Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The nature of modern warfare and the Generals' Revolt

British journalist and historian Max Hastings takes his turn in analyzing the recent flap involving Donald Rumsfeld and retired generals. He provides a convinicing history of the changing nature of warfare since the end of World War II. Hastings contends field commanders have lost much of their latitude over battlefield operations to civilian leadership. With this change, Hastings contends that the military is justified in taking a non-tradtional route in publically criticizing civilian leadership if they take the brunt of the blame when military solutions don't completely solve the problem:

If commanders are denied the power to manage campaigns as they think right, it is unjust to allow them to accept blame when these go awry. In the new world, the generals' revolt seems a legitimate response to political mismanagement of operations. If a civilian such as Donald Rumsfeld seeks to exercise from Washington functions that were traditionally those of soldiers, he should take the customary consequences. The most conspicuous historical example of a politician presiding over a military fiasco was that of Winston Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty. He sponsored the 1915 Dardanelles campaign -- and was forced to quit.

I'm sympathetic to Hastings's view to a point. However, I don't see how this applies to Iraq. I've heard nothing but praise for the performance of our troops from civilian leaders. It's well-deserved. I also find the Gallipoli/Iraq, Rumsfeld/Churchill comparisons misplaced. Rumsfeld's made his share of mistakes, but their impact pales in comparison to the World War I bloodbath.


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