Best Defense

Why I don’t think General Allen should be fired as the commander in Afghanistan

Longtime readers know that I think the U.S. military ought to fire generals more often than it does. I think we should reward success and punish failure. I don’t think we should be "fair" to generals when the lives of our soldiers and the nation’s interests are at stake. I think we should move out ...

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Longtime readers know that I think the U.S. military ought to fire generals more often than it does. I think we should reward success and punish failure. I don’t think we should be "fair" to generals when the lives of our soldiers and the nation’s interests are at stake. I think we should move out people when we think we have someone better ready to move in. I think we should even fire generals for simply having too long a run of "bad luck."

Now, in Afghanistan, we’ve had a painful run. First, Marines pissing on the bodies of enemy dead — and being stupid enough to video the action. Then U.S. soldiers putting Korans in the burn pit. And then a soldier running amok and shooting Afghan civilians.

So why am I not calling on General Allen to get the big heave-ho? Basically, I don’t see a pattern of poor leadership on his part contributing to the three events. With Abu Ghraib in Iraq, by contrast, there was clearly a pattern of poor leadership by General Sanchez that helped create the conditions at Abu Ghraib. But I don’t see that here. And while he has had some bad luck, it has not been long enough by itself to justify jettisoning him.

In addition, he might be just about the best guy to deal with these problems. From what I saw in Iraq, I suspect he may be the most culturally sensitive combat general we have. So, if he retains the confidence of his superiors, both military and civilian, I think he should remain. 

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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