Friday, May 11, 2012

Dear General Dempsey: The Powell Doctrine is not operational doctrine


Along came 9/11.  And as you know, famously we went from sort of the traditional
template, back to the Powell doctrine, and then realized that what – that the – what
confronted us in those two theaters was really a counterinsurgency.  And so we dusted off
counterinsurgency doctrine.  It was – it was updated by the Army and the Marine Corps.
And we embraced the counterinsurgency doctrine.  

So says the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during Q&A following a talk at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (linked to by Tom Ricks). General Dempsey, CJCS, former CSA and Commander, TRADOC, conflates counterinsurgency doctrine as an alternative to the Powell Doctrine. Our top military leader seems to believe that a set of operational and tactical principles by which military forces guide their actions in support of national objectives is an alternative to a set of questions designed to help guide strategic decision-making, specifically decision-making to determine whether or not to employ military force. It boggles my mind that a general officer could think that the Powell Doctrine is some sort of operational doctrine. (Or conversely, that counterinsurgency doctrine is involved in strategic decision-making - but he seems to be saying Powell Doctrine = operational doctrine.)

I hope that General Dempsey merely misspoke, wasn't feeling well, or just fumbled his answer to a (softball) question. I hope that's the case as otherwise we might be in trouble as the force resets and reorients.

7 comments:

  1. Jason Fritz

    I am having a hard time simply understanding the block quote as presented (perhaps especially surprising given the person who spoke it has a background in literature). Moreover, I think it may simply betray that terminology can obscure rather than enlighten as well as that (as you sort of imply) even JCS Chairs can have days that are "iffy."

    However, I think the larger issue - how should one construe the Powell Doctrine (the Weinberger Doctrine)? - raises extremely serious issues. Much of this has been percolating on forums such as SWJ for some time, so I can claim no ownership or authorship of the ideas, but: Is FM 3-24 and the contemporary doctrinal approach to COIN compatible with (say) a military composed solely of volunteers? Perhaps more to the point: Are our political system and foreign policy apparatus capable of presenting options and executing plans in an acceptable manner?

    Best
    ADTS

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  2. ADTS - To put the quote in context, click the link and this section starts on page 9. While you raise important questions, both of which I've at least peripherally argued on these pages previously, I'm getting at a different and fundamental issue that has little to do with the application of the Powell Doctrine. That is: the highest ranking officer in the military does not (apparently) understand the differences between operational and strategic doctrine (to say nothing of the fact that Powell Doctrine is not military doctrine - it's for policymakers).

    Read the Joint Operational Access Concept paper. The highest levels of thinking in DoD today cannot delineate the strategic, operational, and tactical levels of war to proscribe doctrine appropriate to each. That our Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is having the same problem on a patently obvious point of demarcation between strategic and operational levels speaks volumes to how we're going to sort this out during the "pivot". As we go through potentially significant change to the military's force structure and doctrine to accommodate this change, our doctrine needs to be precise and useful. Because right now we have a grab bag of tired cliches and buzzwords to drive the force of 2020 and beyond. That scares me.

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  3. Jason Fritz

    Thanks for the rapid reply and references.

    What comes to mind, particularly with respect to your final sentences, is the IDF and the 2006 Lebanon War. Relevant references include Matthews, "We Were Caught Unprepared" and an interview with Shimon Naveh (Combat Studies Institute); Kober's Journal of Strategic Studies article about the IDF's (asserted) poor performance; and the Mattis JFCOM memo declaring EBO null and void. If EBO and related doctrine were the primary factors behind poor IDF performance in Lebanon in 2006, could similar overly ambitious or unsuitable doctrine have similarly or even more pernicious effects on the US military?

    As arguably a tangential digression, is it even possible, let alone desirable, to "proscribe doctrine appropriate to each" level of war (bearing in mind that the triadic delineation you employ is itself simply a construct and that others may conceptualize matters differently)? I think of Gian Gentile channeling Clausewitz emphasizing that each situation ought to be considered as unique and anew, or Nagl (Gentile and Nagl used to illustrate the same idea in the same sentence - quite the pairing, eh?) noting the advantages the absence of formal (i.e., written) British military doctrine provided in Malaya. At the risk of sounding grandiose: What can and should be expected of "doctrine" - what does the word even mean?

    Best
    ADTS

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  4. Reading the above, I think I may come across as someone irritatingly asking, "What do you mean by 'mean?'" I certainly do not wish to be that person.

    Best
    ADTS

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  5. Since I may (or may not) be on a roll...

    Prompted in part by SWJ's recent exegeses on Disruptive Thinkers: Could military doctrine be considered equivalent (to at least some degree) to Porter's Five Forces or SWOT, i.e., easily available heuristics to be utilized in all circumstances (by MBAs or military personnel), irrespective of applicability?

    Best
    ADTS

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  6. JP 1-02 defines doctrine as "Fundamental principles by which the military forces or elements thereof guide their actions in support of national objectives. It is authoritative but requires judgement in application." Generally speaking service doctrine is divided into tactics, operations, and more general concepts. But it does not address strategy as that is the purview of the joint force, which doesn't do a very good job at that. Obviously this is problematic if operational doctrine is driving actions at the strategic level or strategic doctrine is driving tactical actions (outside, of course, the discussion I had a month or so ago that strategy is in part the summation of the tactics of the ways). It's even more problematic if we can't simply discern the difference.

    As for the Lebanon War, my reading of the situation is that there was failure at every level of conflict. Poor strategic direction and abysmal tactical competence. The IDF has only had to be good enough to defeat its neighbors in the past and hadn't done a good job of keeping up. EBO is a case in point - there's some goodness to it, but it's a tool not a strategy or a tactic. To an extent, all military operations are attempts to gain effects of some kind. COG analysis goes back to at least Clausewitz. Good doctrine may not win wars and bad doctrine may not lose them. But bad or misapplied doctrine is sure going to make it hard to win.

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  7. Jason Fritz

    This is not your primary point, but I concur roughly with paragraph two, sentence two. The IDF's performance in 2006 was overdetermined (as is perhaps the case with most if not all complex social phenomena). Indeed, I found it odd that Kober's article won an award with the Journal of Strategic Studies, as it is in many ways a laborious enumeration of all the factors that overdetermined the outcome. I think the understandable atrophy of skills, or failure to instill those skills at all, in a conscript military with a large reserve component, does bear on the debate about an all volunteer force, although perhaps not in a very reassuring way for US defense planning.

    (As a sidenote, I do actually think the IDF in some ways attained a better outcome than most perceive - e.g., Nasrallah's comment that had he known what would transpire, he would not have done what he did, or the relatively peaceful status quo which has existed between Hezbollah and Israel since the conflict. Cordesman provided, in my opinion, the best analysis of whether war aims were realized and, to his credit, did so extremely soon after fighting ceased.)

    Regarding your larger point, thanks for emphasizing that strategy is not doctrine. Douglas Porch, in a review of Kier, "Imagining War" (International Security), notes the same, but it merits repetition, perhaps. Whether a joint force would be any more capable of displaying strategy as any other echelon or command seems an open question. I was just thinking about Schwartzkopf recently and how, despite his bullying manner, he was extremely reluctant to impose his will on the Marines as well as coalition partners (in addition to failing to absorb the lessons of Khafji and revise his plans accordingly). Granted, Desert Storm was but five years after the adoption of Goldwater-Nichols, but the inability of a joint command to embody jointness is noteworthy. I think the larger issue is simply the mundane observation that strategy - defined here not in contradistinction to operations or tactics, but rather as purposive behavior (maybe) - is hard and (like sex or martial arts) perhaps cannot really be taught and/or codified, or needs at a minimum to be taught in ways very different than the pedagogy traditionally employed in contemporary education.

    Best
    ADTS

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