The Men Who Would Not Be King
June 3, 2003
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ON WAR # 19:
The Men Who Would Not Be King
Normally, the position of Chief of Staff of the Army is the ultimate brass ring an Army officer can hope to grab. There is no higher Army job, and merely holding it guarantees a man at least a small place in the history books -- though not necessarily a favorable one. In fact, the last Army Chief of Staff to merit Clio's praise was General "Shy" Meyer, who held the post twenty years ago. Since he left, the Army has been stuck in a Brezhnevite "era of stagnation."
It is therefore surprising that at present, no one seems willing to take the job, nor the position of Vice Chief. Both current incumbents leave this summer, and instead of the usual line of hopefuls standing hat in hand, the eligibles have headed for the hills. Rumor has it they may have to recruit the hall porter and the charwoman.
The interesting question is why. Part of the answer is Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld. To put it plainly, Rumsfeld treats people like crap. Working for him is like working for Leona Helmsley, except that Leona is less self-centered. Unless you are one of his sycophants, equipped with a good set of knee-pads and plenty of lip balm, you can expect to be booted down the stairs on a regular basis.
Truth be told, some senior officers deserve to be treated that way, because that is how they always treated their subordinates. But Rummy does not discriminate between perfumed princes and the real thinkers and leaders. He has driven more than one of the latter to hang up his hat in disgust, to his service's and the nation's loss.
But that is not the whole story. Part of the reason no one wants the Army's top job are two fundamental contradictions in the Administration's policy toward the Army. Unless they are resolved, any Army Chief of Staff will find himself in a difficult position.
The first contradiction is that the Administration puts the Army last in line among the services at the same time that it is getting us into wars only the Army can fight. We are already fighting one Fourth Generation war in Afghanistan, we are becoming enmired up to our necks in another Fourth Generation war in Iraq, and we are sticking our noses into still more in the Philippines, maybe Indonesia, and possibly Iran.
Only the Army can fight Fourth Generation war, to the degree anyone can (and no one really knows how). The Navy is irrelevant, the Air Force almost irrelevant, and the Marines want to get in and get out, fast, while Fourth Generation war plays itself out with agonizing slowness. Volens nolens, the Army is left holding the bag.
Logically, that should make the Army the Administration's focus, its Schwerpunkt. Instead, OSD is in love with the Air Force, to the point where it wants to make the Army into a second Air Force, waging the high-tech, video-game warfare that exists only in the minds of children and Pentagon planners.
That leads to the second contradiction. The Army needs and has long needed genuine military reform. Reform means such basic changes as adopting Third Generation, maneuver warfare doctrine and the culture of decentralization and initiative that goes with it; instituting a radically different personnel system that creates cohesive units, eliminates the bloat in the officer corps above the company grades and suppresses rather than mandates careerism; making free play training the norm rather than a rare exception; and getting rid of dual standards for men and women.
Secretary Rumsfeld also preaches reform, but what he means by reform is just more of the high-tech illusion. Again, the Air Force is the model: the more a system costs and the more complex it is, the better it must be. The result is absurdities such as the Stryker, where Light Armored Vehicles, which are wonderful for operational maneuver, are instead to be used for urban combat where they will be instant coffins for their crews, and the Future Combat System, a conglomeration of robots, tanks, drones and kitchen sinks that surpasses anything envisioned by Rube Goldberg. Meanwhile, the real reforms so badly needed go unaddressed.
In the face of all this, becoming Chief of Staff of the Army is somewhat less enticing than becoming mayor of Baghdad. But at the same time, it leaves the troops desperately in need of not just a Chief of Staff, but of a highly talented and morally courageous Chief of Staff, someone who can defend his men against the follies emanating from the civilian side of the Pentagon. Those who know him believe the current Vice Chief, General John M. "Jack" Keane, is such a man. Some think he could be the Army's Al Gray, the reforming Commandant of the Marine Corps of the early 1990s who left an enduring and powerful legacy. So far, General Keane is refusing the job, on the legitimate grounds of his wife's health problems. Many are praying he will reconsider. If the job goes instead to one of Rummy's lickspittles, God help our soldiers.
William S. Lind is Director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation.
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