Commentary Magazine


Four-Star Farewell

To the Editor:

Without disputing any of Max Boot’s conclusions about his subjects’ abilities and esteemed service, I must highlight two flaws in his article “How America Lost Its Four Great Generals” [April]. First, repeating “success of the surge,” no matter how frequently or how loudly, will not make it so. Doubling the police presence on Broadway will surely lower the crime rate—on Broadway. Those engaged in crime will practice their craft elsewhere, as opportunity presents; they don’t go out of the crime business. That’s what happened in Iraq, and the condition of the country today proves it. There is unchanging, undiminished sectarian war having little to do with whether we stayed there another decade or another century.

Second, the theory of commanders’ interchangeability is the result of the Pentagon’s own self-serving practices of rotation. When a general knows he will command the theater for only a year or so, the mission becomes “Don’t lose this war on your watch. Get to the next station with the next promotion, with your reputation unblemished.”

This is the primary reason that our brave, well-trained, and well-equipped troops have won every battle going back to Vietnam, yet we do not know how to win the war. If the political leadership shares blame, it is because the country did not support the sacrifices of ill-advised and reckless adventures like Vietnam and Iraq.

Jerry Cohen
Asheville, North Carolina

_____________

To the Editor:

Congratulations to Max Boot for such a thorough analysis of the “Four Great Generals.” These men deserved much better than they got. True Americans are in their debt. It has been my contention for many years that an additional qualification for the presidency should be service in at least one regular hitch in one of this nation’s Armed Forces. How else can anyone reasonably be expected to understand what it means to exercise the power of commander-in-chief?

Mort Kuff
Boynton Beach, Florida

_____________

Max Boot writes:

Jerry Cohen raises a good point about the problems caused by constantly rotating commanders, but he is off-base in questioning the success of the surge in Iraq. Contrary to his assertion that Iraq was always doomed to suffer unchanging, undiminished sectarian war whether or not we stayed there another decade or another century, Iraq had actually gotten pretty peaceful by the time U.S. troops left at the end of 2011. Certainly the sectarian war of the 2003–2008 period was over. Unfortunately, the pullout of U.S. troops has allowed sectarian passions to spin out of control once again, raising the prospect that we may see a return to the dark days of 2006–2007.

Mort Kuff offers an interesting thought. No doubt military service is a plus for any political leader. But if his standard had been in place in the past, one of our greatest wartime commanders-in-chief—Franklin Delano Roosevelt—would have been disqualified from office. Others might have gotten in only by the skin of their teeth: Lincoln served briefly in a state militia, Reagan in a motion-picture unit based in Hollywood during World War II. If the same standard were applied to the UK, Margaret Thatcher and William Pitt, Elder and Younger—three of the greatest prime ministers in British history—would have been disqualified, too. Conversely, one of the worst presidents in our history—Jimmy Carter—was a Navy veteran. Many of the mediocre presidents of the late 19th century—Benjamin Harrison, Chester Arthur, James Garfield, et al.—were veterans of the Civil War. In truth, there is little correlation between military service and the ability to be a great commander-in-chief.

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