[Marxism] Open dissent over Iraq in the officer caste
lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Oct 13 09:04:12 MDT 2007
NY Times, October 13, 2007
At Army Base, Officers Are Split Over War
By ELISABETH BUMILLER
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. — Here in this Western outpost that serves as the
intellectual center of the United States Army, two elite officers were
deep in debate at lunch on a recent day over who bore more
responsibility for mistakes in Iraq — the former defense secretary,
Donald H. Rumsfeld, or the generals who acquiesced to him.
“The secretary of defense is an easy target,” argued one of the
officers, Maj. Kareem P. Montague, 34, a Harvard graduate and a
commander in the Third Infantry Division that was the first to reach
Baghdad in the 2003 invasion. “It’s easy to pick on the political
“But he’s the one that’s responsible,” retorted Maj. Michael J. Zinno,
40, a military planner who worked at the headquarters of the Coalitional
Provisional Authority, the former American civilian administration in Iraq.
No, Major Montague shot back, it was more complicated: the Joint Chiefs
of Staff and the top commanders were part of the decision to send in a
small invasion force and not enough troops for the occupation. Only Gen.
Eric K. Shinseki, the Army chief of staff who was sidelined after he
told Congress that it would take several hundred thousand troops in
Iraq, spoke up in public.
“You didn’t hear any of them at the time, other than General Shinseki,
screaming, saying that this was untenable,” Major Montague said.
As the war grinds through its fifth year, Fort Leavenworth has become a
front line in the military’s tension and soul-searching over Iraq. Here
on the bluffs above the Missouri River rising young officers are on a
different kind of journey — an outspoken re-examination of their role in
Discussions between a New York Times reporter and dozens of young majors
in five Leavenworth classrooms over two days — all unusual for their
frankness in an Army that has traditionally presented a facade of
solidarity to the outside world — showed a divide in opinion. Officers
were split over whether Mr. Rumsfeld, the military leaders or both
deserved blame for what they said were the major errors in the war:
sending in a small invasion force and failing to plan properly for the
But the consensus was that not even after Vietnam was the Army’s
internal criticism as harsh or the second-guessing so painful, and that
airing the arguments on the record, as sanctioned by Leavenworth’s
senior commanders, was part of a concerted effort to force change.
“You spend your whole career worrying about the safety of soldiers —
let’s do the training right so no one gets injured, let’s make sure no
one gets killed, and then you deploy and you’re attending memorial
services for 19-year-olds,” said Maj. Niave Knell, 37, who worked in
Baghdad to set up an Iraqi highway patrol. “And you have to think about
what you did.”
On one level, second-guessing is institutionalized at Leavenworth, home
to the Combined Arms Center, a sprawling Army research center that
includes the Command and General Staff College for midcareer officers,
the School of Advanced Military Studies for the most elite and the
Center for Army Lessons Learned, which collects and disseminates
battlefield data. (The center publishes a handbook for soldiers with
strategies to help keep them alive for their first 100 days in combat, a
response to the high percentage who died in their early months in Iraq.)
At Leavenworth, officers study Napoleon’s battle plans and Lt. William
Calley’s mistakes in the My Lai massacre in Vietnam. Last year Gen.
David H. Petraeus, now the top American commander in Iraq, wrote the
Army and Marine Corps’ new Counterinsurgency Field Manual there. The
goal at Leavenworth is to adapt the Army to the changing battlefield
without repeating the mistakes of the past.
But senior officers say that much of the professional second-guessing
has become an emotional exercise for young officers. “Many of them have
been affected by people they know who died over there,” said Maj. Gen.
William B. Caldwell IV, the Leavenworth commander and the former top
spokesman for the American military in Iraq. Unlike the 1991 Persian
Gulf war and the conflicts in the Balkans and even Somalia, General
Caldwell said, “we just never experienced the loss of life like we have
here. And when that happens, it becomes very personal. You want to
believe that there’s no question your cause is just and that it has the
potential to succeed.”
Much of the debate at the school has centered on a scathing article, “A
Failure in Generalship,” written last May for Armed Forces Journal by
Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, an Iraq veteran and deputy commander of the
Third Armored Cavalry Regiment who holds a master’s degree in political
science from the University of Chicago. “If the general remains silent
while the statesman commits a nation to war with insufficient means, he
shares culpability for the results,” Colonel Yingling wrote.
The article has been required class reading at Leavenworth, where young
officers debate whether Colonel Yingling was right to question senior
commanders who sent junior officers into battle with so few troops.
“Where I was standing on the street corner, at the 14th of July Bridge,
yeah, another brigade there would have been great,” said Maj. Jeffrey H.
Powell, 37, a company commander who was referring to the bridge in
Baghdad he helped secure during the early days of the war.
Major Powell, who was speaking in a class at the School for Advanced
Military Studies, has read many of the Iraq books describing the private
disagreements over troop levels between Mr. Rumsfeld and the top
commanders, who worried that the numbers were too low but went along in
“Sure, I’m a human being, I question the decision-making process,” Major
Powell said. Nonetheless, he said, “we don’t get to sit on the top of
the turrets of our tanks and complain that nobody planned for this. Our
job is to fix it.”
Discussions nonetheless focused on where young officers might draw a
“red line,” the point at which they would defy a command from the
civilians — the president and the defense secretary — who lead the military.
“We have an obligation that if our civilian leaders give us an order,
unless it is illegal, immoral or unethical, then we’re supposed to
execute it, and to not do so would be considered insubordinate,” said
Major Timothy Jacobsen, another student. “How do you define what is
truly illegal, immoral or unethical? At what point do you cross that
threshold where this is no longer right, I need to raise my hand or
resign or go to the media?”General Caldwell, who was the top military
aide from 2002 to 2004 to the deputy defense secretary at the time, Paul
Wolfowitz, an architect of the Iraq war, would not talk about the
meetings he had with Mr. Wolfowitz about the battle plans at the time.
“We did have those discussions, and he would engage me on different
things, but I’d feel very uncomfortable talking,” General Caldwell said.
Col. Gregory Fontenot, a Leavenworth instructor, said it was typical of
young officers to feel that the senior commanders had not spoken up for
their interests, and that he had felt the same way when he was their
age. But Colonel Fontenot, who commanded a battalion in the Persian Gulf
war and a brigade in Bosnia and has since retired, said he questioned
whether Americans really wanted a four-star general to stand up publicly
and say no to the president in a nation where civilians control the
For the sake of argument, a question from the reporter was posed: If
enough four-star generals had done that, would it have stopped the war?
“Yeah, we’d call it a coup d’etat,” Colonel Fontenot said. “Do you want
to have a coup d’etat? You kind of have to decide what you want. Do you
like the Constitution, or are you so upset about the Iraq war that
you’re willing to dismiss the Constitution in just this one instance and
hopefully things will be O.K.? I don’t think so.”
Some of the young officers were unimpressed by retired officers who
spoke up against Mr. Rumsfeld in April 2006. The retired generals had
little to lose, they argued, and their words would have mattered more
had they been on active duty. “Why didn’t you do that while you were
still in uniform?” Maj. James Hardaway, 36,asked.
On the other hand, Major Hardaway said, General Shinseki had shown there
was a great cost, at least under Mr. Rumsfeld. “Evidence shows that when
you do do that in uniform, bad things can happen,” he said. “So, it’s
sort of a dichotomy of, should I do the right thing, even if I get
Another major said that young officers were engaged in their own
revisionist history, and that many had believed the war could be won
with Mr. Rumsfeld’s initial invasion force of about 170,000. “Everybody
now claims, oh, I knew we were going to be there for five years and it
was going to take 400,000 people,” said Maj. Patrick Proctor, 36.
“Nobody wants to be the guy who said, ‘Yeah, I thought we could do it.’
But a lot of us did.”
One question that silenced many of the officers was a simple one: Should
the war have been fought?
“I honestly don’t know how I feel about that,” Major Powell said in a
telephone conversation last week after the discussions at Leavenworth.
“That’s a big, open question,” General Caldwell said after a long pause.
NY Times, October 13, 2007
Ex-Commander Says Iraq Effort Is ‘a Nightmare’
By DAVID S. CLOUD
WASHINGTON, Oct. 12 — In a sweeping indictment of the four-year effort
in Iraq, the former top commander of American forces there called the
Bush administration’s handling of the war “incompetent” and said the
result was “a nightmare with no end in sight.”
Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, who retired in 2006 after being replaced in
Iraq after the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, blamed the Bush
administration for a “catastrophically flawed, unrealistically
optimistic war plan” and denounced the current addition of American
forces as a “desperate” move that would not achieve long-term stability.
“After more than four years of fighting, America continues its desperate
struggle in Iraq without any concerted effort to devise a strategy that
will achieve victory in that war-torn country or in the greater conflict
against extremism,” General Sanchez said at a gathering of military
reporters and editors in Arlington, Va.
He is the most senior war commander of a string of retired officers who
have harshly criticized the administration’s conduct of the war. While
much of the previous condemnation has been focused on the role of former
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, General Sanchez’s was an unusually
broad attack on the overall course of the war.
But his own role as commander in Iraq during the Abu Ghraib scandal
leaves him vulnerable to criticism that he is shifting the blame from
himself to the administration that ultimately replaced him and declined
to nominate him for a fourth star, forcing his retirement.
Though he was cleared of wrongdoing in the abuses after an inquiry by
the Army’s inspector general, General Sanchez became a symbol — with
civilian officials like L. Paul Bremer III, the head of the Coalition
Provisional Authority — of ineffective American leadership early in the
General Sanchez said he was convinced that the American effort in Iraq
was failing the day after he took command, in June 2003. Asked why he
waited until nearly a year after his retirement to voice his concerns
publicly, he responded that it was not the place of active-duty officers
to challenge lawful orders from the civilian authorities.
General Sanchez, who is said to be considering writing a book, promised
further public statements criticizing officials by name.
“There has been a glaring and unfortunate display of incompetent
strategic leadership within our national leaders,” he said, adding that
civilian officials have been “derelict in their duties” and guilty of a
“lust for power.”
White House officials would not comment directly on General Sanchez’s
remarks. “We appreciate his service to the country,” said Kate Starr, a
White House spokeswoman.
She noted that Gen. David H. Petraeus, the current top commander in
Iraq, and Ryan C. Crocker, the American ambassador to Baghdad, said in
their testimony to Congress last month that “there’s more work to be
done, but progress is being made in Iraq. And that’s what we’re focused
General Sanchez has been criticized by some current and retired officers
for failing to recognize the growing insurgency in Iraq during his year
in command and for failing to put together a plan to unify the disparate
military effort, a task that was finally carried out when his successor,
Gen. George W. Casey Jr., took over in mid-2004.
General Sanchez included the military and himself among those who made
mistakes in Iraq, citing a failure by top commanders to insist on a
better post-invasion stabilization plan. He offered a tepid compliment
to General Petraeus. The general, he said, could use American troops to
gain time in Iraq but could not achieve lasting results.
Michael E. O’Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution,
criticized General Sanchez for implying in his speech that the current
military strategy of relying on additional troops and on protecting the
Iraqi people is little different than the strategy employed when he was
Noting that calls by members of Congress for troops were rebuffed by the
Bush administration in 2003, Mr. O’Hanlon said, “Sanchez was one of the
top military people who condoned that, if not directly, then by his
General Sanchez’s main criticism was leveled at the Bush administration,
which he said failed to mobilize the entire United States government,
not just the military, to contribute meaningfully to reconstructing and
“National leadership continues to believe that victory can be achieved
by military power alone,” he said. “Continued manipulations and
adjustments to our military strategy will not achieve victory. The best
we can do with this flawed approach is stave off defeat.”
Asked after his remarks what strategy he favored, General Sanchez ticked
off a series of steps—from promoting reconciliation among Iraq’s warring
sectarian factions to building effective Iraqi army and police units —
that closely paralleled the list of tasks frequently cited by the Bush
administration as the pillars of the current strategy.
General Sanchez, now a Pentagon consultant who trains active-duty
generals, said the administration’s biggest failure had been its lack of
a detailed strategy for achieving those steps and “synchronizing” the
military and civilian contributions.
“The administration, Congress and the entire inter-agency, especially
the State Department, must shoulder responsibility for the catastrophic
failure, and the American people must hold them accountable,” he said.
His talk on Friday at the annual convention of the Military Reporters
and Editors Association was not the first time that General Sanchez has
been critical of the administration.
He said in an interview in June with Agence France-Presse that the best
the United States could achieve in Iraq would be stalemate. And he drew
a standing ovation at a gathering of veterans last month when he argued
that the country’s problems in Iraq were the result of a “crisis in
national political leadership.”
Though General Sanchez remained on active duty after leaving Iraq in
2004, he never received a fourth star, in part because, though he was
popular with Mr. Rumsfeld, the Bush administration feared that his
nomination hearings in the Senate would turn into a bitter partisan
fight and a public replay of the details of the Abu Ghraib scandal.
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