Morning Joe | November 08, 2012
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>>> 38 past the hour. here with us now, contributing editor through foreign policy magazine , tom ricks, author of "the generals." not everything that you found is necessarily that great about modern day generals today.
>> before we go there, start with the model general . you say the model general was general george marshall who gave his generals a few months to succeed, die or be relieved.
>> that was accountability. that was the way they worked in world war ii . you get out there and if you can't do the job, we will get rid of you. 155 division commanders in the army in world war ii . of the guys who commanded, 16 were fired. what -- it was a darwinian process . very hard-nosed, not gentle. and they moved up guys who could succeed which is why we know names today like ridgway, gavin and eisenhower . eisenhower began 1940 as lieutenant colonel, executive officer of an infantry regiment . marshall reached out and said that's who you need to be supreme allied commander.
>> how did marshall rise the way he rose without going to battle. having the battle scars of world war i or world war ii .
>> it was interesting. marshall didn't know him particularly well. all he knew was that eisenhower had been an aide to macarthur in the philippines in the 1930s , which was not a big boost. he rose so quickly. first of all, because the guy who was having plans in the army on pearl harbor day kind of blew up on the launchpad marshall said get that highsen hour guy in here. they called him up from texas, said get up here. he sat on a suitcase on a train. brigadier general eisenhower , newly promoted. he came up, he walked into marshall's office one week after pearl harbor , december 14th , 1941 . marshall looked up and said, tell me how to fight the war in the pacific . eisenhower said how long do i have?
>> marshall said, this afternoon. that afternoon eisenhower put on marshall's desk a three-page memo. here's the strategy with the pacific. marshall read it, said looks good to me. now tell me how to implement it. that's eisenhower 's beginning.
>> tom, if you could speak to the differences between what you were just talking about, eisenhower and that time frame . obviously huge differences in the size of the american military and the objective, always the military needs an objective, as opposed to today, the contentiousness between branches of the military and the seemingly lack of objective as it applies to these generals.
>> it is harder in these smaller, unpopular wars to know what success looks like. world war ii was pretty clear what we were doing. korea, vietnam, iraq , these have been messy, small, unpopular wars. that said, we still knew what success looked like when david petraeus achieved it in iraq . i think his mission was to get us out of iraq and he achieved it.
>> was petraeus a great general ?
>> i think petraeus is a terrific general .
>> what about tommy franks ?
>> i call him in my book a two-time loser. most generals only get a chance to screw up one bwar, he screwed up two -- afghanistan and iraq . here's a guy who thought it was a net gain to push al qaeda from afghanistan into pakistan, who thought it was a good idea to let osama bin laden escape. the cia said put a regiment of army rangers on the pak border to stop the escape and franks and donald rumsfeld said no. we could have gotten bin laden had they followed the cia's repeated request in late '01 to capture al qaeda . tony franks thinks capturing the enemy's capital is the end of the war . in both afghanistan and iraq , it was actually the beginning.
>> what about colin powell ? obviously one of the most well known generals for political reasons, as well as military reasons. how does he rank as a general ?
>> mixed. he's an eisenhower -like figure -- smart, ambitious, a good negotiator. but he --
>> a good implementer?
>> he's an eisenhower without a marshall. in the 1991 war, he doesn't have any overarching strategy. they don't know how to end the war. so we go in, we fight a great battle, everybody said, hey, 1991 gulf war -- great victory. that actually is the beginning of a 20-year war with iraq .
>> tom, what's military leadership like now in afghanistan ? still there. how do you rate the leaders?
>> the marine general in command right now, john allen , is a fine general . interesting figure. he told me once if he hadn't been a marine general he would like to be an archaeologist. his hero in life is gertrude bell . that said, we've had 11 commanders in iraq in 11 years. that's nuts! rotating commanders in. warren buffett once said if you've been playing poker for half-an-hour and you don't know hot patsy at the table is? you're the patsy.
>> but 11 years.
>> by putting commanders in every year, we basically make our commander the patsy at the table. everybody else knows where all the bodies are hid. can you imagine in '43 if marshall had said to eisenhower or '44, hey, you've been there 18 months. let's give somebody else a chance. no, it took marshall and eisenhower a lot to learn in '44. they learned from their mistakes. that's the greatest characteristic of world war ii , learning quickly. if you rotate commanders in every year, no matter how much they learn -- pt wisdom is never put to use. imagine running a corporation and changing the ceo every year?
>> let's talk about how the ceos are selected in the pentagon. obviously eisenhower was coming of age in the military. you rose through the ranks differently for different reasons than you do now. rewards and punishments then versus now are radically different. aren't they?
>> they are. marshall invents the modern super power military. when he takes over as army chief of staff september 1, 1939 , the army has about 180,000 people, including the air force . which is part of the army then. he takes it up to 9.5 million over five years. so it is a huge expansion. he makes it look easy almost. but back then, there was a very clear system of incentivizing success. there was accountability. these days there is not accountability for generals. the raw material is not bad for generals. there are a lot of smart, ambitious, hard working guys. the problem is, there's no incentive to take risk. there's no incentive to succeed. everybody veers towards mediocrity because that's the way to get through.
>> wow. tom ricks, thank you very much. the book is "the generals -- american military command from world war ii to today." fascinating.