The other night CNAS
threw a dinner for Gen. George Casey, chief of staff of the U.S. Army. I went
but didn't expect much because in my experience Casey has been pretty cautious,
even dull, in his public comments. But I guess as he sees the end of his term
approaching he is loosening up a bit, because I found the conversation
surprisingly forthright. More enlightening than yesterday's interview
with Gen. Petraeus, I'd say.
He took a pretty hard line on combat incidents such as Wanat,
in which the Army has conducted inquiries that faulted front-line commanders.
At first he said he couldn't discuss specifics. But he went on to reject the
suggestion that such inquiries discourage risk-taking. Rather, he said, the
issue, is that some officers were "not executing to standard." He indicated that
he has been discussing this with platoon leaders and company commanders, and
concluded, "This is something we need to talk about as an Army."
He had a
provocative line about the future of the U.S. relationship with Iraq. "It's
almost, we have to leave to get invited back." By this I take it that he means
we have to prove we are going to live up to the SOFA before Iraqi politicians
can dare to begin talks about a long term military presence. Which I think
there will be, and which I think is a good idea, despite invading Iraq being a
He indicated he believes that President Obama is going to
be a war president, like it or not. "We believe this is a long-term ideological
struggle," that "this enemy is not going to quit," and that existing global
trends are "like to exacerbate" the situation. "We are in for a decade or more
of persistent conflict."
He thinks future warfare will resemble the fighting in
Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon in 2006, in which "a non-state actor has the
instruments of state power." That means, he said, that the organizing principle
for training and educating the force must be "versatility."
He conceded that in 2009 more soldiers died of suicide
than of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Another Defense official present noted
that this is in part because of the decline in combat losses in Iraq.)
He says it was clear to him upon becoming Army chief that
"the families were the most stretched part of the force" but added that he
thinks "that the president and Mrs. Obama are very supportive."
He was almost snarky about NATO, saying, twice saying
"Good luck" in getting more help from them. But he went out of his way to
praise the British army, saying that, "It's nice to have another country that
can put a division into the field." (Until I had that, it hadn't occurred to me
that division commanders with full headquarters may be one of the world's