Public Comment

Commentary: Iraq Defeat Looms

By Karl Davis
Friday May 11, 2007

Below is an excerpt from “A failure in generalship”by Army Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, deputy commander, 3rd Armored Calvary Regiment, as published in the Armed Forces Journal, followed by a response by Karl Davis, a Berkeley High graduate currently on active duty as colonel in the National Guard.  


For the second time in a generation, the United States faces the prospect of defeat at the hands of an insurgency. In April 1975, the United States fled the Republic of Vietnam, abandoning our allies to their fate at the hands of North Vietnamese communists. In 2007, Iraq’s grave and deteriorating condition offers diminishing hope for an American victory and portends risk of an even wider and more destructive regional war. These debacles are not attributable to individual failures, but rather to a crisis in an entire institution: America’s general officer corps. America’s generals have failed to prepare our armed forces for war and advise civilian authorities on the application of force to achieve the aims of policy. The argument that follows consists of three elements. First, generals have a responsibility to society to provide policymakers with a correct estimate of strategic probabilities. Second, America’s generals in Vietnam and Iraq failed to perform this responsibility. Third, remedying the crisis in American generalship requires the intervention of Congress. 


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Yingling does a good job of describing some aspects clearly lacking in our present three-front war, particularly the lack of social political involvement of the nation at war. But you cannot lead a people to war on false pretexts, and then expect their commitment to the cause down the road. The Administration’s misrepresentations were very short-sighted. I do have to take some measure of dispute with his analysis that it is the generals who failed to foresee our current fight. Since 1991, the US history of warfare has been one low intensity operation other-than-war after another. We have fought an increasingly complex variety of fights, to include Somalia, Philippines, Angola, Bosnia, Kosovo, Columbia, Haiti. The force-on-force model we pursued in the prepare-to-fight World War II again Cold War era was pretty well replaced, both in training and in operations. We knew full well the nature of the fight in Afghanistan, on a military level. Many of us foresaw the nature of war in Iraq, as well. That these two fronts have gone poorly is a matter of political leadership, at least as much as military. As Yingling points out, the military has a duty to instruct as to its appropriate purposes and employment; but also politicians must recognize when a fight is diplomatic, and when it can be won with force. Or when the balance has tipped, and a new approach would be appropriate. 

In Afghanistan, we are now losing the fight we won three years ago. Without a significant change of course, we will be declaring defeat there, too, soon enough. We may or may not have won the “land war” in Iraq, depending on how one sees things, but we never engaged appropriately the multifaceted conflict that followed. By refusing to use the full range of tools available, to include regional diplomacy, we doomed our military to a uni-dimensional fight on a multi-level battlefield. Our one success in the “Global War", so far, has been stemming the insurgency in the Philippines. I believe we have been successful there, in a large part, because it is a nearly invisible operation, and the theater leadership is allowed free reign to manage the fight, both military and diplomatic, as they see necessary. With hope, the next administration will see a way through the woods it inherits, both without our having to suffer another post-Vietnam self-canabilism and without leaving a significant portion of the world dedicated to our destruction.