As long as I’ve got Tom Ricks’ attention, let’s change the subject from Auto-Tune. In blogging an excellent New Yorker piece about Col. Michael Steele and the Iron Triangle disaster in Iraq in 2006, Tom reacquaints us with Lightning Joe Collins and observes:

Col. Steele wouldn’t have lasted a week in command under Collins, who relieved officers quickly for a variety of reasons, such as for being old or paunchy, but especially for insubordination. And that is what Michael Steele committed in Iraq. He was told to fight one way and fought another. He was given a lot of chances. Too many, in fact — I think his unit would have been more successful if he had been relieved the first time he made it clear that he didn’t buy into the kind of approach his leaders were telling him to take. It is clear now that it wasn’t a favor to anyone to leave him in place.

I’m not making a brief for Steele, but I wonder if the Collins rule — while generally, you know, good — would leave us with some undesirable consequences. At a recent CNAS forum, Tom referred to the 101st Airborne under Maj. Gen. Petraeus as the only division in the U.S. Army with its own foreign policy. Similarly, Col. H.R. McMaster’s Third Armored Cavalry Regiment at Tal Afar in 2005 executed a counterinsurgency operation unlike that of any other unit then in Iraq. Now, both Petraeus and McMaster could be reasonably said to have been improvising in the absence of clear command rules — there’s a pungeant background quote in Fiasco pointing out that Sanchez’s weakness is what enabled Petraeus and Odierno to fight totally different wars in 2003-4 — but I wonder: would Collins have considered this a distinction with a difference?

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman

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