- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2001

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The new commander-in-chief must have been gratified by the hoooahs he received during his visits to military installations last week.

But the cheers had barely faded before Friday´s missile strikes against Iraq served as a poignant reminder that those military forces must often go in harm´s way with very little notice. It is also a reminder that the incoming administration confronts not only the failures of its predecessor´s policies on Iraq but also the corrosive effects on military leadership and culture that represent the real legacy of Bill Clinton´s stewardship.

Less obvious than the much-discussed mismatch between military resources and commitments, this legacy will be far more difficult to correct. Like the Supreme Court, the military is an organic institution in which promotion who stays, who goes, who commands has important long-term effects, good and bad. After eight years of progressively bad leadership, the damage is serious and amounts to nothing less than a new crisis in command.

While its roots run deep, this crisis can be traced back to our misadventure in Somalia. One hundred American casualties were sustained there in October 1993 18 killed and 82 wounded in a misguided attempt to capture Somali warlord Mohammed Farah Aideed even as President Carter was enlisted to negotiate with him. A chastening experience, but one that might have induced Mr. Clinton to align basic strategic objectives with the inherent risk of committing American forces. Instead, he cut and ran quickly withdrawing American forces from Somalia and thereafter insisting on tight political controls whenever they were deployed.

Those deployments came fast and furious. According to the Congressional Research Service, there were no fewer than 53 occasions between 1993-1999 when U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen or marines were sent to countries where they were in imminent danger of hostilities under the provisions of the War Powers Act. Most were the stuff of headlines: Iraq, Haiti and Bosnia. But there were also lesser-known deployments to Macedonia, Guinea-Bissau, and Sierra Leone among a host of others.

Along the way, it became normal for political guidance to include the de facto requirement for zero casualties usually expressed in stringent force protection edicts. While any commander worth his salt puts the safety of his troops second only to mission accomplishment, zero casualties effectively translated into zero defects. In military services that were already being reduced by as much as a third, even the most trivial mistake could cost a career. The inevitable result was micromanagement, with no detail too small to be scrutinized by higher headquarters that seemed immune from any downsizing.

During my own service in Bosnia the corrosive effects of these practices were obvious. Force protection guidelines for the American contingent were all-important, including an unmistakable reluctance to apprehend war criminals. Our coalition partners routinely if quietly snickered at the sight of our soldiers going everywhere in full battle rattle, regardless of the potential threat or its absence. The zero defects policy and attendant micromanagement produced nightly battle update briefings, with scores of Powerpoint slides eagerly monitored by the covey of generals either in attendance or kibitzing from higher headquarters.

But in Kosovo, the zero casualties edict led to a disturbing new style of warfare that ruled out the vital synergy between air, land and sea combat. Worse yet, we were able to hit targets but not always to see what they were. Civilians and refugees on the ground bore the brunt of this policy with the inevitable accidents attending war by operator-safe standoff munitions.

It can be argued that these policies were successful because in Bosnia and Kosovo we avoided casualties while carrying out the mission set by the political leadership. But this record really represents a fundamental corruption of the most basic military ethics. Anyone familiar with military history, or anyone who simply saw “Saving Private Ryan” can readily appreciate why bold leadership, calculated risk and self-sacrifice are core values of the American military profession. So too the need to rely on the initiative of the most junior soldiers and officers in many cases the essential difference between victory and defeat.

All of which are undercut when the system routinely micromanages initiative out of existence and rewards those who simply go along to get along. There always used to be a lively debate in the officer corps about whether mavericks like George Patton could ever succeed in the post-Vietnam era. One never hears that issue argued anymore because everyone knows the answer. Most of us can even name the names of those bold spirits who sacrificed their careers rather than sacrificing their men or their mission to the new bureaucratic imperatives.

Thus the real Clinton legacy can be glimpsed at two levels. The Generation X-ers of the junior officer corps are leaving in droves, voting with their feet rather than putting up with micromanagement and a military culture that seems curiously unable either to tell the truth or to deal with its consequences.

The senior officers those generals and admirals at the top of the military food chain have risen to their positions during the Clinton era and seem as tainted by it as every other institution he touched during his tenure. To be fair, some of their habits of micromanagement may be partly generational. Raised in an era of information scarcity, they reach instinctively for every detail and are overwhelmed by the information overload of the computer age.

But as vital as generals and admirals are to any military system, there are simply too many of them. In World War II, with command and control arrangements that now seem primitive, it required just above 2,000 flag officers to command more than 12 million men in theaters of war that circled the globe. Today we have 1.3 million men and women in uniform with a ubiquitous command and control system that, if anything, works too well. Yet to perform these functions we somehow require more than 1,000 generals and admirals. Small wonder that too much rank habitually chases too few responsibilities.

Despite the relatively benign appearance of the international environment, it is high time that both Congress and the new administration conduct their strategic reviews damage assessments really. But they must focus on leadership as much as readiness or modernization or missile defense. Nor should they underestimate the stakes or the time needed to implement the required changes. It is worth remembering that the last major Pentagon reforms were passed in 1986 and in direct opposition to the wishes of the most senior members of the military establishment at the time. Yet the streamlined command structure put in place by those reforms faced the ultimate test of combat when we went to war with Iraq barely four years later. So let the reviews begin: and let the purges follow in due course.


Kenneth Allard is a former Army colonel, a Bosnia veteran and an MSNBC military analyst.

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