Saturday, April 09, 2005

Observations and Historical Perspectives

A friend recently sent me an article dealing with recent attacks on SecDef Rumsfeld that was filled with references citing the many times that military failures were blamed on civilians.
I'm not exactly sure what the point of this article was. Although it was stuffed with facts and parallels (some strained to be sure) it never seems to come to any conclusion. Furthermore, the apparent conclusion is that military failures are frequently and wrongfully blamed on civilian leadership and the various facts and parallels are intended to bear out this point (I think). Carl Von Clausewitz stated quite clearly in his military text "On War" that war is simply an extension of diplomacy and its objective is to return to a diplomatic solution. Therefore, the idea of "winning" and "losing" a war is really a simplistic view of the situation. Secondly, the Roman Empire insisted that in order to be a "Consul" or "Proconsul" the man must have had military experience. There was no such thing as purely civilian leadership. Personally I think there is merit in this position. But to return to the article(s), the assumption throughout seems to be that civilians are blamed for the general incompetence of the civilian leadership when in fact the failures are almost always military.

Personally, I think this conclusion is over-reaching the facts, because the fact is that sometimes the military is wrong and sometimes the civilians are wrong. I thought Robert McNamarra was (and still is) a total nincompoop who was put in place by JFK solely on the basis of his Eastern Aristocratic background. He and his "brain trust" screwed up Ford and then proceeded to screw up the Viet Nam War -- ably abetted by the President, the media, and a whole host of other civilians. Admittedly this was not the military's finest hour but how quickly we seem to forget that it was the administration and McNamarra who refused to bomb the dikes, to bomb Hanoi flat, to attack the Viet Cong in their hideouts in other countries. The military was hamstrung -- the same was true in Korea although the rationale there was on firmer ground.

Historically, the military has always trained and prepared to fight the last war not the future wars. Rumsfeld has changed that by simply forcing the military to face the fact that the last Gulf War was the last war to be fought using classical military strategy. He is forcing the military to change and in doing a great job. The distinctions between Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines is blurring very fast as Rumsfeld creates task forces made up of joint units designed to solve specific problems using strategies that are unconventional and focused on the problem at hand. In this case the military is wrong and the civilians are right.

The same could be said for Lincoln in the Civil War. The Union Generals were political and generally inept but both sides were locked into military strategies based on the Napoleonic Wars, which were not suitable for the task at hand, the weapons available, and resulted in appalling casualties. The Revolutionary War was fought by a brilliant General Washington aided by some equally brilliant officers leading a woefully inept and ill equipped army. He could have done better with more Congressional support but there wasn't any revenue and only a skeleton government so to blame Congress is wrong but to blame Washington for failing to win battles is idiotic.

So I'm not sure what the purpose of the article was and the sources were truly suspect since all of them could be construed as having an agenda. There is no doubt in my mind but that the media and the left wing want Rumsfeld out because he is winning and proving them wrong. I think there are conservative elements in the military who want to preserve their traditions and place them before winning -- remember Billy Mitchell -- same thing here.

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