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Future of War: What the Army chief of staff thinks he learned from Iraq

That the “whole of government” must participate in a war is one of the tired myths that the Army needs to stop singing to itself.


General Raymond Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff, in speaking at the New America/ASU conference on the future of war, listed as a lesson from Iraq is that the “whole of government” must participate.

As Janine Davidson said later in the day, that is one of the tired myths that the Army needs to stop singing to itself.

First, it is unrealistic: As Janine indicated, the FAA is not going to come with you to a combat zone to run air traffic. Nor is the Foreign Service going to conduct tribal negotiations for you. And the CDC is not gonna control disease for you. If those guys wanted to do that stuff under fire, they would have joined the 82nd Airborne.

Second, it is a convenient way of blaming civilian officials for the lousy outcomes in Iraq and Afghanistan. In other words, what Odierno said is Army code talk for “we did our job, but we were let down by others.” This is a pernicious interpretation of what happened in those wars. So far the Army has been less forthright in reviewing Iraq and Afghanistan than it was in dealing with the Vietnam War in the late 1970s.

Third, it worries me because if the Army can’t honestly and soberly address its shortcomings in those wars, I don’t think it can really adapt to the future. And as I have said before, the key to victory is adaptability.

SSG Teddy Wade/U.S. Army

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

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