Best Defense

Crumpton’s Picks (10): We Need Leaders Who Can Pull Together All the Foregoing

The President is the Commander-in-Chief and responsible for military strategy.

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By Henry A. Crumpton

Best Defense guest columnist


  1. Leadership, the Paramount Principle. The President is the Commander-in-Chief and responsible for military strategy, as Johns Hopkins SAIS Professor Eliot Cohen explains through compelling case studies in Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime.


The President, more than anyone, should understand and integrate all these principles of war into a framework. He should then articulate the strategy, to include specific goals with timelines and benchmarks. If his generals, spies, and diplomats fail, he should replace them. Battlefield leaders must be independent, creative, determined, and merciless against the enemy while empathetic to the population – not wed to the conventional doctrine or greedy politics of the military-intelligence-aid industrial complex.

The President must also educate the citizenry, explaining the awful necessity and purpose of war, as Lincoln and FDR did. In contrast, President Obama clings to the limiting orthodoxy of diplomacy and conflict, stressing what he will not do. Citizens need a principles-based vision of what the world should be and how to get there.

George Washington embraced many of these principles. David Hackett Fischer, in his dazzling book Washington’s Crossing, depicts how America’s revolutionary commander built “an open system, in which others were not only permitted but actively encouraged to have a high degree of autonomy.” Washington’s brilliant Winter Campaign of 1776-77 was characterized by, “boldness and prudence, flexibility and opportunism, initiative and tempo, speed and concentration, force multipliers, and intelligence.”

These principle-driven characteristics “defined a new way of war.” In the midst of today’s chaotic, epochal change, we must wage this type of war – the true American way of war.

Ambassador Henry A. Crumpton, who led the CIA’s Afghanistan campaign 2001-02, retired from government service in 2007. He is the author of The Art of Intelligence.

Photo credit: ABRAHAM BYERS/Wikimedia Commons



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 @tomricks1
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