- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A recent article by active Army Lt. Col. Paul Yingling published in a reputable military magazine argues that general officers in today’s American military have failed miserably at their job. If the job of the general is to see accurately the nature of current and future wars, determine and construct military resources to deal with the nature of war and make truthful — if often unpleasant — recommendations to civilian authorities to conduct those wars, then America’s generals receive an “F” grade from Col. Yingling.

In concluding his article, the most egregious criticism that Col. Yingling makes toward today’s American generals is that they have lacked the moral courage to stand up to their higher leaders and tell them the truth about the reality of war and what is needed to fight it.

Making such a sweeping generalization of the failure of American generals (Col. Yingling does not mention the names of any specific generals whom he has in mind) demands a perspective — or a view to the subject matter. Unfortunately, Col. Yingling does not, and never did, have that perspective yet he uses his position as an active army officer to suggest to his readers that he does.

Other current serving active Army officers with a perspective have offered fair and balanced criticisms of American generals and their performance. The best example is that of Col. H.R. McMaster’s book, “Dereliction of Duty,” in which he cites a failure in American generals during the Vietnam War to state truthfully what they saw as the war’s actual needs and how to fight it. Because they were unwilling to do so, Col. McMaster, the historian with a perspective through historical research, faults them for lacking moral courage. The American Vietnam generals were therefore derelict at their duties; this is a reasonable interpretation to make from the perspective of the historian Col. McMaster sifting through the multitude of the past.

Since the publication of Col. Yingling’s article, the American press and punditry have made him out to appear as an insider who knows the inner workings and activities of America’s highest ranking generals. Col. Yingling has served two tours in Iraq. The first go-around was actually in a non-counterinsurgency unit responsible for the movement and disposition of captured Iraqi Army munitions. His second tour in Iraq was as a counterinsurgency operator with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment under Col. McMaster in the city of Tal Afar. In the latter, Col. Yingling certainly had a perspective of the tactical side of a very successful, if not discrete, counterinsurgency operation. But he was not privy to the conversations, the thinking, the decisions of high American generals like George Casey and John Abizaid concerning Iraq.

For Col. Yingling to condemn American generals for lacking the moral courage to stand up against their civilian leaders for what they knew was right but were afraid to tell would require him to have a perspective about those generals. To make such an argument one would first have to determine through proof that senior American generals believed that they were on the wrong tack in Iraq but were afraid to state such things to their civilian leadership, therefore lacking moral courage. Col. Yingling never had that perspective, and his claim of a failure of American generalship for lacking moral courage is specious.

I commanded an armored reconnaissance squadron in West Baghdad in 2006. I saw firsthand the Iraq civil war. I also had the opportunity from August to November 2006 to take a number of very high-ranking general officers out on patrol with me and show them my areas of operations. I took out at the time the CENTCOM commander, Gen. John Abizaid, the commander of coalition forces in Iraq; Gen. George Casey, the commander of daily operations of coalition forces; and Gen. Pete Chiarelli, to name a few of the most senior generals. They rode in the front seat of my armored humvee while I road in the back seat; we talked each time for about two to three hours. So in a limited sense I gained a perspective on these senior American generals.

In taking these generals out on patrol and getting to know them, I never sensed that they new something that I and the rest of the world didn’t and were afraid to tell us and their superiors. Instead, what I saw was deeply committed leaders to their duty, and to accomplishing the mission given to them by their country. In my eyes they were not derelict.

I think I know what moral courage is. I lost soldiers in my squadron. I spoke to their families shortly after they were killed and gave them an honest rendering of the death of their loved ones. In this sense, I have a perspective on moral courage. That perspective on moral courage combined with my perspective of senior American generals in Iraq in 2006 causes me to conclude that Col. Yingling is hugely off the mark in his condemnation of American generalship.

Others probably don’t think so. Many in the American press and punditry laud him along with his condemnations as speaking truth to power. They assume that Col. Yingling must be right in his proclamations of failure by American generals because he as a serving, active army officer had a perspective on their actions and could reasonably draw conclusions on their performance.

Yet Col. Yingling had no informed perspective on these Generals and so those who quickly and happily embraced his conclusions should now reconsider. At least in the American Army today it is my impression that the majority of soldiers, noncommissioned officers, and officers do not view their generals in the same sweeping and condemning light as does Col. Yingling.

Lt. Col. Gian P. Gentile is commander of the 8-10 Cavalry 4ID in Fort Hood.

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