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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

"Fine, Mr. President. You're the president."

A dysfunctional family

While I have not yet read Bob Woodward's latest installment on the presidency of George W. Bush, The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008, The Washington Post's excerpt from September 8, 2008, gave me new faith in the military officer corps (well, at least the service chiefs).

While reading this piece, my jaw dropped - I never expected that so much opposition to the surge had been voiced by the senior brass. It seemed as if Woodward was describing a dysfunctional family... This dysfunctional family included the uncle that just wouldn't go away, retired General Jack Keane, former Army vice chief of staff, who circumvented the Joint Chiefs of Staff to pitch his "plans" to the president.
A well-meaning, but ineffective General Peter Pace, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who laments about having no fallback plan on the surge... if it doesn't work, he laments, "then you are forced into conscription, which no one wants to talk about." He appeared to be the flag officer equivalent of Beaver Cleaver telling W. Cleaver, "Gee, Dad, I have enough trouble keeping myself in line with your plans without keeping all the other chiefs in line."
A brazenly outspoken General Peter Schoomaker, then Army Chief of Staff, who criticized General Pace, and was always thinking of the future. "Folks keep talking about the readiness of U.S. forces. Ready to do what? We need to look at our strategic depth for handling other threats. How do we get bigger? And how do we make what we have today more ready? This is not just about Iraq! I feel like Nero did when Rome was burning. It just worries the hell out of me," Schoomaker said doing his best impression of always contrary Alex P. Keaton.
A forward thinking chipmunk named Simon, played by Admiral Mike Mullen, then Chief of Naval Operations, questioning, "How does a five-brigade surge over the next few months fit into the larger picture? We have so many other issues and challenges: Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea, and places we are not even thinking about today."
And finally, General John Abizaid, then CENTCOM commander, and General George Casey, then commander of Multi-National Force-Iraq, who had lost control of the war (which was quite obvious to the servicemembers on the ground during his reign...). They were the equivalents of Statler and Waldorf of Muppets' fame watching the play unfold from their palatial balcony.
General Pace explaining to then MNF-I commander, General Casey, what his new strategy is... as directed by Condoleezza Rice, Stephen Hadley, and Meghan O'Sullivan

The scene culminates with the surge being briefed to the service chiefs. President Bush came "armed with what Hadley called 'sweeteners' - more budget money and a promise to increase the size of the active-duty Army and Marine Corps." General Schoomaker fought the president arguing that the Army was at its breaking point saying, "I don't think you have the time to surge and generate enough forces for this thing to continue to go."
The conversation ended with, "Pete, I'm the president," Bush said. "And I've got the time."
"Fine, Mr. President. You're the president," Schoomaker replied.

I have not had this much faith in the Army Officer Corps since I was a cadet. It appears that General Schoomaker and Admiral Mullen fought the good fight, and General Pace attempted to at his level, albeit with little success. I am proud that the service chiefs are thinking 20-30 years down the road... Unfortunately, they lost. I have a feeling that they see the same thing I am seeing in my crystal ball - emerging regional hegemons that are near peer competitors and a broken Army and Marine Corps with a hollowed out officer corps unable to fight and win America's wars in the relatively near future.

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