Here is the first part of a transcript of a conversation held at the Washington offices of Foreign Policy magazine in January of this year. A shorter version, with full IDs of the participants, appears in the current issue of the magazine. This is the full deal, edited just slightly for clarity and ease of reading, mainly by deleting repetitions and a couple of digressions into jokes about the F-35 and such.
I had asked each participant to bring one big question about the conduct of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I began. We began with those.
Thomas E. Ricks: One of my favorite singers is Rosanne Cash, a country singer who is Johnny Cash's daughter, who has a great line in one of her songs: "I‘m not looking for the answers-- just to know the questions is good enough for me." And I think that is the beginning of strategic wisdom: Rather than start with trying to figure out the answers, start with a few good questions.
So what I'd like to start by doing is just go around the table with a brief statement -- "I'm so-and-so, and here's my question." So, to give you the example: I'm Tom Ricks, and my question is, "Are we letting the military get away with the belief that it basically did the best it could over the last 10 years in Iraq and Afghanistan, but that civilians in the government screwed things up?"
Philip Mudd: I guess my question is: "Why do we keep talking about Afghanistan when we went in 12 years ago, we talked about a target, al Qaeda. How did that conversation separate?"
Maj. Gen. David Fastabend (U.S. Army, ret.): My name is David Fastabend, and my question is: "Do what we think, our theory and doctrine, about strategy -- is that right? Could we not do a lot better?"
Rajiv Chandrasekaran: Rajiv Chandrasekaran, got a lot of questions. I suppose one among them would be, "How did the execution of our civilian-military policies so badly divert on the ground at a time, at least over the past couple of years, when there was supposed to be a greater commonality of interests in Washington?"
Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik (U.S. Army, ret.): I'm Jim Dubik, and my question's related to Rajiv's and Tom's: "How do we conduct a civil-military discourse in a way that increases the probability of more effective strategic integration in decisions?"
Shawn Brimley: Shawn Brimley. I have a lot of questions, but one that keeps coming to mind, being halfway through Fred Kaplan's book, is: "How did we, collectively, screw up rotation policy so badly that we never provided our military leaders the chance to fully understand the reality on the ground before they had to rapidly transition to a new colonel, a new brigadier, a new four-star?"
Maj. Gen. Najim Abed al-Jabouri (Iraqi Air Force, ret.): My name is al-Jabouri. As an Iraqi, I have a different view of 2003. I was a general in the Iraqi Air Force, so I wanted to shoot down your airplanes. After 2003, I was a police chief and a mayor, so I wanted your help to build my country. In the last 10 years I have learned that America has a great military power. It can target and destroy almost anything.
However, I have also learned that it is very difficult for America to clean up a mess it makes. Leaving a mess in someone else's country can cause more problems than you had at the beginning. Military operations in Muslim countries are like working with glass. If you do it right, it can be beautiful and great, but if you break it, it is difficult to repair or replace. My question is: "Do American strategy planners understand the consequences of breaking the glass, and if so, do they know what it will take to repair or replace the broken glass?" Thank you.
Col. J.D. Alford, USMC: My name is Dale Alford. I too have many questions, I guess, but I'm going to stay a little bit in my lane and I'm going to talk about the military. My question would be: "Can a foreign army, particularly with a vastly different culture, be a successful counterinsurgent? And if not, why haven't we switched and put more focus on the Afghan security forces?"
David Crist: My name is David Crist, and a bunch of people had very similar lines of thought to what I was going to use, so I'll take a common complaint that James Mattis says all the time and frame that into a question: "Do our commanders have time to think? Think about the issues and the information -- in some ways they have to be their own action officer. Do they have time to sit back and think about the issues with the op tempo going on and just the information flow?"
Michèle Flournoy: I have two, and I can't decide which one.
Ricks: You get both.
Flournoy: I get a twofer? So the very broad, strategic question is: "How do we ensure that we have a political strategy that takes advantage of the security and space that a military effort in counterinsurgency can create? How do we ensure that the focus remains primarily there while we resource that aspect?" Kind of a Clausewitzian question.
Second is a much more narrow question, and we have the right people in the room to reflect on this, which is: "What have we learned about how to build indigenous security forces in a way that's effective and sustainable?" I mean, this is a classic case where we reinvent the wheel, we pretend like we've never done it before, we pretend like there aren't lessons learned and good ways -- and less effective ways -- to do this. So: "Can we capture what we know about how to build indigenous security forces?"
Susan B. Glasser: I have a question of my own that's particularly for the people with a military background in this room, which is: "In September 2001, if you had told us that in 2013 we are going to be in Afghanistan with 65,000 American troops and debating what we accomplished there and how quickly we can get out, how many more years and how many billions of dollars we'd have to pay to sustain this operation, my strong sense is that there would have been an overwhelming view in the U.S. military -- and among the U.S. people more broadly -- that that was an unacceptable outcome. So, if we can all agree that 13 years was not what we wanted when we went into Afghanistan, what did we miss along the way?"
(more to come...)
I was in a discussion the other day of the Obama administration's foreign policy. The more I listened, the more President Obama began to remind me of President Eisenhower.
There is indeed a long list of foreign crises pending right now:
But as I listened to the discussion, I thought of President Eisenhower, who took office and set to getting us out of the Korean War, as Obama did with Iraq. He also worked hard to keep us out of the French war in Vietnam, overriding the Joint Chiefs' desire to use nukes to help the French. He also rejected pleas of many to intervene in the Hungarian Revolution. And he had the Suez Crisis, with the French and British. Then there were issues of Stalin's successors in the Soviet Union, which was rapidly building its nuclear arsenal.
I suspect that Obama's dominant impulse is to keep us out of the problems he sees overseas, just as Ike sought to keep us out of Vietnam and Hungary. Many people disagreed with his decisions. But he was a successful president.
National Archives/SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
By Michael Cummings
Best Defense defense budget department
Seeking to capture the national security voting demographic, presidential candidate Mitt Romney has vowed to, "reverse President Obama's massive defense cuts." His website says it will increase Navy procurement from nine ships a year to fifteen. Most monumentally, as Travis Sharp pointed out on this blog a couple of weeks back, a Romney administration would increase defense spending to 4 percent of GDP, or around a trillion dollars a year, in ten years.
While a debate over the size of the military's budget is important, I think as a voting population we are ignoring a much bigger question: When did a really smart business person, Mitt Romney, lose his business sense?
When it came to running Bain Capital, creating Staples, or rescuing the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, businessman Romney made tough decisions -- especially when it came to cutting costs -- to strengthen bottom lines. Yet Romney refuses to apply this same fiscal acumen to the Army, Navy or Air Force.
Amazingly, for a cost-conscious fiscally minded businessman, he wants to give the military more money. Apparently, the military is the sole exception to "government is wasteful" rule that has driven his campaign thus far.
That doesn't describe the military I knew. When I was in the Army, I saw waste and, sometimes, epic inefficiencies. If candidate Romney looked at defense as a business, not a constituency to woo, his diagnosis would be simple: cut, cut, cut. I hope a would-be President Romney looks at my experience with waste in the Army -- and countless other examples from around the services -- and says, "You know what? The Pentagon doesn't need anymore money. It just needs to do a better job with what it has."
Example 1: Ammunition
From ROTC to Special Forces, commanders track how much ammunition they use. They do this for a simple reason: They need to fire it all. Even if a unit doesn't need all its ammunition, it fires it anyways. Often units conduct something called a "Spend Ex," short for "Spending Exercise." Every soldier stands in a line at the firing range. They fire as much ammunition as possible as quickly as possible. Units don't want to lose their ammo in the next fiscal year. (Ammo they didn't need the year before.)
I'll put this in "Staples" terms, in honor of Mitt Romney's most successful investment. Let's say Staples portioned out bundles of paper to each store at the beginning of the year. Each store desperately wants the same amount of paper to sell next year, so, at the end of the fiscal year, they would sell as much paper as cheaply as possible simply to make room to get paper for next year. That doesn't sound like a very smart business model.
Example 2: Deployed Contractors
When I arrived in Afghanistan, I didn't have enough equipment. Sure, my packing list filled two duffel bags, a ruck sack, and another two backpacks, but I didn't have the latest issue of body armor or cold weather clothing. So my supply sergeant and I headed to the local warehouse to get the gear. Inside, four contractors sat behind computers, working on who knows what. The whole time (which took about 45 minutes), I was the only person in line. One civilian contractor helped me while the others played computer games or fantasy football.
Maybe the Army needed four contractors because at peak hours at this warehouse on Bagram Air Field soldiers swamped the office. More likely, the Army probably bought about three workers too many. (Like the contractors employed throughout the Department of Defense.) To put this in consulting terms which Mitt Romney would understand, this is like hiring twenty consultants to do a job which only requires five. Bain Capital wouldn't stay in business very long if its customers thought it was hiring four times too many people for every job.
Example 3: Budgets
Every Army unit from top to bottom is given a bag of money at the start of the fiscal year. Then they try to spend it. Everyone in the Army believes that if they don't spend all their money, they won't get the same-sized bag the next year. (Though, for each of the last ten years, the bag has grown by about ten percent.)
At the end of the fiscal year, the Pentagon and every unit under it goes on spending sprees, buying knives, printers, and scanners to spend, spend, spend. I saw units replacing new printers with newer printers, simply to spend the money.
I will put this in Brookstone terms, another Romney success story. Let's say he gave each store a budget at the beginning of the year. What if he heard that at the end of each fiscal year, each store went on spending sprees, buying as much as they could to ensure they got the same budget the next year. Would a businessman Romney support that plan? Probably not, so why does he want to give more money to the Pentagon?
Example 4: Failed Weapons Systems
Imagine that Steel Dynamics -- a steel producer who Romney touts as the pinnacle of innovation -- needed new steel furnaces. If they were the Pentagon, they would hire a contractor and order 250 of the best prototypes they can find. This contractor would tell them the experimental furnaces cost 50 million per unit and won't be ready for ten years.
Ten years later, the furnaces still haven't been delivered. The cost is now 120 million dollars per furnace. And Steel Dynamics still pays the contractor a 600 million dollar bonus. Even better, the ovens won't be ready for six more years. If that sounds ridiculous, well, that is exactly what happened, and is still happening, with the Joint Strike Fighter. (Meanwhile, the Joint Strike Fighter's predecessor, the F-22 Raptor, still hasn't flown a single mission supporting the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya. It also poisons its pilots.)
The list of failed, over-budget or late weapons systems -- the Comanche, the Littoral Combat Ship, the Future Combat System just to start -- boggles the mind. Meanwhile, the Air Force has tried for years to kill the A-10 Warthog, a plane that literally kept me alive in Afghanistan. The Marine Corps only adopted the MRAP because of a Secretary of Defense fiat.
What Romney Actually Believes
Instead of calling for higher budgets, the Romney/Ryan team should demand the Department of Defense focus on productivity growth, efficiency, and a new culture of fiscal-minded reform -- not just by the Deputy Secretary of Defense, but by every leader from buck sergeant to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. They should demand "audit-ready" budgets. Can you imagine Bain Capital telling shareholders they don't have a budget? The problem with the Pentagon isn't the size of its budgets, it is the people making massively inefficient and wasteful decisions with taxpayer money.
Mitt Romney just needs to listen to himself. Describing the naval procurement system Romney said, "A business like that would be out of business." I agree. But the solution isn't giving the Pentagon more money, it's giving it less. Mitt Romney should make the Pentagon establish strict new efficiency goals, then use his business acumen to ensure the Pentagon does more with less, like he did as a private equity investor. To do otherwise is simply pandering to win votes.
In other words, Romney has become a politician and forgotten how to be businessmen.
Michael Cummings is veteran and a writer, who deployed to Afghanistan in 2008 with the 173rd Airborne Brigade as a platoon leader, and Iraq in 2010 with 5th Special Forces Group as an intelligence officer. He run a milblog at On Violence and currently attends the UCLA Anderson School of Management.
My friend John Nagl raved about the new study, by the Joint and Coalition Operational Analysis (JCOA) division of the J-7 department of the staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, titled "Decade of War, Volume 1: Enduring Lessons from the Past Decade of Operations."
That surprised me, because I found the report very cautious, kind of treading warily around some real problems. Then the light bulb came on, and I realized what Nagl was seeing that I wasn't: The report was written in Pentagonese. You have to read between its lines.
As a public service, here I offer a translation into basic readable English:
"Lesson One: Understanding the Environment"
Unlike most of their lessons, they just get this one flat wrong. Missed the target entirely. They take the easy road and basically say that the military was right and the rest of the government didn't show up in Iraq. What they can't say: The military was at odds with the Bush administration over the mission there. The Bush administration's ambitions for Iraq were revolutionary, as demonstrated by Bremer's sweeping orders. The U.S. military, without asking permission, re-defined the mission as stability, which undercut the civilian objective. So the real lesson here is that senior civilian and military officials need to bring to the surface their differences and examine their strategic assumptions. If you can't agree on strategy going in, you've got a problem.
"Lesson Two: Conventional Warfare Paradigm"
They recommend a bunch of bureaucratic steps to encourage adaptability. What they should have said: You want the system to adapt? Then reward success and punish failure. People will sit up and take notice. Publicize these actions, and you soon will have an adaptive system. You know what is most conventional? An approach to leadership that discourages people from taking risks and doesn't punish them for passivity. You can't win a war if success is defined as keeping your guys as much on the FOB as possible.
"Lesson Three: Battle for the Narrative"
Again, they call for a series of small but complex steps that tinker with the machine. It's all lipstick on a pig. What they should have said: You won't be successful in media and information operations as long as the consequences for U.S. military officers of "allowing a bad story" to appear are worse than for not engaging the media at all. Once they are encouraged to take risks they can experiment with the enemy formulation that information operations shape kinetic operations, not the opposite.
"Lesson Four: Transitions"
They want transitions better planned and managed. But of course. What they don't say: If you don't have commanders and key staff engaged for the duration, you always will be falling behind the enemy in understanding. And adjusting. We need to get away from one-year unit rotations. Some of the possible alternatives have been discussed on this blog.
"Lesson Five: Adaptation"
See Lesson Two. Repeat as needed.
"Lesson Six: SOF-GPF Integration"
They want to establish relationships, train together, and institutionalize best practices in collaboration. What they were trying to say: "We're all on the same side. Act like it, and instead of holding pissing contests, find ways to help each other. Senior commanders should have the discipline to counsel and even remove subordinates who don't get this." A couple of removals will get the message across.
"Lesson Seven: Interagency Coordination"
They want to "operationalize" interagency work. The real problem here is that the military tends to act like "the interagency" is a one-way street. That is, it gives orders to civilians but is very wary of accepting them. The rest of the government will be more willing to show up and play nice when regimental commanders are able to take orders from State Department officials.
"Lesson Eight: Coalition Operations"
More tinkering and better training recommended. The real lesson here is that it is only a genuine coalition if non-American members have a voice. Americans tend to be hubristic in assuming that our way is the best way. We really need to re-examine our whole approach to coalition operations. The best way to begin is by studying Eisenhower's handling of the coalition in World War II. ("I didn't fire you because you called him a son of a bitch. I fired you because you called him an English son of a bitch.")
"Lesson Nine: Host-Nation Partnering"
Their basic conclusion: We need to do better. What they don't say: We need to shut up and listen to our host nation partners. Direct U.S. intervention should be the last resort. The best model often is indirect action. That is, instead of the U.S. trying to help Mexico with its drug war, the U.S. can help the Colombians help Mexico. Generally, we should do things the host nation way -- which, if we ever want to leave, is the only sustainable way.
"Lesson Ten: State Use of Surrogates and Proxies"
They say we should worry about people doing this. What they don't say: Over the last decade in Iraq, we established a whole bunch of nasty precedents about the use of force by mercenaries that could come back and bite us on the butt. Just wait until Chinese mercenary companies start operating in Africa.
"Lesson Eleven: Super-Empowered Threats"
They say we should worry about individuals and small groups having a long reach because of the internet and other information technologies. What they don't say: Americans invented the internet and much of this other stuff. If the U.S. government isn't using these tools well, that probably is because it isn't using the right people. Bureaucracies can never react as swiftly as small groups. So it probably is time to establish an Army Reserve information operations unit in Silicon Valley. In fact, way past time. Maybe even a Joint infowar group?
"This report," they write, "describes the eleven strategic themes derived from the enduring, joint lessons of the past decade of war, as culled from the 46 studies conducted by the JCOA since its inception in 2003." Tom's conclusion: There is indeed a lot in this report if you read between the lines and decode it into English.
Best Defense department of military revisionism
In the spring of 1876, a three-pronged campaign was launched by the U.S. Army to drive the Lakota (Sioux) back to their reservation.
The first prong, under General John Gibbon, marched east from Fort Ellis (near Bozeman, Montana). The second prong, led by General Alfred Terry (that also included Lieutenant Colonel George Custer), headed west from Fort Lincoln (near Bismarck, N. Dakota), while the third prong consisted of General George Crook's force moving up north from Wyoming into Montana.
Unknown to Terry and Gibbon, on June 17, Crook encountered a camp near the Rosebud Creek in southern Montana, and a battle ensued lasting about six hours. Although Crook was not defeated by the standards of the day, having held the battlefield, it demonstrated the Sioux and Northern Cheyenne would fight long and ferociously, and must have given Crook pause, as he decided to withdraw his force to Wyoming. This broke one side of the triangle the three prongs were supposed to create.
Meanwhile, while Crook was retiring back into Wyoming, Terry was moving west up the Yellowstone River to the Little Bighorn with the 7th Cavalry, with George Custer scouting up ahead in advance after leaving Terry's sight on 22 June.
On the morning of the 25th, the 7th Cavalry was at a fork between the Rosebud and the Little Bighorn Rivers, known as the Crow's Nest, where Custer observed another large camp. It's possible there was a haze by the time Custer came to the Crow's Nest that prevented him seeing how very large the camp actually was.
Concerned the Sioux and Cheyenne might escape, and appreciating the element of surprise, Custer decided to attack and moved down into the valley of the Little Bighorn. However, prior to moving, Captain Frederick Benteen was ordered to beak-off and head to the southwest with three companies to block what was seen as a likely escape route. A few more miles from the Little Bighorn, Custer again divided his command, ordering Major Marcus Reno to take three companies along the river bottom and attack the village on its southern tip, while Custer would lead the five remaining companies and follow Reno in support.
As a side note, George Custer's two brothers, Thomas, a two-time recipient of the Medal of Honor during the Civil War, and the youngest of the three, Boston, were also with him.
Following the top of the ridge to an intermittent tributary of the Little Bighorn, Custer may have finally realized the gravity of the situation as the north end of the village came into view. We know this, and that he must have become concerned, because he sent a message back to Benteen stating, "Benteen, come on. Big village, be quick, bring packs, P.S. Bring packs."
The trooper Custer chose to deliver that message was bugler John Martini, and he would be the last, with certainty, to see George Custer and his fellow troopers alive. It is at this point that all movements by Custer and his force are speculation, as no white survivors lived to tell the tale. Unfortunately, Sioux and Cheyenne accounts of the battle were discounted at the time, exacerbated probably by the Indians' fear of retribution in coming forward with their accounts, and/or confused by language barriers, which created inaccuracies, further complicated by fading memories as time went on.
Was George Armstrong Custer imprudent in dividing his command? Most people with a passing familiarity with the events will immediately accuse Custer of poor judgment, and say yes.
However, say what you will about the man's flamboyance and previous dash toward battle, Custer was no fool in the real sense of the word, and he was a fine cavalry commander. Some historians are reviewing his importance at Gettysburg -- where he thwarted J.E.B. Stewart, who was coming around to support Pickett.
One could argue Custer's tactics on June 25, 1876 were consistent with army doctrine for that period in time, and appropriate for the situation as he at first grasped it to be. It may be that Custer's biggest mistake was trusting his subordinate commanders could, or even would support him as planned, and at some early moment while the Indian attack built momentum, he must have recognized his plan was faltering, and the luck he had been once famous for was evaporating.
"Tyrtaios" is a retired Marine with interest in events where quick decision-making might have changed outcomes.
Best Defense reader: Do you know who actually made the decision not to reinforce your people at the battle of Tora Bora? How engaged were Secretary Rumsfeld and President Bush in the operational details, and did they intervene at any point to specify a different approach or overrule General Franks?
Henry Crumpton: I spoke with General Tommy Franks, CENTCOM Commander, about the need for more American forces at Tora Bora within hours of the request from my men in Afghanistan. The details of that conversation are in the book. I do not know if he spoke with the president, secretary of defense, or others about my request.
Several days earlier I did have a conversation with President Bush in the Oval Office about the possibility of enemy leadership escaping into Pakistan. I showed him maps of the area with possible escape routes, explaining that it would be impossible to seal that border although I noted that more recon/interdiction forces would be helpful. We provided our best intelligence, including confirmation of UBL's presence, and offered our best recommendation but this was ultimately a military decision. Finally, please note that the Tora Bora battle was an overwhelming U.S. victory with hundreds of the enemy killed and no U.S. KIA -- but a victory blemished by UBL's escape.
Best Defense reader: Why haven't we experienced a Mumbai-like attack, with a suicidal group creating havoc in an urban area with small arms and explosives? Is something like that not important to any terrorist group (if not, why not), or are our defenses too effective, or something else?
Crumpton: The Mumbai style attack, with a team of well trained operatives armed with small arms attacking an urban area, has not happened primarily because UBL preferred a massive attack inside the U.S. against an iconic target, an attack with great symbolic and strategic value. Now that he is dead, there might be emerging AQ leaders who opt for more traditional commando-like attacks aimed at dispersed, soft targets. The 2009 attack at Fort Hood, with 13 dead, is one example of an isolated, successful terrorist attack in our homeland. There have been other attempts, including approximately 10 failed attacks in NYC in the last decade.
There would have been many more attempts, some probably successful, if not for our offensive CT operations abroad. There are daily operations in South Asia, Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere, which keep the enemy at bay. Many of the enemy must worry about surviving (some of them, of course, do not survive) rather than attacking our homeland.
Tom: I know that torture has long existed and been used by governments. But I never thought that the United States would make the use of torture official policy. Do you think I am being naïve?
Crumpton: No, you are not naive. You raise an important point, which prompts important questions. What is torture? (My personal view is that none of the U.S. government approved enhanced interrogation techniques were torture -- except for water boarding.) Are these techniques effective? (I have no experience in these operations, but many CIA officers whom I trust believe that they are useful. In my role as an intelligence customer while coordinator of counterterrorism at the department of state, I benefited from many reports that came from CIA detainees.) If these techniques are effective, should we use them? (This is a decision for the U.S. policy makers, reflecting the will of the American people, because it goes to who we are as a society. The CIA and even the president alone certainly should not make the decision. In our deliberations we must ask what price we will pay for intelligence. And, what price will we pay for not using such techniques.)
Best Defense reader: It appears likely [Crumpton] crossed paths with Ali Soufan, the former FBI agent who has been a critic of CIA. I wonder what Crumpton's opinion of Soufan's reliability might be.
Crumpton: Yes, I did encounter Ali Soufan when he deployed as part of a large FBI contingent to Aden, Yemen, in October 2000 to investigate the al Qaeda attack on the USS Cole. I was there leading the CIA response team. My impression of him at that time was positive: He was knowledgeable, hard working, and his Arabic language was especially useful. I have no way of measuring his reliability, however, during that time or more recently. I have not read his book or otherwise paid attention to whatever criticism of the CIA he has made.
Best Defense reader: Was Osama bin Laden's significance known or understood at the time he was in Sudan? Why did President Clinton decline Sudan's offer to turn him over to us?
Crumpton: The CIA knew about bin Laden and his emerging role as a terrorist leader when he was in Sudan. There was extensive intelligence reporting about him. I cannot measure the specific impact of that intelligence, however, on the policy makers who received the reporting -- although I can surmise it was minimal given the weak policy response then and throughout the coming years, until 9/11.
Tom: Was VP Cheney's office a help or a hindrance to your operations?
Crumpton: The vice-president seemed quietly supportive of our Afghanistan campaign during the fall of 2001. He seemed to endorse my briefings with nods of approval and occasional constructive questions and comments. He was always polite and encouraging to me in these meetings. His leadership role in the U.S. invasion of Iraq, however, set back our efforts in Afghanistan and hurt our intelligence and foreign policy relationships with many Middle Eastern and other allies.
Best Defense reader: What do you miss most about the clandestine life?
Crumpton: My friends in the CIA, other U.S. government organizations, and foreign allies, including some heroic unilateral sources. I do not miss U.S. government employment. My 26-year run was wonderful, the realization of a boyhood dream to serve our nation. But, now, I love the private sector, especially serving some great clients with great missions of delivering free market power to many parts of the world. I also love the creative freedom and opportunities available to a small business leader and entrepreneur.
Tom: Which national security commentators do you follow, if any?
Crumpton: David Ignatius, Fareed Zakaria (read his book: The Future of Freedom), Tom Friedman, Elliot Cohen, Peggy Noonan, Steve Coll, David Brooks, Lee Kwan Yew, Joseph Nye, Martin Indyk, James Fallows, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and of course Sun Tzu.
Tom: What is the origin of the feud between you and David Kilcullen?
Crumpton: I did not know there was a feud. Perhaps a brief history? I met David at a Johns Hopkins SAIS conference in 2005 and soon thereafter hired him as a strategist working for me when I was the coordinator for counterterrorism at the department of state. This was an unprecedented bureaucratic and political feat -- hiring an Australian national in that new role -- thanks to the intervention of DNI John Negroponte and others. This effort, I believe, helped advance the important security relations with one of our most important and effective allies, Australia. David proved very competent and worked tirelessly, helping me develop regionally-based counterterroism strategies.
In early 2007 General David Petraeus called me and asked if I would loan David to him, to help craft a counterinsurgency plan for Iraq. I agreed. A couple of years later, after I had launched my consulting firm, I hired David again. He worked for me in that private sector capacity for a year, then departed to pursue other work. I hope that he will continue to contribute to our collective understanding of irregular warfare.
Best Defense readers: What is your favorite movie about intelligence operations? Your favorite novel? And which do you think are the worst?
Crumpton: Movies. Thunderball....okay...okay....not a great instructive film or a great work of art, but it had a profound influence upon me as a young boy and helped inform my dreams of national service and grand adventure. One of the great suspenseful espionage movies: North by Northwest. One of the worst spy movies: Syriana.
Books. The novel Body of Lies by David Ignatius, particularly the focus on the relationship between the CIA operations officer and foreign liaison chief, and the operations officer and a local unilateral agent. Other novelists such as Le Carre and Greene are superb artists but I grow weary of the pitiful moral angst, self-loathing, and pessimism that permeates their novels. For a great instructive biography, read Sir Richard Francis Burton by Edward Rice. What a brilliant, brave operative who epitomized empathetic understanding of diverse cultures and the collection of deep, profound intelligence. The worst spy book . . . too many to list.
Best Defense reader: What advice would you give to a young
person who wants to become an analyst for the CIA?
Crumpton: Know yourself. If you don't get that right, nothing else matters including your analytical judgments, which will be skewed and contorted. Knowing yourself requires constant testing and measurement, which only happens in stressful, real-life environments. So get out of the classroom and employ and hone your intellectual virtue. Then, reflect upon your actions, recalibrate your course as needed, and practice and practice with deliberate reasoning, emotional value, and enthusiastic optimism. Never quit -- while remembering that a sense of discipline will keep you alive and a sense of humor will keep you sane.
There are many memorable lines in Henry Crumpton's new book The Art of Intelligence. Here are some of them:
--"I never met a North Korean diplomat who did not want porn, either for personal use or resale."
--His take on working with the FBI: "This was a tribe that valued oral stories and history. I came from a tribe that treasured the written intelligence report."
--Another difference between the FBI and the CIA was size: "The FBI's New York field officer had more agents than the CIA had operations officers -- for the entire planet."
--On British intelligence: "The British were good, but not as good as they thought or acted. One issue was their failure to realize the growing radical threat within their own borders."
--His reaction to the insistence of Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz's that the 9/11 attacks had to have been sponsored by a state, and probably by Iraq: "What is he smoking?"
--One reason we bungled the Iraq war: "Unlike in Afghanistan, we launched a war against the country of Iraq while utterly ignoring our most important ally -- the Iraqi people."
--An approach to personnel that likely will warm the hearts of Butch Bracknell, Andrew Person, and others who think our current personnel policies screwed up our current wars: "John and I wanted the officers providing HQS support to the field eventually to be assigned to the field themselves. We intentionally devised the personnel system for maximum service to the field. Our ops guys in HQS were supporting our ops guys in the field, and soon their roles would be reversed."
--The message the widow of CIA officer Mike Spann brought to him after Spann was killed during the invasion of Afghanistan: "Mike died doing exactly what he wanted. I am so proud of him. The mission is so important. You cannot waver. You must finish the job. You must not relent."
Full disclosures: I've never met the guy, but I share a publisher with Mr. Crumpton. And I hope my next book, out this fall, does as well as his -- which I hear is soon to be listed by the New York Times as the no. 2 bestseller in hardcover & electronic nonfiction.
By Robert Goldich
Best Defense guest respondent
I've gone in the other direction regarding Gen. Dempsey.
A bit to my surprise, given how much he was praised before he became the CSA by people who I really respect and admire, I am becoming increasingly disenchanted with him.
I see official remarks and documents that seem to me to be nothing more than a stringing together of contemporary pop phrases in military-strategic affairs, dispensing conventional wisdom. There seems to me to be a lack of intellectual rigor in his published statements of policy. I found his first CJCS reading list to be amazingly puerile, filled with that most suspicious of categories of written material, best sellers on general booklists. And while as an historian I'm suspicious of excessively precise historical analogies, I'm also concerned that excessive soft-peddling of rising Chinese truculence and expansionist probing will encourage a Chinese Sparta to indeed threaten us Americo-Athenians. Gen. Dempsey should recall that just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you, or at least willing to try in times of crisis.
Unlike Tom, I'm very concerned that by incessant remarks about how "mass formations" won't be necessary. We'll play into the hands of adversaries who decide that they aren't equally dubious about their utility.
Perhaps we can modify the alleged statement of Trotsky to read: "You may not be interested in conventional war, but conventional war may be interested in you." I don't think we're as bad off as the British Army in 1914, because we have a very large reserve force by comparison and a much greater diffusion of fairly recent military service within the general male population (and, of course, a growing number of younger women). But there's no question that for a prolonged conventional conflict beyond a certain unpredictable level, an AVF is always going to have less trained mobilization potential than larger draft-fed force that generates a lot of recently-trained individual reservists. There are always tradeoffs.
And this doesn't even touch on industrial mobilization. As far as I can tell, nobody but nobody in officialdom is thinking about this (if they are, they're quiet about it). Trained manpower can always be generated a lot faster than the material to equip it. If we had had to put the very large ground forces we had in action from mid-1944 to mid-1945 into the field in 1942 and even 1943, as well as being much more poorly trained, they would have had a lot of inferior weapons.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
By "John Paul Lejeune"
Best Defense Guest columnist
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced on March 5 a new personnel initiative applicable to the Navy and Marine Corps called "21st Century Sailor and Marine" (21CSM), which is designed to "maximize Sailor and Marine personal readiness" -- a laudable goal.
As a serving active duty officer in either the Navy or the Marine Corps, north of O-3 and south of the FO/GO ranks, I wonder if the enhancement in personal readiness occasioned by breathalyzers will be worth the trade-off in flagging morale, professional insult, and perceptions of detached, out of touch senior leadership. I will tell you this: Getting a breathalyzer after morning PT as a precondition for working like hell for the rest of the day has great potential to piss me right off.
While the "in the weeds" specifics of how the breathalyzer program will work are not yet revealed, the general contours of the program are that Navy leaders will administer breathalyzers to operational unit work sections duty sections -- apparently everyone on duty, including, presumably, ship and squadron commanders -- plus "random" samples of other sailors in shore and support commands. No probable cause. No reason to suspect alcohol use, much less abuse. One size fits all screening of everyone, regardless of rank, career status, history of alcohol use or abuse, duty performance, or billet. Marine units will phase in the breathalyzers later, after the Navy beta tests the program.
This is among the most paternalistic, professionally insulting concepts I've seen in all my years of service, and I'm not sure I will submit. Yes, I know my options, and I just may exercise them and go right over the side the first time the duty blowmeister shoves a plastic tube in my face and treats me like a drunk driver for daring to report for duty. To the CNO, CMC, CMC of the Navy, and SgtMaj of the Marine Corps, here's my question: At what point will one of you four exercise your duty to tell the Secretary of the Navy, "Hey, Boss, WTF, over?" and that he really ought to fire whichever clown came up with this idea to screen everyone to identify serial alcohol abusers who are readily identifiable through other means. One or more of you needs to find the moral courage to recommend relegating this part of the initiative to the dustbin of really bad naval ideas.
Secretary Mabus' speech announcing the initiative notes
"[t]he test will be used only as a training and prevention tool...This is a
deterrence tool used to identify and direct appropriate counseling or treatment
before any of those career or life-altering incidents happen." Well, which is it, a training and prevention tool
or a deterrence tool? Deterrence usually
equals avoiding some bad outcome, which is inconsistent with viewing this as a
"training and prevention" tool. We can't have it both ways.
Moreover, the Secretary notes the program will be "used to identify
and direct appropriate counseling before any of those...incidents happen."
This is because the time-honored tradition of assessing sailors and
Marines by looking them in the eye at quarters or morning formation and holding
them accountable for showing up for duty under the influence of alcohol -- what
some old salts used to call "personal leadership" -- is an insufficiently precise way of knowing
who is drinking too much. This
"program" is encouraging "leaders" to default to a plastic
straw and digital display in place of demonstrating the moral courage required
to pull a promising petty officer or sergeant out of formation and haul him to
the infirmary for a fitness for duty physical.
Secretary Mabus observed: "In 13 of 20 recent Navy Commanding Officers relieved, alcohol was a component in the incident for which they were relieved." So, according to Secretary Mabus and the cowardly sycophants who thought up this scheme, the problem is not that we have poor character development and command screening processes. Rather, the problem is that we can't possibly tell when people are drinking too much and displaying conduct which suggests they might not be fit for command. And breathalyzing every O-5 and O-6 on duty ensures that we will have the soberest bunch of moral coward commanders in the history of the naval force. The solution to commanding officers abusing their positions in alcohol related incidents isn't character development and rigorous screening. The solution is a breathalyzer. Oh. My. God. What have we become?
I am keenly aware that alcoholism threatens readiness and the lives, well-being, families, and professional performance of sailors and Marines. I've had alcoholic service members work for me, I have seen it control their lives, and I think I have done my duty to get them help when I could and to hold them accountable when I must. I am also intensely aware that the fix is in holding leaders accountable for exercising due diligence with regard to educating and influencing their sailors and Marines on the dangers and consequences of alcohol abuse. That does not mean every ship CO or battalion commander is going to see the old man for every DUI in his unit. It does mean that if a ship CO or battalion commander has cultured a leadership environment in which clear signs of alcohol abuse are tolerated or even encouraged, and if there is a spike in alcohol-related incidents in the command, service senior leaders are going to take a hard look at what is going on inside the unit. Leaders exercising their solemn duty to junior sailors and Marines, who have even a modicum of intuition about their charges, can figure out who is sucking the worm out of the bottle every night without resorting to the extraordinary insulting and distrustful measure of breathalyzing every shipmate who steps across the brow and every Marine who marches into a gun park. Of course this might require the unthinkable: For the squadron XO to come in on a weekend and walk through the barracks, for the Master Chief to get off his ass in the Chief's Mess and head down to troop berthing, and for the company commander to fire a 1stSgt hiding a platoon sergeant's alcohol problem. Egad, it might even require a flag or general officer to look at his O-6 brigade or group commanders for regular signs of red faces and bloodshot eyes. It might require -- wait for it -- leadership -- for officers to be officers and not simply Powerpoint producers or flag mess food blisters.
Think of the signal this program sends to our officers, specifically our junior officers: welcome to the fold; you are the next generation of captains and colonels, admirals and generals; we love you like our younger brothers and sisters; we expect enormous productivity, professionalism, and sacrifice out of you; we entrust you with monumental responsibility; we want you to think strategically year to year while acting tactically day to day; we want you to blow in a tube like you are Lindsay Lohan in return for the privilege of showing up, embracing your mortality daily, and working really hard in dangerous and austere conditions for modest pay and recognition. Who wouldn't want to keep taking that deal? If corporate leadership tried this stunt in a Fortune 500 company, they would get a considerable reaction from the union or the labor force, and their retention programs would suffer massively. Labor simply would not stand for an invasive program like this. The military is different, and we just roll over for it. Maybe it is time for military leaders to start thinking about our service members more like a labor force (any active duty member who says the military is categorically different and does not respond to human resources programs in the same way as a civilian labor force: Please return your reenlistment bonuses, flight pay, and subsidized health care stipends to the U.S. Treasury at once, and call personnel to zero out your generous annual leave balance). Leaders should recognize that it is possible to cross redlines with the force.
Personally, this is a redline for me.
So here is one version of how this plays out: Lieutenant Umptefrats and Captain Beltbuckle, classmates at the Naval Academy, meet up in Honolulu. Close friends at the Academy who boxed the same weight class and remain within 5 pounds of each other, Umptefrats is a division officer on the USS Chosin and Beltbuckle commands a company in Third Marines. Smart, sharp, dedicated, and diligent, they work hard -- real hard -- enduring separation from their young families for months at a time conducting and supporting combat and presence operations at sea and ashore. Their wives give them their liberty card to go out together. It's a weeknight, so both officers are keenly aware that they have to keep it in check. Still, the beer starts flowing and the stories about misdeeds in Bancroft Hall abound. Each of them has 5 beers before they call it a night just after midnight. They take taxis home. When each of them reports for duty at 0630 the next morning, their breathalyzers register .013. Neither is impaired, and both are fully prepared to execute a full workday. Absent a breathalyzer, no one on the ship or in the battalion would likely know or care that either officer had even been out the night before. Now, with both officers showing up and blowing very low alcohol levels, their COs are notified. Each officer is called in to see the XO so he can evaluate them for himself and counsel them on responsible use of alcohol. Whispers about "drunk on duty" start circulating, both officers get a little scared for their careers. Then they get pissed at being treated like a problem child trooper with 3 NJPs in his book, snatched by the Shore Patrol out of a drunken bar brawl in Phuket. How long before both these guys start counting the days until their five years are up so they can go back to grad school on the GI Bill?
We have tools for determining whether Umptefrats and Beltbuckle, their sergeants and chiefs, their seamen and Marines are abusing alcohol: daily observation; evaluation of duty performance; perceptions of peers; knowledge of life stressers; receipt of information about financial troubles; brushes with law enforcement. We don't need another one size fits all tool that screens everyone to identify a few, and the leadership doesn't need to insult everyone and treat us all like wayward teenagers in order to identify a relative few folks who would dare show up for duty under the influence of alcohol.
This tool is categorically different than the inspections we conduct to detect the presence of illicit drugs: Unlike the urinalysis program, this "leadership" instrument threatens to sweep up members of the force for engaging in perfectly lawful activity, even tacitly encouraged by the government through the sale of booze in exchanges and clubs. Unlike the urinalysis program, which is virtually the only way to determine whether a service member smokes marijuana during weekend liberty periods, we have options with regard to diagnosing alcohol abuse. Moreover, it is cumulative: we already sacrifice some measure of privacy for the greater good by submitting to random drug testing, even though the vast majority of the force does not and would not use illicit drugs. This program in its current form is needlessly invasive, professionally insulting and misguided. It warrants a hard look by the uniformed senior leadership in reevaluating their advice to the secretary, who may be so far removed from his own uniformed service that he misunderstands the contemporary military. If retained, it should be administered selectively, in the same way that the services test for steroids (supported by facts which add up to probable cause), not daily breathalyzers across the force.
The remaining issue this officer has to sort out is how I will react personally when the breath Stasi try to make me blow into an breathalyzer as a precondition for reporting for duty. I might just say no, and take a day of leave on short notice. When my commander later hears about it and has "the discussion," that conversation might offramp into discussion of other topics, like my transition off active duty. I understand the leadership's fervent desire to mitigate operational and personnel risk and help those with alcohol problems to get counseling and continue to serve honorably. Treating every service member -- including tee-teetotalers and moderate social drinkers who comprise the vast majority of the force -- like a DUI suspect without cause is a flawed methodology for getting from here to there. It is reactive leadership at its finest, and bespeaks a lack of understanding of the modern force.
"John Paul Lejeune" is an active duty naval officer with more than 10 and less than 25 years of service. He is leaving his service identity and rank undisclosed to emphasize that this is a leadership issue for both the Navy and Marine Corps.
I've had this gut feeling for a few years now that in the long term, Iraq is going to be messier than Afghanistan.
An e-conversation last weekend clarified the feeling for me, like hot ghee: In Afghanistan we haven't fundamentally changed the situation. (Kabul has long been at odds with the provinces, Pashtuns have long thought they should run the country, Pakistan still thinks it has to have control over who controls Afghanistan.) But in Iraq, we changed the game. We established the first Shiite-dominated Arab state in many centuries. That is true whether or not it becomes an ally of Iran (which I think it will, but who knows?). So I think it will take much longer for the dust to settle in Iraq.
Speaking of Iraq, Michael Knights had a good piece that I think runs counter to the Joel Wing view. Knights reviews the data and concludes that, "it is not a stretch to say that the incidence of Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence has doubled since November 2011." Al Qaeda is reviving and the insurgency is re-coalescing, he adds.
In a similar piece, Lt. Col. Joel Rayburn, one of the smarter people I ran into in Tell Afar, where I ran into a lot of smart people, writes about Iraq that, "the nation's politics lie in disarray, with no clear route back to stability." In addition, he observes, "the sectarian lines that divided Iraq's communities in the civil war of 2005-08 are hardening once more." He thinks the country is heading toward soft partition.
"Historians will puzzle over how a nine-year American military campaign resulted not in democracy, but in an Iraq led by a would-be strongman, riven by sectarianism and separatism, and increasingly aligned with America's regional adversaries," Rayburn glumly predicts.
(HT to JR)
By "Army of Anon"
Best Defense guest column
After ten years of war, the path to general officer retains an extreme emphasis in two areas: Command and staff assignments at the tactical level, and schmoozing on a general staff as an aide-de-camp or executive officer. White, male, Republican, Evangelical Christian, sole family income provider, poorly read, obsessed with physical fitness, and extremely concerned about risks -- what a perfect recipe for groupthink. C'mon man!
We promote meatheads. Too many officers are promoted who have already demonstrated limited intellect, hyper-aggressive tendencies, and incompetence during their watch -- or on the other hand, extreme subservience. The Army that wisely promoted intellects such as General David Petraeus and Lieutenant General Dan Bolger also promoted Tommy Franks and Ricardo Sanchez! In today's Army, only general officers can screw up and move up. C'mon man! The Division Commander of the 4th Infantry Division, who probably did more to inflame the Iraqi insurgency than anyone outside Abu Ghraib, was not only rewarded with command in Iraq again, but is now the Chief of Staff of the Army. Why is the main culprit of the Rolling Stone McChrystal debacle (Part I), Charlie Flynn a brigadier general? The same battalion commander in OIF whose command shot down two friendly aircraft and suffered the shame of the decimation of the 507th Maintenance Company was also later elected for brigade command. His brigade commander at the time was later selected to be a general officer. This would never happen in the other services, particularly the Navy, where being in command literally entails responsibility for everything your unit does or fails to do.
Our officer corps doesn't read, and isn't bothered by the fact. $500 in book purchases for each senior leader may have saved the Army thousands of lives lost. Take the example of General George Casey. According to David Cloud and Greg Jaffe's book Four Stars, General Casey, upon learning of his assignment to command U.S. forces in Iraq, received a book from the Army Chief of Staff. The book Counterinsurgency Lessons Learned from Malaya and Vietnam was the first book he ever read about guerilla warfare." This is a damning indictment of the degree of mental preparation for combat by a general. The Army's reward for such lack of preparation: two more four star assignments. C'mon man!
For the tiny fraction of our Army that actually fights, we have made too little effort and taken too long at reducing the soldier's load. The quality of the equipment is superb, but why did it take so long to get lighter machine guns and mortars? Close with and destroy the enemy under a minimum seventy pound load? C'mon man!
There is no strategic corporal in the Army, and the squad is an insignificant maneuver unit. Commanders are reluctant to employ squads on independent missions because the squad is likely led by a soldier with too few years of experience and contains too few men. Our platoons are not employed on doctrinal missions because commanders doubt the leadership of their lieutenant, the platoon lacks sufficient medical capability to handle massive bleeding and stabilize wounded, and the platoon has insufficient communications. Commanders don't want to risk enemy contact with only eight to nine riflemen with only one medic available to support a platoon. Instead of Army squads and platoons being a force to reckon with, they remain nearly equal in firepower, medical capability, and communications to their predecessors of the last thirty years. C'mon man!
Never have so few been supervised by so many doing so little. For the last ten years, the terms "field grade oversight" and "adult supervision" have been used entirely too often. Whether it be the Rangers blowing up a radar tower in Desert Storm, the rescue of Scott O'Grady in Bosnia, the Ranger parachute assault outside Kandahar in 2001, or the stereotypical deployment of the 82nd Airborne Division commanding general to accompany even a brigade minus mission, U.S. military commanders increasingly accompany the smallest elements of their command in combat. There are times when a lieutenant colonel or above needs to lead Hal Moore-style, being the first one on the ground. But the overwhelming majority of combat situations do not warrant this senior presence. Field grade officers do not need to be leading fire teams, squads and platoons. They need to do their job, staying away from room clearing. And ensuring subordinates are getting what they need. C'mon man!
Ten years into war and the Army still treats combat deaths as potential criminal negligence. If losing soldiers in combat warrants always an official investigation, then by all accounts the D-Day planners and the leadership on Omaha Beach should have been sacked in 1944. The Army should stop formally investigating American combat deaths immediately! Senior leaders should provide cover for the operations they sanction. Does reading soldiers their rights send a signal that they are potential subjects versus participants in a small unit action? Reading anyone their rights never sends a signal that you are on their side. C'mon man!
The United States Army focuses excessively on demonstrating physical fitness over any other attribute. "PT is the most important thing we do all day," goes the maxim. Yes, physical training is extremely important, but war skills like battle drills, and marksmanship get much less emphasis. The U.S. Army has arguably not lost a battle due to poor soldier fitness since the Chinese intervention in Korea in November 1950, yet the Army appears to rewards commanders for more for their running ability than their mental ability. Too often, officers who are mental wind tunnels get a pass because they can run fast and do a lot of pull-ups. The reputations for general officers such as Petraeus and McChrystal highlight their intensity and sharp intellects, yet the overwhelming majority of their careers were defined by their reputation as fitness fanatics and political savvy. Without a doubt General Petraeus possessed the intellect and generalship we desperately needed in our combat commanders, he was notorious for sizing up subordinates solely on how they impress him on their ability to keep up with him on grueling runs. The penalty for not being fast enough for General Petraeus was being held back another year in a non-career enhancing job, rather than moving on to the key developmental position. Yet when General Petraeus needed to surround himself with extraordinary brainpower, the pool of senior field grade officers meeting that criterion was limited. He had to reach out for help to particularly smart Australian and British scholars. How many quality officers failed a Petraeus "check ride" in the 1990s and were professionally marginalized? Who would have been there to advise General Petraeus that was no longer "competitive?" C'mon man!
Our non-commissioned officer corps today is too political and focused on its own selfish promotion. We've established senior non-commissioned officer positions at every level. The senior non-commissioned officers have metastasized into a mirror of their senior officer counterparts. I use the word counterparts because many officers see their senior noncommissioned officer as an equal in command, someone whose endorsement must be sought at every decision. In our non-commissioned officers, there is an ever-increasing sense of entitlement: change of responsibility ceremonies, inflated evaluation reports, security detachments, demand for challenge coins, and their own senior non-commissioned officer-specific in briefs. Note to those sergeants who don't read history: It's not about perks! Changes of responsibility ceremonies have no historical basis in the Army. Today's Army non-commissioned officer evaluation report is far more inflated than the officer evaluation report. Who would have seen that coming two decades ago? C'mon man!
The Army's efforts to develop an advisory capability remain half-hearted. The Security Force Assistance Brigade concept is foundering. What ought to be the brigade's decisive operation overseas is an afterthought. Could the Army just be waiting it out for two more years? The Army belief is that the best officers are selected to command battalions, brigades, divisions and corps. It rewards what it values. The Army's golden boys are largely absent in the advisory effort. Too often our advisory teams were filled by those who weren't politically connected enough to avoid advisory duty! The combat advisor augmentees the brigade does receive are often parceled out to be liaison officers. There is no effort Army-wide to look deep enough at individual backgrounds, personalities, and aptitudes to ensure the right manning. Our advisory team manning remains a mess: you might receive a talented former light infantry first sergeant, and you might receive a former Bradley Stinger air defender who has never led a dismounted patrol in his life. C'mon man!
"Army of Anon" is an old infantry major.
Planning on attacking Iran? "Better pack a lunch," advises my friend, retired Lt. Col. Terry Daly, who knows a lot about war. His point was that airstrikes alone against Iranian nuclear facilities wouldn't do much. If you are going to attack Iran, you need to hit its ability to retaliate, and that means that pretty soon you have a big fat war on your hands.
I can't believe we are discussing this. I am hearing lots of depressing talk that there is a good chance that Israel will attack Iran sometime this year and that we will get sucked into the ensuing mess. In some ways, there already is a kind of shadow war under way with Iran -- Stuxnet, the drone intrusions, the recent explosions and assassinations, the sanctions.
But for all that, I just can't see Obama getting us involved in another Middle Eastern war. The American people certainly have no appetite for it. I think he almost certainly would lose reelection if a war broke out, because his base would fall apart and the left would go into opposition.
At any rate, an article by my CNAS colleague Colin Kahl that went up last night on the website of Foreign Affairs argues well that the "containment vs. attack" mindset is a false dilemma. In fact, he says, even if you attacked Iran, you'd still have to contain it afterward. So a series of airstrikes is not a substitute for containment, but a prelude to it.
Sen. John McCain said yesterday on Face the Nation that:
Iraq is unraveling. It's unraveling because we didn't keep a residual force there because the president of the United States pledged to get out of Iraq. And we could have kept a residual force there and kept some stability. Instead, it's unraveling, and Iran's influence is increasing, and there's every possibility you could see a very chaotic situation there.… The vice president of Iraq is now hiding out in Irbil. There is militias and death squads operating. There is a breakdown in the Iraqi government, and there will be increased tensions on the border between the Kurdish areas and Iraq.
The difference between me and Sen. McCain is that I think it is possible that the unraveling was inevitable, from the moment the U.S. military entered Iraq in the spring of 2003. We untied the knot that was Iraq.
I admit it: When I was writing The Gamble I thought for a while that such a residual force was the way to go. But with the passage of the years since then I increasingly have come to believe that the Iraqis were simply sitting around keeping their powder dry and waiting for Uncle Sam to get out of the way, so they could sort themselves out. Remember, the surge was half a war ago -- it began five years ago, in January 2007. Iraq was given a lot of time. I do not see what keeping 15,000 troops there for another year or two would do that it did not do in 2009 or 2010. Plus, President Obama was not elected to keep us in Iraq; he was elected, in part, to get us out. So it would be pretty hard to keep troops there without a clear indication that it would do any good. Especially since Iraqis seemed to want us out.
PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images
I have been deep into a rewrite of the manuscript of my book about American generalship since 1939, and am finding it exhausting, with lots of heavy mental lifting. I have been writing as long as I can every day, and sleeping an extra hour or two every night.
So instead of my usual evening fare of military history, I've been trying to read further afield. I whipped through Paul Johnson's A History of the Jews, which though almost 600 pages, was a fast and enjoyable read. Even here I found an interesting military tidbit, that Alexander the Great had on his staff an interpreter of dreams (at least, according to Freud). It made me imagine the chairman of the Joint Chiefs shouting one morning, "Hey, get me the J-55 -- I need my dream last night interpreted." Then for some reason I picked up Elaine Pagels' The Gnostic Gospels but it left me cold. I skimmed it, which I rarely do.
At my wife's recommendation, I also read an enjoyable, Franzen-like novel, The Art of Fielding.
My favorite book of the break was The Letters of John and Abigail Adams, which a historian recommended to me back in November. It was terrific. He's kind of a stodgy whiner, but she is a lively personality-and a better writer than he. She's a perceptive observer: "Burgoyne is a better poet than soldier." She also was well ahead of her husband on the rights of women and blacks. This book also turned out to have a military connection: The introduction says that John Adams was effectively the first American secretary of defense, in his capacity as chairman of the Board of War.
I liked the Adams book so much that I finally picked up The Education of Henry Adams, which I have had sitting around for decades. All I can say is: What a big wanker. His grandfather and great-grandfather were both presidents. Henry must have been the Fredo of the Adams family. Still, I enjoyed the first half of the book for its portrayal of life in Boston and Washington before the Civil War. Henry Adams comes off like a minor league version of Oscar Wilde: "The Secretary of State exists only to recognize the existence of a world which Congress would rather ignore." He is especially good in describing the pomposity of U.S. Senators, and the political effects of the Grant presidency. I hated the second half -- if you pick it up, I'd recommend stopping after Chapter 20, which covers 1871.
I came away thinking The Education of Henry Adams is actually a huge, circular self defense for his sitting out the Civil War, the event of his era, and indeed so far the most important event in American history. (He was in his twenties during the war, but spent it in London as an aide to his father, a diplomat.) Mostly he ignores the Civil War. Sometimes he seems to mock those who fought, as in a reference to looking out his window in Washington decades after the war and seeing an doddering, half-forgotten officer: "There is old Dash who broke the rebel lines at Blankburg! Think of his having been a thunderbolt of war!" Yet by the end of the book, oddly enough, he seems to give himself the mantle of a veteran, referring to himself at one point as, "an old Civil War private soldier in diplomacy." That's quite a construction.
Best defense top 10s of 2011: Tom’s picks
Over the break, I am running my 10 favorite Best Defense posts of the year. War Dogs is so popular it will get its own special day. I also will do a list of best 10 guest columns.
Looking over the year’s columns, these are the ones that for various reasons jumped out at me. It took a half a day to do this, mainly because the FP website loads so slooooooooowly. Someone needs to feed the squirrels inside the servers.
10. Annals of sucky deployments. This was a favorite in part because it so seemed to capture the oddity of one soldier’s tour of duty, but also because I was surprised by the reaction to it.
9. The 19 things generals can’t say about the Afghan war that are true. Honestly, this was not one of my favorites of the year, but the response was so widespread that it deserves to be remembered. To my surprise, it was picked up by a variety of newspapers and run as a column.
8. Was JFK the worst president of the 20th century? On reflection, no, he wasn’t. But I do think he is the most over-rated.
7. The defense budget implosion series, this one about cutting retirement benefits.
6. The story of a purposely pro-Nazi unit in the U.S. Army during World War II. Just interesting weird stuff.
5. Lt. Gen. Walter Ulmer on what a good unit feels like. This is a sentimental favorite because a friend of mine saw this quote and used it in a book about what makes a good school.
4. Getting blown up and then getting ticketed in Bagram. This just brings home the nature of our wars these days.
3. I think President Obama handled Libya well.
And still think so a bit later.
(But I still worry about the narrowness of
his national security team. This is an unnecessary vulnerability.
2. I liked this one about the meaning of a World War II photograph because it is brings home the nature of this blog, in which the commenters and guest columnists contribute so much. To me, this post, and the 73 comments that follow, are what the Best Defense is all about.
1. There is more of my heart in this one than in just about anything else I’ve ever written. Susan Glasser, the impressive editor of Foreign Policy, asked me to write a summary of what I am thinking about Iraq right now. I thought, “I just did”—and thought of this column.
The U.S. Army/Flickr
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense perceiver of the divine in the canine
We've said it here before but we'll say it again: Yes. Military working dogs deployed to combat zones can become afflicted with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), just like their human handlers. And some, according to a new, buzz-worthy NY Times article, "After Duty, Dogs Suffer Like Soldiers," are even being treated in the same way as humans -- with Xanax.
the last year or so the military has made a big
push to up its numbers of handler-dog teams on the ground in Iraq and
Afghanistan. Not surprisingly, the more dogs that go to war, the more dogs
there are who are likely to suffer the traumas of combat. According to the
article: "By some estimates, more than 5 percent of the approximately 650
military dogs deployed by American combat forces are developing canine PTSD. Of
those, about half are likely to be retired from service, Dr. Burghardt [chief
of behavioral medicine at Lackland's MWD hospital] said."
While the article points out early on that "the concept of canine PTSD is only about 18 months old, and still being debated," canine PTSD is nothing new. It's been around as long as dogs have been fighting alongside soldiers. But what I think is actually noteworthy here is that the term has as the article says, recently "gained vogue among military veterinarians." Maybe now canine PTSD will get the attention and resources it deserves.
As handlers have told me, sometimes there's just no way to know how a dog will handle the stress of an actual firefight -- even if they tolerated the noise of a ammunition on a training facility back on base, doesn't mean they'll handle it the same once deployed. And some dogs -- remember Gunner? -- don't even make it through the earliest stages of that transition to combat zone.
There has been headway in rehabilitating canines showing symptoms
of PTSD, even with those dogs who are almost completely debilitated by their
fear of sudden noises, strangers, or the dark. But these methods vary in time
and intensity, availability of resources, and degrees of success. As more dogs
are put into service, the problem is likely to rise and the military will have
to adapt to keep up the number of active, high-performing dogs on the ground.
So how do we solve a problem like MWD PTSD?
One Army veterinarian commented on a MWD Facebook forum in response to the NY Times article, the answer is not to wait and depends first and foremost on vigilance of the handler who, upon seeing and signs of stress or trauma, must immediately alert a veterinarian so that the appropriate meds and therapy can be applied as soon as possible.
"Remember," she writes, "It takes a TEAM to combat cPTSD!"
In other War Dog news: Peg, a stray adopted by the family of a fallen parachutist, Pte. Conrad Lewis, is finally out of quarantine and is going home, for real this time. And Gracie, a dog rescued from Afghanistan by U.S. soldiers needs a home. She lost a leg and part of both ears to neglect but makes up for it in spades with her loving disposition. Any takers?
I think that as the United States leaves Iraq and shuffles toward the exit in Afghanistan, we need to think about how to answer that question when veterans of our wars there pose it.
This is a difficult one for me, because I think the war in Afghanistan was the correct response to the 9/11 attacks, but was mishandled for years after that, and I think the war in Iraq was an unnecessary and very expensive distraction from that response. Also, we may well see further violence in both countries that will raise questions about exactly what we achieved.
Also, today's vets tend to have good BS detectors. Recently I walked past a small monument to graduates of a high school who were lost in the Spanish-American War. It stated that they died "for humanity." I don't think so.
I think my response would be along these lines -- but I'd welcome your thoughts. "When your country called, you answered. You did your duty on a mission your country gave to you. In our system, thankfully, the military does not get to pick and choose what missions it will undertake -- that is decided by the officials elected by the people. Those officials are not always right, but they are the leaders we chose to make that decision. No matter what happens in Iraq and Afghanistan, you have the thanks of a grateful nation for answering the call."
Is that enough? I don't know. If someone said that to me, I suspect I would think, Yeah, well where was everyone else? Why did my friends die and yours didn't?
I don't know. Help me out here.
The U.S. Army/Flickr
By Joseph Natividad
Best Defense Pyongyang deputy bureau chief
An English literature professor from Southern California by day and a
world-class magician by night, Dale Salwak holds the distinction of being the
only American invited to perform his act in North Korea. At SAIS recently,
Salwak chronicled his experiences in Pyongyang in 2009 and this past April for
the Grand Magic Show, the largest ever in the country's history. His
perspective on North Korea offered a look beyond stereotypes of a totalitarian
system, mass famine, and nuclear proliferation, and focused instead on magic as
a great leveler which emphasized entertainment value before political
differences between two countries.
--Magic, as a trade, is taken very seriously in North Korea. Similar in structure to the Chinese system, admission into its exclusive society is followed by a father-son bond of lifelong apprenticeship. Isolated from the West and having limited or no access to DVDs, books and the Internet, North Korean magicians have devised their own methods to magic that have long been known to performers like Salwak. A typical range of acts includes balancing telephones on handkerchiefs and life-sized dolls performing choreographed dance routines to traditional music. The local performers Salwak encountered on his trips cherished every new trick acquired and pleaded with him to share current "world trends" on magic.
--The culmination of Kim Jong Il's investment in the arts took place this past April at the Grand Magic Show, a tribute to the late Kim Il Sung. Like his father, Kim Jong Il appears to hold a great interest in magic and the circus, dating back to the country's early history of Soviet influence. In a place where high-tech entertainment is hard to come by, the Grand Magic Show dazzled a crowd of 150,000 at May Day Stadium, which is the site of the Arirang Games, an annual two-month-long gymnastics festival also in honor of Kim Il Sung. As a spectator at the Grand Magic Show, Salwak watched as the country's most famous magician, Kim Chol, appeared in a cloud of smoke and fireworks, forcing a bus full of giddy local residents to levitate several feet above the ground, and later, make a horse, an elephant and a helicopter materialize out of thin air. What would have otherwise invoked a roaring response from a typical American audience, the crowd respectfully cheered with subdued, tepid applause.
SHAUN TANDON/AFP/Getty Images
As a public service, Best Defense is offering this primer for generals on their way to Afghanistan.
Here is a list of 19 things that many insiders and veterans of Afghanistan agree to be true about the war there, but that generals can't say in public. So, general, read this now and believe it later-but keep your lip zipped. Maybe even keep a printout in your wallet and review before interviews.
My list of things to remember I can't say
- Pakistan is now an enemy of the United States.
- We don't know why we are here, what we are fighting for, or how to know if we are winning.
- The strategy is to fight, talk, and build. But we're withdrawing the fighters, the Taliban won't talk, and the builders are corrupt.
- Karzai's family is especially corrupt.
- We want President Karzai gone but we don't have a Pushtun successor handy.
- But the problem isn't corruption, it is which corrupt people are getting the dollars. We have to help corruption be more fair.
- Another thing we'll never stop here is the drug traffic, so the counternarcotics mission is probably a waste of time and resources that just alienates a swath of Afghans.
- Making this a NATO mission hurt, not helped. Most NATO countries are just going through the motions in Afghanistan as the price necessary to keep the US in Europe
- Yes, the exit deadline is killing us.
- Even if you got a deal with the Taliban, it wouldn't end the fighting.
- The Taliban may be willing to fight forever. We are not.
- Yes, we are funding the Taliban, but hey, there's no way to stop it, because the truck companies bringing goods from Pakistan and up the highway across Afghanistan have to pay off the Taliban. So yeah, your tax dollars are helping Mullah Omar and his buddies. Welcome to the neighborhood.
- Even non-Taliban Afghans don't much like us.
- Afghans didn't get the memo about all our successes, so they are positioning themselves for the post-American civil war .
- And they're not the only ones getting ready. The future of Afghanistan is probably evolving up north now as the Indians, Russians and Pakistanis jockey with old Northern Alliance types. Interestingly, we're paying more and getting less than any other player.
- Speaking of positioning for the post-American civil war, why would the Pakistanis sell out their best proxy shock troops now?
- The ANA and ANP could break the day after we leave the country.
- We are ignoring the advisory effort and fighting the "big war" with American troops, just as we did in Vietnam. And the U.S. military won't act any differently until and work with the Afghan forces seriously until when American politicians significantly draw down U.S. forces in country-when it may be too damn late.
- The situation American faces in Afghanistan is similar to the one it faced in Vietnam during the Nixon presidency: A desire a leave and turn over the war to our local allies, combined with the realization that our allies may still lose, and the loss will be viewed as a U.S. defeat anyway.
Thanks to several people who contributed to this, from California to Kunar and back to DC, and whose names must not be mentioned! You know who you are. The rest of you, look at the guy sitting to your right.
Let's review the month:
--My condolences to the families of the SEALs lost on Aug. 5. Oddly, I think I know the valley where they went down -- I remember going to a picnic near there in the spring of 1971. We also used to go skiing about 15 or 20 miles NE of the crash site. Even had a rope tow, and nice views of the Koh-i-Baba range.
--I'm not fed up with President Obama. I agree with the observation I saw that he is less reckless than his political opponents. I don't think he has been given sufficient credit for that.
--But I am fed up with Obama's Lincoln imitation. Here he is in Iowa in mid-August: "First of all, democracy is always a messy business in a big country like this. We're diverse, got a lot of points of view. We kind of romanticize sometimes what democracy used to be like. But when you listen to what the Federalists said about the anti- Federalists and the names that Jefferson called Hamilton and back and forth -- I mean, those guys were tough. Lincoln, they used to talk about him almost as bad as they talk about me." Actually, they talked much worse about Lincoln, and the country was in a much worse situation.
--Nice job wrapping up the Libyan war. This strikes me as a victory for the Libyan rebels, for NATO and for Obama. Turned out leading from the rear worked -- the United States achieved its aim, yet is not on the hook for the aftermath. Let the Libyans figure it out. Not one American died in this fight, as that is a good thing, in many ways. Was this Suez '56 in reverse?
--Commentary on the British youff riots struck me as a mirror in which everyone blamed it on whatever they didn't like. Col. Blimp types blamed multiculturalism. (I actually think Europe doesn't have a multi-culture--we Americans do have one, and it works, generally. The UK and the Euros simply have societies that generally tolerate the presence of other minority cultures.) My favorite column blamed the Americanization of Britain, as if we invented riots.
-If corporations are people, as candidate Romney asserts, why can't they be sentenced to jail, like regular people? Or even executed, like they do in Texas?
--And then there was this headline of the day:Liberia's General Butt Naked seeks redemption
Maybe first, put on some pants.
I was surprised to see Ronald Wilson Reagan and Woodrow Wilson almost tie as the worst presidents of the 20th century. Reagan led most of the week, but Wilson pulled by him yesterday afternoon -- only to be edged out in the final tally when I shut down voting at 9 A.M. eastern time this morning.
I understand Wilson's showing -- both the pacifist left and the non-interventionist right loathe him, as well as many people who simply see him as a racist. But I suspect Reagan's high score says a lot about the readers of this blog. Based on comments posted on this blog and notes to my blog e-mailbox, you guys really think Reagan was a bad president. I suspect his surprise near-"win" is due in part to a growing distaste with tax-cutting ideologues who seem blithely unaware of the damage they do. Sample comment from Boone, N.C.: "with his half-baked political philosophy, Reagan set this country on its present course to ruin."
The surprise to me is how even the voting was. After Reagan and Wilson, it basically is close to a scatter-shot tie between the rest -- Harding, Lyndon Johnson and Nixon clumped together, followed by Carter and Hoover, who also tied. And old Coolidge brought up the rear with one vote.
I was impressed that one Marine intelligence analyst in Afghanistan took the time to send in an anti-Harding vote. Another military e-mail voted against Richard Nixon, not for the usual reasons of corruption and such, but because, he wrote, "He's helped the Chinese more than he's helped Americans. We're still paying for his foreign policy coup since most of our manufacturing is now over there."
And you all certainly don't agree with me about JFK. In fact, there was not a single whole vote for him as worst president of the century, although one person gave him a half vote, and several offered him 2nd place, maybe just to be nice to me. Reading over the discussion and notes, I've been persuaded that he was not the worst president of the 20th century, but probably the most over-rated. (Though of course many of you would give that title to Reagan.)
I'm also surprised that Lyndon Johnson didn't get more votes. And apparently people have forgiven Bill Clinton his inability keep all his body parts inside his clothing -- not a single person named him, despite the apparent bias against Southern Democrats (Wilson, Carter, Johnson) in the polling. And yes, Wilson was a Southern Democrat. He received one of the most succinct votes: "On any consequentialist reading, whether you are realist or liberal in international relations, the worst American president in the international realm of all time. On civil rights, more retrograde than any American politician since Andrew Johnson."
Here is the final tally:
1. Ronald Reagan
2. Woodrow Wilson 17
3. Warren Harding 9
4. Richard Nixon 9
5. Lyndon Johnson 8
6. Herbert Hoover 7
7. Jimmy Carter 7
8. Calvin Coolidge 1
9. JFK .5
The candidates, according to you, are:
I'm only including FDR because someone nominated him. I'd actually say he was the best president of the century, and one of our top five overall. George W. Bush, alas, is not eligible, though as we have discussed he might have retired the crown for the 21st century.
You can post a comment, or e-mail me at the address above the little postage stamp foto of me on the right hand side of this page.
And here are two of his e-mails to me in response to my
Friday post about how I had come to think Kennedy
was a terrible president. I disagree with what he says here, but I think it
is worth considering.
By Fred Kaplan
Best Defense department of defending JFK
Just to state a few points on the question of whether JFK was a terrible president:
(1) Yes, he listened to Taylor and other hawks early on, but the Cuban missile crisis, which you glide over, was a turning point. The real significance (which I've gleaned from a close examination of the tapes) is that, quite early on (the 4th day), JFK was looking for how to give Khrushchev a face-saving way out; that when Khrushchev offered the secret trade (his Cuban missiles for our Turkish ones), JFK wanted to take it right away, while everyone -- and I mean everyone around the table (except, significantly, George Ball) -- was adamantly opposed. I think that the crisis taught him that all those smart experts sitting around the table weren't any smarter than he was. (He was beginning to see this point during the Laos crisis, when his generals behaved like bureaucrats -- the Army wanted to invade, the Air Force wanted to send B52s, the Navy wanted to send carrier groups.) Another key thing: JFK told six people that he was taking the deal and swore them to secrecy. Among the people he did not tell was LBJ. This was a critical mistake, as it left intact a false lesson of the crisis, which JFK's successors (including LBJ) applied to Vietnam. (McGeorge Bundy concedes this point in his memoir.)
As I studied the Vietnam war over the last 14 months, I began to think that John F. Kennedy probably was the worst American president of the previous century.
In retrospect, he spent his 35 months in the White House stumbling from crisis to fiasco. He came into office and okayed the Bay of Pigs invasion. Then he went to a Vienna summit conference and got his clock cleaned by Khrushchev. That led to, among other things, the Cuban missile crisis and a whiff of nuclear apocalypse.
Looming over it all is the American descent into Vietnam. The assassination of Vietnam's President Diem on Kennedy's watch may have been one of the two biggest mistakes of the war there. (The other was the decision to wage a war of attrition on the unexamined assumption that Hanoi would buckle under the pain.) I don't buy the theory promulgated by Robert McNamara and others that Kennedy would have kept U.S. troops out. Sure, Kennedy wanted out of Vietnam -- just like Lyndon Johnson wanted out a few years later: We'll scale down our presence after victory is secure. And much more than Johnson, Kennedy was influenced by General Maxwell Taylor, who I suspect had been looking for a "small war" mission for the Army for several years. Indochina looked like a peachy place for that -- warmer than Korea, and farther from Russia.
(As a side note, there's another coup that JFK supported earlier in 1963: the Baathist one in Iraq that chucked out a pro-Soviet general. Events in subsequent decades obviously are not Kennedy's fault, but it still is interesting to look at the documents. Here's a State Department sitrep from, of all dates, Nov. 21, 1963: "Initial appraisal cabinet named November 20 is that it contains some moderate Baathis. Of twenty-one ministers, seven are holdovers from previous cabinet, thirteen are civilians, four are from moderate Shabib-Jawad faction of Baath (Defense -- Tikriti; Communications -- Abd al-Latif; Education -- Jawari; Health -- Mustafa) and a number of technician-type civil servants." Did you notice the name of that defense minister? I think this might have been Saddam Hussein's uncle.)
Anyway, I think his track record kind of makes even old Herbert Hoover look good.
Tom Ricks, was born in Massachusetts and is the grandson and great-grandson of Democratic politicians there.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.