More, more, more.
I was guilty of it myself. Commanding a small cavalry troop of about 85 soldiers in southwest Kandahar Province back in 2011, I certainly wanted and requested more: more troopers, more Special Forces advisers, more Afghan police, more air support, more supplies, more money, more… everything. Like so many others in Afghanistan back then, I wanted whatever resources would protect the guys in my unit and fend off the insurgent threat. No one, of course, asked me if the US military should even be there, nor did I presume to raise the question. I was, after all, just a captain dug into a tough fight in a dangerous district.
It’s funny, though, people sometimes ask me now, “What’s really going on in Afghanistan?” They ask the same question about Iraq, where I led a unit back in 2006-2007. I mean, the implication is: If you served over there, unlike those (liberal!) pundits and politicians who regularly mouth off on the subject, who would know better? But I’ve learned over the years that what they don’t want to hear is my real answer to such questions, so I rarely bother to tell them that historians, analysts, and thoughtful critics, even ones who haven’t been within thousands of miles of our war zones, probably understand the “big picture” better than most soldiers.
That’s the dirty little secret of America’s wars: Despite the omniscient claims of some veterans, most soldiers see their version of war as if gazing through a straw at 30,000 feet. Combat and dedication to your unit and mission naturally steer you toward such tunnel vision. And here’s the sad thing that no one wants to admit: That mantra applies as strongly to generals as to sergeants (and if you don’t believe that, just check out our wars of the last 15 years). So it’s worrisome when president after president defers to and all too often hides behind the supposed wisdom of active and retired three- and four-star flag officers.
Don’t get me wrong, some of these guys can be impressive. No one is perfect, but former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey was a gem with genuine scholarly and combat bona fides. But consider him and a few others the exceptions that prove the rule. Which is why civilian control of the military, and of the policy-making process that goes with military action, is not just a constitutional imperative but desirable for thoroughly practical reasons. Which, in turn, is why the makeup of the current administration—with an unprecedented number of generals in key positions—raises some serious questions.