Back to the "real" world: Fiasco cont'd

I am midway through Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, by Thomas Ricks. The book offers many examples of the incompetence, stubbornness, and ignorant denial of civilian authorities, i.e., Cheney, Rumsfeld, and (last but not least) George W. Bush.

What is unexpectedsince the book depends on the accounts of military men and women as well as official after-action reports of battles, minor incidents, and encounters with insurgentsis how those same vices show up in the armed forces, going from the top down. General Tommy Franks and then his successor, General Ricardo Sanchez, whether out of loyalty to the civilian view or incompetence, etc., badly failed to read the situation on the ground after the famous victory. Sanchezs division commanders who had charge of specific areas of
Iraq/>/> appeared, with one exception, to suffer the same inability to read the situation and to respond appropriately.

When the dust settles, if it ever does, the military will rightly claim the civilians were in charge and they messed up (echoes of
Vietnam/>/>). But in some critically important ways the military messed up too, not simply because they obeyed civilian orders, but because some of them were incompetent military leaders.

Here is how Ricks sums up the issue:

Civilian leaders and top military commanders had failed to define what kind of war was being fought, and publicly had insisted that it was something other than it was. Seen in this light, the abuses that occurred later in 2003 at the Abu Ghraib prison [Ricks has a whole chapter on this] werent an anomalous incident but rather the logical and predictable outcome of a series of panicky decisions made by senior commanders [reporting to Sanchez], which in turn had resulted from the divided, troop-poor approach devised months earlier by Secretary Rumsfeld and Gen. Franks.

Two issues here:

Where are the mechanisms in the military for information to go up the chain-of-command as well as come down it? If Ricks has learned all that he was from interviews, reports, and testimony, how come the chain of command didnt or hasnt learned it?

If our military leaders are in this instance as incompetent as our civilian leaders, what exactly is the power of the last standing superpower? Smart weapons controlled by stupid people?

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages.

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C'est la guerre...

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