- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 3, 2007

In the long campaign against fundamentalist Islam, it has become abundantly clear that proactive, pre-emptive counterinsurgency and counterterrorist strategies are the only reliable way to prevail.

The problem is that a majority of America’s political and military leadership has become so risk-averse, so politically correct and so imbued with a go-along-to-get-along operational philosophy that the warriors who want to pursue aggressive, proactive policies find themselves second-guessed, micromanaged, back-stabbed and marginalized. This epidemic of political weakness and lack of moral courage has left our armed forces — the boots-on-the-ground men and women who face death on a daily basis — trapped in a very dangerous situation.

Certainly, a goodly share of the problem rests with former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his top advisers, few of whom grasped that fighting asymmetric insurgencies and terrorists demanded different sorts of military dynamics than the armed forces had been training to fight against.

Because Mr. Rumsfeld’s book-smart but real-world naive staffers had spent their time reading a lot more Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz than they had Mao Tse-tung or Sayyid Qutb, they believed technology would allow the U.S. to prevail in future wars and they ran roughshod over anyone who disagreed with them. This intellectual arrogance, coupled with their military incompetence, allowed the nation to be dragged unprepared into a battle against a determined, aggressive and agile enemy.

Congress must also share the blame. For years now, congressional oversight of the military has been lackadaisical, unimaginative and pro-forma.

Liberals tried to use the military as a social laboratory, while conservatives bought into big-ticket items that ran billions over budget while providing dubious advantage on the battlefield. Bread-and-butter items such as bullets, body armor, improved helmet liners, up-armored Humvees, top-grade boots were overlooked. Training for asymmetric warfare was almost nonexistent. Indeed, the Army’s post-September 11, 2001, counterinsurgency manual had been written during the Reagan administration.

But the lion’s share of responsibility for the incredible military mess we are in now lies on the second floor E-Ring of the Pentagon, in the suites occupied by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. For years now, the Joint Chiefs have abrogated their duties. They have been missing in action. They have been the epitome of the politically correct, go-along-to-get-along culture that has become a cancer on our military.

Let me be clear. I see the Joint Chiefs as the nation’s final guardian on the proper use of military force. They are subject to civilian control. They do not make policy, but they are charged with carrying it out. And so, it is their sworn duty to provide to the civilian leadership — the president, the defense secretary and the Congress – accurate, no-nonsense, straightforward, honest assessments about the capabilities of the U.S. Armed Forces in relation to the administration’s policy goals and objectives. If the Joint Chiefs fail to provide that sort of sound military judgment and advice to the civilian leadership, they have not fulfilled their sworn responsibilities.

The Joint Chiefs should not ever be intimidated, either. Yet, when tough decisions had to be made prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, decisions that would cost the lives of U.S. service personnel, there was only silence from that series of suites on E-Ring. When Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki suggested Mr. Rumsfeld’s estimates were low about how many soldiers it would take to pacify Iraq, the other service chiefs remained silent. Even Gen. Shinseki decided to go along to get along: He retired and slunk into the shadows instead of going public and resigning.

I contend that the cultures of political correctness and go-along-to-get-along have so infected the military that they have stifled the natural aggressiveness that must be part of the military character. This applies not only to our forces but to our allies as well. When 15 British sailors and marines gave up without any attempt to defend themselves or escape, I am sure Winston Churchill and Lord Nelson were turning in their graves.

In the U.S. Navy we have a motto we live by “Don’t give up the ship.” We developed rules of engagement that allowed my junior officers to be proactive and pre-emptive. If they were threatened, they were to do all in their power to protect their ships and their men and women. And I put those instructions in writing so I could protect my junior officers from my more risk-averse, politically correct colleagues in Washington.

Our Joint Chiefs of Staff must do no less when sending our forces to war. They must stand up and be counted. They must provide their best possible military advice, even when they know it will be received unfavorably. I will say it again: The Joint Chiefs must not be intimidated — even by the commander in chief. This clearly never happened with regard to Iraq.

James Lyons, U.S. Navy retired admiral, was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations, and deputy chief of naval operations, where he was principal adviser on all Joint Chiefs of Staff matters.

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