Politics or Proximity?
"When does AEI start trumping the Joint Chiefs of Staff on this stuff?" Schoomaker asked at the next chiefs' meeting.
As stated previously in this space, the so-called "first customer" can shop anywhere he likes and if he's not getting satisfactory service – at an intelligence agency or from his military advisors – he's perfectly justified (political creature that any President is) in shopping elsewhere. That could work out very badly, but in this case not so much.
Was Gen Schoomaker and the rest of the JCS wrong? Well, an obvious (if facile) look tells you there is no small amount of incongruence when your man on the ground is telling you its fair winds and following seas and the person next door is telling you to abandon ship. Stay the course and Iraq would not be where it is today; change course and well, here we are.
Analysis often gets berated for being focused too much on cold, hard numbers or inappropriate historical references and largely ignorant of issues on the ground that are not reflected in data. Here the guys on the ground had data and "ground truth" but it took outsiders (AEI's team Kagan) to sort through the fog of war. The Kagan's aren't superheroes and the Generals aren't stupid; the guy who listens to the former or ignores the latter isn't a genius: he's just doing his job by not operating in a bubble. Take the politics out of it. If you're about to make a big decision in any aspect of your life, do you apply some vigor or do you just grab the first thing that comes along and pay list price?
. . . and how does your spouse feel about the answer you just gave? ;-)
The point is, O'Sullivan didn't win out over the be-medaled gray beards and seasoned military advice did not lose to ideological partisanship: the first customer looked at the idea marketplace and shopped around. There is always the risk of picking up a lemon, but then both the quantity and quality of ideas in today's marketplace are much higher than when the previous generation went shopping for solutions.