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An Army of McClellans
The Syria Mess and the Pentagon’s Serial Failures
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  • Blackbeard

    “The U.S. is running a vast, multi-country war effort that has become unhinged from any serious strategic vision, and we have a military system in which the commanders who see the futility and try to do something about it (and there are plenty) are sidelined.”


    Lincoln fired McClellan because he actually wanted to win.

    • f1b0nacc1

      I assume that you mean that Lincoln fired McClellan because he (Lincoln) wanted to win….McClellan certainly did not…

      • Blackbeard

        Exactly. Sorry for the unclear comment.

        • f1b0nacc1

          Nothing to apologize for….I was just astonished at the thought of ANYONE thinking of McClellan as a gung-ho general burning to win the war….grin…

  • Andrew Allison

    It’s not just the military, every government agency is riddled with bureaucracy and careerism. There’s no accountability anywhere.

  • jeburke

    It is certainly true that strategic incoherence in the White House is mainly at fault but so is the military leadership. It’s been a long time since a general has been cashiered for failure, even though we know that failure is commonplace from the brigade command up.

    • Pave Low John

      There has been one high-ranking general in recent history who actually showed that he had some integrity. Do a google search on General Ron Fogleman, he was Chief of Staff of the USAF back in the mid-1990s. We could certainly use more men of his caliber in these dark days….

  • Pave Low John

    “The pathetic failure of the Pentagon’s efforts in Syria indicate that if
    anything, this culture of self-congratulation and failure is getting
    more entrenched.”

    Really, that enormous building did that poorly in Syria? I mean, sure, it’s just a large, five-sided structure, but still, pretty harsh words.

    All kidding aside, name the names, don’t hide behind saying “The Pentagon did it.” That’s just as bad as claiming “The White House” did something. People make decisions and develop strategies, so tell us who screwed up. Was it McChrystal? Allen? Petraeus? I see that you use the title “The President” once and refer to “Obama’s Pentagon”, so maybe you need to concentrate on that particular decision maker.

    Here’s the brutal truth that isn’t mentioned in this anonymously-written screed. I know, and everyone reading this knows, that the staff at “The American Interest” voted for Obama. Twice. So take a good hard look in the mirror. There’s the responsibility for putting a man with absolutely zero military, intelligence, or foreign service experience in charge of the U.S. security apparatus during a time of war. You, and all the other liberal do-gooders who were so much smarter than those dumb republicans who voted for McCain and Romney, are now seeing the end result of your arrogance and overweening pride. But I’m not holding my breath while waiting for anyone who voted for that sorry excuse for a CINC to accept any responsibility for their decisions in 2008 and 2012.

    • Jacksonian_Libertarian

      Exactly, It all starts with the Commander in Chief “Obama”, it is he that is the incompetent boob at the top. Obama is the worst President in American History, no one else even comes close. Mark Steyn asks the question: “If Obama was an enemy agent, what would he be doing differently?”, the answer is nothing.

      • megapotamus

        Before one can judge competence we must know the intentions. Unless Obama has adopted MY policy of exacerbating and underwriting inter-Muslim violence his actions make no sense. I submit a middling possibility that does conform with observed facts: Obama wants Assad out for personal reasons. Bashar made Barack look bad with all that Red Line business. It just might be as simple as that, no? Have we never before seen a petty and personal enmity result in chaotic despoliation? I think we have. Anyhow, we won’t really have a shot at knowing for decades. Forward.

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  • Tom Chambers

    I will add another factor–the US armed forces are faced with shrinking budgets into the indefinite future. Perhaps that contributes to a “don’t rock the boat” mentality, regardless of which set of civilians is in charge.
    It is periodically stated that the US spends more money on its military than the rest of the world put together. But I strongly suspect that the US military gets less bang for its buck than any other country in the world. Even before WWII, critics asked why the US Navy spent one-third more to build a destroyer than the British navy did. I expect it has got worse since; and I apologize for just speculating instead of actually researching this (it’s not my field). Anyway, here is my prediction: within 10 years time, the most potent military in the world–though not the costliest one–will belong to China. By some measures it might have happened already.

  • RAS743

    Maybe I misunderstand, but Professor Mead sounds like he’s surprised that a bureaucracy is conducting its business like a bureaucracy.

    The conduct he describes is the default mode of all bureaucracies, especially government bureaucracies, especially our federal bureaucracy, as literally incomprehensible as it is — to ordinary citizens and “designers” alike.

    Except for anarchy, bureaucracy is the stupidest thing ever invented by man.

    People who believe that government bureaucracies can perform intricacies such as building affordable, effective weapons systems undoubtedly would find it illuminating to read James Fallows’ “National Defense” and Ben Rich’s “Skunk Works,” which are replete with examples of what Professor Mead apparently deplores.

    As taxpayers and voters we all should want to know what percentage of federal bureaucrats, in our government’s enormous maze of agencies, actually are necessary to do the business that our federal bureaucracies are competent enough to do, given their inherent organizational limitations, the documented billions upon billions of tax dollars they have wasted, and the programs they have implemented that work not nearly as well as intended, if at all.

  • Daniel Richards

    It’s true that McClellan was a bust as a warrior but he had merit and played a useful role as trainer-in-chief. It was McClelland’s troops, properly led by Grant, that knocked the fight out of Lee’s army and brought the war to an end. They also serve who only sit and write memo’s … so it seems.

    • f1b0nacc1

      Absolutely correct. McClellan was a terrible battlefield general, but a wonderful trainer and organizer. He was also a decent human being, as his behavior as a presidential candidate demonstrated.

      • Tom

        He was also more than a little bit power-hungry and prone to let his position go to his head. While he was nothing compared to Hooker in this regard, that he was okay with his moniker of “The Little Napoleon” was…worrisome.

        • f1b0nacc1

          His wife was the power-hungry one….he was just a narcissist. Still, never a healthy thing in any democracy….

  • MikePM

    No surprise whatsoever, considering that this president has been slowly, steadily, and quietly purging the real warriors from the middle and upper ranks of the military for seven years.

    Their goals are being achieved almost across the board, but their successes are an abject disaster for the country.

  • stevewfromford

    If the author believes that forcibly integrating women, gays and transgenders into all areas of the military might just strengthen our military and make it a better fighting force then he knows nothing about either war making or human nature.

    Obama’s “reforms” are a disaster in waiting and will get good men killed for no reason other than to impress his ideological companions.

    • Government Drone

      Failure in battle won’t impress Obama & Co. either; they seem to think that all war is evil & tragic, so any poor performance in the battlefield would simply play into their prejudices. They don’t even want to fight any wars to begin with, so this consideration is simply not important in their eyes.

  • Diggsc

    The “zero tolerance” mindset of the Army, which punishes risk-takers and rewards those who don’t rock the boat, meets a CinC who is known for “leading from behind.” It’s a (gay) marriage made in heaven. A commander with no leadership experience or desires is in charge of a large group of officers who have gained senior rank by memorization of, and utmost compliance with, regulations.
    Too bad these regulations no longer concern winning wars, but are designed to further Leftist/socialist social experiments.
    There are surely some senior leaders in the Army who have stuck it out despite their disgust with what Obama has done to their Army, but they are few and far between. Like a lot of people in a bureaucracy, the drones quickly realize that their limits will not affect their promotions, while the innovators realize the bureaucracy is no place to innovate.

  • megapotamus

    Aye caramba! The US did not import arse raping into A-stan. No, no, no, no and no. The now well known incident where a couple GIs uncorked some whoopass on an arse rapist or two was almost certainly the first time any of these boy sex slaves had ever seen anyone even imply there was anything wrong with their abuse. I think it is quite fair, given what we know of tribalism, to presume that the Afghan ‘police’ and others involved with Western efforts are among the least arse-rapey of the general male population. Indeed it is ‘their culture’ as the local commanders were ordered to recognize. The rapists of today were the raped of yesterday, back through an unbroken conga line…. a perverse human/temporal centipede of debilitating sexual violence at least to Alexander, who probably taught it to them for the first time, that Greco arse-raping bastard. The Greeks are getting their due but we are still faced with a nation…. a region…. a broad swath of the global population…. really, a clear majority of that population that participates in or condones rape as a daily occurrence for boys AND girls and quite nearly any warm-blooded creature with scalable orifices. If we were to wage war on presumptive rapists it would mean nearly a geno-suicide of our species. Only differentiating the rapist as sub or non-human (or us non-rapists as super-human) would allow consistent action which would mean a stiff application of violence as an opener. Yet it seems a moral imperative to try something. Maybe Afghanistan is lost, meaning it has found its old arse-raping self. No surprise there. But these few boys (and some others we do not know of) will not forget that somewhere, sometime, someone said rape was wrong, did it with moral decisiveness and enforced his view with manly exertions. A few might take it to heart and instead of saying the usual: I was raped, and therefore I will rape; will instead say, I was raped, and therefore I will not rape. Perhaps a few will do this. Perhaps one. Perhaps none. If that is so, so be it, but we will have discharged, at least minimally, our duty to dusky children in dusty lands, in this fashion if, as seems likely, in no other. Forward.

  • Mark Andrew Edwards

    I agree with the article overall but I want to pick two nits.

    1. Racial Integration != Gender and Sexual Orientation Integration. Women are not black men, for one thing.
    2. McClellan was actually very good at training and equipping the AotP. And Grant was actually a media darling, he was called Unconditional Surrender Grant at the time.

    Both nitpicks could consume entire books, and have, so just beware of generalizations, Mr. Mead.

    • f1b0nacc1

      Agree with most of what you said, but let me pick a nit of my own (grin)….
      Grant was more typically referred to (ESPECIALLY in his time as General-in-Chief, when he came east and was in charge of – through Meade – the Army of the Potomac) as ‘Butcher Grant’. The ‘Unconditional Surrender’ monicker was a hold-over from earlier in the war (Fort Donelson)

      • Mark Andrew Edwards

        Good nit, I’d say he earned both nicknames. Every time I read Shelby Foote, I shudder when they get to the Wilderness.

        • Gowan Commando

          Switch to Bruce Catton.

          • Mark Andrew Edwards

            I have Catton as well as MacPherson and I’m working my way through Nevins. I prefer Foote overall.

        • f1b0nacc1

          The Wilderness is one of the worst….I do agree with the comment below, Catton’s discussion of the Wilderness is considerably more nuanced than Foote’s.
          But MacPherson’s was the top….best single volume history of the war.

  • iconoclast

    Infesting the military with lawyers (our version of political officers), using ROE designed to lose our men’s lives, implementing PC nonsense like women in the combat arms, along with many other symbolic/feel-good directives would kill any military. Killing our military, like killing the economy, is a feature, not a bug.

  • GSR

    98lb young women in direct combat roles is counter-productive to force readiness and downright foolish.

    Allowing “flaming” homosexuals and the laughable “trans-gendered” (really, people with mental disorders) to serve openly is counter-productive to force readiness and downright foolish.

    Barry from Indonesia and Kenya has greatly reduced the size, scope and capability of the US Armed Forces and that’s exactly what he wanted all along.

  • JDsHandsomeSon

    The political rot of Obama and his America hating allies in congress has infested all corners of our Federal government, the military, and now the Secret Service. Even the Pope suffers from the contagion. It goes hand in hand with the Muslim invasion, the larvae that will destroy us from within. It is Nature’s law that sick and lame animals must be destroyed so as not to consume its valuable resources. The West, especially America, has become to lazy, stupid and cowardly to even want success in war. It therefore must be destroyed by some stronger predator or disease, and that’s what’s happening. The day is coming when clueless and apathetic Americans will wake up one day and be confronted by a major macro-aggression with trigger warnings and an unpleasant choice between two unpleasant alternatives: either fight to the death or submit to the yoke of Islamic oppression. Let’s hope that when that day comes there are a few Millenials fit for military service.

  • Rick Caird

    The military’s failures are a reflection of the Commander in chief. If he is lax, so is the Pentagon. If he fires high performers and promotes lackeys, that is what he will get.

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