Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Have our military leaders been honest?

The military must be honest, both with itself and the rest of the nation.

Siegfried's Death, by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld. (Wikimedia Commons)
Siegfried's Death, by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld. (Wikimedia Commons)

 I don’t mean in personal terms — having love affairs, abusing travel privileges, and such.

Rather, I mean in their assessments of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, have they soberly and carefully told their civilian overseers what they can do and what they cannot?

These questions are inspired by a line I recently read in Haig’s Enemy: Crown Prince Rupprecht and Germany’s War on the Western Front, by Jonathan Boff. In reviewing the performance of German generals in World War I, Boff writes, “If there is a lesson for today, it is surely that the military needs to be ruthlessly honest, both with itself and with its politicians, about what it can and cannot achieve.”

 I don’t mean in personal terms — having love affairs, abusing travel privileges, and such.

Rather, I mean in their assessments of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, have they soberly and carefully told their civilian overseers what they can do and what they cannot?

These questions are inspired by a line I recently read in Haig’s Enemy: Crown Prince Rupprecht and Germany’s War on the Western Front, by Jonathan Boff. In reviewing the performance of German generals in World War I, Boff writes, “If there is a lesson for today, it is surely that the military needs to be ruthlessly honest, both with itself and with its politicians, about what it can and cannot achieve.”

I also liked the last sentence in the book: “The final lesson we can learn from Rupprecht, perhaps, is that history is a powerful weapons which must be kept safe from those who would steal and twist it to their own evil hands.” (By which he means the Dolchstoßlegende Germans.)

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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