Wednesday, April 12, 2006


George Packer has a long piece on Iraq in the April 10, 2006, New Yorker, in which he describes a US military unwilling, unable, and in deep denial about applying basic principles of counterinsurgency for the duration of the war -- mainly, Packer asserts quite convincingly, because Pentagon leadership, under the masterful guiding hand of Donald Rumsfeld, didn't want to admit that they actually faced an insurgency.

The human face for the article is Col. H. R. McMaster, commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry, a West Point graduate who earned a Silver Star in the 1991 Gulf War. His regiment, according to Packer, "greatly reduced the violence" in Tal Afar using counterinsurgency techniques, which consisted, in large measure, of not treating the locals like hostiles: "When we first got here, we made a lot of mistakes. We were like blind men, trying to do the right thing without breaking a lot of things.... You gotta come in with your ears open. You can't come in and start talking. You really have to listen to people." In Packer's words, "The classic doctrine, which was developed by the British in Malaya in the nineteen-forties and fifties, says that counterinsurgency warfare is twenty per cent military and eighty per cent political."

McMaster earned a doctorate in history after the first Gulf War. His dissertation, which raised quite a few very powerful eyebrows, was titled, "Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that Led to Vietnam." Says Packer,
The book assembled a damning case against senior military leaders for failing to speak their minds when, in the early years of the war, they disagreed with Pentagon policies. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, knowing that Johnson and MacNamara wanted uncritical support rather than honest advice, and eager to protect their careers, went along with official lies and a split-the-difference strategy of gradual escalation that none of them thought could work.
The guest on this morning's Diane Rehm Show was Gen. Anthony Zinni, former Commander in Chief of CENTCOM (1997-2000), plugging his book The Battle for Peace. He added a detail about McMaster that made my ears perk up:
Rehm: All right, and here's [an email] from Ken, who says 'Our generals and admirals are certainly subject to civilian control, but must be expected to speak out -- even if it costs them -- when there is so much at stake. The current crowd around the Defense Secretary look and act like a bunch of whipped dogs. It's frankly disheartening. What can be done to straighten out some general officers' spines?' First of all, do you agree with that?"

Zinni: Uh, no, not exactly, and I'm not going to criticize people that are making decisions, and I'm not part of the process to understand it -- but I will say this. When I was a four-star general, our Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Shelton, sent us a book -- seventeen four-stars -- sent us a book entitled Dereliction of Duty. It was written by a young Army officer and it was the story of how the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other senior generals kept silent during Vietnam when they knew the conduct of the war was not being done in a militarily sound way. And later they regretted that silence, they kept quiet. That book was given to us to read, we were called to Washington and at a breakfast we had young Major McMaster, who wrote the book -- now a fine colonel in the Army -- and he described what went on. General Shelton in a very angry way, said that that will never happen with this group while I'm here as Chairman. If you feel strongly about something, you come to me or you go directly to the Secretary of Defense. You express your honest views to Congress when called on.


KevinHayden said...

And after you express your honest views, you get canned, your wife gets outed as a spy, and they close the local VA hospital. Then Bill O'Reilly calls you a traitor and a wuss, while touching himself.

Arvin Hill said...

It beats an IED going off under your Hummer -- or anyone else's Hummer, for that matter.

Neddie, a short while ago you posted Phil Ochs' lyrics to We Ain't Marchin' Anymore.

Since then, Ochs' "Outside of a Small Circle of Friends" is a recurring song in my head. As you very likely know, its lyrics bite & indict:

Look outside the window,
there's a woman being grabbed
They've dragged her to the bushes
and now she's being stabbed
Maybe we should call the cops
and try to stop the pain
But Monopoly is so much fun,
I'd hate to blow the game

And I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody

Outside of a small circle of friends.

The song, of course, was written about the murder of Kitty Genovese some 42 years ago. Her screams went ignored as she was stabbed to death, and, as my friend Jonathan Versen reminded me recently, "The phenomenon of bystander effect has come to be forever associated with her name since."

All one has to do is look at The Pentagon to see that the bystander effect is no less infrequent or tragic today. It would seem to be a pre-requisite for employment among those who toil deepest in the bowels of The Machine.