Thursday, March 15, 2007

They Fired the Wrong Guy

In today's Opinion Journal, Daniel Henninger weighs in on the recent dismissal of Major General George Weightman, the first senior Army official dismissed in the wake of the Walter Reed scandal. As Mr. Henninger notes, General Weightman is the type of leader who could have fixed the problems at the Army medical center. Instead he was fired--only six months into his tour as the center's commander--and largely to satisfy the Washington feeding frenzy.

We said similar things a couple of days ago. I'm not quite prepared to give General Weightman a free pass on the problems in his former command, but a few things are clear. First, the recent round of high-level dismissals that consumed two flag officers and the Army secretary are as much about public relations as they are about reform. As an old Washington hand, Defense Secretary Robert Gates understands that a few high-level firings can create an appearance of action, and give senior officials a little breathing room to actually address the issues at hand.

Secondly, we're still wondering how the dismissal of those officials will produce lasting change in a system and bureaucracy that was riddled with problems years ago (Mr. Henninger has a summary of a House hearing in 2005 that highlighted similar issues at Walter Reed). Obviously, the Army dropped the ball in solving problems at the medical center, but so did Congress and the White House. We're still waiting for the first politician--other than President Bush--to accept some degree of responsibility for the situation at Walter Reed.

And finally, we agree with Henninger's assertion that the military health care "scandal" is yet another example of the Washington establishment throwing good people on bonfires of its own making.


Pangloss said...

The military health care scandal is also a crystal ball that shows us what a future single payer health care system, of the sort that Hillary envisions, would really look like.

Mycroft said...

Firing the guy in charge when something goes badly wrong is a brute force, primitive tactic, but it does, overall, ensure that changes are made at some level, assuming any sort of intelligent response among upper level leaders.

It's rather like the market that way -- making a company go bankrupt for small inefficiencies compared to their competitors isn't necessarily the best way to induce change, but induce change it surely does.

Sassenach said...

The General was the commanding officer. As such, his accountability for this is absolute.

A normal part of any command relief process is an inspection of the materiel condition of the unit, as well as a review of significant personnel issues. The relief letter is expected to note any deficiencies.

That leaves a couple of possibilites:
1. No inspection was conducted, in contravention of tradition and (presumably) Army policies regarding change of command.
2. An inspection was conducted, and the General found the condition of the command to be satisfactory.
3. An inspection was conducted, and deficiencies were noted in the relief letter. If this were the case, I would have expected that the letter would have emerged by now.

The General may not have been specifically aware of difficulties in scheduling, but he surely could not have missed the physical conditions his soldiers (HIS soldiers) were living in.

Sure he would have been hampered by all of those things you mentioned. Ultimately, though, the accountability is his.

What a travesty, that we treat our wounded soldiers so poorly.