Thursday, July 28, 2011

More money = more readiness, just as simple as that?

The infamous Rep. Forbes, chairman of the HASC Readiness subcommittee, brought the number two guys from each of the services over to the Hill on Tuesday to talk about how the imagined "sustained lack of resources" for defense has imperiled American military preparedness. (Read Spencer's and Philip Ewing's excellent pieces on the hearing.) Each officer made the standard, prosaic opening statement -- underpinned as always by a pledge about his service being prepared to carry out the country's missions and support the warfighter and blah blah blah -- before being poked and prodded into elaborating on the horrifying future we should expect if a deficit-reduction deal includes significant defense cuts. This line of reasoning, of course, is built on the premise that readiness is all about resources. But resources are always constrained in some way; what we ought to be talking about is whether or not we're making the best possible decisions about how to use them.

To wit, take a look at this snip from Air Force vice chief Gen. Philip Breedlove's written testimony. After running down a list of the many operational missions the service has executed in recent years, he drops this on us:
This level of activity reflects our commitment to provide Global Vigilance, Reach, and Power in today’s Joint fight. However, this high operations tempo (OPTEMPO) has had some detrimental effects on our overall readiness. Since 2003, we have seen a slow but steady decline in reported unit readiness indicators. Maintaining our ability to be ready for the full spectrum of operations at an acceptable level of risk is challenging, especially for the Combat Air Forces (CAF) and some limited-supply/high-demand units.
I know I sound like a broken record on this, but it bears repeating: operations erode readiness. War definitely erodes readiness, but so too do training and exercises and the whole range of peacetime missions that aren't accompanied by the extra burden and risk of combat losses. Simply put, we're spending more and ending up with less because we're using what we've bought, and using it harder and more than we usually count on doing. But resources are constrained, you know? So if we had a few extra bucks, we'd probably spend them in ways that helped to mitigate those readiness concerns, right... not just to do more of the same? Hold that thought.

Let's pause for just a second and kick it over to CSBA's Todd Harrison to explain what the Pentagon calls "unfunded priorities."
Each year, the Services rank and prioritize items for inclusion in the budget request. Unfunded priorities are those items not included in the budget request because they are a lower priority and do not fit within the funding ceiling set for the Department. The Services’ lists of unfunded priorities, sometimes referred to as “wish lists,” are routinely requested by Congress for consideration during their markup of the budget. The total amount of unfunded priorities grew dramatically over the past decade, rising from $9.5 billion in FY 2001 to a peak of $38 billion in FY 2008 (both figures in FY 2012 dollars). In the FY 2010 budget process, Secretary Gates required the Services to present their unfunded priorities to him for review before submitting them to Congress. Unfunded priorities for that year fell by an order of magnitude to just $3.5 billion. In FY 2011 unfunded priorities fell to $1.8 billion, and in FY 2012 they total only $1.2 billion. Nearly all of the unfunded priorities submitted to Congress are in procurement and O&M. This indicates that if the Services had additional funding available they would prioritize the maintenance of existing equipment and would procure additional equipment or spares to augment their inventory. (pdf, p. 4)
We're going to leave aside the interesting subplots here -- that Congress actually requires the Services to list the things they've decided not to ask for in the budget request, that "unfunded priorities" skyrocketed over the same period that the budget topline dramatically increased, etc. -- and get back to what the Air Force would do if it had a bit more cash.
The Air Force requests $124 million in unfunded priorities. At the top of the list is $42.5 million for 75 maintenance testers and spares to support the A-10 aircraft. According to the Air Force, the currently fielded testing equipment is “obsolete and no longer procurable,” and the lack of new testing equipment will result in some aircraft being grounded in FY 2013. An additional $33.7 million is requested for an EC-130H avionics upgrade to replace the air data computer, which if not replaced would result in Compass Call aircraft groundings, also beginning in FY 2013. The remaining $47.5 million funds the replacement of Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM), Anti-Missile Countermeasures Decoy Systems, Air-to-Ground Missiles, and Laser-Guided Weapons expended due to operations in Libya. (pdf, p. 5)
Look back at what Gen. Breedlove said: "a slow but steady decline in reported unit readiness indicators." So why is the extended budget ask entirely composed of new stuff? The VCSAF tells us elsewhere that the service is pumping efficiency savings back in to modernization accounts to pay for the next-gen bomber, more UAVs, F-15 radar modernization, and many other things... all of which are surely important to the development of future capabilities, but which have little to do with maximizing current operational readiness.

Obviously it's true that extra airframes and spares help to boost readiness by addressing maintenance shortfalls and recapitalizing aging fleets, and spare cash can be used to pay for more fuel, more flight hours, more time in simulators, and so on. But instead of asking leading questions like "wouldn't it be tough to do your job if the defense budget was cut by a trillion dollars?", why aren't legislators making a more committed effort to find out exactly how the resources they're meant to provide actually translate into readiness and combat power? To learn how the Air Force, for example, plans to reverse that "decline in reported unit readiness indicators" both by spending extra money and by adapting how they do business, making related changes to training, doctrine, organizations, and all things you've got to figure out how to do when the time comes that the dollar figure just ain't getting any bigger?

Forbes and his pals don't make a better effort because what they're doing is political theater, not strategic leadership. The chairman and his colleagues surely know that such an exploration would almost certainly reveal that sometimes the answer isn't simply to buy more, better, newer stuff. The recent focus on strategy development as the essential first step in a rational and comprehensive resourcing process is both refreshing and fundamentally beside the point. Here's how Forbes put it in Tuesday's hearing:
As we consider our deficit, federal spending, and the impact on our defense budget, I believe we should be asking four questions: 
First, "What are the threats we face?" Second, "What resources do our combatant commanders need to protect us against those threats?" Third, "What do these resources cost and how can we obtain them as efficiently as possible," and fourth, "What can we afford and what are the risks to our nation if we do not supply those resources?" 
I believe many in Congress and the White House have been asking only the portion of question four that asks how much they want to expend, and they have been ignoring the other questions almost entirely.
Fair enough, and the congressman is right to draw attention to the Department's (and the country's) strategy deficit. But it's disingenuous to pretend as if these questions aren't asked in some way, shape or form, because they are. It's also true that the answers are speculative, lack rigor or compelling rationale, and do little to help us set real priorities. And a big part of the reason it happens that way is that the folks tasked with asking the questions and generating the answers have absolutely zero incentive to make hard choices. They're rewarded for dreaming up an expansive list of threats, challenges, risks, and attendant "requirements."

To believe that we can ever draft a prioritized list of desired capabilities to meet projected threats, then arbitrarily draw a chop line below one program and above another based on somebody's assessment of "what we can afford" is simple fantasy. And beyond that, it's an economic nonsense: a laundry list in which all "priorities" can be or ought to be funded scandalizes the transactional philosophy that underpins efficient resource allocation. We all know there's no such thing as getting something for nothing, and to ignore the trade-offs that come with just spending more in the belief that security can be commoditized is dishonest and irresponsible.

I hate to keep repeating myself on this, but to parrot the former SECDEF's now-famous phrase, we have to do math and strategy. Yes, we need to take a look at fundamental roles and missions. Yes, we need to write real, meaningful, actionable strategy documents that can inform resource decisions instead of the unsatisfying pap we currently churn out. Yes, we need to try to get a handle on the role we want to play in the world, the tasks the military needs to be able to accomplish to enable that role, and the capabilities we think are best suited to accomplishing those tasks. That's strategy.

But strategy is also about thoughtful adaptation. It's about figuring out multiple ways to accomplish the same ends, particularly when the means get changed up on you. The credit-based economy has thieved this skill from most people and many governments; instead of thinking how to meet our needs with the resources we've got, we spend time thinking up ways to eventually pay off the tab we've run up collecting the things we want. If I say "write me some plans for defending America with a single infantry battalion," you might reasonably say that's nonsensical and a-strategic. But if I say "here's $300 billion, now buy me the best defense you can," you damn well ought not come back with a blank page and plead poverty.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Mark Kirk gets his feelings hurt, says a spectacularly dumb thing

Russian ambassador to NATO/kooky unreformed nationalist Dmitri Rogozin, who has a habit of saying (and tweeting) somewhat nutty stuff, took a whole bunch of shots at unilateralist Russophobe dinosaurs/U.S. Senators John Kyl and Mark Kirk in his country's press after meeting with the two this week. The story is related by Josh Rogin at The Cable. Here's the money line from Rogozin:
"The meeting [with Kirk and Kyl] is very useful because it shows that the alternative to Barack Obama is a collapse of all the programs of cooperation with Russia. Today, I had the impression that I was transported in a time machine back several decades, and in front of me sat two monsters of the Cold War, who looked at me not through pupils, but targeting sights."
The guy is always good for a few lulz, but Kirk was less amused. He gave Rogin a few snippy quotes that aren't worth recounting, but also dropped what I imagine he thinks is the hammer:
"In a potential missile combat scenario between NATO and Iran, Russia is thoroughly irrelevant. So Russian concerns about what we do and not do about the Iranian threat are interesting but largely irrelevant."
Wow. Russia is thoroughly irrelevant, and its concerns are largely irrelevant. (See if you can't sort that one out for yourself.)

I know it's probably a bit much to expect sophisticated understanding of strategic deterrence theory from a guy who "misremembers" his own military record, but could we at least hope for some common sense?

"In a potential missile combat scenario between NATO and Iran," precisely nobody with nuclear weapons and an early-warning/launch detection system is "irrelevant." Especially not a state with a massive arsenal of nuclear warheads and the delivery systems to get them to American soil, one with a cultivated distrust of American intentions vis-a-vis missile defense.

"In a potential missile combat scenario" in which the sky fills up with ballistic missiles, every damned guy on the planet with a red button is going to go reaching for it until he has a pretty solid sense that none of those missiles is going to land on him. That solid sense is probably going to take just a little while longer to materialize when you've got a bunch of senior "statesmen" running their yaps and posturing in ways that seem almost certainly intended to impede information-sharing and common understanding, to keep the other guy off balance, wondering if -- in spite of official policy statements to the contrary -- our missile defenses really are targeting his weapons.

Russia's "irrelevant" to a scenario that could kindle nuclear war, huh, Senator? More irrelevant than a guy who has to shit-talk his own government to America's biggest foreign creditors just to get on the news? More irrelevant than a guy who spent much of his time in the House impotently railing against the government's irresponsible spending habits while serving as a member of the body that writes America's checks? More irrelevant than a guy whose idea of inspired leadership and aggressive oversight is pathetic obstructionism and delaying tactics in a condominium of ignorance with the U.S. Senate's most trifling and manifestly inconsequential clowns?

Well hell, Rogozin, I might take "irrelevant" as a compliment coming from that guy.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Machiavelli: counterinsurgent's muse?

Few men are so tightly bound in the public mind to a particular idea as Niccolo Machiavelli, whose very name has been adjectivized to represent an especial sort of cunning calculation. Less well-known is the infamous Florentine's role as a military innovator, elaborated in Felix Gilbert's chapter in the classic volume The Makers of Modern Strategy. Machiavelli championed the transition from condottieri-led mercenary armies, which were often resistant to direction and ineffective in combat, to the conscripted militia. But military utility was not Machiavelli's only concern: his advocacy was guided by the belief that citizen armies would both blunt the foreign policy influence of the wealthy elites who largely funded operations in the mercenary era and stabilize domestic politics by cementing a link between ordinary citizens and the affairs of state.

A military evolution of this magnitude would have undeniable social consequences, and Machiavelli's philosophy of government -- in many ways so different to the utilitarian ethic so often ascribed to him -- made positive account of the change. According to Gilbert,
That a militia would fight willingly, perhaps even enthusiastically, only if its members were well treated by the state in which they lived was evident to Machiavelli.
Indeed, in his accounting, each successful republic in history was built on a foundation of la iustizia et l'arme -- "justice and arms."

Here's an incisive passage from Erica Benner's 2009 book Machiavelli's Ethics, which is said to present an innovative and sympathetic treatment (I can only judge by Chapter 8, which I've read online and enjoyed immensely. Though I was a history undergrad, I've got to admit that I'm not familiar enough with the source material in political philosophy to say much more than that):
The idea that justice is an indispensable foundation of political and military power is a recurrent, central theme in Machiavelli’s writings. It appears in texts written before and after The Prince. Among the earliest extant sources of Machiavelli’s views on justice is a series of proposals for reforming Florence’s military defenses written in 1505–6. A letter from Cardinal Francesco Soderini thanks Machiavelli for outlining his “new military idea,” [G here: that is, conscription] adding: “you write wisely that this idea [questo principio] requires justice [bisogna la iustizia] above all, both in the city and in the countryside.” (p. 292)
Apologies for the length of this excerpt, but it's important. Benner continues:
While it is true that the emphasis on justice in this military context connotes discipline as well as the notion of justice in an ethical sense, Machiavelli’s concept of justice here is not reducible to military standards of well-ordered command. The Cagione dell’ordinanza ties it to libertà as well as to security and stable order. 
The Provisione does propose measures that at first glance may seem to treat justice as a mere means to military ends. Machiavelli underlines the need to uphold “severe justice” (severa giustizia) against the heads of private factions who prevent individuals from fulfilling their duties, and against anyone who shirks his military duties without legitimate reason (absente sanza legitima cagione).  
But the main argument of the Provizione is that well-ordered military defenses cannot be maintained unless general political and legal justice is upheld. If the men of different ranks and occupations in a city are asked to serve in its defense, more than punitive force and military discipline are needed to motivate them to serve loyally; they also need persuasive “reasons to obey” public demands for their service. Cities whose governments are seen to uphold general justice are more likely to secure the trust and loyalty of citizens than cities where “the many” perceive that their interests are subordinate to those of the few. The citizens called on to serve as their city’s armi are less likely to avoid service if they are confident that no exceptions to general conscription are made in exchange for political or monetary favors. (p. 292-293)
This understanding may help us to conceive of the very real differences between the demands of coercive, control-oriented military operations in counterinsurgency and the longer-term political evolution imperative to stable civic order in a representative society.

I know, I know -- this looks like a stretch; Benner even admits that Machiavelli was talking essentially about fealty and esprit in military forces, not about curatives for rebellion. But his insight into the drivers of military loyalty applies also to free society, where a man's right to revolution (or less drastic political change) is forgone only in exchange for government that meets his needs. The same may not be true of different civic structures, but this just serves to further illustrate the difference between the solitary mandate for control in authoritarian government and the requirement for at least minimal legitimacy (coupled, Machiavelli would remind us, with force or its threat) in a community of free peoples.

"Hearts and minds"? What about justice and arms?

If only defense spending had a domestic constituency! (UPDATED)

The tragic indifference of American political leaders, commentators, business executives, and senior military officers to the plight of the shrinking U.S. defense budget continues unabated today. Well, unless you read the op-ed pages of major American newspapers, watch cable news, use the internet, or have a conversation with any human being within 50 miles of the Pentagon.

Today in Politico, four Members of Congress go "On the offense over Defense cuts" -- Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Ft. Lee, JFCOM), Rep. Michael Turner (R-Wright-Patterson AFB), Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Hill AFB), and Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Goodfellow AFB):
The U.S. military confronts readiness shortfalls and a growing array of risks and security challenges. That is why I am deeply concerned about the avalanche of military spending cuts being discussed — from President Barack Obama’s $400 billion proposal to the Senate’s Gang of Six proposal that could cut up to $886 billion.
The time to draw a line in the sand, and go on the offense to support national security must be now.
Let’s be clear: Defense spending is not what put us in this position, and gutting the defense budget to pay the bills is unlikely to get us out of it. As a percentage of our gross domestic product, the defense budget remains just 3.6 percent. This figure is low by all historical standards.
Even if we start slashing major portions of the budget — say $50 billion each year over the next decade — that figure would still only add up to a fraction of the nation’s debt. Yet the additional risk to the nation could be substantial.
Surely the legislative interests of these honorable legislators have little to do with the location of major military facilities inside and alongside their Congressional districts. Such coincidences are inevitable when we consider such a large political body, right? The devoted advocacy of these men is no doubt motivated solely by a desire for "an open and objective review of the threats we face and the resources required to meet them."

Should we cut them a break for lying to us?

The defense budget does not represent "just 3.6 percent" of GDP. You get this artificially low number when you exclude from consideration funds being spent on current operations. Why would anyone choose to calculate defense spending without considering the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? This seems to me a lot like willfull disingenuity.

$749.75 billion. That's the total OMB gives for national defense outlays in FY 2011. (See page 132 of this pdf.) This includes money appropriated to the Energy Department for nuclear weapons, as well as a few other non-DoD incidentals, but the military-only figure still works out to more than $700 billion.

Four point nine percent. That's OMB's "national defense" outlays as a percentage of GDP for FY 11. Not 3.7%. 4.9%. That's a pretty big difference. Not only that, but 4.9% does not represent a "figure [that] is low by all historical standards"; in fact, it's only roughly a percentage point lower than the height of the Reagan defense buildup.

Nineteen point six percent. Here's the most important figure of the whole lot, and it's one that the good Congressmen left out altogether (they didn't even give us an artifically low alternative number, perhaps because even that one is distressingly high): the percentage of total U.S. government outlays that are devoted to national defense. Let's be clear about this, because the percent of GDP figures are bandied around all the time to mislead people (and apparently it works): about one in every five dollars the U.S. government spends goes to defense. (When President Reagan was patriotically defending America from peacenik budget-slashers, defense spending accounted for about one in four dollars spent.)

Ready for the most damning bit in the whole op-ed? Ok, here it is:
Even more concerning are the assessments from our Combatant Commanders in the unclassified portion of the Quarterly Readiness Report to Congress. This paints a distressing picture of a military stretched thin by nearly 10 years of war and a sustained lack of resources.
BREAKING NEWS: war erodes readiness. But you know what does NOT constitute "a sustained lack of resources"? A 150% increase in defense outlays over a ten-year period. (2001: $304.73 billion. 2011: $749.75 billion.) Defense accounts were bumped by approximately ten percent per year for a decade. This is what Forbes, Turner, Bishop, and Conaway call "a sustained lack of resources"? This is their definition of taking the strength of our armed forces for granted? This is their "growing readiness problems"?

If the wanton spending of the last ten years can't guarantee military readiness or national security, MAYBE YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG.

The Congressmen want us to base our national defense planning on "an open and objective review of the threats we face and the resources required to meet them," and complain about how "we now have that process in reverse." They're right, we do -- and it's because of nonsense rationalizations like the ones given in this article, where they try to pretend like the Army's failure to incorporate iPad-like technology has anything at all to do with the cancellation of Comanche, FCS, EFV, and DDG-1000.

They even give us a cute little analogy to highlight what they suggest is the irresponsible way the White House and the Defense Department go about determining the budget.
In many ways, it’s like a family who is about to purchase a new home. The correct course would be to have an inspector look at the house and tell the family what the problems are and what they will cost to fix. What if, instead, that family told the inspector that they only had $1,000, and they wanted the inspector to go through and identify only $1,000 worth of problems to fix?
What if, instead, that family had an inspector look at the house to find problems and estimate required costs, but also told him they'd already signed papers with a contractor committing to $2,000 worth of demolition and paint work? And then when the inspector found that the house had termite damage, the contractor and his buddies started writing letters to the family and the bank saying that the special kind of paint they were going to use helps to solidify building foundations and kill termites. Because that's a much more apt analogy.

Stop lying to people. Stop rationalizing wasteful spending. Stop pretending like the thing that accounts for 20% of USG spending has nothing at all to do with our deficit problems. Stop imagining the spending that benefits your constituents is sacrosanct, while everything else is politically-motivated profligacy.

The government spends much more than it takes in. One-fifth of this spending goes toward defense. Considering the fungibility of money and the statutory mandate for certain types of non-discretionary spending, it is a simple absurdity to say "defense spending is not what put us in this position." If your teenager ran up tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt and said "I spent most of that money on food and rent and books! Only 20% of it was on hookers and blow! That's not what put me in this position!", you'd punch him in the face.

Punch yourself in the face, America.

UPDATE: More criticism of the Forbes-Turner-Bishop-Conaway piece from budget guru Gordon Adams, who also addresses the accounting gimmicks that go into making the end of the current wars look like a massive cut. He does so in considerably less shrill and aggressive fashion than I, it's worth noting.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Military leadership =/= Police leadership: advice to the Winsor review

I wasn't aware until this morning that UK is undergoing the largest review of its police forces in 30 years. This review (officially titled the "Independent Review of Police Officers' & Staff Remuneration & Conditions") is headed by Tom Winsor, a former rail regulator and current lawyer. The committee has published the first half of their report already and the second half should be out in about six months. While I've spent some time researching and writing about policing, it has been almost exclusively on deploying police not domestic policing. However, there are some principles of policing that are universal and that it looks like the second half of the report might challenge some of the principles.

The Telegraph has an article today that the Winsor review is considering recommending allowing soldiers, lawyers and foreign police chiefs to enter the force without the mandatory two-year probationary period, most of which to be served as a constable (yes, I know, it's the Telegraph, which I loathe to quote as a sole source for anything). I have absolutely no opinion on the last bit - that might be good for the police force for a number of reasons. I have serious issues with the first recommendation and will withhold comment on the lawyers bit (a more complicated topic).

Firstly, I don't have issues with former soldiers (Marines, airmen, sailors, etc) and lawyers serving in a police force. I think that's great. But I do have issue with the idea that you can take a military leader and assume that his leadership qualities are a great fit for police leadership without indoctrination into the police force and its culture. If there's one thing we've learned from police development programs in Iraq and Afghanistan is that if you have the military lead training and reform of police forces, you end up with police forces that look a lot more like military forces than police forces. It mainly has to do with the difference in leadership: military have a command relationship with their soldiers, while police have a managerial relationship with their subordinates. After all, police officers are all officers. (I have a whole slide presentation I put together for a talk on this subject if any of you are interested.)

That's why some probationary period is required to transition leaders, in my opinion. You can't just have a class on rule of law vs. good order and discipline and expect soldiers to be good cops. Like a lot of professions, police culture is the source of a lot of their strengths (also often the source of bad policing traits) and it can't be learned in an 8-week school or some such thing. At an extreme example, could you imagine if Air Chief Marshal Jock Stirrup, Baron Stirrup, was made the head of the Met tomorrow? I don't think anyone (save those that support a strong police state) would think that a good idea. The bottom of the Telegraph article has a couple of quotes that are pertinent to this and should be heeded.

The bottom line here is that soldiers and police work in disciplined, uniformed, hierarchical organizations, but that does not mean they are the same thing. I highly recommend to the Winsor committee to not recommend removal of the probationary period and time as a constable. Different promotion policies after that, sure, but soldiers need to learn how to be police before they can be able to lead police.

Friday, July 22, 2011

What's wrong with COIN doctrine?

[PRE-POSTSCRIPT: Ha, I see that Fritz and I had the same idea, so we've got two roughly duplicative posts up this morning. (To be fair, he got there first.) Please forgive the indulgence.]

A great deal of ink has been spilled on this question, but the majority of 3-24's critics have focused on what I think of as "meta" issues with counterinsurgency: questions of policy and strategy and the appropriate use of the military instrument. That's all well and good, and it's important that the country and the community of defense professionals think through those contextual matters. But sometimes we forget -- what with publication under the U of Chicago imprint and blurbs by celebrity academics and such -- that the "FM" in 3-24 stands for field manual. This is military doctrine, which ought to be not only a statement of fundamental principles, but a guide to action for military forces. It needs to be right, but it also needs to be useful.

To that end, friends of Ink Spots Carl Prine, Crispin Burke, and Mike Few have done us all a service: they've published a short piece on SWJ outlining some things they believe ought to inform future revisions to the American military's counterinsurgency doctrine (pdf). It's concise, clear, and to the point, and you ought to read the whole thing (pdf). I hope they won't mind if I boil down their 13 points -- which are already very digestible -- into my own words.

1. The Army has published other doctrine in the last five years that bears on related subjects and supersedes bit of 3-24.

2. Current COIN doctrine is too informed by historical thinking on the subject and not enough by the recent experiences of (and lessons learned by) the U.S. military.

3. A doctrinal rewrite ought to be a part of a broader interagency (and even national) conversation about how counterinsurgency and stability operations fit within the context of national strategy and policy.

4. We need to listen more to the guys who have done this work, and figured out how to do it effectively in practice.

5. This re-look ought to help us do away with silly, simplistic distinctions and dichotomies (and the resulting parochial equities) among various schools of thought on irregular war. Let's get past COINdinistas/COINtras and COIN/CT.

6. New thinking on counterinsurgency should be premised on a reappraisal of what insurgency is in the modern era. What are the drivers of rebellion, and how can military action influence them?

7. Insurgency is evolving -- both in its general, conceptual form, and in its specific practical manifestations. We should consider the forms of our new doctrine so that it can be adapted and reshaped accordingly -- on the fly.

8. Sometimes "the population is the prize." Sometimes it isn't. Doctrine provides a template, but it must be able to account for multiform reality rather than shoving square pegs into round "pop-centric" holes.

9. A template isn't a checklist. It's worth reconsidering whether the old axioms are still true... if they ever were. (80/20 political to military, anyone?)

10. COIN can't and won't always be about enabling host nation government. (What about counterinsurgency operations in support of military governance or an international provisional authority?) Our doctrine needs to get real about variable solutions to different problems.

11. Some of the generalized, prescriptive guidance presented in 3-24 is specious or outright wrong. To come up with real, meaningful "best practices" for COIN, we need to come to grips with the real, wide-ranging, sometimes uncomfortable history of rebellion and government response. No more caricatures.

12. 3-24 may have offered hope of "kinder, gentler war" to its many progressive exponents, and to that end it served a purpose: its popularity helped garner support for necessary changes to the way the U.S. military was doing business in the middle of the last decade. But practitioners know this is a chimera. There will always be brutality in war, even if we recognize that much of it is impermissible for the American military professional.

13. "Propaganda of the deed" is an important concept for the insurgent and counterinsurgent, and focused attention to the subject should help us think through the complex relationship between force, persuasion, volition, and compulsion. We need a better understanding of how perception actually influences action, not bumper stickers about the subordination of all other lines of effort to Information Operations.

I hope Carl, Crispin, and Mike won't feel like I've misrepresented their analysis here in offering my own distillations or amplifications. They've done great work here, and it strikes me as an exellent stepping-off point as the community begins to think about what we want and need out of our next COIN manual.

The Prine-Burke-Few Doctrine and the COINdinistra Manual

Ink Spots' friends-of-the-blog Carl Prine, Crispin Burke, and Mike Few (SWJ Editor) made the case this morning at the Small Wars Journal for a serious rethink and rewrite of FM 3-24 (Counterinsurgency). This is has been suggested from time to time, often by Carl as well others of the more COINtra bent, and I wholeheartedly agree. And I think these three thinkers and experienced counterinsurgents took the right approach: concise points on why the current doctrine is insufficient that should be readily apparent to anyone who has participated in COIN operations. I'm guessing they had some difficulty in word-smithing this piece as it's very hard for any group of people to agree on the prescriptions for a new manual, but the problems they identify are spot on. I would suggest adding a few more to the list, though.

  1. The new manual should spend some time and space discussing counterinsurgency as it fits within and relates to the total spectrum of warfare. This gets to the authors' 5th point, but I don't think they went far enough. The problem with a manual that focuses on a subset of warfare is that it can often treat that subset as a one-off that has limited applicability to our understanding of warfare qua warfare. 3-24 does not state that this is the case for COIN, but its writing allows for that interpretation. From my perspective, this discussion goes beyond CT vs. COIN. If smart people sat down and wrote this well, it would be more about how to apply power to achieve foreign policy goals and how COIN tactics play in to this. A more general discussion, in my opinion, would also help address their #12: the use of violence.
  2. Speaking of #12, the new manual should go beyond the fact that legitimate violence is an element of COIN and expand on how to use it: primarily the use of indirect and air fires. I've cited some stats previously on how much my brigade blew up during the Surge in Iraq. We dropped over a hundred thousand pounds of bombs and fired thousands of artillery and mortar rounds (I have no idea how many rotary wing engagements we had in the year) and yet we were hugely successful by most metrics - mainly an amazing decrease in violence in both our AO and in Baghdad (AQI was using our AO to funnel car bomb parts into the capital). We need a frank discussion on using this power to achieve our goals so the guy on the ground can use this information.
  3. We need a better discussion of ends. I don't know that the new manual wants to wade into the minefield that is COIN metrics, but FM users need a better guide on how to set end goals for their COIN operations and how to understand if they're moving in the right direction, if they're not moving in the right direction, and when they've met those goals. The end states I wrote as a planner were simply terrible because we didn't know how to write them, resulting in platitudinous drivel such as "set the conditions so that the Iraqi people can self govern and protect their people in an environment were services are provided and a healthy economy exists" or some such crap. We just had no idea what we were working towards other than "better than things are now" - talk about mission creep potential.
  4. Interagency, interagency, interagency. Division of labor at the USG level needs to get sorted out. As the U.S. Army and USMC move into a period of relative reset as Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, they're going to have to take a hard look at what they can afford (in time and money) to do in the future. Maybe building schools or hospitals or local governance councils in a war zone shouldn't be on the METL. Maybe it should, I don't know. But that analysis needs to be done so the next time we get into the nation building business everyone knows what is expected of them. I could write a book on this topic, because it's still so screwed up (you don't want to get me started on police reform, for instance). This would be some heavy lifting and depends on non-DoD participation, so I'm not going to hold my breath for it, but I think it needs to be addressed and eventually figured out.
Great job, gents - I hope your paper informs Leavenworth and that they make some serious changes to the doctrine. This is a great start and I hope it gets the ball moving.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Kagan: "defense has no domestic constituency"

No, this is not a joke.

Jennifer Rubin, writing on conservative criticism of the "Gang of Six" deficit-reduction proposal, quotes an email she received from alleged defense expert Robert Kagan:
[The proposed cuts are] utterly irresponsible and dangerous to national security. Also cowardly, since defense has no domestic constituency, while entitlements — the real source of our fiscal crisis — do.
It is simply remarkable that anyone could hold this view, especially someone even remotely acquainted with defense politics. (It may be even more remarkable that a second person would unquestioningly reproduce such a patently absurd statement.) So for Kagan and Rubin's benefit, let's go ahead and draw up an inclusive (but not exhaustive) list of those people and organizations that make up defense spending's domestic constituency.

1. The U.S. and global defense industry. Higher defense budgets means more spending on materiel and weapon systems. More money for weapon systems means more profit for the companies who manufacture them, higher stock prices, and pleased shareholders. This linkage is so simple that the requirement to explain it strains credulity.

2. Communities dependent on defense dollars. This group consists of people and governments across the country that are dependent for their economic and social health on defense-related funds. That could mean military bases that provide jobs and fuel local economies, or the facilities of armaments and materiel manufacturers that do the same. If these dollars go away, people lose jobs. And they get pissed about it. There's a reason defense contractors ensure the widest possible geographic distribution of essential work on major acquisition programs.

3. Members of Congress. Guess who starts getting phone calls when the ol' jet-engine factory closes down? Defense pork is the tastiest and most pervasive kind, and legislators benefit in more ways than one from the flow of defense dollars: they're able to maintain constituent support by bringing job-creating industrial facilities and economically stimulating military bases to their districts and keeping them there, and they often reap significant financial rewards in the form of defense industry campaign contributions. And we haven't even mentioned the way that politicians get almost consequence-free "strong on defense" cred just from lending rhetorical support to defense budget increases.

4. The Defense Department and the military services. Executive branch organizations can't expressly lobby Congress, of course, but don't believe for a second that they're objective and disinterested participants in the budgeting process. The significant majority of the "strategic thinking" generated by the Pentagon (some in the form of Congressionally-mandated reports) serve to justify major extant acquisition programs and rationalize force structure rather than informing capabilities-development, as strategy ought to do. Defense senior leaders are often caught in a double-bind: they have significant incentives to support the priorities of the defense industry, which will later offer opportunities for a comfortable and leisurely post-retirement career, while simultaneously recognizing that collaboration with those in Congress and industry whose interests align may be the best way to ensure plentiful resourcing of their statutory mission.

5. Commentators, advocates, and pseudo-scholars. A lot of people in this town make a living talking about defense (COUGHCOUGHROBERTKAGANCOUGH). Some of those people are financially supported by the defense industry. Some of them work for organizations that are ideologically committed to "strong defense," which as we've discussed always equates to more defense spending. Some of them simply find it impossible to consider challenging the conventional wisdom of their friends and colleagues, and come by their rabid support for MORE MORE MORE SPENDING NOW AND ALWAYS MORE totally honestly. But let's not pretend like most these people are indifferent to the defense budget, or that their professional and personal incentive structures don't mitigate in favor of advocacy for higher budgets.

These various constituencies so often work in concert with one another that we've almost ceased to find it noteworthy when the front men for such collaborations lie, dissemble, misrepresent, bullshit, and scheme to protect every last dollar in defense accounts. We're not even surprised when they conspire to shame their critics and ruin careers.

All of which leads me to wonder whether Robert Kagan and Jennifer Rubin understand precisely what is meant by the term "constituency," at least in the sense of budgets. Sure, entitlements have a clear domestic constituency: the citizens who get checks in the mail, the representatives they elect, and the businesses and organiziations that are supported by the dissemination of those funds. Does Kagan really fail to see that defense dollars seep into society and influence people in the same way?

Is he sweetly, charmingly ignorant of all this, or a disingenuous, self-aware participant in the whole scheme? Well, I suppose I'll leave it up to you to decide.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Damnit, we're the contemporary Flower Warriors. I knew it.

If you've got a little bit of time on your hands and you feel like punishing yourself, take a look at Zhivan Alach's Strategic Studies Institute monograph "The New Aztecs: Ritual and Restraint in Contemporary Western Military Operations." It's a muddled mess of stereotype, unproven assertion, tertiary-source quotations, conservative social theory, tortured syntax, and staggeringly bad analysis, and it's the leading contender in the always-crowded field for Worst Thing I've Read This Year From a Serious Publisher.

To give you a taste of just exactly how awful this thing is, I present Prosecution Exhibit 1: the paper is just over 38 full pages of text, and it cites Ralph Peters 14 separate times and Victor Davis Hanson eight. There are no references to primary-source historical documents, and Alach's limning of the history of warfare -- sort of important context for a study of "primitive" restraint in warfighting versus the allegedly modern trend towards total war -- is cribbed almost entirely from Hanson and John Keegan.

Now for Prosecution Exhibit 2, which pretty much just speaks for itself:
It pays to consider the Aztecs. At the time of the Flower Wars, the Aztecs were hegemonic in Central America. They could fight in a ritualized way because they had no true rival. When a rival did appear -- a rival named Cortes, who fought in an amoral, instrumental, rational, unrestrained, and nonritualized manner -- the Aztecs were defeated. Cortes fought to kill. He fought to win. 
Is there a Cortes awaiting the West today? Will we, the contemporary Flower Warriors, face a foe who, to be defeated, requires our willingness to kill, be killed, and fight to the bitter end? Is the current style of Western warfare but a mere historical blip, a momentary anomaly that will disappear when the world changes again? History cannot answer that question, but we had better be prepared to answer it ourselves.
To answer it with lead and steel and metal and brawn, because brown people haven't mastered those things yet! If only those flower-fucking Aztecs had taken the gloves off and fought unrestricted, total warfare, they surely could've defeated Cortes' vastly superior tactics and materiel! It was those pathetic, primitive, and obviously homosexual Aztec ROEs that doomed them to defeat!

These freakin' people, man.

Now seriously for a second: how does the U.S. Army War College publish something like this?

Monday, July 18, 2011

The strange ethical paradox of mass slaughter from the air

The July-August issue of The National Interest carries a good review by Richard Overy of Martin van Creveld's most recent book, which I mentioned a few weeks ago. This passage was particularly striking:
[N]o Allied commander would have sent his troops into Hamburg with orders to machine-gun thirty-seven thousand of its inhabitants. It would unquestionably have been a war crime. But Allied aircraft killed just that number in July 1943, and there has never been even the merest suggestion that those who ordered the raid ought to have stood trial after 1945 (though there is now a widely held view that this was a war crime). Indeed, bombing killed hundreds of thousands in horrible ways. What made this kind of airpower different?
Overy hints at a few stale rationalizations, from the all-justifying horrors of the Nazi regime to the absurd suggestion that civilians were not expressly targeted by the bombing campaigns, to which the very psychological-philosophical foundations of Douhet's own airpower theory gives the lie.

So: how is it that William Calley is so reviled for the killing of 22 Vietnamese civilians while Harry Truman is largely forgiven for the killing of perhaps 200,000 Japanese civilians? Why is tactical atrocity punished while strategic atrocity is applauded?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Fun with slopegraphs: NATO defense spending as a percentage of GDP

As you may have noticed in the past, I have a strange fascination with visual renderings of data and concepts. I make up stupid graphs and charts all the time, and most of the time they have limited to no (to negative, even) utility. It should be pretty obvious that I am not a graphics guy, nor am I a stats guy -- I'm all about concepts and generalities, which is how I ended up as a strategist (!) -- so the execution of this stuff (as opposed to conception) does not come simply to me. But if I stumble across a way to visually explain an idea in a form that strikes me as massively simplifying, that seems like something worth sharing. I expose you to my stumbling efforts in the hope that people who are better than me with this stuff (read: everyone) will offer suggestions and improvements.

I've lately been playing around a little bit with Edward Tufte's "slopegraphs," which you can read more about here. Really I was just looking for an excuse to draw some and see if I could come up with something useful, so I went for a data set that's simple and familiar to me: NATO member states' military expenditures as a percentage of GDP. I used this year's Stockholm International Peace Research Institute database, which is generally accepted as the authoritative data source on this subject. And on the bright side, there will actually be some meaningful content in this post: I may not be able to draw good graphics, but I can sure as hell analyze (qualitatively, of course) and offer an interpretation of the substance behind them.

Here's what I started with:

That's an extremely jumbled effort at creating a slopegraph that shows the individual NATO member states' annual military expenditures at a four-year intervals through the first decade of this century (2001, 2005, and 2009*) with a few notable other countries thrown in for context. I've only included those NATO allies for which SIPRI had data for each of the three years, which means that Luxembourg and Iceland are omitted and the data represents 25** NATO countries. [* You'll see that in three of the four graphics, I've made a mistake by labeling the columns as '02, '05, and '08. I used the right data, I just typed the wrong numerals for the years. I'm not going back and changing it because the lines are hand-drawn and I'd have to either print a new page and re-draw the lines or just scribble out the incorrect dates by hand and then re-take photos and re-upload them and a whole bunch of other nonsense that's caused entirely by my primitive system, and I'm just not gonna do any of that. **FML, I'm just realizing that I somehow left Portugal out of my calculations, though it shows up in the right-hand column of the very first graph. The impact of this should be very small; just the same, I'll address it later.]

First let's do a really quick primer on slopegraphs in case you didn't click the link above (which you really ought to do, as you'll see a couple of extremely elegant and illustrative examples of this type of graphic). The point of a slopegraph is to be able to show comparative hierarchies of a particular measure while also visualizing trends like rate of change, both in a comparative and real sense. So on the left you see a list of countries ranked from top to bottom by military expenditure as a percentage of GDP in 2001, with Russia on the top at 4.1% and Latvia and Japan sharing bottom spot at 1.0%. The data for 2005 is shown in the middle column, connected by a sloped line to the same country's figure in 2001 and 2009, which data populates the right-hand column. Now you see a different hierarchy for 2009, so you can see both how the individual countries' percentages have changed (lines sloping upward from left to right show growth, obviously, and downward shows a decrease) and how the overall rank order has changed. There's a spatial element, too: were it not for variable spacing based on the value of each number, the slopes themselves would be meaningless.

In a sense, the jumble of lines on the lower half of the graphic helps to illustrate a significant point: that many NATO allies have spent less than the agreed-upon benchmark of at least 2% of GDP (represented by the horizontal red line). The clutter also starkly shows how the oft-noted difference in proportional spending between the U.S. and the rest of the allies is mostly a product of the last decade's wars: in 2001, after the significant U.S. defense budget cuts of the 1990s, American expenditures were among the highest as a percentage of GDP but not so dramatically separated from the pack. Also perhaps worth noting (and more on this later): while Canada's operational contributions to the war in Afghanistan mean that it is often singled out for praise by Alliance and U.S. officials, Ottawa devotes one of NATO's smallest shares of GDP to its military.

The next graphic shows the average percentage of national GDP spent on defense for several sub-groups within the Alliance. "Old Europe" comprises those countries that were members during the Cold War, while "New Europe" includes member states added during the enlargements of 1999, 2004, and 2008. (Yeah, I know these grouping don't jibe with Don Rumsfeld's intent, but I don't care. I'm stealing his terminology, not his concepts.) Those new member states are grouped by their year of accession, though this may be the only thing they have in common: Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary in 1999; Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia in 2004; and Albania and Croatia in 2008. For reference, I've also included slopes for the entire Alliance, for the European members of NATO (excepting the U.S. and Canada), and for all non-U.S. members (European states plus Canada).

There are a several interesting notes here. First of all, you'll see at the bottom of the page that two numbers are in brackets: 1.500 in 2005 and 1.433 in 2009. These represent the 2008 and 1999 additions to the Alliance, respectively, and the bracketing of those low outlier values is intended to indicate that spatial representation of the data would take the data points beyond the lower edge of the paper.

Another thing that jumps out is that nearly all these averages are below 2%, including the full Alliance average -- the one that includes U.S. spending! The only groupings that averaged more than 2% of national GDP in any of the selected years were the Cold War-era European allies in 2001 and the two recent additions, Albania and Croatia, also in 2001. (This latter grouping would seem to have little significance, seeing as it's made up of only two countries and is skewed upwards by a relatively high 2.8% of GDP spent by a country that had seen war in the previous decade. The dramatic jump back up from 1.5% to 1.95% between 2005 and 2009 is similarly misleading: while Albania made small, incremental increases that surged after accession, Croatia's spending dropped off significantly in the early part of the decade and then remained stable.) And so it happens that in a decade of unprecedented global military expenditures and increased operational tempo and warfighting demands on Western countries, the point of highest average proportional spending by the relevant sub-groups was in 2001 -- prior to the start of those operations!

I alluded to this above, but you should also take note of the fact that the Non-U.S. NATO figures are a few percentage points below the European NATO figures across the board... meaning that Canada's thriftiness is dragging the purportedly stingy Europeans down.

Next up is the slopegraph that I think is the most elegant and powerful of the four: a comparison between "Old Europe" and "New Europe" with the European NATO figures included for reference.

Considering the popular wisdom about which allies are and are not pulling their weight in NATO, I think many people will be surprised to see this graphic. Of course, some analysts have perceived the not-so-subtle shift in new member states' priorities over the last several years. But here's the proverbial picture worth a thousand words: the former Eastern bloc countries have consistently contributed a smaller share of GDP, on average, to their defense over the last decade. As coalition operations in Afghanistan ramped up in the latter part of the 2000s, the traditional allies held spending steady or made slight increases. [I said before that I'd explain why Portugal's omission doesn't really matter, and here's a good opportunity: its values for 2001/2005/2009 are 1.9/2.1/2.1, which hold with the "Old Europe" trend and would actually have made the comparison with new members slightly more distinct.] The opposite is true of the former Eastern bloc countries, of which only Estonia and Albania (an aspiring and then brand-new member) aggressively increased their defense share.

The dynamics of this increasing disconnect between perception and reality are indicated by the last slopegraph, which shows each tranche of new members (and the "New Europe" line that represents the average of all post-Cold War additions) alongside the European NATO baseline. You should see that the scale of this graphic is somewhat different to that of the previous two, as a wider range of values is accommodated across a smaller vertical space.

We've already talked a little bit about the anomalous figures for the 2008 grouping, and frankly it might've made sense to just throw that one out. But take a look at the differences between the data for the 1999 additions and those allies that joined in 2004. The average share of GDP for Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, lauded as the most aggressively pro-Western of the new democracies to emerge from behind the Iron Curtain, dropped dramatically over the decade following their admission (including a staggering 19% decrease in average share of GDP from 2005 to 2009).

Some of this can be explained by the reduced requirement for dramatic transformation of post-communist conscript armies, which was presumably significantly more expensive than operations, procurement, and other costs in the steady state. But surely much of it is attributable to the fact that the new member states faced less pressure to abide by pledges to hold defense spending high now that they could no longer be denied entry. The same downward spike was evident after the admission of the next tranche, consisting of Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, and the three Baltic states: after holding firm in the lead-up to the 2004 enlargement, the bottom has simply fallen out of several states' budgets in the time since then (to the tune of a 9% fall-off in average share between 2005 and 2009).

As Secretary Gates made clear before leaving office, worries about a two-tiered alliance no longer break down along the same lines as during the Bush administration, when the U.S. and its plucky new post-communist allies were thought to be eager for a fight in contrast with the staid and stingy Western Europeans. Instead the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and Norway have held military spending relatively steady as a percentage of GDP while many new NATO members have sought to cash in on the security dividend of Article 5 guarantees to redirect some spending away from defense programs. These trends should have been predictable: after all, it was certainly in the interest of NATO aspirants to dedicate extra resources to defense for a time in order to achieve vital diplomatic (and by consequence, strategic) effects, while the military expenditures of traditional allies will have settled at their current levels through iterative analysis of defense requirements and other governmental spending priorities. Over the next decade, I'd expect we'll see the same phenomenon occur with the new allies, and barring unexpected surge requirements (which, of course, we can't do), spending/GDP ratios should be reasonably stable and settled across the alliance. Maybe Albania and Estonia will continue to increase spending and outstrip their similar neighbors, but probably not.

Proportional defense spending obviously isn't the only indicator of commitment to the Alliance's health and well-being, and it would be unfair to dismiss the contributions of Canadian, Polish, and Dutch soldiers (and Estonians, for that matter) just because of unimpressively average budgetary contributions. But it's certainly interesting to see how the numbers don't exactly sync with popular expectations.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Without getting into the whole "should we cut off aid to Pakistan?" thing...

Let's talk for a second about the much-ballyhooed suspension by the U.S. of about $800M in military aid to Pakistan. The Los Angeles Times' Alex Rodriguez asked a couple of Pakistanis how these developments would impact the relationship between Washington and Islamabad, and unsurprisingly they had all sorts of dire predictions. Some folks went even further; though the aid pause is likely to have little effect on ongoing military operations,
Politically, however, it would be damaging to the relationship, said Pakistan's former ambassador to the United States, retired Major-General Mehmood Durrani said [sic], reflecting a widespread view in Pakistan that it was fighting America's war, for which Washington must reimburse it. 
"This is something that they have to pay, and if they don't then it's breach of agreement and breach of trust," he said.
Leaving aside the genuine, knee-slapping hilarity of being accused of breach of trust by representatives of the Pakistani security establishment, let's focus on exactly why this pause is happening: because the recipient is not meeting the conditions of the aid. I'm not talking generally about double-dealing, supporting anti-coalition insurgency, leaking sensitive operational information and intelligence, etc., but about the specific conditions of the aid that's being held up in this specific instance.

We're talking about two types of aid here: equipment and associated training on the one hand (the monetary value of which in this case is said to be about $500M), and reimbursement for counterinsurgency operations (totaling about $300M) on the other. When you see the $800M figure cited, that's not cash aid, but a combination of materiel and reimbursement funds.

There are two main reasons the aid is being withheld, and they're both very simple. One is that Pakistan is lately making a habit of denying visas to the U.S. military and contractor personnel that will train Pakistani security forces on the employment, maintenance, and long-term sustainment of the military equipment purchased for them with grant aid. When a country buys U.S. military equipment (or has it given to them as grant aid), it doesn't get to just sign for the crate. We're going to make sure you know how to use and maintain the damned thing correctly, that you're not going to waste our money by breaking it right after you tear off the wrapping paper, that you're not going to drive it without oil or try to fire the wrong projectile or strip it down and put on counterfeit rotor blades so you can sell the originals and pocket the difference, and so on. The USG wants reasonable assurances that its aid will actually be useful in serving its intended purpose, and this training (and associated long-term contractor logistics support) is one of the ways it gets those assurances. So it's simple: no visas, no trainers and support personnel, no stuff.

The second reason for the aid holdup is even more straightforward: Coalition Support Funds are meant to reimburse partner nations for military operations they've undertaken in support of U.S. forces*, but reimbursement is contingent on, you know, actually proving that you've conducted those operations. There's a method for the partner government to substantiate its expenses and have them validated by the Combatant Command before the USG just signs away the cash; by all accounts the Pakistanis have been resolute in their refusal to submit to the process.** So no, General Durrani, it's not "something that they have to pay" -- it's something that we've said we'll pay... just as long as you go ahead and meet your own obligations. But if that's too much trouble, ok, cool, fine with us. If you don't want to show daddy your report card, you're not gonna get your allowance.

There's a whole big-picture conversation we could have about whether or not it makes sense to provide military, development, and/or economic assistance to Pakistan, whether it advances our security aims, whether it provides us with any influence in the region, etc. But I want to make it clear that that's a whole different subject. This isn't happening because the USG is having second thoughts about the utility of the whole Pakistani aid program. The government is simply refusing to carry on with business as usual so long as the Pakistanis reject the long-standing conditions of these two types of aid.

When analysts and media talk about strained relations and the long-term prospects for cooperation, and about how aid could be resumed if Pakistan shows more aggressiveness against militancy and so on, they're just parroting the age-old talking points about the relationship and failing to explain to you just exactly what it is that this news is all about.

* Just for the record, Pakistan is the recipient of more than 80% of total CSF, and has gotten something like seven and a half billion dollars in reimbursements since FY02 (pdf).

** To be fair, the Pakistanis aren't the only ones responsible for this state of affairs: a 2008 GAO report (pdf) -- you really ought to read it in full if you care about this subject -- found that the Defense Department was not abiding by its own guidance on CSF oversight, which requires that reimbursement claims "contain quantifiable information that indicates the incremental nature of support (i.e., above and beyond normal operations), validation that the support or service was provided, and copies of invoices or documentation supporting how the costs were calculated." To put it even more bluntly, it was standard DoD practice until recently to simply write a check in response to Pakistani reimbursement claims without doing any of the analysis required to effectively steward taxpayer dollars.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

...begging the question, "why does the military hate English?"

Aw, isn't this cute? The J-7 is worried about inter-service communication!
Over 25 years after the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 mandated "jointness," Service personnel still sometimes struggle to communicate with one another during joint operations. No doubt there has been marked improvement, but there is room for more.
Maybe they should instead worry about the individual services developing internally consistent, sensible lexicons instead of proliferating idiotic, poorly-defined, valueless terms like "building partner capacity."

Also: There's no small irony in the fact that a journal article premised on the contention that "words matter" includes this howler:
White cap and wave were defined in JP 1–02 almost exactly as they are in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, begging the question of their utility as entries. [emphasis added]
That's NOT WHAT "BEGGING THE QUESTION" MEANS, BRO. (See here for deets.)

Good thing we're all guided by the mantra "precise terms used precisely"!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Let sleeping sea dogs lie - for now

Over 200 years ago, 13 sailors died in a battle near Tripoli. Their bodies were desecrated and their remains were buried in two sites in Tripoli. For some reason, it seems that the U.S. never took any actions to bring these men home to be buried according their descendant's wishes. Granted, our relations with region have been spotty over the years, but there have been periods of time when this could and should have happened.

After all of this time, however, Congress has been trying to take action. Supported by the families and other groups, such as the American Legion, some members of the House tried to add HR 1497 to the 2011 NDAA a couple of months ago (the Senate did not take any action on the issue). This amendment would have required the Secretary of Defense of take whatever steps that may be necessary to exhume and return these remains. While it didn't make it into the final NDAA, supporters are still pushing to have the bill made law.

Look, I get it. These families should have their ancestors back - I'd like for nothing more. But this is ridiculous. In case these Congressmen, families, and veterans groups didn't know, we're kind of in a non-war war with Libya at the moment. You know what's probably not going to happen any time soon? The Libyan government letting us waltz right into Tripoli to get our boys back. So why would anyone want to force the DoD to act now, without so much as a caveat such as "as soon as the political situation stabilizes" or some such thing. A veterans' group should be especially sensitive to the idea that such a law may require putting soldiers into harms way over something that has been mishandled for 200 years. And there's all the issue of the current regime getting wind of this business and using it as a political football.

So yeah, let's get these men home, but let's do it when the time is right. That time is not now.

(And residents of Somers Point, NJ - you might want to tell your mayor that Germany hasn't always been our ally (check the video on the American Legion site around the 1:30 mark). Which is why we have a couple of cemeteries there to begin with.)

Friday, July 1, 2011

Why not "Momentum III"?

Does anyone know who names campaign phases? Like what actual office in DOD assigns the official names? Because I'd never seen them before yesterday, when the Pentagon announced that new campaign stars were authorized for additional phases in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Here's part of the press release:
The additional campaign phase and associated dates established for the [Iraq Campaign Medal] is:
                        •  New Dawn - Sept. 1, 2010 through a date to be determined.
Six other phases, previously identified, include:
                        •  Liberation of Iraq - March 19, 2003 to May 1, 2003.
                        •  Transition of Iraq - May 2, 2003 to June 28, 2004.
                        •  Iraqi Governance - June 29, 2004 to Dec. 15, 2005.
                        •  National Resolution - Dec. 16, 2005 to Jan. 9, 2007.
                        •  Iraqi Surge - Jan. 10, 2007 to Dec. 31, 2008.
                        •  Iraqi Sovereignty - Jan. 1, 2009 to August 31, 2010 
The additional campaign phase and associated dates established for the [Afghanistan Campaign Medal] is:
                        •  Consolidation III - Dec. 1, 2009 through a date to be determined.
Three other phases, previously identified, include:
                        •  Liberation of Afghanistan - Sept. 11, 2001 to Nov. 30, 2001
                        •  Consolidation I - Dec. 1, 2001 to Sept. 30, 2006
                        •  Consolidation II - Oct. 1, 2006 to Nov. 30, 2009
The Iraq phase names make some sense, though I think "National Resolution" and "Iraqi Surge" are both a bit goofy. (Are we naming them as phases of the U.S. campaign, or based on host nation political transformation, or what? Seems like both.)

But Afghanistan... seriously? Consolidation I-III? Couldn't we do a better job with this? Like, for example:
  • Bombing the Piss out of the Taliban - Sept. 11, 2001 to Nov. 30, 2001
  • Escape from Tora Bora - Dec. 1, 2001 to Dec. 31, 2001
  • General Indifference - Jan. 1, 2002 to March 18, 2003
  • Economy of Force - March 19, 2003 to Nov. 30, 2009
  • The Good War - Dec. 1, 2009 to June 21, 2011
  • The Expensive, Disappearing War - June 22, 2011 through a date to be determined