Two things in last Sunday's Times caught my attention. First, something that wasn't there--there was not one story in the A Section reporting on events in Iraq. There was a big front-page feature story about politicians visiting Iraq and cross-pollinating with generals and diplomats, but no mention of the past days' warfare, progress or lack thereof, American casualties, Iraqi casualties, even diplomatic progress--in other words, no hard news.
If I were still running CNN, I'd do an Iraq report every four hours, a report from Afghanistan every eight hours. Both of those conflicts are 24-hour-a-day wars. Mortar rounds come down, I.E.D.s explode, helicopters crash, ambushes are set, doors are knocked down, houses are searched, men die, suffer grievous wounds or impose them on others at all hours of the day and night. Television has long since ended daily reports from the battlefields, but the New York Times, somehow or other, always had at least one or two paragraphs in a daily Iraq story that reported on deaths, casualties or other disasters. Sunday's Times was the first Times I've seen with no update from the front lines, that is, if there are front lines in a guerilla war.
President Bush calls the Iraq war "a struggle for civilization. We fight for a free way of life against a new barbarism -- an ideology whose followers have killed thousands on American soil, and seek to kill again on even a greater scale." He may not believe this; if he did, we'd be fighting to win and we'd have a draft and a war tax by now, but I do believe we are battling against those who wish us ill and that we should pay daily attention to that battle and to the men who fight it. Iraq and Iran are covered in gore and guts, and this administration would like nothing more than for us to forget that. It's the job of journalists to make sure we don't do that.
The Times Magazine, on the other hand, scared the hell out of me. In full disclosure, I have been concerned for three years about the effects of the Iraq war on the U.S. Army. Back then I blogged a piece about my fears of a U.S. Army rebellion. The military have always relied upon the Republican Party--the tough guys--to take care of them. But in this case, Donald Rumsfeld betrayed the Army's trust. He pushed his generals around and sent them to war with too few men and the wrong equipment. To quote Rumsfeld, "You fight the war with the army you have, not the one you want." But if he didn't have the army he wanted, why did he rush to war? The Iraqis were not exactly battering down our gates.
Secretary Rumsfeld sent our troops into the desert with just enough men not to lose but not nearly enough to win. Nevertheless, the generals about whom I was so concerned three years ago are not about to lead a rebellion. They know we're stuck; they resent it, but they're not going to do anything about it. So I relaxed until I read "Challenging the Generals" by Fred Kaplan in the Times Magazine last Sunday.
Kaplan had just attended a talk that Gen. Richard Cody, the U.S. Army's Vice Chief of Staff, had given to 119 junior officers, lieutenants and captains, at Fort Knox, KY. Capt. Matt Wignall asked the general what he thought of an article by Lt. Col. Paul Yingling called "A Failure in Generalship". Cody turned the question back on Wignall. According to Kaplan, he said, "You all have just come back from combat, you're young captains, what's your opinion of the general officers' corps?" Again according to Kaplan, one captain asked "whether any generals 'should be held accountable for the war's failures'... Another said that general officers were so far removed from the fighting, they wound up 'sheltered from the truth' and 'don't know what's going on.'"
Kaplan thinks that the above reflects "a brewing conflict between the Army's junior and senior officer corps--lieutenants and captains on one hand, generals on the other, with majors and colonels ('field-grade officers') straddling the divide and sometimes taking sides." Kaplan probably wouldn't agree, but this reminds me of Latin America and the revolts of the colonels--times when the generals get too close to the politicians, the politicians get it all wrong, and the colonels decide they have to take matters into their own hands. If this war ends in disaster (and we're only one Tet away from that), the Army is going to blame somebody, and the results will be unpleasant.
Cody doesn't help matters any. Kaplan writes, "In response to the captains' questions, Gen. Cody acknowledged, as senior officers often do now, that the Iraq war was 'mismanaged' in its first phases...Still, he rejected the border critique. 'I think we've got great general officers that are meeting tough demands,' he insisted. He railed instead at politicians for cutting back the military in the 1990s. 'Those are the people who ought to be held accountable,' he said." The general displays no courage when he blames it all on politicians in the '90s; that's code for Bill Clinton, and nobody ever missed a meal at the White House for criticizing Clinton.
Kaplan goes on to write about the Army's loss of West Point graduates, as more and more of them opt out at their first opportunity, five years after graduation, and notes that Gen. George Marshall fired 31 out of 42 generals who commanded divisions or corps as unsuited for battle, emphasizing that most of the men fighting in Iraq have had far more battlefield experience than the senior officers they report to. None of that's going to make this generation of officers feel any better if they lose the Iraq war.
Both the men and the machines in Iraq are wearing out. If we love them and honor them we have no choice but to either increase our efforts, meaning an overhaul of our military leaders, a draft, a civilian war production board to get our troops the equipment they need when they need it, or just admit that we can't win this "struggle for civilization" and get our guys out immediately. It's up to President Bush to make the call.
After 1918 the defeated armies of Germany and Russia, contemptuous of their leaders, became Nazis and Bolsheviks. From what Kaplan writes, there is a growing contempt within our Army for the men who now lead them. We must do something about that fast.