Mark Safranski: The Need for Soldier-Statesmen





Whether you view the War on Terror through the prism of William Lind's 4GW theory, Dr. Barnett's PNM taxonomies, John Robb's " open-source" warfare or more orthodox perspectives, globalization is making demands upon American military officers more reminiscient of the late 19th century than the 20th. A commander today must be more than a specialist in the military arts and an inspirational leader in the field; increasingly they are dealing with questions of politics and diplomacy once reserved for high civilian appointees. They are required to be adept in economic administration for humanitarian and reconstruction purposes and possess both a media presence and a communications strategy. "Small wars" have gone global and the requirements of fighting them in an interconnected world under the glare of a 24/7 broadband media is producing a new corps of soldier-statesmen from the theater commander right down to the " strategic corporal".

The slow evolution of the American soldier-statesman can be seen from the early 20th century. While the comic-opera Spanish-American War saw celebrity soldiers like Teddy Roosevelt cast in a heroic light and wide authority granted to Admiral Dewey and General Wood, that trend was reversed by Woodrow Wilson in WWI. From the outset of the war, the president jealously guarded his prerogatives as Commander-in-Chief from both the Congress and the uniformed services. Wilson dominated the scene to the extent that today only specialists can recall the name of Wilson's Army Chief of Staff (it was Peyton C. March) and General John " Blackjack" Pershing, while a revered figure, operated on a narrow delegation of authority designed to help him block Allied desires to feed American doughboys directly into the French and British armies bleeding to death on the Western Front.

The real " heroes" of the Great War, as historian Jordan Schwarz wrote, were the civilian administrators like William McAdoo and Herbert Hoover - both of whom became leading contenders for appointive office and party nominations for the presidency in the 1920's. Few soldiers other than Douglas MacArthur gained that kind of public acclaim. The Army and Navy faced genuine public hostility and drastic budget cuts in the aftermath of the spectacular ( and essentially fraudulent) Nye Committee hearings that formented isolationist and pacifist sentiment. Never was the military more a lonely caste apart from American society than during the interwar years.

WWII was the great planetary clash of mass production, mass-man, Second-Wave great powers all of which fielded forces on a scale never seen in history and unlikely to ever be seen again. The military was likened to a great and complex machine in which every officer, soldier, sailor and pilot played their small cog-like part. Ironically, as this Newtonian model of warfare reached it's apex the very complexity of running the military machine encouraged the rebirth of military-statesmanship at the uppermost levels. If Chuchill, Stalin and FDR were " The Big Three" then General George C. Marshall was the fourth and his handpicked supreme commander, Dwight Eisenhower, was the fifth.

Not only did their political superiors increasingly defer to their professional judgment on operational matters but both Eisenhower and Marshall had real input into shaping the grand strategic outcome of the Second World War. This acceptance into the realm of statemanship and national policy making by their wartime civilian leaders was confirmed by the brilliant postwar political careers both men enjoyed; Marshall as Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense and Eisenhower as NATO supreme commander and President of the United States. MacArthur too, as SCAP during Japan's occupation, was given the broadest latitude imaginable to exercise statesmanship where he can be credited with reconstructing modern Japan as an integral part of the West. MacArthur's firing, the retirement of the five and senior four star flag officers of WWII and Ike's election soon resubordinated the military to strict civilian control and were given input only into very limited areas of professional competence.

The Vietnam War effort suffered from a general officer corps wedded to this narrow technical perspective when statesmanship and a broader vision would have served better. General William Westmoreland methodically built up the conventional military machine with which his experience as a WWII staff officer had made him intimately familiar. Greater political insight might have made Westmoreland and the Pentagon brass willing to listen to those voices - John Paul Vann, the CIA, David Hackworth, David Halberstam, George Ball - who pointed out how ill-suited the structure of the American war effort was to winning a political and unconventional war in the Vietnamese jungle.

Younger officers in field command such as Colin Powell, used the bitter lessons of Vietnam to rebuild a battered mass-conscription Army into a world-class force of professional soldiers. Paradigmatically, Powell's generation of officers also became exceptionally risk-averse to expeditionary missions that smacked of nation-building or counterinsurgency, preferring to be prepared to fight only " Big wars" against Warsaw Pact opponents. Where the previous generation of general officers had presented a can-do face to presidential requests from JFK and LBJ, the new rising corps of generals and admirals struck the pose of Cassandra, warning of impending doom and searching to find the magic number of troops to request to kill any desire of the White House or Congress to intervene anywhere. A mantra initially spelled out by Caspar Weinberger and later known as " The Powell Doctrine" became the automatic reference point in any debate over using the military overseas.

Powell's post-Vietnam cohort which also includes figures like Wesley Clark, Tommy Franks, H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Charles Krulak and John Abizaid were well-suited for the role of soldier-statesman being among the best educated and trained American officers since the Civil War generation. Abizaid is an Arabist, Franks has an advanced degree in public administration, Clark was a Rhodes Scholar; and similar if not more impressive credentials are held by majors and colonels currently serving in Iraq who, within a few years, will be brigadiers.

While the officer corps in the uniformed services have the talent to act the part of statesman and although the chaotic conditions of Gap states and terrorist warfare require it, whether generals much less corporals will be permitted to become " strategic" actors in the field is an open question. In an era where nimble netwar where organizations move fast and break all known rule-sets, the very top-heavy U.S. military finds it hard to part with long-held customs of vertical hierarchy and uniformity to adopt flatter, faster, more autonomous, military formations.

Beyond the brass where the critical decisions are made by men whose formative experiences on the battlefield were almost two generations earlier are the civilian appointees at the DoD, in the White House and on Congressional staffs. Quick to micromanage but loathe to accept responsibility for the actions of field commanders following instructions from Washington, civilians need to accept their role of providing leadership by making( and standing behind) the tough political decisions, setting broad strategic goals and granting sufficient discretion to carry out the policy objectives.

Finally, most of all, civilian leadership must accept the responsibility when things sometimes go wrong, as they inevitably do in battle, instead of leaving low-ranking soldiers and officers twisting in the wind. Properly directed and supported, given realistic and specific objectives, the U.S. military will move heaven and earth to accomplish their mission.


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