Thomas Ricks on the military's culture of mediocrity

'The Generals' by Thomas Ricks
Book cover courtesy of publisher

There have been many reasons given for America's struggle in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and detractors often lay the blame on the Bush Administration. But defense writer and strategist Thomas Ricks believes that the culture of mediocre leadership in our military is the true source of the problem.

America's generals, says Ricks, no longer feel the need for accountability to the military and their men, and the military system no longer actively challenges its leadership to improve. Without addressing this problem, America can expect it's military to continue to fail, he says.

From Rick's piece in The Atlantic, adapted from his new book, 'The Generals':

Generalship in combat is extraordinarily difficult, and many seasoned officers fail at it. During World War II, senior American commanders typically were given a few months to succeed, or they'd be replaced. Sixteen out of the 155 officers who commanded Army divisions in combat were relieved for cause, along with at least five corps commanders.

Since 9/11, the armed forces have played a central role in our national affairs, waging two long wars--each considerably longer than America's involvement in World War II. Yet a major change in how our military operates has gone almost unnoticed. Relief of generals has become so rare that, as Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling noted during the Iraq War, a private who loses his rifle is now punished more than a general who loses his part of a war. In the wars of the past decade, hundreds of Army generals were deployed to the field, and the available evidence indicates that not one was relieved by the military brass for combat ineffectiveness. This change is arguably one of the most significant developments in our recent military history--and an important factor in the failure of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Ricks will join The Daily Circuit Thursday.

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