The Best Defense

The right way to do Iraq, and the wrong way

Two excerpts from my new book The Gamble are running in the Washington Post Sunday and Monday. There also are some cool on-line only things -- not just another excerpt, but also a great video about how one officer, Capt. Samuel Cook of the 3rd Armored Cavalry, conducted counterinsurgency operations in one part of Iraq last year. (To read more about how Cook talked an insurgent leader into cooperation, read this excerpt from the book, a section called "The Insurgent Who Loved Titanic.")

This video, by contrast, strikes me as an example of how not to do it. The American officer might have an excuse for talking like this, but everything I've seen about Iraqis tells me that publicly disparaging them is not the way to go. This motivational speech reminds me of the way Marine sergeants were talking to Iraqi army soldiers in the spring of 2004, just before the soldiers mutinied and refused to go to Fallujah.

And for those who missed it, here (in two parts) is the interview I did Sunday with David Gregory on Meet the Press.

The Best Defense

Bringing discipline to generals

West Point political scientist Don Snider, one of our best experts on military professionalism, offers up an thoughtful proposal about how to keep retired generals on the straight and narrow: Have each of the service chiefs of staff, the "stewards" of the profession, maintain a voluntary registry of retired senior generals' affiliations with corporations and non-profit entities:

Since he is responsible to maintain the Profession's effectiveness through its ethic, he [the chief of staff] should quickly establish under the auspices of the Profession an electronic registry of retired three- and four-star generals that details the affiliations of each officer, both with for-profit and not-for-profit entities. To rightly restore the moral obligations over the legal, the registry would be voluntary. Each retired officer would voluntarily enter their own affiliations and keep them current.

Most importantly, the registry would be open to the public so that any interested person could see at any time, under the auspices of the Profession, the ties each individual retired general has and has voluntarily offered to the public. Perceptions of conflicts of interest can best be avoided if all affiliations are well-known in advance of commitments and contracts.

But would the retired general officers voluntarily cooperate with the Chief of Staff to create and to maintain the registry; would they continue to support in this new manner the Profession for which they and their families have sacrificed so much for so long? Frankly, that depends on how much they cherish their public role as moral exemplars and therefore seek to avoid the deathly appearance of conflicts of interest.

My belief is that the vast majority, if not every single one, would do so quite willingly. Their individual reputations and the vital trust relationships of the Profession are simply too valuable to them to consider doing otherwise. For the one who might not, it would be apparent to all who inquire that he or she is simply operating outside the auspices of the Army Profession. Let the buyer beware.

. . . . The public, the civilian leaders over our military, and junior military professionals of all services will all be more trusting of their Professions if the commitments and loyalties of retired generals are open to all to see. The Service Chiefs should act, now."

I don't much like his Teutonic capitalizing of "Profession," but I like the idea. I think it has a better chance of flying than my own belief that service chiefs should ask retired generals to stay out of the business of endorsing presidential candidates, or at least not use their service affiliations in doing so.