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America’s Broken Generalship

Thomas Ricks on the failure of the American military’s command structure to promote success and punish failure.

Thomas Ricks, author of Fiasco

Thomas Ricks, author of Fiasco (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nor did the relationship between an officer’s battlefield performance and his or her subsequent promotions grow any stronger. As an American civilian official then based in Afghanistan put it in 2007, “The guys who did well didn’t get treated well, and the guys who did badly didn’t get treated badly.” One-year rotations meant officers came and went without seeing the consequences of their actions, enabling almost all to claim that they presided over progress.

Discussing American generalship in Iraq over the course of the war, he added: “I don’t think people realized how bad this was … The American people believe the problem is, the civilians didn’t listen to the generals. This is very unhealthy for the Army.” The U.S. Army in Iraq, Zelikow said, reminded him of the French army before World War I: “The military is venerated. It is the inheritor of Napoleon. The general is decorated with gold braid—but there’s no ‘there’ there. There is an aversion to deep thinking.”

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