Retired Major General Robert H. Scales:
The tapes tell the tale. Go back and look at images of our nation’s most senior soldier, Gen. Martin Dempsey, and his body language during Tuesday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on Syria. It’s pretty obvious that Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, doesn’t want this war. As Secretary of State John Kerry’s thundering voice and arm-waving redounded in rage against Bashar al-Assad’s atrocities, Dempsey was largely (and respectfully) silent.
Dempsey’s unspoken words reflect the opinions of most serving military leaders. By no means do I profess to speak on behalf of all of our men and women in uniform. But I can justifiably share the sentiments of those inside the Pentagon and elsewhere who write the plans and develop strategies for fighting our wars. After personal exchanges with dozens of active and retired soldiers in recent days, I feel confident that what follows represents the overwhelming opinion of serving professionals who have been intimate witnesses to the unfolding events that will lead the United States into its next war.
They are embarrassed to be associated with the amateurism of the Obama administration’s attempts to craft a plan that makes strategic sense. None of the White House staff has any experience in war or understands it. So far, at least, this path to war violates every principle of war, including the element of surprise, achieving mass and having a clearly defined and obtainable objective.
They are repelled by the hypocrisy of a media blitz that warns against the return of Hitlerism but privately acknowledges that the motive for risking American lives is our “responsibility to protect” the world’s innocents. Prospective U.S. action in Syria is not about threats to American security. The U.S. military’s civilian masters privately are proud that they are motivated by guilt over slaughters in Rwanda, Sudan and Kosovo and not by any systemic threat to our country.
They are tired of wannabe soldiers who remain enamored of the lure of bloodless machine warfare. “Look,” one told me, “if you want to end this decisively, send in the troops and let them defeat the Syrian army. If the nation doesn’t think Syria is worth serious commitment, then leave them alone.” But they also warn that Syria is not Libya or Serbia. Perhaps the United States has become too used to fighting third-rate armies. As the Israelis learned in 1973, the Syrians are tough and mean-spirited killers with nothing to lose.
Our military members understand and take seriously their oath to defend the constitutional authority of their civilian masters. They understand that the United States is the only liberal democracy that has never been ruled by its military. But today’s soldiers know war and resent civilian policymakers who want the military to fight a war that neither they nor their loved ones will experience firsthand.
(General Scales is the former commandant of the U.S. Army War College.)
There is a popular Hollywood stereotype of military leaders as bloodthirsty warmongers. The truth is that the guys that actually have to fight wars are usually the most reluctant to start one.
Back when Democrats were generally opposed to war they liked to point out that many Republicans were “chickenhawks”, meaning that they and their children avoided military service (or combat) but they were eager to send other people’s kids to fight a war in Iraq.
I never served in combat, but I still remember how it felt when my unit went on alert because the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. I was 19 and stationed not far from the East German border. It was a scary moment.
I have great respect for the men and women who serve in our armed forces. I think we owe it to them to make sure they are not lightly put into harm’s way.
Pentagon Press Secretary George Little rejected the article’s premise.
“I have no idea where these broad characterizations of anonymous opinion originated. We don’t take opinion polls of our military personnel on policy debates,” Little said in an email to BuzzFeed. “The fact of the matter is that our military planners continue to do what they do incredibly well: professionally develop military options on Syria. Our cadre of planners is the finest in the world, and they are demonstrating great resolve.”
That’s a non-denial denial.
“You can do many things with a bayonet except sit on it.” – Tallyrand
“Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by, that here obedient to their laws we lie.” – Simonides
“Never fight a land war in Asia.” – General Douglas MacArthur