Soldiers pen a jaw-dropping NYT op-ed about the war in Iraq.

Military analysis.
Aug. 22 2007 5:38 PM

The Magnificent Seven

Soldiers pen a jaw-dropping NYT op-ed about the war in Iraq.

Gen. David Petraeus. Click image to expand.
Gen. David Petraeus

In April 2006, six retired generals called for then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation. In May of this year, Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, an active-duty officer, wrote an article lambasting the Army's general officer corps as lacking "professional character" and "moral courage." Now, just last Sunday, seven infantrymen and noncommissioned officers—all finishing their 15-month tours in Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Division—took to the New York Times op-ed page to dismiss prospects of victory as "far-fetched" and recent appraisals of progress as "flawed" and "surreal."

This last insiders' protest is the most jaw-dropping and may ultimately be the most potent. It is unusual enough to see officers—active or retired—publicly denouncing military superiors or civilian leaders for mistakes or deficiencies in wartime. But for NCOs—none higher in rank than staff sergeant—to air their contrary views on the war (and, implicitly, their sour views of high-ranking policy-makers) is, as far as I can tell, unprecedented: an act of, depending on your politics, great courage or outright insubordination—or, perhaps, both.

Advertisement

It is for this reason that the seven junior soldiers might have the deepest political impact. They, after all, are breathing, fighting specimens of "the troops," whose interests President George W. Bush routinely invokes to justify staying the course. One of the authors—an Army Ranger and reconnaissance-team leader, Staff Sgt. Jeremy A. Murphy—was shot in the head during the time that he and the others were writing the article. (He is expected to live, his co-authors note.) The op-ed piece will no doubt also be invoked as a set of boots-on-the-ground rebuttal points to whatever lofty claims are made by Gen. David Petraeus in his much-anticipated report due mid-September.

The central point of the seven soldiers' critique speaks to the very heart of counterinsurgency theory. They write:

Counterinsurgency is, by definition, a competition between insurgents and counterinsurgents for the control and support of a population. To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched.

This difficulty, they say, is intensified by "the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Army." By day, Iraqi security forces are armed and trained by U.S. military personnel. By night, they help insurgents plant bombs that maim and kill those same U.S. personnel the next day. The seven soldiers write:

As many grunts will tell you, this is a near-routine event. Reports that a majority of Iraqi Army commanders are now reliable partners can be considered only misleading rhetoric. The truth is that [Iraqi] battalion commanders, even if well meaning, have little to no influence over the thousands of obstinate men under them, in an incoherent chain of command, who are really loyal only to their militias.

TODAY IN SLATE

Jurisprudence

Don’t Expect Adrian Peterson to Go to Prison

In much of America, beating your children is perfectly legal. 

Ken Burns on Why Teddy Roosevelt Would Never Get Elected in 2014

Cops Briefly Detain Django Unchained Actress Because They Thought She Was a Prostitute

Minimalist Cocktail Posters Make Mixing Drinks a Cinch

How the Apple Watch Will Annoy Us

A glowing screen attached to someone else’s wrist is shinier than all but the blingiest of jewels.

Books

Rainbow Parties and Sex Bracelets

Where teenage sex rumors come from—and why they’re bad for parents and kids.

Books

You Had to Be There

What we can learn from things that used to be funny.

Legendary Critic Greil Marcus Measures and Maps Rock History Through 10 Unlikely Songs

Catfish Creator Nev Schulman’s Book Is Just Like Him: Self-Deluded and Completely Infectious

Behold
Sept. 12 2014 5:54 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Sept. 14 2014 2:37 PM When Abuse Is Not Abuse Don’t expect Adrian Peterson to go to prison. In much of America, beating your kids is perfectly legal. 
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 12 2014 5:54 PM Olive Garden Has Been Committing a Culinary Crime Against Humanity
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 13 2014 8:38 AM “You’re More Than Just a Number” Goucher College goes transcript-free in admissions.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 12 2014 4:05 PM Life as an NFL Wife: “He's the Star. Keep Him Happy.”
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 12 2014 5:55 PM “Do You Know What Porn Is?” Conversations with Dahlia Lithwick’s 11-year-old son.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 14 2014 7:10 PM Watch Michael Winslow Perform Every Part of “Whole Lotta Love” With Just His Voice
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 12 2014 3:53 PM We Need to Pass Legislation on Artificial Intelligence Early and Often
  Health & Science
New Scientist
Sept. 14 2014 8:38 AM Scientific Misconduct Should Be a Crime It’s as bad as fraud or theft, only potentially more dangerous.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 12 2014 4:36 PM “There’s No Tolerance for That” Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh say they don’t abide domestic abuse. So why do the Seahawks and 49ers have a combined six players accused of violence against women?