Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Lead from the front Mr. President, you’re good at it

It has been awhile since Nathaniel Fick has graced CDR Salamander; it has been worth the wait. In an OP-ED piece from the 20 SEP 05 NYT, An Honest Victory, he brings up some great points that need to be read and discussed. In the end, you don’t have to agree with all his points, but you cannot deny the accuracy of the majority of what he says.
AUTHORITY can be delegated; responsibility cannot. President Bush's … acknowledgment (of his ultimate responsibility) was a necessary first step in rebuilding the Gulf Coast and preparing for the next disaster.

This new transparency, however, shouldn't stop with Hurricane Katrina. Consider the positive effects that would follow a similar presidential assumption of responsibility for American missteps in Iraq.

By declaring that the buck stops at his desk, President Bush could begin a top-down rethinking of our military and political strategies since the 2003 invasion. He would also establish a standard of personal accountability for everyone in the chain of command, … it just might galvanize enough bipartisan support to break the ideological gridlock that has limited changes in Iraq policy to marginal tweaks rather than a full reassessment.
Desperately needed. Absolutely. I don't completely buy the "Katrina Option" for Iraq, but the Nation needs a refocus on what we are doing in Iraq. Things are going in the right direction, but Americans do not like long wars where they tread water. Remember, Lincoln almost lost the 1864 election. Americans demand victory, and demand to be told about it from their leaders. Not spun. Informed about real progress: constantly. We do need to adjust, to what degree is best left to those who know best - and tell the people what is being adjusted and why. If the plan being used isn't right, say so and state your correction. Don't worry about the Nattering Naybobs of Negitivism - in today's world you can go direct to the American people. You did in in '04.

Juniors will put themselves in danger (physical or professional) if they see their leaders do the same. Trust me, Flag Officers and senior civilians can be as weak kneed as the rest of us; though before the Flag Officers start stepping forward, more civilian leadership would need to follow the President’s lead.
The fate of Gen. Eric Shinseki, the former Army chief of staff who fell into disfavor with the White House after telling Congress in 2003 that several hundred thousand troops would be needed in postwar Iraq, has cast a long shadow across the officer corps.
Shinseki didn’t help himself when it became known that the Hawaii Democratic deligation was grooming him for “greater things.” That and the whole beret thingy.
The tradition of providing apolitical advice based on sound military judgment is predicated on the willingness of civilian leaders to consider unpopular counsel, something this administration has been unwilling to do.
Not altogether true, but there are a lot of professional “yes men” in the Puzzle Palace. A lot of great officers do give their opinions at odds with the civilian leadership – but when everyone steps out the door – everyone supports the mission 100% as directed. I have followed orders and promoted policy I had minutes ago totally disagreed with …. but being legal and of opinion, I did what I was told. No shame in that. Hey, sometimes you are wrong.
As things stand, American citizens - and the military - have been offered a false choice between "staying the course" in Iraq and precipitous withdrawal. The historian James Chace compared the former to a sailor who, having been blown off course in a storm, continues to sail straight ahead, but in the wrong direction.

Cutting and running, on the other hand, isn't a strategy. A hasty exit would give us anarchy, civil war and maybe revenge killing on a scale unseen since Rwanda. That withdrawal is frequently advanced as the "humanitarian" option is appalling. There must be a third way.
But what 3rd Way? You don’t get 2nd chances with 3rd Ways. Better make sure you pick something better than what you got. I don't think you go out and say "Everything is screwed up..." either. That isn't true. Most has gone right, but there is room for improvement.
Envision this: In a primetime address like last Thursday's, President Bush focuses the power of his office on Iraq. … He speaks honestly, acknowledges the administration's mistakes, accepts responsibility for them and explains why creating a stable Iraq is in America's national interest. Then, and this is the key, he announces a reassessment of American strategy spanning from the roles of the commander in chief to the lowliest private.

... there are leaders in the military who understand counterinsurgency warfare. Conventional armies have been fighting guerrillas since ancient times, and this history offers countless cautionary examples, from Masada to Malaya. The nearest thing to a universal maxim is that counterinsurgents who fail to see their mistakes and to adapt on the fly are doomed to lose.
Don’t forget about popular will to fight. Mr. President, look at the poll numbers. You cannot ignore them. Good things are happening in Iraq, and your military is doing great things as well. Don’t blow this. We have bought this with a lot of blood and treasure. You had better get ahead of the game, as we approach 2,000 dead, the ghouls are already getting ready to gibbet our dead.
There's no shortage of good alternatives waiting in the wings. One that has recently garnered much attention is the military historian Andrew Krepinevich's "oil spot" strategy, which involves shifting the focus from killing insurgents to protecting civilians by pouring money and manpower into protected cantons where average Iraqis can see the tangible advantages of our system over Al Qaeda's.
Similar to the strategy the USMC started with in Vietnam that General Westmoreland hated…but it worked. The Marines have been at this for some time.
The particulars of whatever strategy we decide to go with are, at this point, secondary. First, commitment to change must be made, and quickly. … Each week's delay in Iraq costs about a dozen Americans dead, a hundred wounded and a billion dollars down the drain, plus vast harm to American prestige and the Iraqis themselves.

President Bush has the power to change the United States' prospects in Iraq. But doing so requires the courage to admit errors, and the willingness to embrace good ideas. A break with the past can be Hurricane Katrina's positive legacy.
Again, you don’t have to agree with Nathaniel Fick. You may think his examples are all or a little full-of-bunk; but what you can’t say is the core of his argument is wrong. We can do better. It isn’t all the MSM’s fault. Americans need their President to lead them through the home stretch.

Like one of my favorite professionals said:
”We can still lose this war.”
(Patton, during the Battle of the Bulge, December, 1944)

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