Military Matters: New York Times profiles Iraq debate at Fort Leavenworth
The New York Times spent some of its precious Sunday front-page real estate on a story about Fort Leavenworth, and how students at the Command and General Staff College are debating the decisions that resulted in the ongoing Iraq War.
"As the war grinds through its fifth year, Fort Leavenworth has become a front line in the military's tension and soul-searching over Iraq. Here at the base on the bluffs above the Missouri River, once a frontier outpost that was a starting point for the Oregon Trail, rising young officers are on a different journey - an outspoken re-examination of their role in Iraq.
"Discussions between a New York Times reporter and dozens of young majors in five Leavenworth classrooms over two days - all unusual for their frankness in an Army that has traditionally presented a facade of solidarity to the outside world - showed a divide in opinion. Officers were split over whether Mr. Rumsfeld, the military leaders or both deserved blame for what they said were the major errors in the war: sending in a small invasion force and failing to plan properly for the occupation.
"On one level, second-guessing is institutionalized at Leavenworth, home to the Combined Arms Center, a research center that includes the Command and General Staff College for midcareer officers, the School of Advanced Military Studies for the most elite and the Center for Army Lessons Learned, which collects and disseminates battlefield data.
"But senior officers say that much of the professional second-guessing has become an emotional exercise for young officers. 'Many of them have been affected by people they know who died over there,' said Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the Leavenworth commander and the former top spokesman for the American military in Iraq. Unlike the 1991 Persian Gulf war and the conflicts in the Balkans and even Somalia, General Caldwell said, 'we just never experienced the loss of life like we have here. And when that happens, it becomes very personal. You want to believe that there's no question your cause is just and that it has the potential to succeed.'
"One question that silenced many of the officers was a simple one: Should the war have been fought?
"'I honestly don't know how I feel about that,' Major Powell said in a telephone conversation after the discussions at Leavenworth.
"'That's a big, open question,' General Caldwell said after a long pause."