Whither the Military? Maybe We Can Have A Real Debate
Posted by Heather Hurlburt
I'm encouraged to see that the debate over what kind of military we need, and why it hasn't been able to get the job done in Iraq, is moving steadily out of the defense-wonk universe (even though some of my best friends are defense wonks) into the broader media and national security universe.
Today the Wall Street Journal picks back up on Lt. Colonel Paul Yingling's A Failure in Generalship article, which Lorelei and I pointed to back in April, to introduce a broader discussion of the now-trendy-to-mention-in-conversation "generational split" in the military.
Here's the key point:
In his controversial essay, Col. Yingling pinned much of the Army's failings in Iraq on generals who he says didn't prepare for guerrilla fights in the decade prior to the war, and then didn't adjust as quickly as front-line troops. Young officers had to adapt to survive, he wrote. The generals, products of a system that encouraged conformity and discouraged risk takers, were often a step behind the enemy, he said. "It is unreasonable to expect that an officer who spends 25 years conforming to institutional expectations will emerge as an innovator," he wrote. The solution, he said, is to change the way the Army selects and promotes generals, taking into account reviews by subordinates.
At Fort Hood, Maj. Gen. Jeff Hammond, the top general at the sprawling base, summoned all of the captains to hear his response to Col. Yingling's critique. About 200 officers in their mid- to late-20s, most of them Iraq veterans, filled the pews and lined the walls of the base chapel. "I believe in our generals. They are dedicated, selfless servants," Gen. Hammond recalls saying. The 51-year-old officer told the young captains that Col. Yingling wasn't competent to judge generals because he had never been one. "He has never worn the shoes of a general," Gen. Hammond recalls saying.
The captains' reactions highlighted the growing gap between some junior officers and the generals. "If we are not qualified to judge, who is?" says one Iraq veteran who was at the meeting. Another officer in attendance says that he and his colleagues didn't want to hear a defense of the Army's senior officers. "We want someone at higher levels to take accountability for what went wrong in Iraq," he says.
This and related debates are influencing the discussion of what the future of the military should look like. On the continuation, I'm going to recommend two papers and a new think tank for people who really like this issue. But for everyone else, an encouraging thing here is how much emphasis you see defense intellectuals paying to the non-military aspects of security and counter-terrorism.