Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Rosetta Stone: Pentagonese

Ok, you've been introduced to Pentagonese. You've seen some specimens living in the wild. You've heard about the obscure doctrinal quibbling at the dark center of all of the Pentagon's lexicographic debate. Now witness the power of this fully armed and operational battle sta... uh, fake software package*:

The fine photoshopping work you see above comes courtesy of Caitlin Fitzgerald, she of Clausewitz for Kids and Gunpowder and Lead fame. She's a real artiste. I was sure I'd posted this several months ago when she ginned it up for me, but a search of the archives reveals that my memory has failed us all yet again.

In any event, enjoy (and don't sue me).

* Seriously, this is fake. Don't sue me.

The tip of a really idiotic iceberg

Over time, working in or around the defense bureaucracy inures you to stupidity, contradiction, and doublespeak. That's the only explanation I can give for not having already written about the proposed "empowerment" of the National Guard Bureau (by elevating its chief to membership in the Joint Chiefs of Staff), an idea so prosaically and unremarkably dumb that until last night -- when Twitter started throwing a collective wobbly about the whole thing -- it never even occurred to me to try to explain its fundamental bankruptcy. And maybe I'll get to that at some point, but for right now I want to talk about something that's way more important: the Defense Department can't even decide on the appropriate acronym for its own name.

It's possible that there are people in the world who identify me as marginally overconcerned with taxonomy and the doctrinal lexicon (which is a totally separate condition from typography nerd-ism, with which I am also afflicted). If you don't know what that means, I'll tell you in clearer terms: I like to whine about people using words and acronyms incorrectly. And I'm a particularly careful observer of the strange brand of pseudo-English spoken in the Pentagon. So when my friend Jon Rue asked this morning if I could clarify whether "DOD" or "DoD" is the appropriate form, I was happy to answer. The only problem is that there isn't a good answer, and that's where my desensitization apologia above comes in: somehow, this seems totally normal to me.

You might not have known this, but the U.S. military has its own dictionary. It's called Joint Publication (JP) 1-02, the Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms. The simplest way to explain it is this: JP 1-02 takes all the terms and acronyms included in the various joint doctrinal publications and puts them in one place. If you're conversant in such things, you'll know from the title that the dictionary itself is a joint doctrinal manual; that means it's authoritative.

The preface of the manual lays out its scope and purpose: it "sets forth standard US military and associated terminology to encompass the joint activity of the Armed Forces of the United States," and the terms included "constitute approved Department of Defense (DOD) terminology for general use by all DOD components." To be even more clear:
This publication applies to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Services, the Joint Staff, combatant commands, DOD agencies, and all other DOD components. It is the primary terminology source when preparing correspondence, to include policy, strategy, doctrine, and planning documents. [Emphasis mine.]
That seems to just about settle it, right? JP 1-02 applies to everyone, and it's your primary source document for pretty much all writing, right? If you need to know the Department's position on the meaning of a specific term or acronym, you go to the dictionary: JP 1-02.

So what does 1-02 have to say about abbreviating the Department's name? Check out page A-45: it's DOD. This makes a lot of sense, seeing as the Pentagon refers to other Departments using the same format: DOS, DOJ, etc. (Curiously, the Department of the Navy is referred to as DON, while the Department of the Army is just DA. Don't ask me. Perhaps avoidance of "DOA" is self-explanatory.) So there you have it: DOD, simple as.

Oh, but not so fast, my friends. Department of Defense Instruction (DoDI/DODI) 5025.12, which is LULZily titled "Standardization of Military and Associated Terminology," uses "DoD" throughout. So does every other Department of Defense issuance (ppt) -- all other DoDIs and DoD Directives (DoDDs), plus Pubs, Manuals, Administrative Instructions, and Memorandums (sic; yep, that's correct DoD usage, too). You know what else uses "DoD"? DoD 5110.04-M, the "DoD Manual for Written Material."


Want to hear something even more awesome? The "Writing Style Guide and Preferred Usage for DoD Issuances" document (pdf), hosted on "The Official Department of Defense Web Site [sic] for DoD Issuances" and based on a memo from Bob Gates's executive secretary that Spencer Ackerman wrote about earlier this year (in a post called "Pentagon Issues Bitchy Acronym Memo (PIBAM)"), and which is a good quick-reference if you slept through 8th grade language arts, completely elides the whole dispute, noting only that "the acronyms 'DoD,' 'OSD,' and 'U.S.' do not need to be established upon first use." (The document also features a lowercase-o "DoD" in the ALL CAPS TITLE on the first page, not to mention specifying use of "website" in spite of the inclusion of "Web Site" in the header of the website/web site/Web Site on which it is hosted.)

But here's the absolute best part:
3. RESOURCES FOR WRITING DoD ISSUANCES. Use the resources in priority order below when you have questions on English usage, writing style, format, content, and organization of DoD issuances.
a. The Issuance Process
(1) Format, content, and organization Standards for each type of issuance.
(2) Frequently Asked Questions. [on the host website]
(3) Common Mistakes. [on the host website]
(4) DoD 5110.4-M, “DoD Manual for Written Material.”
(5) JP 1-02.
That's right, the authoritative "primary terminology source" that is codified in joint doctrine, the Department's dictionary -- JP 1-02 -- is only to be consulted if a conclusive answer cannot be found in a different DoD/DOD issuance... which in this case happens to offer a contradictory answer.

As if all of that wasn't bad enough, an older version of the usage guide included this provision:
The following acronyms and abbreviations may be used as adjectives only: U.S., DoD, POTUS, SecDef, DepSecDef, CJCS, VCJCS, DJS, VDJS, JCS, JS. Spell the terms out when using them as nouns.
So "DoD issuances" but "documents issued by the Department of Defense." (Or something.) The current version has eliminated that bit; now it only applies to "United States/U.S."

If you're still reading, quit. You've already thought about this for ten minutes longer than anyone else in the Pentagon. Which, in case you're wondering, seems like a safe substitute ("Pentagon," that is) for any of the various titles, acronyms, initialisms, or other forms of address used to collectively refer to the organizations and personnel who work in, around, beneath, or in connection with that building, and which/who seem incapable of conclusively deciding on what to call themselves.

Wait, I've got one last acronym for you: FML.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Where you sit is where you stand, Example No. 671,000,000,000

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, speaking at General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton, CT, November 17, 2011:
I'm not going to hollow out the force. Coming out of World War II, coming out of Korea, coming out of the Vietnam War, coming out of the fall of the Soviet Union, the problem was that cuts were made across the board, and the result was we weakened defense across the board. We hollowed out the force.
Congressman Leon Panetta, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, quoted in the New York Times on January 31, 1990:
Pressure is also building to divert some of the money for costly Pentagon weapons systems and create a ''peace dividend'' that could be used to avoid big cuts in social programs. But Mr. Cheney has largely shunned suggestions to kill any new weapons programs, arguing that the United States military needs a modern force.
Representative Leon E. Panetta, the California Democrat who serves as chairman of the House Budget Committee, said that Mr. Cheney's 1991 military budget was ''very disappointing.''
Mr. Panetta said that when some members of Congress recently complained to Mr. Cheney about the absence of a peace dividend, ''he made the comment that the peace dividend is peace.''
Don't worry, though: Uncle Leon explained this apparent discrepancy when he was over on the Hill back in June, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in support of his nomination. When asked by John Cornyn about his role in the post-Cold War defense drawdown, when he served as President Clinton's budget director, here's how today's SECDEF responded:
As Director of OMB, obviously, I was given the responsibility by the President to try to achieve significant savings as part of the economic plan that was adopted by the Congress that, by the way, reduced the deficit by almost $500 billion. And I think that, plus other agreements that were made in the Bush administration and, ultimately, with the Republican Congress all contributed to our ability to achieve a balanced budget.
Specifically, with regards to the defense area, my responsibility as OMB Director was to provide a number to the Defense Secretary and those at the Defense Department to determine how best to try to achieve those savings. And I do understand that that was part of what they proposed.
But looking at it in hindsight, it might not have been the best way to achieve those savings, but it was a decision that was made at the Defense Department.
A lot to unpack there, but it basically comes down to I was for it before I was against it.

Panetta contends that he's not responsible for whatever negative effects were suffered by the '90s drawdown because he just did his job, just presented a topline number, while Defense officials made the program decisions necessary to get there. "[I]t might not have been the best way to achieve those savings," he says, presumably referring to the major cuts to procurement accounts that Cornyn brought up in his question, "but it was a decision that was made at the Defense Department."

Well, Mr. Secretary, now you are the Defense Department. And you're telling us that it's appropriate for the Congress and the White House to serve you up a topline number that jibes with political reality, just like you did for the Aspin Pentagon. And you're telling us that past procurement holidays might have been a mistake. And you're telling us that you're not going to hollow out the force. And you're telling us that you're not going to break faith with military personnel.

So now what are you going to do?

Are you going to "suck it up, do what's right for the country"? Are you going to "do the work that [you're] supposed to do"? Are you going to prioritize and make decisions and accept risk and put your own ass on the line -- are you going to show some leadership?

Or are you going to stand up in front of a bunch of guys in hard hats and say "damn" and "son of a bitch" a lot, get everybody chuckling at good ol' Uncle Leon, and feed them pathetic applause lines about what Congress needs to do for you?

Monday, November 7, 2011

A telling headline: Defense and foreign policy

There's a profile of Michele Flournoy, the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, in today's Washington Post. Reaction to the piece on Twitter has been universally positive, at least among the people I follow, and it's little surprise: Flournoy is a great defense policy mind and an effective leader, and her success sets a great example for the next generation of women in the field. I think she's generally done a good job, though I could come up with some inside-baseball complaints that wouldn't hold much significance for people outside the Pentagon.

But you know me: there's always a down-side. For this piece, it's the headline:
Michele Flournoy, Pentagon's highest-ranking woman, is making her mark on foreign policy
No one could quibble with the accuracy of the statement. But it may be worth reflecting for a moment on the fact that we've grown so accustomed to the modern Defense Department's coequal if not primary role in the formulation and execution of foreign policy that there's scarcely a mention of the fact that this isn't the way our government is designed to work.

This isn't a shot at Flournoy -- if she hadn't "made her mark on foreign policy," she'd probably have been fired by now for failing to do her job. No, it's but a wistful recollection of the days when the men and women who wanted to direct foreign policy -- the Nitzes and Kennans and Achesons -- did so at the State Department, when our national leaders recognized that armed force and the plentiful resources that backed it were but one of several tools that the country used to assure its interests around the world.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A "hollow force": what it is and isn't

It is almost literally impossible to read an article or essay on the subject of imminent defense budget cuts without coming across expressions of concern about the potential "hollowing of the force." Bob Gates warned about it before he left the Pentagon, and Secretary Panetta's been on the same talking points. Journalists and bloggers sprinkle the term liberally throughout their prose. But it seems that somewhere along the way, nearly everyone stopped paying attention to just what the heck the term "hollow force" actually means. I've been ranting and raving about this (to myself, mostly) for months, so it's time to get this straight once and for all.

This post was prompted by Walter Pincus's column today, in which he at least concedes some uncertainty about the precise meaning of the phrase:
A repeated fear is that defense cuts will result in a “hollowing-out of the military.” As best as can be pinned down, that means reductions, whether in numbers or pay, that would leave the services without the experienced noncommissioned and mid-level commissioned officers who actually run things.
So that's one version: reductions in staff NCOs and field grade officers proportional to the size of the force. Let's look at some other representative examples. (The italicized bits indicate my emphasis.)

Here's Benjamin Friedman writing at The National Interest's blog:
The more substantive claim wielded by Pentagon boosters is that cuts would produce a hollow force, a military overburdened with missions that it is too small to perform and thus unable to protect Americans. These claims exaggerate both the damage cuts would do to our military’s ability to perform current missions and the damage not performing those missions does to our security.
(UPDATE: See Ben's comment below. I understand that Friedman was making an effort to characterize the views of people with whom he disagreed, and I probably should've noted this in the first place. I actually very much agree with the substance of his essay; this was just a clear example of the sort of misimpression that I'm trying to correct with this post, so I had to draw it out -- whether it was his or someone else's.)

Now the "Defending Defense" people at Heritage, AEI, and FPI:
This backgrounder describes the likely results of the significant defense spending reductions now being considered: a “hollow force” characterized by fewer personnel and weapon systems, slowed military modernization, reduced readiness for operations, and continued stress on the all-volunteer force.
Here's how an un-bylined Fox News piece described it (hilariously, this warning came in 2003):
Overdeployment may threaten recruitment and retention for the entire military, particularly the National Guard and Reserve, presenting the risk of a "hollow force" — a military that suffers dramatic drops in volunteers willing to join or stay in the armed services.
Now here's Air Force Chief of Staff GEN Norman Schwartz (via Phil Ewing at DoD Buzz) coming closer to the point:
My pledge for the coming year is to strengthen unit readiness and avoid a creeping hollow force that proves only the illusion of global vigilance, reach and power.
But what about the SECDEF -- what does he mean when he says it?
"Very simply, it results in hollowing out the force," Panetta said during an Aug. 16 event at National Defense University in Washington. "It would terribly weaken our ability to respond to the threats in the world, but more importantly, it would break faith with the troops and with their families."
So we've seen a litany of references to the "hollow force," some of which are vague and ill-defined (like Panetta's), others of which are more specific (like the Fox News/Pincus version). Many suggest that the expression fundamentally has to do with the size of the force and related issues like recruitment and retention.

Now let's check out this excerpt from a 1996 Center for Naval Analyses paper called "Avoiding a Hollow Force" (pdf), which really nails -- with a bit of maritime flavor -- what the expression is actually all about:
[Budget cuts since the end of the Cold War] have raised fears that the Navy may once again be on the verge of a hollow force. Our review of the readiness literature suggests that hollowness is a condition that keeps ships from living up to their design potential. It is the general state that persists whenever maintenance problems dominate a force; when poor quality sailors seem the rule rather than the exception; and when meaningful training is both scarce and questionable.
This explanation is consistent with the way I'd always understood the term and heard it used before the recent glut of references. If you think for a second about what hollowness evokes, this use of the term makes perfect sense: you're talking about an apparently intact form that gives the illusion of completeness and authenticity, but lacks robustness -- lacks real substance.

What "hollowing the force" means is that you keep force structure, you keep major platforms and weapon systems, you keep personnel numbers up, but you start to skimp on the things that make all of that useful -- the money that you spend to translate equipment and units and personnel into effective warfighting capability. A hollow force is one that keeps up the appearance of capability but shorts those things that make the difference between a shiny, impressive garrison army and a world-class fighting force.

What are those things? Realistic, tough, meaningful training. Flight hours. Regular preventive and corrective maintenance. Spare parts and similar contributors to sustainment. Ammunition. Exercises.

Hollowing isn't just about spending less money, but about allocating money improperly. If Congress cut the defense budget by half tomorrow and said to DoD "make it work," there are two basic ways the Pentagon could execute that tasking: 1) by slashing force structure, aircraft, vehicles, and personnel numbers and then training and maintaining that smaller force to accomplish a smaller range of missions; or 2) by keeping all those airplanes, never taking them out of the hangers, and saving money on jet fuel; keeping all those brigade combat teams, never turning a wrench on Strykers or Humvees, and spreading your non-broken down vehicles thinner across the formations; keeping all those personnel but cutting down on their expensive professional military education and realistic live-fire training. (Incidentally, the defense industry doesn't much care whether the force is hollow or not -- they'll happily sell you vehicles and planes for your last dollar, whether or not you've got the cash left over to put gas in them and take them out of the garage.)

A smaller military that does less accordingly is not a "hollow force," even if it's a less capable one. A large, apparently "world-class" military that fights poorly because of insufficient training, low morale, broken vehicles, and a lack of ammunition -- that's a hollow force. So if we know now that a hollow force is a specific type of bad military, one that's bad for a specific reason, can we all agree to stop using the term as a general synonym for "bad military"?