The "Peacocks"…

From the mil-email and h/t to JP…

Pentagon Peacocks

No officer who fails to serve in combat as a junior or field grade officer should command any storied fighting division, no less an entire theater.

The Davis Petraeus saga is another urban legend; a myth about a great man felled by a single flaw or indiscretion. The truth is that Petraeus is a bit player in a larger, uglier drama, the political corruption the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and that exclusive four star glut that sits atop the military. And the rot didn’t start with Petraeus.

Recall Army Chief-of-Staff George Casey taking to the airways to rationalize the Fort Hood Islamist massacre in 2009. Somehow “diversity” and Muslim sensitivities were more important than twin dangers of domestic sedition or troop safety on American bases. Casey was thrown at the Sunday chat shows, like the more recent Susan Rice mendacity tour, to spin a politically correct message.

And then there was Admiral Mike Mullen leading the charge for sex with any sex a year later on the E-Ring at the Pentagon. Say what you will about booty call as a “civil right,” but gender choice is not a significant national security issue in the middle of a shooting war. The legality of relationships are social issues that should be addressed by an elected, yet too often cowardly, Congress; not the appointed military brass. And while the JCS was riding point for preferences, nobody seemed to notice, or care about, failure in all those Muslim Wars.

Indeed, a four-star public relations campaign reinvented the English language to avoid words like victory. The new word for retreat is “drawdown.” And real goals like winning or victory have been corrupted with terms like “nation building,” or worse still, military gibberish like “transition.” Euphemism is the first refuge of analytical cowards. CIA, if not the entire Intelligence Community, takes a bow here too. Only a loser needs to create another word for failure.

In the interests of such political correctness, relevant terms like Islam, Islamist, Muslim, and even terrorist have been stricken from the public vocabulary with JCS help. Witness the recent Benghazi fiasco! The debate is not over mayhem or atrocity committed in God’s name. National politicians and the military brass are arguing whether or not to use the word “terrorist” in their reports dealing with Muslim barbarities.

And consider the ‘inside baseball’ spat over doctrine to be used against the nameless enemy; the counter-terror versus counter-insurgency (COIN) debate within the military. Petraeus apologists believe that the former ISAF commander reinvented the US Army with new doctrine; and then rode the COIN horse to promotions and prominence.

In truth, COIN played little or no role in Iraq or Afghanistan for two reasons; the force ratios required by Army doctrine, impractical theory, were never achieved. And both conflicts, like most Muslim wars, are civil, not insurgent. These internecine Islamic fights are between Sunni and Shia or between autocrats and theocrats. Neither NATO nor the US Army has the charter or doctrine to resolve these or any other religious or tribal civil wars. Evolution might be the only solution to any Muslim pathology.

COIN had nothing to do with tactical “success” in Iraq or Afghanistan either, but such distractions may contribute to strategic defeat. Theoreticalillusions, even those nursed in the halls of ivy, are blinders. Theory, or more honestly, politicized military doctrine does not win wars.

Combat Petraeus-style doesn’t just presume to alter military doctrine; it presumes to alter the nature of war. Unfortunately, war is not about hearts and minds or social services; it’s about winning and losing. Kick enough azimuth and hearts always follow. Even terrorists understand this. And that understanding explains why Islamists are winning now – on a global scale.

War is a time-tested primal exercise, not a venue for intellectuals, polite politics, or poseurs. Combat is the definitive zero sum enterprise; the competent live, the inept die. With skill and luck, the righteous might prevail. But there are no guarantees.

There are no draws and you can’t spin a loss. The enemy and toxic ideology needs to be beaten first; and then the diplomatic social workers and nation builders can be deployed.

As with COIN, Petraeus has been taking bows for the “surge” in two countries, but especially, the so-called “turnaround” in Iraq. Alas, tactical success there has only two parents; bribery and the US Marine Corps.

Sunni allies were bribed for the short haul as they are bought in so many Muslim tribal cultures. This perennial CIA tactic is myopic too. When the money runs out, all you have left is another well-equipped foe. Consider the blowback in Afghanistan. All those mujahedeen that used to be romanticized, when they were fighting the Soviets, are now killing Americans with better gear.

And the US Marine victory in Fallujah had nothing to do with COIN doctrine either. The Marines took that city with the same tactics that Marshal Georgy Zhukov used to take Berlin; house-to-house fighting. What the Marines didn’t destroy in Fallujah, they killed.

David Petraeus and John Allen seem to have been a perfect fit in Tampa; sun, fun, and bimbos – military camp followers. How do senior flag officers use cyber drop boxes and send thousands of emails to married groupies and not think such behavior is compromising? Do they not know that NSA can read their mail? And those who defend all of this as “private” are correct – as long as character doesn’t matter. Character is how you behave when no one is watching.

Yet, someone is always watching. The night before the Petraeus ‘sierra’ hit the public fan, he and Broadwell were a couple at the annual Office of Strategic Services (OSS) awards dinner. “Wild” Bill Donovan and “Vinegar” Joe Stillwell must be spinning in their graves.

Jim Clapper didn’t fire the CIA chief for private behavior; Petraeus was fired for public, professional stupidity.

Nonetheless, both political parties are tripping over each other with accolades for Petraeus. They argue that drop box sex is a private, not a professional failing – which is simply another way of saying that personal integrity doesn’t matter. If character doesn’t matter, then America has the top brass that it deserves.

Or maybe we expect the Joint Chiefs to entertain, not lead; but then again, even the Village People might be embarrassed by today’s four star peacocks.

The Joint Chiefs live in a bubble. They learned nothing from the Boorda incident. Recall that Admiral Jeremy Boorda, then Chief of Naval Operations, ate his gun over a bit of ribbon. Boorda awarded himself a few valor devices that he had not earned. He had never seen combat; but the admiral embellished his chest hair at the expense of JCS reputation anyway.

The fruit salad debate may seem trivial to those who have never seen combat; but for real warriors, such pretense is an insult. The logic of awards and decorations is simple. It’s easier to pass out buttons and bows than it is to give a promotion or a pay raise. Therefore, most awards are for attendance, not achievement. Senior officers like Petraeus get awards or decorations for changing their skivvies – or their address.

Indeed, if you audit the sentiments of troops or their dependents; the cynicism about flags like Petraeus is universal. One veteran seemed to think that American senior officers resembled Muammar Gadhafi. Another underlined the Petraeus political career track with questions:

“How does an officer with no personal experience of direct fire combat in Panama or Desert Storm become a division CDR (101st Airborne) in 2003 … (and how does) a man who served repeatedly as a sycophantic aide-de-camp, military assistant and executive officer to four stars get so far?”

Nonetheless, the men who presume to lead continue to parade on the E-Ring in drag. Petraeus alone had nearly 50 badges, awards, and decorations on his Class A blouse; yet, no Combat Infantry Badge (CIB). After West Point, between cadet and general, Petraeus attended seven (sic) schools before getting his first star.

This is a chap who probably never saw a firefight, and then at a distance, until very late in his career. Yet, he and the Joint Chiefs still need fork lifts to get dressed in the morning. Such are the hazards of softening “soldiers” at Princeton instead of hardening them in combat.

With no signs of prudence or modesty at the Pentagon, maybe Congress should mandate a limit on gold braid and other uniform claptrap; no more than two rows of fruit salad and then only ribbons for heroism or combat tours. Appearances – and restraint – matter.

America has the best grunts, sergeants, and junior officers in the world. They deserve good models, they deserve better generals. They deserve modest flags promoted for valor and achievement – warriors with personal and professional integrity. No officer who fails to serve in combat as a junior or field grade officer should command any storied fighting division, no less an entire theater.

G. Murphy Donovan is a veteran and former Intelligence officer who writes frequently about military affairs, national security, and Intelligence.


The "Peacocks"… — 14 Comments

  1. My name is Bruce. I’ve been reading this blog for about a year,now. I thank you for your service and all the wisdom you present here.
    I was drafted in 1967, and did my tour in Viet Nam ’68-’69 at Vung Tau army airfield. I was a non-combatant OV-1 mechanic. But all the NCOs had CIBs. We had no peacocks. The pilots and observers put their life on the line every day, and during my tour, we lost four.
    Seeing all those top generals with no combat experience, I agree, is what is wrong. They are politicians with the cyoa attitude. Hell of a way to lead. When I was discharged, I got a letter stating I was awarded an army commendation medal. I refused it because I just did my job. The medals belong to the fighters.
    Bruce, 73rd Avn Co.

  2. eia- Yes it does, doesn’t it…

    Bruce- Thank you. And thank you for your service. You are on the money with the comments!!!

  3. We won the war that we showed up to fight. The enemy, on the other hand, decided to fight an entirely different war, and while they haven’t precisely _won_ it yet, the odds aren’t looking too great for our side. Sounds like the story of Vietnam.

    If we’re going to have senior officers spending their time getting education on theory, shouldn’t we at least get the kind of guidance out of them that’d keep this shit from happening _again_?

    But no…we persist in taking a tool that’s designed and optimized for (and very, very good at) killing people and breaking their stuff, and trying to use it for things that, even if we could specify them properly (which of course we can’t, and wouldn’t even if we could), they’re not good at.

    They attack us or our interests? Stomp them, and do it so hard that they have a good long time to reconsider the wisdom of their targets before they reacquire the capability to do it again. Then declare victory and COME HOME.

    “Nation building”? We can’t even build a civilized community in Detroit, let alone Iraq or Afghanistan. But we can sure pour brave soldiers’ blood and beleaguered taxpayers’ money down a bottomless pit with the best of them. And the more of both of those precious commodities we spend trying, the more time the enemy has to win the PR battle here in America. And if Vietnam taught us anything at all, it’s that if we lose THAT battle, it ultimately won’t matter what battles we WIN.

  4. If you haven’t commanded a company or battalion in combat, or at least led a platoon in combat and successfully served as XO or S3 in a war zone at company, battalion, or brigade level, you have no business commanding a brigade or better in combat.

    I don’t care how many merit badges you have.

    If you’re stupid enough not to see how drop box e-sex with your mistress (when one or both of your are married) is compromising, you have no business with a commission, a Presidential appointment to anything more serious than the President’s Commission on Physical Fitness, or a CONFIDENTIAL clearance, much less TS/SCI. I don’t care how much “experience” you have. I’d have done my best to jack up an uncleared private for that on charges of “conduct unbecoming” if nothing else.

  5. On a Related Note: It’s just not the Puzzle Palace. Saw an article where the number of Veterans in Congress has shriveled up, and the number who actually saw Combat is miniscule. Also, the last Combat Vet that was in the White House was Bush the Elder, and that was 20 years ago.

    So when you have Political Leadership and Oversight who think Marines are stationed at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to be Doormen…..

  6. People who have “seen the elephant” behave differently than those who have not. They understand what committing people to die in a hell hole far from home means.

    As I mentioned before (though yes, he is granted that by right of election), President Obama wouldn’t qualify for ENLISTMENT in any armed service nor would he qualify for a security clearance – yet he’s in charge.

    This all comes from a culture raised in the soft embrace of the welfare state. Peacocks notwithstanding, there are leaders and potential leaders who would pick up the gauntlet. They are not likely to be the sort of people that the American people prefer these days.

  7. I’m sure I’m not the first to point out that the U.S. has not won a major conflict since the “War Department” became the “Defense Department.”

    And nothing scares the troops more than a leader who can’t make a decision or makes one based on whether or not it covers his ass.

  8. It’s odd that the most important qualification for a combat general is lacking on those that are in charge. In the private sector, this would be like electing a President with no experience or qualifications, or allowing an Attorney General that doesn’t respect the law, or a Secretary of the Treasury that cheats on income taxes.

  9. Comrademisfit posted recently (at Babies in the open) the official portraits of Gen. Eisenhower and of Gen. Petraus. While not a combat veteran himself, Ike did lead the Allies to victory in Europe, amongst other things.

    Compare his awards and badges to Petraus. Absolutely disgusting. Petraus has received more “field grade” or “flag grade” good conduct medals than Ike had medals in total.

    While I disagree with the reasons we were sent to Grenada, I and a few thousand others did what the U.S military does best. Kill people and break things. Then we left (only to go to another hellhole we had no business being in, Beirut). There we weren’t allowed to do our jobs. As my English professor said, “Compare and contrast this in a 5-paragraph essay.”

    Leave nation building to the NGO’s and let us go home.

  10. I called them jogging captains. They looked fit but always seemed to avoid being deployed like the plague. Worried about careers more than commands. My old boss was one.
    Too be honest he spent more time hosing the other officers than anything else. A terminal staffer.
    I was not USN or DOD so he didn’t bother me much.

    Living here next to Ft Campbell I will say that most of the folks in the 101ST liked Petraus when he was here and ejoyed serving under him. He’s known to be hard on his senior officers but took good care of the troops.

    I don’t think US Grant saw combat until the civil war.


  11. That post was full of truth and I couldn’t agree with you more. Most of those who wear stars (though not all by any means) are no more fit for high command than I am and I assure you I’d be a poor choice.