Wednesday, September 9, 2009
I am currently reading through CSBA's Regaining Strategic Competence (boy that Dr. K is a smart guy). I hope to do a longer analysis of it when I'm done, but thought it prudent to discuss some of the earlier points in it - especially as some of it has been bothering me for a while.
The premise of the monograph is to demonstrate America's waning ability to competently think about and plan strategy - and not because of Iraq alone (which might be proof enough). Additionally, while the authors believe that some organizational changes are required, the organization of the national security apparatus is not the core problem with our strategic deficiencies. It is more about process.
From a military standpoint, planning is a fairly set process in how it is done. I was not a strategic planner in the Army, but from the ones that I know, it isn't terribly different than planning at the operational or high-tactical level - from a process point of view. It is a balancing of your own resources and capabilities versus those of your adversary towards some desired endstate. Pretty straightforward, right?
It seems not. Krepinevich and Watts lay out a list of strategic performance pitfalls. While they all seem valid to me, two jump out immediately. Check out numbers 9 and 10. First, there are few people who have the natural acumen for strategy (which I hope to address later) and second is the failure to understand the adversary (which we'll talk about here).
In standard military planning, on top of templating the enemy (equipment and disposition), the intel planner should lay out two very specific things that are somewhere between extremely educated guesses and wild assed guesses: the enemy's Most Dangerous Course of Action (MDCOA) and Most Likely Course of Action (MLCOA). The former is if everything went right for the enemy and is a worst-case scenario for your side. The latter is what the enemy is probably going to do. The command needs to be aware of the MDCOA and hopefully have branches of the plan to address it. But the plan should generally be built around the MLCOA. Simple, right?
Except lately, at the strategic level, we've completely ignored the MDCOA. I'm not sure why this is: optimism or ignorance I imagine. Had that analysis been done correctly, we probably wouldn't have gotten as mired in Iraq and Afghanistan as we are now because we would have had viable plans years ago. But it gets worse. That same optimism/ignorance has degraded the MLCOA so it doesn't even come close to reality. Iraq and Afghanistan (and arguably Kosovo before it) were plans based on the Least Dangerous Course of Action (LDCOA - my invention and not in FM 1-02 or whatever it's called these days) - that is if the enemy did everything you wanted it to so as to make quick work of your operation. Why wouldn't the enemy do everything in it's power to destroy itself in our interests?
Assuming (or really hoping) that things will get better or just betting that whatever you and your allies do, in a vacuum separated from the enemy's resources and capabilities, will bring about victory is just stupid. A platoon leader would be fired for doing that - why shouldn't a G/J staff? Or some of the NSC? Intellectual laziness, ideology, and just downright stupidity have no place in the framing and planning of the nation's strategy.
I would argue that most of the evidence I've seen thus far in the monograph is not new. Putting it all together to frame our ability (or lack of ability) to effectively plan at the strategic level is new. Please go read this paper - it is worth your time.