Paul Kaplan’s article Challenging the Generals (TimeSelect registration required) published in the August 26, 2007 Sunday New York Times Magazine traces the increasing credibility gap between junior field officers and the generals. One noteworthy point brought out in the article is that the young captains who have served two and three tours of duty increasingly have more combat experience than the generals who command them did at their age. Kaplan also examines the Army’s promotion system which is not noted for nurturing creative thinkers.
I think the most interesting aspect of the discussion brought out by these articles is the responsibility of general officers operating under civilian control. What duty do these officers have? How hard can they or should they push their civilian leaders? What should they do when civilian leadership makes decisions they do not agree with? Especially when civilian leadership may be trying to introduce changes to a very change-resistant organization?
All these issues are way above my pay grade, as they say, but it seems to me at least one bedrock principles ought to apply: generals have a responsibility to provide their soundest professional opinions, recommendations and judgements to their civilian leaders, irrespective of what they think (or know) those leaders want to hear. By the same token, civilian leaders have a responsibility to create a climate where such opinions can be freely expressed and are hopefully sought out. It certainly looks as though both sides failed to adhere to this principle in the case of the Iraq war.