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Major Mistake

2:19 PM, Aug 4, 2014 • By ADAM J. WHITE
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Back in the day when it was fashionable for the press to criticize the president and senior military officials for mismanaging a war--that is, from 2003 to 2009--such stories often focused on the colonels, majors, and captains who saw firsthand the practical problems with their superiors' approach and who pushed hard to change policy based on that hard-fought experience. 

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In journal articles such as "A Failure of Generalship," and in long profiles in the New York Times (repeatedly) and elsewhere, they ventilated major problems in the military's thinking and created substantial political pressure on the White House, Pentagon, and military bureaucracy to correct the course.

Ultimately, the need to retain majors and captains, precisely in order to maintain the long-term quality of America's military capabilities, became a substantial political issue. Shortly before President Obama entered office, incoming Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy argued that the Army would "need to retain a higher percentage of its experienced officers to lead the force"; the Center for American Progress argued that "Majors are the Army’s future senior leaders, but they are exiting the service at increasing rates during a period of military growth."

But the clearest call for retaining majors and captains came from Candidate Obama himself, in a 2007 speech before the VFW in Kansas City (emphasis added): "Retention rates of West Point graduates are approaching records lows. We need to keep these battle-hardened majors and captains so they can become tomorrow's generals."

Fast forward seven years, and those words are long forgotten. As the AP reports this week, President Obama's Defense Department will lay off 550 majors, including many currently stationed overseas. This comes on the heels of the decision last fall to fire more than 1,000 captains.

Tom Ricks summarized last fall's decision succinctly: "Army to its captains: Thanks for your service. Now, 20 percent of you, get lost!"

Evidently President Obama doesn't find "tomorrow's generals" as valuable as he used to. But America can't make the same mistake.

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