By Bing West
Best Defense guest commenter
Re Benghazi and the military (a matter of much lesser import than the deceptive talking points): On ABC on 12 May, George Will and retired General Cartwright excused the military by saying 10 hours was not enough time to react. The general said it takes up to "a day or two" to arm an F-16, file flight plans, arrange for refueling, etc.
Therefore the solution is to pre-stage the right kinds of forces, which requires a much larger military and a knowledge beforehand about the location and severity of the threat. By this reasoning, we do not have general purpose forces; we have special purpose forces.
Benghazi thus raises the question: Do we need more forces staged around the world or do we need senior officers who can respond to emergencies outside their normal checklists?
Last week's congressional testimony included two new revelations. First, four Special Forces soldiers en route to Benghazi to help our wounded were ordered not to go by a Special Operations officer in Stuttgart. Not only did that manifest being afraid to take a risk for your beleaguered comrades, it also raised the question of authority in the chain of command during battle. What is the authority that permits an officer thousands of miles away to override the commander on the ground?
Second, Mr. Hicks testified that Secretary Clinton approved, at about 8 p.m. Washington time, the evacuation of the embassy in Tripoli, due to terrorist threats. That was a dramatic, escalatory decision. It is unknown whether the president or the secretary of defense was notified.
In the event, the U.S. military took no new, immediate action, even though the embassy was being evacuated in addition to the chaos at Benghazi. The military has justified itself by saying the battle was over by the next morning. But no human being could predict the night before when the battle would end. That the embassy in Tripoli was not overrun was a matter of fate/luck/enemy decisions that had nothing to do with the prescience or actions of the Pentagon staff. The tardiness of U.S. forces was a failure to improvise, which in turn is a basic test of leadership in battle.
One question illustrates the inertia: Had it been President Obama who was missing in Benghazi, would the military have taken only the same actions and later offered the same rationale; to wit, "we knew the battle would be over in 10 hours, (inside our OODA loop)"?
The military at the highest level must examine its ability to improvise, and not rely on the enemy to give us "a day or two" to prepare.
The passing of Hugo Chávez provides a moment to consider the question of the waning of the Communist era. The history of the origins of the Industrial Revolution that I've been reading led to that question.
My tentative answer is this: I suspect Communism, while it played a major role in the 20th century, will be hardly remembered by historians 500 years from now. After all, it was a blip empire that lasted about as long as a human life. Its significance, I am guessing, will be seen as just one spinoff from the Industrial Revolution. Maybe like global warming but far less important.
In sum: Communism may be the Albigensian heresy of our time. Sure, that belief system covered a smaller geographical area (but I think a larger chunk of the known world). And there is no question that it lasted much longer.
By Gary Anderson
Best Defense office of hard lessons
Over the course of the past 20 years, I have observed or participated in counterinsurgency campaigns in South Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan in both military and civilian capacities. Some were done poorly, some successfully. The one thing that I have learned is that each is unique in its own way and there are no templates that will work in all cases. Mali is a good example of uniqueness, and there are some lessons from each of my experiences that pertain to that particular situation.
As a U.N. observer in Lebanon, I watched the Israelis go from liberators to hated occupiers in a way that was completely unnecessary, and caused them needless grief. Like the French in Mali, the Israelis chased off an unwanted foreign presence -- in their case, the Palestinians were viewed occupiers by the largely Shiite southern Lebanese population. Unfortunately, the Israelis had a tendency to view any armed Muslim Arab as a threat. Consequently, Israel opted to arm a minority Christian-led militia. This action inadvertently created Hezbollah, which became a far greater threat to Israel than the Palestinians ever could present. The Israelis would have likely been far better off arming individual villages for self-protection without taking sides in the ongoing Lebanese civil war and positioning themselves as an honest third-party broker in the inevitable civil disputes in South Lebanon.
Mali is a civil war as much as an insurgency. The southern third, and the government, are dominated by blacks while the northern part has a considerable population of light-skinned Tauregs of Berber origin. Although heavily armed al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) foreign fighters have provided the Taureg separatists their military advantage, in the recent past the Tauregs have shown an inclination to negotiate, and will likely do so again if the jihadists can be ejected. This is where the French need to avoid Israel's Lebanon mistake and become facilitators of real negotiations.
In Somalia, we learned the lessons of cultural ignorance the hard way. After a largely successful humanitarian intervention to stop mass starvation, we and the United Nations ignored the traditional clan system of the Somalis and made the mistake of trying to supplant it with alien Western style democracy. Ironically, the attempt by the former Somali dictator to ignore the influence of the clans was what began the disastrous civil war that caused the collapse of Somalia to begin with. The Americans and United Nations overreached in Somalia. The Malian government understands that it needs to rebuild the democratic institutions that were toppled by the disastrous military coup that initiated the current crisis. We could help in reestablishing Malian governmental legitimacy.
In Iraq, we succeeded largely because we were able to separate the foreign jihadist insurgents from the indigenous Sunni nationalist insurgents through a soft power combination of diplomacy and money. The use of soft power such as this in driving a wedge between the Tuareg people and AQIM will be critical to any potential success.
In Afghanistan, we continue to learn perhaps the most difficult lesson of all. To successfully help a host-nation government fight an insurgency requires that the host-nation government wants to address the root causes of the insurgency. The Afghan government never accepted that principle, and may never will. That does not mean that governance cannot be improved in Mali. Good governance is not necessarily expensive. I have come to the conclusion through bitter experience that the more development money we throw at a country, the worse the government gets, as money breeds corruption. In Mali, we would be better advised to spend small amounts of money on rule of law training and local management techniques for local officials, particularly Tauregs and other local officials in the north. Insurgencies are like politics in that they are basically local.
In rebuilding the Malian military, we need to remember that the organizer of the coup debacle was American trained. As Western trainers try to retool the Malian Army, we need to remember human rights training and the importance of civilian control over the military as much as small unit training, patrolling, and other tactical skills. In addition, the Department of State and French Foreign Ministry need to stress civil-military relations in training national level Malian officials.
I am one of those opposed to U.S. intervention in Syria. The infestation of Islamic radicals in the ranks of the rebels is even greater than it was in Afghanistan during the revolt against the Soviets. I favor a negotiated settlement with the Baathists that will allow them a reasonably soft landing as we brokered between the government junta and the rebels in El Salvador two decades ago, but Mali is different.
If we use Special Operations Force troops to train local militias and retool the Malian Army into a professional force capable of supporting a democratic civilian government, we can do so cheaply and effectively; that is the SOF mission. More importantly, they could help build village-level self-defense militias in the north to prevent the now hated Islamists from returning. Again, a relatively inexpensive operation.
Likewise, the State Department and USAID now have hard-earned Iraq and Afghanistan experience in coaching good governance and anti-corruption at the national, provincial, and local levels. This ought to be exploited before it atrophies. Again, this can be done affordably. Mali is not hopeless, and it can be a model for the right way to stabilize governments and fight Islamic extremists.
Gary Anderson is a retired Marine Corps colonel who was a governance advisor in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is an adjunct professor at the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs.
FREDERIC LAFARGUE/AFP/Getty Images
Air Force Lt. Col. Dan Ward wasn't at all impressed by Darth Vader's management style, which he finds overly reliant on motivating workers through "telekinetic strangulation." Also, he says, "Death Stars can't possibly be built on time or on budget, require pathological leadership styles and...keep getting blown up."
The lessons of "Star Wars," he concludes, are: Build simple, inexpensive weapons, and rely more on droids than on Death Stars.
Meanwhile, since I have nowhere else to put it, and I don't have the copyright clearance to run it myself, here's a link to a great weird photo.
By Lt. Col. Douglas Pryer, U.S. Army
Best Defense department of war movie reviews
Torture has once again become a matter of noisy public debate. This time (thank goodness!), the reason has nothing to do with new revelations of U.S. servicemembers or CIA employees going amuck on prisoners. Instead, the cause de célèbre is a movie, Zero Dark Thirty. Critics of the movie say that it promotes the use of torture by linking torture to a piece of evidence that proved indispensable in America's search for bin Laden. This, critics like Senators McCain, Feinstein, and Levin say, is a dangerous fiction not rooted in historical reality.
Fans of the movie disagree. They argue that the movie portrays this evidence as far less valuable than that obtained by clearly legal means. What is more, they say, the movie performs a service by leaving no doubt in the audience's mind that so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" (EITs) were torture, and also by shocking the conscience of these same viewers, causing them to wonder how the U.S. government could so easily surrender founding national values to such little good effect.
I agree with the movie's apologists. The movie does not depict torture as producing indispensable evidence. It shows morally repugnant torture producing a piece of evidence that the CIA already had but had tucked away in a file and forgot about. Seven years of torture, the movie says, produced little if any intelligence that clearly legal methods could have (and did) provide. The real narrative of the movie: A new sheriff (President Obama) comes to town who outlaws torture; subsequent CIA detective work relies exclusively on more cunning, ethical techniques involving, not just humane interrogations, but other intelligence methods; and -- presto! -- in two short years, bin Laden's hideout is found and, a few months later, he is killed. Even if the movie gets many details wrong, it at least gets the basic story right.
But far more important than the movie's historical accuracy is the deeper debate it has resurrected: Does torture work? And, even if it does work, is torture something Americans ought to be using on "hardened" terrorists (or on anyone else for that matter)?
This debate is sorely needed since most opinion polls show Americans' support for torture steadily climbing. A 2011 Pew Research Center survey reported that 53 percent of Americans believe that torture should often (19 percent) or sometimes (34 percent) be used against terrorism suspects to gain information. That marked a steady 10 percent climb from 2004. A recent YouGov poll commissioned by a Stanford University professor indicated that, over a five-year period, the number of Americans approving of torture climbed 14 percent to 41 percent in 2012.
This trend is something that those against "torture as American policy" should be watching carefully. U.S. legislation, military regulations, and Army doctrine -- most notably the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 and U.S. Army Field Manual 2-22.3 Human Intelligence Collector Operations -- now enshrine prisoner treatment that is in keeping with international standards and the national values expressed by such principled American leaders as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. In our republic, though, all laws are subject to change -- even those in the Constitution -- if enough Americans support this change.
There is no question which side of the torture debate I fall on. First and foremost, it is clear to me that torture fails as a tactic within the most important domain of war, the moral one. It is thus something that we Americans simply ought not to do.
When people see images of torture, most empathize with the tortured rather than the torturer. This is especially true for those who identify strongly with the tortured in the first place because of in-group, out-group bias, say, because the tortured is a fellow Muslim or a fellow Iraqi. The moral judgment that this empathy has naturally generated -- the judgment that those torturing are "cruel," "evil," or worse still, "inhuman" -- has inspired legions of America's enemies to fight us. At the same time, shame has decreased the will to fight of some Americans within the ranks and at home and damaged the political ability of coalition allies to support America's military adventures abroad. Choosing torture as policy is thus rightly seen as a kind of slow moral suicide, strengthening the fighting spirit of our enemies while sapping our own fighting spirit and that of our allies.
It is also clear to me that torture is an extremely poor method for collecting reliable intelligence. This clarity derives in part from military doctrine, training, and professional reading. But it is also rooted in personal experience.
During the summer and fall of 2003, my boss and I managed interrogation operations for Task Force 1st Armored Division (TF 1AD) in Baghdad. My boss was Major Nathan Hoepner, who wrote an email in August 2003 that would one day be quoted by Tom Ricks in Fiasco. When told by the highest command in Iraq that "the gloves are coming off" and that our unit must provide a "wish list" of harsh interrogation techniques, Major Hoepner emailed a passionate rebuttal: "We need to take a deep breath and remember who we are...It comes down to standards of right and wrong -- something we cannot just put aside when we find it inconvenient." He concluded: "BOTTOM LINE: We are American soldiers, heirs of a long tradition of staying on the high ground. We need to stay there."
Tragically, his impassioned plea fell on deaf ears. Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez soon signed a policy memo encouraging the use of EITs on prisoners, tactics employed at U.S. military Survival, Escape, Resistance, and Evasion (SERE) schools to teach trainees how to survive torture with honor. Sanchez replaced this memo with another in October that ostensibly required interrogators to obtain his approval for non-doctrinal techniques. However, it actually reinforced the belief of some interrogators that they themselves had the authority to order that clothing, food, shelter, light, and warmth be withheld from detainees. Thus it was that degrading, formally promulgated tactics laid the foundation for more serious crimes at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq.
At the height of the worst abuses at Abu Ghraib, I regularly communicated with an interrogation chief working at the prison. The reason was to press him to have TF 1AD detainees re-interrogated. Despite his team's conducting numerous interrogations for us, we did not receive ANY useful intelligence whatsoever from Abu Ghraib. Sure, they produced reports on our detainees, but invariably, these reports contained either useless information or different versions of the same stories we had already extracted using humane, rapport-based approaches.
I was not alone in my frustration with Abu Ghraib. For example, Kyle Teamey, the S2X (senior human intelligence officer) for 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, in Ramadi at the time, said: "The folks at Abu Ghraib not only failed to provide any intel of value, they turned the entire Sunni population against us. Meanwhile, we were getting actionable intel by giving detainees Skittles and a cup of coffee."
Despite our nation's and military's gross failures at Abu Ghraib and several other detention facilities, most interrogators at Gitmo, Iraq, and Afghanistan did not choose to torture. Why is this the case? One reason is that many shared the idealism expressed by Major Hoepner, which holds that torture is just something that Americans should not do.
But we should not dismiss professional competence as a reason, either. Those interrogators who had done their professional reading were less likely to engage in torture. In a future guest column, "Top 10 Books on U.S. Interrogation," I will provide a list of some of these books. Interrogators had also learned doctrine and conventional wisdom at the military intelligence schoolhouse that taught that torture is an ineffective intelligence tool. This conventional wisdom included the proverb, "The longest list of lies in the world is that given by the tortured." Many interrogators had taken doctrine and such conventional wisdom to heart, before they deployed.
Lieutenant Colonel Douglas A. Pryer is a military intelligence officer who has served in various command and staff positions in Iraq, Kosovo, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, and, most recently, Afghanistan. He is the author of the Command and General Staff College Foundation Press's inaugural book, The Fight for the High Ground: The U.S. Army and Interrogation During Operation Iraqi Freedom, May 2003 - April 2004. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
Everyone has a good idea of what discipline looks like in an enlisted soldier. He takes care of himself, his gear and his comrades, he trains diligently, responds quickly to orders, looks you in the eye when he speaks, keeps a good lookout.
But I don't think we have a good idea of what discipline looks like in a general. I would begin with this list of characteristics or rules of the road for flag officers:
Regulations mandating adaptiveness might be as useful as this report unveiled earlier this month by a couple of Army generals: "Everybody turn left and be creative."
Seriously, watching today's generals discuss how to improve leadership development is a little like watching dinosaurs discuss how to evolve. In bureaucratic terms, reports like this are called "moving deckchairs on the Titanic" -- that is, lots of fiddling at the margins but very little grappling with basic issues. For example, there is a lot of talk about mission command, but no indication that they studied how other organizations implemented and cultivated it.
This report missed an opportunity. It should have tackled large issues. For example, two-career marriages are now the norm in American society, but the Army doesn't recognize that in the way it runs its personnel system, which seems stuck in the Industrial Age. What kind of signal does that send about senior service leadership being out-of-touch and/or unable to deal with today's realities? For that reason, and many others, it is time to move the Army's approach to people into the Information Age. In the 21st century it could be much more flexible than it is, offering features like sabbaticals, maternity breaks, and the ability to return after trying the private sector. That might keep some of the talent now fleeing.
Nor does there appear to be any reference to how the Army conducted the last 10 years of war. I guess the Army's leaders think everything went well. If not, maybe they could start by re-thinking the Army's bizarre rotational approach to warfare, in which commanders come and go. (One possibility would be alternating command teams at the division level and above, doing one year in and one year out for the duration, with different brigades rotating in below them. Worth thinking about.)
OK, Mr. Best Defense, you're so smart, what would you recommend instead? Glad you asked! Here are some thoughts, rooted in historical research, about what I think the report should have said:
But declining by the day. No, that hearing last week didn't reflect well on the U.S. Senate. But he didn't do well in it, either. He didn't appear that interested in the job.
He has the votes, but not much else. His big problem is that no one much wants him running the Pentagon. Congressional Republicans consider him a traitor. Congressional Democrats see him as anti-gay and anti-abortion, undercutting their support for him. And Northeastern Democrats (and some others) worry about his stance on Israel. Democratic support in the Senate appears more dutiful than passionate.
That said, I don't think that a Hagel exit would hurt President Obama much. SecDef nominees have blown up on the launch pad before: Remember John Tower (picked by the first President Bush) and Bobby Inman (picked by President Clinton to replace Les Aspin)? Interestingly, both were succeeded as nominees by men who went on to be very successful stewards of the military establishment: Dick Cheney and William Perry. Calling Michèle Flournoy?
The prospect of a Hagel regime at DOD is a real problem now because the next SecDef will need to do two things: Work with Congress to reduce the defense budget thoughtfully, and work with the military to re-shape the military to make it relevant to future conflict. At the moment, Hagel appears to lack the political capital to do the former, as well as the intellectual appetite to do the latter.
Bottom line: Every business day that the Senate Armed Services Committee doesn't vote to send the nomination to the full Senate, I think the likelihood of Hagel becoming defense secretary declines by about 2 percent.
By Charles Krohn
Best Defense department of second thoughts
Is it an honor or a cruel joke to read "Operation Iraqi Freedom" on the headstone of a fallen soldier?
Given the irony of OIF in a historic context, the question is not irreverent, but it is relevant. This wouldn't be true, of course, if our invasion had yielded results intended and predicted, however imperfectly.
As an old soldier who has carried one too many body bags out of the battlefield, I feel a great kinship with the next of kin of the fallen. Few memories hold greater pain.
I wouldn't even ask this question if I didn't wonder if some in the Gold Star community weren't also asking it, even to themselves. And if any read this, please accept my reverence for you and the deceased. I know your loved one answered the call of the nation, understanding great risk was necessary to protect our country and help spread freedom among the oppressed. What could be more noble?
Is it not just as honorable now to recognize the prospect of freedom in Iraq as originally postulated is remote? As others have written, there is still great confusion about who will lead Iraq. The only thing most agree upon is that Iran, once held in check by Iraq, is now spreading its virulent reach deeper into the region, with a nuclear threat just around the corner.
Simply stated, the inspiration for Operation Iraqi Freedom was a dream. Does it honor or dishonor those who fell to perpetuate this myth on their headstones?
Should the matter be swept under the rug as an incidental slip of history or should next-of-kin have the option of a new headstone, marking sacrifice without promoting an idea whose time has passed?
Charles A. Krohn is the author of The Lost Battalion of Tet. Now chilling in Panama City Beach, Florida, he served in Iraq in 2003-2004 as public affairs adviser to the director of the Infrastructure Reconstruction Program, and later as public affairs officer for the American Battle Monuments Commission.
By Major Tom Mcilwaine, Queen's Royal Hussars
Best Defense guest columnist
There appears to be a growing sense that the era of COIN that began on 9/11 is drawing to a close. The chief prophets of the philosophy are, for various reasons ranging from the personal to the professional, no longer quite the force they once were, or are not needed quite as urgently by politicians who have accepted the drawdown from Afghanistan as the end of the era of nation-building through COIN. Nations are growing tired of seemingly endless wars that rumble on, without a positive conclusion. There is a belief that we, the West, cannot afford to fight these campaigns anymore, not in an age of austerity and fiscal cliffs, which seems to be the one thing on which economic commenters and treasury secretaries across the political spectrum and across the West can agree. Perhaps more interestingly there is also a growing belief that we can opt out of fighting such wars in the future. The trend in staff colleges around the world is to return to the proper business of soldiering -- major combat operations. This trend is bolstered by a belief that our skills in this area have atrophied over the last decade or so of constant patrolling in the deserts, towns, and mountains of obscure foreign countries of which we never really knew much about, or cared much for.
Notwithstanding the wishes of senior commanders, who make much of the fact that the we in Western militaries must not simply press the reset button and dump our experiences of the last decade, it seems probable that the need to train for "old school" major combat operations will probably lead to this happening in practice -- because people train to be good at what they are going to be assessed on, which in the near future is going to be old fashioned warfighting, however it is currently described. And at the moment we lack experience in this area. A personal example illustrates this. I will take command of a cavalry squadron in September; I have not been employed on tanks since 2005 and the sum total of my armored experience amounts to a little less than two months. If you were my regimental commander, in a post-Afghan conflict world, would you be more worried about training me to do my core skills -- armored warfare -- or ensuring I retained more esoteric knowledge that is no longer in vogue -- COIN?
As this belief grows stronger (and it will -- especially after 2014) there will be a tendency to put away the lessons of the period of 2001-2014, in a part of our brain that we do not choose to look at very often. And then, when in years to come we find ourselves fighting another similar campaign in another part of the world that we also know little of and care even less for, we will find ourselves having to go through the same painful process of learning and adaption that we have experienced over the last decade. At the risk of naming the elephant in the room, we run the risk of repeating the mistakes of the post-Vietnam era.
There is an even more frightening prospect than this, however. What if we don't actually learn the correct lessons at all from our experiences? What if, in the hurry to put away the experiences of the last decade, we find ourselves failing correctly to identify what it is we have been doing, and so when the time comes to bring forth the knowledge so painfully earned, we bring forth the wrong solution? Put bluntly -- will we actually learn any lessons at all, let alone the correct ones, or will we simply repeat the platitudes of today in the future, while ignoring the hard facts? If we avoid the Vietnam syndrome, will we fall victim to the Northern Ireland syndrome?
This is an urgent point that needs to be addressed. Now. Not when we next find ourselves doing COIN. To try and ensure that this is not the case I have drawn up a list of 10 questions which I believe it might prove profitable to answer, or at least discuss. I have no particular answers in mind for them, because I myself was a distinctly average COIN practitioner, full of zeal but lacking tact and understanding. With these limitations in mind I present my questions for better minds than mine to answer.
Question One -- Have we really been fighting counterinsurgency campaigns at all? The simple answer to this question is, "Yes. That is what the manual is called, idiot." But before the idea that we haven't been fighting counterinsurgency campaigns at all is dismissed out of hand, consider the following supplemental questions. Is it possible to fight expeditionary COIN? Can you fight a COIN campaign when you first have to remove the legitimate government of another country? Can you fight a COIN campaign when you are seeking to radically alter the fundamental nature of a society? Or, taken together, do these factors make you a better fit for the role of the insurgent (albeit one so well-equipped with iPads and bottled water that we could pass for the Occupy Movement) than counterinsurgent? This links back to the fundamental question asked by Clausewitz -- what sort of war are you fighting? It is critical to acknowledge that we are not likely to deploy deliberately to fight a COIN war; we deploy to do something else -- e.g. foreign internal defense or regime change -- and then our stabilization operation goes wrong and we are forced to fight a COIN war. Being able to recognize this (the nature of the war we are fighting) is the first step in being able to adapt and win.
Major Tom Mcilwaine is a British Army officer who is currently a student at the School of Advanced Military Studies at Ft. Leavenworth. He has deployed to Iraq as a platoon commander and battalion operations and intelligence officer, to Bosnia as aide to the commander of European forces and to Afghanistan as a plans officer with I MEF (Fwd). The views here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the School of Advanced Military Studies, the U.S. Army, the U.S. Department of Defense, nor perhaps even those of the Sussex County Cricket Club.
(To be continued)
By yet another departing Marine officer
Best Defense guest columnist
I have been following the Junior Officer Exodus entries with great interest, because I, too, am a Marine Corps company grade officer who will be leaving active duty this summer after five years of active service. I share many of the frustrations of my fellow lieutenants and captains, and even had a number of friends email me to ask if I was the Marine who wrote about being disappointed that the Marines are not the elite force I was expecting. Apparently I have a history with vitriolic rants. Though while my frustrations run deep, I am sure that I would run into similar issues if I worked at the State Department, Goldman Sachs, or GE.
Yet more than any of the frustrations I have with my job, my senior officers, or what I perceive to be my future in this organization, the single driving factor for me leaving active duty is that I never wanted the military as a career. I joined the Marines a few years after graduating from college. Throughout my undergraduate years, I kept pretending that Iraq was a passing event that would be over shortly. I graduated from college to take a corporate job, and after 18 months I couldn't shake the itch that if my country was at war, I should be a part of it. I attended OCS, and the rest is history.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Marine Corps. I believe I had the best job a 24-to-29 year old can have. I joined because I wanted to go to war and lead Marines in the pursuit of an enemy. Now that we are in the full midst of the drawdown of forces in Afghanistan, there is only a slim chance that I will deploy again. I got what I wanted from the military (experience, adventure, the chance to shoot things, maturity, discipline, leadership, new approaches to problem-solving), and the military certainly got their money's worth out of me. It is simply time to move on to a new phase of my life.
The problem I am facing now is that most of my senior officers simply don't understand why I would ever want to leave active duty. With few exceptions, all field grade officers joined the military prior to 9/11. I am not questioning their motivation or patriotism, but those of us who joined after 9/11 did so basically to go to war. I see many older Marines (both officer and enlisted) enjoying the relatively low stress of garrison military life. Fine, but that's not for me. In my late 20s, I am eager to try other things (teaching, graduate school, business), and am willing to take the risk that I will take a pay cut. The majors and lieutenant colonels that I count as mentors have cautioned me against leaving a steady paycheck and a possibility for a pension. I worry that this risk-averse nature it also emblematic of the cover-your-ass trends in the military, but that is an entirely separate discussion.
My caution to others in similar positions is that you should be prepared to be looked at with suspicion and disdain from senior officers as you prepare to leave active duty.
I am told that General Mattis was traveling and in a meeting when an aide passed him a note telling him that the Pentagon had announced his replacement as head of Central Command. It was news to him -- he hadn't received a phone call or a heads-up from anyone at the Pentagon or the White House.
I asked a friend about that. He wrote back:
...the commander-in-chief can make a change whenever he wants and give no reason. That is right and proper under our system of government.
But there's also the matter of common courtesy to an uncommon man. Here is what one person wrote to me: "What message does it send to the Services when the one leader known for his war-fighting rather than diplomatic or bureaucratic political skills is retired early via one sentence in the Pentagon's daily press handout? Even in battle, Mattis was inclusive of all under his command. He took the time to pull together his driver and guards after every day's rotation on the battlefield, telling them what he thought he had learned and asking them for input. Surely senior administration officials could have found the time to be gracious. But they didn't." Bing West, admittedly a friend of Mattis and fellow Marine, tells me: "It was injudicious to truncate Mattis's command time because his toughness was well-known across the Middle East. The image of a determined warfighter is precisely what a commander-in-chief should cherish when trying to exert leverage upon a recalcitrant Iran."
Pentagon spokesman George Little sent along this note on Friday afternoon:
I reject in the strongest possible terms your reporting about leadership changes at CENTCOM. The fact of the matter is that Gen. Mattis discussed the timing for a change of command at CENTCOM with the Secretary last fall. At that time, Gen. Mattis was asked for recommendations on who might succeed him at CENTCOM. It would be wildly inaccurate to suggest anything else.
I wrote back to Mr. Little these questions:
Can you answer these questions? They are yes or no, I think: Are you flatly saying that Mattis was in fact called? Or are you saying that Mattis was not called but should not have been surprised? Or are you saying something else?
When he didn't address those questions, I sent them again and said I would publish his statement along with the comment that he wouldn't address my specific questions. This led him to write back:
He wasn't called. He personally met with the Secretary. This wasn't a surprise. You can't say I declined to address your questions.
I think Mr. Little is emphatically denying something I didn't say. That is, I think Mattis knew he would be leaving eventually, which would lead to such a conversation with the secretary, but was in fact surprised by the timing and the lack of notice about a press release announcing his successor being issued.
Cpl. Cassandra Flowers/DVIDS
By Ron Rogers
Best Defense office of veterans' affairs
There were four of us left in the VA Clinic waiting room in Morehead City, North Carolina. There was a rather bulky fellow with a huge shock of white hair and half-asleep, a woman waiting to drive a neighbor home, a young veteran of Fallujah and Helmand, and myself, a Vietnam veteran.
The woman, a bright senior, and I started out talking about the man she was driving and that conversation morphed into Afghanistan and getting the heck out. I mentioned that the hardships of Korea, the "forgotten war," made Afghanistan pale by comparison. The older gentleman seemed to wake up and mumbled an apology for jumping into the conversation and he was welcomed -- of course. He was a retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant who had fought in Korea and Vietnam. He acknowledged that Korea was the forgotten war and told a brief story about his unit "resting" behind the lines, but still having to man defensive positions. One night he was handed a .38 revolver (!) and sent to man the front gate of the compound. It began to snow and soon it had piled up to shoulder height. Two days later they were able to reach him and relieve him on post. Note that he did not talk about the cold, the lack of food and water, or the hardships of the fights that preceded resting. We talked some more about how, in Vietnam, he had gotten tired of the infantry and changed his MOS to aviation ordnance, and he spoke of his gauging the intensity of the battles by the amount and type of ordnance he was supplying for the planes. He observed that it was not going well. And then he was called back to see the doctor.
It was running very late and was now 1730 (for a 1530 appointment). Next the woman's friend came out and they left. I was now alone in the room with a rigid, taciturn, powerfully built young man who was standing at parade rest facing the door and wearing a backpack. His face was a slightly hostile mask. I asked him if he was a veteran and he said yes, he was a Marine. I observed that he must have been in Afghanistan and he replied that he had fought in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I asked him what he did and he said that he had been a "door kicker." He said it with both pride and resignation -- he was not happy. Part of it was due to the fact that his wife hadn't shown up yet to take him home. He phoned her and it was clear that they were not communicating well. I took a chance and said that I had observed that many younger veterans were seemingly angry and asked if he was doing OK. He revealed the very sliver of a smile and said with some hesitation that "he was doing OK." He said that he had spent 10 years in the Corps and that at the very end, he too had changed his MOS to aviation and proudly said that he had worked on Harriers. Then it turned out that both he and his brother had fought in the same places and made the same shift to aviation. He politely listened to my mentioning that I had read books by Bing West, who West is, and also Little America. When I said that West had explained the folly that led to the vicious second Battle of Fallujah, he acknowledged that with an angry nod and a "yes." Then I mentioned that in Little America General Nicholson had been described as a nice man with the wrong instincts about where and how to fight. It was clear that this former NCO was not happy with General Nicholson at all.
Just then his wife drove up and he said, "Time to go home to my three kids." I exclaimed "three?" and he smiled. I asked if he was now working as a civilian at Cherry Point and he showed surprise and said yes that he was working on Harriers. I said that that was a good job and that "I had found that the best thing to say was ‘welcome home,' so welcome home." He smiled for the first time and said, "that was right -- welcome home," and we shook hands and he went out through the door to join his wife.
Now alone in an ever colder waiting room, I marveled at the parallel careers of these two Marines, separated by fifty years, but sharing the same thought processes -- that kicking doors had gotten old and it was time for a change. And, just as comfortable as "the Gunny" was with his life, this new veteran Marine was going to go through a difficult transition to reach that place as I had noted his demeanor and his difficulty in communicating with his wife on the phone. They were going to have to learn to communicate and perhaps deal with his demons or their marriage would come to an end. He is a fine young man.
He and his brother are home now, but are we helping them to get all the way home?
The author served on active duty and in the Reserve for 23 years and was lucky to spend most of that time in Army Special Forces, with a diversion to Intelligence. While in Vietnam, he served both on an "A" Team and with DARPA. As a reservist, he served in OSD. In civilian life he has been an editor for McGraw Hill, a civil servant with USIA, and an IT manager in Washington. He is now retired on a boat in North Carolina.
The significance of the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be defense secretary is not that he is the first Vietnam vet to be tapped, but rather that he is the first combat-veteran enlisted man ever to be picked. (Like Forrest Gump, he served in the 9th Infantry Division.)
I think that is nice. But I don't think it particularly will help him with the job. I worry more about the lack of diversity in the backgrounds of the members of the Obama cabinet. Too many former members of Congress, too few people who know much about the real world.
It also is kind of weird that the three of the last four SecDefs picked by a Democratic president have been Republicans, at least in name (Hagel, Robert Gates and William Cohen). Where's that Democratic bench?
I remain a fan of President Obama, but I think he and his team have a certain tone deafness on national security. The military may just look like a political problem to certain offices at the White House, but it really needs to be considered as something more than that.
Library of Congress
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Just three days before Christmas, a note bearing sad tidings came up on a Facebook feed:
Military working dog Rex (E168) passed away this morning. He was 11 years old (April 2001-December 2012). Rest in peace Rex and thank you for your service and sacrifice. Once a Marine, Always a Marine...Semper Fi
Former Marine dog handler Mike Dowling posted the notice. Rex had been Dowling's dog in 2004 and, when they deployed to Iraq that year, they were one of the first U.S. dog teams to go into a combat zone since Vietnam.
Rex's story is one we've followed closely here -- from his stint with Dowling in Iraq (a harrowing story well told in Dowling's 2011 book), to his heroic tour in Iraq during which he was gravely injured, and finally the dog's highly publicized and star-studded transition from working dog to housedog. When Rex became eligible to retire from service last year, he was adopted by Marine handler Megan Leavey, who served with the dog in Iraq.
In his book, Sgt. Rex, Dowling writes how it was his bond to Rex that sustained him during their starkly dangerous tour; one in which their role was mostly undefined and ever evolving. A particularly moving passage in light of the dog's recent death:
I keep thinking that a time will come when Rex is gonna flee from the next explosion with his tail between his legs. Or I'm gonna come to my senses and realize that I just can't do another lonely, death-defying walk ... But here's the thing: Having Rex beside me helps give me the strength so I can face it. ... Never once has he faltered when I've asked him to do the walk with me, not even when we're under the enemy's gun. And because of this, he's put steel in my soul."
Complications with Rex's health arose suddenly during the night of Dec. 21st and Leavey, who rushed him to the emergency vet, also posted a note on Facebook letting friends and fans know that Rex did not suffer long and when it became clear he could not be treated comfortably, she was confident euthanasia was the right decision. He went peacefully the following morning.
Leavey writes she was grateful she got to spend the last eight months with her "partner and best friend." During the time Rex lived with her, "he got to roam the yard & bark at deer, play with as many toys as he wanted all day everyday, sleep in a cozy bed next to me every night, chase and eventually make friends with my 2 cats, enjoy & play in his first snowfall."
RIP: MWD Spike, a dog reportedly stationed at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Sand Diego and also 11 years old, passed away on Jan. 1.
Rebecca Frankel, on leave from her FP desk, is currently writing a book about military working dogs, to be published by Atria Books in September 2013.
I wrote Veterans on Trial to provide an unflinching view of how combat-related PTSD evolved and to assess its current and future impact on American society and, in particular, on the court system. I sought to serve another major purpose as well -- to set the stage for a hard look at future policy considerations for U.S. military interventions.
The idea for the book arose while I was participating in a multi-disciplinary bioethics working group on the ramifications of PTSD. The widespread incidence of PTSD in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars convinced me that this was a critically important project. The title refers to the trials and tribulations that veterans must undergo, not only in court, but in their daily lives as they negotiate the transition to civilian life. I refer also to the fact that PTSD will continue to be a source of controversy, not just within the psychiatric profession, but in serious criminal cases in which the stakes are the highest and as a human cost factor in future political and military decision making concerning war.
I begin by focusing on the management of psychiatric casualties by military leaders and psychiatrists during American wars from the Civil War forward. I begin by stripping away the confusion -- and obfuscation -- that have prevented a clear understanding of the origin and role of combat-related traumatic stress in war-time. Although PTSD has become widely known in popular culture, I believe that the public's understanding is superficial. The public has only a rudimentary idea of what PTSD is, how it arises in military service, how it affects mental and physical health, and why it is not taken into account in decision making about war. This is so, largely, because so much of what is said about it by the military, as well as by mental health professionals, is overly simplistic, incomplete, and inaccurate.
PTSD finally gained official recognition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association during the post-war cultural upheaval following Vietnam. That came about, not because the Vietnam War produced more PTSD, but because of the post-war cultural turmoil. The social-political alliance supporting veterans would not let go of the issue. PTSD and its predecessor conditions have arisen in each war because of a constellation of old and new factors configured in unique ways. I learned that, paradoxically, all wars are different but, in a sense, all wars are the same.
I examine critically how the disorder has been a moving target, undergoing transformation in the various DSM editions. I also argue that it is far more complex and variable than the experts claim. I explain in detail how PTSD has been used when veterans were on trial in criminal court after Vietnam and, more recently, during and after deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan.
I bring the narrative to its logical application -- an analysis of the key problems facing military and political leaders today. The most critical problems that have been inadequately dealt with, in my view, are military sexual trauma (MST) and the escalating military suicide rate. I find particularly blameworthy the chronic failure of political and military leaders to consider -- before deploying military force -- the human cost of war. They are equally culpable for their lack of accountability for the consequences of the interventions. One measure is to provide a seamless transition from military to VA care.
I am also convinced that, despite the growing role of women in the military, the military has utterly failed to take obvious steps to bring about the cultural change needed to eliminate widespread sexual assault and harassment. The high rate of suicide among active duty soldiers and veterans is a clear signal of dysfunction within military culture. Although I recognize that the leadership has instituted some typical measures in an effort to stem the tide, the military has failed to take the most obvious step to uproot the causes - a painstaking examination of the root causes within its own culture.
It is obvious to me that political leaders must shoulder responsibility for failing to take into account the human cost of war before making decisions to use force. If all costs, including human as well as economic, social, and foreign policy, were taken into account fully, war would become what it should be - a last resort for critical situations to be used only after every possible diplomatic measure.
I confront other controversial subjects, including the widespread creation of veterans treatment courts and the claim that returning veterans are bringing violence into American society. As for the former, I believe that diversion programs for veterans should be available to other defendants based on an equal justice standard. Establishing special courts for any category of citizens, even deserving veterans, is misguided because it is inconsistent with our system of justice and it lets the responsible institutions -- the executive and legislative branches - off the hook by cleaning up the problems that they created.
As for societal violence, contrary to familiar claims made after nearly every war, veterans have not been proven to cause a spill-over of violence in civilian society. While isolated episodes do occur, it is painfully true, as shown by recent events, that American society has a long history of episodic violence. Americans suffer from a national amnesia about the violence in civilian society, just as we do about our reliance on force in our foreign policy. For so young a nation, we have a well-developed national mythology to explain away the policies and practices that we do not care to acknowledge.
I cannot urge too strongly that we -- political leaders and citizens alike -- forego our usual post-war practice of evading a hard look at the mistakes, misjudgments, and lessons of war. Unless we undertake a painstakingly critical examination of these long wars, we are destined to repeat the past - and we will suffer the consequences.
Barry R. Schaller retired from the Connecticut Supreme Court in 2008, but continues his judicial service on the Connecticut Appellate Court. He also is a Clinical Visiting Lecturer at the Yale Law School and the author of Veterans on Trial: The Coming Court Battles Over PTSD, published in 2012 by Potomac Books.
Antulio Echevarria is one of those guys I always read, no matter what aspect of defense he is writing about. Even when I don't agree with him, his assertions make me think.
For example, in a recent article, he argued that "It is the mind of the commander in chief-where gains and losses are weighed-that has always been America's center of gravity, not the will of the public." I had never thought of that, and it did make me stop and consider. On reflection I suspect he is correct: I think it was Lincoln who often shaped public opinion during the Civil War, not the opposite. It was Lyndon Johnson's fears and flaws that drove both his handling of the Vietnam War and his failure to level with the American people. It was George Bush's determination to invade Iraq that led to the American invasion, not a groundswell of public opinion that drove him.
In the very next paragraph, Echevarria launches another provocative thought on how landpower is fundamentally different from airpower and seapower: "Landpower is generally employed not only to defeat an opponent's ground forces, and the quicker the better, but also to establish and maintain control over people and places thereafter." I think he is right, and this is one reason that landpower is, I think, more important than the other two forms of power. (And that is one reason this blog focusses more on the Army and Marine Corps than on the Navy and Air Force.)
Then, in the next paragraph after that, he loses me. He argues that the contemporary era is no more uncertain or ambiguous "than the era of the Cold War, or any other era." I disagree. The Cold War may have been more dangerous to the future of humanity, but there were some knowns. The Soviet Union was a stable, slow-moving, conservative, and rather poor enemy. For several decades, our national strategy of containment remained in place. But as I say, even when I disagree with him, he makes me stop and think.
That's a lot of thinking to pack into an op-ed piece not much longer than this blog post about it.
Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
By coincidence, a few minutes later I read Joel Wing's summary of the state of things in Iraq, which interested me because he always has been more optimistic about Iraq than I have. He concludes that Iraq is stuck in a political deadlock that is causing an annual cycle of violence:
After the summer is over, attacks and deaths will go down in Iraq. The problem is that the routine will repeat itself next year, and the year after that until there is a change in the status quo. That will not come from the security forces that are set in their ways. Only the political class can bring about a real transformation. In 2009 and 2010, large numbers of Sunnis participated in elections after largely boycotting them in 2005. That led to a drop in casualties. Now, things are going in the other direction, as the ruling parties are moving farther and farther apart in their feud over the distribution of power, increasing ethnosectarian tensions. That growing resentment within the country, gives some the reason to fight rather than reconcile adding life to the insurgency. The problem for Iraq is that nothing looks to be changing the political deadlock, and in turn the security situation will not improve either.
Meanwhile, Iraq is allowing Iran to fly military supplies through its airspace to Syria.
And an Iraqi MP called for dumping the U.S. and starting an alliance with Russia. Frankly, okay by me. Knock yourself out.
I've been reading No Easy Day, which I find a well-done but fairly typical tale by a Navy SEAL who by luck and hard work happened to be in on the bin Laden kill.
What worries me is all the talk of pre-publication review by the Pentagon. I know CIA does that sort of thing, but I don't remember the military doing it much. I read all the books by guys like Hugh Shelton, Tommy R. Franks, and David Crist, and I don't recall much talk of the Defense Department getting to peek at the books first. I mean, I doubt that Eisenhower submitted Crusade in Europe to some lawyer at the Pentagon before it went to press.
So I think it would be a bad thing if people came to expect some sort of right of the military to review memoirs. I suspect that a lot of the criticism of the book is being provoked not by legal concerns but by anger among SEALs and the like that the author violated the cultural code of the Special Ops community and blabbed.
Necessary disclosure: My books are published by Penguin Press, which is under the same corporate umbrella as Dutton, which published No Easy Day.
Remember the Clash song "I'm So Bored with the USA"? Similarly, over the summer I noticed that I am finding it harder and harder to read about Pakistan, though more out of frustration than boredom. I have no hope for the place. Its elites strike me as fundamentally irresponsible and destructive to their nation.
I know, the same might be said about American economic elites, who over the last three decades have relentlessly grabbed a bigger piece of the economic pie even as inequality increases and our infrastructure crumbles. But I am pretty sure that this situation eventually will be corrected. I sense no such resilience in Pakistan. I am thinking of just stopping paying attention to Pakistan, at least for a year or so.
I wonder what a "Pakistani spring" would look like. Bloody, probably.
Spencer Attackerman wrote last month somewhat mockingly about the Pentagon cracking down on soldiers watching porn on official computers. I actually think there is a clear and present danger in porn: I suspect it is the vehicle by which the Stuxnet virus was introduced into the computers running part of the Iranian nuclear program. (Reading Henry Crumpton's memoirs, I began to wonder if the CIA is a major buyer in the porn market, for use with North Korean diplomats, among other contacts. They probably have a "chief acquisition officer, pornography.")
If I were managing any official office that used computers -- which is to say all of them -- I would make watching porn on them a firing offense, not for moral reasons but for security reasons. And I would consider bringing criminal charges against anyone who actually used a thumbdrive to transfer porn into an official system.
By Matt Collins
Best Defense guest commenter
He probably wishes he was back in Afghanistan. Last month, Major General Gary Patton became the new director of the Pentagon's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, as details of the latest scandal involving sexual assault in the ranks broke. The Air Force has identified 38 women as victims of rape and sexual misconduct at their training facility at Lackland Air Force Base. Two instructors have been convicted, one sentenced to twenty years, and the unit's commander has been relieved. The investigation continues as the courts consider the latest lawsuit filed by a group of sexual assault victims who allege that the military mishandled their complaints.
The scope of the problem is startling. A 2008 survey by the Government Accountability Office put the rate of sexual assault at 7 percent of women and 2 percent of men. As women make up about 15 percent of the military, most victims are male. Because of underreporting and the stigma attached to the crime, estimates vary widely. Some VA hospitals report as many as 30 percent of their female patients are victims of sexual assault.
Many victims do not come forward for fear of reprisal. Attackers often outrank their victims, making reporting difficult. Some commanders bully victims into keeping quiet about their attacks. In documentaries like Invisible War and In Their Boots: Outside the Wire*, victims have described how they were threatened with spurious court martial charges and had their careers derailed by their chains of command. Lawsuits filed by victims described how they lost their security clearances for seeking mental health treatment, damaging the only advantage many of them have in the toughest veteran job market in decades.
The problem has even tainted the military's mental health system. A recent CNN investigation revealed that while women are make up 16 percent of the Army, they account for 24 percent of the mental health discharges, with similar disparities for the other services. The report went on to profile sexual assault victims from all four services who claimed to have been discharged after seeking assistance after their attacks.
The military's legal system has twisted itself in knots trying to deal with problem. In 2008, the GAO reported that only 17 percent of sexual assault cases were prosecuted. Commanders and prosecutors responded by increasing the rate of prosecution by 70 percent in 2009.
One troubling tact commanders have taken is to pursue adultery charges in rape cases. For the victims, this means that their attackers will get off on a misdemeanor conviction and do not have to register as sex offenders. More disturbingly, perhaps, is the tremendous pressure for the accused to plead guilty to adultery to avoid rape charges. There is a body of academic work in both Game Theory and the Reid Technique, a commonly used interrogation method, which suggests that innocent people will confess to crimes they did not commit to avoid more serious charges. In either case, commanders can plausibly claim that their units do not have a rape problem. In a twist reminiscent of the Iranian justice system, commanders have even threatened victims with adultery charges.
An adversarial justice system involves winners and losers. Prosecuting alleged rapes as adultery produces neither. Rape victims are denied the satisfaction of the military acknowledging the crime and properly punishing the attacker. Those falsely accused are forced to plead guilty and deal with the shame of being drummed out of the military with a dishonorable discharge. The only winners in these cases are the careers of the commanders involved. There is little resembling justice for anyone.
To his credit, the Secretary of Defense has instituted much needed reforms on how the military handles rape cases. In a tacit acknowledgement of mid-level commanders' inclination to bury rape investigations for career purposes, all such cases are now handled by more senior commanders already eligible for retirement.
Still, there is more that could be done to reform the military's handling of sexual assault. Perhaps General Patton should look into commanders' use of adultery charges in rape cases. If he does not, perhaps Congress could do it for him.
Matthew Collins spent ten years as a Marine Intelligence Officer, including a tour as a company executive officer on Marine Corps Base Quantico. He is now an MBA student at St Louis University. If you are a service member who has been the victim of sexual assault, confidential help is available through the DOD Safe Helpline at 877 995 5247.
*Correction, Aug. 29, 2012: The original version of this post misspelled the name of In Their Boots: Outside the Wire.
This phrase in an article in the Fayetteville Observer caught my eye: ". . . . Sharing the stage with Ryan were . . . . retired Army Gens. Dan McNeill and Buck Kernan."
I have nothing against either of those generals. But I wish they would not allow themselves to be used by political figures. The Army chief of staff should ask all retired generals to stop appearing with candidates who are campaigning. I especially hate it when they trot out a coupla dozen at political conventions. In the long run, this sort of partisan activity can only hurt the Army, and the nation.
By Andrew Borene
Best Defense office of non-human resources
In the coming decade we face an economic choice. If America buys robots from the world, America saves millions of dollars and nets some efficiency gain. If we make and sell robots to the world, America creates millions of jobs in a technology revolution.
Let's exert some national energy on developing a U.S. strategy for global leadership in robotics. Like computer science in the 1980's, today's robotics technologies are becoming an important piece of our economic infrastructure -- if we ignore this trend it will be a great lost opportunity for our nation.
The time is now to secure America's place in the supply-side of the global robotics economic curve. America's leadership needs to start thinking about how we can design, build, and service robots in the U.S., and sell them around the world.
Global demand for robotics is surging. In our lifetime, all developed countries will be forced into positions as net robotics consumers or net robotics producers. All will benefit, but the robotics producers will be on the receiving end of millions of high-paying jobs to be created in the coming decades.
Europe, Japan, and South Korea are well aware of these 21st
century opportunities. The South Koreans have already committed government
investment on the order of $750 million into the very broad mission of becoming
the world's #1 robot exporter. This year, the U.S. is looking at about $70
million in a narrowly-focused president's National Robotics Initiative.
Predator drones have increasingly grabbed international headlines, but the urgent need for government action in robotics is not on military frontlines -- it's on American assembly lines.
The Economist magazine's recent quarterly technology report included a breakout section on robotics in war and the important considerations about using deadly force and international humanitarian law. The documented rapid proliferation of military robotic systems raises important policy and ethical considerations as these technologies become larger parts of military, security and police force structures around the world.
Yet a narrow focus on military robotics will distract us from the enormous benefits robots and robot-assisted solutions already also provide in agriculture, medicine, manufacturing, and other industries around the world. Soon robots will also move into U.S. civilian transportation arenas, whether by air (as a result of the recent FAA bill which opens civilian U.S. airspace to drones) or on the ground (with self-park technologies embedded in automobiles and Google's driverless cars).
American leadership should be focused on developing more stories like the headline, "From Rust Belt to Drone Belt" in the Atlantic magazine, which highlights one Midwestern community college's efforts to train workers for the robotic economy of the future.
What's needed now is action to establish the United States as a strong leader in the robotics industry. Improved science education, forward-looking industrial development, and partnerships that bring international elements from the private sector together with government and scientific community leaders are well advised.
Andrew Borene is an executive at ReconRobotics, Inc. in Edina, Minnesota and adjunct professor of political science at Macalester College. He is the Executive Director of RoboticsAlley.org
By Col. Chuck Bowes
Best Defense guest respondent
I challenge your premise that low-cost high school graduate conscription is a better way of staffing our military services.
Today's high school graduates suffer from systemically deficient abilities in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) that poses considerable challenges to our increasingly technological military force. Research findings reported by the United States Mission to the Organization for Economic and Co-operation Development (OECD) reveals that U.S. middle school and high school students are habitually under-performing their international peers in STEM achievement measures.
President Obama, Secretary of Education Duncan, and Bill Gates also express concern that too few young people are acquiring the knowledge they need to use technology in creative and innovative ways. As U.S. student STEM achievement continues to race to the bottom of all industrialized competitors, adding non-volunteer recruits worsens the problem.
Today's graduates may quickly master the user-interface on commercial technologies, but if one of those competitors becomes a future adversary then our military recruits must be competent in the underlying STEM areas in order to adapt specialized military technologies to gain a competitive edge in cross-dimensional domains. A competitive edge is increasingly dependent on America's innovative edge. Absent another "Sputnik moment" that generates self-inspired reform for STEM achievement, the U.S. requires new concepts, new organizations, and new long-term strategies to develop agile young minds in order to retain our dominant military position.
For the U.S. to maintain
its competitive edge it must carefully develop children with high IQs to
achieve high levels of creative productivity. Intellectually gifted (IQs above
130) people have an above average innate ability to learn significantly faster
than their cohorts. The National Science Board also recognizes that gifted
students will form the next generation of STEM innovators.
Instead of reinstating a draft, I propose that our Defense Department train all of its officer candidates in ROTC programs and transform its military academies to become prep-schools that offer 3,000 intellectually gifted old youth a no-cost in-residence opportunity to specialize in STEM subjects during their early education. Further, we could provide many more free non-resident academies at public universities across the U.S. for just the cost of President Obama's $1.35 billion Race to the Top campaign.
An operating budget of
$1.35 billion equates to $11,000 per pupil yearly, which is 9 percent less than the
2010 national high school average of $12,018 per pupil, and 59 percent less than the
District of Columbia school system spends per pupil. These opportunities
should be specifically reserved for the students with the highest cognitive
potential, just as varsity teams are reserved for athletes with the highest
This proposal would provide the opportunity for the estimated 120,000 highly gifted students to participate in a highly challenging ability-based curriculum that accelerates their learning commensurate with their higher intellectual aptitude. Similar to the National Security Education Program and the CIA's Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholarship, graduates merit a "priority placement" hiring status and are excepted from competitive service under law as an incentive for long-term employment in the armed services and military industrial complex.
Since this proposal is an additive intervention, not a voucher system, it relieves pressures to provide special accommodations for gifted students without stripping money from public schools. Accordingly, the more gifted students in attendance, the more that public schools can fully focus their resources on educating the ‘vulnerable' students whom they commendably target now. Most colleges eagerly accept gifted students and leveraging their existing underutilized infrastructure benefits the college and offers a shrewd dividend to taxpayers created by decades of investments from many federal sources.
Colonel Chuck Bowes is an Air National Guard aviator and graduate of the U.S. Army War College. He is currently serving on active duty at Headquarters 18th Air Force, Scott AFB.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
During a night mission this past Wednesday, Marine Cpl. Joshua R. Ashley was KIA by an IED blast while on patrol in Helmand Province. Ashley's father, John, told local reporters last night that Ashley's dog, Sirius, who was with him that night, survived.
There will be many reasons why Ashley's death is going to be an especially harsh blow to the MWD community. The first is that this fresh loss comes, once again, too close on the heels of the deaths of MA2 Sean Brazas and Cpl. Keaton Coffey. The second is that, unlike the Brazas and Coffey (who were killed "during combat operations"), Ashley was killed by an IED, the very thing he and Sirius were trained to detect. And the last reason -- or at least the last one I will list here -- is that it's hard to imagine that someone like Ashley could be killed by anything. A formidable presence by any measure, he stood well above six feet tall and was an avid weightlifter; he was, in a word, enormous. And from a distance, Ashley appeared indestructible.
The above photo of Ashley and Sirius is one I took in March. I spent two weeks with them and the other 16 dog teams who trained at the Inter-Service Advance Skills K9 Course at Yuma Proving Ground in Yuma, Arizona. I won't say that I knew him well, I didn't. But I spent hours watching this pair work, and it was Ashley and Sirius I trailed a short distance behind while they went through a "night mission" during the course's final exams. I chose to follow them because I knew they were a standout team. I chose to follow them because they were fun, lively, and exciting to watch.
Charismatic and a born leader, Ashley originally of Rancho Cucamonga, CA, was admired by many. "He didn't have to try," says Tech Sergeant Justin Kitts who was an instructor from the Air Force when Ashley and Sirius came through YPG. Ashley, who he remembers as "funny and who take care of the other guys," was one of his favorite students and his death has Kitts "shook up." And "after six months of classes coming through," he told me yesterday, "that means something."
In the emotion of this week, in the emotion of writing this post even, it is hard not to stray into sentiment, into too quickly memorializing this young Marine. To be honest, I remember thinking Ashley was pretty damn cocky -- a characteristic most handlers will tell you is a pre-requisite for the job. I also initially thought him aloof and nonchalant which is why I was surprised when, out of the blue, he volunteered to set up this Sirius-drives-the-gator photo shoot for me. As he positioned the four-year-old Shepherd's paws on the steering wheel he did it with a patience and gentleness I didn't expect.
In addition to all the tactical training they teach out at YPG, the instructors there also work hard to impart the kind of lessons you can't train for, to instill upon their young servicemen and women the state of mind necessary to do the job of clearing roads for bombs. I heard it repeated over and over whenever a handler would get tripped up and when nerves and frustration would well up, taking over. "When it's your time to go, it's your time to go," they would reason, saying, "Relax. Just trust your dog." The sad truth is that it doesn't matter how good the handler or how spot-on the dog, there simply is no foolproof way to get past every IED.
The instructors who trained Ashley and Sirius during the IASK course are taking this loss hard-they're sad, pissed off. But those still working at YPG are out in the hot sun as I write this, training up another class of handlers. One such instructor, Sgt. Charlie Hardesty, marveled that a big man like Ashley could be so humble and that his fellow Marines followed him without hesitation.
And then, "I wish this war was over."
Ashley's family is planning a memorial service for Monday. He is survived by his parents and two brothers.
Rebecca Frankel, on leave from her FP desk, is currently writing a book about military working dogs, to be published by Free Press.
By Maj. Joseph Bruhl
Best Defense department of leadership studies
Growing up, if I wasn't playing sports, I was building model airplanes or gardening with my father. Both were captivating exercises, but for different reasons. Building models was a drill in precision and attention to detail. Gardening was a complex experiment in give and take. Both developed important skills, but as a leader I return most frequently to the lessons of my father's garden. Leaders who think like gardeners are better equipped to adapt, reason creatively, and approach challenges with humility than those who think like model airplane builders. Unfortunately, many in the army prefer fabricating P-51 Mustangs to nursing tomatoes.
Model airplane building supports an "A+B=C" mentality that is familiar to many in the military. Assemble the right tools, carefully study directions (read doctrine), and work with exactitude. For the model airplane builder, nothing is beyond his control. The only measure of success is: Does the model mirror the standard?
Gardeners, however, do not possess complete control. Their craft is affected by a host of things beyond their control. Gardeners' crop output is graded, not on exactitude, but on an ability to adapt, think creatively, and remain humble enough to try new methods.
Like the gardener, today's combat leaders understand that progress can be affected by a host of things beyond one's control: historic feuds, dysfunctional institutions, and even past mistakes by U.S. forces. Here again, adaptability, creativity and humility are keys to success.
Adaptive leadership, however, is not limited to the counterinsurgency fight. It is a timeless military model. To support the development of "gardener-leaders," the army should do three things: develop a profession of arms that values thinking, writing, and education; adapt its personnel system to support diverse experience; and renew mentorship as a foundation to the profession of arms.
1. Developing a Profession of Arms that values education, thinking, and writing:
Access to civilian education for both officers and NCOs must be dramatically increased. Education develops a leader's identity, mental agility, cross-cultural savvy, and interpersonal maturity. This is why universities are often analogized to gardens, where minds are cultivated and ideas are the harvest.
Increase the importance of non-divisional assignments in an officer's professional development. Assignments to the Army Staff, the Combined Arms Center, and branch school houses are not "take a knee" assignments; they are investments in the institutions that support our profession and broaden a leader's vision.
Encourage officers and NCOs to write and publish. In a recent article, Admiral Stavridis offers some "common sense guidelines" to consider when writing. Army leadership, following these guidelines, should be pushing folks to write and share; there is a wealth of untapped wisdom that will add richness to the army's intellectual debates.
2. Adapting personnel systems to support diverse experience:
The army must transition its personnel systems from an industrial-aged model that views leaders as interchangeable parts to one that manages talent on an individual basis. In the absence of complete personnel system overhaul, the army should allow officers who self-select for civilian education, teaching, or internships to "slip-back" a year group or two in order to avoid missing key developmental jobs in their operational specialty.
By adapting its personnel system to allow officers to pursue opportunities that develop "gardener-leader" skills without hampering competitiveness for command, the army encourages its best officers to broaden their experience. When officers who pursue opportunities outside traditional career paths command more frequently, the army demonstrates a new set of values to junior officers.
3. Renewing mentorship as a foundation to the profession of arms:
In a culture that promotes "gardener-leaders," mentorship is critical. Model airplane building provides step-by-step instructions for the novice to follow. Gardening is something that can only be learned through experience and tutelage.
Lack of mentorship appears near the top of many surveys to explain the decision of junior officers to leave. To reverse this trend, the army should include mentorship in its holistic review of the profession of arms. What better way to build adaptive, creative, and humble leaders who reflect Army values than through active and genuine mentorship?
These three steps cultivate a culture where leaders are not wedded to "the way we do things," but are able to adapt, think creatively, and approach challenges with humility. All are "must haves" if the army expects to apply the right lessons from the last decade and safeguard its profession of arms.
For more on this, read the longer version of this article here.
Major Joseph Bruhl is a strategic planner in irregular warfare and security force assistance at the army's Security Cooperation Plans and Concepts Division. He holds a B.A. from Truman State University and an M.P.A. from Harvard. He is a Next Generation National Security Leader fellow at the Center for New American Security.
One of the puzzlements I've had for some time is why there are so few experts on the politics of defense, especially in the role of Congress plays. One of the few people who genuinely has studied this subject (which is different from participating in it) is Pat Towell, who covered the politics of defense for decades until going upmarket and working for the Congressional Research Service.
I mention this because I've just been reading Towell's essay in a fairly new book, Congress and the Politics of National Security. I covered the military for decades, but I didn't realize it until reading the essay that the Armed Services Committees are anomalies, having unique and far more intrusive powers than do other committees. "The Constitution assigns Congress a degree of authority over the organization and equipage of the armed services that has no parallel in terms of the relationship of the legislative branch with other executive branch agencies," he writes. "The Senate Armed Services Committees draws particularly strong leverage from the fact that promotions for military officers-unlike those for civil servants-require Senate confirmation."
He also makes the broader point that congressional power is more negative than positive. "In general, it is far easier for Congress to block a presidential initiative than to force some course of action on a reluctant executive, simply because it is easier to mobilize a blocking coalition."
One quibble: He says that "talented members" still seek seats on the armed services panels. I wonder if that is still true. From what I've seen, since the end of the Cold War, congressional leaders have been stuffing freshman onto those committees.
I think there is a great dissertation to be done on successful congressional interventions in the Pentagon acquisition process. Imposing the cruise missile on a reluctant air force is one such example. Towell touches on this in an interesting passage about air mobility and strategic lift, but I would bet there is much more to be said.
One of the more interesting relationships in DC is the running battle between Donald Rumsfeld and his former aide and friend Ken "Cakewalk" Adelman. As I recall, it went public when Adelman, once a very loud Iraq hawk, began questioning the Bush team's conduct of the Iraq war around 2006. For example, he said of the Bush administration's national security officials that, "They turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the postwar era. Not only did each of them, individually, have enormous flaws, but together they were deadly, dysfunctional."
The feud recently surfaced again in the letters section of the Wall Street Journal. One letter this week began, " Ken Adelman's rebuttal (Letters, June 18) of Donald Rumsfeld's June 13 criticism of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea repeats two persistent myths about this deeply flawed and unnecessary treaty . . . . "
This may seem an obscure fight between figures of the past, but could be relevant if Mitt Romney wins the presidential election. He strikes me as the kind of guy who would think it would be great to have Rumsfeld around as an elder statesman.
For a security conference focused on the U.S. in Asia, it is amazing how little Taiwan is mentioned. I can remember when it dominated discussions of the American relationship with China. I think this is a sign of progress.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.