Sunday, February 24, 2008

Aiding the enemy and supporting the troops

A commenter on Intel Dump makes this valuable point in the context of the Obama 24-man Platoon anecdote:

there are a lot of people who believe the Rush Limbaugh line that any soldier who comes back critical of the war is a phony soldier. This has been an unfortunate pattern. When that guy asked the question about the Hillbilly armor, the right immediately used the fact that he had worked with a reporter about shaping the question as evidence that the soldier was a dupe of one of those biased members of the liberal press, rather than come right out and face the music on what was a very real shortfall.
Hell, I remember there being a story earlier in the year about the improvised measures. I can understand that in the real world of war, supply lines are not always 100%, and readiness in relaxed times falls short.
But what seems to be happening here is that one side in this debate has made it a habit to cover for and offer apologetics for these shortfalls. That, I think, has had very real consequences for the war. It's given political cover to some people to essentially let the problems fester, and not take the risks and make the sacrifices necessary (like saying no to big military contractors, or recruiting a bigger army from the start) in order to improve the situation. The apologist's actions have created a bad situation for the soldiers, where a deficient supply chain is excused away as normal, and where alarm about problems is hushed up. These help to make our soldiers more vulnerable and in a much more material way than any discouraging words ever could. In an effort to fight the negative image of the war and battle a supposedly biased media, the disconnect the war supporters are creating may ironically lead to further defeats of America's armed forces and foreign policy.

This is one of the more pernicious ideas floating through the right-side commentary of late, that criticizing the war's leadership is aiding the enemy and not supporting the troops. Now, in fact, in a democracy, nothing could be further from the truth.
Certain kinds of criticism can always be destructive, but this generally results from the nature of that particular criticism. The best recent example is the ad that basically called Gen. Petraeus a "betray-us." In plain English, name-calling. That's rarely constructive under any circumstances.
But pointing out flaws in strategy, logistics, planning, leadership, policy and the like is legitimate. In every prior American war there's always been healthy debate over these kinds of issues. Scandals over war profiteers, bad equipment being sent to the troops, inadequate leadership or poor strategy have been a staple of democratic warfighting since Thucydides. It's not disloyalty to want our side to benefit from the best possible leadership, equipment, doctrine and strategy. It's common sense.
One of the worst aspects of Bush's war leadership has been his absolute unwillingness to hold anyone accountable, ever, for failure. The only failure that brings swift retribution is a failure to toe the party line and actually express some doubts about an administration policy. But actual, operational failure is tolerated, excused and defended.
Is it a surprise that things have gone better since Gates took over from Rumsfeld? Couldn't some of that success come much earlier if Bush had demanded success and fired people to get it? How many generals did Lincoln go through before he found his Grant? Getting fired comes with the territory when you're a military officer. Often it's not fair. But war is not about being fair, it's about winning. And you win by having the right leadership. The experience of history is that you usually have to fire quite a few before you find the leaders with the right talent to fight the war you're in.
Being unwilling to do that is itself a profound failure of leadership.

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