Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Police development: you're doing it wrong

I can't remember who tweeted a link to this excellent report on ANP development (speak up and be recognized!), but if you're interested in police development it is a must read. A product of the Peace Research Institute - Frankfort, the authors (Cornelius Friesendorf and Jorg Krempel) titled the work Militarized versus Civilian Policing: Problems of Reforming the Afghan National Police, looked at best practices in building a civilian police force and the German and US involvement in Afghanistan with the ANP.

The paper dives into a lot of the nitty-gritty of the ANP development program dating back to 2002 and it's worth a read. (I wish it had been translated when I wrote this paper that touched on some of these issues this past spring.) But I want to focus in on some of the conclusions and attempt to draw them into bigger thoughts beyond Afghanistan. They cite numerous issues of donors not effectively supporting the ANP development, recruiting problems, training problems, corruption problems, and so on and so forth. All important.

But what's important in this paper is that they look very closely at the intersection of police and military responsibilities and point how horribly wrong we've been delineating responsibilities between the ANA and ANP. Due to a number of factors - lack of a democratic policing tradition in the years running up to 2001, the use of military forces to train the nascent ANP, and operational needs - ISAF is building a paramilitary force not a police force. While the first of these factors can be overcome in my opinion (Kosovo provides a pretty example of making an adequate police force essentially from scratch), I think the latter two are catastrophic to police development programs if not done correctly. And we're not doing it correctly.

In brief, if a military force trains a police force, that police force is much more likely to look like a military force than a police force. Just as in Iraq, the ANP are formed into military structures (unless that's changed recently), they carry military-grade weapons (including RPGs on occasion), and they have little interest in the tedium of enforcing the law. Simply put, if you train your police with the military, you end up with police who can't police and are an under-trained and under-equipped military force. What you end up with is a force that exacerbates conflict instead of quelling it that primarily acts as a strong-arm of local factions or even national entities (such as in Iraq where the INP became the MoI's private Army). Historical studies have shown that military training of police forces nearly invariably result in this scenario and we need to stop doing it. Of course, that would require building capabilities and/or capacities in our civilian agencies such as ICITAP, OPDAT, USAID, or even INL. Something that seems unlikely given Congress's fetishization of military power over civilian power. Alas.

However, this pales in comparison to the operational necessities that drive police development away from policing and towards military operations. When conducting police development in countries embroiled in an intra-state war, priority is given to the operational needs to defeat the state's enemies, not to stemming crime. The U.S. and other donors have been building the ANP into a counterinsurgency force in their own right to "thicken the lines" as the old Iraq saw went. Community police simply wouldn't be able to defend themselves against any quasi-military insurgency. As they would be among the first targets of the insurgency, police being among the most visible realizations of a state's power, they would simply be slaughtered. This would then require precious military resources to be pulled from finding bad guys and instead guard the police. It's a lose-lose situation for any operational commander. So we've taken the middle path: forget policing and build a quasi-military police force. A force that, again, stinks at policing and stinks at military operations.

This is an offhand synopsis and analysis of the paper I linked to, but it distills to the fundamental flaws of our attempts to build a police force in Afghanistan. Because of the myriad problems underlying our efforts and our militarization of the ANP (because of the two factors discussed here), we're failing Afghanistan by not fielding an effective police force now and virtually ensuring that the ANP cannot transition into a true police force. Friesendorf and Krempel put it much more eloquently, but that's the basis of their conclusion. Nice, huh?

So what do we do about it? Our boys from Frankfurt call for reforms to the program and to ensure that those in ISAF who are assisting in driving the ANP strategy are police experts and not military officers (they don't say it, but an MP is not a policeman, so no, not even an MP should be doing this). Concur entirely. I don't know what else we can do for the ANP at this point. But the lesson we need to draw from Afghanistan and Iraq is that in conflict countries maybe we shouldn't do police development at all until violence reaches levels where they can operate as police and not as soldiers. Police development in the early stages of the war should focus on the ministries responsible and a cadre of officers who are provided with long and intensive training who don't actually do any policing until a violence threshold is met. At that point, DDR programs could help staff the police force around this framework of cadre who can then instill a proper police culture throughout the force and train their policemen to be policemen. Instead of throwing billions of dollars at sub-par police who also are sub-par counterinsurgents as well as conflict drivers, maybe we shouldn't do any of that until the environment is safe enough for an actual community police force to operate.

Unlikely, but maybe in the next war.

Monday, February 27, 2012

These aren't the ends you're looking for

When I wrote about austerity and how it will affect our definition of victory in conflict, I failed to make an important distinction related to this excellent post by Adam Elkus on R2P and the gap between policy and strategy/tactics. Contrary to how we've described our policy goals these past 10 years, I was trying to argue that our policy goals (ends) will be limited in the future and that winning (as Adam says: accomplishing your political object) can no longer be maximal statements of everything to everyone. Or even worse, interpreted in many ways to substantiate practically any military strategy imaginable. Clarity and focus should best describe our political objects in war since we seem unwilling to pay for much more than that. A change in how we perceive victory has to do with our ends, not in our ways. We are, in other words, going to take a much harder look at the first two questions of the Powell Doctrine before we intervene.

There are a few aspects of this that apply to R2P. First among these is the apparent lack of understanding of the military art and science by the policy proponents of R2P. Anne-Marie Slaughter's recent op-ed in the NY Times is a perfect case in point: she attempts to provide a military solution to end the violence that ostensibly uses minimalist objects. A "no-kill zone" sounds like a limited objective, but militarily it is not. Providing the Free Syrian Army with such materiel as "countersniper and anti-aircraft weapons" gives the impression that we'll give them a few tools and some advice and they can carry the fight. However, countersniper weapons are usually other snipers, tanks, artillery and airstrikes, according to U.S. military doctrine. These are weapons of offense, not defense. And they are weapons most effectively used by an intervening force, not a loose coalition of Syrian anti-regime forces. Also, please read Adam's discussion of stalemate and how it's not an end as well as Robert Caruso on the logistics of intervention and Spencer Ackerman on how Dr. Slaughter's plan could easily spin beyond our intended trajectory.

The point of all of this is that statements of ends cannot be "limited" if the ways and means required to affect them are not. Syria is a very good example that limited ends require ways and means that in reality create a new, maximal ends in order to achieve them. This is not to suggest that policy should be dictated by the military - such a path would be against our traditions, however often it actually happens - but policy should be informed by the military perspective to avoid a disconnect between policy and strategy. CvC himself hits on this point:
If policy is right, that is, if it succeeds in hitting the object, then it can only act with advantage on the War. If this influence of policy causes a divergence from the object, the cause is only to be looked for in a mistaken policy.

It is only when policy promises itself a wrong effect from certain military means and measures, an effect opposed to their nature, that it can exercise a prejudicial effect on War by the course it prescribes. Just as a person in a language with which he is not conversant sometimes says what he does not intend, so policy, when intending right, may often order things which do not tally with its own views.

This has happened times without end, and it shows that a certain knowledge of the nature of War is essential to the management of political intercourse.
Right on, Carl. The problem we're facing is that much of the policy world is calling for action to end the violence against civilians in Syria, yet these individuals - while brilliant in many things - have such little understanding of the mechanisms of war that they are unwittingly calling for things which do not tally with their own views. This is a difficult topic as their calls for action come from an honest place: their own humanity. But a full understanding of the military implications of their policies may require more killing that already exists and will very likely naturally expand their intended ends. This also puts those who better understand the required military strategy in the position of allowing the continued killing of civilians by opposing action. Do not confuse this with inhumanity. It (generally) comes from the calculus that intervening (i.e., waging war) will create a great humanitarian calamity and that the risks/benefits equation for the United States doesn't add up to force change to the status quo.

The situation in Syria is tragic, but there is no limited-ends policy to abate it. The military strategy required to affect limited ends create new, broader ends that are likely unpalatable to a nation that has been at war for 10 consecutive years.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Rubicon Bridgehead: the utility of confidence and an aside on aesthetics

This morning Diana Wueger highlighted an article in International Security on the Rubicon Theory of War (.pdf), which posits that once we've crossed the Rubicon to war and war appears to be imminent, cognitive biases cause us to become overconfident about war, that this overconfidence increases the likelihood of war occurring, and that this same overconfidence causes risky military planning. I agree entirely with the fundamental conclusion of Diana's post (and the article) that we (meaning the populace, decision makers, military and civilian leaders) need to recognize these biases and approach war (or avoid it entirely) with a steely eye unjaundiced by hope and expectations that exceed reality.

However, I see two problems with the original article: one in the mechanisms of the theory and the second beyond. In the first instance I think the theory's creators did not thoroughly plumb the depths of the moral quantities (to use Clausewitz's term) of war and how that plays with confidence (over- or otherwise). If one assumes that war has become imminent, one must recognize the importance of confidence when partaking of events that require courage. It seemed to me on the eve of war with Iraq in 2003 that much of the overconfidence we were sold (shock and awe!) was merely optimism. It was bravado intended to inspire the troops. I can't say if this was intentional or a side-effect of the cognitive bias talked about Johnson and Tierney, but you don't want to send soldiers into harms way with expectations of a long, tedious, and violent war. Doing so would ensure you lose the moral quantities calculus right off the bat and possibly the war.

The Iraqis too had engaged in this sort of nonsense, preying on the fact that their armed forces and people didn't have a very good idea of the poor shape of their forces and the better shape of our own. Would their soldiers fight if they knew much of our equipment was impervious to their weapons? That we would, for the most part, run right through them? Of course they wouldn't. In the need to instill courage (in both the Clausewitzian/utilitarian sense and the Platonic/ Aristotlean sense of courage as virtue) we engage in nearly unbridled optimism when addressing our people and our army. These two functional elements of the wonderful trinity need to be sold on the policies already dictated by the third element or the policy is doomed to failure if it can ever begin. Is it poor military practice to engage in hope and optimism? Sure is. But sometimes it is necessary in order to achieve your political goals. Are these actions - this stoking the flames of easy, short, and victorious war - are they cognizant acts deliberately intended to fool the masses? Or are they unrealized biases of overconfidence? I'd argue a little of column A and a little of column B.

I also think that the authors get a bit into the "imminent war is imminent" meme without addressing how we got to and crossed the Rubicon in the first place. There is little definition around the term "imminent" with regard to the holder of these views, varying between "people" in the generic sense, populations specifically, and those that hold some position of official responsibility. Through a Clausewitzian lens, I would like to know if it matters for each part of the trinity when they become overconfident and how that all works. Does it matter that the U.S. population become overconfident before Operation DESERT STORM? Was their confidence exceeded by reality? Was war not really inevitable unless Iraq withdrew its forces - a variable not under the control of the U.S.? I don't believe the authors laid out the framework of their theory on how imminent came about and to whom, when and the subsequent effects of all that.

But beyond all of that, I'm more interested in looking at what caused this fording of the Rubicon in the first place (certainly beyond the scope of Johnson and Tierney). How did we get to that point and into the realm of "imminent"? It seems that we haven't gotten that far with Iran or Syria, but we're moving in that direction. I'd love to go on and on about the intersection of politics and aesthetics and draw parallels not only to Iraq (2003) but also the Athenian invasion of Sicily and how that all applies to the proponents of conflict between the U.S. and those two nations. But alas, that's a whole other subject for another day. But to wrap things up, I'll quote George Kateb in Patriotism and Other Mistakes: "Mass politics, for example, constantly is taken in and consumed as advertisement and entertainment, with the result that the demotic erodes the democratic. The tendency to get carried away with aesthetics is irrepressible." (If you haven't read that book, I highly recommend it.) Those that see beauty in a certain type of world - without repressive regimes, without our enemies possessing capabilities that we cannot control - are pushing us forward to the banks of the Rubicon for their own purposes, beginning with the people and then the elites. I don't see that Johnson and Tierney apply yet to Syria and Iran, except to those aesthetes who will imagine every possibility imminent for their own ends. How do we stop the feeling of imminent from spreading and avoid triggering the Rubicon Theory of War in reality?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Bill DePuy on COIN, circa 1986

William DuPuy was the first commanding general of the Army's Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), which was established in 1973 as American involvement in Vietnam was winding down. GEN DePuy had commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Vietnam – he was one of those generals falsely caricatured as overly focused on attrition, a guy who "didn't get it" – but is more widely known as a significant influence on the transformation of Army doctrine through the 1970s and 1980s.

I've been reading here and there in his collected papers (pdf; part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), which were compiled, edited, and published (in 1994, two years after DePuy's death) by Richard Swain and others at Leavenworth's Combat Studies Institute. There are a great many really, really interesting things in here, and I'd encourage you to take a look if you're of a doctrinal bent. DePuy was a complex figure, a serious and original thinker who understood the political context of war and led the Army to shape its doctrine in line with that context. His views on Vietnam elide the childish distinction many have drawn between the attrition advocates in the Westmoreland mold and the enlightened pacification proponents of the Abrams school. I'm going to reproduce an extended excerpt from an article he wrote in 1986 (almost a decade after retiring), called "VIETNAM: What We Might Have Done and Why We Didn't Do It" (pdf; begins on pg. 11), that bears this out.

An editorial note: I've replaced DePuy's anachronistic abbreviation of counterinsurgency as CI with the modern acronym COIN for ease of reading. I've also narrowed the excerpt down a very little bit, not so as to change the meaning but rather in the hopes that you'll read all the way through.
The Kennedy Administration, shaken by the Bay of Pigs and threatened by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev with wars of National Liberation, reached for a new initiative in foreign policy. Counterinsurgency (COIN) emerged as their response. If, after all, insurgency was the problem, then counterinsurgency must be the answer.

In the broadest sense, that may be true; but, in application, counterinsurgency tends to focus on a narrower base. In the early days, it was largely a reactive concept. Guerrillas were to be defeated, subversion was to be eliminated and nations were to be built somehow along the lines of the American model—unobjectionable, certainly, even if a bit dreamy and self-centered. One of the interesting things about COIN was that there was a role for almost every governmental agency in Washington.

A sense of movement was created as these agencies were admonished to get cracking. It is easy to issue orders in Washington. By 1962, Washington was awash in committees, seminars, study groups and visiting professors. Counterinsurgency was very much in style. For two years, no briefing on progress failed to include the proud description of a U.S. Army Engineer team which built a much-needed road in Ecuador between the peasant farmers and their market. This bit of good work seemed to resonate beautifully with the self-image of America on the march, providing a practical Yankee antidote against subversion and insurgency in the Third World.

We now know that profound and subtle political issues lie at the heart of counterinsurgency. But in 1962 the program was more grossly defined as a combination of functions and activities in which we excelled—building roads, setting up medical clinics, distributing surplus farm commodities, broadcasting anticommunist arguments and training local armies in the use of U.S. weapons. The political issues were simply assigned to the State Department on a functional basis. In short, the political issues were external to our massive structure for counterinsurgency.

In retrospect, these illusions are amusing, but there was a darker side. The theory of counterinsurgency was one thing, but the reality of Vietnam was quite another. By that, I mean that there was a huge gap between the diagnosis of causes and the reality of Vietnam. This gap persisted for years. Its traces can still be seen. In accordance with counterinsurgency doctrine, the root causes of insurgency were economic and political at the grass roots (hamlet) level. The illusion, therefore, was that remedies were to be found solely in the performance of the South Vietnamese government.

So our attention and action was focused upon that new and clearly struggling government. When things went badly, which was often, we sought the causes in Saigon. By 1963, we were so unhappy with Vietnamese government performance that we supported the ouster of President Ngo Dinh Diem (and his unintended murder) by a cabal of inept generals.

The problem, of course, was much larger and more difficult even than the admitted weakness of the government of South Vietnam. The mother cell which fed the insurgency was in Hanoi. The Politburo in North Vietnam, consisting of the world's toughest and most experienced revolutionaries, had launched a massive effort to liberate South Vietnam under the guise of a homegrown insurgency. Thousands of trained political agents and military leaders had infiltrated into the south. Arms and ammunition were being delivered by coastal trawler. The Laotian trails were traversed by carrying parties.

The National Liberation Front (NLF) [aka Viet Cong] had been established under the control and direction of Hanoi. But emphasis on the North Vietnamese involvement was unwelcome. Emphasis on the military dimensions of the war ran counter to the newly conventional wisdom. The pendulum had been given a mighty push.

If you were "for" counterinsurgency, you were "against" conventional military thinking. Military operational plans were regarded at best as unnecessary and at worst reactionary, unenlightened and stupid.

"The old generals don't understand the problem," it was said. Guerrilla war is not susceptible to conventional solutions—ARVN was organized by the U.S. military for the wrong war under outmoded concepts—we should be fighting guerrillas with guerrillas, or so went the discussions in Washington.

But while these debates went on, a combination of Vietcong skill and North Vietnamese escalation of effort, coupled with the sheer weakness of the government of Vietnam and its army, led to near collapse in late 1964 and early 1965, forestalled only by the emergency deployment of U.S. forces.

U.S. forces were deployed slowly and tentatively at first, with numerous and nervous restrictions on their employment. The very first ground forces (Marines at Danang and the 173rd Airborne Brigade at Bien Hoa) were sent to defend the airfields from which retaliation air strikes against North Vietnam were being launched. By late 1965 and throughout 1966, the inflow of U.S. troops accelerated. By this time the 1st Cavalry Division, with great valor, had fought the North Vietnamese army in the Ia Drang campaign, and the Marines had met a North Vietnamese army division south of the DMZ. It is interesting to note the missions which U.S. forces were expected to perform. At Honolulu on 1 July, 1966, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara outlined six major operational goals:
  • Eliminate 40 to 50 percent of all Vietcong/North Vietnamese army base areas in South Vietnam.
  • Open 50 percent of all the main roads and railways in South Vietnam.
  • Pacify the four priority areas specified in the joint U.S./South Vietnam directive AB 141 (Saigon, central Mekong Delta, Danang area, Qui Nhon area).
  • Secure 60 percent of the South Vietnamese population.
  • Defend the military bases, the political and population centers, and the main food-producing areas under government of Vietnam control.
  • By the end of 1966, Vietcong/North Vietnamese army forces were to be attrited at a rate at least equal to their replacement capacity.
The first five were classical counterinsurgency goals. But these objectives were patently beyond reach without defeating the rapidly growing Vietcong/North Vietnamese main forces. This problem was addressed tangentially by the sixth mission.
One could say that these missions taken together amounted to placing our priorities on setting the dinner table while the kitchen was on fire. Under this strategic guidance, MACV (Military Assistance Command Vietnam) went to the only possible course of action—defend what needed defending and go after the main forces of the enemy with aggressive search and destroy operations. But "search and destroy," starting in 1966, lost its only hope for decisive results when both the Vietcong and North Vietnamese divisional and regimental formations moved their bases into Cambodia, Laos and the North Vietnamese panhandle north of the DMZ. These were facts which Washington was loath to accept.
Mr. McNamara expected a level of attrition which would put a ceiling on the strength of combined Vietcong main force and North Vietnamese army elements; but aggressive U.S. operations were frustrated by the withdrawal of their quarry to sanctuary where he reconstituted, retrained and reentered South Vietnam only when he was ready for battle and could afford another round of losses.
By controlling those losses, he put the attrition goals beyond reach. By the time the sanctuaries were attacked in 1970, the U.S. force was in the midst of its massive withdrawal.

The great power of counterinsurgency on the minds of decision makers arose out of its obvious importance. It dealt with security and social progress at the lowest levels—levels where the people lived and worked. Under the aegis of Ambassadors Komer and Colby, the COIN effort reached high levels of effectiveness. Its baleful influence on sound military planning stemmed from the persistent misconception that COIN could do it alone. This view was just as specious and unrealistic as the opposing notion that COIN was irrelevant in the presence of a gigantic clash of national armies.
Before leaving the subject of COIN and its impact on U.S. operational planning, it is worth mentioning that the U.S. effort also foundered on the political track. The ultimate measure of effectiveness of the whole U.S. effort simply has to be an assessment of the comparative national political strength of the South Vietnamese government and the North Vietnamese regime.
This subject is so vast and complex as to deserve a whole shelf of books but, against the bottom line, we never quite induced the growth of a strong independent government of South Vietnam. It was a shaky structure girded and propped by a pervasive American presence.
An external American ignition harness extended to every level. The power generator lay outside the machine itself. When it was withdrawn, the spark plugs no longer fired. It is difficult for this democracy of ours to deal with the political dimensions of insurgency. The kinds of measures and risks that need to be taken – the arbitrary (and often undemocratic) controls which may be required – do not go down well back here at home where the value system is unique and to a large extent nonexportable.
Our Congress is in a continuous state of dither and shock over the vaguest suggestion that we are selecting, installing and supporting strong leaders; yet, when we do not, the other side does. At least, by now we should recognize that we may be reasonably competent in the economic and military fields and even have something to offer on the plane of counterterror, but in the center ring – the political heart of the matter – we are self-constrained by our own history and political processes and are, therefore, vulnerable to failure.
It's impossible not to perceive parallels to our modern counterinsurgency debate, but the most interesting thing for me is the way this reflection undercuts the Krepinevich/Sorley/Nagl narrative about the Army's refusal to recognize the situation and adapt. The Army certainly made mistakes in Vietnam, but for the most part they weren't a product of some stubborn refusal to accept that pacification was a necessary element of the war.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Women's equality in the military isn't all about PT

Changes to DoD's rescinding of the co-location exclusion* has driven quite a bit of discussion - as can be expected. Most of it has not been about the reason I feel is the main crux of the matter (or why DoD didn't entirely remove restrictions on what jobs women can do in the military) and instead has focused almost entirely on the differences between men and women writ large. The best I've read were from Caitlin FitzGerald and Torie Rose DeGhett, but I want to dial down into something Caitlin talked about.

Caitlin delves into the arguments that a) men will react differently towards female comrades than male from a protective emotional basis and b) the physical differences of the sexes. I think she rightfully dismisses the former. There is some literature that this occurs apparently, but norms change and I think they will over time with this one. On the latter argument, Caitlin also rightfully draws out that not all men are stronger than all women. Lord knows I've served with women who were in much better shape than I was that I'm sure would have excelled in the infantry (take that statement for what's it worth: I was a mech cavalryman, but I'm pretty sure I have an understanding of what light infantry does from small doses).

So what do I have to add to all of this? I'll start by pointing to this AP article when the ban was lifted (that I lambasted on Twitter because of its very flawed description of brigades relative to battalions and what the change actually meant - this is not an endorsement of the entire article) and a quote towards the end from Anu Bhagwati, a former captain in the Marine Corps and executive director of the Service Women's Action Network:
"To continue such a ban is to ignore the talents and leadership that women bring to the military, and it further penalizes servicewomen by denying them the opportunity for future promotions and assignments that are primarily given to personnel from combat arms specialties."
I can't argue with her - it is unlikely that we'll see a woman as a COCOM commander, service chief, or CJCS if their career paths are combat service and combat service support. Logisticians of either gender are simply not considered for these roles. I'm not going to argue for or against this de facto policy - just acknowledging that it exists. And it's a very good reason to argue that women are being held back because of who they are - an idea that is antithetical to modern American military ethics. Or at least it should be. (I should also note that as the Air Force and Navy have opened so many of their positions up to women, they are going to lead the way with female GOs in a generation or so - that's when things are really going to start getting embarrassing for the Army).

But getting back to how this relates to the issues discussed by Caitlin. If the most practical reason for continuing a ban is that most women are weaker than most men, then the solution to integrating women into all combat arms MOSs will be to ensure that only our military's fittest women will matriculate into those combat arms. However, if the main reason to do this equality in general and specifically to provide women with a path to the highest levels of uniformed service, it seems that we're putting a pretty big emphasis on how much of a PT stud that woman is and not her capabilities to command, lead troops, think strategically, and so on and so forth, that you look for in a high-level commander. PT is important for males and their progression as well, but the bar isn't as high as it would be for women. I foresee continued problems with providing women with real equality in uniform even if we come up with physical standards that are equally applied to men and women.

It might take time (and we do still have to solve that little draft issue), but women in combat arms MOSs is an inevitability. Just as with issues of race and homosexuality, change is coming. And I do hope sooner rather than later, as painful as it's likely to be at first. But this might be a good time to also take a good, hard look at how we choose our highest ranking leaders. PT studs and successful brigade command do not a strategic leader make - for men or women. Full equality - that also meets the best interests of the nation - may require looking to those intelligence and logistics officers who think and lead strategically for higher commands, outside of AMC. So while physical differences are an impediment to full women's equality in the military, it's not the only one.

*(And can we all stop talking about "women in combat"? Women are in combat. They're not allowed in combat MOSs. It's not the same thing.)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Strategy is intelligent design and willful, intended action

I've recently become acquainted with a principle of constitutional law called the rational basis test. When a questionable law is subjected to legal challenge, it must first clear this very low hurdle: the court must be able to conceive of a plausible way in which the law's enactment could serve a legitimate interest of the government. The government isn't required to testify as to the legislature's purposes, and the law need not even be effective in serving the stated interest—it simply needs to be a plausible attempt. In short, the court must find that the government has behaved rationally; whether or not it has behaved intelligently is a separate – and for the purposes of the rational basis test, irrelevant – question. This strikes me as a good place to kick off a conversation about strategy and tactics.

Strategy is intelligent design: the reasoned application of available resources in a rational way, offering a plausible, logical path to the accomplishment of our goals. Clausewitz defined it narrowly as "the use of the engagement for the purpose of the war," but in the modern era its use has broadened to apply at nearly every level; "strategy" now essentially means something like the willful use of activity and resources to accomplish specified ends.

By this standard, strategy can be applied at all levels of war—not just the strategic. (Bear with me; I know this gets a little confusing.) One can have a generalized strategy for success in certain types of tactical engagement; this is frequently manifest as a set of procedures, the sort of thing that immediate action/battle drills are intended to perfect—performance of the required actions for tactical success. But to call this a "strategy" is a little misleading, if only because it obscures an important reality: at the tactical level, we're talking not about the reasoned, case-sensitive, tailored administration of resources and performance of planned actions to meet unique objectives, but a somewhat more mechanical application of accepted prodedures and best practices. This is the stuff of doctrine, which sets down a military organization's authoritative, collective view of how it conducts specific missions or types of operations. Doctrine's value is that it can be considered and codified in the abstract, as its tenets are presumed to be somewhat generalizable across a range of roughly similar conditions.

Moving up the levels of war, one can also have a strategy for operational or campaign success: how various tactical engagements will be combined to achieve campaign objectives. There is, of course, more art to this than at the tactical level simply because there is more uncertainty and more choice. No two tactical engagements are precisely the same, but it's much simpler to identify general "rules" for success when confronted with an L-shaped ambush than to prescribe methods for translating battlefield success into operational progress. No two campaigns are the same. It is at the operational level that strategy begins to take on the meaning with which we're familiar: a general idea of how we hope to use operational mobility and battle in phased, sequential actions to achieve goals within the broader framework of the war, while accepting the need for flexbility and adaptability in response to the enemy and war's fundamental unpredictability.

And then we come to the familiar strategic level of war, where campaigns are sequenced and combined to achieve the political objectives of the combatants. Here we see strategy from a slightly different angle: as the ways that the means of military action are applied to achieve the ends set out by policy. Let me explain this a little more.

The various levels of war are overlapping and nested within one another, and within the overarching framework of policy. Often the ends of the lower level serve as the means of the next-higher level: that is, tactical success is a means (to be combined with other means along various lines of effort) to achieve operational objectives, which are then used as means to be translated through operational art into strategic success. This means-ways-ends construct – reasoned activity conducted to produce conditions which are manipulated and exploited by yet more reasoned activity as we ascend the levels of war – is the very essence of strategy. Planning is strategy worked in reverse—beginning with a desired end, identifying objectives that will enable and facilitate this end, planning campaigns and operations to attain those objectives, and allocating resources, capabilities, and tactical actions in line with those plans. This construct can be extended even further into the development of capabilities: an armed force can have a strategy for manning, training, equipping, organizing, and so on to deliver the capabilities required for tactical, operational, and strategic success.

Effective tactical actions must be combined in rational ways to achieve operational ends.

Successful operations must be combined in rational ways to achieve campaign objectives.

Meaningful campaigns must contribute in rational ways to the satisfaction of strategic goals.

And the accomplishment of strategic goals should rationally lead to the enactment of policy's ends.

The fabric that holds all of this together is strategy. And it follows that strategy must always involve what we call a theory of victory: at every level, the actions we choose to take must form a plausible narrative that leads to the accomplishment of our objectives and enables the next element of the overarching plan. The strategist must continually ask himself not only to what end?, but how?

As I noted above, the so-called theory of victory is more empirical – almost mathematical – at the level of tactical action. My forces will do X, Y, and Z to produce effects A, B, and C. Operational-level doctrine, too, suggests a certain institutional confidence in an accepted way of doing business, how tactical actions can be combined to create successful campaigns. But it is at the strategic level that procedures and doctrine mostly lose their value, giving way to operational art and strategic theory. Just the same, the strategist must begin with a clear idea of how it is that he hopes to achieve his goals through directed action—a theory of victory.

To come to the point of all this: Jason wrote a post earlier this week in which he considered the validity of Gian Gentile's repeated claim that counterinsurgency as practiced in Iraq and Afghanistan is a "strategy of tactics." Carl is right to point out in the comments that the good colonel did not invent this construction, though there's a ring of sophistry to his claim that it "predates Gian Gentile by decades and has been bandied about by a Who's Who of strategic savants."

The phrase did indeed originate with Andrew Krepinevich, whose 1986 book The Army and Vietnam described Westmoreland's approach as a "strategy of tactics." This went hand-in-hand with the argument that the U.S. fought that war in line with the "Army concept"—a set idea of how war ought to be fought that springs not from strategic logic but rather organizational imperative: what the Army mans, organizes, and trains to do. LTC D.W. Beveridge paraphrased Krepinevich's argument (enormous pdf) in asserting that "the upshot of viewing the war in terms of the Army Concept was a preoccupation with 'grand tactics' rather than strategy, resulting in a perpetuation of the search and destroy operations imposed on the ARVN [South Vietnamense Army] during the earlier advisory period" (89).

This complaint is reflective of the flaws of the incrementalist approach in Vietnam: as the U.S. commitment increased and the correlation of forces (between U.S., ARVN, North Vietnamese Army, and VC/NLF) shifted, American commanders failed to re-assess the strategy being employed and consider a change in the role of U.S. forces. Westmoreland had been convinced that large NVA formations posed the greatest threat to South Vietnam, so he built a strategy focused on the use of American firepower and mobility to find, fix, and destroy them. In short, he misperceived the political nature of the war and suffered the consequences.
But Krepinevich's complaint about Westmoreland's "strategy of tactics" in Vietnam rings slightly hollow. A more accurate description would recognize that Westmoreland had a rational strategic plan and a sense for how American forces could be tactically employed to achieve it, but lacked a theory of victory: that is, he had no concept of how tactical action by U.S. forces could create strategic success because he permitted an essential element of his campaign plan – pacification of the South Vietnamese countryside, which was left to the ARVN – to exist outside his control. He seemed not even to recognize that the effective accomplishment of this mission was essential to strategic success. Westmoreland had too much strategy and not enough sense of how it would be accomplished. After the Battle of Ia Drang Valley, he had effective, proven tactics with which to destroy the NVA in the South but no concept for how those victories could be translated into political success.

The story with COIN (specifically in Afghanistan) is quite different: the campaign plan there has plenty of "theory of victory," but there's room to question whether or not it is plausible—that is, whether or not the tactics prescribed will actually produce the effects they're meant to. U.S. commanders have a clear idea of what they mean to accomplish and how, but there is far less certainty over whether the available tools are suited to this approach. It is plausible that the pacification of towns and villages, expanding territorial control in the countryside, reductions in violence, and increasingly effective Afghan governance and security forces will create an environment that is inhospitable to insurgents, one in which the enemy cannot sustain himself, and eliminate the possibility of extremist safe havens. This is a rational concept. The problem is that we're not sure our tactical actions can actually produce these effects—that is, we're not sure our resources, personnel, units, and capabilities can be combined along the lines of effort specified in doctrine to actually do the things that need to be done. This is the very opposite of Krepinevich's problem with Vietnam strategy.

As a peripheral but related note: it strikes me as very unlikely that Gentile adopted the "strategy of tactics" construction from Gray, whose use of the term is limited to approving references to Krepinevich. (The same is true, I think, of Owens.) In fact, the argument that Americans are or were ineffective counterinsurgents owing either to an unsuitable strategic or military culture (Gray) or misdirected doctrinal emphasis (Krepinevich) is one that Gentile rejects. He reads Brian Linn's The Echo of Battle as describing a "better way of American war" in the historical culture of the Army, one that is defined by "improvisation and practicality." (This has is apparently being thrown out, Gentile tells us, in favor of "the American Army's new way of war, otherwise called population-centric counterinsurgency.")

COL Gentile's fundamental inconsistency is here exposed: he rejects Krepinevich's critique while mirror-imaging it. He asserts that doctrinal bias and intellectual inertia have determined our strategic course in Iraq and Afghanistan while rejecting the very idea that our Vietnam strategy was shaped similarly. Gentile has cribbed Krepinevich's phrase while rejecting the very substance of what it means; this, he seems to be telling us, is actually a strategy of tactics. What Krepinevich was describing was a failure of strategy, but not the same kind!

I happen to share COL Gentile's conviction that both the Vietnam and Afghanistan (at least post-2002) wars were and are strategically senseless, which is part of the reason I'm so troubled by his insistence that the deus ex machina of "the American Army's new way of war, population-centric counterinsurgency" is what's responsible for our national foolishness. The strategy may be a poor one, and I think that it is. That's not because it lacks a theory of victory, though – i.e., because it's simply an assemblage of uncoordinated tactics – but because we aren't sure that the tactics are effective. If I developed a campaign plan to liberate Syria from the Asad regime by the destruction of its military through happy thoughts, text messages, and pictures of rainbows, the appropriate criticism would not be that I had employed a "strategy of tactics" but rather that my strategy was dependent on unproven and ineffective tactics. And don't get me wrong, COL Gentile levels this criticism at modern COIN doctrine, as well. "COIN doctrine directs an operational method based on uncertain causality and tactical actions of questionable effectiveness" may not roll off the tongue quite so easily, but it's much more accurate than this "COIN is a strategy of tactics" trope.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

DoD expands role of women in combat arms units but not entirely

But probably not enough for most people's satisfaction. DoD put out this document to Congress today that opens over 14K positions to women that were previously male-only. DoD is Congress to let them:
1. Eliminate the co-location exclusion from the 1994 policy; 
2. As an exception to policy, allow Military Department Secretaries to assign women in open occupational specialties to select units and positions at the battalion level (for Army, Navy, and Marine Corps) whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground; 
3. Based on the exception to policy, assess the suitability and relevance of the direct ground combat unit assignment prohibition to inform future policy decisions; and 
4. Pursue the development of gender-neutral physical standards for occupational specialties closed due to physical requirements
A lot of people are asking why didn't DoD go all the way and allow women into every position? Why can't they explain why they chose this middle path? I talked about it before: selective service registration and potential drafts. Buried at the bottom of the document in a section called "Legal Analysis" they lay out that the elimination of the co-location exclusion won't force women to register for selective service - and this seems to be worded as a positive thing. I can't really blame DoD for not wanting to drive changes to the law and effectively force women to register for the draft and potential drafting. That is a significant change to social norms in the U.S. - even if they are outdated norms in many minds (including my own) - and DoD has little right to drive it. As unlikely as it is happen soon, that train needs to be driven by Congress not by defense functionaries - whether it's opening the draft to women or doing away with selective service altogether until we need it in order to kick the can down the road.

Understanding the kind of war on which we are embarked, etc.

The enemy in Afghanistan is resorting to IED attacks and other tactics that endanger civilians with increasing frequency, says the UN. That means we're winning, says LTG Scaparotti.

Spencer wrote about this yesterday; he was the one who asked the general how to square increasing civilian casualties with claims of coalition pogress. Here was Scaparotti's curious reply:
Their – you know, what little bit [civilian casualty numbers are] up – I would tell you that across the battlefield, when you look at Afghanistan, for instance, there is a freedom of action that [enemy forces] have, and it's particular places. But the freedom of action they show today is increasingly in IEDs and suicide bombing.  They don't have the capability to take us on directly.  In fact, they've changed their TTP because they're unable to do that with either us or the ANSF.  So I don't know that I would say it's an increase freedom of action.  I think it's actually reduced, and it's pushed them into a certain TTP, which isn't ideal. 
Now, in doing that, they've increased the use of suicide bombers, for instance.  And if I recall right – correctly – it was about – it went up about 80 percent. 
And those caused civilian casualties.  One in three of their IEDs -- or one in three of the civilians injured, Afghan civilians, were caused by, you know, enemy IEDs.   
So, you know, what I would focus on is the fact that you've got an enemy who has stated that he is concerned about the people, that he doesn't want to harm the people in his actions, and yet over these years you've seen a steady increase in that happening.  On the other hand, we work very, very hard to drive down the – you know, the civilian casualties.  It did go down 4 percent this year.  And we'll continue to try and drive that down as well.
So far as I can tell, this is an answer that is based wholly in an effort to support information operations objectives—that is, to communicate to the Afghan people that the enemy is a liar and does not care about their welfare. (I find it difficult to believe, though, that any significant portion of the Afghan populace is basing its judgment about whether to support the government or the insurgency on such pronouncements from ISAF.) I can't detect any operational logic in this statement.

Proponents of the counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan have consistently indicated that the level of civilian casualties inflicted by the enemy could serve as a useful metric for the performance of ISAF's mission. By their logic, the more effective coalition forces proved to be in keeping the enemy from killing civilians, the more likely those civilians would be to support the coalition's and the government's efforts to stamp out the insurgency. Even if protection of civilians is not an operational priority, there is an inescapable truth at the heart of this: if the enemy cannot operate, that constitutes some form of success.

LTG Scaparotti has turned this logic on its head by suggesting that the enemy's refusal to operate in ways that make him more prone to destruction by coalition forces constitutes progress for ISAF. This is exactly backwards. If coalition forces and the ANSF were proving capable of stanching IED attacks and suicide bombings, restricting the Taliban's opportunity and degrading his capability to terrorize individuals and plausibly challenge the government's claim to provide security to its people, then the enemy would be faced with a choice between two paths to continue his resistance: forego violence and enter the political process, or escalate violence and confront security forces directly. If the enemy cannot get at the people, he has to fight the army. That he chooses not to do so clearly demonstrates the very opposite of what LTG Scaparotti contends: the enemy is not desperate, he is not running out of options, he does not feel as though his freedom of action is reduced.

The general plainly recognizes this when he says that the enemy has been "pushed ... into a certain TTP, which isn't ideal." The enemy has adopted methods that render him less vulnerable to destruction by massed firepower, which isn't ideal. I completely agree.

Reliance on irregular tactics and terrorism allows the enemy to sustain his campaign against the Afghan government and its impermanent international enablers while reducing his exposure to their most effective weapons. It is inconceivable to me that there are people who still believe, at this late stage in the war, that the enemy's "refusal to come out and fight" constitutes success for the counterinsurgent.

The enemy doesn't need to fight us—he just needs to keep blowing people up.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Ok, who's the Joint Staff's historian?

The Chairman's Strategic Direction to the Joint Force (pdf) was issued yesterday. It's a concise, well-written essay that breaks new ground and elaborates a novel sort of military policy that is expertly tailored to America's unique and unprecedented strategic circumstances. (Ok, just kidding: it's repetitive boilerplate and says precisely nothing that hasn't appeared in every other DoD publication and major media report over the last month. But if that's your thing, you should read it.)

I don't know who's doing history for GEN Dempsey, but he or she ain't doing it very well. On page 3 of the document (the first page of actual text), there's a call-out box with a quote from Basil Liddell Hart. Here's what it says:
The true national object in war, as in peace, is a more perfect peace.
Well said, Captain Sir Basil! This is one of the least nutty, most defensible things Liddell Hart ever wrote (largely because he's just paraphrasing Clausewitz). So what's the problem? Well, the Chairman's document identifies the date of the quote as 1944, which is... well, it's just way wrong. I'm not sure why this date was chosen, but it's wrong.

This most Clausewitzian of sentiments was penned by Liddell Hart in a 1927 book entitled A Greater than Napoleon: Scipio Africanus. Writing of the peace terms the Roman general offered to the Carthaginians after his victory, Liddell Hart avers that
it is not too much to say that Scipio had a clear grasp of what is just dawning on the mind of the world to-day—that the true national object in war, as in peace, is a more perfect peace. War is the result of a menace to this policy, and is undertaken in order to remove the menace, and by the subjugation of the will of the hostile state "to change this adverse will into compliance with our own policy, and the sooner and more cheaply in lives and money we can do this, the better the chance is there of a continuance of national prosperity in the widest sense. The aim of the nation in war is, therefore, to subdue the enemy's will to resist with the least possible human and economic loss to itself" (152-153).
See the quotation marks there? That's Liddell Hart quoting himself, which is something he quite liked to do in order to show the reader that he pretty much had everything covered already, anyway. That text – the second half of the text block above – first appeared in Paris: Or, the Future of War (p. 19), first published in 1925.

A similar sentiment appeared in another of Liddell Hart's 1925 publications, this one entitled "The Napoleonic Fallacy: The Moral Objective in War." He argued that the national objective in war should be
a resumption and progressive continuance of what may be termed the peace time policy, with the shortest and least costly interruption of the normal life of the country. (Cited in Richard Swain's "B.H. Liddell Hart and the Creation of a Theory of War, 1919-1933" ($), in a 1990 issue of Armed Forces and Society.) 
I draw your attention to the origins and close relations of this quote to illustrate the dangers of abstracting attractive sentiments from their narrative and conceptual contexts. Surely the well-intended staff officer who chose this particular aphorism did so to imbue the imminent conclusion of America's extended conflicts with the sort of gravity and meaning one presumably only gets from fighting for a better world.

But Liddell Hart used the phrase as part of a broader argument about the need to prosecute wars in such a way as to ensure their rapid conclusion—something he viewed as being the only humane choice. Of course, in the service of this humane ideal, he advocated the use of strategic bombing and gas attacks against the enemy's civilian population "to strike direct at the seat of the opposing will and policy." As Swain tells us, Liddell Hart
dismissed moral objections to making war on noncombatants ... by observing that civilian losses would be unlikely to exceed those of another world war in light of the speed with which the use of gas would produce war termination (Swain 40). 
Context matters, huh? "A more perfect peace" sounds great when it manifests as limited war aims and generous terms, but what about when the means of "resumption and progressive continuance of... the peace time policy" involves the willful slaughter of noncombatants?

If we look back to the roots of the "more perfect peace" sentiment – the part that deals with rational policy, anyway – we can see one of the approximately ten billion ways that Clausewitz makes more sense than his 20th century English critic. This is from Book Eight, Chapter 6B of On War:
It is, of course, well-known that the only source of war is politics—the intercourse of governments and peoples; but it is apt to be assumed that war suspends that intercourse and replaces it by a wholly different condition, ruled by no law but its own.
We maintain, on the contrary, that war is simply a continuation of political intercourse, with the addition of other means. We deliberately use the phrase "with the addition of other means" because we also want to make it clear that war in itself does not suspend political intercourse or change it into something entirely different. In essentials that intercourse continues, irrespective of the means it employs. The main lines along which military events progress, and to which they are restricted, are political lines that continue throughout the war into the subsequent peace. How could it be otherwise? Do political relations between peoples and between their governments stop when diplomatic notes are no longer exchanged? Is war not just another expression of their thoughts, another form of speech or writing? Its grammar, indeed, may be its own, but not its logic.  
If that is so, then war cannot be divorced from political life; and whenever this occurs in our thinking about war, the many links that connect the two elements are destroyed and we are left with something pointless and devoid of sense (p. 605 of the 1984 Howard and Paret translation).
Liddell Hart called Clausewitz the "mahdi of mass" and blamed him for inspiring the bloody, slug-it-out tactics that sustained the attritionists' stalemate on the Western Front. But I'd ask you to read these passages again and reflect on which man seems to abstract victory from politics and to celebrate violent and chimerical "decision."

I've gone off on a bit of a tangent, as you can see, but we should all take a couple of lessons from this episode: 1) get your dates right—it's easy, and when you don't, someone is going to make you look silly; and 2) there's almost always someone out there who has read the whole book, so make sure you understand the context of your quotes before you reproduce them.

Next time you're looking for a quote, 18, just shoot me an email!

Monday, February 6, 2012

be-SoT-ted: COIN tactics and strategy through the lens of ends, ways, means

The last year or so of the COIN debate has seen a modicum of consensus that COIN is a strategy of tactics, a concept that I can attribute first to Gian Gentile (unless someone has another, older source for the statement). Gian has written about here, here, and to an extent here (.pdf, starting on page 21). And plenty of other places and by plenty of other people. I've even used the term myself from time to time. But lately I've been questioning the validity of this point of view.

My main beef with COIN as a strategy of tactics (I'm going to go ahead and call it SoT from now on) is that all military strategy is made up in part as a summation of its tactics. In the ends-ways-means calculus of strategy, a large chunk of the "ways" section is the aggregation of tactical actions based on operational concepts and/or TTPs. For example, the strategy for the invasion of Iraq (flawed as it may have been) was Ends = regime change; Means = 180K troops or whatever it was, organized as it was; and Ways = at least partially the cumulative maneuver (air, mounted, indirect, dismounted, etc) tactical actions executed in a sequence that creates the desired Ends. This is an elegant way of saying it, but all military strategies are in part SoT, in a non-pejorative sense. You can't have strategic success without tactical successes. COIN, IW, UW, maneuver warfare are all common in this regard.

There's a bit of a semantic argument in all of this as well, better made by Gulliver than myself, especially on the pervasive use of the term strategy as a synonym for "plan" instead of the ends-ways-means construct. All around we need to clean up how we use terms that have meaning. In spite of using the term often, I've never read Gian use ends-ways-means to make the pejorative SoT argument, which I think is a shame as that's how we conceptualize strategy in the U.S. My initial instinct is that if ends, ways, and means are not aligned (ends are not achievable, means are not enough, ways not the right tool) then you run into a true SoT problem. Afghanistan may be a good case study for such a label - commanders focused on a set of tactics (ways) that may or may not be capable of achieving (arguably) already un-achievable ends, not least because the means they were given weren't enough to use effectively wage the ways they had already determined. So yeah, in Afghanistan COIN probably is a SoT due to the misalignment of strategic elements.

On the other hand, Iraq may be a study in COIN as element of a proper strategy. Ends were reasonably achievable, means were adequate given the population density of Iraq, and the ways were universally applied to the lowest levels. Whether by design or luck, the Iraq military strategy in 2007-08 seemed to align. COIN tactics were a major element of the ways used, although COIN in a population-centric sense did not encompass all of the tactics used during the Surge. Iraq seems to be an example not of COIN as SoT, but a military strategy (ends-ways-means aligned) that contained COIN tactics as an element of ways, but also included CT tactics and maneuver/conventional warfare tactics, as well as non- and quasi-military ways associated with taking advantage of the plight of the Iraqi people and the Sunni shift in allegiance that started before the Surge.

I realize I'm just scratching the surface of this topic and have simplified a few concepts here. Hopefully I'll find the time and grey cells to explore this more - hopefully with your help. But for now I disagree that COIN is inherently a strategy of tactics any more than any category of tactics can be labeled a strategy. Those tactics may be part of a military strategy that logically connects ends, ways, and means. On the other hand, COIN tactics may be the commander's ways in an illogical or inaccurate strategic equation and thus we may see COIN as a SoT. One can take issue (and many have) with commanders choosing pop-COIN as their ways irrespective of their ends and means, but that is different from declaring COIN itself a SoT. The fault lies with the men and women in command who use COIN when they shouldn't, not with a set of TTPs that may be useful in other circumstances on other days.