The military has something called chain of command. And, in its simplest terms, it means that those with higher rank provide the orders to their subordinates; and those orders are followed. There is no room for discussion or argument. A chain of command is critically important for the military, particularly when in battle. It makes sure that decisions are not made by subordinates, who supposedly have less experience in battle.
As I see it, there were three things that caused Colonel Dowdy to loose his command:
1) General Mattis’ ego and need to stick with the plan—even when it was clear early on that speed to Bagdad was not necessary.
2) A failure to follow the chain of command—even though he was getting conflicting instructions—“go” from General Kelly (and thus General Mattis) and a “no go” from Division—he didn’t follow the command from his immediate supervisor. Thus, he followed someone’s orders, just not the right one from the chain of command perspective.
3) The Marine’s top brass’ lack of commitment to “maneuver warfare”. Going into Iraq, the top leaders of the Marine Corps wanted to test the concept of “maneuver warfare”—giving decision-making authority to those commanding in the field. I would say this test failed miserably because chain of command is just too important to the heads of the Marine Corps.
Another reason I think that Colonel Dowdy got the proverbial shaft is that his initial mission was over (he successfully acted as a decoy) but yet he still was relieved of command.
One of the key takeaways of this story for me is that you aren’t too good to be a victim of ego and chain of command issues. None of us are truly untouchable. Colonel was reportedly loved by his men, a great leader overall, and was going to be made a general when his mission was over. If someone, so seemingly great can fail on somewhat of a small “mistake” what chance do the rest of us have?
And, at the end of the day/mission/battle/war, we all have to deal with our conscious. I am sure that Colonel Dowdy’s conscious is clear. I am not so sure I can say the same about General Mattis. Interestingly, Colonel Dowdy will get some satisfaction as General Mattis is portrayed in a not so nice fashion on Generation Kill.