On Leadership
Video | PostLeadership | FedCoach | | Books | About |
Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti

Gen. Monty Meigs (Ret.)
Military leader

Gen. Monty Meigs (Ret.)

A retired U.S. Army General, Montgomery Meigs has commanded U.S. and NATO forces overseas and is now President and CEO of Business Executives for National Security.

Flawed Leadership in Washington

Our problems in Afghanistan derive far more from a flawed process of developing strategy back home than from any flawed leadership in the field, which Rajiv Chandrasekaran reported as being perceived as "too conventional, languid, and old school."

General David McKiernan's relief continues a trend across three administrations. Generals who told truth to power and who served loyally and well were hamstrung and disgraced publicly. Generals Wesley Clark and Ric Shinseki both suffered humiliation and loss of clout in their duties a year before the end of their tours when Secretaries' announced replacements, indicating a loss of confidence.

McKiernan is an officer known in his service for his operational ability. For two years as the key leader on the staff of U.S. Army Europe, he marshaled the support for the campaigns in Bosnia and Kosovo. A fact omitted from the Post's article, he also commanded the Joint Force on the ground in 2003 that advanced 400 miles, destroyed the Iraqi Army, and captured Baghdad in less than 17 days.

The rules governing tenure in three- and four-star positions are well known. Secretary Gates did not need to "fire" McKiernan and disgrace him. Quietly seeing through the process of nomination and confirmation of a replacement would have placed McKiernan on the retired list less than 60 days after the change of command. It would also not have sent the unintended message to commanders in the field that "being adept at working Washington" is as important as operational success.

It is too late to repair the harm done to the Army by the mishandled removal of General David McKiernan, but the resulting debate may be a useful part of developing an effective strategy in Afghanistan. Washington and its commanders in the field often disagree, and we need a better process for shaping and approving the campaign plan.

Developing the national strategy in wartime always involves bare-knuckle debate and argument. Lincoln's reaction to Meade's failure to pursue Lee after Gettysburg is instructive as are Pershing's clashes with Clemenceau or Marshall's confrontations with King or Clark's with Cohen and Shelton.

To counter the uncertainties caused by the fog and friction of war, commanders in the field always push for extra resources and time; the best also recommend aggressive action to dominate events. Political leaders always act to keep those demands within the limits of political reality. It may surprise defense experts in the Washington D.C. region, but commanders in the field usually have a better sense of the reality on the ground than do staffers doing quick studies on the E-Ring or in the Old Executive Office Building.

For strategy to work effectively, political reality in the capital and operational reality on the ground must be in balance. To decide what risks should be taken in shaping a campaign strategy, the National Command Authorities must fully understand the risks.

Where to from here? In Generals Stan McChrystal and David Rodriguez, we do have an "A" team on the ground in Afghanistan. These officers have unparalleled operational experience and records of success in the field. They are not "Washington" generals. To help them succeed, the National Command Authorities must do two things:

First, Afghanistan and Pakistan together pose a much more challenging insurgency than did Iraq. Success in counterinsurgency takes time and strategic patience. Accept the reality that no plan of campaign is going to yield rapid, conclusive results by January.

Second, allow General McChrystal to make a strong case for his campaign plan. Before paring down his objectives and limiting his force requirements, be sure to understand and accept the risks of failure that may come with denying him what he and his subordinates strongly believe they need for success on the ground.

By Gen. Monty Meigs (Ret.)

 |  August 26, 2009; 11:51 AM ET
Category:  Military Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: New Strategy, New Leader | Next: Breaking Through the Gardol Screen

Comments

Please report offensive comments below.



General Meigs:

I believe it would prove instructive to hear your views about the correct strategy for Pakistan (currently "beat them up severely with airpower for harboring al Qaida but otherwise leave Pakistanis the hell alone") vs. the correct one for Afghanistan (currently "minimal use of airpower in order to lessen civilian casualties but otherwise rumble in massively and deploy 'boots on the ground' forces to wage the kind of guerrilla war Afghans greatly prefer because they have been ultimately winning them for centuries"). One has to wonder why a "non-invasive" strategy for Pakistan (where al Qaida currently resides) is a sensible one while it could be wrong to use it right next door in Afghanistan (where al Qaida no longer has a militarily significant presence).

Dennis S. Arthur
Colonel USAF (Rtd)

Posted by: dsarthur1 | August 29, 2009 12:42 AM
Report Offensive Comment

General Miegs: You present some thought provoking points, however, strategy is NOT the fundamental issue - clear headed and knowledgeable recognition of goals which are both realistic and achievable, while serving both the interests of the US and the foreign state are. Establishing those goals must be identified in the context of understanding of the historical situation, culture and current ethic and religious dynamics.

Development of strategy, with the intricacies and inevitable tensions between civilian authority and military expertise that follow, represent the struggles of the second phase of a potentially successful action - not the beginning, nor the fundamental rationale.

If the goals are neither productive, realistic nor attainable, strategy, and the resulting tactics, are a hollow and wasted effort.

Posted by: MillPond2 | August 28, 2009 7:54 PM
Report Offensive Comment

General Miegs: You present some thought provoking points, however, strategy is NOT the fundamental issue - clear headed and knowledgeable recognition of goals which are both realistic and achievable, while serving both the interests of the US and the foreign state are. Establishing those goals must be identified in the context of understanding of the historical situation, culture and current ethic and religious dynamics.

Development of strategy, with the intricacies and inevitable tensions between civilian authority and military expertise that follow, represent the struggles of the second phase of a potentially successful action - not the beginning, nor the fundamental rationale.

If the goals are neither productive, realistic nor attainable, strategy, and the resulting tactics, are a hollow and wasted effort.

Posted by: MillPond2 | August 28, 2009 7:54 PM
Report Offensive Comment

PS - Another reason they cannot be considered as innocent 'freedom fighters' is that the Taliban were direct accessories to the 9/11 attacks. The US and its allies had every right to liquidate the Taliban menace from both a punitive point of view, as well as a precedential expedience.

Posted by: CFL1968 | August 28, 2009 5:07 PM
Report Offensive Comment

*****

"How come the natives of Afghanistan, who also fight a foreign occupier, are called "insurgents?""

*****


This utterly disingenuos argument is often made. The simple difference is that the Talib and others like them do not represent the people. Recent case in point, they will not allow elections because they know they have no chance at power other than through ruthlessness and murder.

They are medievil warlords with a dark ages ideology. They are not fighting for freedom from oppression, they are fighting for the freedom to oppress.

This is the same in Iraq.

So please spare us these ridiculous comparisons.

Posted by: CFL1968 | August 28, 2009 4:47 PM
Report Offensive Comment

We have been listening to the Generals, and the result has been: we are still entrenched in war.

Maybe it is time for the Generals to listen to the civilian government now?

Posted by: wlockhar | August 28, 2009 4:41 PM
Report Offensive Comment

Dear General:

In the old war movies the brave civilians fighting the Nazis and their puppets were always called resistance fighters. How come the natives of Afghanistan, who also fight a foreign occupier, are called "insurgents?"

Posted by: rsliazas | August 28, 2009 2:39 PM
Report Offensive Comment

General McKiernan's was certainly no George Patton or Meade. Senior officers serve at the pleasure of the executive branch of the U.S. government and they made a decision that some fresh insight was in order. I seriously doubt the average grunt gives a damn about who the top brass is, so this view that some sort of "damage" was done to the Army is completely bogus. This is simply a case of some old general officer buddies closing ranks and polishing stars and their bruised egos.

Posted by: kschur1 | August 28, 2009 12:18 PM
Report Offensive Comment

The real question is one that I haven't seen defined: What is our mission in Afghanistan?

Our original mission, I believe, was to eliminate AlQuada and "get" bin Ladin. That mission was supported by the American people following the 911 attack. Then came the unnecessary (in my opinion) diversion into Iraq.

But, what is our mission in Afghanistan now? It seems to be to create a democracy in this tribal country: not a very promising prospect. Additionally, we appear to have as part of our mission an effort to defeat the Taliban with bin Ladin and AlQuada taking a back seat.

Military leaders need to have clearly a defined mission in order to function effectively and they require adequate resources, both human and materiel, in order to effectively accomplish the mission.

Posted by: fnewt | August 28, 2009 11:36 AM
Report Offensive Comment

If Gen McChrystal is the type of officer we need leading our troops, then the Army has opted for leadership without integrity and leaders who will lie to anyone. Ask Pat Tillman's Mother.

Posted by: GordonShumway | August 28, 2009 11:17 AM
Report Offensive Comment

I find it most interesting how the USG defines some issues. Invade, conquer, occupy and subjugate is now called counter insurgency. The questions that should have been asked, but never were are:
1. Quisnam beneficium prucul culus sumptous(L)? Who benefits at whose expense?
2. Quisnam est vulnero(L)? Who is injured?
3. Qui est l'agent provocateur(F)? Who is agent provocateur?
4. How long will this war last? A typical war should last no longer than 3 years. One year to get ready, one year to finish the war and one year to close it down and move out and bring the troops home.
5. How much will it cost? What opportunities are lost because of this war expense?

Posted by: bberka1 | August 28, 2009 11:04 AM
Report Offensive Comment

What I find interesting, and it's not necessarily a "leadership" issue, is that Iraq was supposed to be THE defining war of the generations to come, THE situation that needed to be handled successfully, impacting on security for future generations of Americans; there was no limit to what we should be willing to do to achieve success. Now, eight years into the war, with relatively little different that when the war began, Afghanistan is THE defining war, and there seems to be, from the leadership, no limit to what we should do to achieve success.

I believe the question begs to be asked: How do we define success in Afghanistan? Elimination of all "bad guys?" Equal rights for all people...most people...some people? A certain standard of economic prosperity? (That doesn't seem to be a military issue; at least not at this time.) Will it be necessary to be the "real" police for generations? Or for only tens of years? Are we looking for Afghans to vote with us in the UN? Are we looking for them to be a partner in any war on terrorism? Or, for that matter, in anything?

What success are we looking for? Military success, political success, or any other success. What are our objectives in Afghanistan, and, if it were possible to be completely out of Afghanistan tomorrow (all troops, all equipment, leaving simple diplomatic activities as the norm in most countries), what would be the difference versus what we expect in the future?

dungarees@gmail.com

Posted by: Dungarees | August 28, 2009 9:40 AM
Report Offensive Comment

What I find interesting, and it's not necessarily a "leadership" issue, is that Iraq was supposed to be THE defining war of the generations to come, THE situation that needed to be handled successfully, impacting on security for future generations of Americans; there was no limit to what we should be willing to do to achieve success. Now, eight years into the war, with relatively little different that when the war began, Afghanistan is THE defining war, and there seems to be, from the leadership, no limit to what we should do to achieve success.

I believe the question begs to be asked: How do we define success in Afghanistan? Elimination of all "bad guys?" Equal rights for all people...most people...some people? A certain standard of economic prosperity? (That doesn't seem to be a military issue; at least not at this time.) Will it be necessary to be the "real" police for generations? Or for only tens of years? Are we looking for Afghans to vote with us in the UN? Are we looking for them to be a partner in any war on terrorism? Or, for that matter, in anything?

What success are we looking for? Military success, political success, or any other success. What are our objectives in Afghanistan, and, if it were possible to be completely out of Afghanistan tomorrow (all troops, all equipment, leaving simple diplomatic activities as the norm in most countries), what would be the difference versus what we expect in the future?

dungarees@gmail.com

Posted by: Dungarees | August 28, 2009 9:37 AM
Report Offensive Comment

Gen. Meigs, does the State Department play a role in this? How about adding a third thing to do that brings in civilian leadership? Is your point of view based simply on a military solution to this problem? If so, how does that work?

I'll give you that the men on the scene are best placed to make the tactical decisions and many strategic ones. But the problems in Afghanistan won't be solved through the use of the military alone. Without the State Department, the CIA, NGO's and other elements that maybe at play there on board with the plan, the military will likely be working at cross purposes.

In the end, it's the civilian element that will have to clean up the mess so shouldn't they be involved in deciding what the mess will look like?

Posted by: dutchvision | August 28, 2009 8:04 AM
Report Offensive Comment

General Meigs would seem to have a point when he says that the insurgency in Afghanistan is much more challenging than that in Iraq.
In Afghanistan the insurgents are largely primitive tribemen who are deeply religious with an fierce hatred of the "foreign infidels". Iraq's insurgents, on the other hand, are largely Sunni secular nationalists who seem to have realized that they cannot return to dominance as in the days of Saddam Hussein and have chosen to use their strength to forge the best accomodation they can with the majority Shias.

At the same time, Afghanistan's government, it appears, has little control outside of Kabul and enjoys little support among Afghans at large. Iraq's government, on the other hand, appears (for all its faults) to function with some efficiency and to have the cooperation of a large percentage of its population. And it will likely try to reach some "accomodation" with the minority Sunni community (the main source of the insurgency).

Then there are the national security forces. Aghanistan's police and army are way too few in numbers and woefully inefficient. Iraq's security forces - police and army - appear to have "got their act together" and appear willing to support the policies of the Iraqi government.

Then there are the differences in landscape. Afghanistan's people are scattered in primitive villages in a rugged, inhospitable landscape while Iraqis are much more urban urban dwellers at home in the 21st. century.

Finally, Afghan insurgents have a large safe-haven over in Pakistan, something denied Iraq's insurgency.

Posted by: GaryPeschell | August 28, 2009 7:55 AM
Report Offensive Comment

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company