One of the Army’s more famous combatants and intellectual lights turned to a new guidance Wednesday when explaining how to fight a ground war — “Seinfeld.”
Maj. Gen. H.R. McMaster is in charge of Fort Benning, Ga., where the Army molds future infantry and armor soldiers. As a colonel, he led troops in one of Iraq’s most noted battles, taking back the western town of Tal Afar, a hub for terrorists moving through northern Iraq to Mosul. He appeared on PBS’ “Frontline,” as well as “Charlie Rose.”
As a major, he wrote the 1997 book “Derelection of Duty,” a scathing criticism of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s failure to stand up to President Lyndon Johnson over a strategy in Vietnam that was not working.
Wednesday found him with two stars and an audience in Washington at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. His topic: the future of ground maneuver warfare in the age of counterterrrorism.
One questioner wanted to know what the goal of decisive victory will mean in a future conflict.
“This is the difficult part of the business, trying to get to a sustainable political outcome consistent with your interest,” he said.
The Army, he said, operates two fundamental skills — combined arms maneuver with a variety of weapons systems to “fire and maneuver” to “ultimately defeat enemy organizations,” and “area security operations over wide areas to consolidate gains.”
“If you just look at what we had to do in Iraq and Afghanistan, that’s exactly what we really had to do,” Gen. McMaster said.
“The word ‘decisive’ can be problematic,” the highly decorated soldier said. “You don’t want it construed as the old rapid decisive operations, you know, which I liken to the George Costanza on ‘Seinfeld’ — ‘Leave on an up note.’ You know what I mean. Just go in, do a lot of damage and leave. What have you really achieved if you do that?”
The general had referenced a 1998 episode of the sitcom in which the hapless George learns that, when making a joke that gets laughs in the office, it’s best to “go out on a high note” rather than keep talking.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney also liked to quote George on the campaign trail. And like Gen. McMaster, he did not get the quote word for word.
He said at a Dec. 7, 2011 debate, “Remember the George Costanza line? When they’re laughing and applauding, you sit down.”
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