- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The other night CNAS threw a dinner for Gen. George Casey, chief of staff of the U.S. Army. I went but didn’t expect much because in my experience Casey has been pretty cautious, even dull, in his public comments. But I guess as he sees the end of his term approaching he is loosening up a bit, because I found the conversation surprisingly forthright. More enlightening than yesterday’s interview with Gen. Petraeus, I’d say.
- He took a pretty hard line on combat incidents such as Wanat, in which the Army has conducted inquiries that faulted front-line commanders. At first he said he couldn’t discuss specifics. But he went on to reject the suggestion that such inquiries discourage risk-taking. Rather, he said, the issue, is that some officers were "not executing to standard." He indicated that he has been discussing this with platoon leaders and company commanders, and concluded, "This is something we need to talk about as an Army."
- He had a provocative line about the future of the U.S. relationship with Iraq. "It’s almost, we have to leave to get invited back." By this I take it that he means we have to prove we are going to live up to the SOFA before Iraqi politicians can dare to begin talks about a long term military presence. Which I think there will be, and which I think is a good idea, despite invading Iraq being a terrible idea.
- He indicated he believes that President Obama is going to be a war president, like it or not. "We believe this is a long-term ideological struggle," that "this enemy is not going to quit," and that existing global trends are "like to exacerbate" the situation. "We are in for a decade or more of persistent conflict."
- He thinks future warfare will resemble the fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon in 2006, in which "a non-state actor has the instruments of state power." That means, he said, that the organizing principle for training and educating the force must be "versatility."
- He conceded that in 2009 more soldiers died of suicide than of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Another Defense official present noted that this is in part because of the decline in combat losses in Iraq.)
- He says it was clear to him upon becoming Army chief that "the families were the most stretched part of the force" but added that he thinks "that the president and Mrs. Obama are very supportive."
- He was almost snarky about NATO, saying, twice saying "Good luck" in getting more help from them. But he went out of his way to praise the British army, saying that, "It’s nice to have another country that can put a division into the field." (Until I had that, it hadn’t occurred to me that division commanders with full headquarters may be one of the world’s scarcest resources.)