Friday, April 27, 2007

This article is a shot heard round the world:

"A failure in Generalship" by LTC Paul Yingling.

WaPo has picked it up here "Army Officer Accuses Generals of 'Intellectual and Moral Failures'"

The Small Wars Council is discussing it here.

How much you want to bet that this article has crossed the desk of Secretary Gates ? And it should.

Required reading.


SWJ Blog - "A Failure in Generalship"

Interview with LTC Paul Yingling Combined Arms Research Library ( thanks, Lex !)

Thomas P.M. Barnett -" New Officers"

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He's calling for greater Congressional review of Generals as his solution. That doesn't seem to be a good idea at all and within the current context seems like an overt political statement.

"The views expressed here are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of the Army or the Defense Department."

Understatement of the year?

I agree with his call for revising promotion. A 360-degree evaluation of candidates for promotion goes hand in hand with the now commonly accepted idea that responsibility goes down the chain of command as well as up.

Currently my understanding of how officers get promoted is that they go over to the NCS (http://usacac.army.mil/CAC/cac-t/nsc/), do some play-acting of maneuvering heavy armored columns, and if they do well they are promoted (simplified to get to the point). While I don't know about Yingling's idea of requiring graduate education, I do think that the current method of promotion leads to lots of generals good at one specific thing, and nobody with any expertise at anything else.

Great column, thanks for the heads up.
Forgot to add - I can't wait to see what the folks at D-N-I.net have to say about this piece.
Why is Congress getting involved a problem? For the first time in six years, both Republicans & Democrats are finally acting like legislators and asking questions, demanding answers and throwing the BS flag now and then when the executive grossly overreaches. What a tragedy for us in the military as well as the taxpayers that they are still not asking the tough questions of the military, especially after 4 years of misleading testimony and outright lies from all these generals who have been marching up to Capitol Hill and claiming we're "winning" or "making progress".

Excellent article, I fear for his career but SECDEF Gates seems to have a lot more intellectual and moral courage than prior SECDEFs so he may emerge largely unscathed if Gates has anything to say about it.
hi Barnabus,

The Congress is no body of exemplars when it comes to accountability I grant you but I think that wasn't the entirety of the thrust of the Colonel's complaint against his general officers.

hi Adrian

I agree the promotion/personnel system is a longstanding mess. The downsizing in the 1990's also hit "warfighters" harder than " staffers" with better connections and fewer blemishes on their service records. I'll be surprised if the DNI cadre doesn't feature it by Monday.

Hi Eddie,

Gates has a better handle o at least some of the senior officers than most Secdefs because he undoubtedly sat across the table from some of them when they were more junior in rank and he was a deputy at CIA and NSA.
Late in the day, but I am curious; is this the equivalent of Hackworth saying that Vietnam was a lost cause? My understanding is that he was the first active colonel to call foul during 'Nam.

Regardless, I have certain underlying misgivings with his arguments, but I see his assessment as being correct. I personally like his view on the moral cowardness of the general staff pre-war. My view is that a true leader should lay down on his sword for the right values as opposed to securing his pension (maybe abolish the pension system? or is that to much in line with the Revolutionary generation?) Anyways, it was a good article and I think it will make many think hard about what we are doing. I personally believe this is watershed event. Not many active colonels have called out their bosses. We shall see what transpires.


That's an interesting comparison with Hackworth. It's been a long time since I read About Face but as I recall, aside from the handling of the war strategy, Hackworth had other problems with his superiors - didn't he allege they tried to have him fragged ?

There is the problem overall in Washington, one that extends far beyond the military, that no "ranking officer" or appointee loses their job no matter how badly they screw up ( at least until it becomes a national crisis scandal)but rank and filers are punished for trivialities or to cover up the mistakes of their superiors. It's an example of elite class boomer generation solidarity, accountability is something for others.

The old adage about the British occasionally shooting an admiral in order to encourage the rest is a lesson studiously ignored in DC.
Gen. Casey is the best example, after an incompetent run as commander in Iraq, he was promoted to Chief Of Staff of the Army. Congress could have stopped this disgrace, but didn't.
Frankly I think LTC Yingling "doth protest too much." He is rich on a selective reading of Clausewitz, but light on applying Karl von's trinity of probability (military), rationality (state) and rage (people). I'm waiting for Paul's sequel that decries the failures of the less-accountable-than-generals senior civilian leadership in the PNT.
Hi Shane,

Good to hear from you.

The SWC had some ppl who knew Yingling and thought that he walked on water in terms of being an officer ( though an outspoken minority on that board agree with you). At a minimum Yingling has the courage of his convictions.

Congress will ultimately disappoint Yingling - most members have neither the inclination nor the frame of reference to effectively conduct oversight at that depth ( the era in which a Chairman Vinson with seniority of decades could speak of "his Navy", or similarly for the other services are long past). The 360 review would be a helpful component if it included subordnate commanders who had to live with the decisions of their general officers. Broadening the educational parameters is in itself a good thing - not sure if rigidly formalizing it is a great idea. We'd just steer ppl into new narrow tracks of thinking.

How would you reform " the system" ?
Mark et al.,

Before we consider "reforming" the system, I think it is useful to first note some facts about our system. For more than 30 years (nearly an entire career for some), we've had an all-volunteer military with high standards for admission. America has probably invested more proportionally in its military (Leviathan) than any other all-volunteer military force in history (this is conjecture on my part, based on what Tom Barnett's mentor Art Cebrowski would call "Data Free Analysis" :-).

So, with an all-volunteer force in a $10T+/yr GDP nation with a low (<5%) unemployment rate, you get some interesting dynamics. "Careerism" is one of them.

I am not a Personnelist, but I know of many who have written extensively on the concept (most notably my good friend Don Vandergriff, a fine Tanker who was outspoken and revered by his troops but whose career was deep-sixed by a vindictive CO). Don has written much on personnel reform, training and the "culture wars" in the DoD; a link to one of his monographs on D-N-I is here:


Without getting too long-winded, I believe that there is a fundamental lack of accountability within the Pentagon. Not only in budgets (ask anyone in OSD if they REALLY know where all the money goes; they don't), but also in performance.

Paul's idea of implementing 360-degree profiles merits consideration (I did a couple myself as a middle manager at U.S. Joint Forces Command, and commented on several others). That might be a good place to start enhancing a culture of accountability within all ranks.

But there is no "silver bullet", especially in a system as complex as the U.S. military. I think Paul would have been more effective had he focused on the civilian leaders' roles in the "failures" he cites.

Fundamentally, I believe the system is sound. Every soldier/sailor/airman/Marine and guardsman -- enlisted, NCO, and officer alike -- as well as every civilian employee of the U.S. Government swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign AND DOMESTIC. And we all took that oath freely, without any mental reservation nor purpose of evasion.

Accountability begins inside. And sometimes we all need to be reminded of our promises.

It's a good thing that we have an all-volunteer military. And it's a good thing that we have civilian oversight of the warmaking capacity of our nation. And it's a good thing that we have a Legislative Branch that holds the purse strings. Separation of powers works.

The framers of the U.S. Constitution deliberately split the powers across the branches of the government to protect our individual freedoms. We wanted weak government in the early days of the Republic, and I submit that we still want it today.

As a final bit of "Data Free Analysis", consider the fate that befell the Roman empire after the creation of the Praetorian Guard. The "new elite" lost touch with their roots, with their sense of personal integrity and service to the republic. And that may be the direction that our own Republic goes if we continue to indulge a paucity of personal accountability within ALL ranks of leadership.

Semper Fidelis,

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