It’s Not The Troops, It’s The Suits
When John F. Kennedy was elected president of our country, he loaded his cabinet with highly intelligent individuals who were not always that smart. As Kennedy’s secretary of defense, corporate tycoon Robert McNamara was the poster boy for this dichotomous group. As a highly “successful” banker and corporate operative, he soon was tagged as a “bean counter” in making decisions that affected the entire American military establishment. He had no feeling for the human touch, for morale or for the subtleties of esprit d’ corps.
I get two professional military journals each month, and the January issue of both had articles on the current “crisis of morale” in our military. There’s also a feature article in the January issue of The Atlantic, “The Tragedy of the American Military.” All of this verbiage tends to blame the U.S. military for our “defeat” in Vietnam, our “defeat” in Iraq, our “defeat” in Afghanistan and now our ongoing “defeat” by ISIS across the Middle East.
Some of the criticism of the military is justified, mostly about the ponderous, inefficient weapons-procurement process, the politicization of that process, and the decentralized nature of weapons manufacturing to spread the work across as many congressional districts as possible — or the nest-feathering bias by very senior flag officers as they approach retirement in lucrative defense jobs.
It is axiomatic that a military which keeps losing wars will have a morale problem — as well it should. But I would submit our military, far from being a losing enterprise, has performed heroically despite its civilian leadership, which has hobbled it with unrealistic Rules of Engagement, flawed strategy, and no actual commitment to victory.
In Vietnam, President Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara conspired the on-again, off-again bombing strategy of North Vietnam, which only gave our resourceful enemy opportunities to repair and resupply. If we had bombed North Vietnam with B-52s in 1968 like we finally did in 1972, the Communists would have signed the Paris Peace Accords four years earlier, saving millions of lives and guaranteeing a free South Vietnam.
As I have said before in this column, our military had the war won until the post-Watergate Democratic Congress snatched defeat from the jaws of our victory.
In the first Iraq war, World War II Navy pilot President George H.W. Bush and his field commander, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, blitzkrieged across the Iraqi desert to liberate Kuwait from Saddam’s greedy grip. They left a junk-yard trail of smashed Iraqi tanks, guns and vehicles, and then would have liberated Baghdad if not for Bush’s promise to the Saudis to stop at Kuwait — a clear military victory.
Next came the Afghanistan war against the Taliban, who were harboring Osama bin Ladin and his terrorist gang who had planned the murder of nearly 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001. Within six months, U.S. Special Warfare troops operating under cover, wearing Taliban beards and clothing and riding Taliban horses, were vectoring radar-guided bombs and missiles from U.S. planes onto Taliban targets seemingly from out of nowhere. We were clearly winning that war, driving al-Qaida deep into Pakistan, and neutralizing Osama bin Laden for years.
Then our civilian leaders changed the priority to the “shock and awe” over Baghdad back in Iraq.
Just as in Vietnam, after several hard-fought years culminating in the “surge,” we finally had the Iraq war under control, free elections had been held for the first time in that country and there was at least hope for the future. Then Commander-in-Chief Obama took the reins and precipitously withdrew U.S. troops, leaving a glaring political and military vacuum behind. “That’s how wars are ended in the 21st century,” says Obama.
Bottom line: Our military has done everything its civilian leadership has asked of it. The problem lies with the civilian leadership, starting at the very top. If there’s a morale problem, it lies at the feet of the “suits” and not at the feet of the war fighters.