The well-read Ike Skelton, who recently retired as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, dropped by CNAS earlier this week for a chicken salad and a talk about what was on his mind. During his 34 years in Congress, the Trumanesque Democrat paid a lot of attention to professional military education, so I was struck by his criticism -- unsolicited -- of the armed services' senior colleges.
"I have a concern that the war colleges need to sharpen their pencils in education, as opposed to training," he said. He especially worries, he added, about whether the military's strategic thinkers were being detected, groomed, and protected. "My question to the commandants of the war colleges is this: How many students that you are graduating this year could sit down and have a serious discussion with George C. Marshall? The last time I asked that question, the answer was 'three or four.' The challenge is recognizing who they are." He also said he thought the war colleges should be more rigorous, "just as difficult as any law school in the nation." Anyone who lately has dropped by the golf course at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, knows that that would raise the bar considerably.
Some of his other thoughts:
--"You may see a real donnybrook" in the Congress over the defense budget, especially, he said, especially as the inclinations of the House and Senate seem to be diverging.
--The fallout from Egypt?: "The big winner in all this is going to be Iran." (I didn't get a chance to ask him to say more about that prediction.)
--He is deeply concerned by a lack of understanding between the military and American society. "Those who protect us are psychologically divorced from those who are being protected."
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.