General Failure

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
"Like all brilliant plans, my strategy is so simple an idiot could have devised it. On my signal, all ships will file directly into the enemy death cannons, clogging them with wreckage!"

If you had taken the greatest military geniuses of the ages, placed them in command of our army, and asked them to ruin it utterly as speedily as possible, they could not - I mean it seriously - have done it as surely and swiftly as he did. And he believed he was doing his duty. The meanest sweeper in our train would have been a fitter commander.

They are ruthlessly efficient. They apparently have no trouble recruiting the vilest, evilest, nastiest, deadliest scum of the earth into their ranks. They are dedicated to power and glory and Taking Over The World! Against them, the world's only hope is the best of the best, frequently equipped with the latest weapons and an unlimited budget. In the end it comes down to the bravery, daring, skills and luck of the good guys...

...well, it would if the enemy leader wasn't a complete moron.

For some reason, villainous organizations which have no problem with kidnapping, blackmailing, threatening the destruction of the world, or even kicking puppies, somehow tolerate having an idiotic leader whose inept schemes for world domination are always foiled, often because of the utterly bizarre plans and implementation that General Failure himself is responsible for. Oh, they might bitch and moan about the dumb ideas, but it's not like they'll ever do anything about it.

Occasionally, The Watson, the Meta Guy, or other Genre Savvy characters will question the Big Bad's ludicrous schemes, but since they're not in charge, that will be it. Very often The Starscream is the only one who opposes the leader at all, making him look like the Only Sane Man on their side.

Common phrases of the general usually include "I wrote the manual on military tactic X" or "This reminds me of the time we fought enemy X in an improbable location, what a tale that is!".

General Failure may have started out as a competent commander in a position of less importance, and his success led to him being promoted beyond his capabilities. If this is the case, then it's a military example of The Peter Principle.

Most of the time the leader is also a Bad Boss, which can lead to We Have Reserves. One wonders sometimes if the good guys are secretly making sure the doofus on top stays there. General Failure is essentially the personification of Failure Is the Only Option, and is the eventual destination of severe Villain Decay. He often bears similarities to The Neidermeyer, but on a much higher scale. Compare Armchair Military, Miles Gloriosus, Modern Major-General.

Contrast Four-Star Badass, General Ripper, Colonel Badass, Sergeant Rock and Surrounded by Idiots.

No real life examples, please; calling somebody incompetent is rarely a good idea; and is even less a good idea when the person has access to heavy weaponry.

Examples of General Failure include:

Anime and Manga

  • Spandam from One Piece is an abnormally vicious variation, with some of his schemes (such as framing Tom) actually coming to fruition. Yet he's still incompetent enough to mistake a Nuclear Football for his cell phone. It's actually In the Blood since his father Spandine was about the same.
    • Granted they both do look like snails with buttons and speakers attached, and he wasn't looking at it when he pressed the button and started talking. It still is a major fuck up for the guy. He should have made sure he got the right one or kept the Golden Den Den Mushi in a more secure pocket he isn't going to touch.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam 00 gives us Klaus Grad. His victories are purely the result of Celestial Being and all his forces do is blow up, and provide other targets to distract the A-Laws. The only time Kataron actually helped Celestial Being in a meaningful way is due to someone else defecting from the A-Laws and becoming the General for that battle. However, it must be noted that he is quite aware of this, and thus insists on being the rear guard while Celestial Being does the heavy lifting, and he spends most of his time providing support (resupply and shelter) because he KNOWS that all he's realistically able to do, pretty much making him an inversion of this trope.
    • It should be noted that this is less due to any incompetence on Klaus's part and more to the sheer overwhelming technological superiority of the A-Laws who have the latest generation GN weapons while Kataron is relegated to using outdated mobile suits from the previous era, with its leaders being well aware that they are fighting a losing battle and thus dedicating more of their efforts towards attempts to disseminate information about the A-Laws' atrocities among the public rather than confronting them directly.
    • The one time Kataron does have a remotely even playing field because of the anti-beam gas, they manage to Curbstomp the A-Laws, so he isn't a failure if he isn't screwed from the beginning.
  • Lord Djibril, the leader of Blue Cosmos in Gundam Seed Destiny is rather infamous for this. He's admittedly not half bad at suckering other people to fight for him, but all of his war-winning schemes either blow up in his face spectacularly or are implied to succeed only because the true Big Bad allowed them to. Luckily for his side his Hypercompetent Sidekick, Neo Roanoke was usually on hand to mitigate the worst of it. Unluckily for everyone else in series, Djibril combined this trope with Complete Monster: his plans always failed, but they usually took thousands of people with them.
    • Yuna Roma Seiran was worse. An example of Armchair Military at its worst, he managed to make Djibril (who at least managed to kill lots of his opponents) look brilliant by comparison.
  • Justified in Fullmetal Alchemist, the Big Bad wants blood to create a giant transmutation circle so he intentionally has the ruler of Amestris put idiots as Generals since they are easy to control, and their incompetence will not only kill the enemy but their own men as well.
  • Subverted in Dragon Ball with the Red Ribbon Army. The leader, Commander Red, has been hunting for the Dragon Balls for months and his men have been routinely slaughtered by Goku. He wants the Dragon Balls so he can wish to become taller. However, his subordinates don't know that and when his second in command, Adjutant Black, finds out (he assumed they were going to wish for world domination) he executes Red in disgust and becomes leader of the Black Ribbon Army.
  • While Sosuke Aizen of Bleach can run a conspiracy like nobody's business, when it's time to make open war with society, Aizen seems to prefer inefficient Gambit Roulette to actual tactics, such as sacrificing half of his elite soldiers to temporarily stall a portion of the enemy fighting force (they get out anyway), launching a pre-emptive strike on Karakura town (that they predicted and countered), and sitting back to let his top 3 soldiers and their subordinates take care of it. (They get slaughtered, and Aizen finishes off one that was doing well himself) Ultimately, Aizen winds up fighting off the entire enemy army himself, which begs the question of why he didn't use his broken powers to make sure he won without losing his entire army besides Gin who then betrayed him and got killed. Now Aizen's all by himself.
  • Professor Cobra from Yu-Gi-Oh! GX. While his actual rank was never given, he was clearly not a competent officer while in the military. He tries to gain some sympathy from the protagonists by telling them how he was the Sole Survivor of an enemy attack during an unnamed conflict, rescuing a child whose parents were killed in the same attack. He leaves out the fact that he left his post to save the child, a serious military taboo which likely contributed to his men being killed.

Comic Books

  • Cobra Commander from G.I. Joe. The walking, talking (well, screaming and whining) example, especially in the animated version. Note that in the comics version, a civil war eventually did erupt within Cobra specifically because of his repeated failures, and he had repeated challenges for his top spot, even though that version of the character was actually competent and did pull off a win now and then.
    • The Adult Swim miniseries G.I. Joe: Resolute subverts Cobra Commander's usual tendencies, while acknowledging them. Cobra Commander states that he was merely using Obfuscating Stupidity to dig up traitors and have his subordinates think outside the box, but that it is no longer useful. Therefore, he becomes much more menacing and less tolerant of failure.

Cobra Commander: It suited me once to appear weak and cowardly, because it motivated you people to THINK! But today... is a new day...

Spock: Captain, we are under attack. Should I call for General Alert?
Kirk: Where is he?
Spock: This is no laughing matter, Captain. We have a major disaster here!
Kirk: In that case, have General Alert and Major Disaster report to the bridge -- at once!


  • Dr. Evil, in the Austin Powers movies. Keeps trying to blackmail the world with absurd schemes, even though Number Two is making the organization truckloads of money legitimately.
  • Parodied in the Bulldog Drummond spoof Bullshot. War hero 'Bullshot' Crummond keeps running into former members of his WW1 regiment "The Royal Loamshires" who have been mutilated in various ways due to his incompetence.
  • Though no specific generals are pointed out, this is the general message in Iron Eagle, where the protagonist (Doug Masters) has to steal an F-16 from the Air Force to save his dad because the government won't do anything about Doug's dad being held by an un-named Arab country somewhere in "the Med."
  • Admiral Kendal Ozzel from Star Wars. In the EU, he once served in the Clone Wars and was willing to senselessly sacrifice hundreds of clones and Jedi to win, and would surrender to save his own skin. The only reason why he even got such a high position was because he was on good terms with Palpatine.
  • The events of Zulu occur as the result of the Battle of Isandlwana, at which the British expeditionary force of 2000 sent to crush the Zulus had been massacred due to the incompetence of their leaders.


  • Visser Three later Visser One from the Animorphs embodies this trope.[context?]
  • Right now, most of the Solarian League Navy's brass falls under this trope. Many of them only hold high rank due to high-level connections (either as members of naval "dynasties" or through family ties to major defense/industrial contractors), and are arrogant enough to believe that, despite the League having had no major combat experience in centuries, that they know everything there is to know about fighting a space war.
  • Admiral Daala, from the Star Wars Expanded Universe, is described as a tactical and strategic prodigy, yet her attempts to strike back at the New Republic were easily foiled. It is debatable, whether this was caused by poor planning and disorganization, or by good guys having Suncrusher-grade plot armor when written by her creator, infamous K.J. Anderson. Her only lasting achievement was acknowledging her own failures and uniting the remaining Imperial forces under a single leader rather than a group of feuding warlords, which in fairness did lead to the Imperial Remnant getting behind her co-conspirator, the very awesome Pellaeon, and she may have gotten better by Legacy of the Force. Other books offer an array of explanations for Daala's failures - it's mentioned that she excelled at infantry tactics, while her war against the New Republic was waged by fleet. Death Star offers an Internal Retcon suggesting that she suffered brain damage at some point, while there's a long-standing rumor that she earned her rank at least partially by being Grand Moff Tarkin's lover (fair warning: the last man to mention this in Tarkin's presence was blown out of an airlock with a spacesuit on, but in a degrading orbit, with his comlink on and broadcasting).
    • Ysanne Isard, aka Iceheart, was the terrifyingly-effective leader of Imperial Intelligence, a manipulative spymaster who broke captives down into Manchurian Agents and murdered her way into becoming a major power behind the throne. She wound up as the Empire's strategic and military leader by virtue of being the highest-ranking person on Coruscant, and the same We Have Reserves mentality (with an astonishing degree of You Have Failed Me...) that served her well in covert actions became her downfall. She inadvertently caused the defection of one of the Empire's best pilots because of this, as well as her attempts to seduce him and an implied threat against his family. Her plan to defeat the New Republic by fomenting discord and bankrupting it through a biological agent required that she give up the Imperial capital to do so, and even then it was foiled by the unexpected actions of Rogue Squadron. A defecting admiral called Isard out on all this with a lengthy speech that attacked her horrible military planning, her penchant for Revenge Before Reason, and love of grandiose plans with little logic and a massive waste of resources.
      • Isard can be seen as a rare justified example. Isard is extremely effective when she's in her element, for example as a spymaster or in political maneuvering. However, she is completely out of her depth when it comes to military matters and statesmanship.
    • It can be argued that more than a few Expanded Universe villains fall under this by following Emperor Palpatine's "make a giant superweapon with a convenient weak point" tactic. The ones who don't have a high chance of being written by Timothy Zahn.
  • Stellenbosh by Rudyard Kipling describes how it feels to have such a commander.
  • General Lord Ronald Rust from Jingo, part of the Discworld series, a man who believes nursery stories qualify as military precedent and will deliberately pursue a moronic strategy because the enemy won't expect it.
  • Subverted with Kitiara of Dragonlance- she looks like she's losing a lot, but is very good at snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. She'd have you believe this was all part of her Evil Plan, though it's more likely she's just very good at improvised Xanatos Speed Chess until she gets backstabbed by the one minion she thought was loyal... Also, she was winning handily, despite being hampered by incompetent and backstabbing superiors and colleagues, until she had the misfortune to face perhaps the greatest military genius in the history of Krynn.
  • Ivan Paskevich is portrayed as this in The Death of the Vazir Mukhtar, although a) he's actually pretty successful, though this is is usually attributed to his Hypercompetent Sidekicks and b) not altogether incompetent - he's a good tactician, just not supreme theatre commander material and a bad strategist, and the latter has actually made him a master of the Indy Ploy.
  • In The Crystal Shard, Akar Kessel decides to magically enslave an army to conquer all he surveys. If he knew anything about commanding an army, he might have actually won. It's repeatedly Lampshaded by both Errtu and the Crystal Shard itself, who both offer him good advice that he continually rejects, mostly to indulge his Control Freak tendencies.
  • The Malwa in the Belisarius Series. They place purity and bloodlines above competence to the point that, even with the advantage in numbers, technical assistance from an Outside Context Villain is the only reason for thier success thus far.
  • In the Star Trek Enterprise Relaunch novels, Romulan Praetor D'deridex insisted on opening up a front at Haakona despite the Romulans being occupied fighting a full-out war with the Human/Andorian/Tellarite alliance. Admiral Valdore had no choice but to follow orders, despite knowing a war on two fronts would be a disaster for Romulus.
  • Mentioned in Harry Harrison's The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You, where one of the first hostile actions of the aliens against humanity is the kidnapping of the top brass of the Space Navy. Their subordinates immediately took over the responsibilities, vastly improving the efficiency of the fleet.
  • Desdel Stareye, a night elf commander of La Résistance during The War of the Ancients. While his predecessor, Kur'talos Ravencrest, was an experienced general (if a bit too political for his own good), Stareye was incompetent and only got to a commanding position due to his status as a nobleman. He hated non-elves and relegated tauren, furbolg, and earthen (proto-dwarves) to support roles, despite them being at their best on the front lines. He also refused to listen to Rhonin, Broxigar, and Krasus, despite the latter posing as an elf, even though all of them have plenty of experience fighting the Burning Legion. His "grand" battle plan involved the combined army marching at the enemy in a staggered formation, whose "tips" were supposed to break through the enemy lines. While this worked at first, this was revealed to be a trap, resulting in many casualties, including Stareye himself. After his death, the lowborn Jarod Shadowsong took command and proved to be at least as (if not more) competent as Ravencrest. He also actively supported integrating the non-elven troops into the army. After the end of the war, Jarod became one of the leaders of the night elf society.
  • "Captain America" in Generation Kill is described as this.

Live-Action TV

  • Colonel Klink from Hogan's Heroes, an example where the good guys were going out of their way to keep the idiot in charge.
    • Interestingly, this was at the insistence of Klink's actor, Werner Klemperer. Klemperer's Jewish family fled Germany during the Third Reich, and he later enlisted in the American army to help fight in World War II. He consented to play Klink only on the condition that Hogan and company would always win the day and that Klink was portrayed as a complete idiot rather than a competent Nazi who's simply outplayed by the heroes.
  • General Sir Anthony Hogmanay Melchett in Blackadder Goes Forth, a parody of British WWI generals.
    • Then there was this series' version of Field Marshal Haig, whose primary battle plans involved British soldiers walking slowly across the battlefield, which had already been tried 18 times without success.
  • Colonel Flagg from M*A*S*H. Not exactly a "villain," but a certainly an "antagonist" who always fails in his "intelligence" missions.
    • Most combat commanders on M*A*S*H regardless of which side they're on get this treatment, as the central conflict is the medical staff versus everyone else (and particularly the people running the war).
    • The series portrays just about everyone above the rank of captain in this manner, with a few exceptions, most of them doctors. All generals are shown to be career-minded war-mongers who have little care about the lives of the soldiers they lead.
      • A wonderful counter-example is the British Maj. Ross, played by Bernard Fox, in the 6th season episode "Tea and Empathy". His apparent callous heartlessness to his wounded men is his way of reassuring them that they will fully recover. The initial conflict between him and Hawkeye, and the reconciliation after the reveal, are both very well played.
  • "Captain America" in the Generation Kill mini series.

Tabletop Games

  • Warhammer 40,000 features more than a few Imperial generals who fit this description, officers who got their ranks through family connections and have never been in actual combat. Their strategies tend to center around the fact that the Imperial Guard has a lot of men in it, and if you throw enough of them at the enemy you'll eventually win. Some generals even manage to screw that up.
    • Canonically, Abaddon the Despoiler is one of the most feared figures in the galaxy, an unstoppable warrior with the willpower to unite the factions of Chaos into devastating Black Crusades, a psychopathic champion of the Dark Gods who has put off his own ascension to daemonhood just so he can continue to slaughter Imperials in the mortal realm. Fanonically he's an incompetent halfwit (with no arms) who finds ways to lose despite having billions of followers, the support of all four Chaos Gods, and ten thousand years to plan and execute his schemes. In-universe, the primary reason for his failure is that the single most fortified world in Imperial space is directly in the path he has to take to get out of the Eye of Terror, his so much as raising his head gets the entire Space Marine Corp dropped on it, and the Imperium doesn't care how many people die as long as he goes away when it's over. And then there are the hints that the Black Crusades are better called "Black Skirmishes"...
  • Vlad Drakov, a permanent guest of the Ravenloft setting, has this enforced on him as his darklord curse. Previously, he had been a successful mercenary general who was nonetheless treated with disdain by the rulers who hired him and his men and had aspired to rule a land of his own. After being taken into the mists, he found himself ruling Falkovnia, a domain under perpetual martial law, where soldiers were the most respected of professions and he ruled with an iron fist. However, his section of real estate was surrounded by domains ruled by women and fops, not the men of war he wanted to be recognized by. He tries constantly to invade other lands, but the Demiplane itself will never allow him to win, even against the relatively puny and undermanned forces of his neighbors. While the Dark Powers gave him rulership of a Domain, he can never get what he truly wanted, respect and admiration from other leaders and any true success as a military leader, and with every crushing defeat (and mind you, every defeat he suffers is crushing), his reputation as a hamfisted, incompetent tyrant spreads, the exact opposite of the respect he wants to achieve.
    • In 5th Edition, Vlad is replaced by a Distaff Counterpart called Vladeska Drakov who is arguably even worse. Under her rule, Falkovnia is on the verge of a Zombie Apocalypse that sends hordes of undead to assault the domain's towns every new moon; only Vladeska knows this undead army is made up of once-innocent victims she and her army unjustly slaughtered. A sane general would have ordered this cursed land evacuated, but Vladeska's stubbornness, pride, and inability to admit defeat puts more and more of her subjects in danger with each assault. She is determined that her soul will be sentenced to damnation in Hell before she retreats, unaware that it already has.

Video Games

  • In any strategy game, real time, or turn based, you can be this trope in at any time! An AI player on Easy or below also normally counts.
  • Some might argue that this trope applies to General RAAM in Gears of War. No matter how many Locust are currently active on the planet of Sera, you will only ever face 4-men squads. "General, our 4-man squads are being decimated! What should we do?!" "...Send another 4-man squad."
    • Wankable, really; Delta Squad is constantly on the move in-game, and whenever they reach a location where they have to stop or delay for any length of time, the Locust start sending much larger numbers of troops after them. It seems more consistent with Delta Squad constantly encountering roving hunting patrols searching for them instead of fighting an entire army.
    • The Queen seems to have taken a hint in Gears of War 2, which sends waves of drones at you.
    • This trope is completely averted in the RAAM's Shadow DLC for Gears 3. RAAM's forces quickly overwhelm Illima and he deploys Brumaks to attack evacuation convoys as well as ordering his sniper teams to take position up on top of buildings where you can't flush them out with grenades. Furthermore, he leads an elite strike team personally in what is probably the most fun mission in the series.
  • Winston Payne of the Ace Attorney series: despite being apparently one of the relatively higher ups in the setting's prosecutor office, his main job is to show up and lose quickly to the player at the beginning of each game. The fact that Phoenix initially seems to have lost a case to him in the third case of Trials and Tribulations is taken by all involved as evidence that something fishy is going on namely someone impersonating Phoenix attempting to intentionally lose.
    • Heavily lampshaded, as no one takes Winston seriously in the AA-verse; he's still called "the Rookie Killer" out of respect for what he used to be, but everyone acknowledges he isn't nearly up to that par anymore. On that note, it should be noted that he's only called "Rookie Killer" by people who actually remember him. Both Phoenix Wright and Miles Edgeworth have demonstrated a complete ignorance of who he is, at times. Miles even mistook him for someone on the cleaning staff.
  • Lord Crump from Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door.
  • Senator Valtome, Duke of Culbert in Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn. His first act as general of Tellius' largest and most powerful army? Sending troops to a horrible, fiery death in an attempt to search for the enemy's corpses.
    • Randolph from Fire Emblem: Three Houses is another spectacularly bad leader. In the Azure Moon, Verdant Wind, and Silver Snow routes, he can lose almost his entire army by unintentionally sending them into a fire trap after being angered by a petty insult.
  • Prince Thrakhath of the Wing Commander series, especially in the Expanded Universe. Every single master plan he's made for the defeat of the Confederation has ultimately failed (many through the interference of Geoffrey Tolwyn), and if it weren't for the fact that he's the Emperor's designated heir, he would have been assassinated long ago. It is thought by many Kilrathi (in private, if they want to keep their heads) that it's Thrakhath's obsession with the humans that's driving the war, to the net detriment of their society, especially since the real purpose is to prepare them to face an even greater threat from deeper in the galaxy. Thrakhath's failure ultimately leads to the destruction of Kilrah and the utter defeat of the Empire.
    • To his credit, Thrakhath did have major victories between games, and on fronts where the hero wasn't flying. His father, who was the commander of the fleet that destroyed the Goddard colony in Secret Missions could definitely be argued to be this, seeing as his career ended with You Have Failed Me....
  • Played pretty straight in X-COM: UFO Defense. Having a Good Bad Bug that reset the game to "easy" didn't help of course, but once you've flown to Cydonia and gunned your way through, the Big Bad turns out to be a giant brain which supposedly controls the aliens, but does absolutely nothing in game terms. It will sit there doing nothing until you shoot it dead.
  • Medal of Honor has a rare good guy example in the reboot, in the form of General Flagg, who micromanages the operation via a teleconference while wearing a business suit.
  • Sanan generals Ku-Embra and Ku-Tsung in Golden Sun: Dark Dawn. They're deadly in combat, but poor strategists; when the protagonists arrive, their soldiers are all milling around aimlessly rather than engaging in anything productive, and the protagonists realize that as long as the generals don't specifically give them new orders, that's all they'll do.
  • General Duke of StarCraft, who has the misfortune of regularly being on the opposing side of whichever army you're playing through virtually the entire run of the game and its expansion. As a result, in game he wins precisely one battle; over Tarsonis, a planet whose defenses he already knows inside and out. Other then that, he gets spanked by Raynor's Raiders in their escape from the Dominion, he gets thrashed by the Zerg on Char, he gets a fleet vaporized by the Protoss under Tassadar, he gets another fleet wiped out by the UED, he gets thrashed by the UED once more on Korhal, and at last Kerrigan mercifully wipes him and his men out in a surprise attack after the UED have been driven off Korhal again. Suffice to say, his track record after joining forces with Mengsk was a bit spotty.
    • All the while, Duke is saying that his Alpha Squadron is far better than all the other Confederate squadrons. Doesn't say much about the Confederate military if that's true. Then again, the novels heavily imply that Duke only got his post thanks to him being from the Old Families.
    • Similarly, Horace Warfield in Star Craft 2 doesn't ever seem to be able to accomplish anything except get shot down. Eventually, he joins the ground war and lets the player do the commanding.
  • In Fallout: New Vegas, we have General Lee Oliver, or "General Wait-And-See" as many of his troops call him. According to Boone, he received his position via nepotism. His strategy (or "Tunnel Vision" as Mr. House calls it) to defend Hoover Dam from Caesar's Legion consists of one glorious slaughterhouse on the dam, in an effort to overshadow Ranger Chief Hanlon's more tactically nuanced defense of the dam four years earlier.
    • Funnily enough, it's possible to use Oliver's incompetence to your own advantage against Legate Lanius. With a high enough speech, you can to convince Lanius that the NCR is setting a trap for him. Thinking that this is probably the reason that he managed to get this far (and considering that's how Graham lost the previous battle), he'll decide to retreat rather than going out like a punk.
    • In the backstory, Joshua Graham was stated to be neither tactically flexible nor strategically brilliant, though he was a terrifying General Ripper and a deadly warrior who went up primarily against tribals and raiders. When up against actual tacticians like Hanlon however he ends up charging his army into a Defensive Feint Trap.
  • When he still had an army, Kratos from the God of War series. His primary method of spreading the glory of Sparta is by slaughtering cities, and ended up nearly dying and losing most of that army because he faced off against a numerically superior foe in open terrain, which is especially ironic given the primary source of Spartan combat fame. How does he save the day? Selling his soul to Ares and letting the actual god of war win the fight for him.
  • Vice-Admiral Arthur Norbank in Nexus the Jupiter Incident. The guy is a smug jerk who constantly puts you down as an amateur despite your numerous victories against the Gorgs, while he constantly experiences spectacular failures that result in many of experienced men dying. He constantly disregards intel gathered by agents (especially Ghosts) and then blames them when things turn sour. The guy's most famous victory against the Gorgs was mostly due to the element of surprise, as the Gorgs were expecting to fight the Vardrags and have never even seen a human before. Despite losing his flagship many times, Norbank always seems to survive. Luckily, in one of a later missions, you have the option of not saving him from a derelict ship without being penalized in any way.
  • Tazar in Last Scenario is an unpleasant combination of this and Armchair Military. It's eventually lampshaded that he never wins a battle, and the closest he comes to a dignified loss is by switching sides to the enemy.
  • Arguably, the Prophets from Halo. They outnumber humanity, possess far superior technology, and have the ruins of an ancient civilization to build upon, yet their religion prevents them from using or developing this tech in any meaningful way. The Expanded Universe even states that they can't use such technology effectively because they never actually learned advanced mathematics.

Web Comics

  • Vexxarr has the Bleen Empire habitually less than competent. And then there's this Admiral. His pilot explains how the "command & control" really work there.

Web Original

  • Blue Laser Commander in Homestar Runner's Show Within a Show Cheat Commandos is a brutal parody of Cobra Commander. Ironically, Blue Laser Commander's failures are attributable less to his own incompetence and more to the fact that the Cheat Commandos are generally a danger to themselves and everything else.
  • Applies to The Salvation War during the Curbstomp War of 2008; there's several cases of daemon generals who just don't get it. It doesn't help that the human militaries are actively attempting to deny them, but their mistakes compound the inevitable and turn mere defeats or could-have-been-surrenders into massacres.
  • Sarge from Red vs. Blue progressively becomes more and more like this as the series progresses, eventually overruling his subordinates' more rational ideas in favor of his own ones based on Mad Science - for example, suggesting the use of a radiation-induced strength to lift an object where using a jack would be just as appropriate (and more readily available).
  • Captain, who leads the titular pirates of Lego Pirate Misadventures either botches everything on his first attempt, or will momentarily succeed, only to have everything get exponentially worse. This applies double if whatever he's attempting is in any way nautical, such as when he got lost at sea for two years because he failed to notice his compass was malfunctioning.
  • Wolfgang Henrich at the German side, in the Chaos Timeline's World War Two.
  • Kismet, leader of the Vindicators in the Whateley Universe. Despite the personnel on the team, she consistently gets bad results because no one on the team wants to (or can) work with her, and her plans stink. The one time she managed to get herself blasted unconscious at the start of the simulation, her teammates came up with a new plan, executed it flawlessly, and won.

Western Animation

  • In Justice League Unlimited, Gorilla Grodd takes control of the rag-tag band of villains who've organized themselves. They commit daring crimes under his leadership, to support his ultimate plan... which turns out to be turning the entire population of the world into apes. Lex Luthor's response is to shoot him. After Luthor is given the Klingon Promotion, Sinestro sarcastically suggests to Luthor that he should make the world go bald for their next evil scheme. This is a Shout-Out to the Silver Age, where comic book villains were fond of grandiose, nonsensical schemes for altering the world to their liking. Grodd was portrayed as a competent leader, except for the whole "turn the world into apes" thing.
    • Of course, Luthor then turns around and nearly runs the Secret Society into the ground with high membership fees, constant insults to his colleagues, and an even-crazier mad scheme which would ultimately make Luthor into God while giving the rest of them nothing, save enough goodwill for him to allow their continued existence. Understandably, most of the Society rebel... only to learn that this was Luthor's plan all along, to weed out the traitors in his ranks before implementing the final phase.
  • Lampshaded in Care Bears: Adventures in Care-A-Lot, in which Grizzle's own robot assistant UR-2 informs him that his frequent failures are mainly his own fault (considering that Grizzle frequently "talks" to an inanimate "robot" named Mr. Beaks, it's not hard to see why).
  • Megatron in Transformers Generation 1. To be fair, he was often also Surrounded by Idiots, but we're talking about a bad guy who was once defeated by a can of spray paint. And then there's his willingness to keep Starscream around, even though not only was Starscream a traitor but an idiot as well. This is lampshaded in the Marvel Comics version where after Starscream pulls the inevitable backstab. Megatron asks himself why he brought Starscream back to life:

"Why? That's what they all asked me. Why him... why Starscream? Why, of all Decepticons, did I decide to revitalize the one whose record of deceit and betrayal is legend? Because I'm an idiot, that's why!"

    • Other versions of Megatron (notably Beast Wars and Transformers Animated) avert this- even though his ultimate plans still fail, he comes very close and definitely comes out a victor in some individual episodes.
  • Futurama has this trope's poster boy: Zapp Brannigan. He's not evil, per se; but he's usually against the protagonists due to his own total incompetence. His deeds have included fighting the Killbots by sacrificing millions of soldiers until the Killbots reached their limit and shut down, attacking the Hubble Space Telescope (in fairness, it did have a defense capability), ordering his ships to make a run so as to clog the enemy ship weapons with their own wreckage, getting his ship sliced in half by flying through a giant windmill despite being told what would happen, destroying an entire repair station due to impatience, destroying the brand new headquarters of The Federation by using his ships' laser at full power to cut the inauguration ribbon, attacking a strategically unimportant planet for no reason and wasting the element of surprise by dumping his soldiers out through the ship's floor, getting enough women killed through fraternization that the army banned them from his command, trying to get the protagonists arrested multiple times, and being taken out in the first second of Bender's Big Score's final battle. He has won offscreen victories (against the Pacifists of the Gandhi Nebula, for instance), and taken credit for other people's deeds, however, so he keeps his job, and is even well-regarded by many.
    • Brannigan's best moment is when he gives all of earth's defense codes to an enemy named "Hugh Mann" who disguised himself as a human by wearing oven mitts.

Zapp Brannigan: Hugh Mann! Now that's a name I can trust!

    • And of course, this is all before getting into the fact that Brannigan is a sex-obsessed Jerkass who will do just about anything it takes to manipulate a woman into sleeping with him, and then afterwards treat her like she's madly in love with him, when in reality the only two times he's willingly gotten a woman into bed involved pity sex and taking advantage of a new widow.

Leela: For a split second, my reason was overwhelmed by pity.
Zapp: A split second is all it takes.

  • Admiral Zhao of Avatar: The Last Airbender is utterly terrible at his job. His list of accomplishments include:
    • Getting beaten up by a teenager, despite being a master firebender, and his opponent still struggling with the basics.
    • Successfully capturing the Avatar, (read, got an elite group of marksmen to do it while he stayed behind), then placing him under a token guard, (read, two guys), and gathering the rest of the garrison together so he can make a speech to them.
    • Setting fire to his own boat because a twelve year old was making fun of him.
    • Killing the freaking moon, thereby dooming all of humanity, including himself.
  • Invader Zim has only one soldier under his command - Zim himself - but his plans and general behaviour are bang on target with this trope. The one time he was ever given command of anything, he managed to halt an entire galactic invasion single-handed by going on a rampage in a gigantic robot without realising he hadn't left his home planet. Lampshaded mercilessly all the time (Zim's ego just won't let him acknowledge it), but of particular note is the episode when he manages to get GIR to stay in Duty Mode. GIR becomes competent enough to realise the primary obstacle to Zim conquering Earth is Zim himself, and subsequently tries to kill him so GIR can do it properly:
    • The Start of Darkness unaired episode shows that Zim wasn't even put in charge of that robot, having been initially confined to a circle by his leaders, escaping and later hijacking the thing.
    • The episode Hobo-13 shows that if put in the command of a group of soldiers Zim will needlessly sacrifice everyone until he alone succeeds, using them as either bridges to cross a gap (when there's a tree nearby to knock down), using others as bait and even using his last remaining soldier as a battering ram. Needless to say, the Drill Sergeant failed him so hard he got bruises.
  • Sidorak in Bionicle 3: Web of Shadows is depicted as a barely capable oaf who can't even hit a target that's bigger than he is, doesn't like to (more likely can't) fight, and is easily manipulated by Roodaka. In the books, he is actually a pretty decent leader, and his only fault is that he spends too much time on the battlefield. Unfortunately, the writers picked up his negative portrayal, and now Word of God claims he actually was a weakling who had cheated his way to glory.
  • Exo Squad has Captain Marcus. All of his tactics mostly involve attacking right away with no thought of any battleplans what so ever. Most of which end in spectacular failure.
    • Also his complete disregard for the use of Exo-Frames in any form. This is especially telling considering the show is about a squad of E-frame pilots.
  • General Specific from Sheep in The Big City. The man can't manage to catch one sheep in a city where nobody likes sheep.