Cogicophony: Timetables: Suck or No Suck?

Who's Advising Kerry On Military Matters?

The answer appears to be, "No one."

The question came up during the Cogicophony debate on Kerry's new timeline-to-withdrawal. I looked into the matter, and discovered that Kerry's titular advisor on military matters is retired Air Force General Merrill A. McPeak. I'm not sure what McPeak's qualifications are beyond what is listed in his official biography, though I assume he has some. He's only published two papers in the last twenty years (one of which dates to 1985), both of which are on exclusively USAF matters. He attended War College, but it's been in the 1970s; since about 1976, he's been out of the "theory arena" and in the field and the bureaucracy. As a consequence, while I'm certain he must have views on military transformation, guerrilla war, and the like, I don't have any way to know what they are.

One reason for his position would appear to be that he was nominated for the USAF Chief by GHWB, served under Clinton, supported GWB in 2000, and now supports Kerry. He therefore has bipartisan credibility, which counts more among the press and citizenry than having the right ideas. Relatively few of the press, as we've discussed frequently, have the background to evaluate the ideas anyway. What matters is that you can say, "Here's a man who's been on both sides politically, and now supports our boy." What ideas he uses that credibility to advocate, I can't say.

However, it appears that it doesn't matter anyway. Kerry flatly ignores his advice.

General McPeak told Steph: “We need to about double the size” of our contingent of forces in Iraq. He’s JF Kerry’s military advisor, and Kerry said Friday:
“I believe that within a year from now, we could significantly reduce American forces in Iraq, and that’s my plan,” Kerry said. “I believe we can.”
So apparently he's just a figurehead. One more veteran used to bolster Kerry's credibility, whose interests are ignored when they're inconvenient.

UPDATE: I found an interview with McPeak; the original is behind subscription walls, but a cache of it is here. It pre-dates the Iraq war. He appears to be "fighter mafia," which is to say that he belongs to that segment of the Air Force that believes the Army should eliminate its heavy divisions entirely, concentrate on special forces only, and let the Air Force do the work of destroying enemy armies. This is glorious, he says:
The man who headed the U.S. Air Force during Desert Storm will tell you, over black coffee in a Lake Oswego cafe, that the potential attack on Iraq is "the fight you dream about, a wonderful kind of war to have."

The former fighter pilot calls the conflict a "no brainer," pitting the U.S. military machine -- with precision-guided munitions that he conceived -- against a nation whose gross national product is dwarfed by what the Air Force spends each year.

"Everybody's going to get decorated out of this thing," says Tony McPeak, a four-star general who retired to Oregon in 1995. "Everyone comes home. It has a lot of appeal to me."
But what to do when the war is over? The Air Force can't do the work of occupying nations that need rebuilding, but that's OK, as McPeak is against it:
Airstrikes would wipe out Baghdad's communications system again, McPeak says. "If we go in there and occupy the place for 50 years, which is my prediction, we'll have to rebuild it."

Close combat in Baghdad would be stupid, he says, despite what Army generals may advocate. "We've already radicalized 99 percent of the Arabs in the world. We'll get the holdouts if we start doing hand-to-hand combat in Baghdad."
So, in short, he believes in a military that strikes from afar, destroys enemy civilizations, and then leaves them in ruins. Baghdad's people he would have left in the hands of the Fedayeen Saddam, and without civil services.

This kind of punitive-strike warfare was practiced by the Imperial Roman Legions to great effect. There is something to be said for it. But in a world in which failed states are the breeding ground for terrorists, who export rather than contain their misery and wrath, it must be regarded as a fool's approach.

In retrospect, McPeak seems to realize that. As in the quote above, he is now calling for doubling the forces on the ground. But where would those forces come from, if the Army disbanded its divisions to focus on "agile" special operations teams?

Not, as I say, that it matters. Kerry doesn't listen to his military advisor. But, even should he begin, this is the advice he'll get.

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