George Will

Americans awaiting a report from the studious Petraeus should know that, as Maj. Gen. David Huntoon, War College commandant, says, Petraeus' intellectual qualifications (a Princeton Ph.D.) "are remarkable but not anomalous." The officers currently here -- 71 percent have served in Iraq, 34 percent in Afghanistan, many in both -- are doing something their civilian leaders did negligently five years ago -- thinking.

They think America needs, in the words of one officer, "an expeditionary capacity other than military." Officers here especially admire the introduction to the University of Chicago's edition of the Counterinsurgency Field Manual. Written by Sarah Sewall of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, it says:

We see in Iraq "military doctrine attempting to fill a civilian vacuum." In counterinsurgency, "nonmilitary capacity is the exit strategy," which is problematic when "more people play in Army bands than serve in the U.S. foreign service." Counterinsurgency "relies upon nonkinetic activities like providing electricity, jobs, and a functioning judicial system. ... But U.S. civilian capacity has proved wholly inadequate in Afghanistan and Iraq." The military is "in a quandary about the limits of its role" as it is forced "to assume the roles of mayor, trash collector and public works employer."

The Army has, and must have, a "can do" attitude. One of the things it must be able to do, however, is speak truth to America's civilian leaders about what it cannot do. "That," says one "can do" officer here, "goes against our military culture." But another participant in a freewheeling discussion stresses the importance of "communicating risks to our civilian masters."

One certainty is that America's enemies understand what kind of war -- protracted and inconclusive -- saps America's patience. An officer fresh from Afghanistan notes a Taliban axiom: "Americans have the watches but we have the time." Some officers here recently visited Appomattox to help them think about "war termination." Fortunately, thanks to the services' institutions such as the War College, America's remarkably reflective military services, their burdens promiscuously multiplied by civilians down the road in Washington, are up to another challenge that civilians have devolved to them: Thinking.

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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