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Old 07-24-2007   #1
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Thumbs down The Peter Pandemic Takes Its Toll

Third Way Dispatch - The Peter Pandemic Takes Its Toll: HR McMaster is Passed Over by Matt Bennett.

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... But the fact that a bunch of incompetent imbeciles are running our country is old news. Now we find that the Bush Administration has brought us the corollary to the Peter Principle: genuinely gifted and brilliant public servants who are kept far below the level to which they should ascend.

There are, no doubt, scores of such talents in the federal bureaucracy, held down from their rightful rise by political calculation, petulance or oversight. But one recent and egregious example is the Pentagon’s failure to promote (for a second time) Army Colonel HR McMaster.

Now you may be thinking, wasn’t it H.R. McMaster that led the pacification of Tal Afar, an operation so successful that Bush devoted an entire speech to it just last year? Didn’t I read about McMaster’s brilliant strategy in a long New Yorker piece about him? Wasn’t it McMaster who won a Silver Star in the Gulf War, leading troops so bravely and well that Tom Clancy wrote it up? And surely it was McMaster who’s PhD dissertation became a hugely influential book, Dereliction of Duty, that the then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs made required reading for senior military types?

Well brace yourself – the answer to all of your questions is yes. McMaster is a brilliant tactician, a decorated hero, a soldier’s soldier, and a master of the very kind of war we’re fighting in Iraq – the counterinsurgency. In fact, he’s back in Iraq now, helping soon-to-be-fall-guy David Petraeus try to fend off further disaster. But somehow McMaster’s “superiors” – the suits at the Pentagon who helped bring us the Fiasco that McMaster is attempting to clean up – have decided that he isn’t flag officer material...
It's a damn, damn shame.
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Old 07-24-2007   #2
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Doesn't really inspire continued service does it? Things like this always remind me of Sam Damon. There are several other 06s who would serve the cnation well as GOs - but politics (of all flavors) will not permit it.
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Old 07-25-2007   #3
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Typical. And in a few years someone will be moaning about the lack of quality in the officer corps and wonder why all the captains left.
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Old 07-25-2007   #4
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Originally Posted by Rob Thornton View Post
Doesn't really inspire continued service does it? Things like this always remind me of Sam Damon. There are several other 06s who would serve the cnation well as GOs - but politics (of all flavors) will not permit it.
Agreed. Makes me wonder bout my chosen profession too. Over time and travels I have heard much of behind the scenes bad talk about him - mostly for no other reason than professional jealousy. I personally have only met him during our TOA in Tal Afar, and I have to say that it remained a lasting success to this day, despite a few hiccups. I was amazed at what 3ACR was able to pull off with the tribes there, and how much was the result of his and LTC Hickey's efforts.

When I hear other O6's and above speak about him they talk about how he was opinionated, pushy, and a media hound. Yes, there was a little over-hype on success in Tal Afar, but there is no disputing the success there, and that it is one of the few cities with a functioning and reasonably fair government and police force.

I really think a lot of serving generals and colonels resent that he succeeded, frankly, and made many others look bad by default. And then he committed the worse sin of getting good press for it from Tom Ricks in "Fiasco". Many of the same criticisms have been leveled inside the army at Petraeus, but he made it out okay.

When I got off the plane back to Germany from Iraq in Feb 07 we were met, as customary, by a GO from USAREUR. The one-star who met us gathered a few company commanders and a few staff together for a pep talk. This general officer, who has since been promoted to a higher position, told us "not to believe the BS about Tal Afar;", [I guess he didn't know we spent 10 of 14 deployed months there] and "That we all know the real way to win the Iraqis is with force", or something to that effect. My fellow former company commanders and I were literally dumbfounded! We had just spent our tour in Tal Afar and had helped turn around Ramadi through tribal engagement, ISF cooperation, and targeted violence, and here a serving GO was telling us not to believe it? I am still maddened by the conversation.

However, just because he didn't get selected first look doesn't mean he won't get it later. Sometimes the army takes awhile to do the right thing.

Maybe Yingling is right about the GO corps. . It's a damn shame. Work hard, succeed in combat (where it counts), and get passed over in favor of people who don't rock the boat ....

Last edited by Cavguy; 07-25-2007 at 12:22 AM.
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Old 07-25-2007   #5
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Independently of the question of who is ruling in United States now, the extract you posted relates more generally to a subject known as “the circulation of the elite.” There are several models of circulation of the elite’s process, according to each country. But there are some common and recurrent patterns. It’s quite a subject about which, coincidentally, I read extensively and continue reading.
Depending the country and its culture, history, and set of value, it may be either relatively easy to understand why such brilliant person has been held several rungs down the deserved ladder, or tricky to explain in a simple phrase, or even sometimes not all explainable or understandable (at first glance).

About the case of Army Colonel HR McMaster, now, I would be glad to size this opportunity to enlighten you with likely hypothesizes, but I miss further personal information about him, and even though I would get it, then this wouldn’t guarantee that my suggestion would be the right one. All I can say is that Army Colonel HR McMaster seems to be victim of “injustice,” according to this extract. But the notions of “just” or “unjust” seldom prevail when it comes to the circulation of the elites. In fact, things are much more rational and often justified by ever-changing variables. From the standpoint of the concerned person it seems to be a matter of “luck” and sometimes (or often, still depending the country) it is, indeed.

I would enjoy writing a book since I gathered matter and personal knowledge enough about this subject to make a thick one, but would it be “publishable?” Certainly not, I assume, all things well considered.
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Old 07-25-2007   #6
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I'd still follow him anywhere, despite the selection board's results. I'd be willing to bet we'll hail his promotion less than a year from now.
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Old 07-25-2007   #7
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However, just because he didn't get selected first look doesn't mean he won't get it later. Sometimes the army takes awhile to do the right thing.
I've seen some 06s I thought should be GOs make the cut - Robert B Brown is an 06 (P) I think. However there are other guys like J.R. Sanderson and Roy Waggoner that I think should have been promoted some time ago.

The question is how do you give the guys who can lead the Army (or any organization) the authority required to make the right changes in time to make "doing the right thing" something that happens before we have to pay the heaviest prices to figure it out?

I sat in on a VTC today at the AWC where GEN Petraeus spoke from Iraq. He had a great slide about creating "Leaders who get it". I think that only gets us half way though. We have to promote those leaders who get it and assign them to positions where they can affect change rapidly in order to save lives and implement winning practices. While an 06 can change a BCT and can demonstrate good practices, I think it really takes a GO to institutionalize change.

I imagine COL McMasters loves the Army as much as any and more then most. However I think he is too bright and intellectually ambitious (and I mean that in a good way) to allow the Army to keep him in a box. There are too many other fantastic opportunities for leaders of his caliber outside the Army. We often say we want one thing but our choice of spending priorities and our promotion/CMD lists would seem to indicate otherwise. As long as we follow those lines we will move forward slowly and with political risk aversion.
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Old 07-25-2007   #8
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What about “up or out?” I was under the impression that 2 pass-overs for promotion would pretty well finish an officer’s career.
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Old 07-25-2007   #9
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Default As probably the best General I ever worked for once

said to me:

"I'm mediocre. All Generals are mediocre. If you're too good, your peers -- competitors, really -- will kill you on the way up."

After he told me that, I started watching and discovered he was right -- and the bad news is that negative comments were occasionally the lesser things done. The good news is that in my observation, the typical water walker had only a very, very few contemporaries who would do that -- unfortunately, sometimes just one is enough.

Sad news that. I sorta suspect that in the course of a career, he told the wrong boss to go pound sand, was proven correct and therefor got away with it at the time and delayed revenge was taken...
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Old 07-25-2007   #10
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This is incompetence and vindictiveness at its worst -neo-conservatism at its finest!

Well I personally would not worry.

In 16 months there will be over 1,000 political appointmements available for the next President in the highest levels of DoD, CIA, DIA and State Department, not to mention the entire politicized counter-terrorism community.

I am pretty sure IN THE NEXT ADMINSITRATION proven records, competence and a realistic outlook on Iraq will equate to a job offer.

Tell him to apply for Deputy Secretary of Defense for SOLIC ...
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Old 07-25-2007   #11
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Quote:
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What about “up or out?” I was under the impression that 2 pass-overs for promotion would pretty well finish an officer’s career.
This was his first look. He's been BZ on everything else.
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Old 07-25-2007   #12
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Default Hr

A long time ago a great guy told me that everyone gets passed over once. Great officer and leader.
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Old 07-25-2007   #13
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Default A Perspective

Got this via e-mail:

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HR McMaster is just doing his job. After completing a second tour of duty in Iraq, last summer he returned home--limped really, because of his war wounds--and rediscovered his lovely wife and three daughters. Because he is a serious social scientist, he was rewarded with a secondment to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, where he might in a less politically charged atmosphere unpack the lessons of modern war for the future of the Armed Forces. But this was no typical secondment, and he would have to think and write quickly, because he would be deployed on special assignments.

Thus, he arrived at IISS in September 2006 and was immediately detailed to the Pentagon for the Chairman's assessment on Iraq. He returned before Christmas and spent the first two months of 2007 giving speeches and talks at various think tanks and universities--always impressing and surprising his audience with the intelligence of the US Army.

In late March it was back to Iraq for another important strategic assignment. He did his job again and returned home to write and give more speeches. His last talk at IISS last week packed the house at 10 am on a Monday morning in summer--something that senior officials would not have done. Former foreign ministers and Members of Parliament were lined up to ask HR questions, and they all left in admiration for the man. They saw, as those of us who know him do, a brilliant soldier as able in the field of analytic thinking and research as on the battlefield.

That celebrity finds HR is not a mystery to those who know his talents, but HR has to cringe every time an article appears highlighting this point. He is not a Colonel in search of celebrity, but a professional doing his job. HR has a great future ahead of him.
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Old 07-25-2007   #14
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Default Col John Boyd

In the comments section of the blog entry I put up - Contrary Peter Principle - Claymore posted a comment that points to this Col John Boyd quote - To Be Or To Do?.

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Of all the things Boyd wrote or said, we probably get the most requests for his "To be or to do?" invitation. Although Boyd associated with many junior officers during his Air Force career, there were a few, perhaps half a dozen, that he had such respect for that he invited them to join him on his quest for change. Each one would be offered the choice: Be someone – be recognized by the system and promoted – or do something that would last for the Air Force and the country. It was unfortunate, and says something about the state of American's armed forces, that it was rarely possible to do both.

Boyd's biographer, Robert Coram, collected the invitation from an officer who got it and selected the "to do" option, and he confirmed its essence from several others.

"Tiger, one day you will come to a fork in the road,” he said. “And you’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go.” He raised his hand and pointed. “If you go that way you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and you will get good assignments.” Then Boyd raised his other hand and pointed another direction.

“Or you can go that way and you can do something – something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. If you decide you want to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get the good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself. You will be true to your friends and to yourself. And your work might make a difference.” He paused and stared into the officer’s eyes and heart. “To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That’swhen you will have to make a decision. To be or to do. Which way will you go?

Last edited by SWJED; 07-25-2007 at 08:57 AM.
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Old 07-25-2007   #15
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Angry Echelons Above Reality

Gentlemen,

I rarely post here as this small wars neophyte typically views a visit to SWJ as akin to the Vatican or Temple Mount.

Still, I feel compelled to share my pain at this disservice to H.R. McMaster. It's inexplicable. I haven't sat on a promotion board, but I've seen no indication that McMaster didn't fully deserve a BZ selection to BG.

The article (Peter Principle)indicated that this is his second pass-over. IIRC, three strikes and he's out. Y'all have the best contacts in the biz. I'd sure appreciate if one of you could really shed some light on what's actually going down here.

In the meantime, I've e-mailed the Prez, DoD, and D.A., as well as calling my Senator (Gordon Smith) at his D.C. offices. Just now I'm damned ticked at this abysmal coterie of perfumed princes barring the door.
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Old 07-25-2007   #16
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Default The Irony

I have never met H.R McMasters but I feel like I know him. I first saw the name when I was working for then BG Bob Scales helping write Cetrain Victory for the Army. CPT H. R. McMasters and his troop's fight at '73 Easting was the lead combat vignette. That was in 1992.

Time goes by and 2005 rolls around. I am by then retired for nearly 10 years and as a military analyst at a training center intensely interested in events in theater. And gradually stories and reports about McMasters and his 3rd ACR at Tal Afar start to emerge as a success story.

But it is a politically explosive success story because McMasters is not following the prevalent wisdom. His unit is operating differently. He is staying put when other units are bouncing all over the map. Later his unit is singled out by the President of the United States for its successes in Tal Afar. Still those successes underlined much of what was not right in our strategy and operations elsewhere.

Hopefully this too will pass...

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Old 07-25-2007   #17
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Originally Posted by Abu Buckwheat View Post
This is incompetence and vindictiveness at its worst -neo-conservatism at its finest!

Well I personally would not worry.

In 16 months there will be over 1,000 political appointmements available for the next President in the highest levels of DoD, CIA, DIA and State Department, not to mention the entire politicized counter-terrorism community.

I am pretty sure IN THE NEXT ADMINSITRATION proven records, competence and a realistic outlook on Iraq will equate to a job offer.

Tell him to apply for Deputy Secretary of Defense for SOLIC ...
I can't tell if this comment is sarcastic or not, so I will assume it is not.

I think it likely Col. McMaster displeased Big Army most of all and that is why he wasn't promoted. A change in administrations, regardless of the party elected won't change Big Army.

Secondly, changing the political party in power inside the beltway, won't change the big problem, which is the culture inside the beltway. That marches on strong regardless.

Third, what does SOLIC mean?

Last, as Rob mentioned, this is a strong sign that not only does Big Army not "get it"; they don't want to get it.
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Old 07-25-2007   #18
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Default Solic

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Third, what does SOLIC mean?
Office of the Secretary of Defense-Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict

It was at one stage OSD-SOLIC/HA as in humanitarian affairs. I worked hand in glove with them in Zaire and Rwanda.

best

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Old 07-25-2007   #19
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Default Solic <--Title Box doesn't take all caps

Carl - glad to see you blogging again! SOLIC is Special Operations / Low Intensity Conflict. We call the later Small Wars around these parts.

That said, the Army is in store for some soul-searching, rebuilding, reeducating, retraining and reequipping after OIF because the threat we face ain't going away. IMHO COL McMaster may do more good by staying the course and hopefully the next board will rectify what the last two blew. He is the type of operator / leader / scholar that the Army, and the entire DoD for that matter, can ill afford to lose - in uniform - not out.

Stay safe and best regards!

Last edited by SWJED; 07-25-2007 at 08:11 PM.
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Old 07-25-2007   #20
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SOLIC is Special Operations / Low Intensity Conflict. We call the later Small Wars around these parts.d

If there happened to be a somebody in that area and can point me to some resources I'd really be happy.. SOLIC with the emphasis on LIC is something I'm intensely interested in.
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