Alternative Realities

General George Casey

This interview by Tim Russert illustrates something that has become increasingly evident, and that is that the senior leaders of the US armed forces have constructed a separate reality for themselves which insulates them from unpleasant and perhaps insoluble difficulties in Iraq.  It is easy to do this if Washington tells you continuously that you are making progress and that over-riding voice becomes the outer boundary of your "planning guidance."  In the military most people accept guidance from above as the basis on which they plan, and then enforce that reality on subordinates.

It takes real character and something of genius to do otherwise in a hierarchical situation in which career destruction is risked by firmly disagreeing with a superior.  Patton, Truscott, Sheridan, and TJ Jackson, were men who could and did do that, but it was a different time and we were a different people, or peoples in some cases.

In the present system, staff officers, subordinate commanders. providers of intelligence, etc. all know that they are implicitly expected to agree with the boss, and they do.  This provides wonderful reinforcement to the group think underway among the seniors and pretty soon a closed system emrges in which any and all evidence can be and is interpreted to confirm whatever nonsense the bosses want to believe.

"There is light at the end of the tunnel."  Westy said that.  I remember it well.  He wasn’t lying.  He believed it completely.  Everyone on his staff believed it in spite of the mountain of intelligence reports pouring into headquarters in Saigon that said the enemy was preparing for a major effort.

A month after he made this statement the 1968 Tet offensive began.

Pat Lang

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27 Responses to Alternative Realities

  1. RJJ says:

    These days the response to “Oh, say can you see …” is —
    These eyes of mine at once determined
    the sleeves are velvet, the cape is ermine
    The hose are blue and the doublet is
    a lovely shade of green (lovely shade of green)

  2. jonst says:

    Well written PL. Well written! Of course their high rank allows them to create, and inhabit this “separate reality”. Lower ranks are, often, not afforded this luxury. Reality has a way of intruding, sometimes permanently, on their respective fantasy zones. We’ve all seen, if not this specific ‘movie’, at the least the general plot, enough times to allow us an educated guess at how the story ends. And it is usually not pretty. I keep dreaming that the Dem Party, hell, the GOP, for that matter, of an independent party, nominates someone like Gen. Zinni. Well, one can dream, can’t one?
    By the way….any comments on Gen Eaton’s op-ed in the Times? Anyone? I think it is the first public shot across the bow from the ‘General Staff’.

  3. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Yes. We have seen this before. A lot of people have. pl

  4. Sally says:

    I heartily disagree with these military flunkees being excused from doing their duty. Casey’s answers to Russert were disgusting and deceitful. It’s despicable that these guys are afraid of losing their “bloody” stars when so many under their command have lost their lives and limbs and for no honorable objective. Spare me from the excuses for Casey and his ilk’s ignoble performances. Tell me this isn’t exactly the way Hitler’s goons acted. “Only following orders” my behind. Makes me angry enough to use upper case (a Maxine threat).

  5. Eric says:

    Tom Ricks, the military writer for the Washington Post (AKA Pravda on the Potomac) disappeared from the Post pages for about a year and a half. I thought he was being disciplined for deviationism.
    Turns out he was writng a book, due out in September, on the Iraq War.
    George Will discusses it and reality Here.
    Ricks’ book is called Fiasco. Ought to be good summer reading.

  6. Chris Bray says:

    The funny thing is that they’ve all been reading “Dereliction of Duty,” and solemnly reminding themselves of their duty to speak truth to power, blah blah blah.

  7. Chris Bray says:

    Question #2 is, what happens when their separate reality becomes unsustainable? I suspect we have a new separate reality on the way — I’m already seeing signs of its emergence — in which the U.S. did its part, but the Iraqis proved unworthy and incapable.
    Alas, the savagery of the natives proved too strong for our noble intentions.

  8. Sally says:

    General Trainor, co-author of Cobra II, on a television program yesterday voiced his concern about the military leaders not pushing back when they disagree with Rumsfeld’s policies. I would say that’s why they’re still in Rumsfeld’s sorry circle.

  9. canuck says:

    See article by Seymour Hersh
    President Bush doesn’t deal in facts. It’s his “personal mission to bring democracy to Iraq, and he is impervious to political pressure, even from fellow Republicans,” and/or advisors regardless of which branch they represent.
    Perhaps Murtha doesn’t have a handle on when, if, or how there should be troop withdrawals, but this administration just won’t listen to ‘anyone’ that doesn’t agree with their ‘vision.”
    The administration just doesn’t care about facts, the loss of life either military or civilian.
    Haven’t you been listening to speeches that Hersh has made? It’s pointless to present facts to President Bush and his cabal unless it agrees with whatever it is they have already decided based on ?
    Pat, I also believe having Generals like Patton, Truscott, Sheridan, and TJ Jackson, wouldn’t have any effect.

  10. Serving Patriot says:

    Someone above said the higher the rank, the more firmly planted the alternative reality.
    So true. And so sad. Unfortunately, as MG(Ret) Eaton points out in his NYT Op-Ed, there is no reward for speaking truth to power. Only a “swift boating” cheered on by your (civilian) bosses. Sometimes there is even a surprise “scandal” and unexpected retirement from an organization to which one has given an entire lifetime. More often, the response is more pernicious – a quiet and complete exclusion of your reality-based viewpoint by the appointed (uniformed) gateguards who defend the alternative reality their (civilian) bosses inhabit. Many at the top, far from the actual sounds & scene of combat, cannot bring themselves to “risk all.” Thus they demonstrate the moral cowardice they often accuse their subordinates of having and further the cycle of demoralization that is clearly evident in our ground forces today.
    When will it change? Not any time soon. Perhaps, when “Yalu on the Tigris” unfolds, the crescendo of negative battlefield reports and strengthened public backlash at clear defeat will cause us to take a new direction. I hope this does not come to pass, but in my heart I fear only decisive defeat will shake our hubris.

  11. canuck says:

    Exception: unless, all those wonderful Generals got together and planned a military coup! 🙂

  12. Sally says:

    Canuck, it would be a military coup if “all those wonderful generals” pushed back at Rumsfeld by speaking the truth. Nah, let the good times roll.

  13. Green Zone Cafe says:

    I remember MG Eaton from back in the old, hopeful days at the palace.
    Never had a substantive conversation with him, it was just hi, how are you and we talked about sports. He always looked worried, now I know why.

  14. anna says:

    It seems to me that top generals who try and sugarcoat things are at serious risk. This is an interview with the authors of the new hit Cobra II which comes on the heals of Assasin’s Gate and other parts of the Iraqi “canon.”
    They claim Frank’s ignored the largest threat. So what is his role in history? Shineski on the other hand is likely to be vindicated.
    Failure to listen to the Generals is going to be as potent an accusation as in Vietnam, but this time the right will pay.

  15. canuck says:

    No changes would result in Rumsfeld resigning. The fault lies beyond the Pentagon and it’s not confined to just President Bush and Vice President Cheney. It’s widen beyond them. No longer sure how many are involved that would need to be replaced but it’s at the highest level of policy decisions.
    The intelligence community has been crippled. Senators have been compromised. It’s much worse than the McCarthy era. How to repair something that runs so deep in the psyche of America?

  16. Eric says:

    Link to General Eaton’s oped in NYT:
    Won’t be free long!

  17. Sally says:

    One thing spectacularly wrong with General Eaton’s thinking is that Senator Lieberman replace Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense. Egad. Lieberman is more of the same and a Bush toady to boot.

  18. McGee says:

    Colonel Lang and all other (excellent) poster on the last two threads,
    Don’t have much to add except to say that the discussion the last few days has been brilliant, even by the standards of this blog. I too hope that General Eaton’s Op-Ed is a shot across the bow, and that the integrity of military professionals will surface and have a reversing effect soon. One thought that struck me in reading Eaton’s piece was his description of the military he entered in 1972 as a “conscription army”. Has anyone else here read Colonel Andrew Bacevich’s book, “The New American Militarism”? I’ve slowly come to agree with Bacevich’s thesis that perhaps an all-volunteer military is NOT a good thing, because of it’s creation of a military without real civilian roots, and a citizenship (particularly the elite poitical section) without military experience, and the caution which that teaches. And I might add I’m suggesting this as someone who was drafted in 1965 and none too happy about it at the time…

  19. W. Patrick Lang says:

    “How to repair something that runs so deep in the psyche of America?”
    Say what? pl

  20. anna says:

    As for integrity among officers. My recollection is that during Vietnam no general officer spoke publicly. Here we have a number of retired generals: Zinni, Odom and Scowcroft come to mind.
    Also quite a bit between the lines from active officers.
    This seems unusual to me. Bureaucracies in general don’t publicly complain and the military is highly disciplined with real consequences along with pride encouraging a lack of dissent.
    As an outisider I see individuals in the military, various branches of the justice department and elswhere taking risky, if cautious fact based stands, conservative individuals, loyal to the establishment individuals.
    If this is not loudly noted it’s because the right blocks it out and the left essentially has no use for these people. One failure of our society and press is why their voices have recieved so little attention while the repetitive rhetoric of the political sorts dominates the public mind.

  21. anna says:

    Looks like Zinni is firing another shot:
    But as retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, the former head of Central Command, which includes the Middle East and Persian Gulf, argues, the United States may be greatly mistaken in believing that it can determine the future of Iraq.
    In his new book, The Battle for Peace: A Frontline Vision of America’s Power and Purpose, Zinni and co-author Tony Koltz recall the general’s testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Feb. 11, 2003, just a few weeks before Bush took the nation to war.
    Zinni knew, he says, that many of his military colleagues thought Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld was underestimating the manpower needs for an occupation of Iraq.
    “And I had heard interpretations of intelligence that many of us with deep experience in the region felt were far off the mark from the true threat,” Zinni said.
    So when Sen. Norm Coleman, a Republican from Minnesota, asked Zinni whether he did not agree that anything would be an improvement on Saddam Hussein, the general demurred.
    Recalling that the ouster of the Soviets from Afghanistan had left that country in the hands of the Taliban, Zinni said: “Anyone who has to live in this region and has to stay there and protect our interests, year in, year out, does not look at this as a start and end, as an exit strategy, as a two-year tenure. As long as you are going to have a U.S. Central Command, you are going to be out there and have to deal with whatever you put down on the ground.”
    This is not latter-day wisdom from the general. In the summer of 2002, seven months before the war began, he told an audience in Florida what would be required if the United States invaded Iraq.
    “You could inherit the country of Iraq, if you’re willing to do it,” he said. “If our economy is so great that you’re willing to put billions of dollars into reforming Iraq. If you want to put soldiers that are already stretched so thin all around the world and add them into a security force there forever, like we see in places like the Sinai. If you want to fight with other countries in the region to try to keep Iraq together, as Kurds and Shiites try and split off, you’re going to have to make a good case for that.”
    Now it is 2006, and Bush is still trying to make that case.

  22. canuck says:

    How to repair something that runs so deep in the psyche of America?

    I was speaking of extreme psyches that aren’t open to reason. Put whatever lable you like on them, ‘Neocons, extreme Conservatives or have a Hobbesian worldview’. I highly doubt there are many in the military that have similar afflictions, but the cabal that is presently in office, is lacking in reasoning power.
    McCarthy was a sick puppy in comparison.

  23. Sally says:

    The Republicans will be a big winner for years to come since the money going into the rathole of the Iraq war will not be available for the social programs they have loathed these many decades. There is the possibility they may get more than they bargained for in this regard if they are affected in ways they didn’t anticipate; i.e., the entire country may be at risk, not just the social programs.

  24. taters says:

    Anna – I couldn’t put Battle Ready down, I love Zinni and I believe he’s a great American. I’m looking forward to the new book. Thanks for the update. The debates of Gen Clark vs Richard Perle at the HSAC prior to and after the invasion are pretty good, too.
    In retrospect, Clark’s forecasts proved more accurate than Perle’s, and even Republicans on the committee made little effort yesterday to defend Perle or to undermine Clark. The exception was Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), who pressed Clark to acknowledge that the Iraq invasion should get some credit for signs of democracy in the region.
    “We’ve got to do a lot less crowing about the sunrise,” Clark rejoined.
    When Hunter’s GOP colleagues didn’t join his line of questioning, he took another turn grilling Clark. The chairman likened President Bush’s Middle East policies to those of President Ronald Reagan in Eastern Europe.
    “Reagan never invaded Eastern Europe,” Clark retorted.
    In another try, Hunter said Clark was “overstating” the risk in challenging other countries in the Middle East. Clark smiled and showed his trump card — reminding Hunter of their exchange at the 2002 hearing. “I kept saying time was on our side,” Clark said. “I could never quite satisfy you.”
    As for who proved correct, the general said, “I’ll let the record speak for itself.”

  25. Norbert Schulz says:

    you mentioned Norm Coleman attempting to throw excrement at Gen. Zinni (darn Saddam hugger). Well, that’s what he earns his living with.
    I find it amazing that there are politicians in the U.S. on the federal arena who soleley stand out of the crowd because they specialise in trying to put someone else down, be it the inner enemy (treacherous defaitists and irrational Bush haters) or outward enemies (like the evil U.N.). That’s to say, he’s a demagogue.
    It doesn’t matter wether what he sais is truthful or not, as long as he preaches to a particular audience that wants to hear his tune, and in response offers support. I find fitting the description that Bush is the first pres ever to be happy to rule with 51% majority.
    With this thinking it pays off to play what they see as their base. The result is an extreme and agressive posture in politics – either you’re with us or with the enemy. Before Bush brought that to the world arena, de Lay brought that to D.C. and K-Street.
    All this makes for a climate that makes real dialogue and discussion impossible. Col. Murtha, Col. Lang, MGen Eaton, Gen. Zinny, Gen. Odom, Gen Scowcroft are honourable, knowledgeable, thoughtful and experienced – all that doesn’t count for folks whose reality is defined by talking points. The problem of disconnected bubbles goes well beyond the Pentagon.
    In the time of purely partisan politics it’s either you’re with dear leader, or against him – be it Rummy at the Pentagon, or Bush in the Whitehouse. SOP response for serious dissent is swiftboating by proxy, who is, of course in no way connected to either the GOP, RNC or the Whitehouse.
    “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

  26. Bob says:

    How much longer before the grunts start saying “f*ck it?” When they decide it’s FUBAR, then it’s over no matter what the generals believe.
    How I miss the Cold War. Those were the days.

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