Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

The book so nice JFQ reviewed it twice!

I only recently saw that the new issue of Joint Forces Quarterly contains two thoughtful reviews of The Generals. The first is by Marine Lt. Col. Robert Bracknell. “Specifically identifying the Army’s modern-era reluctance to effect senior leader reliefs as a departure from the pattern of history, Ricks paints an image of the ultimate country ...

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I only recently saw that the new issue of Joint Forces Quarterly contains two thoughtful reviews of The Generals.

I only recently saw that the new issue of Joint Forces Quarterly contains two thoughtful reviews of The Generals.

The first is by Marine Lt. Col. Robert Bracknell. “Specifically identifying the Army’s modern-era reluctance to effect senior leader reliefs as a departure from the pattern of history, Ricks paints an image of the ultimate country club, self-righteously convinced of its own infallibility — an Army for the sake of The Army, rather than for the sake of the Nation,” he writes. He faults the book, though, for underestimating “the moral component necessary to maintain the respect of privates, sergeants, captains, and colonels.” His bottom line is that, “If the military truly is as reflective and self-critical as it likes to advertise, The Generals should land on the Chairman’s and Service chiefs’ reading lists soon.” (Tom: Not holding breath.) 

The second review is by grand old strategist Alan Gropman, who singles out the Vietnam section of the book: “The strategic debacle in Vietnam is exceptionally well treated.”  I appreciated that because I thought the Vietnam discussion was one of the most interesting parts of the book and so I have been surprised that so few reviewers commented on it.

Gropman disagrees with my sections on counterinsurgency, because he has concluded that we simply can’t do it:

Ricks appears to believe counterinsurgency combat is a valid combat mission for the U.S. military. It is not. I do not understand why any political decisionmaker, after costly failures in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, would advocate counterinsurgency. We go to war in places we do not understand — in order to save nondemocratic and often corrupt states that are open to attacks by insurgents — against adversaries who have greater knowledge than we do of the countries we fight.

Tom again: I would say that the war you can’t fight is the war the enemy is most likely to seek.

Gropman’s bottom line: “read Tom Ricks’ The Generals to appreciate better the awful costs to the United States of failures in strategic thinking.”

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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