Monday, November 9, 2009

Casey favors Afghanistan escalation, but should he?

Army Chief of Staff GEN George Casey lent his support yesterday to GEN McChrystal's request for additional U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

"I believe that we need to put additional forces into Afghanistan to give Gen. [Stanley] McChrystal the ability to both dampen the success of the Taliban while we train the Afghan security forces," Gen. Casey said on the NBC News program "Meet the Press," referring to the U.S. commander in Kabul.

Gen. Casey declined to say whether he backed Gen. McChrystal's specific request for
40,000 additional troops. But he joins other military officials, including Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in voicing public support for a new buildup.

Gen. Casey's backing could carry more weight than others'. When he was commander in Iraq -- a position he held until early 2007 -- the general was only a reluctant supporter of the "surge" of forces into Iraq. At the time, he expressed concerns that more U.S. troops could anger Iraqis and put dangerous levels of stress on American forces. He has raised similar concerns about repeated deployments since taking over the top Army job in 2007.

That last paragraph highlights why GEN Casey's endorsement of an Afghan "surge" is so unexpected (well, at least by me) and potentially important: his priority over the last several years -- even as commander of MNF-I -- has often seemed to be the health of the Army rather than accomplishment of the mission. On the one hand, Casey's support for additional forces is a welcome development as it demonstrates his prioritization of strategic objectives: the Army is a tool in the national arsenal, a means through which national objectives are accomplished; its health should not in itself be the priority. (Of course I understand that there's a useful deterrent effect to be gained from maintaining a robust, mobile, expeditionary ground force, and I'm not suggesting we should allow it to atrophy. Rather if the president and the Congress determine that its use and possible degradation are necessary in the pursuit of the national interest, then casualties, OPTEMPO, equipment wear, dwell time, and so on become secondary concerns.)

Now on the other hand, I'm not sure a service chief should be weighing in on the resource requests of a combatant or theater commander. He's well within his rights to say "the Army can (or cannot) support this request with existing resources," or "here are the potential consequences (in dwell time, overall readiness, etc.) of sending additional troops." But is it his job to be passing judgment on how the mission gets accomplished, or what the political leadership should be providing resource-wise to the battlefield commander?

At the end of the day, the modern Army's primary function is to serve as a provider of trained and ready land forces for employment by the combatant commanders. (There's a reason we have an Army Chief of Staff rather than an Army Commanding General.) GEN Casey should've spoken up when he was a field commander. It's that guy's job to determine what forces are neccessary to accomplish a specific mission; the service is there to serve him.

As for now, he might've missed his window. He's gotten it exactly backwards: service chiefs should be concerned with the health of their service, with the sustainability of each particular mission and deployment, and with the effects of conflict on the force as it plays a part in the bigger picture.

6 comments:

  1. "But is it his job to be passing judgment on how the mission gets accomplished, or what the political leadership should be providing resource-wise to the battlefield commander?"

    Well, by statute it kind of is. He sits on the JCS. Indeed, he's uniquely called upon to advise the CJCS, Congress and the president on the ability of the Army to meet the mission it's been given.

    Casey doesn't rule on resources in this capacity, but rather follows the law and direction as given to him by Congress and the president.

    SNLII

    ReplyDelete
  2. SNLII -- Well, by statute it kind of is. He sits on the JCS. Indeed, he's uniquely called upon to advise the CJCS, Congress and the president on the ability of the Army to meet the mission it's been given.

    Casey doesn't rule on resources in this capacity, but rather follows the law and direction as given to him by Congress and the president.


    This is where I'm let down by my failure to effectively express my thoughts in English, what with it being ma deuxieme langue and all...

    Seriously though, when I read back I didn't make myself very clear. I recognize that the Chief's responsibility is to advise the President, via the CJCS, about the Army's ability to source or accomplish various missions. And that's why I wrote this:

    He's well within his rights to say "the Army can (or cannot) support this request with existing resources," or "here are the potential consequences (in dwell time, overall readiness, etc.) of sending additional troops."

    But should the Chief be endorsing a particular resource request? I agree that it's his place to say "yes, the Army can support this request" (or alternatively, no it can't). But here it seems like he's doing a little more editorializing, offering what in his capacity as a service chief must qualify as a personal opinion: that he thinks escalation is a good idea, or the best way to accomplish the mission for which GEN McChrystal, CENTCOM, and the President are ultimately responsible. He's not in the chain of command for this one (or for anything operational, really), so while this may be his best military advice, I'm not sure he should be engaged in advocacy (which, let's be honest, is what it is when you go on "Meet the Press" and say "I think the President ought to do this").

    ReplyDelete
  3. SNLII, meant to say that :-) Gulliver, if any member of congress asks Casey for his advise on the Afghan mission, he is required to answer them to the best of his ability, even if he disagrees with the President. However, I believe that he can insist that his advice be classified.

    Gulliver, I think Casey acted appropriately.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Gulliver, if any member of congress asks Casey for his advise on the Afghan mission, he is required to answer them to the best of his ability, even if he disagrees with the President.

    Of course he is. But he wasn't asked by a member of Congress, was he? This wasn't a hearing in which his "best military advice" was requested (I'd like to say that Congress knows better than to call a service chief as a witness in a hearing about an operational matter, but...); it was a media appearance.

    Again, let me clarify what I was saying: it's Casey's right to express his opinion, obviously, but his professional responsibility in this case is to say something like "the Army is capable of sustaining this sort of escalation" (or not). And if he were asked by a member of Congress for his opinion, he's well within his rights to say "my personal opinion on this matter isn't relevant; here's what I can tell you as the Chief of Staff of the Army."

    ReplyDelete
  5. "And if he were asked by a member of Congress for his opinion, he's well within his rights to say "my personal opinion on this matter isn't relevant; here's what I can tell you as the Chief of Staff of the Army" Legally, this is incorrect. Casey is required to give his complete unvarnished opinion to the Congress, including with respect to operational strategy and tactics. If a member of Congress asks Casey about a specific aspect of McChrystal's strategy or performance, Casey is required to answer the question, even if it is critical of McChrystal, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Secretary of Defense, or President Obama. What Casey can do is insist that his answer be classified.

    Casey can also ask for time to research and reflect on a question before answering it (for example if he is unfamiliar with operational details), but Casey cannot refuse to answer the answer given to him by Congress. Casey's high degree of classified access means that he can research and answer almost any question asked of him.

    All members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are under this same obligation to the Congress.

    Every three star and four star makes an oath to the Senate, and they are held to that oath. For all the Commander in Chief rhetoric, the US military reports to the Senate.

    However, you are right that Gen Casey doesn't have to respond to press questions. He also has the prerogative to answer Congressional questions in closed session.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Anand -- Legally, this is incorrect. Casey is required to give his complete unvarnished opinion to the Congress, including with respect to operational strategy and tactics. If a member of Congress asks Casey about a specific aspect of McChrystal's strategy or performance, Casey is required to answer the question, even if it is critical of McChrystal, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Secretary of Defense, or President Obama.

    Where do you get this idea?

    10 USC Sec. 151:

    -HEAD-
    Sec. 151. Joint Chiefs of Staff: composition; functions

    -STATUTE-
    (a) Composition. - There are in the Department of Defense the Joint Chiefs of Staff, headed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Joint Chiefs of Staff consist of the following:
    (1) The Chairman.
    (2) The Vice Chairman.
    (3) The Chief of Staff of the Army.
    (4) The Chief of Naval Operations.
    (5) The Chief of Staff of the Air Force.
    (6) The Commandant of the Marine Corps.

    (b) Function as Military Advisers. - (1) The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the principal military adviser to the President, the National Security Council, the Homeland Security Council, and the Secretary of Defense.
    (2) The other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are military advisers to the President, the National Security Council, the Homeland Security Council, and the Secretary of Defense as specified in subsections (d) and (e).
    (c) Consultation by Chairman. - (1) In carrying out his functions, duties, and responsibilities, the Chairman shall, as he considers appropriate, consult with and seek the advice of -
    (A) the other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and
    (B) the commanders of the unified and specified combatant commands.

    (2) Subject to subsection (d), in presenting advice with respect to any matter to the President, the National Security Council, the Homeland Security Council, or the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman shall, as he considers appropriate, inform the President, the National Security Council, the Homeland Security Council, or the Secretary of Defense, as the case may be, of the range of military advice and opinion with respect to that matter.
    ...
    (e) Advice on Request. - The members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, individually or collectively, in their capacity as military advisers, shall provide advice to the President, the National Security Council, the Homeland Security Council, or the Secretary of Defense on a particular matter when the President, the National Security Council, the Homeland Security Council, or the Secretary requests such advice.
    (f) Recommendations to Congress. - After first informing the Secretary of Defense, a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff may make such recommendations to Congress relating to the Department of Defense as he considers appropriate.

    ReplyDelete