Wednesday, August 31, 2011

There aren't too many legitimate parallels between Nazi Germany and modern America...

...but I'd argue that one can be drawn here:
However successful the first two years of the war, the Third Reich never came close to escaping the dilemma posed by the fact that the political and military-strategic costs of expansion continuously outran the benefits of a newly gained hegemonic position.
(Thats from Michael Geyer's "German Strategy in the Age of Machine Warfare, 1914-1945.")

I'll grant you that the parallel to the U.S. strategic position in 2011 may not be staggeringly obvious. But take a second to think about it: immediate and overwhelming operational success in the military manifestations of the "War on Terror" have in time given way to the creeping realization that the implementation of our new national security paradigm -- defense through offense; counterterrorism through the elimination of uncooperative regimes and strengthening of incapable governments -- likely creates unsustainable burdens for the American military, government, and society at large.

Germany's strategic challenge at the outset of the Second World War was to reconcile bad geography, inadequate economy, and destructive social pressures with the manifold negative consequences of any attempt to forcibly alter these circumstances through conquest. The effort failed largely because Hitler's ideological and social objectives forced destabilizing military action before the Reichswehr could strengthen sufficiently to ensure quick and decisive victory. Operational success could not overcome strategic difficulties.

The modern American security establishment has convinced itself of the necessity of creating and sustaining certain conditions that will ostensibly lead to perfect security. Isn't it time we consider whether the political and military-strategic costs of a security policy based on opportunistic intervention and unconstrained global freedom of action are justified by the alleged benefits of global primacy?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Neoconservatism's death: please don't forget to throw out the baby with the bathwater

"As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, something unexpected has happened: the ideology that 9/11 made famous--neoconservatism--has died." That's Peter Beinart in The Daily Beast a couple of days ago. Similar assertions have been floating around for a couple of years -- predictably, when you consider the way that President Obama campaigned on being everything that his predecessor was not -- but they always cause a fair bit of consternation in the commentariat, and for what I think are some pretty good reasons. James Lamond lays out a few of those reasons at Democracy Arsenal, and I'd recommend giving it a look.

Fundamentally, the debate over neoconservatism's waning influence comes down to a struggle to define just what exactly constitutes the real core of the ideology. Lamond:
Battling terrorism through nation-building is not the ideological foundation for neocons, just the most recent incarnation. In his history [pdf] of the neoconservatism Justin Vaisse of Brookings identifies [pdf] five pillars that transcend the various generations that have worn the neocon label: internationalism, primacy, unilateralism, militarism and democracy.
Those who trumpet the end of neoconservative history tend to focus on one or the other of these tenets, or even to create their own fusion of the five. Beinart is fixated on the Bush administration's embrace of "a doctrine that rejected limits," which we might understand as emphasis on primacy and unilateralism. But this is quibbling over process and method, not substance; neoconservatives may have imagined that a bottomless defense budget would continue to resource muscular American military action in the face of impotent international opposition, but is that really what we understand the ideology to be all about in 21st century America? And is that what makes neoconservatives so damned bad for America?

I would argue that it's not. For me, the real destructiveness of neoconservatism is to infuse in so many Americans a belief in the transformative power of U.S. action abroad: the belief that our government and military can trigger predictable changes in the socio-political dynamics of only dimly-understood states on the other side of the globe in such ways as to render the international security environment more stable and safe for Americans (and, it almost goes without saying, for American primacy). This way of understanding America's role in the world goes hand-in-glove with a wildly unbalanced attention to the threat of terrorism, a naive belief in the possibility of perfect security, and an attendant theory of internerational engagement that rests on both "draining the swamp" (through economic development, education, and political liberalization) and "managing ungoverned spaces" (by establishing and maintaining physical control by compliant governments over almost every square mile of the earth's surface). In other words, it's built on the idea that national security isn't really about us, but about them; if we can just change the world enough, we'll be safe.

Some people have derisively (or half-jokingly) suggested that the Obama administration has not broken dramatically with neoconservative priorities.  And it's not at all uncommon to encounter sentiments like the one expressed by Hussein Ibish, who tweeted that "Obama achieved several neocon goals with anti-neocon methods." But what does that even mean? Why are we concerned with "method"? If unilateralism, militarism, and all the rest had been demonstrably effective in making Americans safer at a sustainable cost, would neoconservatives be so polarizing and unpopular?

I'd rather try to understand the so-called "neocon goals" that the present administration has allegedly achieved. If we're talking about degradation of al-Qaeda and an absence of major terrorist attacks, then surely we'd have to understand those as desired outcomes and national security objectives for people of all political and ideological stripes. But if it's something more nebulous, like political liberalization in the Arab world or more faith and trust overseas in the fundamental goodness of U.S. actions abroad, then we ought to ask whether there's any reason to believe that such developments have actually made Americans any safer, or whether we simply believe that they have out of an unjustified faith in the transformative power of American action and a tacit acceptance of neoconservatism's Magic Democracy Thinking.

If neoconservatism is dead, but there's still a rough national consensus that perfect security is achievable through the provision of global justice and economic opportunity, then haven't we killed the wrong thing? If Wolfowitz and Strauss are to pass from the scene, for god's sake let's make sure they take Wilson and Marx with them.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Strategic assumptions in a non-unitary government

Ben Lombardi had an interesting piece in the Spring 2011 issue of Parameters called "Assumptions and Grand Strategy" (pdf). I spent part of this afternoon skimming it and thinking about the way it relates to the Olson essay I cited earlier today. In explaining the three types of assumptions that impact and shape strategic plans, Lombardi reminds us of both the existence and the validity of "imposed assumptions" -- the planning constraints that stem from policy decisions made by the government.
An example of this is the exclusion of the United States as a possible adversary from British planning before both world wars. A paper prepared in 1928 for the CID stated that "[t]he improbability of war with America has been a factor in the policy of this country for a considerable number of years." It further acknowledged that the consequences of a conflict with the United States would be disastrous to British interests. Foreign Secretary Sir Austen Chamberlain observed that such a conflict was beyond reasonable expectations:
It would not even be necessary for the United States to take any warlike action against us in protest. They could close markets and financial sources of vital importance to us. Such a situation [was] the only one from which a war with America might arise, but he could not imagine that any British Government would be mad enough to create such a position.
Asserting that war with America was implausible played far more than just a passive role (i.e., excluding conflict with the US from military scenarios) in British planning. When the consolidation of the Royal Navy followed the introduction of reforms in the early years of the 20th century, there was only limited concern expressed about the reduction of naval assets in North American waters. Whitehall was also guided in framing its relations with other countries by that outlook. The Anglo-Japanese Arbitration Treaty (1911) included a clause that released Britain from its alliance obligations should Japan find itself in a conflict with the United States.
The imposition on strategic planning of this assumption was probably influenced by a variety of nonrational considerations, such as the wrongness of a conflict between the two principal Anglo-Saxon powers. It was, after all, a leading British politician, Joseph Chamberlain, who in 1896 referred to an Anglo-American war as an "absurdity as well as a crime" and opined that the two countries would one day work together to fashion a new world order "sanctioned by humanity and justice." Just as significant, however, this presupposition was also firmly grounded in a rational appreciation of Britain’s vulnerabilities and its strategic interests. As that assessment demanded that conflict with Washington be avoided, there was no purpose served in planning military contingencies against the United States. The [Committee of Imperial Defense], and presumably lower-level defense planning staffs, were instructed to assume that no such conflict would occur.
Recognition of imposed assumptions in the strategic planning process is just one of several ways that the strategist can remain cognizant of the inherently political nature of his work. If policymakers say we're not going to war with China and it does us no damned good to prepare for war with China, then that's the way it ought to be. The strategist's assumptions must be based as a matter of course on the nation's assumptions. But this can get complicated in what's probably a pretty obvious way: in a republic, no one person or body gets to decide what constitutes the national interest. Whatever your feelings about war powers or the constitutionality of military action absent legislative sanction, it's clear that the American system of government includes a role for both the Congress and the President in both foreign policy and warmaking. (The plain fact that these two domains of state action were far more clearly delineated from one another in the 18th century than the 21st -- and that the erosion of this line complicates matters -- hardly even bears mentioning.)

When it comes to national strategy, is it even possible for the executive to provide direction to his military planners based on a policy determination like the one discussed above? Could the president direct the Pentagon to exclude China from planning scenarios in a country where the Defense Department has a statutory requirement to brief Congress annually on Chinese military strength? Or where it's considered appropriate and unexceptional more generally for the Congress to legislate requirements for all sorts of similar reports and associated preparatory measures? (For example 
10 U.S.C. §153(b)(2), which requires the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to submit to Congress in odd-numbered years "an assessment of the nature and magnitude of the strategic and military risks associated with executing the missions called for under the current National Military Strategy" (which, lest you forget, is published by the CJCS himself).)

I suppose the answer is that it's still perfectly reasonable for the White House to lay down its own imposed assumptions within the confines of each administration's four-year strategic planning cycle, but the threat of Congressional squealing about anything controversial mitigates against such definitive pronouncements. (I should note here that I'm only using the China example as a thought experiment, in large part because I found it difficult not to think of our creditor-frenemy when reading Chamberlain's remarks about closing markets and governmental madness.)

Is it too hard to do realistically constrained, scenario-based strategic planning in a non-unitary government with four-year turnover? Is this what Olson meant when he said we lacked the necessary "strategic culture" absent the Cold War?

Monday's strategy word-mash

Over the weekend, SWJ ran a piece called "The Natural Law of Strategy: A Contrarian's Lament" (pdf) by an NDU professor named William J. Olson. The essay touches on a subject that's near and dear to my heart, and I read it with no small amount of interest. I'm disappointed to report that the few kernels of sensibility and insight that form the sub-structure of Olson's non-argument are largely obscured by his positively unbearable writing style. The author is clearly a man of wide reading and serious education, but I found this paper to be damned near unreadable. (You might do well to seek an explanation from Mark Safranski, who gave Olson's essay "Top Billing!") As a public service, I've tried to pull out the bits that strike me as meaningful and generally clear so that you don't have to muddle through the rest of the text.

Last things first: Olson's ostensible thesis statement comes in the third-to-last sentence of an 11-page paper:

The basic problem now is that what passes for strategy is actually serial operational and tactical plans that do not arise from a strategic cultural capable of providing the legitimizing context for what might be a strategy.
Gotcha. That I should have to go to the end of the essay to find what ought to come at the beginning is characteristic of what strikes me as a serious problem that contributes to the paper's lack of clarity: the argument is basically made backwards.
[C]urrent ideas of strategy actually make it impossible to have a strategy.
Fair enough.
[T]here is a disconnect between policy formulation and strategy, which is meant to bridge the gap between intention and action. If so, then the idea of incorporating „ends‟ into strategy seems amiss. Strategy, as such, is not about ends, which are provided by another, perhaps mysterious, process and handed off. There is no trinity of ends, ways, and means.
This point is well-taken: strategy's ends should be provided by policy. That is, the government ought to decide how it wants things to be, and the strategist should apply means along appropriate ways to achieve the derived ends.
The problem is, there cannot be, no, there shouldn't be, any strategy independent of its context, that is it cannot be considered separate from the non-strategic struggles that shape it (inter- or intra-agency, inter-branch, public discussions and debates). But for much of current strategy and for much of the way it is taught, that is precisely what is happening, that is, strategy is considered as somehow a separate phenomenon that can be understood as a thing unto itself. As a result, it is divorced from its meaning... What is clear is that one of the single most important elements in strategy, however conceived, has tended to disappear from the process, that is its political nature. [Emphasis in original]
(This extended clip ought to give you a window into just exactly why the entire piece is so difficult to digest.) I take this to mean that strategy is being developed without an understanding of the what for, or in fact even without a what for at all. This may not be the point that Olson is trying to make, but later comments about a lack of strategic culture indicate that he believes strategy is impossible because broader policy has no narrative or motive force. (Like I said: I could be wrong.)
[T]he consequence of such instrumentalized thinking is to equate strategy with the resources necessary to achieve it, and ultimately to reduce everything to a discussion of resources and how to make strategy conform with and confirm the institutional agendas of the players whose resources are at issue. Without a strategic culture that tames this tendency, there can be no strategic thought only the illusion of it.
In other words, the structure of the national security apparatus serves to exert a deforming influence on the strategy(/ies) it creates. Strategy is build backwards from resources and programs rather than forwards from foundational assumptions. I'm extremely sympathetic to this argument (assuming Olson is actually making it).
There is not a single, decisive source nor any precise moment that determines the national interest and no fixed decisions on what its elements are.
Word. I would only add that this is, to a certain extent, one of the limitations of republican government (which the United States can only be said to pathetically imitate when it comes to national security). Frederick the Great, Jomini, and Delbruck all recognized this, explicitly or otherwise.
[W]e have a security architecture based on a doctrine, containment, that no longer applies, responding to a threat, the Soviets, that no longer exists. What passes for strategy today, along with all the institutional means for developing strategy, are legacy habits and institutions marching to the sound of the last drummer.
This echoes the excerpt two before this one ("without a strategic culture that tames this tendency"). It's tough to know whether Olson means to say that we really have no "strategic culture" or that we simply operate with one that's a holdover from times gone by (as this latter quote would seem to indicate), but functionally the two criticisms are the same.
"Strategy" as such is now the province of bureaucratic mechanisms, most of which are under the Department of Defense. Unlike the processes leading to NSC-68, presidents, cabinet secretaries, Congressional leadership are largely irrelevant to the development and implementation of strategy beyond endorsing bureaucratic products or tweaking the margins, hence the disconnect with ends and the repeated, mainly bureaucratic effort, to find in present circumstances the types of existential threats that recapitulate the Cold War menace and thereby justify the elaborate establishment necessary to meet such a threat.
Yes. This sentence went on about forty words too long, but yes.

What I take from all of this is that real strategy -- that is, process: the thinking application of ways and means to accomplish policy ends -- is impossible without a clear understanding of national priorities in global context, and that our system of government makes it basically impossible to determine and achieve consensus on such priorities absent a specific set of geopolitical circumstances like those produced by the World Wars or the Soviet threat. I don't agree that it must be this way, but it's a provocative explanation for America's repeated strategic failures.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Chinese military power and America's future in the western Pacific

Just yesterday I read Mike Few's interview in Small Wars Journal of Stephen Glain (pdf), author of the new (and rather unfortunately-titled) book State vs. Defense. I've not yet read the book, but portions of it have been published in adapted form in various places around the internet over the last several weeks. Glain makes a provocative argument, and one that I think has a solid and troubling basis in truth: that American foreign policy is overly militarized and securitized, that this trend is a near-inevitable result of the way our political system produces foreign and defense policies, and that the problem is most clearly manifest in the dramatic disparity in resources devoted to the Pentagon and the State Department.

This is a book that needed to be written and needs to be read, particularly when it's juxtaposed with pollyannaish tracts trumpeting the achievements of the modern cooperative military, like Derek Reveron's dire apologia entitled Exporting Security. But having already seen a very little reaction to Glain's work, I fear that his outsider perspective and occasionally overstated claims may detract from the overall impact of his argument; many military officers and defense analysts who would otherwise be sympathetic to his conclusions will be put off by his aspersions and won't recognize the Manichean struggle he describes.

I bring this up now because I very much enjoyed Glain's insights on China as expressed in the SWJ interview, and I wanted to share them here.
China was not our largest creditor ten years ago and, most significantly, it is unlikely to be our largest creditor in ten years’ time. The Chinese know the U.S. dollar is a diminishing asset and it is likely to continue depreciating along with the credibility of our lawmakers in Washington. No doubt Beijing, like Wall Street, is gaming out ways of reducing its exposure to the dollar without destabilizing the world’s $4 trillion foreign exchange market. If there are only so many Swiss francs China can buy for dollars it can convert its reserves into tangible assets like real estate. Either way, we console ourselves with the MAD theory of Sino-U.S. economic relations at our peril.
Strategically, there is nothing in three thousand years of recorded history to suggest China will assert itself militarily worldwide, particularly given how successful it has been wooing resource-rich developing states through commercial means. China clearly regards itself as the once-and-future overlord of Asia, however, which puts it on a collision course with the Pentagon. Here, Washington and Beijing are talking past each other in a rather ominous way. The Americans say they welcome China’s peaceful ascent while refusing to concede its authority over the Asian littoral, to say nothing of its deep-water seaways. The Chinese, meanwhile, claim dominion over the South China Seas and other disputed waters while implying they expect nothing less than the kind of regional hegemony Washington carved out for itself in the Americas throughout the nineteenth century. Absent a vigorous diplomatic effort to reconcile these discordant positions, I fear some kind of Sino-American conflict is inevitable. [...]
Washington must also know that China, as the world’s second-largest economy with three millennia of history as a regional power, will seek to impose its own Monroe Doctrine in Asia and it must acknowledge its limits in opposing this. Attempts to "contain" China would result in a decidedly asymmetrical contest that would exhaust America’s already depleted accounts but which Beijing could sustain at relatively low cost to itself.
I am more sanguine than Glain about the prospects for peaceful management of the U.S.-China relationship in the future. It seems certain that this is a result of my greater confindence in the U.S. foreign and security policy establishment to think strategically and behave rationally, a confidence that's inexplicable in light of my tendency to offer near-constant criticism of America's strategic failures. But I'd like to believe that we'll develop a somewhat more sophisticated understanding of our economic and security interests in the future, an understanding that will allow us to perceive and react to the legitimate interests of others in cool-headed and even-handed fashion, one that will help us move past the current fad for primacy everywhere and at all times.

A guy can dream, right?

Relatedly, the Defense Department's annual report (pdf) on "the current and probable future course of military-technological development of the People's Liberation Army and the tenets and probable development of Chinese security strategy and military strategy" -- mandated by Congress since the FY 2000 NDAA -- was published today. (In a week, it would've been six months late.) Kate Brannen summarizes and excerpts the report's contents here for Defense News.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"Political strategy," IO impact, and propaganda of the deed: "You want it to be one way, but it's the other way"

John Bigelow's 1894 book "The Principles of Strategy" is one of the few noteworthy examples of original American strategic thinking from the period between the 1860s and the 1920s. One reason is Bigelow's relatively novel exploration of what he called "political strategy": the purposive wartime targeting of both "the machinery of the enemy's government" and the will of his subject population so as to impair that government's effective functioning and call its legitimacy into question. Airpower advocates would eventually snow us all into believing that popular support could be decisively impacted through strategic bombing, avoiding the bloody clash of armies (or at least they'd repeat the contention so often that it became a sort of commonplace). As such, it's tough to appreciate just exactly how unconventional this perspective was in its time.

Bigelow opened his chapter on the subject by excerpting from Ulysses Grant's memoirs, specifically recalling the Union commander's comments on Sherman's march through the South:
It had an important bearing in various ways upon the great object we had in view, that of closing the war. All the States east of the Mississippi River, up to the State of Georgia, had felt the hardships of the war. Georgia and South Carolina, and almost all of North Carolina, up to this time had been exempt from invasion by the Northern armies, except upon their immediate sea-coasts. Their newspapers had given such an account of Confederate success that the people who remained at home had been convinced that the Yankees had been whipped from first to last, and driven from pillar to post, and that now they could hardly be holding out for any other purpose than to find a way out of the war with honor to themselves. 
Even during this march of Sherman's, the newspapers in his front were proclaiming daily that his army was nothing better than a mob of men who were frightened out of their wits, and hastening, panic-stricken, to try to get under cover of our navy for protection against the Southern people. As this army was seen marching on triumphantly, however, the minds of the people became disabused, and they saw the true state of affairs. In turn they became disheartened, and would have been glad to submit without compromise. (p. 225)
The old anarchist and Marxist idea of the "propaganda of the deed" has enjoyed something of a resurgence lately in terrorism and insurgency studies. In its original conception, propagande par le fait was about the catalyzing political effect of public violence: through bomb blasts or political killings, individuals could provoke a demonstration of the government's brutality and impotence against committed revolutionaries, inspiring widespread resistance by the masses.

But there's a flip side to that idea, too: if the counter-revolutionary can synthesize his actions with his political message to counter or even pre-empt the challenging narrative, he can demonstrate the bankruptcy of the rebel's self-annihilating concept. This approach can be extended beyond counterinsurgency and irregular warfare and into the "political strategy" that Bigelow juxtaposes with the "regular [military] strategy" of Jomini: by marching through Georgia and making war on the Confederate populace, Sherman obliterated the fantasy narrative that sustained the last vestiges of popular support for the Southern cause. It wasn't enough for Grant's army to inflict staggering losses on Confederate forces -- without fighting a single battle, Sherman made certain the people of the rebellious states bore personal witness to the irrepressible Union army and understood the fraud their own leaders continued to perpetrate on them.

In other words (to put it in a popular modern context): "you want it to be one way, but it's the other way."

Don't forget, this was an era when battle was widely thought to be singularly decisive (even by Grant himself, who began the war with very different ideas about the utility of maneuver vis-a-vis attritive engagements with the main enemy force). And yet the "IO impact" (to use a modern term) of Sherman's operations was indisputable, and perhaps in some ways conclusive.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

NTM-A disagrees with my ANP assessment

Yesterday, I received an email from a COL David Johnson who is the Director of Command Communications for NTM-A with comments on my last post on the ANP. It seems that Blogger wouldn't let him post the comment himself, hence the email. However, I felt that his comments warrant a post of its own, of course followed by a few of my own comments (blogger's prerogative and all that). So here's COL Johnson:

No doubt, a successful police development program is one of the keys to the Government of Afghanistan assuming the security lead by the end of 2014. But to say the U.S. is not serious about the Afghan National Police (ANP) as a viable force to assume the security responsibilities is not accurate. The ANP training mission transition from DoS to DoD was conducted between Dec 30, 2010 and Apr 29, 2011. The training mission had two elements, 1) training and mentoring; and 2) base support for 15 training sites. On contract transfer, 300 of 728 Dyncorp positions were filled, a manning rate of 41 percent.
The Nato Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A) headquartered at Camp Eggers in Kabul extended the current DoS contractor fill for 90 positions. NTM-A assumed risk in other areas and retasked personnel along with requesting NATO support to fill 148 positions. The endstate and contract transfer from DoS to DoD was 540 of 728 positions filled, a 74 percent manning rate. At no time was training of the police cancelled. In fact, on page 15 of the report it states that "no training classes were cancelled." So, where are we today police training? Currently, 633 of 673 trainer/mentor positions are filled, a 94 percent manning rate. Additionally, on May 26, 2011, NTM-A issued a letter of concern to the contract due to the contractor's inability to meet manning requirements. On June 1, 2011 the contractor agreed to reduce the transition period award fee by $326,000; reducing from $601,000 to $275,000, a reduction of 54%. NTM-A is committed to ensuring that Afghanistan's security institutions, and not just the Police, but the Army and Air Force as well, are self-sufficient, self-sustaining, and enduring. Significant investment, by the American taxpayer, has been made to consciously provide the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) with capable, affordable and sustainable weapons, vehicles, equipment, and infrastructure. This investment must first, meet the requirement to defeat the current threat and protect the people of Afghanistan; it must be affordable and provide the best value over time; it must be sustainable and durable to withstand the harsh Afghan environment; and it must able to be maintained without international assistance.
Developing the ANSF to endure will continue to be the goal, but it will require patience and commitment on the part of the international community. The return on the investment is a capable and professional ANSF that endures long after the coalition combat forces have departed Afghanistan. So, are we getting it right? In some areas the ANP has made incredible progress, in other areas, challenges still exist. But to look back from where we started and where we are today, I am confident when I say that the ANP is on track to meet its 157,000 police force mark by November 2012.
Thank you for your comments, COL Johnson. Firstly, I did not mention the points in the IG reports which gave credit to DoD for fixing a number of the reported problems very quickly and it seems that the manning problems have been largely fixed since then, including making the contractor pay for deficiencies. That was a fairly rapid remediation. So in this regard, I did not acknowledge what had been corrected. So well done on that, NTM-A.

But I still stand by my statement that the U.S. is not serious about police development - which I think is more a fundamental difference with how NTM-A is approaching ANP training and mentoring. This is not to say that DoS or DoD are not serious about - from the looks of it, they have and are working very hard on it. However, we still have a problem in that the contracted program is essentially a train and equip program to me numerical output metrics to fight the insurgency. So here's the conundrum: the USG needs to have a large and protected organization to overwatch the production of police forces in the midst of a counterinsurgency campaign and only DoD fits that description even if their military mission is counter intuitive to long-term police development. The military sees the ANP as a counterinsurgent force and trains them (through a contractor) as such - which explains the focus on numbers. Yet, this is a very short sighted strategy - the idea is that the insurgency will be eventually "defeated" at which point you now have 157,000 or so Afghan National Policemen who know how to operate in a hostile insurgency environment, but probably know squat about the routine enforcement of law. When this happens, the likelihood of the police becoming a driver of conflict (not that the ANP isn't now in my places) is significant. I'll point you again to Bill Rosenau's paper on this topic as well the ANP section of this paper I wrote in the spring.

It's not surprising that DoD is focusing on the counterinsurgent aspect of the ANP - they wouldn't get a chance to do community-type policing if a there isn't a peace. But I still think this is the wrong approach. Why is NTM-A building a force that is essentially poorly equipped and trained ANA to conduct essentially identical operations? Especially when the ANA is obviously so much better than the ANP at conducting these ops? I personally believe that NTM-A shouldn't be doing this ANP training and mentoring program and should effectively move the ANP into the ANA. If they're doing the same mission anyway, DoD ought to focus on what it knows best: training militaries. In the meantime and until the ANP could operate independently and focus on actual policing, DoJ (or DHS) should be leading and executing a police development program for a cadre of officers who would provide the initial leadership of ANP once it comes back on line. If this were to happen, ISAF would get the counterinsurgent forces it needs while Afghanistan would get the police it needs once the fighting has subsided.

I think you would find that if the USG writ large were serious about police development then DoJ would play a bigger role than they already do and have the resources to execute this mission. We would also stop wasting our time developing lousy infantry to fight an insurgency, who are supposed to be policemen. Make the ANP police or make them infantry, but they can't be both or they'll continue being bad at both of them. The USG has dropped its departments into a very hard situation and expects them to come up with the right solution, which I'm not sure they're capable of doing because of the organizations and cultures. This is not an indictment of the people trying to solve these challenges - they were dealt a lousy hand and they're doing what they think is right. And I certainly don't envy COL Johnson and his command for this tough mission. But at some point we're going to have to fix our organization and culture across the USG to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again.

Thanks again to COL Johnson for taking the time to comment here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

As if we needed more bad news about the ANP

How do you take a massive government project that is failing and ensure that it fails more and better in the future? You transition the contract between departments with little oversight or planning and then allow the contractor to fail to fully staff it. So says the IGs of the Departments of State and Defense on the perennially challenged Afghan National Police training program.

Let's start with the basics on this roughly $300 million per year program. It was started, as most police training programs are, by the Department of State's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). This Assistant Secretariat is staffed by hardworking Americans that are Foreign Service Officers - not experts on policing generally speaking (there are of course, a number of these FSOs who have become so in their tenure at INL, but this is the exception in my experience here in DC and in the field). Between this lack of expertise and their organizational structure, they are incapable of in-sourcing police development programs. This has led to their becoming a contracting agency for DoS, which has brings us to these massive outsourcing contracts - primarily to DynCorps. Challenge number one is having a government agency with little expertise in a discipline overseeing a ~1000 person contract conducting that discipline. Without getting onto my training versus development soap box, in my mind this is one of the greatest reasons the ANP are still a failure throughout most of Afghanistan.

So it's not working and the powers that be decide that maybe DoD should take over the contracting responsibilities for training the ANP. DoD is a big organization that handles lots of ginormous contracts, so it should work. Right? Wrong. Let's now talk about another organization that knows next to nothing about policing. I've written before about the large differences between the police and the military - the fact that they're both in uniforms and armed does not mean that they are interchangeable. If you doubt this, just take a look at Iraq's police or read this excellent paper by the brilliant Bill Rosenau. From a performance monitoring perspective, this transition will likely not change the outlook for ANP training in the coming years from its DoS days.

Now that we've argued that two departments who have owned this contract don't really know what they're doing, let's take a quick look at the IG report (quick because the bean counting stuff puts me to sleep).
  • Finding A: DoD and DoS did not sufficiently plan for the transition. A billion dollars over three years for the program that more than one senior official has billed as our exit strategy. How does this happen? This is how you take a bad program and make it worse. Read the rest of this section - this is almost criminal.
  • Finding B: Additional personnel needed for program management and contract oversight. We're looking at oversight organizations that don't know much about the topic they're contracting and then they're not even staffing them to do the basic oversight work such as processing paperwork.
Successful police development is one of the major keys to our withdrawal from Afghanistan. And yet we're still doing train and equip programs through contractors who are understaffed and receive oversight from government organizations who don't very well understand what they're supposed to do. Now we see that a significant event in all of this that was designed to improve how things were being done was absolutely fumbled and still not corrected as of this week. It is apparent that the U.S. is still not serious about the Afghan National Police as a viable force to assume responsibilities after we transition responsibility. So let's get this right very quickly or think about not wasting any more money on this endeavor.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Afghanization hurt by U.S. budgeting practices?

The newest edition of Armed Forces Journal contains a piece by the great Joe Collins on "Afghanization," the natural and inevitable transition to Afghan lead in security and governance operations as coalition forces draw down. "In the end," Collins writes, "the next phase of this war effort needs not an Afghan 'face,' but an Afghan essence." The article lays out a series of reasonable suggestions for making this transition successful -- challenging as that will be.

Collins notes that continued efforts to train and mentor Afghan security forces and national defense institutions will be vital to a meaningful and sustainable transition. But one paragraph in particular really jumped out at me for the apparent misunderstanding it's based upon:
Throughout the process of transition, the U.S. must fence the resources devoted to the advisory and training units that are engaged in building the capacity of Afghan forces. It would be highly dysfunctional if the forces that are making the ANSF more capable have to compete with the shrinking combat forces for money. As we close in on December 2014, the worst of all worlds would be to take resources from those developing Afghan capacity to keep essential combat units in the fight. These drastic choices can be avoided if the Congress appropriates for the Defense and State departments the right amount of funds to keep the strategy in our exit strategy.
Funds that support the development of the ANSF -- from tactical training to the provision of materiel to ministerial and institutional mentoring -- are currently requested and appropriated primarily through the DoD's Afghan Security Forces Fund (ASFF) in the Overseas Contingency Operations account. (See the first page of this SIGAR pdf for a few more details.) Collins surely knows this, but his choice of words may create some confusion for those who do not. He's right to suggest that separate Departmental appropriations would help keep capacity- and capability-building funds conceptually and legislatively distinct from the money that facilitates U.S. combat operations, but the presumption or suggestion that this is current SOP is incorrect.

Military aid is typically appropriated to the State Department and provided to partner governments as grant assistance to be used for the purchase of U.S. military equipment and training. The large-scale training and equipping efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan have resulted in the creation of an unusual funding model and execution apparatus, in large part because of the significant U.S. troop presence in both countries. Security capacity-building funds for those states have been appropriated directly to Defense Department organizations in-country through ASFF and (in Iraq) ISFF; the U.S. training/transition commands in each country then use those funds to provide training and purchase equipment for the host nation.

This model makes some sense: it's consistent with the military's role as the USG lead for building security capacity in the host nation during combat operations, and it simplifies execution. It's also a bit misleading to suggest that capacity-building dollars aren't sufficiently "fenced" from combat operations funding, seeing as they are conceived, requested, considered, and appropriated under distinct headings (despite ending up with the same Department).

But there are a host of reasons that security assistance and other military aid should be dispersed by State in the peacetime "steady state," and both Congress and the White House seem cognizant of them. (An instructive example: the FY 2012 budget request is the first since the beginning of the war in Iraq to include military aid for that country in the form of State-managed Foreign Military Finance grants as opposed to ISFF. This is consistent with the "normalization" of U.S. security cooperation with Iraq in the wake of the withdrawal of the bulk of American combat forces. See specifically slides 8, 9, 26, and 33 in this pdf.) I am an extremely committed proponent of State's continuing responsibility for security assistance and other military aid. But take one look at what's happened with the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund during the budget battles of the last year if you want to see how difficult it will be to adequately resource the training and equipping of ANSF through State Department accounts.

Here's the bottom line: I agree with Collins that security capacity-building funds are essential to our departure from Afghanistan and should be privileged over funds for continued U.S. combat operations, but I fear that in the current fiscal and political climate, a move to channel those funds through the State Department will make them more vulnerable to cuts and have the opposite effect to what's intended.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Max Boot is gonna learn us all up about Somalia! (UPDATED)

It is hard to believe anyone could be outraged by the U.S. government paying for contractors to train the Somalian armed forces. Those armed forces are the only thing standing in the way of a complete takeover of the country by the Shahab, the Taliban-like militia which has close links to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. There is absolutely no appetite in Washington for sending any troops into Somalia, beyond perhaps an occasional Special Operations raid; everyone remembers all too vividly the Black Hawk Down disaster of 1993. So how do we stop the Shahab? The CIA has an active presence there. But that’s not enough. We also need to provide arms and training to the Somali government troops, and because we’re not willing to send even U.S. trainers, that job has been contracted out indirectly to a security company called Bancroft Global Development, based in Washington.
1. No one is "paying for contractors to train the Somalian armed forces." Somalia can barely be said to have armed forces. We're paying to train Ugandan and Burundian soldiers who operate as peacekeepers under the auspices of AMISOM, the African Union Mission in Somalia.

2. I know you've been talking about the Iranian threat for a while, but I don't think Somalia's going to be taken over by intermediate-range ballistic missiles. More likely what you meant is Shabab, Somalia's AQ-linked militia. Shabab, not Shahab. (Dude, you wrote it three times. Don't tell me it's a typo.)

3. Don't you think it's a little strange to say that Americans lack the appetite for U.S. military action in Somalia -- with the exception of SOF raids -- because of troubling memories of the "Black Hawk Down" incident? Uh, all those Rangers and Delta guys were killed during a special operations raid.

4. This may be a news flash to you, but "we're not willing to send even U.S. trainers" almost anywhere (assuming you mean uniformed American servicemen) with the exception of Iraq and Afghanistan, in large part because of the massive manpower requirements of those wars. The bulk of U.S.-provided military training in partner nations is performed by contractors like DynCorp and MPRI (and innumerable subs); sometimes it's contracted through the State Department (as with putative peacekeeping training in Africa), and sometimes it's executed by DoD through foreign military sales.

5. Let's repeat this one to make sure you've got it: this isn't about training and equipping Somali military forces, but African peacekeepers deployed in Somalia. Maybe try reading and understanding next time.

(All of that said, I kind of agree with Boot that the Times article makes a mountain out of a molehill. It conflates peacekeeper training with mercenary military operations by highlighting the role of some European soldier of fortune that could've been an extra in "Blood Diamond," and intimates that U.S.-contracted PSCs are taking direct action against the Shabab in order to fill the gaps in what's described as a poorly-directed, "piecemeal" policy toward Somalia. Dude, this Rouget guy is not the "face of the American campaign against militants in Somalia," unlikely or otherwise. He's just a guy doing a job. The only "American campaign against militants in Somalia" is being waged by intelligence officers, drones, and the occasional special operator.)

UPDATE at 1555 ET 12 AUG: I threw this post together in about 90 seconds after reading Boot's piece yesterday afternoon, largely because I wanted to embarrass him before his mistakes were quickly noticed and surreptitiously corrected. It came as a small surprise when I checked back repeatedly today and noticed that the original post remained unchanged. That is, until some time in the last hour (h/t to @slowfalling on Twitter, who noticed and brought it to my attention); changes are in bold, and I've supplied the original language in brackets.
It is hard to believe anyone could be outraged by the U.S. government paying for contractors to train the African Union peacekeepers trying to keep Somalia from totally spinning out of control [orig.: the Somalian armed forces]. Those armed forces are the only thing standing in the way of a complete takeover of the country by the Shabab [orig.: the Shahab], the Taliban-like militia which has close links to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. There is absolutely no appetite in Washington for sending any troops into Somalia, beyond perhaps an occasional Special Operations raid; everyone remembers all too vividly the Black Hawk Down disaster of 1993. So how do we stop the Shabab [orig.: the Shahab]? The CIA has an active presence there. But that’s not enough. We also need to provide arms and training to African Union peacekeepers, and because we’re not willing to send even U.S. trainers, that job has been contracted out indirectly to a security company called Bancroft Global Development, based in Washington.
On a scale of 1-10, how surprised are you that neither Commentary nor Boot saw fit to make note of the corrections? -6 or so?

UPDATE 2: At Jeremy Scahill's suggestion, I feel it's my responsibility to retract all negative statements about Max Boot's expertise in the cultural and military dynamics of the Horn of Africa. I should also note that the errors in Boot's original post were merely spatio-temporal as opposed to factual, and that we could sort all these little disagreements out rather simply if we'd just send 100,000 U.S. troops to my office to conduct a fully-resourced Gulliver-centric counterinsurgency campaign en route to Mogadishu.

If the last two presidents haven't been "hawk internationalist" enough for you, maybe move to Bismarck's Prussia

Rick Perry's inevitable presidential campaign is starting to take shape, and he's called in the usual neoconservative suspects to give him lessons on national security. One guy who purportedly understands the governor's thinking told Josh Rogin that he'd be a "hawk internationalist," which sounds a lot to me like pretty much every president since Eisenhower.

Here's the line of the week, though:
"He's a cowboy," said Michael Goldfarb, former senior staffer on John McCain's presidential campaign. "You have to assume he'd shoot first and ask questions later -- which would be nice after four years of a leading from behind, too little too late foreign policy."
Now I know Goldfarb is actually proud of being an absolute nonce who would risk catastrophic war to salve his pride or protect geostrategically peripheral "democracies," but how spectacularly and embarrassingly out of touch with the electorate do you have to be to imagine that Americans are interested in a president who "shoots first and asks questions later"?

I mean, I guess he could be right. More cowboyin', please!

"The more things change...": Historical observations on the difficulty of SFA

I recently stumbled across a really interesting RAND report, published in the spring of 1965 by one G.C. Hickey. "The American Military Advisor and His Foreign Counterpart: The Case of Vietnam" (pdf) was based on interviews conducted by the author in the field over a ten-month period in 1964, and it distills a number of lessons about the challenges of the advise-and-assist mission that are relevant to this day. Some of these challenges are structural and circumstantial and impervious to U.S. military solutions. But some of them are not, and Hickey provides a series of recommendations -- grouped within the three major categories of advisor selection, advisor training, and administrative reform -- to improve the performance of U.S. advisors. Despite nearly a decade's worth of similar discoveries in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of these problems persist.

Here's a representative example:
Many Americans, measuring the Vietnamese by their own cultural standards, are highly critical of their value system and some of their attitudes and behavior patterns. They are apt to accuse their counterparts and other associates of being lazy, unenthusiastic, without a sense of urgency about their jobs and the pursuit of the war in general, lacking in frankness to the point of deviousness, intent on ritual but uncharitable toward their fellowmen, lax about health and hygiene, wasteful with materiel. Often, they vaguely ascribe these characteristics to what they call the inscrutable "oriental mentality"; nothing in their training seems to have prepared such critics to look on these aspects of Vietnamese behavior as appropriate and legitimate manifestations of a foreign culture and tradition.
One could rightly say that you can't train empathy and the anthropological ideal of cultural relativism, and I probably agree. But you can select for it, and one of the major flaws of systematic use of general purpose forces for security force assistance is that the opportunity doesn't exist to "select" for much of anything in the 19-year old specialists who make up the bulk of a brigade combat team.

If you can't find the time to read through the entire report, be sure to take a look at the Preface and Summary sections at the very least (pp. iii-xviii).

This brings to mind a paper I read three years ago when it was published by the Army War College: Michael Metrinko's "The American Military Advisor: Dealing With Senior Foreign Officials in the Islamic World" (pdf). (Metrinko, as an interesting if unrelated aside, was one of the embassy hostages in Iran.) This one is more focused on the relationship between senior U.S. military officers and partner nation policymakers or senior government officials, and less on tactical and operational combat advising. But this also helps to illustrate another SFA challenge that I'm constantly harping on: there is a big, big difference between teaching a host nation platoon leader how to run combat patrols and helping a foreign defense minister to set up his acquisition system.

But here's the point: we've thought about this stuff before. We've done this stuff before. So let's think about what's changed and what hasn't and then adapt to do the job right. It seems simplistic, but how can anyone fail to appreciate the similarity between the lessons of today and those of half a century ago?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Open Thread: National security reform (UPDATED)

The comment thread on yesterday's SOF post is starting to morph into two separate lines of discussion thanks to a couple of comments about suggested re-organization of the government to optimize irregular warfare tasks. I think that's an interesting subject and one worthy of discussion, but national security reform is a HUGE topic that spans well beyond the scope of special operations. I've decided to create a new post to discuss those and other suggested structural or organizational changes, and I encourage you to comment on it with your own ideas. I'm going to reproduce the relevant comments from the other thread here to get us started.

Mike Few kicked things off:

I'll add one problem/radical solution.

Problem. USSOCOM is more akin to FORSCOM than CENTCOM.

Solution. Move SOF to the CIA and SF to the State Department.

How would that go over for reform?

And I responded like this:

I'd say "USSOCOM is more akin to" an entire MILDEP (like the Army), not just a component like FORSCOM, because of the doctrine and concepts development, the acquisition function, etc etc that goes beyond personnel management or sourcing of forces. But yeah, I agree. Of course, this is only a "problem" if you presume that USSOCOM should have primary responsibility for the operational employment of SOF (as opposed to the relevant GCC).

When you say "move" them, I assume you mean transfer OPCON and TACON to those organizations, not uproot the entire structure from the military and re-establish it in non-DOD Departments...? Because if you do that, you've suddenly lost the linkage to the basic military skills that are at the root of many SOF capabilities. You've basically just re-created the IC's paramilitary orgs (CIA SAD, etc.) and established an operational unit under SECSTATE "command." I'm not sure what's accomplished by that.

Then an anonymous commenter jumped in with an even more radical proposal:

The CIA is a failed organization that has proven resistant to reform. Therefore, the CIA should be broken up into its constituent parts, and those parts assigned to organizations that already have clear missions and defined chains of command, as follows:

1. Transfer CIA offices and personnel operating within the United States to the FBI. The CIA was never intended to be a domestic spy agency. The FBI is designed to handle domestic intelligence operations. The FBI is measured and held accountable by its ability to catch criminals, and this accountability provides the motivation for the FBI to perform.

2. Transfer all CIA embassy activities overseas to the US Department of State. The State Department is designed to handle diplomacy. Much of what the CIA now does in its embassies involves diplomacy, such as handling relationships with liaison services. State Department officers are able to make contacts with other foreign government representatives in diplomatic venues. The State Department handled these functions prior to the creation of the CIA in 1947.

3. Transfer overseas human intelligence collection efforts to the US military. Focus case officers exclusively on the gathering of human intelligence. The fundamental motivation of the American military—to win wars and to protect the lives of its soldiers—will provide the motivation to ensure that its case officers provide the necessary intelligence and do not become distracted by soft targets or by designing programs meant to look busy and spend money. The US military already has a large corps of trained case officers, graduates of the CIA’s own training course. The US military already has a better ability to place case officers overseas in non-State Department positions. The military’s command structure is clearly defined and much flatter than the Agency’s.

We should recognize the scope of the problem: The lack of human sources of intelligence has haunted American Presidents since the foundation of the CIA in 1947.

Look up Gen. Russ Howard (former SF)

To which Mike responded:

That's the most radical organizational structure change that I've seen that would require both restructuring and changing the law.

The premise was based on the close working relationship developed between SOF/CIA over the last ten years and the habitual CoC SF/State find themselves in in most FID efforts.

Other ideas include dismantling USSOCOM and elevating an SF position in the JCS.

I've got some thoughts of my own on this proposal, but I'll save them for the comments. Hope others will join in.

UPDATE: Anybody else having problems with comment functionality today? I'm having a hell of a time getting anything to post, so I'm just going to stick my first comment up here in the main text until this gets sorted.

So it turns out that what I identified as the thoughts of an anonymous commenter were actually recommendations from Ishmael Jones’s critical book about the CIA. (I read the book a couple years ago, but apparently it didn’t stick.) Intelligence reform isn’t really my thing, but let’s take a look at these ideas as they relate to broader restructuring of the national security apparatus.
1. Transfer CIA offices and personnel operating within the United States to the FBI. The CIA was never intended to be a domestic spy agency. The FBI is designed to handle domestic intelligence operations. The FBI is measured and held accountable by its ability to catch criminals, and this accountability provides the motivation for the FBI to perform.
Could not agree more strongly with this. In fact it seems clear to me that domestic investigation and counterintelligence has been (and should always have been) the responsibility of law enforcement.
2. Transfer all CIA embassy activities overseas to the US Department of State. The State Department is designed to handle diplomacy. Much of what the CIA now does in its embassies involves diplomacy, such as handling relationships with liaison services. State Department officers are able to make contacts with other foreign government representatives in diplomatic venues. The State Department handled these functions prior to the creation of the CIA in 1947.
I’m not sure I understand exactly what Jones means here. “CIA embassy activities overseas,” in my understanding, consist basically of collection management – that is, directing the activities of case officers (intelligence collectors) in the country in question and providing reachback to resources in the U.S. – plus a certain amount of liaison with the host nation government/intelligence service in those countries where this is appropriate and practicable. (It’s possible there’s something else that I’m missing here.)

I don’t have any problem with the idea of transferring these responsibilities to the State Department, but the station chief in each embassy is meant to coordinate his activities with the Chief of Mission (ambassador) already in the current system. And the intelligence competencies possessed by the CIA stations in each country would need to be reproduced in the State Department, likely at greater cost, effort, and administrative difficulty now that you’ve organizationally separated collection from collection management. (Shouldn’t the folks running case officers have experience as case officers themselves?)

3. Transfer overseas human intelligence collection efforts to the US military. Focus case officers exclusively on the gathering of human intelligence. The fundamental motivation of the American military—to win wars and to protect the lives of its soldiers—will provide the motivation to ensure that its case officers provide the necessary intelligence and do not become distracted by soft targets or by designing programs meant to look busy and spend money. The US military already has a large corps of trained case officers, graduates of the CIA’s own training course. The US military already has a better ability to place case officers overseas in non-State Department positions. The military’s command structure is clearly defined and much flatter than the Agency’s.
I think this is a terrible, terrible idea. Jones suggests that military personnel will be more motivated to do a good job because their “fundamental motivation” is “to win wars and protect the lives of its soldiers.” But isn’t the fundamental motivation of an intelligence officer to collect intelligence, detect threats, and protect Americans? It’s simply not serious to argue that the military interests are any less bureaucratic or parochial than those of intelligence officers. Furthermore, human intelligence collection is not a core competency of the armed forces and requires a dramatically different mindset than what’s demanded by most functional specializations in the military.And as for the DOD’s “ability to place case officers overseas in non-State Department positions,” I can only assume Jones means that military officers could operate under official cover as defense attaches (who are already intelligence collectors), liaisons, or security cooperation officers. But this flies in the face of the accumulated wisdom that resulted in DATTs being expressly differentiated from SCOs: if the host nation doesn’t know who is a collector and who isn’t, everyone gets treated that way. And that ends up hampering all the cooperative efforts that military personnel in foreign countries are there to execute.
Intelligence reform may be necessary, but further militarizing our overseas presence by putting operational military personnel in every country on the globe is a cure that’s worse than the disease.

I wonder how he feels about Afghanistan!

Frustrated with the Union army's early lack of impetus, Engels wrote to Marx in 1862 that he could not "work up any enthusiasm for a people which on such a colossal issue allows itself to be continuously beaten by a fourth of its own population." (Source, p. 274)


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Is this the new normal for SOF? (UPDATED)

I'm going to start with a disclaimer: I am not a special operator. In fact, I'm not any kind of operator. I never have been. I don't have any kind of inside knowledge about the way SOF does its business, and you shouldn't take anything I'm going to say here as a suggestion that I do. My angle on this is basically the same as my approach to a range of other military issues: I understand policy and strategy and force structure, and I have a reasonable amount of expertise in the theory, concepts, and authorities that underpin security force assistance. So let's just head this off at the pass: you don't have to come tell me YOU DON'T KNOW DICK ABOUT HOW SPECIAL OPERATORS DO THEIR JOBS IN THE REAL WORLD AND YOU SHOULD JUST STFU!!!11!1 because I'm pretty much already granting you that. So there's that out of the way.

Now then:
A growing number of veteran commandos in Special Operations are rising to top positions in traditional military units and across the national security bureaucracy, reflecting the importance of their specialized training to fight unconventional wars that defined the past decade.
Among the most visible of these appointments were the recent promotions of two Navy Seal commanders to the No. 2 slots at a pair of military regional commands, a historic first.
Vice Adm. Robert S. Harward was named deputy commander of Central Command, the military’s busiest, managing two wars while watching a complex set of partners and rivals across Southwest Asia and the Middle East. Vice Adm. Joseph D. Kernan was named deputy commander of Southern Command, specializing in upgrading the skills of local security forces across Latin America and the Caribbean with the exercise of American influence, or “soft power.”
The intermingling of conventional forces and Special Operations personnel is under way elsewhere, too, reflecting a significant shift in military culture and reshaping not only the armed services but also the executive branch and Capitol Hill.
This according to Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt in today's New York Times. (It's probably worth noting that Shanker and Schmitt also have a new book out on the role of SOF and intelligence assets in aggressively targeting AQAM.)

Admiral Eric Olson handed over command of U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) to ADM William McRaven yesterday; both men are SEALs. Olson was the first ever three-star (and eventually four-star) SEAL, and the first SEAL to command SOCOM. McRaven was the first SEAL to command JSOC, SOCOM's most talked-about component. All of which is to say that SEALs are a highly visible, influential presence in the senior ranks of both the special operations community and the broader Joint force in a way they never have been before.

SEALs have been in the press a lot lately, of course: the raid that killed Osama bin Laden and the tragedy of last weekend's downed Chinook have ensured that both the sacrifices and the excellence of Naval special operators are front of the national mind. It's exactly this centrality to current operations that has made possible the increasing policy influence of the individuals cited above: in a war that is largely irregular, who better to help integrate special operations with those conducted by conventional military forces than representatives of the units whose statutory responsibility includes direct action, unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, and a range of other irregular tasks? The geographic combatant commands' "Phase 0" peacetime engagements and post-conflict activities have a great deal in common with the main elements of the SOF mission, so this seems like a sensible move. Shanker and Schmitt are right to emphasize the unique experience of special operators in dealing not just with other military officers, but integrating operations with representatives from across the interagency and partner militaries. This is surely a useful skill for flag and general officers at a combatant command, and it's something SOF guys have been doing for their entire careers. Here's an instructive snip from the Army's SOF field manual:
ARSOF missions are normally joint or interagency in nature. ARSOF can conduct these missions unilaterally, with allied forces, as a coalition force, or with indigenous or surrogate assets. Mission priorities vary from theater to theater. ARSOF missions are dynamic because they are directly affected by politico-military considerations. A change in national security strategy or policy may add, delete, or radically alter the nature of an ARSOF mission.
Special operators are Chuck Krulak's real "strategic corporals" fighting the "three block war," and this serves them well at the policy-oriented higher reaches of the combatant commands.

But what first jumped out at me on reading the article I've excerpted above is that all the guys we're talking about aren't just SOF guys -- they're all SEALs. That is, they're members of perhaps the most direct action-oriented SOF in the U.S. arsenal. That's not to say that Naval Special Warfare doesn't do FID or anything of the sort, but rather that the major emphasis of the SEALs both in the current wars and over the last several decades has been direct action, raids, counterterrorism, and so on. This is in direct contrast to U.S. Army Special Forces, whose traditional, foundational mission is UW and FID. (Look, this isn't about interservice rivalry, so spare me. It just is what it is.)

SF, of course, has done plenty of direct action in the last decade. The sheer size of the combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan has created a demand for direct action "door-kickers" that outpaced the supply of forces traditionally tasked with that mission, which has resulted in what I call the Ranger-izing of the bulk of U.S. SOF. (The 75th Ranger Regiment is the Army's elite light-infantry unit and is traditionally tasked with direct action and strike missions such as raiding and interdiction.) Simply put, with two big wars going on, SOF have increasingly been employed for door-kicking and trigger-pulling.

Should this be the new normal, though? Is this what we want these guys -- SOF writ large, I mean -- doing into the future? The unique capabilities that exist in U.S. SOF were created and maintained for a reason: they're specialized, they're training-intensive, and they're extremely useful to policymakers. Military leaders are always looking for ways to adapt and make themselves more relevant to the mission, and the hard-chargers in the SOF community are probably even more inclined to do so than most; viewed in this light, it's not surprising that a national security paradigm that prioritizes counterterrorism would mitigate in favor of an emphasis on raiding and direct action. But if the trend continues, the Joint force and the country risks losing the many other important force multipliers that SOF can bring to the table.

For their part, Special Forces guys seem to know this. Many of them understand that the future security environment, in which policymakers will almost certainly favor the indirect approach over costly and controversial military operations, demands a re-emphasis on their traditional core competencies. I've got a lot of technical quibbles with this idea (and a few conceptual ones), but COL Eric Wendt presents an aggressive and original idea for how Army SF can get back to their roots through what he's calling the Volckmann Program. It's worth reading, if only to appreciate the juxtaposition between Wendt's traditionalist understanding of what SOF are meant to be all about and the Dick Marcinko caricature that's become increasingly accurate in recent years.

Does the elevation of SEALs as opposed to Green Berets indicate a continued emphasis on direct action at the expense of FID? Am I reading too much into this? (I'm especially interested in input and comments from SF guys and other special operators. As I said above, I'm looking at this from the outside, and there's only so much you can see from there.)

UPDATE: Because I've finally realized after all this time that no one clicks through on links, and because it's directly relevant to this conversation, here's the list of specified "special operations activities" from 10 U.S.C. §167 (j). I've also included my own simplistic explanatory comments for your edification, but I'm not going to go into the sort of semantic digressions (as is my wont) that are so natural when discussing the DoD lexicon.

1) Direct action (DA) -- killing people and breaking things in surgical fashion in high-risk environments
2) Strategic reconnaissance (now called special reconnaissance, SR) -- essentially intelligence collection
3) Unconventional warfare (UW) -- support to foreign insurgency
4) Foreign internal defense (FID) -- support to foreign authorities combating internal threats (insurgency, terrorism, etc.); includes a training/advising (security force assistance) component
5) Civil affairs (CA*) -- liaison between civil government and military forces
6) Psychological operations (now called Military Information Support Operations, MISO) -- shaping foreign opinion in support of U.S. objectives
7) Counterterrorism (CT) -- self-explanatory, I hope
8) Humanitarian assistance -- responding to humanitarian crises in foreign countries, preferably in support of civil authorities
9) Theater search and rescue (SAR) -- getting people back from high-risk, denied environments; the "theater" bit seems to me to suggest that SOF are covering an entire AOR's SAR needs, including countries where U.S. forces are not engaged in combat operations
10) Such other activities as may be specified by the President or the Secretary of Defense

* "CA" is the acronym for civil affairs, which is a term that actually refers to units, not activities. CA perform "civil affairs activities," but I'm just gonna use the acronym here for simplicity. Remember what I said about the lexicon being stupid?

Joint special operations doctrine, developed by USSOCOM and codified in JP 3-05 Special Operations, gives a somewhat different listing of "special operations core activities" (see Figure II-2 on page II-6): DA; SR; counterproliferation of WMD; CT; UW; FID; security force assistance (SFA); counterinsurgency (COIN); information operations (IO); MISO; and CA operations. I'm not sure why SOCOM decided to re-define its core missions, but an exploration of how these concepts are nested with and overlap one another would bore the hell out of you and take forever, so I'll just leave it at that.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Quote of the Day: Modern mercantile-totalitarian edition

From Edward Mead Earle's chapter "Adam Smith, Alexander Hamilton, Friedrich List: The Economic Foundations of Military Power" in the 1984 edition of The Makers of Modern Strategy:
When the guiding principle of statecraft is mercantilism or totalitarianism, the power of the state becomes an end in itself, and all considerations of national economy and individual welfare are subordinated to the single purpose of developing the potentialities of the nation to prepare for war and to wage war.
Now read this from a contemporary Maker of Modern Strategy:
Really I just wanted to say that I think it's pretty freakin' weird to be talking about early childhood education, parenting guidance, mental and nutrition services, and so on as matters of national security. I mean, there's a case to be made for doing more of all of that, though reasonable people will disagree about how good that case is. [...] But really, is the best way to argue in favor of what would necessarily be a vast expansion of the role of the federal government and of reasonably invasive social programs an appeal to military readiness? If you're a believer in that stuff, shouldn't it be enough that we have a lot of people who are poor, who are hungry, who are unhealthy, diabetic, fat, undereducated, unambitious, badly parented, perhaps criminally neglected, angry at school, unable to learn, and so on and so on and so on? Do you really need to pitch those programs by citing security requirements (particularly when we already have a reasonably large standing military and spend a significant amount of money on Defense personnel accounts)?
Ok, just kidding: that was me. (See what I did there?)

It would be an exaggeration, of course, to suggest that all considerations of national economy and individual welfare are currently being subordinated to security here in decidedly un-totalitarian America. But surely you'll not have missed a trend toward the militarization of our political discourse, of which this consideration of teen health as a national security matter is just one example?

Lesson number one on how to operate in the executive branch of a constitutional republic

If you're the Defense Department, don't tell your congressional paymasters that certain funding levels would be "completely unacceptable." (Or "clearly unacceptable," for that matter.)

We're all familiar with the Constitution, right? Article I, Section 8, in particular?

There's actually a Constitutionally-provided means for the executive branch to register its opinion that certain legislative initiatives are "completely unacceptable": it's called the presidential veto. Here's a not-exhaustive list of people who are not statutorily guaranteed veto power: the Secretary of Defense; "senior defense officials"; you (except you, Mr. President).

Is it any wonder that a world such as this, where appointed officials of the executive branch dictate to the elected representatives of the people what is and is not "acceptable," produces generals who believe Congress requires re-education in the national interest?

Is it any wonder that appropriate civil-military relations in this country, not to mention the clear distinction between the legitimate roles and missions of the various departments and agencies of the government, are so constantly and consistently eroded as to scarcely merit comment in some circles?

Is it any wonder that the unitary executive sees fit to wage war (under the guise of "kinetic military action") in Libya without legislative sanction, and in the face of popular opposition?

Is it any wonder that we're increasingly comfortable with the Jominian subversion of our domestic politics to the imperatives of forever war?

No, I think what's unacceptable is the Defense Department telling the Congress that there's a certain funding level at which it refuses to prioritize and make choices... that is, it refuses to do its job.

"The Pentagon cannot presume to exempt itself from the scrutiny and pressure faced by the rest of our government" on the matter of budgets. That's your predecessor talking, Mr. Panetta. That's a man who knew a little bit about what was and wasn't acceptable.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

You're Welcome America

Making the rounds yesterday was this op-ed from West Point professor Elizabeth Samet in Bloomberg on the habit of civilians to say "thank you" to men and women in uniform. Samet attributes this to a number of possible reasons: they don't know what else to say, it's from guilt over how lousy Vietnam vets were treated, absolution from collective responsibility, and maybe something else I wasn't getting. My old friend, Captain Hyphen, adds some more thoughts and anecdotes to this very common occurrence that is definitely worth the read.

This happened to me a lot in uniform and still does now that I'm out and it comes up in conversation that I spent not a little amount of time in Iraq. Yes, it's somewhat awkward. No, I certainly don't expect to be thanked for my service. But the people who say it, whatever their reason for doing so, usually just don't understand what you've went through and just want to express that they care. It doesn't really matter why they do it. I have one piece of advice for those of you who deal with this: get over the awkwardness and simply say "You're welcome." It's the usually the proper and polite response when someone says thank you. If you don't feel comfortable saying that, then just say "thank you" back to them - as in "thank you for showing you care." Merely pick one and run with it. Everyone who says "thank you" to a veteran has their own reason for saying it and you're not going to figure that out in the space of a few seconds, so it just doesn't much matter, does it? Just don't be rude and stare back at them. Now we can all stop being awkward when this happens, because it's not going to stop any time soon.