Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Eliot Cohen: Rotating commanders is wrong; also, the first step in solving a problem is recognizing you have one

When I was writing my most recent book, one of the things that struck me is how rotating commanders undercuts military effectiveness. So when reading a West Point oral history interview of Eliot Cohen, the Johns Hopkins strategist and historian, I was pleased to see him hit the point solidly: The rotation of commands, by ...

Johns Hopkins University SAIS
Johns Hopkins University SAIS
Johns Hopkins University SAIS

When I was writing my most recent book, one of the things that struck me is how rotating commanders undercuts military effectiveness. So when reading a West Point oral history interview of Eliot Cohen, the Johns Hopkins strategist and historian, I was pleased to see him hit the point solidly:

The rotation of commands, by the way, is -- this is kind of a technical point -- but it's -- it is still insane that what we do is we rotate divisional headquarters and corps headquarters to these places. And that's just military malpractice. I mean it means you have no institutional continuity whatsoever.

Tom again: Cohen makes an interesting observation in the same interview:

When I was writing my most recent book, one of the things that struck me is how rotating commanders undercuts military effectiveness. So when reading a West Point oral history interview of Eliot Cohen, the Johns Hopkins strategist and historian, I was pleased to see him hit the point solidly:

The rotation of commands, by the way, is — this is kind of a technical point — but it’s — it is still insane that what we do is we rotate divisional headquarters and corps headquarters to these places. And that’s just military malpractice. I mean it means you have no institutional continuity whatsoever.

Tom again: Cohen makes an interesting observation in the same interview:

…the military obviously likes to say, "Don’t come to me with a problem. Come to me with a solution." I think that’s sort of bogus. I think first you’ve got to realize that you’ve got a problem, and sometimes the solution to the problem may not be clear. But you’re only going to begin figuring it out once you acknowledge that you’ve got a problem.

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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