William Arkin’s Early Warning blog in the Washington Post is a highly respected read on military affairs. I know this because my brilliant son, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and former Navy lieutenant, with two late-’90’s tours in the Arabian Gulf, is always forwarding his insightful stories. Here’s Arkin on the same subject as our earlier post (mm065), Thursday’s Bush press conference.
William M. Arkin on National and Homeland Security
Listening to the Generals?
At his press conference yesterday, President Bush urged Congress and the American people to let the military leadership determine the “conditions on the ground” in Iraq and the possibilities for success. He urged support and respect for the “command structure.”
I noticed, however, that none of the president’s statutory military advisers was mentioned by name or position. Some Bush critics and war opponents may conclude that the president is avoiding widespread dissent in the Pentagon by creating his own command structure and stacking it with yes men and weak leaders. I read it exactly the opposite: The brass is avoiding the president and the war in Iraq — and doing so in the passive-aggressive way that has come to characterize our current civilian-military relations.
The generals have spoken. They think the war is lost. I’m not referring to the numbskulls who waited till they retired to join the political fray. I’m referring to the military leadership that is left waiting for this administration and this war to pass into history.
Here’s the lineup of military commanders and “military thinkers and planners” that the president is listening to: Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander in Iraq. Yesterday in his press conference, Bush mentioned him more than 10 times.
Yes, Bush mentioned the Joint Chiefs a few times in some vague way as people he consults with. But Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the president’s principle military adviser by law? No mention, even by position. Adm. William Fallon, the commander of U.S. Central Command, the president’s combatant commander for the region by law and the next in the chain of command above Petraeus? No mention.
The president said he was sending Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the region in August to reassure allies and discuss the long-term strategic thrust of the United States. Does he know he has a Middle East military commander?
The president said he would bring the Joint Chiefs in to “discuss” the recommendations of Gen. Petraeus. When it comes to the decision-making circle, though, the Joint Chiefs are merely props.
The president said as much in answering a question about whether he had listened to the commanders in the first place regarding the number of troops that were needed. He said he asked Gen. Tommy Franks, whom he says was “obviously in charge” whether he had “what it takes to succeed.” Franks said yes, the president said. Then the president said he met with the Joint Chiefs and got on a video-teleconference with the other commanders on the ground and asked each whether they had what it takes, whether they were “satisfied with the strategy.” And their answer, the president said, was, yes.
I know something of this session. I’ve talked to two of the flag officers involved, and both give the same description of events: It was a multi-star photo-op. The commander-in-chief, at the eleventh hour, gathered his commanders for a pep session, script in hand, and everyone performed as planned. Even then, in March 2003, there were dissenters and skeptics as to whether there were enough troops and whether the “peace” had been adequately planned for. There were even some general officers who thought the war was a mistake.
What we’ve learned since then about the military is that the command structure itself is broken. Adm. Fallon is in Tommy Franks’ position today. The president seems uninterested in his opinion on Iraq. He has, in fact, created a four-star slot and removed the combatant commander from running the war on a day-to-day basis — an insurance policy just in case another Tommy Franks comes along (and by that I mean someone whom everyone agrees is in over his head).
Gen. Peter Pace, then vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, was in that meeting in March 2003. That’s why he’s being ignored now. The chairman then, Gen. Dick Myers, turned out to be an affable yes man, steamrolled by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. By the time Gates took over, Pace was himself half-flattened; the administration wasted no time finding someone to replace him.
At the same time, the administration seems uninterested in what a fresh voice might say. Adm. Michael Mullins has already been appointed to take office when Pace retires in September. Does the president care for his counsel? Evidently not enough to either mention him, bring him into the decision-making circle, or accelerate his appointment.
I’m all for listening to the generals. Congress should be as well. Maybe, though, we need to shore up the command structure and educate the president regarding how to receive genuine military advice.
By William M. Arkin | July 13, 2007; 7:58 AM ET
Why should an executive with less than zero experience in the field (except for the avoiding the his actual service requirements part) listen to his military leadership?
I can’t ask how we let this happen to a competent and mighty organization, because many of you, and the Supreme Court, put the decider and his hatchet man Rumsfeld in the position to work their destructive (unfortunately, not against an enemy — Pogo, you’re back!) magic.
Congress: it’s in your hands — we gave you the mandate last year. First, Cheney, then…
It’s it for now. Thanks,