Friday, April 27, 2007

Taking the Generals to task

George Bush keeps yammering on about how he won’t accept a bill from Congress that “ties the hands of our Generals.”

I’m not so sure that would be such a bad idea. (For the record, I have never thought it would necessarily be a bad idea to rein in the current crop, familiar as I am with some of their past work.)

A sea-change among the officer corps is signaled today with the publication of A Failure of Generalship by Lt. Col. Paul Yingling in the May issue of Armed Forces Journal.

Yingling doesn’t beat around the bush – he makes his charges early – then he lays them out.

America's generals have failed to prepare our armed forces for war and advise civilian authorities on the application of force to achieve the aims of policy. The argument that follows consists of three elements. First, generals have a responsibility to society to provide policymakers with a correct estimate of strategic probabilities. Second, America's generals in Vietnam and Iraq failed to perform this responsibility. Third, remedying the crisis in American generalship requires the intervention of Congress.

What Lt. Col. Yingling gives voice to is a largely discontented command-level officer corps. Captains, Majors, and Lt. Colonels are unhappy. This is reflected in the fact that they are resigning commissions at a rate unseen since Vietnam – and entirely unprecedented in an all-volunteer military. "Talk to the junior leaders in the services and ask what they think of their senior leadership, and many will tell you how unhappy they are" asserts retired Marine Col. Jerry Durrant, now working as a contractor in Iraq.

Younger officers have been privately voicing their discontent with the conduct of this war by a feckless president and a general officer corps that has been all-too willing to enable his folly. In so doing, they have betrayed the men and women who are subservient to them in the ranks, the men and women, who must, by UCMJ statute, follow their every order so long as it be legal. (Moral and legal are not synonymous.)

Some younger officers have stated privately that more generals should have been taken to task for their handling of the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison, news of which broke in 2004. The young officers also note that the Army's elaborate "lessons learned" process does not criticize generals and that no generals in Iraq have been replaced for poor battlefield performance, a contrast to other U.S. wars.

Top Army officials are also worried by the number of captains and majors choosing to leave the service. "We do have attrition in those grade slots above our average," acting Army Secretary Pete Geren noted in congressional testimony this week. In order to curtail the number of captains leaving, he said, the Army is planning a $20,000 bonus for those who agree to stay in, plus choices of where to be posted and other incentives.

And still they resign. In droves. It is to the point that the Army is short 3500 officers and the Army Reserves has 11,000 unfilled billets in the Lieutenant and Captain ranks alone.

Lt. Colonel Yingling (I say bypass the bird and slap stars on his shoulders today – and yes I know that’s not how things are done – I’m just sayin’…) beseeches Congress to review the performance of flag-rank officers as they retire and to exercise its power to retire them at a lower rank if their performance is deemed inferior. The threat of such high-profile demotions would restore accountability among top officers, he contends. "As matters stand now, a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war”

[Cross-posted to Watching Those We Chose]

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