April 28, 2007

Colonel Yingling’s Blast

Filed under: — Chap @ 1:46 am

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:

  1. 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…

  2. 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.
  3. 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?

  4. 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 — as we know — 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.

  5. 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.

15 Responses to “Colonel Yingling’s Blast”

  1. MilBlogs Says:

    Re[95]: Generalship…

    Yeah, a civilian friend read the paper, and now I just had to post on it. Hawk’s got the importance right–if you think this article is as Important as the papers say it is, you’re being played for a sucker……

  2. Barry Campbell Says:

    Portents? Moi? :-)

    Appreciate the perspective; have linked to this post.

    The key point I was trying to make with my post was (and remains), “Don’t get your opinion of this article from the newspaper” (or the blogosphere) – read it for yourself.

    After reading the article for myself and reading the news coverage of it, I had two reactions:

    (1) This feels like important stuff–I don’t think that any individual statement in the article, taken in isolation, is breathtakingly new, but the synthesis seemed to me to be something I hadn’t read before, and

    (2) Judging from the press coverage, it didn’t seem that I was reading the same article that, say, the AP guys read. News coverage has tended to be soundbitey, as it usually is. (Old joke: If Moses came down from the mountaintop today with the Ten Commandments, the lead would be, “A major Jewish leader received a revelation of ten commandments from God today, the three most important of which are…”)

  3. badbob Says:

    I am sure it sounds “important” to all civilians….but of course, most won’t read ALL the other articles published in the Armed Forces Journal. I can also bet most haven’t read them over the last 30 years like a lot of us in the bidness, either…Sort of like only going to Playboy for the essay, right?

    See what I mean?

    LtCol Yingling has provided a small acorn so all the blind squirrels out there can have dinner on hindsight…

    Well calculated on his part, because, while I can bet he is well situated to make 0-6 (nobody would mess with that), he will be very well situated after 2008 to select for general officer IF his personal gamble is right!

    But if it makes Y’all civvies feel any better, there will be more and more better “stuff” (rhymes with Sh^t) coming out as the 2008 election approaches. Enjoy them. Us military officers, active and retired, will read and analyze them for you if you care to read OUR critiques.


  4. MilBlogs Says:

    Appeal for Even More Re: Generalship…

    Chap asks, “Funnily enough I don’t see anything about information war in the good LTCOL’s article. Where’s the IW/PA/PSYOPS love?” Heh. I suspect that like me, Chap sees it between every line of the subsequent coverage. But perhaps I’m simply……

  5. Skippy-san Says:

    Just because Armed Forces Journal is owned by Military Times company , does not make it biased against the military. They have plenty of articles that are the opposite of this guys-why complain about the ownership of the publication? Besides who is going to stick up for the working Soldier/Sailor if they don’t-that’s the area they excel at in their reporting.

  6. badbob Says:

    Yeah Skippy..sure..

    And that’s why I’m waiting to see an article on you someday in the same periodical. Especially after scanning your recent blog entries…..

    I’m sure it’ll be fair & “balanced”. LOL.


  7. BLACKFIVE Says:

    MilBloggers on The Failure of Generals…

    Grim has a piece up (scroll down one post) about his thoughts on A Failure of Generalship in Armed Forces Journal:…Congressional confirmation procedures are something we’ve seen a lot of over the last several years. Does anyone really believe that…

  8. Casey Says:

    Not a bad analysis, Chapomatic. However, you don’t address the troop level argument. As an old grunt, it’s been in my frontal lobes since before the Iraq war began. There is wisdom in the principles of war, and Mass is irreplaceable. I don’t know what submariners use as an analogy for mass – numbers of boats, perhaps.
    Yingling correctly indicts our lack of mass, a benchmark of Gen. Shinseki’s thesis. I blame congress ,whose job is to muster forces and the service chiefs who failed to require a right-sized force. BTW, force structure was a key element in our WW II strategy-a little more important than electrical circuits on ships.

  9. Skippy-san Says:


    It will always be fair and balanced and well written too, I might add. You could always submit something and see if it gets published if you feel so strongly………..

    Go back and read their archives. You might be very suprised. Even if you don’t agree with every thing they print, they have a sight to print it. If people you do not like use it as source material-well that was why my English professors were paid a decent salary. To teach research and the drawing of conclusions.

  10. Chap Says:

    Casey– Thanks for the kind words. I don’t address the troop level argument for two reasons:
    –Dissussing it in this post would be a rabbit hole that’s been argued to death already at many other milblogs, including this one.
    –It’s a minor aside in LTC Yingling’s article about generalship.
    Oh, and about the electrical circuits and ship repair and design…if your forces travel by ship, which they do, they have to get there alive to be effective. That’s important enough to change a war.

    Skippy–You’re right that an article in any mainstream publication shouldn’t automatically make the article suspect. I do know, however, that there is an overall bias there, which is bad enough that I dropped my subscription–and a link to Gannett which may indicate why this article of all others wound up in the papers.

    I don’t see Navy Times “looking out for the worker” so much as “finding something juicy to liven up the twenty times a year we publish the pay tables”. I’ve seen them work up close and personal, and it’s not always pretty. They don’t hire ex-military to report–or at least the reporters I met were all completely without military experience and knew only as much as they learned on that job. They also hire military to write in the back…and the few I personally know (or know “of”, like the excellent columns of Rob Schumacher that I don’t always agree with) all hew to one side of the aisle. Yeah, they’re about the biggest voice there is when there’s a good scandal (like the Iowa explosion coverup), but that’s buried under uninformed waves of stuff about COs of collided ships or medal “controversies” or so forth.

  11. badbob Says:


    I wasn’t talking about a professional article BY you, I was more thinking of a news article ABOUT you..One of the kind Navy Times is famous for. Especially in light of your recent self-actualizing posts….

    You sound like a broken bottle of whine.

    BTW, I read Lt. Col. Yingling’s piece with interest and some agreement, although I can smell a political play all the way, for the reason I pointed out above.

    We are gonna see more of this, much more.


  12. Chapomatic » More On Yingling Says:

    […] think my previous comments are still valid in light of what I’ve read the last couple of days. The commentary is still […]

  13. Skippy-san Says:

    There is nothing to write about me that has not already been written. What the hell is self- actualizing anyway?

  14. Mudville Gazette Says:

    Appeal for More Hype…

    Chap asks, “Funnily enough I don’t see anything about information war in the good LTCOL’s article. Where’s the IW/PA/PSYOPS love?” Heh. I suspect that like me, Chap sees it between every line of the subsequent coverage. But perhaps I’m simply tra…

  15. Chapomatic » Colonel Yingling’s Next Blast Says:

    […] was a national-level dustup over an article written by LTC Paul Yingling. I gave my opinion in a long roundup and post; there were several posts following up on the discussion (here’s the search […]

Trackback URL for Colonel Yingling’s Blast:


Powered by WordPress (c) 2002-2009 Chap G.