An Orthodox Officer

Ricardo Sanchez grew up in the Army when it was a Cold War force oriented against a massive Soviet armored force with the capability to roll over NATO forces and take Paris within days. His formative experiences as a lieutenant, captain and major occurred in this context, with the result that Sanchez developed an impressive but extremely conventional view of warfare and the Army's role in it. This worldview hardened during Sanchez's assignment to the Armor School at Fort Knox, Ky., where he played a role in developing requirements for future combat vehicle systems.

But, of course, the 1980s were filled with more than just the Soviet-American military competition of the Cold War.

International terrorism dominated the headlines during this decade with attacks like the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut and the 1986 seizure of TWA Flight 847. Sanchez lists these events of these on pp. 51-53 of his book, telling us that they formed the backdrop for his career as an Army captain and major.

But he offers no thoughts on these events; no reflection on how they reflected a changing world; no ruminations on how warfare might be changing as non-state terrorist actors emerged as players on the world stage. Nothing. Sanchez just doesn't go there.

He just lists the events, and then moves on to tell us about his matriculation at the Army's Command and General Staff College, and his subsequent assignment to an armored cavalry unit in Germany. You can sense Sanchez's enthusiasm and nostalgia for this kind of Army activity: "REFORGER [was] one of the most massive and inspiring training exercises I had ever participated in. We literally had battalions, divisions and corps -- with thousands and thousands of men and equipment -- maneuvering all across the European countryside." Unconventional warfare and counterinsurgency are the furthest things from his mind.

Why so little introspection? To be fair, few officers looked at these events and accurately predicted the future. And it's not like the CIA told us a lot about the fall of the Berlin Wall or the Soviet Union. Studying terrorism and insurgencies was not a rung on the ladder to general officer rank. The Army embraced an overwhelming conventional orthodoxy during this time. Sanchez went along with that. But does this portend how Sanchez will view the insurgency 20 years later as a commanding general in Iraq?

By Phillip Carter |  May 12, 2008; 4:36 PM ET  | Category:  Wiser in Battle
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"But he offers no thoughts on these events; no reflection on how they reflected a changing world; no ruminations on how warfare might be changing as non-state terrorist actors emerged as players on the world stage. Nothing. Sanchez just doesn't go there."

Phil, do we need to recall the places you don't go? Like what Glenn Greenwald is talking about right now?

Still, I'm not saying this all doesn't have merit, going into specific cases to expose common, and larger truths. . .

But, first, let us agree that in the 1980s the principle threat was the USSR and the Warsaw Pact. . .

Posted by: seydlitz89 | May 12, 2008 6:33 PM

America has not and will not win a war in a short period of time as long as the Fascist Right Wing Military Industrial Complex calls the plays and the Generals are reduced to mouthpieces!

Posted by: ghostcommander | May 12, 2008 6:50 PM


Good points. I agree. While we can lambaste Sanchez's "worldview", there was an entire side of the Army (ie. the light infantry community) that WAS looking at these sorts of things in the 1980s. In fact, this is the reason that the Army stood up the 10th Mountain (LI) and 7th ID (LI) during the middle of the '80s - to deal with irregular threats (e.g. central America.) - and the JRTC to train for facing them.

There is a seductive danger of falling into the COIN 24-7-365 trap that has snared men like Abu Muqawama, LTC Nagl and others. The fact remains that we need a full spectrum army. Just because Sanchez spent the '70s and '80s becoming the best Armor officer he could be, doesn't mean that his light fighter peers at places like Fts. Drum, Ord and Schofield Barracks weren't preparing for other contingencies.

I agree w/ Seidlitz ... go where Greenwald is going. Read the 7,000+ pages of FOIA documents and put the Sanchez memo on the back burner.

The FOIA'd emails are chock full o' goodies like emails directly from MG Hood and BG Hemingway at Guantanamo to neocon commentators like Jed Babbit and Hugh Hewitt - w/o going through PA filters. Direct emails!

For fun, you should check out the looney, partisan conspiracy theories hatched by LTG McInerney and MG Vallely ... it's a draw as to who can use "islamofascist" more times in a single email.

Posted by: IRR Soldier ... | May 12, 2008 7:21 PM

"His formative experiences as a lieutenant, captain and major occurred in this context, with the result that Sanchez developed an impressive but extremely conventional view of warfare and the Army's role in it. This worldview hardened during Sanchez's assignment to the Armor School at Fort Knox, Ky., where he played a role in developing requirements for future combat vehicle systems."

Is this why our armored vehicles were being blown up so easily in Iraq?

Posted by: Larry in Houston | May 12, 2008 8:09 PM

These guys are right, Philip Carter. Greenwald is doing what should be your job, while you are peeing in the corner.

Who cares that Sanchez seeks to blame everyone but himself? That is old news among Iraq invaders.

The real story is the psychological warfare being waged against the American people.

It was the media that was perverted and undermined by the Pentagon's campaign. If the media has no pride, it could at least have some shame. Bite back, for God's sake.

Posted by: OD | May 12, 2008 9:17 PM

Thanks for the kind words. Agree that we need a full-spectrum army. Also fighting a COIN war for an obscure political purpose, or a political purpose that does not lend itself to being accomplished by way of a military instrument/aim (establishing democracy) are counter-productive and irrational from a strategic theory perspective.

We should be talking about this whole Pentagon-domestic information ops scandal since it goes very much to the heart of the matter. . . In one of the transcripts of a 2006 press conference Rummy questioned whether in fact US public opinion was the Center of Gravity of his "Long War"! Talk about letting the cat out of the bag!

I've been arguing since 2004 that this was indeed the case and very much meant to be so . . .

Consider the ramifications of that in terms of strategy and what the political purposes of the Long War actually would be (since it is obvious that stating them openly is not part of the psyops plan) . . .

Posted by: IRR Soldier | May 13, 2008 6:59 PM

Sorry IRR Soldier, I put your name in the box by mistake. . .

Posted by: seydlitz89 | May 13, 2008 7:01 PM

This is from today in the book discussion with Sanchez, Washington Post.

I feel sick.

"Basking Ridge, N.J.: Re Abu Ghraib, an honorable general officer might have resigned at the time of public release so as to avoid the embarrassment rising to the President and the nation. Why didn't you? Why didn't others in the chain of command up to the President do so?"

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez: The resignation of a general officer or anyone in the civilian or military chain of command for the purpose of avoiding embarrassment to the Pres or the nation might have served to HIDE the fact that America was on the wrong path with our interrogation techniques! We will never know the full extent of accountability until the Nation is willing to have an Independent Commission look at this problem."

Taking responsibility = Hiding. I don't understand.

I asked the question originally while I was in the Green Zone as a adviser with the CPA. We knew from the internet, newspapers. There was nothing to hide - except a vacuum where a soul might sit.

Posted by: Bill Keller | May 13, 2008 8:38 PM

Yeah, the Pentagon thing is bad, but the narrower point of Phil's post here is that, even in a memoir, the very first commander of MNC-I has such little introspection that he cannot see the connection between the terrorism so rampant in the 1980s and the Army's lack of preparation for any other than a conventional war in Europe. I agree that the light fighters at Forts Ord and Drum, etc. were at least a step towards preparation for LICs (or Low Intensity Conflicts, as wars other than "the big one" were then euphemistically referred to). But those divisions were still trained to fight as traditional light infantry. There were no changes in doctrine acknowledging the multi-dimensional aspect of unconventional war. That was kept within the confines of the Special Operations community, and any conventional soldier who discussed such things was sneered at by his peers. So there was some thinking about LICs starting in the 90s and after Bosnia, OOTW entered the lexicon. But still, despite the reality of so many ongoing real world operations, thinking about such operations was taken with a grain of salt, and usually such writings collected dust on the shelf.

What is so disturbing about Sanchez's memoir, and why it deserves discussion, is that it doesn't teach us anything. There is no history there from which we can learn. Sanchez makes no attempt to put what he learned throughout his career into any perspective based on his, and the Army's, recent experiences. There could be a great deal to learn about how Sanchez's training as a young armor officer shaped his thinking as commander, MNC-I, if only as a warning. But perhaps Sanchez is just not that deep a thinker. That wouldn't be surprising, just tragic. It is pretty clear he was in way over his head.

Posted by: DM Inf | May 14, 2008 6:13 PM

I am so sick of hearing how the Army was unprepared for counterinsurgency. It is BS. It is not true.

We had full-spectrum capability. We trained to fight in full-scale "high intensity warfare" using tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, heavy artillery, etc. We did it too, and successfully, in the first Gulf War and again in the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. We knew how to do that.

We trained in mid-intensity combat as well, prepared to fight modern foes in urban terrain with more limited heavy forces - we trained for it for years at the JRTC. And we did it too, in Panama for instance. We knew how to do that.

We trained in low-intensity combat scenarios as well, including counter-insurgency. It was part of every rotation at the NTC, and at the JRTC, and we even have an entire branch expected to master it - the Special Forces branch. But SF is not expected to wage such wars alone. Many units had FID/UW mission on their METL, and our experiences in Vietnam left a whole host of literature on the shelf - something I was expected to know as a junior officer. We even had debates about "nation-building," remember, long before the "election" of 2000? And we did it too, or were prepared to do it, in places like Macedonia, Bosnia, and Columbia (advisors and aviation only for the latter). We knew how to do that.

We even trained for smaller-scale contingencies, which used to be called "OOTW" - operations other than war. And we did it too, in places like Haiti, or with Cuban refugees, and in disaster relief operations. We knew how to do do that.

And in Iraq the Army was ordered - ORDERED - not to plan for the post-war occupation and EXPECTED insurgency. Why? Because each time the Army began to plan for it the result was clear: the Administration was lying to Congress and the People about what it would take to win in Iraq. And the Army, through the Chief of Staff, warned that it would take hundreds of thousands of more troops, and billions more dollars, and many more years, to succeed in Iraq - and he was ignored. When he retired he was snubbed.

The story that the Army did not know what to expect and did not understand what was coming and did not possess the capability to respond is false. It is a lie. It is a way to blame the Army for the sins of the president - and the sins of a rubber-stamp, cowardly congress that cared little about anything but avoiding being painted by Rove as weak on national security after 9/11.

And why would they fear that? Because a frightened and uninformed public refused to pay attention to anything other than 30-second commercials and 10-second sound bites. In short, ALL OF US ARE TO BLAME.

But not the Army. Had it been allowed to do what it knew best to do, without partisan political interference by this worst-ever of all administrations, it would have and could have succeeded - but only at great cost. At least the cost would have been known upfront, and the American People could have made a knowing and informed decision about whether they were prepared to make sacrifices to win in Iraq, or instead preferred other options.

Instead the president lied. And ordered the Army not to plan. And our reaction at learning there were no weapons of mass destruction? We re-elected Bush in 2004.

Quit blaming the damn Army for our own mistakes. This mess was not the result of an unimaginative, incompetent Army, nor the result of a hide-bound, unimaginative, plodding officer corps. It was the result of partisan, petty, stupid politics. The idiot generals that parrot the administration and betray their oath have always existed - in every service, in every nation, in every society, throughout human history. You can always find an ass-kissing yes man if you look hard enough. Such men are not in the majority in our Army - but they were the only ones rewarded during this war. Case in point? Sanchez, who should be court-martialed for dereliction of duty. But fools like Sanchez are ALWAYS available. The key is to pick others - to pick the best men.

Now think of how many generals, or colonels, who have been relieved of command during this war. Contrast that with now many were cashiered in WWII. We won WWII. See the difference? It is called "accountability." It is called taking responsibility. It is called leadership. And we don't have it, and have not since January 20, 2001.

The Army was put into an impossible situation after warning it would be a mess. Now some want to blame the Army for the mess. They want to talk about how "conventional" officers didn't understand insurgent warfare, how the Army paid too much attention to high-intensity armored combat, and not enough to light-infantry combat and insurgencies.

And it is another lie, one of many in this war. The Army had the institutional expertise and experience to wage insurgent warfare. It was forbidden from doing so. Soldiers were even forbidden from describing the situation in Iraq honestly - the use of words like "guerrilla war" and "insurgency" and "civil war" - all technical military terms, yet made partisan by this administration.

Don't blame the Army. Blame Bush. Blame the Republican Party. Blame those many (MANY, including Hillary) Democrats who enabled and often actively supported Bushco. Blame ourselves.

But stop blaming the Army. Hasn't our nation betrayed the soldiers enough, still today fighting a holding action without proper resources or manpower five years later while we all go shopping? Haven't we learned that our Army will do what we order it to do - and if we issue stupid orders, the Army will do stupid things?

We were warned. We allowed this to happen. And the Army pays the price, not us.

What a tragic and unnecessary and entirely-avoidable F'ing mess. But we get the government we deserve. And when we aren't paying attention, or when we do stupid things, we deserve exactly what we get. For good or ill, in a democracy the People get what they deserve. That can even be tyranny, if the People are foolish enough to prefer safety from a small bunch of fanatics over freedom and civil rights.

We get - or will get - what we deserve. Not the soldiers though.

They deserved better.

Posted by: jd | May 20, 2008 10:18 PM

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