“To win by strategy is no less the role of a general than to win by arms. “
— Julius Caesar
It is axiomatic that no war plan ever survives first contact. "Stuff happens" and things change. From Sun Tzu to Iraq Murphy’s Law will always trump the most brilliantly conceived and executed plan. Plans not born of brilliance or aggressively executed attract Mr. Murphy even quicker.
Ann Douglas once said, “The truths we accept are so multiple that honesty becomes little more than a strategy by which you manage your tendencies toward duplicity.”
Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez recently spoke out with extraordinary candor in criticizing just about everyone involved in our military operation in Iraq . . . almost. Sanchez has ripped: the Bush administrationthe Pentagon brassCongressthe National Security Councilthe State Departmentthe media the “inter-agency process”
There is little doubt there is validity to most of his criticism. However, an obvious omission appears to be any self deprecating acknowledgement of his own significant failures.
Sanchez is the three star general who retired in 2006 in the wake of the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal, and yet, although he claims to have known from the jump how epically flawed our strategy was, apparently he didn’t say or do jack?
"There has been a glaring and unfortunate display of incompetent strategic leadership within our national leaders," he said, on top of which civilian officials have been "derelict in their duties" and guilty of a "lust for power."
Hey, wasn’t he the commander with a key role in providing advise, counsel and leadership guidance to that same civilian leadership he eviscerates? If he wasn’t part of a solution isn’t he part of the problem?
Gen. Sanchez claims he was convinced that the American effort in Iraq was failing the day after he took command, in June 2003. When asked why he waited until nearly a year after his retirement to voice his concerns publicly, he replied that it was not his place to challenge lawful orders from the civilian authorities. True . . . kinda/sorta. However, it is the responsibility of commanders (specifically three-star senior commanders) to provide candid SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threat) analysis of the situation.
If or when the civilian leadership blows off the military advise and disagrees, sure it is the responsibility of the commander to say, “Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full.” and continue to march. But to cheap-shot everyone involved (except himself) by saying, “There has been a glaring and unfortunate display of incompetent strategic leadership within our national leaders . . .” and that civilian officials have been “derelict in their duties” and guilty of a “lust for power,” seems a tad duplicitous. It just doesn’t smell right.
Former aides to the general have described him as being highly critical of decisions made by L. Paul Bremer, the leader of the U.S. occupation authority. It was Bremer who issued orders disbanding Iraq's army and banning many mid-level members of the former Baath Party from government jobs. Sanchez never got a fourth star (probably because of political diffidence over Abu Ghraib).
Is this recent criticism payback from a jilted lover?
Sanchez begrudgingly admits "mistakes were made" during his tenure in Iraq, however, he equivocates that his ability to make the (flawed) war strategy work was limited by the administration's decision to restrict the military's authority over the postwar civil administration and reconstruction.
Much of his hindsight analysis is correct; however, he too bears a significant burden of responsibility for his role in exacerbating failures. He was the military leader for over a year, and as such was “responsible for the welfare, discipline and tactical deployment of his troops.” If his principles were so compromised why didn’t he resign? Apparently we have to wait and pay for his book.
Virtually everyone knows we made a lot of mistakes in Iraq. The challenge of leadership is not just to avoid mistakes, but to correct unanticipated things that impact the original plan. Distinguished author James Michner once said, “I may be the world’s worst writer, but I’m the world’s best rewriter.” Good generals need to be good rewriters.
A lot of went wrong (is wrong) in Iraq was postulated by lesser minds than the neo-con brain trust and Pentagon poobahs. Anticipating and mitigating that stuff was/is the job of everyone Sanchez disses, and the commanding officer on the ground in Iraq (that would be Sanchez for the fourteen months he commanded).
The true test of leadership (both civilian and military) is not second guessing mistakes made, but contributing to fixing what went wrong.
Notwithstanding his vapid whining, even Sanchez concedes a full blown withdrawal is not an option. "The American military finds itself in an intractable situation . . . America has no choice but to continue our efforts in Iraq."
Sun Tzu preaches “as circumstances are favorable, one should modify one's plans.” He also maintained “All warfare is based on deception.”
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