Iraq: Military Self-Critique

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Casey and Petraeus

General Casey handing command of MNF-I to General Petraeus, February 2007 [Department of Defense]

It’s veto week in Washington. After General Petraeus’s recent testimony about the “surge” and after a couple of weeks of awful news about deaths in Iraq, President Bush gets the next move in the political fight over the war spending bill.

We’ve had an ongoing interest in the generals who have fought this war and who are fighting it now. David Petraeus — the current commanding general of the Multi-National Force in Iraq — has impeccable credentials, but no one seems convinced that he’ll succeed, at least not without a much bigger troop escalation than the current “surge.” So now seems like the right time to ask colonels or generals (Iraq veterans and/or recently retired) for an unvarnished critique of the way the war’s been planned and run.

Chris has been jonesing for months to have Col. H. R. McMaster — of Dereliction of Duty fame — on the show. They’ve struck up a friendly intermittent correspondence, but so far McMaster (not too surprisingly, given his current role as part of Gen. Petraeus’s “Baghdad brains trust“) has politely deflected our invitations. He did, however, just refer us to a pointed assessment of US generals in the Armed Forces Journal. It asks how, after all the lessons of Vietnam, the US general officer corps failed to prepare the military for new kinds of war, failed to warn Congress that the Bush administration’s war plan was not feasible, and failed to acknowledge the intensity of the insurgency. We’re following up with the author Lt. Col. Paul Yingling and others.

Who would you want to hear from and what would you want to ask?

Paul Eaton

Major General, U.S. Army (retired)

In charge of building Iraqi army and civil security forces, 2003-2004

Thomas X. Hammes

Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps (retired)

Served in Iraq in 2004 helping to establish bases for the Iraqi army

Author, The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century

John Batiste

Major General, U.S. Army (retired)

Commanded 1st Infantry Division in Iraq, deployed 2003

Advised Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, 2001-2002

Extra Credit Reading

Major General Paul D. Eaton’s testimony before the DPC

David Margolick, The Night of the Generals, Vanity Fair, April, 2007: “From the outside, the six insurgent generals looked suspiciously like a cabal, but there was nothing conspiratorial about them. While a few knew one another, their protests were not coordinated; to this day several have never met. For the most part, they were connected only insofar as one of them emboldened the next, and the next, and the next.”

Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, A failure in generalship, Armed Forces Journal: “America’s generals have repeated the mistakes of Vietnam in Iraq. First, throughout the 1990s our generals failed to envision the conditions of future combat and prepare their forces accordingly. Second, America’s generals failed to estimate correctly both the means and the ways necessary to achieve the aims of policy prior to beginning the war in Iraq. Finally, America’s generals did not provide Congress and the public with an accurate assessment of the conflict in Iraq.”

Major General Paul D. Eaton, General Eaton’s Letter to President Bush on Veto, May 1, 2007: “As someone who served this nation for decades, I have the utmost respect for the office you hold. However, as a man of conscience, I could not sit idly by as you told the American people today that your veto was based on the recommendations of military men. Your administration ignored the advice of our military’s finest minds before, and I see no evidence that you are listening to them now.”

Daniel J. Danelo, Officer Risks Career to Blast “Buffoonery” of Generals, US Cavalry ON Point, April 30, 2007: “But in professional military circles, the article—which begins with a quote about officers amusing themselves with “God knows what buffooneries”—could be the equivalent of a suicide bomb. Yingling’s willingness to take his critique public was a bold move that some say could cross the line of insubordination.”

Jai, There are generals who have resigned, of course, Soldiering on for Wesley Clark, March 7, 2007: “It takes a special kind of courage for a senior military officer to take a stand against the policy of his civilian leaders. Not only might he lose his active duty job, but he frequently risks the loss of long-term friendships as well as potential earning opportunities within the defense contracting and consulting community. Too often with the current vindictive administration, he may even find his reputation shredded.”

Bob Krumm, A failure in general,, April 30, 2007: “While few were probably aware of our enemy’s changes and our vulnerabilities, the Army’s senior leaders, should have numbered themselves among that few. That, after all, was their job. Instead, as both Yingling and I pointed out, the Army spent the nineties preparing for the eighties.”

Iraq: What Went Wrong – Part II,, May 1, 2007: “As LTC Yingling, Deputy Commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiments (”Brave Rifles”), noted in his article on the buffoonery of America’s current crop of General Officers (GO), the one GO in recent memory that served his country well was General Eric Shinseki. It would be hard to imagine a real Soldier not agreeing with LTC Yingling’s assessment.”

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