He graduated with the highest number of demerits and at the bottom of his class. He was the poster child for graduating by the skin of your teeth. Yet he also became the youngest Major General in American History and the man General Sheridan believed did more than any other to win the Civil War. He was a fighting commander whose standing order in combat was, “Ride to the sound of the guns!” Perhaps it flowed from the fact that while at West Point George Armstrong Custer didn’t study very much, that he had only one strategy, and only one tactic. The strategy was victory, and the tactic was charge.
Although our current crop of military leaders are made up of politicians who have learned how to pull the levers and work the system in a way they resemble the always ready for action Custer. They appear to be a one trick pony. Unfortunately that trick is kowtowing to the political leadership telling them exactly what they want to hear when what they need to hear might be the exact opposite.
For a decade between 1979 and 1989 the United States military and Intelligence establishments were intimately involved in supporting the Mujahedeen insurgents of Afghanistan battle against the invading Soviets. We supplied weapons, training, Intel, and logistical support. We had many field operatives, soldiers, and analysts who were deeply conversant with all the nuances of the military and political realities in Afghanistan.
Yet when our leaders decided to invade the country to flush out Al Qaeda and punish the Taliban for sheltering them, military leaders who should have known better presented and approved plans that even a layman could see would lead to a new insurgency against America as the next invaders. These leaders bowed to the dictates of modern America post-Vietnam strategy delivering a campaign with minimum casualties and victory in name not in fact. Instead of using the expert professional American forces needed to produce a real victory they relied on mercenary indigenous warriors who with the help of our firepower pushed the Taliban to the wall and then let them walk out the back door.
What is the result? Ten years later we are still fighting and taking casualties in a war scheduled to end like a bad movie in 2011 or 2014 or…? Having never sealed the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan we are fighting an enemy that can not only melt into the civilian population it can rest and regroup in safe havens attacking our isolated and exposed garrisons almost at will.
Even at this point, after President Obama’s surge, an army of less than two hundred thousand trying to pacify a nation the size of Texas with the most forbidding terrain on the planet isn’t going to work. After the investment of half a trillion dollars and more lives, limbs, and blood this mission teeters on the brink of failure. Our only allies in the country are hopelessly compromised and corrupt characters who have little relevance outside their palaces and little interest beyond funneling our money out of the country for their post-war retirement.
Where are the military leaders with the courage of Custer? Where are the ones who will hazard their career to speak truth to power? If an untutored armchair general with no more information than is commercially available can see that if we don’t seal the border and provide enough troops to hold the territory we capture we will never win why can’t military experts? Where are the generals who demand what they really need to win and ready to resign if they don’t get it? If General Petraeus had done this he would have had a lock on the Republican nomination and the White House in 2012.
What about our fearless media? Where are the nightly counts of the fallen that graced the network newscast when Bush the Younger was in office? Where are the anti-war demonstrators who stood guard outside his Texas ranch and dogged his speeches? Where are the American people? Why is no one asking how can it take more than a decade to train an Afghan army to protect their own country from their own people? In WWII we trained and deployed more than ten million soldiers, sailors and marines. We equipped armies, air forces, and navies and defeated all comers. Now we cannot secure one country in ten years?
I am not saying that after the sneak attack of 9-11 we shouldn’t have responded. We should have immediately devastated our enemies and their allies telling the Taliban if it happened again it would happen again. Al Qaeda had been attacking us for a decade, and we knew exactly where they were. With B-2s and cruise missiles we had the capability to decapitate them without the necessity of boots on the ground. We needed to strike hard and fast. We should have had the political and military leadership to take them out within twenty-four hours. Instead we dithered around until Al Qaeda and their Taliban hosts were dispersed and disappeared. We didn’t do what we should have done and instead did do what we shouldn’t have done producing a decade long occupation in a land that has defeated or outlasted every invader.
How should we have dealt with the on-going threat of Al Qaeda: a non-state enemy? Instead of fighting undeclared wars we should have followed the Constitution and granted Letters of Marque and Reprisal which would have granted compensation and legal authority to private firms or individuals to exact retribution upon the perpetrators of the attack. Such action is not only authorized by the Constitution it is recognized by International Law. Send in the military equivalent of Dog the Bounty Hunter. Let Blackwater do the job, and see what free enterprise can accomplish.
What we need are military officers with the bravado of Custer. We need military leaders willing to hazard all, even their careers. Officers who are willing to walk into the Oval Office and say we’re fighting the wrong war, the wrong way, in the wrong place, and at the wrong time. We need officers who remember that they have sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States not an administration, not a career, and not a pension.
What we need is another Custer. Without one what we may get is another Little Bighorn.
Dr. Owens teaches History, Political Science, and Religion for Southside Virginia Community College. He is the author of the History of the Future @ http://drrobertowens.com View the trailer for Dr. Owens’ latest book @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ypkoS0gGn8 © 2011 Robert R. Owens [email protected] Follow Dr. Robert Owens on Facebook or Twitter @ Drrobertowens.