Summary: The US Army is under attack. The stress of the long war — loss of confidence in its leadership, family problems from the long war, potential loss of internal cohesion if forced to substantially downsize. A corrupt and too-often incompetent corps of senior generals. Gangs seeking to undermine its integrity from within. And the internal rot of values common to long wars, especially bad ones. The good news: they’re fighting back. At the end are links to other posts in this series.
One of the long themes on the FM website since the first posts in 2003 has been descriptions of the Army’s fight for its future and soul. Under attack from all sides, this week we’ll look at some good news. One of Army’s worst problems has been the weakness of its senior generals — too-often corrupt, self-serving, or incompetent. These things have been obvious for decades (see section 3 of An Army near the Breaking Point – studies & reports). Recent reports show that the Army has begun to recognize and respond. Here we look at two such articles.
First, this excellent and important article describes the problem
“General Failure“, By Tom Ricks (Center for a New American Security), The Atlantic, November 2012 — Please click on the title and read this in full!
Summary: Looking back on the troubled wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, many observers are content to lay blame on the Bush administration. But inept leadership by American generals was also responsible for the failure of those wars. A culture of mediocrity has taken hold within the Army’s leadership rank—if it is not uprooted, the country’s next war is unlikely to unfold any better than the last two.
Generalship in combat is extraordinarily difficult, and many seasoned officers fail at it. During World War II, senior American commanders typically were given a few months to succeed, or they’d be replaced. Sixteen out of the 155 officers who commanded Army divisions in combat were relieved for cause, along with at least five corps commanders.
Since 9/11, the armed forces have played a central role in our national affairs, waging two long wars — each considerably longer than America’s involvement in World War II. Yet a major change in how our military operates has gone almost unnoticed. Relief of generals has become so rare that, as Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling noted during the Iraq War, a private who loses his rifle is now punished more than a general who loses his part of a war. In the wars of the past decade, hundreds of Army generals were deployed to the field, and the available evidence indicates that not one was relieved by the military brass for combat ineffectiveness. This change is arguably one of the most significant developments in our recent military history — and an important factor in the failure of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
To a shocking degree, the Army’s leadership ranks have become populated by mediocre officers, placed in positions where they are likely to fail. Success goes unrewarded, and everything but the most extreme failure goes unpunished, creating a perverse incentive system that drives leaders toward a risk-averse middle where they are more likely to find stalemate than victory. A few high-profile successes, such as those of General David Petraeus in Iraq, may temporarily mask this systemic problem, but they do not solve it.
Ironically, our generals have grown worse as they have been lionized more and more by a society now reflexively deferential to the military. The Bush administration has been roundly (and fairly) criticized for its delusive approach to the war in Iraq and its neglect of the war in Afghanistan. Yet the serious failures of our military leaders in these conflicts have escaped almost all notice. No one is pushing those leaders to step back and examine the shortcomings of their institution. These are dangerous developments. Unaddressed, they could lead to further failures in future wars.
Second, lancing the boil begins the cure — taking the first step in a long process
“Accusations against generals cast dark shadow over Army“, Washington Post, 26 October 2012. Again, please click on the title and read this in full! Note the statement by Army Chief of Staff Odierno in the last paragraph. This could mark the reform of the US Army, much as they re-invented themselves after Vietnam (red emphasis added);
The accusations leveled against 3 Army generals over the past 6 months are as varied as they are striking, the highest-profile of a growing number of allegations of wrongdoing by senior military officials. A one-star general was flown home from Afghanistan this spring to face criminal charges, including sexual assault. A four-star general formerly in charge of the increasingly vital Africa command was accused of financial mismanagement, accepting inappropriate gifts and assigning staff personal tasks. And a three-star general who oversees the U.S. Missile Defense Agency was described in an inspector general report as an abrasive and verbally abusive boss.
The investigations have become an embarrassment for the Army, raising questions about how thoroughly the military has screened senior leaders before putting them in crucial assignments. The Defense Department’s inspector general reviewed 38 cases of alleged wrongdoing by senior officials in 2011, and substantiated the accusations in nearly 40 percent of the them, up from 21 percent in 2007. The total caseload this year is on track to exceed last year’s.
“It’s always concerning when senior leaders have issues, because we have very specific faith in senior leaders,” Gen. Ray Odierno, Army chief of staff, said in a recent interview. Odierno said all such cases are taken seriously, but argued that “we can’t allow a few to detract from the honorable service of many.”
The investigation into Gen. William E. Ward, the former chief of Africa Command, is being closely watched at the Pentagon, where rank-and-file officers wonder aloud whether senior leaders will be reticent to punish one of their own. A June 26 report, compiled after investigators pored through a trove of e-mails and expense reports, portrays a general using taxpayer funds to support a high-rolling lifestyle. The inspector general concluded that Ward used government funds to pay for personal travel expenses; assigned staff to run errands for him and his wife; and accepted meals and Broadway tickets from a defense contractor, in violation of Pentagon rules. The inspector general’s report says he wasted and misused tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars.
… The inspector general’s conclusions on Ward were released 2 months before the agency issued a report documenting allegations that Lt. Gen. Patrick J O’Reilly created a toxic atmosphere at the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) by berating staff members. Quoting a witness, the inspector general’s report described his style as “management by blowtorch and pliers.” Staffers at the MDA, the agency tasked with keeping the United States safe from missile attacks, described a culture of fear and low morale, in one case citing as an example a senior staff meeting during which O’Reilly called subordinates “a bunch of goddamned idiots,” according to the report.
… The case that came to light most recently involved the criminal investigation against Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair, who was removed from his job as the deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne Division in May and flown home from Afghanistan. Although the military has released few details about the investigation, officials at Fort Bragg, N.C., where the 82nd is based, released a summary of the criminal charges filed against him last month. They include forcible sodomy, wrongful sexual conduct, engaging in inappropriate relationships, misusing a government charge card and possessing alcohol and pornography while deployed.
… “This is not a good-old-boy’s club,” Odierno said this week during a news conference at an Army convention in Washington. “When you do something wrong you will be held accountable.”
Thomas E. Ricks is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. This essay is adapted from his new book, The Generals, out this month.
Other posts in this series about the US Army
- US Army – the antidote to US civil disorder, 3 January 2009
- What does the future hold for the US Army – and America?, 29 April 2012 — By Doug Macgregor
- Our Army, under attack on many fronts, fights to maintain its integrity and cohesion, 29 October 2012
- The US army under attack by internal foes, but responds quickly, 31 October 2012
- A look at the Army’s plans to adapt to the 21st century, 2 November 2012
For More Information
(a) For all posts about the US Army see these FM Reference Pages:
(b) Posts about the skill and integrity of our senior military leaders:
- The Core Competence of America’s Military Leaders, 27 May 2007
- The moral courage of our senior generals, or their lack of it, 3 July 2008
- Obama vs. the Generals, 1 October 2010
- Careerism and Psychopathy in the US Military leadership, GI Wilson (Colonel, USMC, retired), 2 May 2011
- Rolling Stone releases Colonel Davis’ blockbuster report about Afghanistan – and our senior generals!, 12 February 2012
(c) The long solution: training officers who have integrity and adaptability. Don Vandergriff is the point of this spear.
Here are links to posts by Don, or about his work:
- Recommended reading: transforming the Army, the hard way, 15 January 2008
- Recommendation to read: “Is Warfighting Enough” by Richards and Vandergriff, 25 January 2008
- 4GW: A solution of the third kind, 24 March 2008
- About military leaders in the 21st century: “Theirs Is to Reason Why”, 15 July 2010
- Preface to Manning the Future Legions of the United States: Finding and Developing Tomorrow’s Centurions, 16 July 2010
- Training of officers, a key step for the forging of an effective military force, 17 July 2010
- Petraeus’s Baby, 21 July 2010
- Afghanistan war logs: Shattering the illusion of a bloodless victory, 28 July 2010
- Dragging American Military Culture into the 21st Century, 13 August 2010
- Leadership in action: when resource constraints meet conspicuous consumption, we just ignore the problem, 17 September 2010
- See links to his works at The Essential 4GW reading list: Donald Vandergriff.