FABIUS MAXIMUS ON THE GENERALS
Fabius Maximus critiques American generalship in his trademark style:
“The Core Competence of America’s Military LeadersThird in a series about a serious threat to America“
There’s a number of provocative arguments in FM’s latest piece but I wanted to highlight this one in particular:
“The events surrounding the fall of Iraq’s capital are difficult to imagine, even after four years have passed. US forces again proved invincible on the field of battle. They rolled up to Baghdad, occupied it and waited for orders. Then the capitol fell into disorder, with looting and burning of key infrastructure.
Apparently the Pentagon’s senior generals – the best-educated generals ever to lead an Army – failed to prepare for one of history’s most common scenarios. As a result they read reports from their field commanders and watched as victory tipped over to what might become a crushing defeat. Perhaps for the next war our top generals’ briefing books should include DVD’s of War and Peace and Gone with the Wind. Watching the burning of Moscow and Atlanta might remind them to plan for this contingency.
It’s not yet clear why and how this occurred, except in one respect. Our military is a full member of 21st Century American society – no separate military culture here – and its top leaders produce excuses suitable for a Superpower, featuring the new American mantra: “It’s not our fault.” An expert at RAND said it well:
While it can be argued that U.S. military planners could not have been expected to anticipate the emergence of an insurgency any more than they could have foreseen the widespread disorders, looting, and random violence that followed the fall of Baghdad, that is precisely the nub of the problem. The fact that military planners apparently didn’t consider the possibility that sustained and organized resistance could gather momentum and transform itself into an insurgency reflects a pathology that has long affected governments and militaries everywhere…
Bruce Hoffman, “Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Iraq”, RAND (2004)
RAND’s sponsors likely appreciated the diplomatic phrasing “while it can be argued”. Much nicer than suggesting that our generals should have foreseen the scenario that has dominated post-WW-II wars, guerrilla warfare against foreign occupiers.”
In the article, FM refers to American generals as being akin to corporate CEO’s. The personnel system of the U.S. military, in which zero defects and lavish ( bordering upon ludicrous) praise from your immediate superior is necessary for promotion under an “up or out” system, weeds out creative and divergent thinkers, candid speakers, risk-takers and even mild non-conformists. What is left is a finely honed and homogenous administrative class attuned to institutional norms and a received professional culture. A system that creates a surplus of first-rate political generals like Al Haig and Colin Powell but not Pattons, Grants or Lees. A few slip through, but how many ? And of these few, how many will have a chance at field command ?
Incentives must be geared to promote those who exhibit behaviors that tend to win wars on the battlefield rather than bureaucratic skirmishes in Washington.