Despite including many fine combat commanders, our military leadership could fail in Iraq, defeated by terrorists, rough-hewn insurgents and shabby militiamen who understood America's limitations better than the generals did.
The generals point out that they don't control the strategic decisions, that all they can do is to follow orders, that then-secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld wouldn't listen to anyone, that Congress undercut the military, that the media's behavior has been pernicious, and that Iraq's political leaders have failed their country.
Each claim is true. Even so, as the Army taught me, "The maximum effective range of an excuse is zero meters." Our generals must shoulder their share of the blame for the mess in Iraq.
Our current system of selecting generals produces George Pattons in bulk. But it hasn't produced another George Marshall, the general who had the ethical force to disagree — respectfully — with his president when victory was at stake.
Decades of observation of our generals taught me that battlefield lions turn to jellyfish in Washington. Our elected leaders, ever fewer of whom have served in uniform, do not get frank, direct and routine military advice.
Sixty years of misguided "reforms" emplaced multiple buffers between the president and his top generals. Given the number of White House gatekeepers today, the relationship that Gen. Marshall had with FDR would be impossible — unless the president wanted it, which today's presidents don't.
Somebody should point out to Ralph this tension predates World War II as well. George McClellan, Ambrose Burnside and Joseph Hooker were not all that buffered from Lincoln and they still managed to be damn unaccomplished as military commanders. Fortunately, Lincoln was up for the task. Folks like George Marshall are not terribly common in history and he was fortunately paired with an outstanding President in FDR. Fortunately for the nation before, and a curse to our time, few Presidents are as pathetic as our current occupant.
It's quite a toxic cocktail.
And poor Ralph is left here watching his beloved war go down the shitter, maybe someday he will look in the mirror.