Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Whatever happened to TRADOC? (III): The Gen. Barno challenge

The shallowness of General Dempsey’s presentation was all the more striking to me because on the same day I read a similar piece by retired Army Lt. Gen. David Barno. Like Dempsey, Barno is grappling with change and trying to look into the future, but he shows much more rigor and originality in doing so. ...

575514_091215_RicksGener52623166v2.jpg
575514_091215_RicksGener52623166v2.jpg

The shallowness of General Dempsey's presentation was all the more striking to me because on the same day I read a similar piece by retired Army Lt. Gen. David Barno. Like Dempsey, Barno is grappling with change and trying to look into the future, but he shows much more rigor and originality in doing so. He also challenges the Army far more than Dempsey did.

The shallowness of General Dempsey’s presentation was all the more striking to me because on the same day I read a similar piece by retired Army Lt. Gen. David Barno. Like Dempsey, Barno is grappling with change and trying to look into the future, but he shows much more rigor and originality in doing so. He also challenges the Army far more than Dempsey did.

First, Barno observes that:

… our military today is in a sense operating without a concept of war and is searching desperately for the new “unified field theory” of conflict. … Today, no agreed-upon theory of conflict drives all of these critical vectors toward a commonly understood paradigm; the result is a profusion of disparate outlooks leading toward the risk of professional incoherence.

Strong stuff, and far more thought-provoking than what Dempsey was saying. Barno then drives home the point:

Warfare is changing, and Western militaries to date are having serious difficulties keeping up-intellectually, materially, and psychologically.

He is sounding an alarm. It doesn’t sound like he thinks TRADOC is meeting the challenge head on. Indeed, he is calling out a generation of generals when he writes that:

Comments often made by senior U.S. commanders that “we cannot be defeated militarily” and “this war cannot be won by military means” should send shudders down the spines of all serious students of war. War is nothing if not a political act; it always serves political ends.    

GERALD HERBERT/AFP/Getty Images

Thomas 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 ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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