Best Defense

Gates: We have a surplus of generals

The more I know about Dwight Eisenhower, the more I admire the man. So I was pleased to see that Defense Secretary Gates gave a speech Saturday at the Eisenhower Library. Looking back from today’s vantage point,” Gates said, “what I find so compelling and instructive was the simple fact that when it came to ...

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The more I know about Dwight Eisenhower, the more I admire the man. So I was pleased to see that Defense Secretary Gates gave a speech Saturday at the Eisenhower Library.

Looking back from today’s vantage point,” Gates said, “what I find so compelling and instructive was the simple fact that when it came to defense matters, under Eisenhower real choices were made, priorities set, and limits enforced.”

Gates hit same of the same subjects he took on in last week’s Navy League speech, but he also took a pop at the bloat in the top ranks of the military: “During the 1990s, the military saw deep cuts in overall force structure — the Army by nearly 40 percent. But the reduction in flag officers — generals and admirals — was about half that.”

Meanwhile, because of combat losses, the Taliban’s leadership is getting younger and tougher, according to Newsweek, which still exists:

The old generation of fighters is mostly gone from the battlefield; most were killed, captured, or disabled before they reached their late 30s. And yet by all accounts the number of insurgents on the ground keeps rising, with ever-younger recruits joining the fight. . . .  The best young fighters tend to be promoted quickly, thanks to combat losses.”

This process is something that JFC Fuller understood, despite his loopy politics-I mean, attending Hitler’s 50th birthday party? So did George Marshall, who quietly revealed that the 1940 Louisiana Maneuvers were designed in part to figure out which generals lacked sufficient vigor to lead in combat.

It also makes me think of Iraq, where I think in 2003-2004, where the American effort, by eliminating the aging, slow-footed, big-bellied Baathists, probably improved the agility of the insurgent’s leaders. In addition, your exit strategy might need some of the more reasonable leaders of the enemy. As one official said to me in Iraq in early 2007, “We need to be careful not to kill people we need to talk to.” 

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.

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