The terrorist bands that sprung up during the occupation were at first dealt with through conventional tactics and weapons. Only as American and Iraqi losses mounted did a few gifted officers begin to work with the Iraqis, learn the elements of successful counterinsurgency doctrine and slowly win back the hearts and minds of the civilian population.
Now we will see whether the former mavericks can become incorporated into the military establishment. Will this wartime change in Pentagon thinking be enough — and in time? It depends on how many of the forward-thinking colonels get promoted and how much influence they wield.
A newly ascendant Gen. Sherman captured Atlanta in time to save Lincoln the election of 1864, and with it the Union cause itself. The successful invasion of Normandy and subsequent race to the Rhine would have been unimaginable without Gens. Bradley, Eisenhower and Patton — all unknown colonels as late as 1940. So far, a few largely unheralded colonels in Iraq have salvaged the American cause.
The significance in the promotions of an H.R. McMaster or a Sean McFarland to general is not that they represent the nature of all future American wars. In fact, it is easy to conceive how a blow-up in North Korea or Iran would require a return to conventional military assets of heavy armor, firepower and high-tech close air-ground support.
Instead, the issue is whether the military still remains flexible enough to find the right commanders for the right type of fighting at the right time — and is preparing for all sorts of diverse scenarios in an increasingly competitive and unpredictable world.
A common complaint is that a worn-out military has lost the peace in Iraq and should withdraw in defeat. In fact, recruitments in June exceeded the military’s goals, violence in Iraq is down, Shiite and Sunni terrorists are losing ground to the new military of a constitutional Iraq — and the junior American outsiders who engineered all that may
soon be seniors on the inside.