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Fire the Generals!
When Gen. George Casey took over as
commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq during July 2004,
he asked his staff in Baghdad to set up a meeting with the headquarters’
counter-insurgency expert. His request was met with silence.
Incredible as it may seem, after fighting what American military
authorities had been calling an insurgency for over a year, the
Army’s headquarters in Baghdad had no experts on counter-insurgency
A year later, Casey returned
to Washington and told members of the Senate that more American
troops would hurt, not help, matters in Iraq. He insisted that
the large American military presence in the country "feeds
the notion of occupation" and actually extends "the
amount of time that it will take for Iraqi security forces to
become self-reliant." Even in areas of the country where
American forces were showered with flowers when they arrived
in April 2003, they are now under attack.
In war, military strategy is
supposed to reduce the probability of armed conflict, to persuade
those who might fight not to fight, and when necessary, to win
at the least cost in lives and treasure in the shortest possible
time. In Iraq, America’s top generals achieved the opposite outcome.
Meanwhile, many of today’s top generals are repeating the Vietnam
pattern of speaking critically of the Pentagon’s leadership in
private, while eagerly accepting public praise and promotion
from the secretary of defense for deferring to him in everything.
American soldiers, sailors,
airmen and marines are rightly lauded by the American public
for their courage and sacrifice in the fight for Iraq, but the
high quality of American soldiers and Marines at battalion level
and below cannot compensate for inadequate senior leadership
at the highest levels in war. Today, the senior leadership of
the U.S. armed forces in general and, the U.S. Army in particular,
is overly bureaucratic, risk averse, professionally inadequate
and, hence, unsuited to the complex military tasks entrusted
to them. The Bush administration has a preference for compliant,
sycophantic officers who are fatally dependent on the goodwill
of the secretary of defense and the president who promoted and
It is bitter to contemplate,
but Americans now confront issues of the utmost gravity:
* first, the lack of character
and competence apparent in the most senior ranks;
* second, the willingness of the civilians in charge, from the
commander in chief to the secretary of defense, to ignore this
* third, the probability that future American military operations
will fail if generalship of this quality persists.
of the Problem
Finding generals who are competent
and ethical practitioners of war — officers who will communicate
to their civilian superiors the truth of what is really happening
and what actions and resources are required for success — has
never been easy. In American history, armies and their generals
have been treated as afterthoughts, producing a pattern of emergency
improvisation in wartime to replace generals who could not shake
the habits and mindset of an unprofessional garrison army culture.
President Abraham Lincoln struggled
with such incompetents for the first two years of the Civil War
until he found someone who won battles. The man was Ulysses S.
Grant, an officer no one in the Army’s command hierarchy wanted.
Long before America entered World War II, Gen. George C. Marshall,
an officer who had waited 36 years for promotion to flag rank,
ended his first year in office as Army chief of staff in 1940
by retiring 54 generals. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor,
Marshall continued to replace hundreds of generals and colonels,
elevating men like James Gavin, a captain in 1942, to brigadier
general and division commander in 1944. When Gen. Matthew Ridgway
assumed command of the Eighth Army in Korea, he was no less ruthless
than Marshall had been with commanders in the field who did not
So, what has changed? Why,
after three years of inconclusive action in Iraq, have none of
America’s top generals been fired?
One reason is the absence of
capable enemies to fight. Since 1990, America’s enemies have
had no navies, weak air forces, weak to non-existent air defenses,
and incompetent armies that lacked both the will and the training
to fight effectively. Our superb combat soldiers and Marines
easily overpowered their enemies regardless of what decisions
or actions the senior military leadership took. Emergency improvisation
was not needed.
The inevitable consequence
of this situation is that there is no political constituency
for excellence in generalship; no politician who will galvanize
public opinion and demand results from generals. Consequently,
while Americans can force the removal of homeland security officials
from office or specify with great precision the intellectual
and professional attributes of a Supreme Court justice, they
don’t make similar judgments about generals. They don’t make
judgments because, for the most part, they don’t know what generals
are supposed to do in war or peace.
In war, this condition is dangerous
because the nation’s three- and four-star generals are the key
figures who interface between policy and action. They decisively
shape and implement the military component of national strategy
that is consistent with American policy goals, ensuring that
results are attained within the framework of the mission, and
taking into account intangibles such as the reputation of the
American people. They determine the metrics that measure success
or failure, and they create the command climate that motivates
subordinate commanders to take prompt action to overcome any
and all difficulties.
Two important corollaries must
be mentioned. In war, for generals to succeed, they must be men
of character and integrity, accepting risk and uncertainty as
the unchanging features of war. They must also demonstrate a
willingness to stand up and be counted, to put country before
career and, if necessary to resign. Generals also must be students
of their profession and of their enemies. They must be able to
put themselves in the position of their enemies, avoid rigid
adherence to ideas and methods that are ineffective, and adopt
what works while concentrating their minds on the essential tasks.
These attributes have been largely absent in the U.S. senior
ranks, both on the road to Baghdad and in the occupation of Iraq
of Military Leadership in Iraq
From the moment the idea of
invading Iraq was suggested by the administration of President
George W. Bush, in the aftermath of Sept. 11, the Army’s three-
and four-star generals were thoroughly convinced that U.S. ground
forces would have to fight a long, bloody battle with Iraq’s
Republican Guard divisions for control of Baghdad, and they were
unwilling to undertake such a war without a ground force on the
scale of Desert Storm.
Even after 3rd Infantry Division’s
armor crossed the Euphrates River on March 23, 2003, and moved
300 miles in 96 hours to a point just 50 miles south of Baghdad
at the cost of only two American lives, the fear of fighting
without a disproportionately massive ground force in place persisted.
When the use of attack helicopters
in a pointless deep attack failed — an operation characterized
by extraordinary general officer incompetence that included a
failure to integrate the mission with the U.S. Air Force and
the Army’s rocket artillery — Lt. Gen. William Wallace, commander
of the U.S. Army’s V Corps, and Maj. Gen. David H. Petraeus,
commander of the 101st Airborne Division, were quick to conclude
that "the war was in dismal shape." In what was just
the first in a series of misjudgments of the true situation on
the ground in Iraq, preconceptions of warfare rooted in the sterile
field exercises of the Cold War led Gen. "Tommy" Franks,
Gen. David McKiernan, Third Army Commander, and Wallace to the
wrong conclusions. These generals persuaded Secretary of Defense
Donald Rumsfeld and Bush to halt all ground offensive operations
until after the Air Force bombed Iraq’s meager and ineffectual
Had Saddam Hussein and his
generals known of the Army generals’ meeting near Najaf, and
the deliberations in Washington, D.C., that followed, they would
have doubled over in laughter. Iraq’s defense was really a giant
confidence game conducted by the country’s political and military
charlatans. Maj. Gen. Jim Mattis, commander of the Marine division
who was stationed forward with his lead combat element, saw through
the veil. He later said, "I didn’t want the pause. Nothing
was holding us up."
Nevertheless, the attack on
Baghdad was put on hold. Without sustaining any significant casualties,
the senior Army generals remote from the fighting clung to the
illusion that Iraq’s armed might was too great to challenge without
extensive bombing. In reality, the only obstacle to victory lay
not with Iraqi resistance, which was always negligible, but in
the minds of the Army’s commanding generals. Grudgingly, Bush
and Rumsfeld acquiesced and approved the halt. The delay lasted
from March 26 until April 1, when, reportedly, only the threat
of being removed compelled McKiernan to resume the attack.
Baghdad eventually fell to
a single armored brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division in an action
known as the "Thunder Run." However, the criticality
of speed in the attack, of dramatically out-pacing the enemy’s
decisions and actions, had been lost. Roaring into Baghdad with
tank guns blazing without the unnecessary delay could have achieved
precisely what Rumsfeld and the president wanted, such as the
early capture of Saddam Hussein who was in the city at that time.
However, the wrong generals with the wrong thinking at the top
made this outcome impossible.
When Baghdad fell, Rumsfeld
held a video-teleconference with Franks, asking him how soon
the Army could get a tank brigade to Tikrit. Franks consulted
with McKiernan, and answered "10 days." The Army generals
were opposed to any task that did not involve days of planning
and a preponderance of force disproportionate to mission requirements.
Rumsfeld was furious, but rather than waste time arguing with
the Army’s senior leaders, Rumsfeld told Franks to ask the Marines.
Less than 12 hours later, Marine Task Force Tripoli, under the
command of Brig. Gen. John Kelly, was on its way to Tikrit.
By failing to press on and
accept minimal risk to their flanks and rear, the top generals
in Washington and on the ground in Iraq missed the opportunity
to enter the capital, and force the surrender of the Ba’athist
leadership. Saddam Hussein and his entourage escaped and the
first of many opportunities to psychologically dominate the enemy
was thrown away. Gen. George C. Patton would have been deeply
depressed by the whole affair. Yet no one at the top of the Bush
administration set out to remove these officers and replace them
with more aggressive, confident commanders.
There were few political incentives
for action by the administration, given the realities on the
ground in Iraq. The predictions by Army and Marine four-star
generals’ (active and retired) of a three-month campaign against
a determined Iraqi enemy and the inflated numbers of troops they
insisted were required to win were never right, and the Bush
administration knew it. If what the Army generals in command
did or did not do was irrelevant to the ultimate outcome, why
make an issue out of the Army generals’ demands for a few days’
halt just 50 miles from Baghdad? Why bother replacing
three- and four-star generals who refuse to attack, when Iraq’s
military position was always hopeless whether the fight against
Iraq’s Ba’athist Fedayeen in pick-up trucks lasted five days
Glowing reports from the journalists
embedded with the superb soldiers and Marines who actually did
the fighting persuaded the American public that the generals
in charge had just executed an immensely successful lightning
offensive to Baghdad. Only Mattis offered a truly honest appraisal
of the enemy. He said, "The [Iraqi] generals were dumber
than you-know-what, they were real dumb."
Conceals Our Own
The details of the campaign
that removed Saddam Hussein’s regime from power are beyond the
scope of this essay, but the victory was due principally to the
extraordinary weakness of the Iraqi enemy. That weakness concealed
serious flaws in the readiness, deployment and composition of
the American ground force, flaws that would come to light after
the fall of Baghdad.
The offensive’s greatest weakness
was in the organization and composition of the attacking American
ground force. In the Middle East, the offensive capacity of American
armor is America’s trump card in land warfare, but armor constituted
a mere fraction of the force that attacked to Baghdad and, in
time, its effect was dissipated by dispersing much of it to light
infantry formations that sustained unnecessary casualties without
In addition, American command
and control (C2) structures were unchanged from 1991. Like the
headquarters that fought the first Gulf War, the C2 headquarters
in Operation Iraqi Freedom were an improvised collection of single-service
headquarters, each fighting its own war according to its own
thinking–Army, Marine or Air Force. In practice, operations
and logistics that should have been joint were ad hoc and not
designed for war, certainly not the long war that developed.
In maneuver warfare, supply
is a potential showstopper. As the Army discovered during the
first Gulf War, fuel is by far the most important logistical
requirement. Thanks to gas-guzzling tank engines that were never
modified or changed in the 12 years that separated Desert Storm
from Iraqi Freedom, it took about 120 sorties of fuel tankers
every 24 hours to keep the armor in the 3rd Infantry Division
moving. In addition, the deployment of other Army ground forces
was confused and slow. Although the attack did not start until
the United States was ready, the 101st Airmobile Division was
still off-loading at Kuwait ports on March 23, 2003, when the
offensive began. Spare parts were in short supply. Body armor
Further, despite 12 years of
experience in the Persian Gulf, the generals had done nothing
to prepare Army forces to cope with the complexity of operating
in a Muslim Arab country. The Army’s chiefs of staff between
1991 and 2003 lost sight of their interwar duty: preparing for
the next conflict and thinking about how it ought to be fought
differently from the last war.
Fortunately, the actual fighting
potential of the Iraqi Army was nil.
How to Create
an Insurgency in 30 Days
As American generals triumphantly
occupied Saddam’s palaces, so reviled by many Iraqis, chaos and
criminality ruled Iraq for 30 days. No fresh American troops
arrived, trained and organized to conduct post-conflict stability
operations. Thousands of Iraqi Army soldiers and officers who
co-operated with American forces by choosing not to fight stood
by, waiting for direction from the U.S. military leadership to
assist in the restoration of order.
The same generals who had attacked
Baghdad so reluctantly again declined to act. What happened
next in Baghdad was an eerie replay of Operation Just Cause,
the U.S. Army’s invasion of Panama in 1989. Then, the Army generals
focused on capturing Panamanian dictator, Manuel Noriega, but
they neglected the importance of minimizing Panamanian Defense
Force (PDF) casualties. Instead, the Army generals destroyed
the PDF and created the conditions for chaos and criminality
when the fighting ended, to the point where some Panamanians
contend that Panama has still not fully recovered from the consequences.
By the time U.S. Ambassador
Paul Bremer arrived in Baghdad in May 2003 to announce the disbanding
of Iraq’s governmental structures and its military and police
forces, Iraq was in ruins. Directing the Army and Marine Corps
to occupy and effectively govern Iraq simply completed the process
of the country’s total destruction. Even though McKiernan had
previously met privately with Iraqi generals who handed him lists
of Iraqi Army officers who could be used to command a rapidly
reformed Iraqi army, McKiernan did not protest the Iraqi military’s
disbanding. The hundreds of thousands of disgruntled former Iraqi
soldiers who were thus set loose were to prove a valuable source
of recruits for the rebellion then in its infancy.
American soldiers and Marines
soon discovered that Iraq’s population did not wish to be governed
by foreigners, especially Christian Americans and Europeans.
Violence escalated quickly in response to U.S. arrests of Muslim
men on the street. They were often apprehended in front of their
families, dragged away in handcuffs with bags over their heads
for interrogation and incarceration. Even when innocent Muslim
men were released, they were further humiliated by returning
under guard in broad daylight to where they had been captured
— cuffed and hooded. Predictably, a climate of hatred, suspicion
and resentment began to emerge.
The growing violence signaled
to journalists the emergence of fundamentally new conditions
in central Iraq. During a video-teleconference Maj. Gen. Raymond
Odierno, commander of the 4th Infantry Division (mechanized),
was asked, "Aren’t we just basically seeing an increasing
amount of guerrilla warfare here? And to follow up aren’t soldiers
really in greater peril now, because you basically have to go
root these folks out, as opposed to during the combat phase when
you used a lot of heavy armor and airpower to knock off the organized
groups?" Odierno’s response is instructive because it reveals
an unwillingness to see any evidence for the emergence of a new
This is not guerrilla warfare;
it is not close to guerrilla warfare because it’s not coordinated,
it’s not organized, and it’s not led. The soldiers that are conducting
these operations don’t even have the willpower. We find that
a majority of the time they’ll fire a shot, and they’ll drop
the weapon and they’ll give up right away. They do not have the
will. And in most cases, I’m not sure they really believe in
what they’re doing. And so, when I talk about organized guerrilla
warfare, it’s a very complex organization that plans very complex
guerrilla operations. That is nowhere close to what we’re seeing
here in my AO (area of operations).
The deteriorating conditions
in Iraq explain why Gen. John Abizaid’s appointment in July 2003
to replace Franks was greeted with real hope. Abizaid, an American
of Lebanese ancestry who is fluent in Arabic, was popular with
the Army’s active and retired four-star generals. To the politicians,
he seemed like the politically correct choice to pursue the Bush
administration’s objectives in Iraq at that point in time: public
security, electrical power, and jobs for millions of young men
However, other than publicly
confirming in July 2003 that U.S. forces did in fact face a "classic
guerilla-type campaign," he did not alter the deployment
of U.S. forces or change military policies or tactics. He presided
at meetings and exhorted everyone to turn as much responsibility
as they could over to the Iraqis (despite the fact that Iraq’s
military, police, and administrative bodies had been disbanded),
but he did not interfere with the conduct of operations on the
ground in Iraq. His visits with Army division commanders and
their staffs produced no new directions in tactics or behavior.
Was there anything Abizaid
could have done to change the course of events in Iraq? He could
have insisted that the American military administration vacate
Saddam Hussein’s former palaces and make themselves less visible
to an Arab population already deeply humiliated by the foreign
military occupation. He could have withdrawn U.S. ground forces
from vast areas of Iraq where there was no insurgency and the
U.S. military presence was not needed. These forces could have
been redeployed to Sunni Arab-dominated areas where the violence
was increasing. There the troops could have isolated and secured
the population from infiltration and intimidation by the insurgents.
Simultaneously, Abizaid could
have systematically exploited the obvious fault lines within
the growing insurgency, the lines between rival Sunni tribal
leaders, "foreign fighters," and Ba’athist "diehards."
He could also have made the case to the Arabs of Iraq and the
rest of the Arab world that America’s presence in Iraq was not
imperial, but temporary pointing out that as soon
as Iraq’s military and administrative structures were restored,
American military forces would leave the country. Knowing that
America intended to leave Iraq would have disarmed many Sunni
Arabs who would otherwise fight to drive out American ground
forces. Instead, Abizaid supervised the construction of a series
of large bases indicating an American intention to stay indefinitely.
Four decades ago in Algeria,
where the French refused to depart Algeria under any conditions,
the Arab revolt against French rule gained popular support.
Despite the commitment of 400,000 French troops to suppress the
revolt inside an Arab and Berber population of 10 million people,
a population larger than Iraq’s Sunni Muslim community, French
forces could never do more than suppress the rebellion temporarily.
Fighting broke out again like an ulcer the moment French troops
left an area they had fought to secure. In the end, the French
abandoned Algeria. Surely, Abizaid was aware of this fact.
Abizaid could have intervened
with his division commanders to halt the inhumane treatment of
the Sunni Arab population and put an end to the counter-productive
incarceration of thousands of military-aged males. Perhaps most
important, knowing that a popular rebellion in the form of an
insurgency can only be successfully suppressed by indigenous
armed forces, Abizaid could have insisted that the Bush administration
fund a program to shift the American military role from direct
combat to training and material support for indigenous Iraqi
forces. Early in the life of the occupation, the Bush administration
was prepared to spend whatever it took to succeed in Iraq. If
strongly recommended by Abizaid, there is little doubt that funding
for this purpose would have been forthcoming. Getting Iraq’s
former soldiers back in uniform as quickly as possible would
have starved the insurgency of the manpower it needed to flourish.
But little of substance changed
and the Army’s occupying forces settled into a routine of checkpoints,
patrols, and raids designed to flush out the enemy with the means
at hand. As in Vietnam, those means were primarily firepower.
Simultaneously, the pursuit of Saddam and his lieutenants —
particularly in the areas under the control of Odierno, and Maj.
Gen. Charles H. Swannack, Jr., commander of the 82nd Airborne
Division continued, on the assumption that Saddam somehow
represented the center of gravity in what was now a rapidly growing
insurgency. Because of their ruthlessness, these operations backfired,
fueling the fires of rebellion inside Iraq’s Sunni Arab community.
In Abu Sifa, one sun-baked
village north of Baghdad, the practice of arbitrarily imprisoning
males cleared entire farming communities of fathers, sons, brothers,
and cousins. Barbara K. Bodine, a State Department official
who served in Iraq for 12 months during 2003 and 2004, summed
up the consequences of the clumsy, brutal occupation saying:
"We underestimate our daily humiliation of Iraqis We don’t
understand when someone kills a brother, it calls for revenge
The excessive use of force
and the policy of treating any Arab suspected of opposing the
U.S. military occupation as a "terrorist" had another
unintended effect. Thousands of recruits and sympathizers joined
the rebellion from inside and outside the country. Reacting to
the discovery of foreign jihadists inside Iraq and compounding
the misapprehension of the problem, military spokesmen in Baghdad
and Washington argued that unrest in Iraq was now largely a function
of external interference from Syria and Iran. This was never
the case. It was always the intrusive U.S. military occupation
that was the fundamental problem, but it was easier for the generals
inside the Green Zone to blame foreign fighters for Iraq’s turmoil
instead of changing course and developing a new counterinsurgency
The capture of Saddam Hussein
in December 2003 gave the generals in CENTCOM an opportunity
to trumpet victory. They did not mention that telephone service,
and the availability of electricity and of cooking and heating
fuels, were no better than they were before the occupation began.
Criminality was on the rise and unemployment remained around
Something was terribly wrong.
In light of the widespread
abuse meted out to Arab citizens of Iraq, including the hideous
practices at the Abu Ghraib prison, for which no American officer
has yet to be called to account, it was no surprise when al-Qaida’s
supporters, along with thousands of Iranian agents, streamed
into Iraq to exploit the rapidly growing Arab hatred of American
troops. Thanks to the new infusion of knowledge and expertise
into the insurgent forces, Army and Marine Corps’ Humvees, thin-skinned
vehicles used for patrols along predictable routes, became easy
targets for mines, roadside improvised explosive devices (IEDs),
automatic weapons fire, and rocket propelled grenades.
Despite the rising numbers
of attacks on American soldiers and Marines in Humvees, Abizaid
and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker let the numbers
of armored fighting vehicles and tanks in Iraq decline. In fact,
Schoomaker ordered the 1st Cavalry Division and the 3rd Armored
Cavalry Regiment, both preparing to deploy to Iraq in the first
months of 2004, to bring only one in six of their Abrams tanks
and Bradley fighting vehicles. In light of American losses, senior
Israeli defense officers advised using heavily armored vehicles
and more tanks, but the top U.S. generals persisted in arguing
for presence patrols in wheeled vehicles.
The Army’s general officers
did not routinely accompany platoon and squad leaders on patrol
to understand the environment and what was needed to survive
in it, creating an unhealthy divide between senior leadership
and the soldiers on the ground. Had the generals done so, they
would have known what a sergeant on patrol in Ramadi meant when
he told a journalist, "You can have my job. It’s easy. You
just drive around all day and wait for someone to bomb you. Thing
is, you have to hate Arabs."
As it became more and more
obvious that Saddam’s capture in November 2003 was irrelevant
to the course of the on-going rebellion against the American
military occupation, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, Wallace’s successor
at V Corps headquarters in Baghdad, tried to get his arms around
the problem. But, like so many other officers and civilians inside
Iraq’s Green Zone, he was living in an unreal world. Sanchez,
an officer whose thinking was rooted in sterile exercises and
simulations of conventional Cold War conflict, could not grasp
the complexities of Iraq’s condition. In August 2004, more than
16 months after he assumed command, he remained wedded to a campaign
plan for military operations that, according to officers in Sanchez’s
headquarters, "was totally nondescript. It had no concrete
In April 2004 Iraq exploded
in violent resistance. Things came to a head in Fallujah, a city
of 300,000 not far from Baghdad that achieved rock star status
in the Arab world for supporting relentless attacks on occupying
American forces. Many American soldiers and Marines thought that
Fallujah would become an object lesson for those in Iraq who
directly challenged American military authority – a tailor-made
opportunity to dominate the enemy psychologically. It also looked
like a great opportunity for the generals in Baghdad, using heavy
armor, which has proved decisively effective in urban warfare,
to isolate, surround, and crush masses of enemy fighters, foreign
and Iraqi, inside the city. But, it was not to be.
In a teleconference with Bush
and Rumsfeld, Abizaid advised against an all-out assault on Fallujah,
making the case that such an attack would jeopardize political
stability throughout the country. Abizaid argued that it was
not the destruction of the enemy in Fallujah and the indirect
effort to educate others resisting the coalition that mattered.
Rather it was to seize control of the city of Fallujah through
other, less destructive means to show restraint by limiting collateral
damage – and American casualties. Abizaid was unable to recognize
when force can be used to psychologically dominate the enemy
and when it needlessly empowers enemy resistance.
When Sanchez informed Mattis
of the teleconference and the decision not to go into Fallujah,
Mattis reacted by quoting Napoleon Bonaparte, "First we’re
ordered in, and now, we’re ordered out. If you’re going to
take Vienna, then, by God, sir, take it." But Fallujah
was not taken. Instead, former Republican Guard officers were
sent in to organize a local force that never lived up to its
obligations while fighting continued in other cities throughout
the spring and early summer, and Marines and soldiers continued
to die in and around Fallujah.
When Fallujah was finally seized,
in November 2004, the operation was the ultimate expression of
a reactive strategy. The town was never completely sealed off
and, as in so many previous operations, most of the enemy were
already gone when the generals’ set-piece battle plan was set
in motion. The taking of Fallujah after Bush’s reelection in
November 2004 was slow, deliberate, even incidental, almost unwanted,
and only to be conducted with the minimum amount of force necessary
to defeat the resistance that was standing between U.S. forces
and control of the city.
Again, the widespread use of
light infantry instead of heavy armor demonstrated that once
the infantry on foot becomes involved in a symmetrical fight
pitting AK 47 and rocket-propelled grenades against M16s, our
soldiers and Marines take serious losses. These losses inevitably
prompt the extensive use of destructive air and artillery strikes
because light infantry lacks the protection, firepower and mobility
to advance in the face of enemy fire without serious injury.
As a result, Fallujah was destroyed. Ironically, the failure
to use the right kind of force at the start-heavy armor–resulted
in more destruction, and further alienation of Iraqis, than should
have been necessary.
the Insurgency. Again!
After Fallujah’s destruction,
the generals in Baghdad claimed the back of the "insurgency"
was "broken," but resistance to the American military
occupation actually grew stronger, not weaker. Iraq’s Arab insurgents
or rebels learned from the first generation of foreign jihadists
and domestic insurgents destroyed in the war and became far more
sophisticated in terms of developing bombs, booby traps, IEDs
and ambushes. The Sunni fighters and the Shi’ite militias both
rearmed and reorganized, and due to the deepening hostility of
all Muslims they had an inexhaustible supply of recruits.
The explanation most apparent
to many observers in the military services for the many false
claims of victory over the "insurgency" is that the
top generals in Washington and CENTCOM, like their Vietnam era
predecessors, were offering themselves up as media props for
their misguided civilian masters in Washington. No general wants
to be the first to raise his head out of the deepening trench
of difficulties into which the military and the administration
may be digging itself, and cry foul, especially when continuing
to dig is rewarded with promotion. Under the Bush administration,
it has always been easier for generals to move up than it is
for them to speak up.
Lloyd George, Britain’s World
War I prime minister, observed that his commanding generals’
official accounts of events at the front were anything, but accurate.
The reports passed on to ministers
were, as we all realized much later, grossly misleading. Victories
were much overstated. Virtual defeats were represented as victories,
however, limited their scope. Our casualties were understated.
Enemy losses became pyramidal. That was the way the military
authorities presented the situation to ministers that was
their active propaganda in the press. All disconcerting and discouraging
facts were suppressed in the reports received from the front
by the War Cabinet every bright feather of success was
waved and flourished in our faces."
In the case of Lloyd George,
he did notice and he did complain, rather than lead the deception.
Elections in Iraq eventually
provided a diversion of sorts, prompting the Bush administration
to argue that as democracy took hold in Iraq, the insurgency
would weaken because al-Qaida and the opponents of the country’s
government had nothing to offer Iraqis or the people of the Middle
East. The Bush administration’s message lost steam as it became
clear that tribalism, sectarianism and corruption were the real
determining factors in the outcomes of Iraq’s elections. As the
sectarian violence of February 2006 showed with a vengeance,
Iraq is fragmenting into three, distinct states; a fact that
journalists visiting Kurdistan or Basrah could easily recognize.
To Casey and his commanders
in the fall of 2005, it was obvious that American interests in
Iraq could not easily recover from the serious mistakes of the
first 18 months or the unchanging climate of mutual hatred between
Americans and Arabs. But American casualties had to be reduced
or political support at home for the continued occupation would
fail. The decision to keep the majority of American ground forces
inside the large fortified bases established during the last
three years of the occupation became critical. But, in the space
between the bases, conditions were beyond the control of U.S.
forces. And the effort to train indigenous Iraqi police and military
forces, which started in earnest much too late, proceeded far
too slowly. The circle was now complete. The American occupier
always had other interests and concerns, both domestic and foreign,
while the Arab insurgents had only one focus: drive the U.S.
forces out and resist Shi’ite domination.
Nearly three years into the
fight for Iraq, during the fall of 2005, Abizaid’s advice to
Congress to "stay the course" began to fall flat. His
mantra that, "Since Desert Storm in 1991, U.S. forces have
not lost any combat engagement in the region at the platoon-level
or above," was not convincing. It is a fact that American
soldiers and Marines inflicted many more casualties on the Arab
insurgents, but it is the insurgents who control events by virtue
of the fact that they initiated most of the contacts, and their
attacks have not diminished; they have expanded.
Like Lyndon Johnson’s generals
during the Vietnam era, Bush’s generals are politically skilled,
energetic officers whose briefings can be impressive, but their
leadership in war arouses no faith. In modern conflict, trends
outweigh episodes or individual battles in their importance,
and the trends are bad. By the time Gen. George Casey arrived
in Baghdad in November 2004 the Army generals’ fight was not
simply with a resilient opponent in central Iraq. Casey and his
generals were also fighting to prop up not only a failed strategy
but also a blinkered civilian leadership in Washington. It remains
a sad commentary on the generals that they have shown so little
spine in the face of a disastrous occupation and an incompetently
Long periods of peace during
the Cold War cultivated a bureaucratic mindset inside the Department
of Defense, a mentality that is at odds with winning wars that
require creative thinking and aggressive action. The resulting
tendency is to promote those officers to high rank with whom
the four-star generals at the top are comfortable, officers much
like the four-stars themselves. These rising officers exhibit
good bureaucratic skills with an over-riding instinct for personal
self-promotion and they reap the rewards for "going along."
Such officers are only as good as the tactical doctrine they
know, because they have learned not to ask what else might work.
They are obviously not good enough.
Americans should reflect on
the fact that U.S. military performance for over half a century
has not been the mythic success that the generals encourage the
public to believe. America’s war on the Korean Peninsula ended
in a stalemate. America lost in Vietnam. Grenada was an operational
embarrassment in a fight with almost no enemy at all. Panama
can be called a success despite its flaws, but it could not have
been a failure given the weakness of the Panamanian Defense Force.
Military incompetence enabled terrorists to drive U.S. troops
out of both Lebanon and Somalia. The severely deteriorated situations
in Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo are scarcely tributes to the generals’
skills in peace support operations. The 1991 Gulf War was a grossly
exaggerated victory, characterized by very little direct fire
ground combat, against a weak and demoralized enemy. America’s
intervention in Afghanistan and its 2003 invasion of Iraq were
both carried out against far weaker enemies to the point where
there was almost no serious opposition by conventional forces.
What is needed is a selection
system for promotion to flag ranks that tests competence in training
and deployments and that holds officers accountable for their
performance in military educational institutions and certainly
on the battlefield.
Leo Strauss, a leading American
political philosopher and early advocate for neo-conservative
thinking confronted similar challenges at the University of Chicago
from professors who contended that "all points of view are
equal and that anyone who argues for the superiority of a distinctive
moral insight, way of life, or human type is somehow elitist
or antidemocratic- and hence immoral." The university professors
who opposed Strauss, like the generals, were comfortable with
the ambiguity of cronyism and the opportunity to advance individuals
on the basis of loyalty alone, not performance. In the profession
of arms, a profession that involves life and death decisions,
competence, not cronyism, must be king.
In retrospect, appointing Mattis
to assume command of the ground force after the fall of Baghdad
would have helped immeasurably. He was not only aggressive in
combat, but he had also taken the trouble to study the British
and French experience with counter-insurgency and stability operations.
Immediately advancing Mattis to three stars, something Marshall
and Patton would surely have done, would have sent a powerful
signal that professional competence and character under fire
trump all other considerations in wartime. Unfortunately, the
civilians in charge bowed to service parochialism and appointed
an Army general, because Army troops constituted the majority
of the ground force and because the civilians were unfamiliar
with how ground forces should fight and how generals should command
Today, Winston Churchill is
remembered for readiness in wartime to reverse course, to replace
ineffective military commanders, to change tactics, and adopt
new, more promising strategies. He believed that results, not
sentiment, counted most in war.
Frustrated with the miserable
performance of British generals in the opening battles of World
War II, Churchill told Sir John Dill, chief of the Imperial General
Staff, "We cannot afford to confine Army appointments to
persons who have excited no hostile comment in their careers
This is a time to try men of force and vision and not to be exclusively
confined to those who are judged thoroughly safe by conventional
Today, there is no one holding
elected or appointed office on the American political scene like
Churchill and no political "constituency" for excellence
in generalship. There needs to be and it should not be
a party matter – because the consequences of mediocre generalship
Douglas A. Macgregor
SIZE="-1" FACE="Verdana"> is a retired Army Colonel and a decorated
Gulf War combat veteran who has authored four books. His latest
under Fire: Revolutionizing the Way America Fights.
He writes for the Straus Military Reform Project of the Center
for Defense Information in Washington.
Macgregor wrote this article
for the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense
Information in Washington, D.C.