Friday, August 20, 2010

A Number of Voids Need to be Filled. With a New CMR Paradigm.

In a post this morning, Dr. Finel extrapolates upon my post yesterday and his own from the day before. Keeping this post from from Adam Elkus in mind, I have to say that I agree with everything Bernard has written in his latest. Except for one thing.

I am not making the Yingling argument from "Failure in Generalship." I was just noting that I see the nature of military culture filling the void of strategic incoherence. Where I disagree, vehemently, with COL Yingling is that in no way, shape, or form should generals fill that strategic void with operational art. Observing that this is occurring is not the same as endorsing this reality.
I stated that our civilian leaders need to provide the military with strategic leadership and I stand by that: it is how civ-mil relations should be balanced in our system and we're witnessing the repercussions of their failure to provide that leadership. Operational art is no substitute for strategy or grand strategy. But as this conversation has progressed over the past day or so, I agree with Adam that civilian leaders are unlikely to provide that strategic guidance any time soon. So now what?

Honestly, I have no idea at this point. But I think this should cause us to pause and think about what civ-mil relations should look like in an era of strategic uncertainty. Military officers dictating policy because civilians can't or won't is not a durable solution (especially in the arena of public lobbying for war support). A new paradigm must be created and new lines of responsibilities need to drawn, because the current system does not support the strategic realities we're facing now and in the foreseeable future. I don't know that Bernard would agree with me here, but I still see it as incumbent upon the civilian leaders to create the new rules or military culture will continue to expand and fill the strategic void. Where Bernard and I likely agree is that we can't continue to allow that expansion to happen.


  1. The current problem in Civil-Military relations lies less in our failure to articulate a coherent strategy or in military culture than in the imbalanced institutional weight of the military in regional strategic planning and policy.

    We maintain six regional combatant commands with large staffs and equally large subordinate supporting organizations to focus on developing and executing operational art as a substitute for strategy within their defined geographic regions. The State Department by contrast maintains comparatively tiny regional bureau offices in Washington D.C. with miniscule budgets and even less institutional heft to direct regional efforts. The budget for just Pacific Command and its subordinate organizations is significantly larger than the budget of the entire State Department.

    This has de facto abrogated responsibility for regional policy to the Combatant Commanders. Until we rebalance our institutional design away from a dysfunctional military-led, civilian-supported structure towards proper civilian-led, military-supported regional efforts, there is little hope for a sea change in civil-military relations.


  2. Nick - institutional re-balancing must be part of it and I note your point. But I'm a little skeptical that a more robust DoS will solve the problem. Especially given their cultural inability to do future planning beyond 3-year budgetary horizons and their insistence on managing current operations. It will help, but I don't think it will solve the crux of the problem. But it will need significant cultural change in the civilian institutions in the USG to accept the leadership of strategy development.

  3. I actually thought Bernard's most recent post was very good, but I differ with him on his closing point: GEN Petraeus can easily be prevented from taking his case to the public if that's not what the president wants; he merely needs to be given that order. If the president says "listen Dave, it's not your job to do PR for this effort, and it's not appropriate for you to be speaking to the American people," and GEN Petraeus can't provide a compelling rationale for why the president is wrong on that, then bang, done. As usual, Bernard lets the political leadership off the hook when it's as simple as making a decision and giving an order.

    The problem is that the president knows he gets political cover from letting GEN Petraeus articulate the rationale and spell out the details. President Obama can say "this is my guy, he's the expert, I'm giving him the mission and the resources and he has the freedom to execute as he deems most appropriate," and then he's insulated from the negative consequences of any specific decision about tactics or operational approach.

    The big issue with Afghanistan is this: the president is pinned down by his earlier commitments, by his easy reliance on the facile argument that American involvement in that country is necessary to keep planes from flying into buildings in Manhattan. And because that's such a simple thing for the American people to believe, because it doesn't require leadership or effort or the elaboration of complex ideas for people to think "yeah, sure, that sounds right," we end up in a situation where the military has to execute on a senseless tasking based almost entirely on general ignorance and political palatability.

    GEN Petraeus and GEN McChrystal have facilitated that reality, but isn't that their job? They're given a mission, and they get it done. They've determined that the way to get it done, unsurprisingly, is more resources and longer timelines. The responsibility is on the president to say "that's not gonna happen," or to articulate a broader national security strategy that SHOWS people that the "necessary" resource commitment in Afghanistan is totally out of synch with our global strategic approach. He hasn't done that, and his senior staff hasn't done that.

    This is the only criticism I can level at Secretary Gates: he's enabled this to happen by parroting the line that Afghanistan is vital to U.S. national security, probably for two reasons: 1) his boss told him to, and he's saluting and moving out, and 2) it's always easy to emphasize your support for the current mission, support for the troops, and belief in the necessity of "victory." This makes the whole thing understandable if not forgiveable.

  4. Gunslinger -- I agree completely that if civilian policymakers continue to shirk their duty to actually exercise effective control we'll need to conceptualize an alternative scheme that remains consistent with democratic accountability and oversight.

    Nick -- I agree with your point as well. I have long argued that State's regional assistant secretaries ought to be co-located with the COCOMs and that there be a unified regional command for all USG agencies. There are a lot of problems with implementing something like this, though. LOTS. But I think if we insist on maintaining an empire, we'll need to move in that direction.

  5. Nick's point about the regional commands was made in the was the suggestion in the SSI monograph I linked on Twittr, but institutional design is not necessarily everything.
    The supposedly strong policy planning in State in the 40s and 50s was also something of a myth too, although it was certainly stronger than it is today. I don't see how creating stronger civilian strategic planning organs can HURT, but it is not necessarily a salve for the problem, as Gunslinger points out it's not a panacea.

  6. Well interesting that while these posts concentrate on the DoD influence on the top tiers of policy making, the senior SEAL is talking about getting his guys in on the groundfloor too.

    And one of these countries is not like the other....

    “The bottom line is, the things we’ll do in future are the things that other folks can’t do. What does that mean? It might mean throwing a guy in the trunk of a car in Mogadishu, Venezuela, Lebanon , Yemen,” Winters said.

    I'm waiting for the response from our buddy Hugo. That should be fun. Oops.