A Good War Spoiled

Make no mistake, Operation Iraqi Freedom is a war, and for the first time in our history, we have not fired a general officer for wartime incompetence. Only Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, who was resurrected from retirement and put in charge of the restoration of Iraq, was removed, but to make room for L. Paul Bremer, not for his own mistakes. When interviewed about Bremer’s failures in Iraq, Garner had this to say, “You couldn’t have gotten the 10 most brilliant men and women in America to design a way for us to fail in Iraq that would have been any better than what we have done on our own."

We entered into World War II, trained a military that numbered in the millions, shipped it in two directions around the world, armed two foreign nations, liberated a dozen more, won and returned home in less time that we’ve been mucking around in Iraq. How could that be?

Most pundits lay blame on an Administration demonstrably ill-equipped to manage the war. My own observations lead me to believe that we have witnessed a perfect storm of incompetence at the highest levels of government: a supremely incompetent viceroy, L. Paul Bremer, III, who was the wrong man in the wrong place doing the wrong things; a Secretary of Defense who was unwilling to commit forces sufficient to the task at hand; a corps of general officers who were better managers than leaders, and who were untrained in the art of nation-building; and an intelligence apparatus that was and perhaps still is unable to present actionable intelligence for commanders on the ground.  

As I sit around with our current crop of Army general officers, it occurs to me that many of them have more in common with CPAs than PFCs. Their fingernails are buffed and polished, and they speak the words of foursquare bureaucrats. I look at the combatant commands and I see Navy, Marine and Air Force flag officers commanding unified commands once routinely commanded by Army generals. Obviously, Rumsfeld and his successor looked at our Army generals and did not like what they saw. Rumsfeld actually passed over every active Army four star general and dipped into the retired ranks to pull up Peter Schoomaker to be the 36th Army Chief of Staff.

I’m not a deep thinker — though I played one on TV — but my theory is that after our Vietnam experience, guys like Colin Powell, the Thurman brothers, Norman Schwarzkopf, John Yeosock, Dennis Reimer, Gordon Sullivan and a host of other combat-hardened young officers knew that our Army must make some fundamental changes. They set about making those changes, in spite of successive congresses and administrations more interested in peace dividends than military readiness.

They gave us the National Training Center, a new officer education system, an aggressive, warrior’s approach to Cold War operations plans, and they encouraged fundamental changes in our noncommissioned officer corps. Thanks to the efforts of men like Sergeant Major of the Army George Dunaway, our senior noncommissioned officers came to understand that, for the first time in our history, NCOs had to learn to manage as well as lead.

As those leaders busied themselves with the business of transformation, they sought out brilliant young staff officers to manage the myriad details of command and staff work.  They needed detail-oriented budget masters and regulation writers who were content to serve in that role with distinction, rather far removed from the messy business of serving in troop units. As their mentors rose in rank, they naturally paid attention to protecting and promoting the luminaries on their staffs. Fast-forward to the first few years of this new century, and I present to you a crop of Army general officers who are in their current positions by virtue of their ability to be stellar staff officers. If they also happen to be brilliant leaders, that is almost serendipitous. Witness General David Petraeus.

Flash back to Operation Desert Storm. A brilliantly conceived, brilliantly executed operation. The intent of the Commander-in-Chief was crystal clear, the mission was set forth in plain language and the terms of success were unambiguously established. History will count the team of George H. W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Colin Powell as brilliant. It was also the swan song for our group of post-Vietnam warrior generals. I see precious little of their collective brilliance in the conduct of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

So, what now? Here’s a Things to Do list. No really original thinking here, lots of smart people have advocated these actions in one form or fashion for years.

1-We must reflect on and learn the great lesson of our time – we absolutely should not be in the business of nation-building. If our President and Commander-in-Chief makes the decision to effect regime change as an instrument of foreign policy, we need to go in, get the job done, quickly restore order, set the conditions for a transitional government and get out. We ought to be thinking in terms of weeks and months, not years. Operation Just Cause in Panama should be our model, not Operation Iraqi Freedom.

2-Redouble our efforts and resources devoted to training and equipping Iraqi forces.

3-Get back to basics. Target the enemy’s command and control structure – that includes Muslim clerics. I was on Fox News early and often in 2003 and 2004 saying that Maqtada Al-Sadr was our biggest threat and must be targeted as an enemy combat commander. Any Islamic Holy Man who proclaims Jihad against Americans is an enemy and ought to be treated as such. They are, in my observation, consummate cowards, and as soon as they observe the deleterious effect of Jihad proclamations, they will cease and desist. They ought to be prime targets for brute force and blunt instruments.

4-Make every attack on Americans a de facto suicide mission. Respond with immediate awesome and overwhelming violence. Arabs understand brute force and blunt instruments.  

5-Think the unthinkable – threaten Iran with the utter destruction of their source of national wealth unless they stop the flow of guns and fighters into Iraq.

6-As a matter of policy, repudiate the concept made popular by Eastern Ivy League Elitists and Left Coast Liberals, that we are reaping what we have sown. We must begin to come to grips with the fact that Islam is not a peaceful religion. Every hijacker on September 11, 2001 was a Muslim, the homicide bomber that killed over 240 Marines in Beirut was a Muslim; the Achille Lauro hijackers were Muslim, as was the homicide boater that attacked the USS Cole; and so on, and on, and on. Our Department of State maintains a list of worldwide terrorist incidents, the overwhelming majority of which were carried out by Muslims. Visit their website and you cannot help but be brutally repelled by the awful truth and concurrently convinced that we must fight and win the Global War on Terror.

I could be wrong, but I doubt it.