Kaplan has a good article in slate about something that's real important, but usually flies well under the radar of the Media and the public. He notes how the latest Army general officer promotion board may represent a very important seismic shift in the Army's leadership: http://www.slate.com/id/2196647/
The guy at the top always matters, for good or ill. In the case of the ill, for example, we can't really expect a major across-the-board improvement in the U.S. strategic situation so long as Bush is president.
But, to the extent that lower-ranking officials have quality they can make improvements within their sphere. There may be no clearer example of this than the Department of Defense. The shortcomings of Rumfeld are made starkly evident by the dramatic improvements under Gates, who may be one of the most important and effective SecDefs ever.
Gates has brought back to the Pentagon something that has been sorely lacking otherwise in the Bush administration -- accountability. Gates has been willing to fire failures. And now we are also seeing that he's interested in rewarding successes.
Unhappy with the kinds of decisions being made by the all-important Army one-star general promotion boards he brought back Gen. Petraeus from the war zone to oversea a promotion board. This alone can't help but send a powerful message how important Gates considered this board.
One of the biggest scandals of the last few years was the failure of two successive promotion boards to promote COL H.R. McMaster. There's hardly a more famous -- and justly so -- O-6 in the Army and it's failure to give him a star was nothing short of scandalous. Anyone who has been following McMaster's career has little doubt that he is one of the most outstanding officers of his generation -- bearing comparison with luminaries such as George C. Marshall and Creighton Abrams.
So Gates filled the board with the kind of outstanding successful combat officers the Army needs. Officers who had managed to rise to the top despite the system, but who could now reform that system to promote like-minded juniors in sufficient numbers to make a difference, as Kaplan points out.
I sure as hell hope the Navy names an aircraft carrier after this guy someday.