Is the USA worthy of its servants?

Greg Richards
In an article  in the Washington Post last week, Peter Baker and Thomas Ricks said that three retired generals had turned down an offer to become what the authors called the "Czar" for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, working out of the White House.  This new post is, at least in the article, vaguely defined and ahistoric, meaning that we have not had such an official before.  To most of us, this function would seem to be the role of the president himself. 

The only general quoted is retired Marine general John J. "Jack" Sheehan.  He offered as his somewhat inglorious reason for not responding to the president's offer that it was likely that he would get an ulcer in the job and that seemed too great a sacrifice for a job in which general Sheehan had no faith.

Presumably concerned lest the public be under a misapprehension about his views on service to the country following his "no ulcer" criterion, General Sheehan expanded on his thinking in a signed column in the Washington Post yesterday.  The gravamen of General Sheehan's view is summarized in the first sentence of the third paragraph of the piece:

What I found in discussions with current and former members of this administration is that there is no agreed-upon strategic view of the Iraq problem or the region.

So, whatever strategy is being executed by General Petraeus and, over him, Admiral Fallon, and, over them, the Secretaries of State and Defense, and, over them, the President, does not meet with the approval of General Sheehan.  Anyone familiar with military history will not be surprised that there is disagreement, even violent disagreement, on this question. 

Let's summarize the situation.  Perhaps through poor planning and execution, perhaps even through negligence, but perhaps simply due to the ineluctable correlation of forces, the United States of America finds herself in a jam in Iraq.  The Iraq War, however well or badly conceived and executed, grew out of the attack on 9/11.  No, not because of any direct link between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein - the Administration has always been very clear on this point - but for two related reasons: (1)  the success of the 9/11 attack meant that deterrence had failed in the war with Islamic radicalism and had thus dramatically narrowed our margin of error if in the future Saddam were to be an antagonist; (2) as a strategic move we wanted to blunt the appeal of Islamic radicalism by midwifing a successful Islamic society out from under a totalitarian system.

Whether these reasons were good and sufficient or not, Congress signed off on them and declared war on Iraq.  That is the history.

Now, things have not gone well.  In part this is because the resources of the government have not been mobilized to fight this conflict.  This is the provenance of the "war Czar" idea, again however well or poorly this idea is conceived. 

The country has decided to throw its reserves into the balance in this conflict.  We are playing our final cards in an effort to bring defeat underfoot.  Troops in the field are sacrificing themselves for this objective.  In a very real sense, the fate of the nation hangs on the outcome. 

But the struggle does not meet General Sheehan's standard for participating.  Well, thank you for letting us know, general.  I wonder what John Basilone would say.

There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, perhaps not, about George Marshall.  In the inter-war years, Marshall was a colonel, and one of his duties was running the southeastern section of the Civilian Conservation Corps, the purpose of which was to provide gainful employment and healthy activity for young men impoverished by the Depression.  During the organizational days of one of the camps, a major walked in to Marshall's office and said:

"Colonel, I didn't join the Army to wet nurse a bunch of crackers."

"Thank you for your opinion, major.  Given your views, I think it would be best if you were out of this camp by 1100 hours."

"Very well, colonel.  What are my orders?  Where should I go?"

"Major, I have no orders for you and I don't care where you go.  Just be out of my camp by 1100 hours."




In an article  in the Washington Post last week, Peter Baker and Thomas Ricks said that three retired generals had turned down an offer to become what the authors called the "Czar" for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, working out of the White House.  This new post is, at least in the article, vaguely defined and ahistoric, meaning that we have not had such an official before.  To most of us, this function would seem to be the role of the president himself. 

The only general quoted is retired Marine general John J. "Jack" Sheehan.  He offered as his somewhat inglorious reason for not responding to the president's offer that it was likely that he would get an ulcer in the job and that seemed too great a sacrifice for a job in which general Sheehan had no faith.

Presumably concerned lest the public be under a misapprehension about his views on service to the country following his "no ulcer" criterion, General Sheehan expanded on his thinking in a signed column in the Washington Post yesterday.  The gravamen of General Sheehan's view is summarized in the first sentence of the third paragraph of the piece:

What I found in discussions with current and former members of this administration is that there is no agreed-upon strategic view of the Iraq problem or the region.

So, whatever strategy is being executed by General Petraeus and, over him, Admiral Fallon, and, over them, the Secretaries of State and Defense, and, over them, the President, does not meet with the approval of General Sheehan.  Anyone familiar with military history will not be surprised that there is disagreement, even violent disagreement, on this question. 

Let's summarize the situation.  Perhaps through poor planning and execution, perhaps even through negligence, but perhaps simply due to the ineluctable correlation of forces, the United States of America finds herself in a jam in Iraq.  The Iraq War, however well or badly conceived and executed, grew out of the attack on 9/11.  No, not because of any direct link between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein - the Administration has always been very clear on this point - but for two related reasons: (1)  the success of the 9/11 attack meant that deterrence had failed in the war with Islamic radicalism and had thus dramatically narrowed our margin of error if in the future Saddam were to be an antagonist; (2) as a strategic move we wanted to blunt the appeal of Islamic radicalism by midwifing a successful Islamic society out from under a totalitarian system.

Whether these reasons were good and sufficient or not, Congress signed off on them and declared war on Iraq.  That is the history.

Now, things have not gone well.  In part this is because the resources of the government have not been mobilized to fight this conflict.  This is the provenance of the "war Czar" idea, again however well or poorly this idea is conceived. 

The country has decided to throw its reserves into the balance in this conflict.  We are playing our final cards in an effort to bring defeat underfoot.  Troops in the field are sacrificing themselves for this objective.  In a very real sense, the fate of the nation hangs on the outcome. 

But the struggle does not meet General Sheehan's standard for participating.  Well, thank you for letting us know, general.  I wonder what John Basilone would say.

There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, perhaps not, about George Marshall.  In the inter-war years, Marshall was a colonel, and one of his duties was running the southeastern section of the Civilian Conservation Corps, the purpose of which was to provide gainful employment and healthy activity for young men impoverished by the Depression.  During the organizational days of one of the camps, a major walked in to Marshall's office and said:

"Colonel, I didn't join the Army to wet nurse a bunch of crackers."

"Thank you for your opinion, major.  Given your views, I think it would be best if you were out of this camp by 1100 hours."

"Very well, colonel.  What are my orders?  Where should I go?"

"Major, I have no orders for you and I don't care where you go.  Just be out of my camp by 1100 hours."