Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

A powerful attack on the Marine Corps leadership — by a serving Marine captain

There is a powerful article in the February issue of the “Marine Corps Gazette” by Capt. Joshua Waddell, a company commander in the 1st Marine Division.

170130-m-qh615-197c

There is a powerful article in the February issue of the Marine Corps Gazette by Capt. Joshua Waddell, a company commander in the 1st Marine Division. It is so heartfelt that it kind of jumps off the page.

“It is time that we, as professional military officers, accept the fact that we lost the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Capt. Waddell asserts.

He adds that he finds that conclusion an “objective, yet repulsive, fact.” And, he writes, that shouldn’t be entirely blamed on civilian leaders or other parts of the government.

There is a powerful article in the February issue of the Marine Corps Gazette by Capt. Joshua Waddell, a company commander in the 1st Marine Division. It is so heartfelt that it kind of jumps off the page.

“It is time that we, as professional military officers, accept the fact that we lost the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Capt. Waddell asserts.

He adds that he finds that conclusion an “objective, yet repulsive, fact.” And, he writes, that shouldn’t be entirely blamed on civilian leaders or other parts of the government.

Waddell, now a company commander, notes that he lost Marines in the fighting. (He served in Afghanistan with the 3/7 Marines in 2010-11.) “It has taken several years of personal struggle to arrive at the conclusions I am writing now.”

Why does this amount to an attack on the Marine Corps leadership? Because he says it is engaging in talk about how good the Corps is without really doing the things that need the make the Corps good. It has “well-meaning policies [that] are hollow without the corporate environment in which they can be successful. “By repeatedly espousing the need for innovation in the Marine Corps while refusing to foster” innovative practices, he concludes, “we delude ourselves.”

The situation is so bad, he says, that Army units — the 82nd Airborne and 75th Rangers — “have outpaced our capacity for expeditionary communications.” That’s a real shot across the bow.

He goes on to attack several sacred cows. No more talk of “innovation,” he says. Be more careful about hiring military retirees for civilian jobs. “While prior military service can be an asset, it can also be a hindrance to organizational change. Our civilian headquarters billets should not be … akin to a ‘no colonel left behind’ program.” He also criticizes the personnel system for discouraging risk taking and instead, incentivizing “playing it safe and making it to 20.”

He certainly isn’t playing it safe with this article. I admire his courage in writing it and the editors of the Gazette for running it. Let’s just hope the Corps appreciates that.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Defense

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

More from Foreign Policy

The Taliban delegation leaves the hotel after meeting with representatives of Russia, China, the United States, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Qatar in Moscow on March 19.

China and the Taliban Begin Their Romance

Beijing has its eyes set on using Afghanistan as a strategic corridor once U.S. troops are out of the way.

An Afghan security member pours gasoline over a pile of seized drugs and alcoholic drinks

The Taliban Are Breaking Bad

Meth is even more profitable than heroin—and is turbocharging the insurgency.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya addresses the U.N. Security Council from her office in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Sept. 4, 2020.

Belarus’s Unlikely New Leader

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya didn’t set out to challenge a brutal dictatorship.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid

What the Taliban Takeover Means for India

Kabul’s swift collapse leaves New Delhi with significant security concerns.