As difficulties mount on the battlefield, the temptation for senior military officers is to blame civilian leadership—a situation developing today for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz about the war in Iraq. Although emotionally satisfying, this is an evasion of responsibility.
At the end of World War I, the German Army surrendered on foreign territory after nearly seizing Paris six months earlier. Thus it was hard for many Germans to believe their country had been defeated on the battlefield. Instead, many came to believe that a "stab in the back" by an incompetent and meddling civilian leadership had prevented the military from executing plans for successful resistance. If the civilian politicians had only listened to the military, they argued, everything would have been all right. In fact, the German military had been thoroughly defeated as a result of its own catastrophic decisions during the 1918 offensive, and these same senior military leaders had demanded an armistice. Nevertheless, for many, especially among the military leadership, the stab in the back was a comforting myth. 1
An obscure piece of history? Not at all. The same myth is developing today about the war in Iraq. As difficulties have mounted, many commentators, especially senior military officers, have sought to put the blame on civilian leadership and to exonerate the military.
Some examples 2 :