Pushback on the Lessons of ‘Lessons in Disaster’

Oct 20, 2009 8:41am

Last month, my colleague Martha Raddatz and I reported that Gordon Goldstein’s “Lessons in Disaster” – a profile of National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy and a meditation on the lessons the Vietnam War taught Bundy – had become a must-read book at the White House as it began its review of Afghanistan strategy.

One of the lessons, Goldstein wrote, was that “intervention is a presidential choice, not an inevitability” – when the generals call for more troops or a stronger military presence, they’re not always right.

Of late, there has been some pushback against Goldstein’s conclusions. Mark Moyar, a professor at the Marine Corps University, writes:

"In Vietnam, the civilian leadership showed too little deference toward military advice, not too much. As the commander in chief, the president must, of course, scrutinize the military advice he receives and not defer automatically. But history suggests that the country's military leaders possess experience, knowledge, and wisdom that warrant the utmost respect from the recipients of their advice. The White House should tune out Goldstein and instead listen intently to what the generals have to say."

Moyar's study of Vietnam — "Triumph Forsaken"– is becoming a classic in counter-insurgency circles. His new case studies — "A Question of Command" — is making it to the desks of top military decision makers as quickly as Goldstein's hits White House desks.

Full disclosure: Moyar and I served together in the altar of Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Cleveland OH — circa 1975.

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