The Generals' War: Distinguishing Warfighters from War Fighters
In today's Wall Street Journal, Mackubin Owens makes pointed and accurate observations in Our Generals Almost Cost Us Iraq, explaining in part the counterproductive nature of some flag officers who opposed - and at times obstructed - the adopted 'Surge' strategy that replaced their own, and did so well into and throughout 'The Surge.'
In late 2006, President Bush, like President Lincoln in 1862, adopted a new approach to the war. He replaced the uniformed and civilian leaders who were adherents of the failed operational approach with others who shared his commitment to victory rather than "playing for a tie." In Gen. David Petraeus, Mr. Bush found his Ulysses Grant, to execute an operational approach based on sound counterinsurgency doctrine. This new approach has brought the U.S. to the brink of victory. Although the conventional narrative about the Iraq war is wrong, its persistence has contributed to the most serious crisis in civil-military relations since the Civil War. According to Mr. Woodward's account, the uniformed military not only opposed the surge, insisting that their advice be followed; it then subsequently worked to undermine the president once he decided on another strategy.
There is no room in the execution of military orders and applied strategy for counter-movements from within the military, let alone among civilian counterparts. Actions such as denying travel to Iraq by Admiral Mullen for an advisor and 'Surge' co-architect (retired Gen. Keane) requested by General Petraeus, for example, are inexcusable, obstructive and an embarrassment.
At The Tank on National Review Online, I humbly weighed in that it is vital for us to be Distinguishing Warfighters from War Fighters.
I will not be opening up a David Petraeus Fan Club and entering into worship, but his profoundly positive impact on the armed forces will be felt for decades — beyond wresting military victory from the jaws of political defeat, popular narrative and common defeatism be damned. He is a leader of men, a warfighter and a thinker, not a uniformed executive hitting the DC cocktail circuits in search of friends and post-retirement opportunity. Men follow such leaders passionately and loyally.
And President Bush clearly came to distinguish between them, handing Petraeus authority over the selection process for the promotion of flag officers and, thus, the future leadership of the Armed Forces.
As Owen concludes, this is an issue of vital importance for our military and the nation's defense going forward.
If Mr. Woodward's account is true, it means that not since Gen. McClellan attempted to sabotage Lincoln's war policy in 1862 has the leadership of the U.S. military so blatantly attempted to undermine a president in the pursuit of his constitutional authority. It should be obvious that such active opposition to a president's policy poses a threat to the health of the civil-military balance in a republic.