Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Secretary Robert Gates on War

 Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made an unusual statement while speaking to an assembly of West Point cadets on Friday, February 25th.  Secretary Gates is reported to have said the following:
"In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the President to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should 'have his head examined,' as General MacArthur so delicately put it."
This statement is a disturbing example of the poor leadership pervading  our government.  At first glance, it seems daring.  After all, a prominent Defense Secretary has indirectly (i.e., without naming him) criticized the actions of his predecessor.  But  no boldness is required  to say this in a protected environment, and not a public place where it may get recorded on video and where he may receive questions about his statement.
Also, the remarks come seven years too late.  He offers no remedy for the mistakes  which he supervises and struggles to control as he nears the end of his career.
As a military historian, Mr. Gates is not doing a very good job either.  His interpretation of MacArthur's remark is flawed.  When MacArthur made the 'head examined' comment he said that a President should avoid  "a land war in Asia."  At the time, it was clear that the reference was to China.
Secretary Gates changed 'land war' to 'land army' and widened the geography to include the Middle East and Africa.  Of course, most of the propaganda machine, sometimes referred to as the American press, reworked Gates' comment and  put the phrase 'land war' in many versions of his quoted statement.
Another reason why Gates' statement  is no great shakes is the knowledge (finally!) among even the hardest of hard heads that the land wars of Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan were dismal failures and losses. 
I know there are still some neocons who believe we should police every nation in the world but they seem isolated at last.  But the trend outlined by the Secretary is to "reshape" the Army (meaning downsize) and depend more on naval and air forces to support our policies.
So the prospect of fewer wars isn't in the forecast.  The plan is to make war just as often as necessary but to have less loss of life and revenue in the undertaking of it.  How much less, of course, is up for speculation.

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