VIA Fred Kaplan in Slate we meet up with Colonel Yingling who, in what was likely his last act as a career-path officer (a Lieutenant Colonelcy is where this happens, kids! John Paul Vann was a Lt. Colonel! So was Ollie North!) tells the world that 1) We failed to learn the lessons of Vietnam, either in Vietnam or afterwards; 2) Our general officers had a responsibility to speak up before the Iraq disaster but didn't; 3) The promotion system for general officers is hugely flawed.
To which we could add, "And the sky is frequently perceived by the sighted as being some shade of blue," but won't, because we're not the one risking anything. We come to salute Lt. Colonel Yingling, not to reprimand him, except that we won't because we have a personal problem with the whole of military culture, even on those occasions when it works, which it actually does once in a while.
Let's start with a confession. I've argued for years that the military did take the lessons of Vietnam seriously. Most everything I'd read suggested that it had. Col. Yingling admits this much: the Army learned the idea was to fight only those wars it knew it could win. It's a dismaying analysis, if true.
It's difficult to argue with the hunka hunka burning humiliation that is Iraq, especially as mortar rounds land inside the Green Zone, or to ignore the fact that it was the man for whom the Powell Doctrine was named who did that stand-up routine at the UN. But the Powell Doctrine has always had more than a whiff of PR bullshit about it--it can be distilled as "Don't fight wars unless you know you're going to win"--and whatever the failures of our general officers we did have the right man in place at the right time, one Eric Shinseki, USA (ret).
So it's always been necessary for us to acknowledge that the game was rigged, that all the Bush administration, like Robert Graves' Caligula, was required to do was find a dog who'd eat a dog. I'd never framed the issue as a question of moral courage, because it was unthinkable, given that hyperbole and blood lust ruled the agenda in 2001-02, that the military would refuse to acquiesce regardless of what was asked of it. The failure was the administration's.
Was there a lack of moral courage down the line from there? The easy answer, and probably the correct one, is Yes. But could moral courage conceivably have saved us? The military is just another corporate culture. For all its emphasis on Honor and Duty the public still gets a monthly bill from the cleaners. We used to make a big deal about how Messy Democracies always managed to defeat the armies of Totalitarianism, because, in the long run, our soldiers are used to taking initiative, to asking questions, and to fighting for a consensus that may not be perfectly aligned with their own beliefs. Well, we've been at war with individual freedom for four decades now (there's your real Long War, Colonel). Winner take all, Jack Welch vanity projects on top of the best sellers list, Halliburton scamming
So, yes sir, the military shoulda saved us, elections should have saved us, Congress, the "free press", you name it. Instead, an election was stolen, Congress lined its own pockets, the mass-market media whipped up some war fever, and careerist officers stepped up to do the administration's bidding. None of those will be eliminated, however deserving, and no one is ever going to be held accountable in any real way. You're a student of military history, Colonel. How furiously did we pursue war profiteers during and after the Civil War? Or WWII? Today any of those same people who aren't actively trying to figure out how to invade Iran before 2008 are plotting their return to power in 2012. It's not time to reform the promotion process, to reconsider conscription, or to sacrifice social good for the sake of The Long War. It's time to return the military to a defensive posture, to destroy the myth of a Free World which We Lead and replace it with an accurate history of our military and political adventurism since the Spanish-American War. To clean the Augean stables, in other words, though it won't be done in a day. In fact it won't be done before it's left to the next generation, and the next.