2007 April 29 Sunday
US Officer Criticizes Generals Over Iraq

A US Army Lieutenant Colonel fighting in Iraq says the US officer corps have badly failed the American people.

An active-duty Army officer is publishing a blistering attack on U.S. generals, saying they have botched the war in Iraq and misled Congress about the situation there.

"America's generals have repeated the mistakes of Vietnam in Iraq," charges Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, an Iraq veteran who is deputy commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. "The intellectual and moral failures . . . constitute a crisis in American generals."

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.

I am confident of the ability of neoconservatives to spin Lt. Col. Yingling's claims as signs of defeatism and leftist sympathies. Yes, the Lt. Col. is unpatriotic unlike George W. Bush, Richard Perle, Doug Feith, and Paul (giving one's girlfriend a raise is a right and honorable thing) Wolfowitz. Never mind that the neocons should be ashamed of themselves for the Iraq Debacle. They seemingly have an incapacity to feel shame.

The Armed Forces Journal has Yingling's article A failure in generaliship online:

For the second time in a generation, the United States faces the prospect of defeat at the hands of an insurgency. In April 1975, the U.S. fled the Republic of Vietnam, abandoning our allies to their fate at the hands of North Vietnamese communists. In 2007, Iraq's grave and deteriorating condition offers diminishing hope for an American victory and portends risk of an even wider and more destructive regional war.

These debacles are not attributable to individual failures, but rather to a crisis in an entire institution: America's general officer corps. 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.

Yes, the estimates of strategic probabilities have been ridiculous. Did the generals who made excessively optimistic statements about the war's progress believe those statements? Or were they just stating what their elected politician commander in chief wanted them to say?

Yingling says that generals must have the moral courage to state their beliefs.

Failing to visualize future battlefields represents a lapse in professional competence, but seeing those fields clearly and saying nothing is an even more serious lapse in professional character. Moral courage is often inversely proportional to popularity and this observation in nowhere more true than in the profession of arms. The history of military innovation is littered with the truncated careers of reformers who saw gathering threats clearly and advocated change boldly. A military professional must possess both the physical courage to face the hazards of battle and the moral courage to withstand the barbs of public scorn. On and off the battlefield, courage is the first characteristic of generalship.

Yingling thinks the US generals refused to fully embrace the necessity to use unconventional warfare in Vietnam.

Having participated in the deception of the American people during the war, the Army chose after the war to deceive itself. In "Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife," John Nagl argued that instead of learning from defeat, the Army after Vietnam focused its energies on the kind of wars it knew how to win high-technology conventional wars. An essential contribution to this strategy of denial was the publication of "On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War," by Col. Harry Summers. Summers, a faculty member of the U.S. Army War College, argued that the Army had erred by not focusing enough on conventional warfare in Vietnam, a lesson the Army was happy to hear. Despite having been recently defeated by an insurgency, the Army slashed training and resources devoted to counterinsurgency.

I got the same impression of the US officer corps in Vietnam when reading David Hackworth's About Face and Stuart Harrington's Silence Was A Weapon. Now the US officer corps has failed again and the civilian leadership above them has failed again as well.

Yingling says the failure to send the needed troops to Iraq was a moral failure rather than a failure due to lack of knowledge.

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.

When Shinseki gave Congress a realistic assessment of troop needs for an Iraq occupation he got slapped down by Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz. The officer corps got the message. They shut up and we went to war based on unrealistic assumptions. Lots of war hawk bloggers then spent years cheering on the statements of Administration officials and generals who were all just following orders and stating the Panglossian party line.

We can't trust what the US military says about the intensity of the conflict.

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."

Of course the Bush Administration can't now admit the truth about Iraq because to do so would require admission of the magnitude of past mistakes and deceptions.

As for the failure of the generals: Is it realistic to expect anything better from them? They want to get promoted. So they are going to cater to the whims of their superior officers and civilian bosses. The ones that rise the farthest are going to tend to be more willing to kiss ass. Junior officers are probably tend to have more accurate assessments of wars. The problem is that the American people can't judge the claims of politicians without hearing the real beliefs the officers. We need some better mechanism by which the truth is more likely to get revealed.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2007 April 29 09:48 PM  MidEast Iraq Military Needs


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