Two of the fundamental truths of military science, which all soldiers learn during their first days in the training barracks, are that shit always rolls downhill and stink always wafts its way to the top. Operations that are planned by the division staff are executed by a young buck sergeant leading a squad of even younger infantrymen, and when something goes wrong with the plan the general hears about it. Sometimes heads roll. The ideological war hawks of this administration fail to understand either of these principles, which is why the troops are sounding off.
Some people dismiss these complaints as typical of disgruntled privates bellyaching about the chow and the mail. Others, especially on the far-right, are outraged: “How dare they not support the President?” But these aren’t a bunch of privates pitching a bitch about a latrine detail; the guys sounding off are mid-level officers and senior NCOs. Soldiers with experience and training who wear combat patches on their right shoulders, veterans of Gulf War I, Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Macedonia, Afghanistan and Kosovo.
Those soldiers know what they’re talking about. They’ve seen peacekeeping operations done right, in Bosnia, Haiti and Kosovo. And they’ve seen them done wrong in Somalia and Afghanistan. One of the most common complaints we keep hearing from the troops is that they’re not trained, staffed or configured for peacekeeping operations.
The ideologues who planned this operation have always hated the idea of peacekeeping. During the 2000 Presidential campaign Condi Rice articulated the contempt that hard-right conservatives felt toward peacekeeping by saying, “We don’t need to have the 82d Airborne escorting kids to kindergarten.” In fact, one of the Bushies first moves in the Defense Department was to abolish
the Army War College’s Peacekeeping Institute. This agency analyzed past peace operations, including NGO participation and military-civilian agency interaction, and passed the results on to the hundreds of American military officers who attended its seminars and courses. Based on this agency’s input, the military services developed their own unique peacekeeping doctrine, incorporating the lessons learned from past operations. But hey, we’re the greatest power on earth, said the neo-conservatives. We don’t need no stinking Peacekeeping Institute.
Professional soldiers are trained to sound off when something is going wrong. Civilians often have the wrong impression that soldiers smartly salute every order saying, “Yes sir, three bags full!”
I heard a first sergeant in Bosnia sounding off to our brigade commander one day, complaining after the brigade commander issued a complicated order to deal with an individual problem: “One guy shits his pants, and now the whole goddam brigade’s gotta wear a diaper?” That colonel listened to that first sergeant, because he knew that the NCO would have to implement his order. Army leadership schools at all levels emphasize the importance of dissent in the decision-making process. What the outraged conservatives fail to understand is that these professional soldiers are
supporting the chain-of-command. The problem is that the commander-in-chief and his chief advisors can't smell the stink.
Good commanders encourage dissent and bad commanders surround themselves with yes-men. Any organization that relies on yes-men is bound to fail because nobody will point out folly. Ideologues, yes-men by nature, always fail because they are unable to recognize folly, let alone voice objection. The neo-conservative ideologues who planned this Operation Iraqi Freedom systematically excluded dissent, shouted down critics and accused questioners of treason. In the Army, this kind of organizational behavior is called a circle jerk.
The planning of Operation Iraqi Freedom was a classic circle jerk. Led by Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Perle, the ideologues created a climate that excluded input even from the professional warfighters. When General Shinseki rained on their war dance by suggesting that post-war operations could require up to 150,000 troops for ten years, he was ridiculed by the ideologues. Instead, the ideologues believed and bought the estimates of Ahmed Chalibi and his exile buddies at the Iraqi National Congress who told them a tale they wanted to hear. When General Shinseki retired, he warned policy makers to “beware the twelve division strategy for a ten division Army.” Of course neither Rumsfeld nor any of ideologues heard that warning; no representative from the Office of the Secretary of Defense attended Shinseki’s retirement ceremony, apparently just to spite the unaptriotic General who disagreed.
The neo-conservative circle jerk continues in full frenzy. General Abizaid administered a well-placed bitch slap to the war hawks by stating unequivocally that the US now faces classic guerrilla warfare in Iraq, something about which they have been in denial about for quite some time. But when Wolfowitz arrived in Baghdad for his classified, super-secure Magical Mystery Tour of Iraq, he announced, “I look forward to seeing firsthand evidence of what it means for the Iraqi people to be liberated from decades of brutal repression.” He's looking for a few good ass-kissers. Meanwhile, when Bremer was asked if he had a strategy to stabilize the country, he whined "We've got a strategy. It's just damned hard to implement it." And Doug Feith dismisses criticism of his own post-war planning assumptions as “simplistic.” Simple denial. Rather than admit the failure of the neo-conservative ideology of reverse domino-theory and the spontaneous bloom of a rapturous state of free-market democracy, Wolfowitz and Bremer will ignore the professionals, shut down dissent, and try to make reality conform to ideology.
Still, the neo-conservatives are determined to learn from their mistakes. "We're going to get better over time," promised Lawrence Di Rita, assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs and late of the Heritage Foundation. "This is the future for the world we're in at the moment," he said
. "We'll get better as we do it more often." Exactly how the neo-conservatives plan to “get better” is almost as worrisome as the notion that they’ll “do it more often.” Given their consistent pattern of the ideological circle jerk, “getting better” means improved spin control and fixing the leaks before the next circle jerk.
All this peacekeeping might be new stuff for the administration’s ideological war hawks, but it’s old hat for the professionals. General Abizaid criticized the officers and NCOs who sounded off to the press, but he also said discipline is a matter for local commanders. A few officers will get hammered on their efficiency reports, crusty sergeants-major will lay down the law to the NCOs that they better not sound off in public, and the bitching will cease. Remember, these guys are professionals. They know shit rolls downhill.
Hey, I'm retired from the colors. I can sound off as much as I please until I get recalled to active duty, a possibility that once seemed remote but now appears more likely every day. I was looking through some old disks the other day, and I came across some of the items I kept from my own Army career. Among the ash and trash I fould this piece of cynical humor, the kind of stuff soldiers love. It seems appropriate to this post, so I'll include it here:
In the beginning was the Plan.
And then came the Assumptions.
And the assumptions were without form.
And the plan was without substance.
And darkness was upon the faces of the Sergeants.
And the Sergeants spoke among themselves saying, "It is a crock of shit and it stinketh."
And the Sergeants went unto their Captains and said, "It is a pail of dung and we cannot live with the smell."
And the Captains went unto their Colonels saying, "It is a container of organic waste and it is very strong such that none may abide by it."
And the Colonels went unto their Generals, saying, "It is a vessel of fertilizer and none may abide by it."
And the Generals spoke to the Secretaries and Under-Secretaries, saying unto them, "It contains that which aids plant growth and it is very powerful, but none can abide it."
And the Secretaries and Under-Secretaries spoke among themselves, saying to one another, "This new plan will actively promote growth and vigor with very powerful effects."
And the president looked upon the plan and saw that it was good.
And the plan became Policy.
And this is how shit happens.