Why Are You So Awesome?

Andrew Exum (aka “abu muqawama”) offers a rather blistering review of Linda Robinson’s Tell Me How This Ends: General David Petraeus and the Search for a Way Out of Iraq.

This, too, is hagiography. (“It reads as if ghost-written by Petraeus,” one friend complained.) That wasn’t my complaint, though. Maybe Petraeus, like Mandela, is a man worth all the superlatives. But every U.S. officer in Robinson’s narrative is shown in only the most positive light. Officers are invariably “tough” and “resourceful” and “bright” and “hard-working” and “intelligent.” (“Surely there are a few s***bags left in the Army,” I found myself asking halfway through.) So like one narrative of the Iraq War — in which U.S. efforts went from “awesome” (in 2003) to “awesomer” (in 2005) to “awesomest” (in 2007) — officers are only varying shades of ass-kicking in Robinson’s account.

There’s a bit of that in Robert Kaplan’s books, too, although I find his analysis nonetheless interesting.

FILED UNDER: Book Reviews, Military Affairs, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. ap says:

    fluff or not, the speaking highly of military men is an interesting juxtaposition to the opposite viewpoint which was often expressed in print the past 5 years that went something like: “shit” in 2003, “shittier” in 2005, and “shittiest” in 2007.

    too bad its impossible for anyone to write anything honest anymore

  2. anjin-san says:

    the speaking highly of military men is an interesting juxtaposition to the opposite viewpoint which was often expressed in print the past 5 years that went something like: “shit” in 2003, “shittier” in 2005, and “shittiest” in 2007.

    Really? Where?

    Those descriptions were often applied to Bush, Cheney an Co. I can’t reacall tool much military bashing going on, except in the imaginations of right wing radio hosts…

  3. ap says:

    of course anjin-san , you are exactly correct. everything is in the heads of the right wing radio hosts…except when it isn’t. good lord. i look forward to 8 years of delusions from people like you: “why are these republican attacks so nasty. we were so civil when bush was president”

    keep fooling yourself.

    http://pol.moveon.org/petraeus.html

  4. Gee, maybe the US military is a meritocracy where the best people keep rising to the top. Nah.

  5. Michael says:

    Gee, maybe the US military is a meritocracy where the best people keep rising to the top. Nah.

    Meritocracy only works when you can quantify merit. Most operating meritocracies rely on the wisdom of the masses for selection when quantification is impossible.

    What does the US military use to elevate those with merit instead of simply those favored by the selectors?

  6. anjin-san says:

    keep fooling yourself.

    Lets see. You have one piece, which criticizes one man. Does not look much like widespread military bashing, calling our troops “shit” to me.

    The “Betray Us” thing was in very poor taste. While Petraeus did probably get a bit too political and too cozy with the Bush admin, I have seen no indication that he has not served with distinction.

    The Moveon page has a lot of links to what, at a glance look like credible reports on the war.

    So what we have here is one case of criticism of a General that was framed in a totally bogus why, but does have at least some meat on the bone. It is certainly not mindless military bashing.

    What exactly are you whining about ap? As the saying goes, “put on your big girl panties”.

  7. sam says:

    Gee, maybe the US military is a meritocracy where the best people keep rising to the top. Nah.

    Anyone who saw Generation Kill (or read the book or Nathaniel Fick’s book, One Bullet Away) is aware that the company commander, a captain, was incompetent and one of the platoon commanders, a lieutenant, was worse than incompetent. I asked my brother, a 30-year USMC vet, how such assholes could get command. He told me that there in no serious vetting until the level of major. Time in grade is all that is necessary to get command at the company and platoon level. Most of time the leadership at that level is exemplary, as in Fick’s case. But sometimes, it’s not. And nothing, absolutely nothing, is more corrosive of morale at the grunt level than knowing that your immediate leaders are morons, dangerous morons.

  8. Bithead says:

    Lets see. You have one piece, which criticizes one man. Does not look much like widespread military bashing, calling our troops “shit” to me.

    LOL… Defense from the party of Jack Murtha.

  9. Meritocracy only works when you can quantify merit. Most operating meritocracies rely on the wisdom of the masses for selection when quantification is impossible.

    Bullshit. Utter bullshit. Contemptable bullshit piled so deep I lack the time to dig out from under it to try and explain just how wrong this is. Just because you may struggle with a definition of merit doesn’t mean everyone else does. Quantification of what makes a good officer is quite possible and is in fact a well documented part of the performance review process. Seriously, how can you possibly think otherwise? That doesn’t mean that said quantification is perfect or that it is applied perfectly, but imagining that it is a crap shoot or would be better served though popluarity contests is amongst the silliest things I’ve read in quite some time.

    What does the US military use to elevate those with merit instead of simply those favored by the selectors?

    Oh, I don’t know, chest hair density? Is that what you are looking for? Have you ever actually dealt with “the selectors”? You know, senior officers? You really do need to develop a little more respect for their capabilities and competencies. Along with sam, I’d suggest you stop getting your information about the military from popular entertainment. I’m sure James can give a more precise answer, but I’ve written too many performance reviews in the private sector for officers who came out of the military to take this question as anything other than an insult to them and their integrity.

  10. Michael says:

    Bullshit. Utter bullshit. Contemptable bullshit piled so deep I lack the time to dig out from under it to try and explain just how wrong this is. Just because you may struggle with a definition of merit doesn’t mean everyone else does. Quantification of what makes a good officer is quite possible and is in fact a well documented part of the performance review process. Seriously, how can you possibly think otherwise?

    You didn’t even disagree with me. I never said the military didn’t quantify merit, I said they would have to quantify merit in order to ensure that they are a meritocracy.

    That doesn’t mean that said quantification is perfect or that it is applied perfectly, but imagining that it is a crap shoot or would be better served though popluarity contests is amongst the silliest things I’ve read in quite some time.

    When exactly did I say any of that in my post? I made an observation about the nature of meritocracies in general, not any specific implementation, and you implicitly agreed with my observation anyway.

    Oh, I don’t know, chest hair density? Is that what you are looking for? Have you ever actually dealt with “the selectors”? You know, senior officers? You really do need to develop a little more respect for their capabilities and competencies.

    The “wise men” method isn’t a very good guarantor of a meritocracy, because a single bad selection can cascade into multiple future bad selections. Unless you believe that senior officers are infallible in their selection, you must admit that this problem will exist.

    Along with sam, I’d suggest you stop getting your information about the military from popular entertainment.

    Again, I’m not talking specifically about the military, but rather about the nature of meritocracies in general.

    I’m sure James can give a more precise answer, but I’ve written too many performance reviews in the private sector for officers who came out of the military to take this question as anything other than an insult to them and their integrity.

    “What does the US military use to elevate those with merit instead of simply those favored by the selectors?” is insulting to you?

  11. sam says:

    Along with sam, I’d suggest you stop getting your information about the military from popular entertainment.

    Fick’s book was not “popular entertainment”, nor was Generation Kill, the book (and the series) (if you’d take the time to read them). And I’ll take my brother’s opinion over your’s re things military (at least as regards the Marine Corps). You don’t know what you’re talking about, Charles, you really don’t.