OPINION: Afghanistan debacle fuels general officer crisis

The Washington Examiner:

The general officer U.S. military ranks have a big problem: The field grade officer and noncommissioned officer ranks have had enough of the double standards applied to leadership.

Top line: Whereas those out in the field are held strictly accountable for any failure, real or imagined, general officer ranks are rarely held accountable for far worse leadership failures that have a far greater impact.

One Marine lieutenant colonel just evinced this sentiment in a Facebook video post. Looking directly into the camera, Stuart Scheller stated , “I think what you believe in can only be defined by what you’re willing to risk. So, if I’m willing to risk my current battalion commander seat, my retirement, my family’s stability to say some of the things I want to say, I think it gives me some moral high ground to demand the same honesty, integrity, accountability from my senior leaders.”

Explaining his “demand for accountability,” Scheller referenced the double standards applied to field grade officers and general officers. He noted that if a “battalion commander has the simplest live-fire incident, [equal opportunity] complaint. Boom. Fired.” But Scheller pointed out that there has been no accountability for the litany of leadership failures that have defined the withdrawal from Afghanistan. He noted that “we have a secretary of defense that testified to Congress in May that the Afghan National Security Forces could withstand the Taliban advance. We have chairmen of the Joint Chiefs — who the [Marine Corps] commandant is a member of [the Joint Chiefs] — who’s supposed to advise on military policy. We have a Marine combatant commander. All of these people are supposed to advise.”

Scheller’s point is well-made. But the lieutenant colonel’s is just one example of the Pentagon’s double standards fetish.

The Navy served up another example last year. Facing a COVID outbreak, Capt. Brett Crozier of the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier ordered his ship to port. Crozier was then relieved of his command. That decision sparked fury among lower ranks, who rightly believed that Crozier was being punished for protecting his personnel but embarrassing the admirals. Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly then helpfully lambasted the Theodore Roosevelt’s crew for their support of Crozier.

The rage was and remains justified. Any shipboard mistake or failure results in a near-guaranteed relief of command. But when it comes to failures on the part of senior officers?

Forget it.

Whether it’s vast cost and delivery overruns for already undesirable platforms such as the Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier or the absurd F-35 fighter jet , the admirals and generals in charge get to skate into promotion, to retirement, and then onto the boards of defense companies. Such defective professional culture sets an incentive for ambitious young officers to focus more on the risks and politics of a mission than accomplishing said mission. Risk aversion bears particular concern with regard to the Navy and Marine Corps, which would need field grade officers to show initiative and a high-risk tolerance in any conflict with China .

The challenge is real.

As Scheller was likely losing his career on Friday, a Pentagon general officer was proving that political cover comes first. Asked whether the Taliban had been handed a list of Afghan allies (as reported by Politico ), Army Gen. Hank Taylor arrogantly suggested that handing over this de facto kill list was a good idea. In so doing, Taylor reminded everyone that the prerequisite to be a U.S. general officer is no longer to evince intellect and leadership, but rather to show utter subservience to higher ranks.

Leadership starts at the top and sets the initiative down the ranks. It’s time for some four stars to resign.

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