It’s most helpful not in leading to accountability but in encouraging critical thinking. It’s about going to a university and finding all your basic assumptions about life and about the United States challenged by intelligent people who just believe differently than you do. When you go to the Army War College, you’re surrounded by people like you who think like you. When an officer goes off to Harvard, he’s going to find anti-military people, he’s going to find socialists, he’s going to find anti-American people and he will have to think a lot harder. That’s very good at enabling people to think critically, to understand difficult, complex, ambiguous situations.
And there is nothing more difficult, ambiguous and complex than today’s wars. They are a lot more complex, politically, than dealing with the Soviet Union. That was when strategic thinking atrophied in the military. The Soviet Union was almost the perfect enemy: It was big, dumb and slow. The strategy was pretty clear. We were going to contain them until they collapsed. If we had to fight them, we were going to fight them in certain places and in certain ways. Now, we don’t even know who the next enemy might be, where the next war might come from, what are the best ways to deal with these complex enemies. That requires a lot of hard thinking. Not everybody’s going to be capable of it.
The comprehensive review you think needs to be done, which really steps back and analyzes the performance of generals and of the institutions that put them in power – what do you think it might take to make that happen?
I fear it might require some sort of catastrophic event. But Secretary Leon Panetta did announce recently that they are going to review the professionalism of military officers. The phrase that struck me in Panetta’s statement was “stewardship” of the profession. If you’re a steward, you are responsible for the public. The phrase Panetta used speaks to both personal and official behavior.
If you are a professional by definition—military, clergy, medical, law—you’re not doing it simply to make a buck. You have a higher purpose. So one aspect of stewardship is the question of whether it is proper for retired generals to go make millions of dollars in the defense industry and sell products to their former subordinates. That’s a legitimate question about professionals. Another one might be, is it proper for retired generals to use their names, their ranks and their services in endorsing political candidates? What I’m hoping is that this phrase in the Panetta statement is going to be interpreted quite broadly to include a range of behaviors and questions.
So you’re encouraged that such a review could improve top leadership?
It gives me some hope. Encourage is too strong a word.