America's general officer corps. Indeed, the tendency of the executive branch to seek out mild-mannered team players to serve as senior generals is part of the problem.

...If America desires creative intelligence and moral courage in its general officer corps, it must create a system that rewards these qualities. Congress can create such incentives by exercising its proper oversight function in three areas. First, Congress must change the system for selecting general officers. Second, oversight committees must apply increased scrutiny over generating the necessary means and pursuing appropriate ways for applying America's military power. Third, the Senate must hold accountable through its confirmation powers those officers who fail to achieve the aims of policy at an acceptable cost in blood and treasure.
One can only imagine what's going to happen to Lt. Col.Yingling now. I would be very surprised if his essay meets with approval among the higher echelons of both the Pentagon and the Bush administration. However, if he should leave the army, I urge whoever wins the Democratic Party's nomination to hire him as an advisor immediately. Talent in logical and honest thinking like this is too rare to waste.

Update The Confederate Yankee links to this post as an example, he says, of an attempt "to spin [Yingling's article] into an attack against specific generals...specific Presidents and specific Congresses." He writes that such spinners are "more interested in the sounds of their own voices...than in actually learning something. And then comes this:

If any bright spot exists in Yingling's blistering article, it is that his call for the kind of general officer corps that we need has at least one present-duty officer that seems to largely (if not completely) meet his proposed standards for creativeness, intelligence, and courageousness, and that general may be at the right place, with the right skills and experience, to yet help guide a successful change in direction.

Petraeus, however, is exactly the kind of general that Yingling is so upset about. Despite writing in the new US military manual on counterinsurgency which he co-authored that it takes far more troops than have ever been committed to Iraq to fight an insurgency he turned into Bush's yes-man in order to take his new command. Despite being an abject failure at his previous task of "standing up the Iraqi military so we could stand down", the Bush administration overlooked that in order to appoint a yes-man.

The Confederate Yankee isn't dumb - I've often found him to be an intelligent blogger who I happen to disagree with strongly. Yet here he deliberately glosses over these matters in an attempt to pretend that Yingling isn't talking about these generals now and this president now in a "my guy isn't as guilty if I can spread the guilt around" defense. What was that about being more interested in your own voice (and viewpoint) than in learning something?

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