One of the biggest impediments to transforming the U.S. government for the Long War is personnel policies that were designed for a different kind of world in which we faced very different kinds of enemies. The armed forces, for example, tend to reward officers who come from a very conventional mold. They may be world-class at defeating, say, the Iraqi Republican Guard. But can they deal with the threat posed by Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Jaish al Mahdi?
On the evidence of more than four years of war, a lot of officers have not been up to the challenge. Some have been—but they are not necessarily the ones getting promoted to general officer rank. For instance, two of the most outstanding and accomplished colonels in the U.S. Army have been passed over for promotion. Both Peter Mansoor and H.R. McMaster have history Ph.D.s, both successfully commanded brigades in Iraq, and both have been instrumental in crafting the Army’s counterinsurgency doctrine. Mansoor serves as General David Petraeus’s executive officer, or right hand man; McMaster, who is currently a fellow at a think tank in London, has been called back to Baghdad frequently for consultations. The fact that neither one has yet been raised to brigadier general indicates to a lot of people that there is something wrong with the entire promotion system.
Apparently General George Casey, the Army chief of staff, and Secretary of the Army Pete Geren think the same thing. Thus, according to the Washington Post, they’ve brought General Petraeus back from Iraq to preside over a board that will pick the next crop of 40 brigadier generals from among a pool of 1,000 colonels.
The article notes:
“It’s unprecedented for the commander of an active theater to be brought back to head something like a brigadier generals board,” said retired Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, former head of the Army War College. A senior defense official said Petraeus is “far too high-profile for this to be a subtle thing.”
The fact that the Army is taking such an unusual and high-profile step is good news indeed. There is much more that needs to be done to transform the armed forces for the fights of the 21st century, but this is an excellent start.
Too bad it’s too late for Mansoor. After having been passed over, he decided to retire and become a history professor at Ohio State University. The Army’s loss will be the students’ gain.