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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Brit crit

Senior British officer Alan Sharpe has criticized "'shoulder-holster' American generals for trying to emulate film stars" such as Sylvester Stallone or John Wayne, according to an article in the Telegraph.

Sharpe, a brigadier who worked alongside Americans in Baghdad, made his charges in a paper on Britain's influence on US foreign relations.

An important part to being a successful American officer was to be able to combine the "real and acted heroics" of Audie Murphy, the "newsreel antics" of Gen Douglas MacArthur and the "movie performances" of Hollywood actors, the brigadier wrote.

While this might look good on television at home, the brigadier suggested that "loud voices, full body armour, wrap-around sunglasses, air strikes and daily broadcasts from shoulder-holster wearing brigadier-generals proudly announcing how many Iraqis have been killed by US forces today" was no "hearts-and-minds winning tool".

Sharpe also referred to the US-led interim government put in place in Iraq after the fall of Baghdad as an "interim dictatorship."

According to Sharpe, the British Army's 500 years of experience in fighting insurgents gave it a distinct edge over US forces in Iraq. British troops, he says, "although under-equipped, were 'undemonstrative, phlegmatic and pragmatic', patrolled on foot where possible and were keen to interact with locals."

Sharpe believes that "senior British officers in Baghdad should continue with their moderating influence." In Iraq he found that

the most effective way of passing on British experience was to place capable officers "with a feel for the British way of doing business" into positions of influence alongside American officers where they could "practically influence the decisions, plans and conduct on the ground of US adventures in world policing".

The brigadier closed his critique with an anecdote about a Ba'athist (or "subjugated Iraqi," in Sharpe's words) about to be released from detention:

The Ba'athist was loudly lectured by an American officer, who was accompanied by a quiet British brigadier, on the dangers of returning to his "previously nefarious ways".

As the Iraqi left he said: "Hey, Mr American, next time before you shout so much you should speak to him. He is British - they know how to invade a country."

Sharpe was awarded the Bronze Star by the United States for writing the "coalition campaign plan" for Iraq during a tour in Baghdad in 2004.

I'm not on the ground in Iraq and never was, so it's hard for me to judge the accuracy of Sharpe's criticisms. Are there US generals who are more concerned with appearing "macho" than with being sensitive to the people whose country they're in? Undoubtedly. I think it was either Sun Tzu or von Clausewitz who said that wherever and whenever there's an military, there will be chickenshit senior officers.

But you'll have to excuse me for feeling a little bit like the ghost of Field Marshall Montgomery has come back to haunt us. During World War II, Monty constantly (and loudly) disagreed with American General Omar Bradley's strategies, but when given his way, the result was often failure, with Bradley and his troops having to pull Monty and his men out of the fire.

At this time, the Allied high command under Eisenhower faced a decision on strategy. Bradley favored a strategy consisting of an advance into the Saarland, or possibly a two thrust assault on both the Saarland and the Ruhr Area. Newly promoted to Field Marshal, Bernard Montgomery argued that he should lead a thrust on the northern flank into the Ruhr. Montgomery's tempestuous personality ultimately carried the day, leading to Operation Market-Garden. The debate, while not fissuring the Allied command, nevertheless led to a serious rift between the two Army group commanders of the European Theater of Operations. Bradley bitterly protested to Eisenhower the priority of supplies given to Montgomery, but Eisenhower, mindful of British public opinion, held Bradley's protests in check.

After the failure of Montgomery's forces to take Arnhem and its bridge across the Rhine river, forces under Bradley's command took the initial brunt of what would become the Battle of the Bulge. In a move without precedent in modern warfare, the US 3rd Army under George Patton disengaged from their combat in the Saarland, moved 90 miles to the battlefront, and forced the Germans back. Bradley used the advantage gained in March 1945 — after Eisenhower once again favored Montgomery with supplies for another unsuccessful offensive in February 1945 — to break the German defenses and cross the Rhine into the industrial heartland of the Ruhr. Aggressive pursuit of the disintegrating German troops by Bradley's forces resulted in the capture of a bridge across the River Rhine at Remagen. Bradley and his subordinates quickly exploited the crossing, leading to an enormous pincer movement encircling the German forces in the Ruhr from the north and south.
You do have to grant Sharpe's point that the British have been dealing with insurgencies for over 500 years: that's how it is when you're more interested in subjugating people than in liberating them. (Although I do seem to recall an insurgency about 230 years ago that didn't work out too well for the Brits.) But I wonder if in the end this isn't just a matter of different strokes for different folks: on the one hand, the British with their stiff upper lips; on the other, the Americans with our "git 'r done" eagerness and confidence. Surely there's a place for both on the battlefield.

As always, I welcome being told I'm wrong by the ones who were actually there.

Blogger Synova said...

Sun Tzu or Clausewitz said that, huh? ;-)

I don't think we should take for granted how certain actions are percieved by Iraqis. You know we hope that our guys behave themselves while they are there but I don't think that it's self evident that a meek approach would be seen as anything other than weak.

As for the anectdote... if I wanted to place one last dig at an American and he was standing next to the officer of another country, that's about what I'd say. I mean... we're supposed to believe that this person's sincere motivation was to give the US officer good advice?

Anonymous ElMondoHummu said...

"Are there US generals who are more concerned with appearing "macho" than with being sensitive to the people whose country they're in?"

It's possible. I remember reading some criticism of the 82nd Airborne's commander -- General Charles Swannack (sp??) -- when that division had units in the Sunni triangle; on admittedly snarky review read something like 'the discriminating application of force that marks counterinsurgency wasn't exactly his calling card.' Swannack was being contrasted to David Petraeus, the 101st Airmobile's CG, who took the trouble to make his officers work through local leaders. In general (yes, there are various differing opions), Petraeus is considered the more successful commander between the two, precisely because he practiced counterinsurgency.

On the other hand, according to the author Bing West, the Marines in Fallujah also tried counterinsurgency methods -- working with local leaders, etc. -- and they complain that it was a waste of time in their area: Too much corruption, the jihadists had too much influence to overcome through working with local sympathizers to the US, etc. The consensus about that part of the war was that the Marines should've just cut the BS and invaded instead of using the soft touch.

My own opinion was that Fallujah was unique enough to warrant different behavior there than, say, in the Shiite south. But then again, Fallujah *is* part of the Sunni Triangle, and the velvet glove approach by Petraeus worked for most of the rest of the area. *Sigh*... I'm no expert. Someone else more knowledgeable can expand on these issues better than I can.

But back to the original point: The "macho" accusation was leveled at Swannack, both directly and, in cases where contrasts were drawn between him and Petraeus, indirectly.

Blogger The Cranky Insomniac said...


Well, it was either Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, or me while spending a lovely summer on the Korean DMZ in 1991. My memory's a little fuzzy...



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