There is a rather old jibe about the Congress that I confess comes back to me over and over again through the years. At its most succinct it is a description of Congress as a circus consisting of 535 clowns and no animal act. While some observers may be tempted to insist that certain animals are in fact represented based upon the behavior of selected members, I am more concerned at the suggestion that the members of our two legislative houses wish to become 535 generals (of whatever rank they may choose). Unfortunately, the attempt by the Congress to control military operations in Iraq strongly suggests that they are collectively reaching their Peter Point*, because in the attempt they have clearly forgotten one of the most important of the principles of war – Unity of Command, sometimes also expressed as Unity of Purpose.
Military forces function best when there is a clear chain of command that places operational military decisions in the hands of a single individual – who carries equal burdens of authority and responsibility. History is replete with the examples of the importance of this principle. It also works best if that individual is rather close to the scene of military operations rather than half a world away. While the technology of today is incredibly fast by comparison, one example that unavoidably comes to mind is of those senior officers during the First World War who attempted to direct military operations in the trenches and across the “no-man’s land” of the Western Front from the comfort of their headquarters housed safely (and comfortably) in the rear. When the Allies tried to run the war this same way in 1940, the end result was the rapid fall of France and the risky evacuation of the virtually disarmed British Expeditionary Force from the beaches of Dunkirk.
I recognize that the Democratic leadership on the Hill is trying to demonstrate responsiveness to what it sees as the sense of the American electorate expresses in last November’s elections. But inserting Congress into the chain of command will not achieve the result they are looking for.
+The soldiers of the British Army on the Western Front made up any number of songs that matched their lyrics commenting on their predicament with various well-known melodies. A personal favorite is “They Were Only Playing Leapfrog” which depicts the staff officers safe at headquarters in the rear area more interested in personal advancement (leaping over other staff officers) than they were in the reality in the front-line trenches.
*Peter Point – from the work of Dr. Laurence J. Peter who identified the Peter Point as being that position of responsibility in which the occupant’s poor performance demonstrates that he/she has risen above his/her level of competence.
"The British soldier can stand up to anything except the British War Office." General Burgoyne, in George Bernard Shaw's "The Devil's Disciple."