A Failure in Generalship: Lt. Col. Paul Yingling offers tough assessment of Iraq War leadership
Last week on NPR's All Things Considered, Melissa Block interviewed Army Lt. Col. Paul Yingling regarding an article he wrote for the Armed Forces Journal. Lt. Col. Yingling's 4500+ word article titled A Failure in Generalship, offers a stark and glaring assessment of military leadership, and implores congressional leaders to intervene in the selection of generals.
Read the article in Armed Forces Journal here.
Listen to the NPR Radio interview here .
Yingling is deputy commander, 3rd Armored Calvary Regiment at Ft. Hood. He has served two tours in Iraq, another in Bosnia and a fourth in Operation Desert Storm. He also holds a master's degree in political science from the University of Chicago. These aren't the opinions of some pencil pusher or a life long public servant without combat experience.
Some of my favorite lines from the article include:
Despite the fact the U.S. supported insurgencies in Afghanistan, Nicaragua and Angola to hasten the Soviet Union's demise, the U.S. military gave little thought to counterinsurgency throughout the 1990s.
The most fundamental military miscalculation in Iraq has been the failure to commit sufficient forces to provide security to Iraq's population. U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) estimated in its 1998 war plan that 380,000 troops would be necessary for an invasion of Iraq.
Indeed, the tendency of the executive branch to seek out mild-mannered team players to serve as senior generals is part of the problem.
But the following paragraph best sums up the heart of Lt. Col Yingling's article to me. (this all appeared as one paragraph in Armed Forces Journal)
After going into Iraq with too few troops and no coherent plan for postwar stabilization, America's general officer corps did not accurately portray the intensity of the insurgency to the American public. The Iraq Study Group concluded that "there is significant underreporting of the violence in Iraq." The ISG noted that "on one day in July 2006 there were 93 attacks or significant acts of violence reported. Yet a careful review of the reports for that single day brought to light 1,100 acts of violence.
Good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals." Population security is the most important measure of effectiveness in counterinsurgency. For more than three years, America's generals continued to insist that the U.S. was making progress in Iraq.
However, for Iraqi civilians, each year from 2003 onward was more deadly than the one preceding it. For reasons that are not yet clear, America's general officer corps underestimated the strength of the enemy, overestimated the capabilities of Iraq's government and security forces and failed to provide Congress with an accurate assessment of security conditions in Iraq. Moreover, America's generals have not explained clearly the larger strategic risks of committing so large a portion of the nation's deployable land power to a single theater of operations.
In listening to Yingling during the NPR interview, you can hear the sincerity in his voice. He also does not absolve himself from the criticism that he levies towards the military generals. In his article Yingling sites the need for "intelligent, creative and courageous officers." These officers should be creative enough to devise strategies that will win a 21st century war, and have the courage to stand up to the civilian leadership who has dictated a course that they knew to be ill-timed, ill-conceived, and poorly executed.
Edmund Burke is attributed with the quote "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." The insurgency in Iraq has endured because far too many in military leadership, in Congress, and in the White House have done nothing, while the men and women on the front lines continue to make the ultimate sacrifice. I applaud Lt. Col. Paul Yingling's courage for speaking up about the war in Iraq and its similarities to the Vietnam War. Maybe at some point, some of our elected officials will stand up and do something…. maybe.