I had intended to let this one alone, as there are lots of lieutenant colonels with opinions out there, and the Armed Forces Journal publishes some of them. But since we’ve got an Enrevanche post on it with all sorts of Important Portents, I figured I should weigh in.
Which I will, sort of.
Bottom line: I yield to the author’s rank, his time in the sandbox, and his professed erudition. As a person who knows of officers with an advanced degree in the humanities, experience in pol-mil, thinking about future wars and reform and change in the military, and rumors of language skills, I know who might be in his target group for Being Anointed In The New System. But his prescriptives? Not so much.
So here is the article in question. LTC Yingling’s gotten some A-grade press (who ever notices a new AFJ article at the WaPo AND the NYT?) for complaining that generalship is to blame for where we are in Iraq. LTC Yingling makes recommendations that don’t sound much as though they relate to the problem he describes.
The cliché that leaders in war are not leaders in peacetime has truth in it; somewhat different skills are needed for each, and the submarine force’s prime example is the first series of patrols after Pearl Harbor, when commanders locked themselves in their staterooms, or melted down in other ways, or otherwise failed to perform. Some of the replacements I would note were the very same guys who were passed over because they were fat, or somehow unsavory in polite company.
However, the remedies I see in LTC Yingling’s piece for improving the generals don’t make sense–unless the remedy is “promote people who do what I like to do”. My grandfather, I learned this weekend, fought the Battle of the Bulge while hating Patton’s guts. Would a 360 degree evaluation of Patton be the right answer? How many Civil War generals were not the type who went in for professional writing, and what did that have to do with how they dealt with a new type of warfare? Somehow we managed to get through a couple of dustups without having Congress demote officers at retirement for whatever–and the ones who get fired (I can think of two right now) have a nasty tendency to run for Congress or President anyway, which would prove entertaining for anyone thinking Congress is going to demote officers with long memories upon those officers’ retirements. LTC Yingling goes way beyond anything I’ve seen from lead advocate Congressman Ike Skelton in his advancement requirements for professional education–and I’m not so sure going past Skelton’s exactly going to, you know, happen. In any case I’ll see your humanities degree and raise you a Rickover–we need all kinds to fight a war. (And we needed Rickover for WWII–everything from getting sunk battleships on line to making electrical systems work under fire.)
The recommendations I see sound as though they might well be good if the one war you’re fighting is this phase of anti-takfiri ops. To that end, there’s a reason we’ve had guys that fit LTC Yingling’s profile running parts of the war…but that skill set didn’t help GEN Abizaid out much, did it?
Here’s what I respectfully submit is the core of my objection to the entirety of LTC Yingling’s article: Wars are against thinking enemies. Those enemies adapt and change. Wars are, among other things, a contest to see who can learn and adapt faster than the other guy. We got a strategic surprise when the war shifted to an insurgency, and it took almost so long to learn it was happening that public opinion shifted to dangerous levels (particularly since will to fight is a key center of gravity being attacked and WHY ISN’T INFORMATION WARFARE IN THE ARTICLE?).
War is also a series of catastrophes leading to victory. People forget that perfection in war cannot be attained.
A roundup of some other commentary:
- Neptunus Lex (worth reading in its entirety–and he’s on fire this week) contextualizes the article.
To this [failures attributed to leadership] he attributes a combination of careerism – always a threat to a peacetime force – and the tendency of senior officers to groom subordinates for advancement who are “just like them.” The remedies for what he sees as this tendency towards monochromatic conformity in the upper ranks – where innovation and audacity might better serve – are 360-degree personnel evaluations combined with Congressional oversight of the 3 and 4-star selection process. That oversight should, in LTC Yingling’s view, demonstrate a favorable bias towards advanced degrees in the humanities and fluency in a foreign language. Like LTC Yingling has.
As a naval officer I speak under the risk of correction here, but it seems to me that the colonel is being a trifle hard on those who went before him, and who have faced complexities which are not always apparent to those operating at the tactical level. The “conventional” phases of OIF went brilliantly…
- This is followed up by one heck of a successful putting together of puzzle pieces by Greyhawk at MilBlogs. Seriously, if you want to understand why this article is Important in the news today, which has nothing at all to do with the article’s actual importance, go read this. If you’re coming to this article late thinking it means more than next month’s Proceedings articles, you’ve been played for a sucker. It’s an information war.
- Gregory McNeal at the Tank:
No doubt LTC Yingling has a great record of experience and knowledge to share; I’m not disputing that. What I am disputing is the logic of the AP. Following their reasoning, if I go on to find one LTC who is publicly supporting the conduct of the Iraq war it would similarly suggest that support is widespread? Or does their logic and such a “suggestion” only work in the negative?
- Thomas Smith responds, also at the Tank:
In fact, I think it is important to note that the officer criticizing American generalship is doing so in the Armed Forces Journal, which (according to the AP story) is published by Army Times Publishing Company, which publishes all the Military Times newspapers. And Army Times â€” as we know â€” is an independent publishing company that has frequently taken shots at the U.S. involvement in Iraq. Several NRO readers have even told me they have stopped reading Military Times publications because of what they see as the Times’ clear anti-Iraq war agenda.
For the record, I subscribe to Marine Corps Times because I do enjoy some of the really good straight news reporting of military/defense issues–training, deployments, unit stuff, that kind of thing. And I have written for them in the past. Doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes find myself wanting to roll the paper up and pitch it across the room.
I would also like to add, that for every disgruntled lieutenant colonel, I–and probably any one of us here–could produce five LTC’s who say otherwise.
I’ve found AFP to be less partisan than the Army/Navy/Federal/etc. Times is on occasion, but the point’s well taken. It’s a freebie mag, making money from the contractor ads. I’ve found some good articles in there, occasionally.
- Allah at Hot Air kinda likes it. His commenters kinda don’t. I think they might want to look at the above links.
Okay, enough prattling. Time to check Milblogs again and see if they beat me to it again as usual…
Update: Oh, yes, they’re on top of things already. Astroturf gets a shoutout in the papers, too.
Update: Soldier’s Dad adds some good links (including Max Boot’s thoughts), and GI Korea has similar thoughts. Like GIK, I would be interested in seeing what a few of the initiatives might do, but don’t think the recommendations relate to the stated problem. The Yingling article in itself isn’t as bad as the media’s use of it as a springboard. I’d like to know how much shilling Armed Forces Journal or LTC Yingling did of the article.
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