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Outside View: Where U.S. Generals Failed

US Army General John Abizaid, Commander of US Central Command, answers questions during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill 03 August, 2006 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Photo courtesy of Karen Bleier and AFP.
by Douglas Macgregor
UPI Outside View Commentator
Washington (UPI) Aug 14, 2006
Gen. John Abizaid has told the U.S. Senate Armed Services' Committee that sectarian violence could plunge Iraq into a civil war. Gen. Abizaid's statement Aug 3 was like the commander of the French army telling the French people ten days after the German invasion of France began in 1940 that the Germans were coming through Belgium.

But the most frustrating thing about the hearing was not Abizaid's admission of failure. It was that none of the senators asked the generals, "Who is responsible for the current situation in Iraq? The tooth fairy, or the three of you?" In fact, the panel of senators behaved as though the generals were bystanders watching a car wreck, although the generals were and are driving the cars in the wreck.

What's wrong? For one thing, since 1990, America's enemies have had no navies, weak air forces, weak to non-existent air defenses, and incompetent armies that lacked both the will and the training to fight effectively. Our superb combat soldiers and marines easily overpowered our enemies regardless of what decisions or actions the generals took. Replacing officers selected in peacetime for flag rank with ones selected in wartime didn't seem necessary.

Another reason is that wedged in their dogma, senators who supported the occupation of Iraq are reluctant to see that the climate of hatred created early in the U.S. occupation is spreading to the south, forging the foundation for a Shiite uprising against the U.S. military presence in Iraq if U.S. and British troop withdrawals don't begin soon.

To do so would constitute the admission that nations can only be built from within, not without. For many, that's self-incriminating.

But the biggest reason is that inside the Senate, there is no constituency for excellence in generalship; no one who will galvanize public opinion and demand results from generals.

While senators can pour scorn all over Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld or force the removal of Homeland Security officials from office or specify with great precision the intellectual and professional attributes of a Supreme Court Justice, they don't make similar judgments about generals. They don't make judgments because, frankly, they don't know what generals are supposed to do in war or peace.

It's easier to blame politicians like Rumsfeld -- and he is not blameless -- but the record shows that whereas bad policies can often be saved through effective implementation, the reverse is rarely true. In effect, political rhetoric is a fine thing, but it is what the generals commanding forces on the ground do, or fail to do, that counts.

The senators don't understand the nation's three- and four-star interface between policy and action, decisively shaping and implementing the military component of national strategy. It is the generals who are supposed to take into account intangibles such as the reputation of the American people.

They determine the metrics that measure success or failure, they report truthfully and accurately to the Senate and the American people and they create the command climate that motivates subordinate commanders to take the initiative to overcome any and all difficulties.

From the time the first shot was fired in Anbar province, the greatest obstacle to success in Iraq lay not with Iraqi resistance to U.S. military occupation or bad policy in Washington, D.C., but in the minds of the commanding generals who could not adjust to the new conditions in Iraq as fast as the Iraqi insurgents or the Iranian government.

So the generals declared victory repeatedly. They pretended the Iraqi elections were evidence for fundamental change when they weren't. The generals concealed the truth that Iraq's government is unlikely to survive the withdrawal of U.S. military power, now or ever. Or that it wallows in corruption and has little substantive connection to the vast majority of the Iraqi people who live outside of the Green Zone.

It was easier for the generals and the cast of retired four-stars on television that promoted them to mislead the Senate and the American public, reporting that the U.S. forces were winning against the insurgency when they weren't.

Or telling the American people that the rebellion against the American military occupation was the product of foreign Jihadists when U.S. Army and Marine ground forces always confronted a homegrown reaction to the American military occupation, one fostered by the generals' heavy-handed conventional military tactics started in 2003 after they seized Baghdad.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Marine Gen. Peter Pace and Abizaid, and a host of other generals including Lt. Gen Ricardo Sanchez, failed on all counts. It is time for the senators to send away the retired four-stars whose assessments were always wrong and self-serving. And when the senators ponder the serious readiness problems inside the Army and Marines, they should remember an old Vietnamese proverb: A fish rots from its head.

Retired U.S. Army Col. Douglas A. Macgregor, PhD is lead partner in Potomac League, LLC. He is the author of "Breaking the Phalanx." Macgregor served in the first Gulf War and at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe during the Kosovo Air Campaign. he was an adviser tot he Department of Defense on initial Second Gulf War plans and is an expert on defense policy issues of organization and transformation.

United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.

Source: United Press International

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