Gen Petraeus' disgrace - in a matter that has little apparent connection to his performance as a military leader - opens the way for a needed public discussion, says Andrew Bacevich, visiting research fellow at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, and a retired Army colonel.From http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20317910
"Knocking him off the pedestal - this huge standing that he had - ought to create a climate in which serious people can begin to ask serious questions about why our military has not delivered on our expectations" in Iraq and Afghanistan, he says.
First off, COL (ret) Bracevich makes a great soundbite. He also makes a point that the .mil has been largely given a pass on performance.
Thomas Rick, in this article published in The Atlantic blames the whole failure of the military to "accomplish something" at the feat of the Flag Grade officers. Even to the point of equating "firing" officers with a measure of a successful military. Obviously a 12 million man draftee Army fighting a parity force is a bit different to lead than an all volunteer Army fighting an asymetric force. There are very good reasons that there are fewer GO's fired (for one the selection process for getting into a leadership position is very tight and the selection process generally works good enough to separate the wheat from the chaff).
The biggest problem here is that when someone has the balls to tell the President that what he wants is foolish, like GEN Shinseki did prior to the second invasion of Iraq, they get replaced.
If you want us to invade a country, we can do that (and are pretty good at it).
You want us to kill people, we can do that too (and are really good at it).
If you want the .mil to figure out what the National Objectives should be, you need elect a General to the White House (something that we haven't had since Eisenhower).
What the hell was the long term goal in invading Afghanistan? Did anyone lay out a plan, we'll invade, get back at the Taliban for sheltering Al Quaeda, and then what? Set up a stable democracy in a country that has never had a stable democracy? And the Bush administration made a huge case for Iraqi WMDs to justify military intervention, replaced one 4 Star who said "this is a bad idea" with a 4 Star who said, "sure I can invade with half the troops Shinseki wanted. I'm sure the Iraqi people are smart and industrious and will have no problem transitioining to democracy despite living under a one party military dictatorship for multiple decades."
The real problem is that the military has done what it was told. This is what happens when someone doesn't sit down and figure out the damn strategy before getting inolved in tactical domination. And when someone in the .mil says, "hold on, what you are asking us to do is stupid and counterproductive" they get replaced with someone who will follow orders without regards to politics.
The President publishes a document outlining national strategy. The SecDef publishes a document outlining DOD support to the Presidents direction. The Combatant Commander's (COCOM) Review OPERATIONS PLANS (OPLAN) in support of those guiding documents. A lot of ideas and reviewers put their unique take on how to do business. Some of those plans are predictable, such as responding to an invasion of a country with which we have a treaty obligation to defend. My point is that by the time "National Strategy" is filtered down just two levels, to the COCOM 4 star billet, it has gone from "Strategic" to "Operational." The Operational level of war is no longer strategic.
Between "tactical" and "strategic" is this realm of "operational level" where you do something to directly affect something else. "Operation Restore Hope" or "Operation Overlord" or "Operation Urgent Fury" are all historic examples of an Operational level of war. An ally of ours is invaded, say a tiny country that produces 20% of the worlds oil, and the president says, "Hey SECDEF, do we have a plan to restore the international borders and push back the agressor?" At this point the SECDEF looks to the COCOM Commander, who is supposed to have an OPLAN for just this contingency on the shelf, and say, "Yes Mr. President, we have a plan to do that, it will likely take six months of prep and cost X billions of dollars."
Operations have to be approved by POTUS and if it is a war, approved by Congress. There is supposed to be this Executive and Legislative check on the use of military force. One that assumes an Executive and Legislature with enough military experience and cunning to be judicious in passing judgement. Still, Kennedy sent troops to Vietnam, and Congress backed doubling down under Johnson, with a much higher percentage of Veterans in both branches.
At the heart of an Operation is a 4 Star General, not making strategy, but turning a strategic decision into an operation to achieve some strategic goal (such as "make good on our promises to our allies" or "defend liberty from those who would oppress it.") Blaming a General for a strategic failure is stupid. If the .mil is going to be held to a higher standard by all means let the Generals (and Sergeants Major, and Chief Warrant 5's) all do their thing and make policy. But nobody wants that, nobody wants a military that is anything less than a willing servant to the Republic. Not our fault that Democracy gives us the government we deserve.
And that is the military you want, the ones that answer "yes or no" to the "can we do this" questions. You do not want a military making the "should we do this" type questions. Afghanistan is not an impossible mission. Afghanistan is an impossible mission to accomplish in less than thirty years. I cannot see a way to "win" Afghanistan in the current timetable. Right now the policies being put forth at the Operational level seem to be reflecting this reality, and trying to get untangled without too much mess on the exit.
But would the American public, voters and taxpayers, have choked down the cruel logic that it really isn't worth our time to invade Afghanistan? Following the 9/11 attacks the clamor of the public to "do something" was pretty intense. Sometimes I admire the British with their national character of "keep calm and carry on" in the face of adversity. Because our national reaction to 9/11 was to invade a country of no strategic worth and create the TSA which has no practical security value. Sometimes doing nothing is the right answer to aggression.
On the flip side, sometimes the only appropriate answer to aggression is overwhelming violence. It is difficult to pick a leader who truly knows when to use which tactic in the toolbox.
As a complete aside, there has been a lot of news lately about Generals and Admirals behaving badly. From ADM Stavridis' IG investigation to Kip Ward's demotion, to BG Sinclair at Fort Bragg's sex scandal, to Petraeus's affair. It seems like there is almost a concerted push to take away public credibility from the military. I guess it is much easier to pull funding from something people loathe than something people love. I'm all for people understanding that Soldiers and Sailors are just human, but for all their faults, a lot of the people I work with and for really are heroes. On the flip side, some are real turd burglers.