The Core Competence of America’s Military Leaders
By Fabius Maximus
May 22, 2007
Why haven't we lost in Iraq, yet?
There are two obvious reasons (there are other explanations, especially if you believe in "hidden histories"):
1. The Sunni Arab insurgents are dumb as rocks.
Despite their skill at making and using IED's, their strategy reveals them to be both ignorant and stupid. They would win in six months if General Petraeus’ team switched sides. Or they could take the fast-track to success by reading about modern warfare, even if they relied only on authors whose name began with “M.” We would be in serious trouble if their leaders took some time off to read Mao Tse-Tung’s Basic Tactics and Martin van Creveld’s new book, The Changing Face of War.
As one of many possible overlooked routes to victory, they could wage an effective propaganda campaign around the world to highlight America's killing of Iraq’s civilians. Doing so could be decisive, unlike their moronic use of suicide bombers to kill their Shia neighbors. (The truth and justice of the claim is irrelevant to the effectiveness as propaganda.)
This also demonstrates the folly of war by decentralized networks of fighters. Without competent leaders at the peak of a hierarchy to plan and direct its efforts, groups have an ability to set and achieve goals similar to that of gravel. A network’s collective intelligence increases with the size of the group just as it does with a colony of cherrystone clams.
2. The Sunni Arab insurgents are poor as church mice.
In four years of intense fighting they have not been able obtain any substantial anti-air capability. This shows limited ability to beg, borrow, or steal funds – and also proves that they receive little aid from their brothers in neighboring states, despite claims of the Bush Administration.
A serious anti-air capability might not prove decisive against the US, but would have improved their terms of engagement. US forces would either continue as is with greatly increased casualties, or adopt far less aggressive tactics.
What about those wily, tenacious, innovative insurgents?
After four years of fighting, an American-led coalition has so far avoided defeat by an unorganized, poor ethnic minority in a small state, which receives no significant outside aid.
Therefore our opponents must be very competent, which the evidence suggests is unlikely.
Our top military leaders must be incompetent.
The Core Competency of our senior military leaders
The upper echelon of the US military establishment excels at producing industrial grade excuses and shifting blame. Excuses of mass destruction (EMD), they divert pressure that might otherwise lead to reform. Here the late Col. Hackworth was, as in so many things, prophetic.
As a result, we have military leaders that cannot fight and win the most common wars of our era. Despite spending vast sums, many times that of our foes, our post-WWII military performance has ranged from poor to horrible. While analysis and proof of this phenomenon is beyond the scope of this paper, these recent – small but telling – vignettes illustrate the nature of our problem.
#1 – A pity party for our senior generals.
Skilled propaganda, with the aid of the American left, has convinced many Americans of the following script for the Iraq War.
How sad that our highest ranking generals had to endure such treatment! Poor little puppies! Who could expect the Pentagon’s senior generals to stand tall against such threats to …their careers.
#2 – The American Way of War
The events surrounding the fall of Iraq’s capital are difficult to imagine, even after four years have passed. US forces again proved invincible on the field of battle. They rolled up to Baghdad, occupied it and waited for orders. Then the capitol fell into disorder, with looting and burning of key infrastructure.
Apparently the Pentagon’s senior generals – the best-educated generals ever to lead an Army – failed to prepare for one of history’s most common scenarios. As a result they read reports from their field commanders and watched as victory tipped over to what might become a crushing defeat. Perhaps for the next war our top generals’ briefing books should include DVD’s of War and Peace and Gone with the Wind. Watching the burning of Moscow and Atlanta might remind them to plan for this contingency.
It’s not yet clear why and how this occurred, except in one respect. Our military is a full member of 21st Century American society – no separate military culture here – and its top leaders produce excuses suitable for a Superpower, featuring the new American mantra: “It’s not our fault.” An expert at RAND said it well:
RAND’s sponsors likely appreciated the diplomatic phrasing “while it can be argued”. Much nicer than suggesting that our generals should have foreseen the scenario that has dominated post-WW-II wars, guerrilla warfare against foreign occupiers.
Additional evidence for their incompetence is the failure to adequately scale up the military’s health care system as the war continued. This is clearly a failure that goes to the highest levels of the military.
Some critics believe the above are examples not of our senior generals’ incompetence, but of obedience to their civilian superiors’ orders about the conduct of the war. That is, these critics accuse them of moral cowardice – putting their careers above the attainment of victory, with the lives of our troops squandered due to errors of omission and execution. Such issues are beyond the scope of this article. For more on this see the following:
In the American political system the military services have a high degree of autonomy and respect. This puts substantial responsibility on our generals and admirals, who in return receive considerable rewards in both prestige and income (both pre- and post-retirement).Nor is America’s civilian leadership at present set up for detailed supervision of the military. If our top generals are unable to lead the military – that is, execute core functions like planning wars and providing medical care – then we must consider alternatives.
Changing senior people is often a necessary first step to policy reform, and the easiest.
Of course, these are not mutually exclusive courses of action. A President could do all three, forcing retirement of her senior military leadership and replacing them with loyal lackeys. That would be change, although not necessarily “reform.” If the problem lies in the structure and organization of our military, then more radical measures might be required.
America’s good fortune is about to change for the worse.
Only good luck has prevented our defeat by a poor and stupidly led minority group in a small state. Yet. This is discouraging and ominous. We might not be so lucky in the future. Here are a few of the many easily-imaginable changes that could tilt the strategic balance.
These developments would limit our ability to project power over the globe. The first might be decisive. Owning the moral high ground has provided a crucial advantage in many wars. It weakened the UK's willingness to fight during the American Revolution, and was a key factor limiting their aid to the Confederacy during the Civil war. It gained America's support for the Allies in WWI, and destroyed the American people's support for the Vietnam War.
Are the things reported here good or bad? Please consult a priest or philosopher for answers to such questions. This author only discusses what was, what is, and what might be.
Please send your comments and corrections on this article to
Qualifications of the Author?
Read the past articles by Fabius Maximus. A work of intellectual analysis stands on its own logic, supported by the author’s track record.
Contact him at .