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General Failure
Posted by: mcq on Friday, April 27, 2007

Apparently there'll be an article published today in the Armed Forces Journal by LTC Paul Yingling which criticizes the past top military leadership in Iraq:
Many majors and lieutenant colonels have privately expressed anger and frustration with the performance of Gen. Tommy R. Franks, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno and other top commanders in the war, calling them slow to grasp the realities of the war and overly optimistic in their assessments.

Some younger officers have stated privately that more generals should have been taken to task for their handling of the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison, news of which broke in 2004. The young officers also note that the Army's elaborate "lessons learned" process does not criticize generals and that no generals in Iraq have been replaced for poor battlefield performance, a contrast to other U.S. wars.
The first paragraph deals with problems which we've discussed before here at QandO. There is little doubt that the post-conflict plan for Iraq was very poor and it took quite a while for both military and civilian leadership to grasp that fact and act. For whatever reason they continued to think the growing insurgency would quickly burn itself out, so they took none of the steps necessary to ensure its swift demise. We believed our own PR (they'll hail us as liberators) and we ignored and didn't plan for the sectarian problems endemic in the culture. And even when they became evident, we continued to ignore them to the extent that they became broad and, to a point, self-sustaining.

The second paragraph is also important because it is demoralizing to junior officers to see senior officers escape responsibility when their culture says, and, at least at lower levels, enforces the belief that a commander is responsible for everything which happens or doesn't happen in his command. The responsibility of command weighs heavy until, it seems, stars are involved. Then, for some reason, with very few exceptions, it seems to settle on the actions of lower ranking officers. That's the gripe. And given some of the problems we've seen exposed, I've been rather surprised at how few general officers have been held accountable. Obviously the intent isn't to see how many generals we can relieve, but it should be our intent to hold them as responsible for failures of command as we do our more junior commanders.

The feeling they escape this sort of responsibility is further reinforced by the point about "Lessons Learned". That mechanism is an invaluable means of transmitting what works and doesn't work to leaders in the field. But it must be a top to bottom examination, which means leadership decisions at all levels in the military must undergo scrutiny. If lessons learned only concentrate at a certain level, decisions at higher levels which lead to failures aren't included, and obviously, those sorts of lessons aren't learned.
Retired Marine Col. Jerry Durrant, now working in Iraq as a civilian contractor, agrees that discontent is widespread. "Talk to the junior leaders in the services and ask what they think of their senior leadership, and many will tell you how unhappy they are," he said.

Yingling advocates overhauling the way generals are picked and calls for more involvement by Congress. To replace today's "mild-mannered team players," he writes, Congress should create incentives in the promotion system to "reward adaptation and intellectual achievement."
This goes back to my article about "Improving the Army's Officer Corps". In it I quoted something by Stuart Koehl which reflects the systemic problem LTC Yingling is talking about:
In peacetime, the Army tends to promote not on merit but on a combination of "rounded career profile" and "zero defects". The result is a lot of mediocrity promoted beyond its competence, which is why, at the beginning of every war, the Army has to clean house and relieve incompetent, timid or just plain unlucky commanders. In wartime, only effectiveness counts, so the guys who climb the pole are the ones who can produce—whether in combat or in supporting roles. The ironic thing is these officers frequently are the ones passed over in peacetime, since their particular skill sets are not valued when bullets aren't flying.
This is and has been a problem for as long as I can remember. And while, in the past, we've been lucky enough in time of war to see the proper commanders eventually come forward, we shouldn't have to wait for them to "emerge". We should have identified them at various levels well before we ever have to go to war. And that requires a complete change of how we develop and rate officers. As I said then:
Although I'm a great admirer of my fellow officers in the Army, there is certainly room for improving the system to where the "functional retards", as Kagen characterizes them, are left behind and those deserving promotion because they have the 'skill sets' we'll need in combat, get to the fore.

That means much less emphasis on 'check marks' and much more emphasis on putting officers in assignments and situations where those possessing the combat skill sets we need in time of war are identified, groomed and promoted in a timely manner. That would go a long way toward improving what I consider to be a very good institution now.
As I see it, that system is the reason the problem Yingling is complaining about exists 4 years into this war (in an intense war of this duration, most of those would most likely have been addressed by now). It is extremely important that not only the problems he complains about be considered but that the system which enables them be given a long, hard look and changed to identify, groom and reward those with the combat and leadership skill sets we need during war while we are at peace.

And for those of you who remember me taking the retired generals to task for waiting to retire before criticizing, this young LTC is playing "you bet your career" with his article. He doesn't name names, which is proper, but he certainly has put his future on the line anyway. Right or wrong, that certainly takes moral courage and I tip my cap to him. I hope to examine the article in more detail when it becomes available and possibly follow up with additional thoughts.

UPDATE: Yingling's article.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Well, the warfighter skill set would be based off the last conflict. You normally figure out what you really need for the current conflict when you’re fighting it.

Written By: Mark A. Flacy
URL: http://
Well, the warfighter skill set would be based off the last conflict.
I’m not sure I agree. I think the warfighter skill set is more generic in terms of leadership, tactical skill, adaptability and innovation. The differentiation I’m making is between the "manager" general who seems to rise during the peace and the "leader" general who seem to only be allowed to the fore in times of war.
Written By: McQ
The article is available here. My take on it is here.
Written By: D.A. Ridgely
As a COIN/LIC this allows Generals an out...Wavell and Percival OBVIOUSLY failed in Malaysia in 1941, Ritchie obviously failed in the Summer of 1942 in the desert and Fredenhall failed at the Kasserine. Where did the US so OBVIOUSLY fail in Iraq?

This isn’t a post about whether we did or have failed, just trying to point out in the slow-motion war in Iraq, it’s harder to blame generals, because there are no big battles to be won or lost.

And of course the Lessons Learned will be focused on a level below generals, Lessons Learned are made BY generals.
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
The differentiation I’m making is between the "manager" general who seems to rise during the peace and the "leader" general who seem to only be allowed to the fore in times of war.
Fair enough. I can agree with that.
Written By: Mark A. Flacy
URL: http://
Joe puts his finger on the problem here. To hold generals accountable for failures in Iraq, we’d have to have a Commander in Chief who’s capable of admiting that all is not going along swimmingly in his pet war. We’d have to have a President who is more interested in accountablity and success than in claiming that the reason Americans think Iraq is going poorly is that the MSM won’t report all the good news coming from there. If the PR war is your top priority, you can’t be holding Generals’ feet to the fire, because there can’t be anything wrong.
Written By: Retief
URL: http://
Actually Retief that wasn’t my point was that a war akin to Iraq does not ahve a Battle of Gettysburg nor a D-Day, so it’s extremely difficult to say a general "failed."
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Joe, I know your point was about conditions making bright lines of failure hard to draw and mine was a related point about the will to draw such conclusions. Really, it isn’t that hard to do in Iraq. If under your watch an insurgency grow from zero to tens of thousands of fighters, you certaily haven’t succeeded. If a civil war breaks out while you’re in charge, you’ve failed. But don’t take my word for it. Apparently the junior officers can tell just fine when somebody has screwed the pooch in Iraq. But yeah, there aren’t set piece battles or territory to lose, which makes it easier to confuse the issue with weekly good news from Iraq and happy talk.

The other problem, of course, is: who are you going to replace Marse Lee with after he screws up Gettysburg?
Written By: Retief
URL: http://
But don’t take my word for it.
I won’t.
Written By: Mark A. Flacy
URL: http://
BTW, Retief what do you know about the military? Any experience? Or just what you gleaned from Keith Laumer stories?
Written By: Mark A. Flacy
URL: http://
Do I have to have been in the military to have an opinion here? If the President says there have been no failures, then generals can’t be accountable for failures that don’t exist. Is there a unit on logic in boot camp?

Informationally, no I haven’t been in the military, although I have a brother who just got back from Iraq.

Finally, you got something against Laumer, buddy?
Written By: Retief
URL: http://
Replacing Generals at the beginning of a new war should be SOP. Generals are always ready to fight the last war. France learned that lesson during World War two. The problem then becomes all these mossback Generals glom on to television gigs criticizing their replacements. This further confuses the public, leading to division and the situation we find ourselves in now.
Written By: James E. Fish
Well I’, going to stand for these generals. The failure in Vietnam was that we fought the war FOR the "little people."

So this war we decided to have a small foot print, the Iraqi’s would have to do most of the job. And that is a better strategy than the one we executed from 1965 until 1972.

And if this guy thinks we needed 400,000 troops then well, here’s a news flash...the war was NEVER winnable. No way that the US was going to commit 1/3 of it’s total Army and about 28% of it’s TOTAL ground force for Iraq.

So the failure is quite possibly in the slowness in standing the Iraqi Security Forces up and in combating corruption, but the whole idea of a small US presence is a good one.
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
I was a bit stunned that we put our guys in big FOB and did not have small bases within the population (see Bing West "The Village")

I had assumed that we’d be doing that as SOP in say 2005/2006 at least.

Also, I wonder if Abizaid’s arabic skills blinded some people to his strategy..."oh, he speaks Arabic and knows the culture so he probably also has the right strategy to fight the war..."
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
Congressional approval of Officers:

Final questions for Gen. Soandso

1. What’s your feeling on abortion?

2. Gay marriage?

3. Did Bush lie to you?

4. Did you ever smoke pot?

I think it would be a dumb idea. The executive has to step up and do the firing it needs to do.

Written By: Harun
URL: http://
"Replacing Generals at the beginning of a new war should be SOP."

Fine. We would have thrown out Patton, Eisenhower, Bradley, etc., Schwarzkopf, all of our current generals, etc.

" Generals are always ready to fight the last war"

One of those nice generalities that make a nice sound bite but are not entirely true. Some do, some don’t. Sometimes it is the politicians. Planning for the next war, while sounding like a good idea, sometimes doesn’t work out too well in practice. Sometimes the new wars are a lot like the old wars.


"I was a bit stunned that we put our guys in big FOB and did not have small bases within the population"

Yeah, one would have thought that all those lessons learned from Vietnam, etc. were actually learned. Maybe force protection trumps lessons learned.
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Replacing Generals at the beginning of a new war should be SOP."
I love Ian Hogg’s comment, "The shortage of chrystal balls being what it is...." If anyone can tell me what the NEXT war will look like we’ll make a bet.

After all, for 50 years the US and NATO prepared for "The Next War in Europe" as my brother said, "Who knew ’The Next War in Europe’ was going to involve bombing Belgrade and that the Russians would be on our side?"

People are rather quick to point out the flaws in French and American Inter-war theory, but actually the reality is a bit more complex than, "The French hid behind the Maginot Line and expected a repeat of WWI and the US Navy relied on battleships and ignored carriers."
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Being a retired Army officer, I can say that LTC Yingling is laying all of the cards on the table and I salute him for his moral courage. First, LTC Yingling speaks from experience as a field grade active duty Army officer who has two tours of combat in Iraq. The problem he identifies with the General Officer Corps is not the only problem, it goes up through the civilian leadership and that includes the Secretary of Defense and the Commander in Chief aka President. The problems with today’s Army is that it operates on a "ZERO DEFECTS" principle. In other words, only the "YES MEN" survive the Peter Principle of a Zero Defects Army. There lies the problem, the Generals were scared to death to stand up to former Secretary of Defense (SecDef) Donald Rumsfeld, or they would be relieved of their command. If they stood up, they would be saying they needed more boots i.e. troops on the ground, but they didn’t so, now the quagmire in Iraq/Afganistan will continue at least throug the entire term of the current Commander In Chief. Even former Army General Colin Powell suggested that an "EXIT STRATEGY" be developed before embarking on a war on terrorism in the Middle East. The only exit strategy for the troops is a one way trip in a casket back home unfortunately.
Written By: Terry
URL: http://
Well those are good points, what was our "Exit Strategy" from the Second and Korean Wars? What was our "Exit Strategy" for the Civil War? Mayhap it’s time for Powell and others to grasp this, THERE IS NO EXIT STRATEGY from the World. We don’t just get to Go and Do and Come Home. Because life doesn’t work that way, what’s your Exit Strategy for your Wife and Kids?

As to the other points, yes I think the Zero Defect idea is a problem, but it has always been there. As to his suggestion that CONGRESS needs more involvement in General selection, I say "God Forbid." First there’s a Constitutional issue, Flag Officers work for the President, not the Speaker or the Majority Floor Leader.

Secondly, Congress would be horrible at saw how they reacted to the friendly fire incident at Al-Khafji, didn’t you? They fired an Air Force general and crucified the pilots, for making a MISTAKE. All because the parents of the Marines killed were "Unhappy and upset" that those pilots had been awarded medals for their actions in the Second Gulf War. Or did you see Congress react to Kelly Flynn? They couldn’t grasp WHY the USAF cared about a little adultery and fraternization between an officer and an NCO, or why the USAF ordered her to desist or understand why they were willing to court martial her for disobeying the order and lying to her chain of command. Congress, doesn’t grasp the difference between Shi’i and Sunni, it can’t tell you if the Mahdi Army is Shi’i or if Al-Quaeda is Sunni, but they ought to be involved in making GENERALS? No way....
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Good points I want to throw in my two cents here too. I am a retired 05 just returned from Iraq after working for a Beltway Bandit on a classified project at one of the FOB’s.

I have to say that I was throughly disappointed by the leadership there (and in the SECDEF’s office, but that is another post). There is no doubt in my mind that the ’Zero Defect’ mentality is not only present but highly entrenched. In my experience, the ZD approach may work well in producing widgets, but is a miserable failure when it comes to motivating, leading and taking care of troops. But you should add to that failure two more catalytic elements that are literally choking the military operations there: 1) legal overreach and 2) political correctness. Both are responsible for some of the most serious demotivational issues I have seen in 25 years of working in/around the military. And make no mistake: the O3’s & O4’s (as well as many senior NCO’s) are paying close attention and many are opting out rather than continue to be insulted by the PC platitudes and ridiculous ROE restrictions placed upon them before they go out on patrol.

New blood in the General Corps probably will help...but what is needed more than ever is to get enough troops in place and take off the gloves off once and for all. Think I’m wrong? Then read the recent success stories coming out of both Iraq & Afghanistan regarding the results of a doctrine change that (surprise!!) allows our troops to engage, pursue and destroy the enemy whenever and wherever they are encountered. What a concept!
Written By: Unscripted Thoughts
URL: http://
"Well those are good points, what was our "Exit Strategy" from the Second and Korean Wars?"

If we had one, it doesn’t seem to have worked, since we are still in both countries. On the other hand, it would be a good thing to make plans about what to do after the end of major combat operations, what the military objectives are, and that sort of thing. "Then what do we do?" should be a phrase heard at the end of every planning session.
Written By: timactual
URL: http://

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