We have the best military in the world, hands down. We must complete what we started in Iraq, and there is no doubt in my mind that we have the military capacity to do that, provided the political will is there. Our success in Iraq is due to the incredible performance of our servicemen and women. I believe that I have an obligation and a duty to speak out.
I had the opportunity to observe high-level policy formulation in the Pentagon and experience firsthand its impact on the ground. I have concluded that we need new leadership in the Defense Department because of a pattern of poor strategic decisions and a leadership style that is contemptuous, dismissive, arrogant and abusive. This dismissive attitude has frayed long-standing alliances with our allies inside and outside NATO, alliances that are fundamental to our security and to building strong coalitions. It is time to hold our leaders accountable. A leader is responsible for everything an organization does or fails to do. It is time to address the axis of arrogance and the reinforcing of strategic failures in decision-making.
We went to war with the wrong war plan. Senior civilian leadership chose to radically alter the results of 12 years of deliberate and continuous war planning, which was improved and approved, year after year, by previous secretaries of defense, all supported by their associated chairmen and Joint Chiefs of Staffs. Previous planning identified the need for up to three times the troop strength we committed to remove the regime in Iraq and set the conditions for peace there. Building the peace is a tough business; for a host of reasons, it requires boots on the ground.
Our current leadership decided to discount professional military advice and ignore more than a decade of competent military planning. It failed to consider military lessons learned, while displaying ignorance of the tribal, ethnic and religious complexities that have always defined Iraq. We took down a regime but failed to provide the resources to build the peace. The shortage of troops never allowed commanders on the ground to deal properly with the insurgency and the unexpected. What could have been a deliberate victory is now a long, protracted challenge.
The national embarrassment of Abu Ghraib can be traced right back to strategic policy decisions. We provided young and often untrained and poorly led soldiers with ambiguous rules for prisoner treatment and interrogation. We challenged commanders with insufficient troop levels, which put them in the position of managing shortages rather than leading, planning and anticipating mission requirements. The tragedy of Abu Ghraib should have been no surprise to any of us.
We disbanded the Iraqi military. This created unbelievable chaos, which we were in no position to control, and gave the insurgency a huge source of manpower, weapons and military experience. Previous thinking associated with war planning depended on the Iraqi military to help build the peace. Retaining functioning institutions is critical in the rebuilding process. We failed to do this.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld claims to be the man who started the Army’s transformation. This is not true. Army transformation started years before this administration came into office. The secretary’s definition of transformation was to reduce the Army to between five and seven divisions to fund programs in missile defense, space defense and high-tech weapons. The war on terrorism disrupted his work, and the Army remains under-resourced at a time when it is shouldering most of the war effort. Boots on the ground and high-tech weapons are important, and one cannot come at the expense of the other.
Civilian control of the military is fundamental, but we deserve competent leaders who do not lead by intimidation, who understand that respect is a two-way street, and who do not dismiss sound military advice. At the same time, we need senior military leaders who are grounded in the fundamental principles of war and who are not afraid to do the right thing. Our democracy depends on it. There are some who advocate that we gag this debate, but let me assure you that it is not in our national interest to do so. We must win this war, and we cannot allow senior leaders to continue to make decisions when their track record is so dismal.
For all these reasons, we need to hold leaders accountable. There is no question that we will succeed in Iraq. To move forward, we need a leader with the character and skills necessary to lead. To date, this war has been a strategic failure. On the ground, operationally and tactically, we are winning the war on the backs of our great soldiers, Marines, airmen, sailors and their families. Americans deserve accountability in our leaders. We need a fresh start.
The writer, a retired Army major general, commanded the First U.S. Infantry Division in Iraq. He is now president of Klein Steel Service Inc. in Rochester, N.Y.