While at the cabin this week I finished off Chris Czajkowski’s book, Cabin at Singing River, Michael Lewis’ The Big Short, and Thomas Rick’s The Gamble. It was a good day to spend with three of my favorite authors on some pretty diverse topics.
- Where was the U.S. media on reporting some of the murders and rape of Iraqi civilians by American soldiers? Part of what makes a democracy work is a rigorous and independent press and either the media in Iraq failed miserably or the controls placed upon them by the Pentagon made it impossible for them to do their jobs. From what I remember, the deteriorating security of Iraq made it very dangerous for media during 2005 and 2006 to leave the Green Zone which would have lead to very poor reporting.
- The book talks a lot about General David Petraeus (with good reason) but are you telling me that he was the only American general who understood that they were waging a counter insurgency, especially after the American failure in Vietnam? It was a little unreal to read that it was Petraeus that brought all of the military historians together for discussions at Fort Leavensworth about how to fight a counter insurgency war. The book describes a rather disorganized and poorly lead general staff that is really slow to learn from it’s mistakes and adapt to new realities. As I type this statement, I realize it’s not the first time I have thought this and I think back to Len Deighton’s excellent book, Blood, Sweat and Folly where he describes both Germany, Italy, and England in the first couple of years of World War II seemingly both wanting to lose WWII. So maybe the American generals are just following in the proud traditions of generals for centuries.
- Watching some media reports the last couple of weeks about the Canadian efforts in Kandahar sound a lot like Fiasco and the early part of Fiasco. Canadian troops riding around on Leopard tanks while heading back to their base at night doesn’t sound like a counter insurgency campaign. It’s times like this where I would love to hear Scott Taylor’s insights on how the Canadian military strategy is working there. (he has some good thoughts here). This paper states that Canada has taken a combative rather than a counter insurgency role in Afghanistan.
- I am always amazed by the U.S. Army’s leadership to learn from best practices from other units. Here was Petraeus leading the 101st Airborne Division and having a lot of success with insurgents by not using tanks and artillery while you have other units suffering increasing casualties while using heavy equipment. Once locked into a strategy, American commanders only seemed to be capable of escalating their strategy.
- Why does America (and other countries) promote generals who were not successful. As Lt. Col. Paul Yingling says "A private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war."
So I am left with the idea that despite a very highly educated general corps, institutions like West Point, the Command and General Staff College, the National Defense University, National War College, U.S. Army School of Advanced Military Studies, and the War College, which have all increased the professionalism in the military but I also wonder if it has contributed to an over reliance on what they know about past wars rather than adapting to present ones. Of course another issue is that like a lot of institutions that demand conformity, free thinking is probably bad for your career in the Army and other services so by the time one was able to make a difference in strategy and tactics, perhaps the ability to do so has been lost.
The book also left with the uncomfortable question of what would happen if someone else had been promoted in Petraeus’ place to Fort Leavensworth and instead of re-evaluating and reimagining what needed to be done in Iraq, they had stayed the course of withdrawing and handling the conflict with big weapons and increased violence.
This was kind of an open ended post. Leave me your thoughts in the comments below.