IN THE NEWS
Now that JCS Chair General Richard Myers is headed toward retirement, his part in implementing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's ruinous policies is finally getting the press it deserves. Although The Los Angeles Times quotes many civilians, inside and outside the Pentagon, both active and retired, I'd be very, very surprised if the sources for this article didn't include a substantial number of military officers. They've seen the key lessons of the Vietnam War, once codified in the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine, smashed to pieces during the Bush Administration. (With, of course, the bizarre acquiescence of Colin Powell himself.) The hollow, disrespected military of the 1970s is returning, like Frankenstein's monster climbing out of the rubble, as the hollow, overstretched military of this decade.
Here what I think that people will, a decade from now, call "the lessons of Afghanistan and Iraq":
- The Weinberger-Powell Doctrine was a pretty good idea.
- A war in the Middle East is the worst time to pilot risky experiments about deploying barely enough forces to accomplish the mission.
- It's better to fight under the flag of official alliances than ad hoc coalitions.
- Top military leaders whose job it is to give you their frank advice are not the enemy. The enemy is the enemy. If you can't expect their loyalty, it's time to look for a job outside the Pentagon.
- Be honest with the American public and allies about the nature of the wars we are fighting, the exact composition of the enemy forces, and the measure of victory.
- If you ignore the previous lessons, you risk an international and domestic backlash that will make the Vietnam syndrome feel like a summer cold in comparison to the deep, deep sickness that will impair the armed forces and the society that supports them.
I'm not the only person who has reached these conclusions. If you read contemporary articles in Parameters, the Joint Forces Quarterly, the Army Times, and other publications, you may be surprised how openly their authors talk about these dangers. In the 1980s, these same publications featured heated debates over the Pentagon's hostility towards all things related to special operations and low-intensity conflict. Now, we're hearing critiques that span all of US military affairs--and those are the ones in the official journals. Since the Vietnam War, which inspired the scorn of capable officers ranging from David Hackworth to Harry Summers to John Kerry, I can't remember another time when retired military officers like Anthony Zinni have spoken as consistently, cogently, and angrily about the people in charge of military affairs as they do now.
No wonder, therefore, that Myers is facing a barrage of personal criticism as soon as he pokes his head outside his office in the Pentagon. Some of his former colleagues, I imagine, are helping pass the ammunition.