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Thursday, April 24. 2008
Photo: Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan
Peacetime Generals: Too Fearful of Losing to Risk Winning
Peacetime generals have never been able to fight wars. President Abraham Lincoln’s peacetime general was George Brinton McClellan. According to Wikipedia,
The Reader's Companion to American History adds:
Every president since
President Clinton had similar problems. Pentagon brass refused to attack Al Qaeda on the grounds that it was not a “country” and they couldn’t attack private individuals. Former White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke in his book “Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror”, quotes Mike Sheehan, a State Department official, saying in frustration, “What’s it going to take, Dick? Who the shit do they think attacked the [USS] Cole, fuckin’ Martians? The Pentagon brass won’t let Delta go get bin Laden. Hell they won’t even let the Air Force carpet bomb the place. Does al Qaeda have to attack the Pentagon to get their attention?” We know they did, and it did, but that came later. Further, according to Dana Priest's book “The Mission”, the Clinton White House wanted
In 2003, peacetime Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, seeing that following the Powell Doctrine would have been a poor strategy in the first Gulf War, then decided that only a small force would be needed to crush Saddam’s weakened army, and failed to anticipate that the soldiers would continue to fight out of uniform, and collaborative peacetime Generals Eric Shinseki, John Abizaid, Jay Garner, and Ricardo Sanchez went along, although they all criticized Rumsfeld severely later, after they were relieved from duty.
An article, “A failure in generalship”, By Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, states about the second
Finally, we received the gift of General Petraeus, and the war began to turn. It only took
Odds & Ends: April 26, 2008
If you’re a regular reader, you’re well aware of my Odds & Ends column. For anyone new stumbling on this post after a search, let me briefly explain. Odds & Ends is a semi-regular series which attempts to pull together some of t...
Tracked: Apr 26, 08:20
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I appreciate your article, but please don't use Wikipedia as a source. As you well know, Wikipedia is a public, collaborative effort, and you or I could easily go and change the article you cite above to say whatever we want it to say.
case in point: i just came from the wiki ''1864 election'' where i found this:
''The Republican/Union party made an all-out effort to depict the Democrats in the worse way possible. They ridiculed McClellan for his pacifist platform and denounced Democrats as traitorous Copperheads. On November 8, Lincoln won by over 400,000 popular votes and easily clinched an electoral majority.''
Folks, that's worse than misleading. Whoever wrote it just could not bring himself to miss a chance to smear republicans -- even tho Lincoln was fighting to preserve the union and free the slaves.
So. When there is a war, how do we decide who is a peacetime general who has to be moved out? It looks easy in retrospect...
I like how Zinni was included in the mix with Powell and McClellan. I saw Zinni speak at Marine Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1, the equivelant of Top Gun for Marine Air. He is an impressive Marine and a great speaker. However, he later joined a short list of Monday morning Generals critical of the President, and Rumsfeld vis a vis Iraq...I think he learned pretty quickly that those in the arena get to call the shots and that retired Generals need to follow Schwartzkopf's lead and stay out of the politics of the nations's battles...Retired officers have much to add but not in a partisan political soundbite...Or, book...
yep -- our minds are continually normalizing history, making it seem like a well-lit road we traveled upon rather then the black midnight blind groping storm it actually was.
For example, Nimitz beat Yamamoto, so ipso facto the Japanese did not pick as good an admiral as the Americans did (that statement is as correct because the crucial battle of Midway went the way it did due to one dive bomber pilot happening to glance down from 15,000 feet, at the perfect instant through a hole in the clouds, to catch a glimpse of the wake of one EOJ ship).
Rear-view mirror. However, it was clear quickly that McClellan was not a fightin' general who was eager for battle.
you know, it's an oddity, but the record is pretty clear on this: McClelland was very--very--popular with the troops. In fact that was the main point in his favor all along. He was great at getting the army what it needed, great at admin & discipline & drill, and the soldiers loved him.
However, in the 1864 election, when the army was terribly bled and by many accounts exhausted and in today's parlance 'broken', the soldiers, offered a choice between a candidate who was expected to make a peace deal and a candidate expected to fight even harder & bloodier to win, chose by 70%-to-30% to keep fighting, to try to win.
It's something of a myth that America has always had bad/worthless peacetime generals at the outset of conflict. I think Washington proved quite able as did Black Jack Pershing and George Marshall at the outset of WWI and WWII. MacArthur reigned in Japan at the outset of the Korean War but that was no fault of his since it was the civilian administration that gutted the forces in the WWII drawdown and left nothing to spare for war. One can argue Vietnam as much as one wants but the record was pretty clear. The US military destroyed the VC and held the NVA to a standstill. It wiped out the VC during Tet and once again, it was the Congress that lost that war. When the US pulled out it dominated that battle space. I don't know about you but I thought ODS went well and if Bosnia didn't that really was a case of having a political general in charge of the war. I have tremendous admiration for General Zinni and he is free to say whatever he wants to. Wesley Clark is a tool but he too can say what he wants. General Franks destroyed the army of Iraq and overran the entire country in under 2 weeks. I think he did an outstanding job of winning the war. When it comes to COIN it was, once again, the civilian leaders of the military that failed. They did not authorize the shooting of looters and then they put that little shit L. Paul Bremer in charge of all operations in Iraq.
The War between the States saw some sad and pathetic generals who were having great difficulty adjusting to modern warfare, the rifle, field works, etc but for every loser in the Grand Old Army there was a genius in the Army of the West or a Phil Sheridan or Will Sherman. Once again, there were plenty of able generals but it takes a civilian to appoint the actual head of the Army and poor choices can only be laid at the feet of the civilians that run the armed forces since they're the ones that appoint that general.
Grant, too -- the savior of the 'big war' in the east -- got there by the genius of his Vicksburg Campaign.
Lt. Col. Yingling seems to have a poor command of history. American forces "fleeing" from Vietnam had little to do with Generals and much to do with cowards and traitors in Congress.
Creighton Abrams did a solid job in Vietnam - beating down the NVA with one hand tied behind his back by politicians. He and his soldiers did achieved the objective they were given - fight the war to a maintainable stalemate.
The fact that Congress gave away their victory in 1975 by betraying the Republic of Vietnam.
If we lose this war, it will again be the politicians who ran - not our soldiers or their Generals.
Good book to read is Eliot Cohen's Supreme Command especially the paperback as it has an extra chapter about the Iraq war. I think at one point it was on Bush's reading list. It just took a few years for the lesson to sink in or for him to find his general.
"McClelland was very--very--popular with the troops"
That's what I was going say. I was going to say, "Whatever the truth about Little Mac, as I think they called him, the troops seemed to love him."
But Larsen beat me to the draw, again.
"the soldiers, offered a choice between a candidate who was expected to make a peace deal and a candidate expected to fight even harder & bloodier to win, chose by 70%-to-30% to keep fighting, to try to win."
Thgat makes sense too. If you've gone that far, you might as well go the whole way.
God Damn America And The White Race Reverend Wright might want to give these soldiers their due, just once.
General McClellan was an able organizer and trainer, good skills for rear areas and peacetime. But, he lacked the ability to quickly (and correctly) size up tactical or strategic combat situations, lacked the will to take reasonable risks, and it showed in his campaigns.
For too many of the rest, it was political pull or enough money/influence to raise troops that garnered rank in the Union Army. It simply took some tough times on the field to winnow the wheat from the chaff.
In the 20th and 21st centuries, the US military is subject to exactly the same types of socialization as can be found in the corporate world. People are judged more by their ability to get along, and are often promoted to their highest level of incompetency. Rare indeed, do the innovators rise to the top, and when they do their charges are often found to be among the Fortune 100.
i wanted to echo NJS re Creighton Abrams. Lots of very smart mil analysts say he is vastly under-rated -- makes sense as, while the whole war effort got trashed back in DC by the new 'watergate' congress, that same watergate congress has so many defenders in the national press that the ordinary person will never be permitted to associate Gen Abrams with victory or success. Soldiers get to fight for justice, but they don't always get much of it themselves.
generals who never fight but only keep there armies comfy and cozy, like McClelland are always popular with soldiers who are watching their enlistment time run off the clock while playing poker and playing drill soldier.
McClelland wanted to be President more than he wanted to risk defeat and lose that chance. He was a lousy general, more fit for today's Army then the Civil War Army.
Oh! What nonsense.
McClelland's shortcomings have been discussed for nearly a hundred and fifty years. To project his real or imaginary limitations on all of the Generals who spent their earlier years in a peace-time Army is an insult to Ike, Patton, Bradley, Marshall, Rommel, et al.
All of the wrong lessons are drawn from Viet Nam. Given the POLITICAL decision to allow sanctuaries in Laos, Cambodia and much of the North, the military did ok.
As has been stated more than once; "you go to war with the army you have". Not surprisingly the U.S. in 1964 was geared to fight massive tank battles in Europe, possible human wave attacks across the DMZ in Korea, and a massive nuclear exchange. Those were the threats. The U.S. military had to be prepared to counter those threats. There was no POLITICAL will to maintain a robust counter-insurgency capability in addition..
I don't know who dreamed up the left hook in the Gulf War. I do know that I had a map on the wall in my family room in which I had drawn in just such a maneurvre. I have to believe that "Stormin' Norman" and his planners were as proficient in land tactics as this old Naval Aviator. Regardless. the strategy was successful. It was a POLTICAL decision that spared the Iraqi army and to not occupy Shia dominated southern Iraq as a minimum.
Finally, the rush to Bagdhad was a masterfully planned and executed campaign. Hindsight has been working over time ever since. But, I can remember the pundits warning us that the dirty house to house fighting to take the major cities was going cost us enormous casualties. The aftermath has been messier than contemplated, but we are now on the brink of success. If this thing is wrapped up with fewer than 5,000 dead, all of the pompous NAY Sayers and second guessers should eat their words--without salt.
Just one more thought. Much is made of "Pentagon Brass" being reluctant to fight at different times. Who can blame them? It would be irrational and irresponsible to support a fight unless you are convinced that the POLITICAL leadership intends to see it through to the end. Not only did they have the lessons of Viet Nam, they had the example of Reagan pulling the Marines out of Lebanon, and Clinton pulling out of Somalia. It would be criminal negligence to rush your troops into a lethal situation without some confidence that the POLITICAL leadership would support you once the killing started.
One last point. The whole essay loses credibility when Richard Clarke is used as the source for stating that the Pentagon refused to attack Al Qaeda because it was
"not a country". Richard Clarke has proven to be a self-serving blow hard--at best.
I repeat a theme from my earlier post. POLTICAL WILL. You cannot expect the "Generals" to go where there is no political will.