Bookman notes the following:
(1) At least five senior generals have turned down the proffered post of “war czar.” Retired Marine General John Sheehan gave this reason: “They don’t know where the hell they’re going.” (He might have added: several other retired officers, including generals, have freely lambasted the conduct of the war for the last year and a half.)
(2) SecDef Gates promised during his confirmation hearings to maintain autonomous judgment of the war, and he seems to have done so. He has made several public statements that Bush loyalists would never make. Bookman notes that at the very time Bush was bitterly criticizing the Democrats for trying to get a commitment to reduce U.S. involvement, Gates was in Iraq saying that the debate in Congress “probably has a positive impact” because it conveys to the Iraqis that the American commitment is not open-ended. (Bookman might have added that Gates also confirmed, several weeks earlier, that the Pentagon does have a withdrawal plan if the “surge” does not yeild sufficient results.)
(3) Admiral William Fallon, head of Central Command, banned the use of the term “Long War” to describe American involvement in the Middle East, because “[t]he idea that we’re going to be involved in a ‘Long War’ at the current level of operations is not likely and unhelpful.”
(4) Iraq commanding general David Petraeus has several times said that he would provide an “honest and accurate” public assessment of progress or failure by September. In other words, the “surge” has that long to produce results. (If that’s not a deadline, what is it? If the “surge” fails, does Bush really think anybody would agree to give him another swing?)
(5) Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, already noted as an very up-and-coming officer, recently published an article titled “A Failure in Generalship” in the Armed Forces Journal. The article begins with this extraordinary sentence: “Time and again, President Bush has tried to hide his incompetence between our men and women in uniform.” Yingling (who has served two tours in Iraq) aims most of his criticisms at the general officer corps, but the most serious charge he makes is that they have failed to be candid with political leadership about the poor decision-making behind the decision to go to war. He says the generals “blame their recent lack of candor on the intimidating management style of their civilian masters . . .” That a promising and ambitious career officer would publish such statements in a widely-read military journal speaks volumes. It says that not only is it relatively safe to disparage the administration’s decisions on Iraq, but that one might even expect to be admired for such honesty. In other words, it gives some idea what Yingling’s peers, the Army’s middle managers, are thinking.
In addition, Bookman might have noted, as Yingling does in his article, that the war has severely over committed and overtaxed American land forces, leaving the country less able to respond to crises that might arise elsewhere. It also inflicts future damage on the Army and Marine Corps in terms of retention, recruiting, and morale. Others, such as retired General Barry McCaffrey, have warned that continued draining of Army Reserve and National Guard assets may “break” those systems.
In short, the Army has no reason to like being stuck in a no-win situation not because its hands are tied, but because the basic problem in Iraq is political rather than military. The Army can’t even hold its own in this situation. It’s being consumed merely to prolong the no-win situation. Some of today’s senior officers remember the damage that the long inconclusive war in Vietnam did to the services. They do not want to see their branch have to go through that again. Perhaps more to the point: respected figures like Gates, Petreus and Yingling who are not much besmirched with the failure of Iraq, have no reason to jump on board a sinking ship.
So, Bookman concludes:
All these signs point to a storm gathering within the military, especially as the strains imposed on the Army by the surge become more apparent.
In other words, while Congress and the president wrangle about deadlines, a deadline of sorts may already have been set.