Tuesday, May 31, 2011

In support of GEN Odierno's selection as CSA

I, for one, am glad to see GEN Odierno's selection as the next Chief of Staff of the Army (CSA) to replace GEN Dempsey. I've heard a number of reasons why he's a bad choice: Gulliver feels that having a wartime commander will be problematic (granted, he's quoting the President here), that his failure as a division commander in Iraq should have precluded his selection (I've heard this in private fora), or that he's risen too fast, too far, without an appropriate breadth of experience usually seen in a CSA (also heard in private fora). All jokes about the possibility of his taking the position to close down the Army aside, to all of this naysaying, I say bollox.

GEN Odierno was not, by any measure, a fantastic division commander and there is plenty recorded on that matter. But I think he has proven himself since then - as MNC-I commander and then USF-I commander. He has shown great adaptability in dealing with counterinsurgency during the Surge in Iraq and following that in dealing with what must have been a dicey diplomatic position in the drawdown (that continues today under GEN Austin's command). He may have spent most of the last decade in Iraq, but it's been such a unique time in Iraq that it has given him a very unique experience. In fact, his last year or so in Iraq and his command of JFCOM refute the idea that he was selected for his wartime experience (in spite of the President's statement). The fact that he's been chosen to close out Iraq and JFCOM show that he's widely respected in skimming the fat (if you'll pardon the term). With the Army facing imminent funding cuts, why would you not want your resident expert on making economies the guy to lead those economies? No, in this regard he's the perfect fit.

From my perspective, I think GEN Odierno gets a little screwed in who gets credit for whatever successes the Surge saw in Iraq. As the Corps commander during that time, it seems that a lot of the initiatives that saw success must have been his and not GEN Petraeus'. I'm sure it would be hard to delineate who started what, but if you examine U.S. policies in both Iraq and Afghanistan (understanding that the latter has many more complications - but look just at what the U.S. did), you'll see that many things were done in Iraq that assisted in gaining advantages there, but were not implemented in Afghanistan. Even after GEN Petraeus took command.

As a former planner, my Exhibit A is the use of Joint/Unified Common Plans between the military and civilian USG agencies as their agreed-upon counterinsurgency/development plan. Although not perfect, this simple method of making brigade commanders and PRT leaders jointly plan and brief (to GEN Odierno and the DCM) their 6-month to 18-month plan did wonders to get all of the U.S. actors on one page of music. It did wonders. And as far as I know, it is still not theater-wide policy in Afghanistan and we're seeing what we'd expect with interagency coordination. Yes, the Department of State deserves a ton of credit as well, but I think it's fair to say that this type of initiate, if not thought of, was at least implemented by GEN Odierno. You know what helps in times of austerity? Being able to work with partners outside of your organization to make the most of a bad situation. GEN Odierno has ample creds on that.

Let's all take a step back and take a look at what GEN Odierno has actually done since 2004. He's proven that he's not a Neanderthal commander any longer. He's shown is chops in leading large organizations facing drastic cuts. He's proven that he works well with others. And he does bring significant combat experience to the table - which any good CSA does in times of peace or war because war will always be the Army's business. That all said, he's a great pick for CSA in my mind - I endorse this selection and wish him the best.


  1. To be clear, my reservations have nothing to do with Odierno's past performance, but rather with his functional experience. I'm concerned that we'll have a wartime CSA at a time when we need a transformational one. There's no guarantee that this is how it will go, but that's my concern. I think we'd be better served with Odierno making use of his operational chops in an operational command.

  2. I get all that, but I think with his later Iraq experience and command of JFCOM this past year, he's proving that he could be that transformational leader. In fact, what real operational experience does he have that's needed elsewhere? Other than drawing down Afghanistan, there are plenty of great operational commanders out there (Lloyd Austin for one) and few who have done what Odierno has done. I guess I'm saying that I think you're pigeon-holing him into a category that he doesn't necessarily fit into.

  3. I'll be the first to admit that I don't know anything at all first-hand about GEN Odierno's performance at JFCOM. The SECDEF says he did a good job, so I suppose we ought to trust that. But there's going to be a lot of ramp-up time to get him where he needs to be as CSA; that wouldn't be the case with Chiarelli, who's had a front-row seat on Army politics and priorities for the last several years.

    I feel like I need to say this again: I'm not saying Odierno is a bad choice, just that he might not have been the best one.

  4. I get you man - I don't think you were saying that. Out of curiosity, other than GEN Chiarelli, who do you think would have been a better choice?

  5. I don't really know. I'm not sure there are all that many people (including me) who are qualified to say who's got the right combination of talent and experience to be a successful chief, both because most of us don't really know what constitutes success versus failure and because we're not that well-acquainted with anything but a simplified narrative about how these guys think and work.

    I probably should have left the last paragraph out of my other post; I wanted it to be focused on what these jobs are really about more than my personal speculation over who would make a good fit. I'm disappointed that the emphasis is now my opinions about a subject on which I can't really claim to have any expertise.

  6. RE Integrated civ-mil planning in Iraq vs Afghanistan: You vastly underestimate the institutional resistance Generals McChrystal and Petraeus have encountered from their civilian counterparts to better civ-mil integration.

    And just to note - PRTs are only teamed with BDEs in a few provinces in Afghanistan (and in those AOs, they actually are more closely teamed with Regional Commands than BDEs). In most of the country, PRTs are paired with battalions, and consequently there is less organic planning capacity to generate the type of plans you're (rightly) calling for. Some BDEs have forced better integration, but it's uneven.

  7. MK - you bring up a great point with regard to Afghanistan. I assure you I don't underestimate the challenges, although I may not have represented them as well as I could have. I'm not trying to say that GEN Odierno would have faired much better, but merely to draw the fact that he took point on that issue in Iraq. Also, major kudos go to State for their playing ball.

  8. Assuming CSA should be existing 4-star, the options are limited


    Austin might be the only other option? He certainly passes the size test.

  9. JK -- Assuming CSA should be existing 4-star, the options are limited

    Doesn't have to be a current 4-star. The only statutory requirements are that the appointee be "from the general officers of the Army," be appointed with the advice and consent of the Senate, and have "significant experience in joint duty assignments" and at least one full joint tour as a GO (though the latter requirements are waivable by the president as he sees fit).

    But yeah, the bench of plausible four-stars is pretty thin. All other circumstances notwithstanding, you were pretty much talking about a choice between Chiarelli, Odierno, Austin, Petraeus, and Carter Ham.

  10. Is five plausible four-stars really a thin bench, historically speaking? I had the impression that there were even fewer serious candidates the last two times around.