TOWARD the end of George Bernard Shaw's The Devil's Disciple, General John Burgoyne tells his aide, Major Swinden, of having just learned that General Howe never received his orders to march north and join him. As a result Burgoyne's army faces almost certain defeat at Saratoga. "Jobbery and snobbery, incompetence and red tape," declares Burgoyne . . . "Major Swinden, your friend the British soldier can stand up to anything, except the British War Office." In this latest in his long line of books on military affairs, Edward Luttwak seems to suggest the U.S. fighting man can stand up to anything except the Pentagon.
The jobbery, incompetence, red tape and other problems of today's U.S. military are, he argues, not the product of the "waste, fraud and abuse" which defense secretaries and congressional committees perennially claim to be weeding out, nor of the shortcomings of individual military and civilian leaders. Rather it is the result of an outmoded defense structure which fails to provide for the making of clear-cut decisions regarding strategy and force development. The basic flaw in our defense organization, Luttwak contends, is that decisions and choices, at the very highest levels, must be made by a civilian secretary of defense without the benefit of a body of expert military advisors to spell out the military implications of various policy options and to advise him on operational matters. The Joint Chiefs of Staff organization is supposed to fulfill that role, but does not, says Luttwak, because its officers are merely spokesmen for their respective services. This fatal flaw in our top level organization is, he contends, responsible for most of our military headaches from poorly planned, poorly executed operations to expensive weapons systems that seldom perform satisfactorily, to the excessive number of officers in the middle and higher ranks of the armed forces.
Luttwak is probably one of the most articulate and certainly one of the most prolific of what has come to be known as "the military reform group," a loose confederation of congressmen, defense consultants, congressional staffers and academics who argue that the problems of the U.S. armed forces will not be solved simply by spending more money on them. The real issue, they say, is not so much whether we should buy more or fewer weapons but whether they are the most appropriate weapons for the tasks we wish to accomplish. In any case, they point out, weapons and other material assets are not nearly so important in determining the success or failure of military operations as other less tangible and less measurable factors: the quality of a force's leadership, the extent and realism of its training, the degree of cohesion among its members, the quality of its operational methods and tactics and the coherence and workability of its strategy.
Only a minority of the military reformers are themselves military professionals or former professionals. Many have never served in uniform much less heard a shot fired in anger. Yet their writings command respectful attention in Congress and the Pentagon, and they are frequent lecturers at war colleges and military conferences. For their ideas, however derived, strike a responsive chord in many military men -- older men who lived through the pain and frustrations of Vietnam and know that the debacle cannot be written off as solely the fault of the politicians, the media, or long- haired demonstrators, as well as younger men who joined the military for action, challenge and responsibility, not to be uniformed versions of IBM executives.
It is one of the great merits of Luttwak's book that it brings together in a clear systematic fashion many of the major ideas of the military reform thinkers whose work, until now, has been available mainly in the form of widely scattered articles and congressional reports. I do not mean to saddle him with the responsibility for all the opinions, concepts and proposals of the military reform thinkers but many of their main themes are here.
Luttwak begins with a recital of what he sees as the continuous record of American military failure since Korea. "There is no lack of individual talent, courage or patriotism. Nevertheless the armed forces have failed us." (Grenada does not count because it was an operation that "could not fail" given the overwhelming superiority of American forces. Yet it too was marked by "gross failures of planning and command.") He then ranges over a variety of subjects from the nature and capabilities of the Soviet forces, through the byzantine complexities of the weapons acquisition process, to the decline of leadership among U.S. officers. In all these discussions Luttwak has perceptive and illuminating things to say. He makes a persuasive case, for example, that the success of the Israeli Air Force against the Syrian air defenses in Lebanon in 1982 would be difficult to replicate in the context of a Soviet invasion of Europe. His chapter entitled "The Materialist Bias," especially the section on "intangibles" in warfare, ought to be required reading for all those who think that increasing the defense budget is the answer to all U.S. military problems.
The book concludes with a proposal for reform of our defense structure by creating a body of "national defense officers" recruited from the middle ranks of the services. After special training and experience, they would command the multiservice "Unified Commands" or serve in key positions on their staffs. The most senior and experienced of these officers would man a National Defense Staff which would function as the Joint Staff is supposed to but currently does not.
Though Luttwak is a persuasive writer, his arguments are not always wholly convincing. In his often well-justified criticism of U.S. military operations Luttwak, like many of his fellow reformers, sometimes fails clearly to distinguish between those failures which are the unavoidable result of the accidents, confusion, fatigue and bad luck that inevitably occur in war and the more preventable results of poor planning, poor organization and poor leadership. As it is, there is a slight air of unreality to some of his critiques. It is probably true, as he writes, that the published version of the Holloway report (on the Iran raid) was "remarkably polite to a collection of officers who richly deserved to be cashiered," yet this may have been, in part, because the report was drafted by men who had been in similar situations and learned, as Clausewitz observed, that in war "the light of reason is refracted in a manner quite different from that which is normal in academic speculation."
For one who emphasizes the value of military history and depolores its neglect by most military professionals, Luttwak's own historical examples are not always especially appropriate and are occasionally inaccurate. His statement that during World War II "the Army was in charge of the war against Germany while the Navy directed the war against Japan" would have surprised General MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz whose theater headquarters suffered from many of the same shortcomings Luttwak castigates in today's "unified commands."
Then there is Luttwak's assumption that U.S. military effectiveness has been going steadily downhill since World War II. It is not neccessary to accept the claims of certain Reagan administration spokesmen that Grenada was the greatst thing since Waterloo to have doubts about this idea. One has only to compare U.S. military performance in the first large battles of the Vietnam War in the Ia Drang valley and on the Van Tuong pennisula with the first engagements of World War II at Kasserine Pass and Bataan, not to mention the appalling defeats at the onset of the Korean War, to gain a sense of perspective. The worst mistakes of the Vietnam War at Lang Vei, Kham Duc and Hamburger Hill pale to insignificance beside such World War II campaigns as Anzio, Pelelieu and Buna.
Yet whatever one's difference with the details of Luttwak's approach, there can be no disputing the essential truth of his primary conclusion that the U.S. armed forces now suffer from grave problems of organization and command, strategic direction and operational effectiveness. All Americans from military professionals to ordinary citizens concerned about "what kind of guns they are buying for our butter" will benefit from a careful reading of this book.