Thursday, September 29, 2011

U.S. women already are in combat, but they won't be in the infantry until we can draft them

In case you have not heard yet, Australia's Defense Minister announced the other day that Australian Defense Forces will phase out barriers that limit women in service to support roles and allow them to join the infantry and even the commandos. Essentially every job is open is every service-member as long as they pass the requirements. This is great for the women, current and future, in the ADF and I congratulate them.

Reading this story break twitter, I was wondering how long before the role of women in the U.S. military would be revisited, especially when you take this story into account with the recent repeal of DADT. Well here we are with CNN's Barbara Starr in a post titled: "U.S. military not ready for women in combat." (h/t @parafile on twitter.) I admire Starr quite a bit, but this article is not helpful for the discussion and the title is even worse.

Firstly, women are already in combat and have been for some time. Starr brings that out in her piece towards the end discussing women military police and pilots and casualty rates. If I recall, at least two women have been awarded the Silver Star in these wars. And let's also not forget truck drivers, medics, and other women who have actually been in combat.

This is one of the problems with this discussion - we're not using the right terms and we're not making the right arguments. It's not that there's an issue with women in combat (since we've already discussed that's happening now) or "combat units", there's an issue with women serving in combat arms branches. Currently women serve in what the Army (at least) calls Combat Support and Combat Service Support branches - these are your MPs, intel types, cooks, truck drivers, medics, veterinarians, supply, etc jobs - the jobs that support the people who find, fix, and destroy the enemy. Combat Arms branches are those that do the find, fix, and destroy: infantry, armor, special forces, field artillery, aviation, air defense, engineers. Women are permitted to serve in elements of the last four and not at all in the first three. In the limitations of the last four are for positions that get assigned to infantry and armor battalions. So that is what women are barred from: not combat, some combat arms.

So the question becomes why and how can we remove these barriers? There is of course the old boys' club element to infantry and armor - but that can be dealt with just as DADT was. There are some logistics issues (see Starr's comments on submarines), but professionals can figure these out, too. There is also the American public who often (and wrongly) find the idea of women in combat (especially mothers in combat) quite distasteful. This, too, can be ignored by government fiat and I imagine people's outlooks would slowly change over time.

But the biggest impediment to women serving in the infantry is the Selective Service - a list of potential draftees if a draft were ever needed. All males must register (with some caveats) once they turn 18 years old. Granted, we haven't had a draft since the 1970s, but the Selective Service stands by just in case we do (and according to House Republicans it's going to happen!). What there is absolutely zero political appetite for in the United States is drafting women. Every poll I have ever seen on the matter (sorry don't have one handy) shows dismal support for such a measure. Americans have a hard enough time imagining women in the infantry, they are not at all stomaching the idea that the government can force women to serve in the infantry.

In times of need the draft is a major feeder for the infantry - they go hand in hand. While I hope that we never have to use the draft, we can't ignore that possible eventuality - it is our true strategic reserve. If women are permitted into the infantry they will have to be drafted - it would be both unfair to males (as it is now) as much as it would be stupid not pull from half of the population from a policy perspective.

I think women should be able to serve in any job they qualify for in the military - just like men - and think that we can and should overcome the obstacles to that happening. For me this includes adding women to the Selective Service and making them eligible for the draft in the future. Our wars today have shown women to be as capable and brave as their male comrades (seriously, why wouldn't they be??) and it is only our antiquated notions of gender roles that prevents this from happening. I realize this is a huge barrier to be overcome and we will likely not have a solution in the near the future, but I hope DoD is examining it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Father of Money: moral decision making in Iraq (UPDATED)

I'm going to caveat this review of Jason Whiteley's Father of Money by stating up front that I don't usually read books by junior officers on their experiences in Iraq or Afghanistan. It's not that I don't like the writing, it's just that I don't like reading books are essentially about my own experiences: the thrill of combat, tedium of FOB life, the heat, whatever. It's also why I've never written a book on the topic myself - I'm not interested in the topic and writing about it would bore me to death.

But Father of Money is an entirely different book in this somewhat crowded genre. It contains many of the usual descriptions of life as an American soldier in a war zone, but this is merely the background to the main focus of the book: the mire of morality that junior leaders find themselves sunk in during stability operations (of which COIN is a subset). The guy making decisions on the ground -- dealing with Iraqis (in both my and Whiteley's cases), fighting insurgents, determining who to trust and who not, attempting to improve Iraqi quality of life, keeping your military overseers happy -- has to make a number of choices every day, often most of the options therein are unsavory. All too often these unsavory options (from an American perspective) may be the best military option for either short- or long-term interests, which increases the complexity of choosing a course of action. This is the thesis of Whiteley's book, which makes it unique, highly relevant, and just great.

Father of Money is Whiteley's memoir of a year in Iraq; a memoir of those decisions, those options, and the choices he made. Whiteley, a West Point graduate a few years ahead of me (but I did not know), deployed to Iraq in 2004 with the 1st Cavalry Division out of Fort Hood. Assigned as a battalion level "governance officer", his unit was assigned an area of Baghdad called al Dora. (This is an area I was very familiar with having spent most of 2005 directly across the Tigris River from it and 2007-08 just to south in Arab Jabour - a major reason I decided to read the book.) Whiteley was thrust into a major Sunni-Shia fault line and assigned with the thankless job of getting the local government working, which in turn would hopefully decrease violence in the area.

One of the major pluses of this book is how Whiteley treats these decision moments in his prose. He does not agonize over them nor does he over-analyze or over-describe them with the luxury of a rear-view mirror. He presents them quickly as they happened, what he was thinking, and the actions he took - almost as if you were there with him at the time. If there is one thing I cannot stand about military memoirs are pages or chapters of internal dialogue discussing just how hard these decisions were and all of the justifications of why. Whiteley does not need to say that they are hard - it is quite apparent by the conundrums posed as they are. The first and last chapters are especially poignant in this regard.

I also appreciate his candor throughout the book. Talking as his 2004-self, some Iraqis were good and some were bad, and some were good and bad for whatever his unit needed them to be at the time. People who have never been to Iraq may find the sectarian divisions of goodness (some Shia = good, Sunni = bad) disconcerting, but having been on the ground, it can really be that simple in the microcosm of a battalion-sized battlespace. He also candidly reviews his superiors in some of the fairest ways I have read in these types of books. He likes some, dislikes others, but you do not find the usual "those assholes at division" type of complaints so universal to the genre. Unless of course in the instance where his higher headquarters did some micromanaging as a result of their ignorance from above (the story in Chapter 7 when contractors declared one of his interpreters unfit for duty).

If you are looking for a story about humdrum of FOB life or numerous descriptions of firefights, look elsewhere. Even though the second to last chapter has the most realistic and gripping account of a firefight and its aftermath that I have read thus far from these wars, that is not the purpose behind Father of Money. If I have one complaint about this book it is about the flowery prose used during the narration of scene setting - his time before deployment and in Kuwait in particular. It is inefficient writing for the sake of impact that I did not feel balanced well with the rest of the book - and in some cases distracts from the main points of said scene setting. But the meat of the book more than makes up for this minor deficiency. After all, context is both necessary and tedious. The important bits are well written, efficient, and organized and you will have no problem discerning what are the important bits.

If you read one book on what guys on the ground faced during deployments to Iraq (and presumably Afghanistan as I have not been there), Father of Money should be it. How many books do you need to read that tell you war is hard and getting shot at sucks? Everyone knows this. All of you cadets and young lieutenants out there should move this book to the top of your reading list. Because these are the problems that you face when you deploy and you should understand that now. You will know how to react to contact, but you may not know what to do with a corrupt local council that you have to support anyway. This book may not solve the problem for you, but you will have a better taste for the situations you will face and the moral considerations inherent to these situations. But even if you are not in the military, it will give you an insider's look at hard - morally and psychologically, not just physically - modern conflict really is. Go buy and read this book.

UPDATE: Gulliver notes for the DC crowd in the comments that Whiteley will be signing books at the Barnes & Noble in Georgetown on October 8 from 1800-2000. I recommend stopping by.

Monday, September 26, 2011

How low can you go? HASC Republicans set a new standard

As I mentioned over at Hull Defilade last week, it seems that the looming DoD budget cuts are generating some really odd commentary from those that oppose said cuts. First there was the former Vice Chairman of the JCS, General Cartwright. Then Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Buck McKeon. I was told last week that the HASC staff was preparing a report to substantiate these claims. Well here it is. Here also is the executive summary.

Before we get into some of the nuts and bolts of the thing, let's start with some background and basics. Firstly, the numbers presented are the worse-case scenario wherein DoD faces $1T in cuts over the next 10 years or there is a 10% reduction in DoD funding from FY11 projections. This is opposed to the $600B reductions currently planned over the same period (the two scenarios above are possible, but it's worth mentioning that they are worst case). Secondly, the report assumes that cuts will be even across all services. Thirdly, it assumes that the cuts would be effectively increased because of exemption to military personnel appropriations. I think these are very broad assumptions (especially the last two) and are devoid of any strategic thought on what actual cuts may be - such as cutting entire large procurement programs. Granted, that's not really the staffers' job to do, but I think it's important to acknowledge they are painting with a very broad brush in a topic area that probably requires some more nuance.

Now that that's out of the way, let's get into the meat of the report and it's executive summary. I have a lot of issues with a lot of it. I also don't know a lot about some of these topics in enough detail to comment. I'm also going to skip a lot of the purely money stuff (percentage of discretionary spending, etc) because I do not believe that if you tie appropriations to strategy that data like that much matters. I know my friends on the right disagree with that though. So I'm going to stick to high-level issues and leave the granular stuff to those that know.

1. Are vital missions at risk? Not by a long a shot, but that depends on how you define vital missions. The report also compares projected troop levels to current commitments - hardly a useful tool when we plan to draw down our two biggest commitments in the next few years. Vital interests also include being able to invade Iran and North Korea, defend Taiwan and Israel, and check China. Those might be vital interests, but that's a huge (and frankly Republican) assumption. Not a fact. A Democratic White House may not necessarily agree (they don't now) that large land forces need to be reserved for these contingencies when we're still fighting "terror" around the globe. Partisan opinions do not vital interests make, whether or not there are merits to the opinion is irrelevant until DoD is seriously concerned with it and they'll be concerned when the President and SecDef says they should be. They're not saying that now.

I'm also a little flabbergasted at the metric of Army battalions over time. The use of 1990 as a starting point in the graph is plain stupid - the Army had 20 divisions then in a very different world. Republicans and Democrats agreed at the time (for the most part) that we could reduce those numbers to 10 divisions. So let's just ignore that. I also disagree with their number of maneuver battalions today - it's more than 100. I'm guessing they just counted Combined Arms Battalions in the 46 combat arms brigades (4 brigades per division) we currently have. Part of the modularity regime of the mid-2000s added a reconnaissance squadron to every combat brigade (if you don't think a CAV squadron is a maneuver battalion, I can't help you understand the Army). There are effectively roughly 146 maneuver battalions in the Army. And this doesn't even address the fact that battalions today are much larger than battalions in 2000 (roughly 33% larger). So in spite of what is presented in the chart (without comment or source), a 30-40% reduction in the number of "maneuver battalions" would actually put the number of battalions closer to what they were in 2000, not drastically less. They would likely be very equal combat effectiveness if you take into account the number of companies in each battalion increased in the past 10 years.

That all said, I'll draw your attention back to the executive summary where the preponderance of the scare mongering occurs. Apparently these cuts will "hollow the force" to the point that we'll magically return to the post-Vietnam army of the Carter administration (don't even get me started on the statement that "American freedom depends on protecting vital interests.."). If the Army had about 178 battalions in 1978 and we're reducing down to "60-70" (which, again, isn't accurate), then how are we hollowing the force to the Carter administration levels if the prime metric is the number of battalions? This is such a dishonestly partisan shot that they authors should be embarrassed. It ignores the entire history of the tumult the Army went through during Vietnam from a cultural perspective. In fact, the Carter years (as well as the Nixon years before and some Reagan years after) are a good example of how a large and expensive military may not buy you a competent force that will actually protect your interests. You picked the worst analogy possible. Congrats.

2. Breaking the faith with the troops - which will could make the all-volunteer force unsustainable? Oh come on. I'm not going to talk about this too much, because they don't present anything other than some programs that will lose funding. The Army survived a 50% decrease in manpower in the 1990s. Was it tough for some people? Absolutely. But the force was still extremely effective at the end of it (Exhibit A: early days in Afghanistan. Exhibit B: the invasion of Iraq.). If it's effectively managed, this won't be a problem.

To be honest, it's this draft scare that really gets me. In no way do the authors present any case to suggest that the rate of decreased retention and recruitment because of the "broken faith" will ever match or outpace the decreased manning needs of the Army. You would have to show that somehow for me to believe this and it's fairly simple math:

(people leaving disgruntled)+(lower enlistment rates)+(people getting chucked out)


(number of people your smaller Army needs)

Someone like RAND is probably more appropriate for that type of analysis. These guys don't even try. Their calculus looks more like:

(people leaving disgruntled)+(lower enlistment rates)+(people getting chucked out)


(number of people your smaller Army needs) [QED]

Show me the numbers. Then I'll think about buying this line of (frankly) crap, because now it is an unsupported (and absurd) conjecture.

3. There is no discussion about the Reserves or National Guard. Save for a comment on page 3 that decreased active forces will require significant, increased mobilization of the Reserves. As if that's a bad thing. So what? What the hell do we have the Reserves (and National Guard) for if not to use them when they're needed? That's why they exist! In fact, I bet we'd have a lot less stupid wars of choice if we used the Reserves and Guard like they were supposed to be used - because then more people would feel the pain of wars. Which is exactly why the HASC Republicans insinuate their use as a bad thing: it would impede the Government's ability to wage war without the consent of the people. In spite of the fact that transitioning a lot of the Active Duty cuts to the Reserves and Guard would be a very cost-effective way of maintaining readiness. After all, what do we pay these people drill pay for if not to prepare for when the Nation needs them?

I'm sure others will weigh in on this report and it's obnoxious executive summary and I look forward to reading other reviews. This is not any sort of serious analysis - it is political grandstanding. It swings from dishonest to ignorant and a few places in between. I will admit that I don't like the idea of the larger cuts to DoD and I hope they don't happen. But this is not, in any way, how you should make your argument. This is pure fear mongering. And should be quickly dismissed as such.

Semantically Ignorant Comic Irony of the Day, "bang for the buck" edition

Les Gelb published an article in the November/December 2010 Foreign Affairs entitled "GDP Now Matters More than Force: A U.S. Foreign Policy for the Age of Economic Power" ($). The thesis is simple: American foreign policy must be reoriented if we are to remain successful and secure in a world where states and their citizens care more about economic matters than about military might. Gelb ties up his introduction with what must've seemed to him quite a charming turn of phrase:
Having overlooked profound changes in the world, U.S. leaders have done little to modernize their national security strategy. Present U.S. strategy offers too little bang for its buck because there is not enough buck in the strategy.
(I've added the emphasis above.)

What's he trying to say here, do you think? One could easily suffer some confusion at Gelb's glibness, especially if the excerpt is taken out of context: couldn't that sentence have indicated that U.S. strategy is failing because we're not spending enough money? But considering the rest of the article, I reckon Gelb means that American "strategy" is getting an insufficient return (as measured in "security," presumably) on "investment" because our foreign policy fails to sufficiently account for the importance of economics and economic power in international relations. We're focusing too much cash and attention on our military machine and neglected economic strength, he seems to suggest.

Which, ok, maybe right, maybe not, but to use the expression "bang for the buck" to illustrate it? Downright hilarious.

That phrase was first used in an idiomatic sense by Charles Erwin Wilson, Secretary of Defense to President Eisenhower and post-Korea Pentagon budget-cutter. He was explaining the rationale for the policy of "massive retaliation," in which even limited provocations by the Soviets might be met with an overwhelming American nuclear response. The doctrine was codified in 1953's NSC 162/2 (pdf), which asserted that "the security of the United States requires development and maintenance of a strong military posture, with emphasis on the capability of inflicting massive retaliatory damage by offensive striking power." Proponents of the "New Look" defense policy thought the destructive power of nuclear weapons -- and a stated willingness to use them -- could counterbalance the Soviets' overwhelming conventional military superiority and save the U.S. the outrageous sums it might otherwise pour into the maintenance of innumerable maneuver formations.

"More bang for the buck" was one of those rare idioms that means exactly what it says: by building our security policy around nukes, we figured to get more destruction for less money.

Gelb seems to want us to believe that international relations have evolved to the point that we simply don't need as much bang these days, so we ought to be spending less bucks. Whether or not you agree with him, you've got to admit his formulation was a miserable (if funny) failure.

Grant aid to Egypt: the more things change...

On April 15 of this year, the president signed the spending bill (pdf) which kept the government from shutting down. Despite the ouster of Mubarak two months earlier, grant military assistance to Egypt remained the same as in past years: a $1.3 billion Foreign Military Financing (FMF) earmark, cash that expressly "shall be available for grants only for Egypt." That's consistent with the language of past years, and the dollar amount has held steady (pdf) since the late 1980s.

As you'll know if you pay attention to the news, we still don't have signed appropriations bills for 2012; there's another shutdown threat for the end of the week. In fact, there's not even any talk of a full-year spending bill at this stage in the game: the Congress is just trying to pass legislation to keep the lights on through the middle of November, when they'll have to take this up all over again. (The stopgap bill is currently being held up by disagreements over how to pay for something like $6 billion in disaster-relief funding, which makes perfect sense when you think about the fact that we're dealing with something like 0.2% of the damn budget.)

What we do have, though, is an FY 12 State Department and Foreign Operations spending bill (pdf) that's made it out of committee in the Senate, which is something, I guess. Language in that bill (especially where it's consistent with language in the draft of the House bill (pdf)) will probably make its way into whatever legislation ends up appropriating money for FY 2012, whenever that happens. Here's what's new:
[U]p to $1,300,000,000 shall be made available for grants only for Egypt, including for border security programs and activities in the Sinai: Provided further, That prior to the obligation of funds appropriated under this heading for assistance for Egypt, the Secretary of State shall certify to the Committees on Appropriations that the Governments of the United States and Egypt have agreed upon the specific uses of such funds, that such funds further the national interests of the United States in Egypt and the region, and that the Government of Egypt has held free and fair elections and is implementing policies to protect the rights of journalists, due process, and freedoms of expression and association [p. 49 of the pdf]
(The House draft merely states that funds will be made available "with the expectation that the Egyptian military will continue to adhere to and implement its international obligations, particularly the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty," which is also taken up later in the Senate bill. Of course, the SecState can waive that provision if deemed "important to the national interests of the United States," so there's that.)

Beyond the requirement for democratic and liberalizing reform, the certification provision is in there to make it clear that the post-Mubarak government can't suddenly re-imagine its military priorities and redesignate funds they'd previously committed to spend on U.S.-approved goods and services. It's not much for advocates of conditioned aid to latch on to, but it's more than the basically un-caveated aid written into previous spending bills. (All grant assistance is bound by the provisions of the Foreign Assistance Act, of course, which does require adherence to certain human rights standards, &c.)

Here's the bottom line: the money is still going to flow, whatever happens in the coming months on elections or civil liberties in Egypt. The distribution of military aid to Pakistan requires a certification that Pakistani government entities are fully cooperative in the fight against anti-Afghan insurgents and terrorist groups; ADM Mullen finally admitted last week that the USG can make no such declaration in good faith, and yet the aid still flows. The bilateral relationship with Egypt is much stronger and much more institutionalized, and many of the peculiar details of Egyptian aid are premised on the understanding and assumption of stability over the long term. (Egypt and Israel, for example, are exceptional among grant aid recipients in that they aren't required to pay the full balance of their purchase costs in the year of sales agreement; in fact, unspent aid is held by the U.S. in an interest-bearing account from year to year.) The money will keep on coming unless Congress acts to expressly block it.

One more thing that's worth noting in the Senate bill, however, is Sec. 7039(a):
Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, funds appropriated by this Act under the heading ‘‘Foreign Military Financing Program’’ for assistance for Egypt may be transferred to, and merged with, funds appropriated for assistance for Egypt under the heading ‘‘Economic Support Fund’’ [p. 134 of the pdf]
This is interesting because it permits the transfer of money appropriated for military aid to an account used for economic assistance -- that is, to a fund specifically intended "for the purpose of improving the lives of the Egyptian people through education, investment in jobs and skills (including secondary and vocational education), and access to finance for small and medium enterprise with emphasis on expanding opportunities for women, as well as other appropriate market-reform and economic growth activities" (p. 135 of the pdf). It seems unlikely to happen, but the option's there.

Oh yeah, and while we're on the subject: PCCF is back! (See p. 10 of this pdf.) In the International Security Assistance section of the State budget! Instead of in the Defense budget! And with a billion dollars! That's $200 million more than the $800 million appropriated for FY 11! Foreign policy is saved from militarization! At least until somebody needs to slash a bil from the aid budget, anyway; then DoD will change the way it calculates inflation, or something, and slide that extra billion in under its catastrophically shrunken topline. Or something.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Go get your money, dammit*

DoD has announced that the latest deadline to file to claim retroactive stop-loss pay is 1 month away: 21 October 2011. So all of you who were stop-lossed (or survivor of someone who was), please go claim your money as only half of the allocated funds have been claimed. I'm surprised at how much has gone unclaimed. I was expecting something much more like this:

I know some people have a hard time with it (ahem, Carl), but after a couple of early hurdles, mine was payed without any real problems or even a lot of time expended. You've earned this money so go get it. But you don't have to take my word for it.

*Thanks to Robert Caruso for pointing this out.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

R2P is NOT the new COIN, but Ulfelder is just as wrong as Safranski about why*

I’ve got about a half-dozen half-written posts on the subject of R2P, which – thanks largely to Anne-Marie Slaughter – seems to be the hot topic in my blogospheric circles of late. The fad is both reflected and observed by Mark Safranski at ZenPundit, who yesterday asserted that “R2P is the New COIN.” This claim struck me as a bit aggressive and not altogether accurate, and I was heartened by its coincident rejection by Jay Ulfelder (a much smarter man than I). I do think, though, that Jay and Mark are talking past one another to some extent, so my contribution here is an attempt both to dispel what I see as a few misconceptions and to highlight how these two may have misunderstood one another.

* Ok, so the post title is sort of inflammatory, and it's not really a terribly accurate representation of what I think. But sometimes you've got to do crazy stuff to get ahead in this game, you know?

Safranski’s point – if I’m reading him properly – is a pretty simple one: he argues that R2P has the intellectual heft and internationalist “elite” sanction to replace counterinsurgency as the new “it” phenomenon for enlightened commentators and policymakers – basically that it can (or will) become the new narrative for those who are uncomfortable advocating for American primacy on its face to justify continued internationalism. Here’s how he puts it:

[I]n it’s current policy trajectory, R2P is going to become “the new COIN”.
This is not to say that R2P is a military doctrine, but like the rise of pop-centric COIN, it will be an electrifying idea that has the potential fire the imagination of foreign policy intellectuals, make careers for it’s bureaucratic enthusiasts and act as a substitute for the absence of a coherent American grand strategy. The proponents of R2P (R2Peons?) appear to be in the early stages of following a policy advocacy template set down by the COINdinistas, but their ambitions appear to be far, far greater in scope. […]
R2P is following the same COIN pattern of bureaucratic-political proselytization with the accomplished academic theorist Anne-Marie Slaughter as the “Kilcullen of R2P”. As with David Kilcullen’s theory of insurgency, Slaughter’s ideas about sovereignty and R2P, which have gained traction with the Obama administration and in Europe as premises for policy, need to be taken seriously and examined in depth lest we wake up a decade hence with buyer’s remorse.
I want to very strongly endorse Mark’s recommendation that we examine in depth any theoretical construct on which we intend to base American grand strategy or foreign policy in the future, but I think he overstates the influence of both Slaughter’s and Kilcullen’s ideas. It’s worth noting that the U.S. does not actually pursue a foreign and security policy that is geared to defeat “globalized insurgency,” whatever the Australian guru may have recommended, and that Slaughter’s thoughts on the erosion of state sovereignty – even paired with the advocacy of folks like Sarah Sewall – haven’t driven a significant uptick in armed humanitarian intervention. But I’m drifting away from the point somewhat.

The point (which Safranski acknowledges to some extent in his fourth paragraph): the recent “institutionalization of COIN” across the American political and military cultures is more attributable to its apparent viability as a policy expedient in difficult circumstances than a testament to the overwhelming power of the so-called COINdinistas’ “bureaucratic-political proselytization.” The way that “COIN wisdom” has infiltrated both doctrine and the vernacular of the political class is unlikely to be replicated by R2P for the simple fact that COIN was pitched as the necessary savior of American Iraq policy, not a new, clean-slate paradigm for U.S. engagement in the world. The COINdinistas were obviously more than disinterested spectators, and their politically-astute advocacy certainly greased the skids for widespread acceptance of their politico-military concepts. But they wouldn't have even had a hearing were it not for the deteriorating situation in Iraq. If FM 3-24 had been published in the insurgency-free context of say 1999, the foreboding parallel to R2P would make more sense.

Ulfelder agrees in principle:

In my opinion, R2P stands no chance of becoming the next COIN because attempts to make civilian protection a guiding principle of U.S. foreign policy will be resisted stiffly by the U.S. military.
The specific collection of beliefs and ideas we now call COIN (link) became ascendant in the latter half of the 2000s because it spoke to the needs and desires of civilian and military leaders alike. In the mid-2000s, the U.S. and its allies appeared to be losing the wars they had started a few years earlier in Iraq and Afghanistan, or at least not winning them. Policy-makers responded to the risk of failure by groping around for fresh ideas on how to tip those messy and costly wars toward “victory.” COIN took shape in response to this demand. COIN gave military leaders new things to try in place of the old ones that were failing, and it fanned policy-makers’ hopes for a way to bring those costly wars to some successful end.
But I think Jay is wrong to focus so much on the acceptance of the military, which is, frankly speaking, a matter of near irrelevance to policymakers. (As the occupation of Iraq should have amply demonstrated, the White House doesn’t ask “do you have doctrine for this?” before assigning a mission to the military.) The principles of R2P may not be codified into military doctrine the way COIN has, but this isn’t nearly so important as it seems: doctrine is a guide to tactical and operational action, but viewed from another perspective it can be boiled down to “the list of tasks that I as a military leader need to train my forces to perform.” And there’s not a whole pile of stuff under the “R2P” heading that doesn’t also fall into one of the other bins the U.S. military is already training on.

R2P is a legal concept and perhaps even a prescriptive guide to state action, but it’s not a military mission. What are the “R2P tasks” for military forces that aren’t already covered by offense, defense, and stability operations? There may be some additional responsibilities for operational and strategic leaders, but the tactical tasks are essentially those of combat operations, peacekeeping, and peace-enforcement. (We have a legitimate expert on this subject here at the blog, so I hope he’ll chime in, but I’s also encourage others in the know to please correct me if I’m wrong.)

[Added for clarity: "additional responsibilities for operational and strategic leaders" are the sphere of policy, not doctrine; it's reasonable to assume that DOD might drag its feet on putting out policy (that is, issuances or directives) as to the specific functions and responsibilities associated with civilian-protection operations. But such policy already exists for combat operations and stability operations, so this seems to me a bit of a red herring.]

The military may not like the idea of armed humanitarian intervention gaining pride of place in American security policy, but that won’t keep it from executing the missions or training on the required tasks. After all, there wasn’t much enthusiasm for small wars in general (including COIN), Military Operations Other Than War, humanitarian assistance, security cooperation and security force assistance, and so on over the last several decades, but we’re still doing ‘em. After all, the SECDEF might not have favored the Libya intervention, may not have understood the alleged strategic rationale, may not have had high confidence in our ability to constructively shape conditions there, etc., but: U.S. forces still created and enforced a no-fly zone, waged interdiction operations against Libyan regime assets, and supported the operations of NATO allies in the Libyan AO… all without liking it much or having adapted culturally or doctrinally to the mission. The success (however fortunate) of the NATO operation weakens the claims of those who might argue that new doctrine and concepts are needed to effectively execute an "R2P mission."

All of which is just a long way of saying this: Ulfelder is likely right that R2P is unlikely to form the basis for future American security policy, and Safranski is likely wrong. But Ulfelder is likely wrong about the reasons why not, or at least those that pertain to the military – he’s on much more solid ground when he emphasizes the “emergency” justification for COIN in both the military and political spheres.

Junior officer cage matches: blocking returns

Who's ready to talk Army officer evaluation policy? Because there was a big change announced on Friday that was brought to my attention on Twitter (James Joyner, Mike Lyons, Jimmy Sky, Crispin Burke, and RB Stalin). And it all stems from this media release from the Army's Human Resources Command. Firstly, I think it's funny that HRC would put out a "media release" on this topic - they might as well just fax a copy to the Army Times as I don't imagine anyone else will be covering this story (What? You're not interested NY Times? Why ever not?).

So here are the two major changes from this release:

1. Junior Officer check boxes. Back in the day all officers were "blocked" against each other (rated as above center of mass, center of mass upper half, center of mass lower half, below center of mass) and senior raters could only allocate so many officers to the top block as a percentage of the number of officers he senior rates of that rank (i.e., if a LTC battalion commander senior rates 15 lieutenants, only 2 could get top block). The limitation was a hedge against the "everyone's great" mentality of the zero-defect Army of the 1990s.

The Army did away with this type of blocking for lieutenants, captains, and the lower ranks of the warrant officer corps in 2004 or so because it didn't much matter anymore because of pressing personnel needs in higher ranks. With promotion rates to captain over 100% every year and rates to major in the high 90s, it didn't matter if you were a shitty platoon leader. You were needed as a captain (some guys still didn't get promoted, but it was mainly because they broke the law). There were other reasons involved - allowing LTs to take some risks and not be punished for it; LT evaluations are all masked from promotion boards once you've made captain so it didn't much matter anyway.

So what does this mean? It means the Army is getting serious again about effectively and honestly evaluating its junior officers. It means that captains are being truly evaluated again for their company command time - a massive indicator of competence for battalion command. It starts weeding out the weak early and is hopefully an indicator that promotions (and the commensurate increases in responsibility) won't be automatic anymore. It gives junior officers something to strive for: to get that top block to work towards earlier promotions and more responsibility. If you can't tell, I think this is change for the better.

2. 360 assessments. I had no idea the Army had started doing this, but the evaluation form will force the rater to indicate if the reviewed officer has had a 360 degree assessment done in the past 3 years. The assessments are apparently not part of the review, accessible only to the rater, and only for self-development of the reviewed officer. For now. There's been a lot of talk over the years to introduce actual rating by this method to smoke out "toxic leaders" and this is a step in that direction. I have conflicting views on idea of subordinates evaluating their leaders, but I can honestly say a terrible assessment from my subordinates when I was a cadet was a real eye-opener for me. I doubt I would have been a very successful officer at all without it. So this is probably a good change as well - or at least a good step in the right direction for holistic evaluations.

This all suggests that Army is about to get much more serious about evaluating its officers. It could be to get ready to cull the herd once austerity measures are put in place. It could be a response to the toxic leadership surveys. It could be some general just wanted to do it. It could be all of these. Whatever the reasoning, these are good changes and I hope the Army makes more of them.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Schelling on nuclear terrorism

Thanks to Zack Beauchamp, I've just come across this blog post by nobel laureate and renowned scholar of strategic behavior Thomas Schelling. In it, Schelling tries to understand why his decades-old prediction that a non-state group would soon possess a nuclear weapon seems not to have come true, and then speculates about to what end such a group might apply their weapon if ever they did achieve that feat. It's thought-provoking if not staggeringly original, and it's worth reading if only to consider whether the very concept of "nuclear terrorism" might not be a sort of paradox. After all, wouldn't the coercive power of nuclear weapons possession be far more useful to a political group of any kind than its terroristic value? Well, that's not exactly correct either, is it? The seemingly "irrational" and expressive use of a weapon of mass destruction would in fact be incredibly effective in producing terror, but if we understand terror as a means to convey a broader message or achieve a political end, then couldn't those things be accomplished more readily and effectively by refraining from terror and bargaining more traditionally? c.f.:
If a team is assembled that, in isolation, spends months making a workable bomb, or a few bombs, what will they spend their evening hours talking about? They are all concentrated on a nuclear weapon. Won’t they continually converse about what the thing is good for, what should properly be done with it, how it might be used to advance some important objective, and whether they might have any influence on its use? They will almost certainly have spent more hundreds of hours trying to think strategically about the possible uses of a few nuclear weapons than any head of government, or even senior government adviser has devoted to the question. It’s possible—I think likely—that they may be listened to. And what “strategy” might they propose?
I propose that they will conclude that exploding a weapon over Los Angeles or Vladivostok or Bremen will “waste” the weapon. They will think, “we are a nuclear power. There are the USA, Russia, France, Britain, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Maybe Iran, and now US. We have status, power, influence. Let’s use it!”
Schelling is the expert on game-theoretic approaches to strategy and he seems not to have the answers himself, so I'm not going to offer anything conclusive here. Just the same, it's an interesting thought experiment.

Intervention and the presumed combat multiplier of popular uprising

In 1984, an American expert on Soviet military history wrote this in a chapter called "The Making of Soviet Strategy":
The most important mistake [of the wars in the immediate post-revolutionary period] was made by the influential Tukhachevsky, who insisted in the later stages of the [Russo-Polish] war on launching an ill-conceived offensive against Warsaw. This could be relegated to the annals of Soviet military history were it not for the significant political statement Tukhachevsky sought to make with it--that "revolution" could be exported by bayonet. Arguing for an assault on Warsaw in spite of seriously overextended supply lines and insufficient reserves, he may have placed too much weight on the expectation that the working class would rise up to greet the Soviet forces.
That's in Paret, page 652. The emphasis is added.

Tukhachevsky was perhaps the most famous of the so-called "Red Commanders"; a Bolshevik and a committed revolutionary, he vied for influence in the new army with the many rehabilitated imperial officers that Trotsky found it necessary to retain for the sake of military survival. The decision to press forward against the Polish capital was a strategic miscalculation heavily informed by ideological bias; success of the operation was dependent on an unlikely popular uprising that only a revolutionary internationalist could have any faith would happen. Sound familiar?

So: any guesses as to who that Sovietologist was? Ok, I shared this on Twitter yesterday, so some of you will already know: it was Condoleezza Rice. That, ladies and gents, is what we call irony.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

One last comment on this Auftragstaktik business*

This is my last comment on this topic until people who disagree with me can adequately show that:
  1. Centralization is inherently bad - especially with the administration of large units;
  2. Long orders (almost all of which is support and admin) are inherently bad;
  3. That the U.S. Army’s mixture of execution- and mission-type command styles makes it less effective and is harming its combat capabilities from its current supremacy**;
  4. Precision isn’t needed on the battlefield.
From FM 5-0 (Army Planning and Orders Production), paragraph G-3 (Characteristics of Good OPLANS and OPORDS):
Balance. Balance centralized and decentralized control. The commander determines the appropriate balance for a given operation based on mission, enemy, terrain and weather, troops and support available, time available, and civil considerations (METT-TC). During the chaos of battle, it is essential to decentralize decision authority to the lowest practical level. Over centralization slows action and inhibits initiative. However, decentralized control can cause loss of precision. The commander constantly balances competing risks while recognizing that loss of precision is usually preferable to inaction.
Does every commander and staff use this as a guide? Of course not. But the vast majority have in my experience (which quite frankly is very extensive when it comes to combat operations). So for now, I’m calling “Target. Cease Fire.”

*This is cross-posted from Hull Defilade, my new-ish tumblr blog that I'm using for shorter, less formed thoughts that exceed 140 characters.
**Credit where due: Gulliver posed this question to me earlier today via email. His idea, not mine.

JSF as Death Star? A Star Wars perspective on defense acquisition (UPDATED)

EDIT: Wow, I suspected I might be late to the game on this, but I didn't realize Danger Room had already DONE AN ENTIRE POST ABOUT IT. I'm an a-hole. Thanks to Spencer Ackerman for bringing it to my attention, and kudos to Adam Rawnsley for both catching this first and writing a better post than mine. (I promise I had no idea!)

I want to introduce you to what is easily the best article I've seen in a defense acqusition trade publication in my entire time following the subject: "Don't Come to the Dark Side: Acquisition Lessons From a Galaxy Far, Far Away" (pdf) by Air Force LTC Dan Ward, in the current issue of Defense AT&L magazine. Look, I get it -- BEST DEFENSE ACQUISITION ARTICLE EVARRR!!! isn't exactly a glowing endorsement: these magazines are filled with poor writing, meaningless buzzwords, and unoriginal ideas, the articles churned out by bored public affairs folks in acquisition commands who are tasked with little more than pushing out the talking points. But seriously, read this. It's funny, very well-written, and it makes several really important points about the crippling flaws that can creep into major acquisition programs. I don't want to steal LTC Ward's thunder, but here are a couple of his prescient observations:

1. The "single most realistic scene in the whole double-trilogy" is in Return of the Jedi, when Darth Vader complains about the second Death Star's construction being behind schedule.
Consider the implications of pop culture's most notorious schedule overrun. In the Star Wars universe, robots are self-aware, every ship has its own gravity, Jedi Knights use the Force, tiny green Muppets are formidable warriors and a piece of junk like the Millennium Falcon can make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. But even the florid imagination of George Lucas could not envision a project like the Death Star coming in on time, on budget. He knew it would take a Jedi mind trick beyond the skill of Master Yoda to make an audience suspend that much disbelief.
2. "The Death Star's combination of inadequacy and vulnerability may be the second-most realistic aspect of the entire saga." Heh. Enormously complex systems mean enormously complex acquisition programs, which means you've got a program management team trying to catch a whole bunch of possible problems -- and one is almost certain to slip through the cracks.

3. The awesome destructive and deterrent potential of the Death Star meant that the Empire was willing to overlook its overwhelming cost and possible vulnerabilities and put all its eggs in one programmatic basket, so to speak, channeling all its efforts into the construction of just one system for just one job.
Consider the fact that even the Empire, with all its vast resources and the full power of the Dark Side, could only build one Death Star at a time. Building two at once was clearly more than it could handle. This reminds me of Norm Augustine's famous prediction that at some point, the entire DoD budget would purchase just one aircraft for all the Services to share. The Empire apparently arrived at this singularity long, long ago. I'm not convinced this achievement represented real progress.
4. Droids are a great example of the sort of multifunctional, utilitarian systems that can justify their cost in a range of different mission sets.
Whether it's repairing the Millennium Falcon's hyperdrive, destroying a pair of Super Battle Droids, conveying a secret message to old Ben Kenobi or delivering Luke's light saber at the critical moment on Jabba's Sail Barge, [R2-D2's] always got a trick up his proverbial sleeve.
That kind of quiet competence and dependability is what led George Lucas to call R2-D2 "the hero of the whole thing."

Seriously, read this article. It's funny, it's literate, and it'll make you think about serious defense issues in a new way. (The only flaw is that it ends before you want it to.) A whole bunch of blog folks spend a whole lot of time geting all nutty about Star Wars or LOLcats or whatever other goofy pop-culture meme is going around at the moment; if they could make that nonsense this incisive and relevant, it would probably cease to be simultaneously the most boring and most annoying thing on the internet.

UPDATE 2: Keith Boyea tells us in the comments that LTC Ward has a blog, which you can find here.

New capstone doctrine for land operations: you don't want to miss this

Via SWJ: the Combined Holistic Arms School of advanced Maneuver at the Army's Semi-Amphibious and Water Landing Training Center has published a new manual: Unified Land Operations (Abridged). Doctrine Man!!!, I don't know if this is your work, but if it is, you're a genius.

Basic Stuff
1. The world is still full of bad people, even after 10 years of whacking. This is because we haven’t been mean enough. That’s why we’re going to stop being so careful. We only need to know how to do two things – Wide Area Wandering and Whacking (WAW2) and Combined Arms Whacking (CAW).
2. Wide Area Wandering and Whacking (WAW2) is whacking over wide areas. This means that we send Soldiers out and about in small tour groups to see what’s going on and impress the not-so-bad people. Mostly this means showing them that we can wear 100 lbs of armor and ammo and still look cool. Now that we have camouflaged uniforms that actually blend in, we need to work extra hard to stand out where the news people can see us, otherwise, the Marines will be in all the pictures. Sometimes the bad people wander out and pick on us. This lets us whack them in small groups. Usually when the bad people start getting whacked, they call other bad people to come and help them. Then everybody gets really mad and if we make too much noise, the Air Force shows up with all their super-weapons and wants to whack everybody at once. That’s when the not so bad people get miffed and tell us we should leave because we don’t look so cool anymore. Unfortunately, their guys don’t look so cool because they still have to wear berets that stick out in all directions and crummy camouflage suits that don’t fit.
2. [sic] Combined Arms Whacking (CAW) is combining stuff to whack bad people. This is when the bad guys don’t get the message that they should leave and we get to use the big stuff that we got when Congress had extra money left over from the Air Force and Navy super weapons. CAW is hard because we have to try and whack bad people at the same time as the Navy and Air Force are trying to whack them. This gets really hard sometimes because the Marines show up and want to do some whacking too. Marines are like the mean little runt pit bull that runs around biting people. When he gets excited he tries to bite everybody. Usually CAW makes lots of dust and noise and everybody runs around screaming at each other and trying to be the first one that gets to whack the bad people. A lot of times the bad people sneak out in all the smoke and noise. Sometimes the bad people are in a big gang and want to chase us off. We have to be really careful then, because if the bad people even get ahead on points for a little while then the generals get really excited and start investigating stuff and making us hang around while they check everything. This is like "CSI" for us but it’s like ENDEX for the bad people because they disappear for the weekend. If we screw it up too much then the Pentagon guys come down and take away our really expensive toys.
I don't know what the story is behind this little project (pdf), but I give it an A+. Especially loved Figure 1, which you'll need to click the link to check out.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

...but how? What can the U.S. do to provide effective relief in Somalia?

CAP's ThinkProgress Security has a guest post this afternoon from John Norris, Executive Director of the Sustainable Security and Peacebuilding Initiative at CAP, on the subject of wasted aid money to Somalia. Turns out the outside world has pumped something like $55 billion into that country since 1991, to little evident effect. Here's Norris's solution:
The world has been willing to spend billions on arms transfers, counter-terrorism efforts and military approaches, but sensible diplomacy and working at the local level to build durable peace agreements have usually been an afterthought. The United States and the international community needs to be much more principled and effective in delivering aid in order to help shape a functioning central government in Somalia that enjoys the faith and support of its own people.
Ok, but what does that mean exactly?

I'm no expert on Somalia (as my colleagues are eager to point out!), but my impression is that the security situation in much of the country would be prohibitive to the delivery of development aid or food relief. That means there'd need to be an effective military intervention before any of the humanitarian facts of the situation could be changed, and I'm not sure who has the appetite for that (aside from Ethiopia and AMISOM, to the limited extent they're currently engaged).

If you could start from scratch and set U.S. policy toward Somalia tomorrow, what would you do?

Auftragstaktik: a concept with a context

I'd not seen the Jorg Muth post on Auftragstaktik until Jason wrote about it yesterday, and it's a good thing: I probably would've ruined my girlfriend's whole weekend fulminating about it. As it is I particularly enjoyed the title of Jason's post – "Dead Germans did not perfect war" – both because 1) it's true, and 2) there's a sort of winking irony to it: the very concept of Auftragstaktik springs from the Clausewitzian and Moltkean realization that any efforts to "perfect war" were doomed to failure by the churn and friction of combat. The elder Moltke was indeed the first to put into words what every modern planner knows: no plan survives first contact with the enemy. (He put it more, well, German-y, as "no operation plan extends with any certainty beyond the first encounter with the main body of the enemy.") To this way of thinking, there is no perfect solution because no two situations in war are the same.

Jorg Muth has written what sounds like a very interesting book contrasting the early-20th century officer education systems in Germany and the United States, arguing that the differences largely account for disparities in tactical effectiveness during the Second World War. (I've not read the book, only some summaries and review blurbs.) It's plain to see that he's used this essay on Ricks' blog as an opportunity to pitch the thesis of his book. But in doing so he fails to sufficiently account for the influence of strategic context and intellectual history on each army's concepts and methods of operation; accordingly he goes much too far in his single-minded critique of formal officer education.

Muth opens his essay by making the important point that "Auftragstaktik does not denote a certain style of giving orders or a certain way of phrasing them; it is a whole command philosophy." One could argue that it's even more than that: not just a command philosophy, but a theory of war, a leadership ideal, and a warfighting philosophy. Auftragstaktik was not simply the principle of minimalist orders and freedom of action in line with commander's intent, but an entire operational culture. (This point is very effectively made in then-MAJ John T. Nelsen's September 1987 Parameters essay, "Auftragstaktik: A Case for Decentralized Battle" (pdf), which is essential reading on this subject.) As such, it can't be abstracted from the conditions that produced and propagated it, nor understood when examined from only one perspective as Muth attempts to do. We can't pretend like the idea simply never occurred to American officers, or that they failed to register its evolution in foreign armies. Here's Muth:
Interestingly, the literally hundreds of American observers who were regularly send to the old continent during the course of the 19th century to study the constantly warring European armies completely missed out on the decade long discussion about the revolutionary command philosophy of Auftragstaktik. Instead they focused on saddle straps, belt buckles and drill manuals. This is one reason why the most democratic command concept never found a home in the greatest democracy. The U.S. officers simply missed the origins because of their own narrow-minded military education.
This is a staggeringly limited and insufficient explanation. Let's look at a few of the other reasons that, in Muth's words, "never has it been attempted to introduce the most effective command philosophy ever invented into the U.S. Army."

1. Auftragstaktik didn't spring into being fully-formed from Moltke's warrior-brain (nor from the inspiration of Frederick—a curious assertion): it was a product of a specific set of historical circumstances that the German army faced in the latter part of the 19th century.

Developments in the technology of war – notably the newfound ability to concentrate overwhelming and accurate firepower on massed troops – combined with the proliferation of railroads and the creation of a dense road system to both allow and force the geographic dispersion of armies over distances not previously envisioned. (Certainly Napoleon didn't have to deal with such complications. He embodied perhaps the Platonic antithesis of Auftragstaktik, and you could argue he had a pretty effective command philosophy.) As such, commanders had to delegate and devolve authority while imbuing subordinate leaders with a meaningful sense of purpose and intent in order to ensure that slow communications and distance from the commander-in-chief didn't render their formations immobile and useless.

These developments had an impact on the American way of war, too, of course. Sherman operated with tremendous freedom thanks to "mission orders" from U.S. Grant, and Lee often granted his cavalry commanders similar discretion. It would be difficult for anyone familiar with the Indian wars (and particularly the demise of Custer's 7th Cavalry) to assert that the late 19th-century U.S. Army was dominated by doctrinaire centralization of command and overcomplicated execution orders.

2. Germany's strategic context – that is, its geographic position and relative weakness – mitigated in favor of warfighting concepts that emphasized speed of decision.

By the turn of the 20th century, it was clear to the German general staff that any war with France would of necessity become a continental war. The famed Schlieffen Plan was a response to this realization: in order to survive a general war on two or more fronts, Germany would need to act decisively to defeat the main enemy through envelopment and a battle of annihilation, then concentrate its resources and offensive effort eastward. Only France's total defeat and surrender would suffice; there could be no limited political objectives or negotiated settlement, for the German army was too small and weak in comparison with its adversaries to survive an incomplete commitment of forces or an extended war of position and attrition.

This meant two things: first, that operational speed and initiative were vital to exploit early tactical success, and second, that the "commander's intent" was quite simple and required little interpretation. Commanders in the field had to be given the authority to operate without explicit direction so as to translate victory in battle into strategic decision through unrelenting pursuit and destruction of the remnants of the enemy force. (Guderian would later adopt the same approach in the east, only to learn that the tactically and operationally sound concept of Blitzkrieg failed at the strategic level, where in Gunther Rothenberg's words, the enemy "could trade space for time" and mobilize nearly endless reserves in a defense-in-depth.)

3. Moltke's views on decentralization and initiative at the tactical level were inextricably tied to a Jominian belief in the autonomy of the military within the confines of war. Rothenberg again:
[Moltke] argues that once the army had been committed to war, the direction of the military effort should be defined by the soliders alone. "Political considerations," he wrote, "can be taken into account only as long as they do not make demands that are militarily improper or impossible" (Paret 298).
Such an approach is sensible if we imagine that the Moltkean ideal of rapid decision through a battle of annihilation – one that "deprived the adversary of the means and the will to fight further" (Paret 302) – could render the military's contribution to policy clean, discrete, and self-contained. As far as the U.S. Army is concerned, such clarity may be preferable but has rarely been seen. (World War II is the obvious exception.) This wasn't a prescription for total war, however: Moltke did view war as policy and the army as the government's instrument, and believed that his conception of autonomous action within a defined and appropriate space would limit and professionalize violence.

But this mode of thinking, so important to the German ideal of military professionalism, would later inform the eventual divorce of operational concepts from strategy and fuel the evolution of Germany's senior officer corps from strategists into mere technicians of violence. The army's desire to preserve war as its separate, autonomous space led it to abstract the methods of war from its functions, working simply to solve the problem of how to maximize the application of combat power to the enemy. War had its own space, but it lost its linkage to policy. Hitler completed this slide by ideologizing state policy, eventually rendering German strategy nonsensical and ultimately hopeless. (This is a complicated argument and there's no space to flesh it out fully here; read Michael Geyer's chapter in Paret if you're interested.)

4. U.S. Army operations in World War II were similarly informed by history and strategic context, not just officer education.

From the middle part of the 19th century, the U.S. has been – for all intents and purposes – an island nation. This has led to brief periods of fascination with fortification and coastal defense, and more generally with a strategically defensive orientation. The U.S. Military Academy at West Point was founded and evolved in this context, and its (particularly early) focus on producing engineers and military technicians rather than spirited maneuver warriors is reflective of that. (It's no coincidence either that the Army has for quite a long period of its history been essentially Jominian, what with interior lines secured by manifest destiny.)

When we look at the different command philosophies in the German and American armies of WWII, it's impossible to ignore the plain fact that those armies were operating in wildly different strategic contexts. As I've already mentioned, Germany's need for quick and decisive victory led to an offensive orientation and an emphasis on initiative to exploit tactical success; but U.S. forces in that war were expeditionary and part of a multinational effort—they could not afford to endanger operational and strategic plans through well-intended tactical blunder. While the U.S. population was large and geographic distance from the fighting would have allowed for steady resupply and an extended campaign of attrition, it's difficult to envision continuation of the war if the Allied armies had been annihilated in 1944 and a continentally hegemonic Germany sued for peace. To put it more simply, U.S. commanders were less inclined to allow initiative because they didn't need (like Germany) to accept tactical and operational risk to have a hope of strategic success.

Let's also not forget that the U.S. officer corps (and army in general) was largely non-professional by the time of its landing in Europe; even if officer education and professional culture in the pre-war had emphasized the sort of freedom of action within a framework of consistency of thought that characterized Auftragstaktik, it's hard to believe such concepts could've been implemented across the 1944 force, or that they would have been decisive.

5. Auftragstaktik is fundamentally unsuited to the operations of the modern joint/combined arms force or the realities of modern recruiting and retention.

Niel Smith discussed this in his excellent rejoinder to Muth, but it's worth repeating and elaborating: while modern Army forces may operate in geographic dispersion and with significant responsibility devolved to them, the integration of supporting fires, ISR, and other enablers requires a sort of coordination and centralization that simply isn't possible when you give independently operating platoon leaders carte blanche. Muth's illustrative hypothetical is instructive for how it underlines the differences between 1945 and today: simply give one guy responsibility for accomplishing a discrete mission, assign him tanks to support his force, and let him get it done how he wants. But in the modern operating environment, you can't just give the tactical commander control of allied units, strike assets from different services, ISR platforms with a broader mission in the AO, and so on. All those enablers help him get the job done, but now he has to do the job in a more predictable, structured, and coordinated way. It's the trade-off for combat multipliers.

When we talk about moving toward an Auftragstaktik-style approach in the modern Army, we have to remember the point I made up front: this isn't just about "mission tactics" or mission orders or commander's intent, but a culture shift. Part of the reason it worked so well for the Germans, that they were able to tolerate initiative and independent thought and resort to non-"book" solutions is that both the officer education system and the entire way of doing business in the German officer corps contributed to the development of similar analytical frameworks. Moltke might've argued that you can account for your uncertainty about what the enemy will do through supreme confidence in what your own guys will do: even if you don't know how they'll do it, you have a sense for how they'll look at the problem and confidence that they'll accomplish the objective. But how do you embed this sort of collective thinking and cultural identity in the consciousness of a group of officers that turns over so quickly (I'm talking here about both the brevity of individual assignments and the low percentage of career officers)?

I couldn't help but let out a disbelieving grunt when I read Muth's assertion that in U.S. military schools, "doctrine reigned and not free independent thinking," accompanied by the helpful bromide that doctrine "is either based on past wars or on theory and thus can be no guideline for an officer in a present-day conflict." Guffaw. First of all, U.S. Army doctrine is authoritative, but not prescriptive: it provides a guide for action, not a template to be followed. It exists to distill best practices and boil down the collective wisdom of the service into basic principles from which specific tasks can be derived and training developed. Second, I wonder what Muth would think of this paragraph from the introduction to FM 3-0: Operations (pdf), the Army's capstone doctrinal manual:
Chaos, chance, and friction dominate land operations as much today as when Clausewitz wrote about them after the Napoleonic wars. In this environment, an offensive mindset—the predisposition to seize, retain, and exploit the initiative to positively change the situation—makes combat power decisive. The high quality of Army leaders and Soldiers is best exploited by allowing subordinates maximum latitude to exercise individual and small-unit initiative. Tough, realistic training prepares leaders for this, and FM 3-0 prescribes giving them the maximum latitude to accomplish the mission successfully. This requires a climate of trust in the abilities of superior and subordinate alike. It also requires leaders at every level to think and act flexibly, constantly adapting to the situation. Subordinates’ actions are guided by the higher commander’s intent but not circumscribed by excessive control. This is a continuing tension across the Army, aggravated by advanced information systems that can provide higher commanders with the details of lower echelon operations. The temptation for senior leaders to micromanage subordinates is great, but it must be resisted.
Sounds a lot like Auftragstaktik, huh? You can talk all you want about mission orders and initiative, but it doesn't work without the whole surrounding culture. That means building these ideas into doctrine and concepts, but also building them into the structure of the institution, individual and collective training, and yes, officer education.

I know this has gone on much, much too long and deals with a lot of complicated subjects, so I'm grateful if you've made it this far. I suppose in the end I'm grateful to Ricks for running Muth's essay, and for the discussion and thinking it has prompted. (I still think his argument is oversimplified and silly, though.) Stuff like this is essential to the process of sorting out what the Army of the future ought to look like, how it ought to be structured, how it ought to think and train and fight. It's interesting to see century-old concepts invoked in this context if only because it wasn't so long ago that the Revolution in Military Affairs crowd was trumpeting a future of Net-Centric Warfare, information dominance, and all the inevitable centralization that would be associated with it.

In some sense, Auftragstaktik represents one extreme on a spectrum that spans all the way across to the other extreme of perfect information and centralized mission command: one end believes there's no such thing as perfect information and that junior leaders ought to be empowered to operate in an environment where they can react to circumstances more quickly and coherently than could echelons above, while for the other side there's still a hope of understanding the enemy's thinking before he does and acting on a decisive point to near-bloodlessly defeat him. This latter idea, present throughout history (in the guise of strategic bombing, maneuver warfare, NCW, and other forms of "the indirect approach") and eminently un-Clausewitzian, will hopefully be consigned to the scrap heap at some point, but shows no sign of doing so just yet.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Dead Germans did not perfect war (Or: balancing command and initiative is okay)

For some reason we're talking again about the U.S. Army, mission orders, and initiative. It's fun to beat on an organization as large as the Army and throw around fun German words (and the fun names of the men who coined those words), but enough is enough.

1. The Army uses a mix of mission-type orders and execution-type orders. MAJ Neil Smith is spot on here that the technologies of the battlefield at the moment are too complex to use purely Auftragstaktik. The coordination of airspace and fires is a hard, hard thing to do and needs to be dictated to an extent. But for the most part the way this works is that a subordinate command that is on the ground will say what they want to do and in the interest of securing and legitimizing the allocation of assets, turns around and orders the subordinate to do what the subordinate unit told the higher unit they were going to do in the first place. When the technologies that command and control our equipment improve, I'm sure we'll see more movement towards mission-type orders in this regard as well. Until then, can we please stop deluding ourselves that dead Germans performed the command of arms in its purest form?

Also, please understand that the actual tactical command of troops on the ground is commanded at the lowest level possible, with that guy on the ground armed with his commander's intent. Execution-type orders are, in my experience, given to deconflict complex operations or asset allocation. And for administrative orders - because that's how admin in a large bureaucracies work. (Sorry Crispin, this is a funny story about Burger King, but it says absolutely nothing about how the U.S. Army orders its forces to combat - it just means our boys apparently can't figure out how to order fast food.)

2. The Army's leadership lacks initiative like the Navy lacks ships. You'll see this nonsense in the comments sections of some of the bigger blogs out there - on Ricks' in the current case that has me riled at the moment. Are bad decisions made? Yup. Are some leaders micro-mangers? Of course there are some. The Army truly is a cross-section of the nation - why would you expect colonels and generals to be perfect when you don't expect that of executives in the business world. The military sure has its own problems, but considering it's made up humans, I think it does fairly well for itself. But to say that this Army, that has done pretty damned well through 10 years of tough wars, lacks initiative is absurd. Period.

So yeah, I'm probably tilting a bit at windmills here. I'm just tired of the broad brushes used to paint impressions of such a large organization as the U.S. Army.

Monday, September 12, 2011

My non-reflection on 9/11

You can take a million different angles on the anniversary of the deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history, and I'm pretty sure all of them have been presented in some form or another over the last week. I'm not going to subject you to a cynic's screed about the pointlessness and opportunism of all this coverage (even though I've certainly had strong feelings about that from time to time), and I'm not going to go the other direction and engage in emotional nationalism or policy retrospective. For me, the most important reflections are those by the people who lost friends or family, and I think the policy clutter has drowned out much of that meaningful remembrance.

That said, I want to point you to what I think is the best thing written this weekend about our national reaction to terrorism since 9/11: Spencer Ackerman's Danger Room piece called "How to Beat Terrorism: Refuse to Be Terrorized." I'm not going to spend any time going in to all the reasons why I agree, or trying to bolster Spencer's points; we can do that another time, when things aren't so emotional. But you ought to read it and perhaps reflect for just a moment on exactly what "security" means. For me, it means having the national confidence not to lose our collective mind in response to the painful (if fundamentally meaningless) jabs of disaffected hermits -- not to gulp down (and even beg for) a medicine that's far worse than the disease.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Military medics: protected or not?

Gulliver's post yesterday on the definition of terrorism started a very interesting Twitter conversation about the delineation between terrorism targets and legitimate military targets. This led to the discussion of legitimacy of targeting military medical personnel. On the one hand, these personnel are protected under the Geneva Conventions and tradition among state combatants. On the other hand, they aid the war effort by getting combatants back into the fight and recently have been armed, ostensibly for self-defense given the increased disregard for their protected status in recent decades. Arming them tends to un-blur their status towards combatant, in my opinion, but I'm certainly not one deny them their right to defend themselves. As Petulant Skeptic noted last night, they are all soldiers first.

I'm not up on all of the literature on this topic, save the basics in the Geneva Conventions that I was taught many years ago. So what I'd thought I'd do is provide my perspective on how I saw medical personnel treated on both sides during the course of the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

U.S. Medical Troops - Equipment and Markings
Being a brand new LT, I can only really speak about the forward medical personnel in my troop and Squadron Aid Station. I saw a Corps Support Hospital in Camp before we went to our tactical assembly areas, but not enough to comment on what happened to them once we launched over the berm. Anyway, the medical personnel in our squadron consisted of one platoon for the Aid Station, including a Medical Service Corps platoon leader, physician's assistant and a doctor (we were lucky to have a gynecologist for our battalion surgeon - but to be fair, he was a very good doc), who were equipped with light-skinned M998 HMMWVs, HMMWV ambulances (for transport and the nomenclature of which I don't know), M577s (for treatment), and M113s (for transport). We also had one section of medics in each of the ground troops (not sure what the air troops had) which were three medics in a M113. None of the medical vehicles had crew served weapons, and only the M577s and M113s were marked with red crosses. The personnel were not marked as a medical personnel in any way and carried a personnel weapon - usually rifles for the medics and pistols for the doc, PA, and PL. Other than their vehicle being marked, once the medics got off of their track, there was no way to discern them from other soldiers.

Iraq Medical Troops - Equipment and Markings
I didn't see a single Iraqi military medic or vehicle. Even in longer battles (which lasted up to four days), we never saw any Iraqi soldiers try to get to and help their buddies out. This isn't a condemnation on their bravery, it's just quite possible they didn't have any medical staff to do this. Or if they were like our medics and not marked, then we would have shot them at first site as a legitimate military target and not knowing what they were there for. We treated the Iraqis we could (I'm guessing follow-on units did more of this - we were often moving to fast to assess battle damage).

U.S. Policies on Engaging Military Medical Personnel/Equipment
The policy was we don't do that as signatories of the 1949 Conventions. If we identified injured Iraqis, Iraqi medical staff of personnel, we were not to engage them. As I mentioned above, we never had to test this theory. But here's where things became difficult: civilian ambulances. At first we left these along as civilian and therefore not targets - their medical status gave them extra protection. And then the Saddam Fedayeen started using them to pace out artillery distances and in a couple of cases as car bombs. As a leader, it was difficult to ensure the protected status of the Red Crescent when the soldiers were a little scared of them, but the policy was then to restrict their movement until their legitimacy could be verified. But they were protected from engagement.

Iraqi Army Policies on Engaging Military Medical Personnel/Equipment
Of course, we never saw the memos, but as far as the Republican Guard and Saddam Fedayeen were concerned as indicated by their actions, not only were medical vehicles legit targets in spite of their great big red crosses, they were preferred targets because they were light skinned and lightly armed. It was also a huge morale let down to see an ambulance get hit, because if there were any casualties, they'd have be taken out of fire by something needed in that fight. I should also note that once our soldiers were dismounted, I doubt the Iraqis could have discerned medical from combat arms soldiers, if they cared anyway.

Here's the big so what that I get from all of this. The U.S. will always consider military medical personnel and equipment as protected on the battlefield and will not willfully engage them. We belong to the gentlemen's club of war because we can afford to. The U.S. also understands that our adversaries will not be so "civilized" on this topic and will not afford our medical personnel and equipment protected status, if not actively find and target them. So we've armed our guys to defend themselves and let our combat arms guys do their best to protect them by force. It's not quite fair, but this is the case. So are military medical personnel protected? If you're the big kid on the block, they are because you can afford to make that discernment. If you're the underdog, everything is fair game - and there's a good argument of medical personnel as legitimate military targets. But to call attacks against military medical personnel, equipment, or facilities as "terrorism" would be a stretch from an active imagination.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Is this definition of terrorism analytically useless?

Under the heading "20 years of terror," The Economist has a graph mapping global "terrorism" deaths since 1991. The one-year high topped out at nearly 13,000; the trough was around 3,000. The most lethal single incident over that period, of course, was 9/11, but the 2,996 dead were nearly half of an annual total near the 20-year mean. Have a look:

What's most interesting to me, though, is the definition used by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (!), who compiled the data: for them, terrorism is "the use of illegal force and violence by a non-state actor to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal."

On its face, that's a little goofy; after all, economic, religious, and social goals are fundamentally political, too. (Presumably a "religious goal" means something roughly like an attempt to advance the social or political status of one's sect, not the performance of some divinely-mandated act of violence, right?) But worse than that, doesn't this definition allow for the inclusion of deaths attributable to insurgency and rebellion? Or organized crime? Maybe I'm just picking semantic nits here, but as the lexicographers say, words mean something.

What's the most useful and accurate definition of terrorism you've seen? Maybe you've got one of your own...?

(Hat-tip to Peter J. Munson on Twitter for the link.)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Trombly and Foust on R2P, sovereignty, Libya, and a rational basis for U.S. foreign policy

I haven't had time to write about this subject (though if you follow me on Twitter it should be plain that I have strong feelings about it), but Dan Trombly and Josh Foust are absolutely killing it on Libya and the so-called "responsibility to protect."

First, see Anne-Marie Slaughter at The Atlantic.

Now read Foust at PBS Need to Know.

And finally, check out Trombly's comprehensive take-down of R2P opportunism at Slouching Towards Columbia.

I like Anne-Marie Slaughter -- I think she's charismatic and engaging, and her enthusiasm to correspond with analysts and students on Twitter is an admirable example for other policy big-wigs to emulate. But Foust and Trombly are so effective in categorically dismantling the philosophical and logical foundations of her argument that the reasonably-minded can only lament their comparative distance from the levers of power.

(It seems like an appropriate time to offer this aside: Dan Trombly is a freaking superstar. I don't know the guy personally, but if this kid spends his 20s making copies for the Michael O'Hanlons of the world, it will be a damned tragedy. It's depressing to consider how completely the so-called "foreign policy establishment" is walled off to original thinking, but I hope he gets an opportunity to do meaningful work. Read his blog. Every day. (No, seriously.))

Don't expect much from me over the long weekend, as I'll be on a train to New York this afternoon. (Hopefully I can get through the last 300-ish pages of The Makers of Modern Strategy, but I'm not holding out a ton of hope.)

Is there anything more strategically idiotic than "we're at war, so we must fight and win"?

This isn't exactly new ground, but I'm reminded of the rationality-annihilating centrality-of-victory types by a line from Elliott Abrams' embarrassing defense of Dick Cheney in a Foreign Policy roundtable on the former VP.
Cheney fervently believed that America was at war after 9/11, and this belief led him to the conclusion that America must fight and win.
"Fight and win," eh? Ok, sure, let's fight and win. But fight against whom? To win what? What is winning, exactly, in this context? Is it the destruction of every al-Qaeda terrorist? The democratization of the Middle East? The elimination of every possible threat to American security? I'd love to see the campaign plan for this "war," or at least for someone to outline desired end-states.

For a good long while in history, the general consensus held that destruction of the enemy's main force was the sure path to victory in war. There are a million good reasons that Clausewitz and Jomini and Napoleon and Mahan alike believed this, and I'm not going to recount them all here. (It's also worth remembering that each one of those dudes would've snickered and turned up his nose at the idea that any interaction the world's foremost power had with a band of violent criminals from the extremist fringe could constitute "war.") But one needs to try to understand that view in its historical and circumstantial context: it's not a timeless law of war, but rather a reality of the characteristically limited nature of war in their era. Routing the enemy in the field didn't constitute victory on its own merits, but was rather so closely tied to the political change that secured actual victory (accomplishment of policy objectives) as to be nearly indistinguishable. 

Everyone knows the old saw about winning a battle but losing the war, right? The point of that maxim is that tactical decision doesn't always translate into operational or strategic success. This is so obvious and widely understood as to barely merit comment. Why does it so often happen, then, that politicians and military leaders alike express sentiments like the one from Abrams cited above? Why do so many people fail to understand that military victory, however defined (and you'll have a hell of a hard time defining it for me in a "war" against a phenomenon of political violence), is essentially meaningless unless it forces political-strategic decision?