This might be more interesting than the usual zipper problem that affects captains. I can't remember the last time recalled. The reason given by a Navy spokesman was "inappropriate leadership judgment," which I found oddly encouraging, because it might mean there was a problem of professional competence, rather just the usual issue of sleeping with subordinates.
Our Marine captain who asked for career advice writes to summarize the incoming he got from youse:
After Tom posted my previous email on Friday, I was taken aback with the sheer volume of great emails and blog comments on the matter (at last count, 25 emails and 23 comments). I suspect I am not the only Best Defense reader in this position, so I've compiled some of the general trends of advice that I've received.
As a first point, almost EVERYONE recommended taking time off to decompress and relax before beginning school or work (or at least no one recommended against taking time off). Most valuable were the comments from former officers who jumped immediately from their July EAS into an August start for work or school and found it miserable. The general consensus seems to be that anyone separating from the military should take two to three months before jumping into the civilian world to allow for a clean mental and spiritual break. The recommendations for how to use this time included international travel, bike trips, road trips, spending time with family, reading, introspection, and anything else that was difficult to accomplish while on active duty.
After the consensus on taking some time off, the advice on internships split roughly 50/50 between an internship in government and the private sector. This split was interesting and unexpected, both because I never mentioned any interest in the private sector (although I am interested, as the business school admission may have indicated) and because I would have expected advice from Best Defense readers to skew more towards the DOD than it did. Several emails recommended specifically against any government internships, if for no other reason than to allow for a cleaner transition from active duty to civilian life. For those who did recommend an internship in the public sector, Congress was the clear favorite, with the Senate specifically mentioned as a better option than the House. Some responses implied that these positions were very difficult to obtain and that a clearance would not transfer, while others said the exact opposite. I'm not sure who is correct, so maybe someone with more experience on Capitol Hill can provide some commentary.
MANPREET ROMANA/AFP/Getty Images
That's the accusation being made by some unhappy with Powell's endorsement of Obama.
Look, I have been critical of General Powell. I think he was overrated as a general. No one could be as good as people held him out to be. He bears part (but not most) of the responsibility for the botched ending of the 1991 Gulf War. We didn't need to go to Baghdad, but we certainly should not have given Saddam Hussein the victory he thought he won by taking on the Americans and their allies and surviving. Also, I think Powell was a disaster as a secretary of State, because he paved the way for the invasion of Iraq with a speech at the U.N. that we know to be almost entirely wrong in its assertions. He will spend the rest of his life apologizing for that.
But it is a calumny to call him an affirmative action general. I have looked closely at Powell's career, and I think he was a very clever, energetic, ambitious man, much like Eisenhower. But I don't think presidents choose their national security advisors or Joint Chiefs chairmen as affirmative action moves.
What is most striking to me is the similarity between Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf. Both were from the New York area, both were commissioned in the late 1950s, and both served two tours in Vietnam, one as an advisor, and then one with the Americal (cq) Division. The difference between the two is not their skin color, but that Powell understood better how Washington works.
So, a Washington general? Certainly. But an affirmative action general? Unfair and inaccurate.
You can post comments below, or if you like, write to him directly at email@example.com.
I am an active duty Marine Corps Captain, and a regular reader of your blog. I will be separating from the military soon to attend Harvard Business School next fall. My question for the combined wisdom of your readers is what I should do with my time until school? I have some flexibility with dates, so should I stay in the Marines for a few more months of mundane admin work? Take a well-deserved long vacation after years of training and deployment? I am a signals intelligence officer with an active TS/SCI clearance, and in my perfect world would like to intern (paid or unpaid) in the DC area at the White House, Pentagon, or one of the intel agencies. Do these internships even exist? Any and all advice would be appreciated.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Earlier this month a report came out over the military newswire with news that for the first time narcotic detection dogs and bomb detection dogs were patrolling together. It was part of Operation Clean Sweep in Kandahar City, where the 563rd Military Police Company joined with Afghan police officers for a mission that included coordinated "traffic control points" while compounds were searched and cleared.
The idea behind adding the drug dog to the search was, according to one of the 563rd's platoon leaders 1st Lt. Megan Conroy, to show Afghan Uniform Police "how to handle drug finds and process the offenders."
Adam Serella, the handler in the photo above, said the combination of the two kinds of detection dogs allows for increased safety; the bomb dog go through first, clear an area so the drug dog team can come in and work without worry.
Above, Sgt. Adam Serella, a narcotics patrol detector dog handler with me 3rd Infantry Division, ensures his dog, Nero, inspects every level of a compound in Kandahar City, on Oct. 3.
Spc. Tyler Meister
At a commander's call earlier this week, I am told, the new commandant of the Army War College disclosed that 10 civilian faculty members are being let go.
My PME correspondent "Alejandro" writes thusly:
"The Commandant of the Army War College, Major General Anthony A. Cucolo III, decided to reduce the personnel budget to meet this objective. He directed that the next round of personnel cuts come directly from the Title 10 faculty -- the civilian scholars, instructors, and retired practitioners teaching the resident course. These are the core faculty implementing the core mission of the school: educating senior leaders.
He reportedly did so in the belief that TRADOC would reject a cut to the core faculty, perhaps affecting some of the college¹s most prominent academics, thus preserve positions across the college.
His gamble failed and 10 civilian scholars, whose positions were offered up in a bureaucratic gambit, will be told this week that their appointments will not be renewed. Indeed, some may be let go sooner.
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.
That question had never occurred to me until I was driving along the Mass Pike yesterday to the Motel 6 in Springfield, and thinking about Paul Kennedy's analysis of the strategic positions of France and England in the 17th century.
The British strategic situation was relatively easy to discern: As an island, it was clear that it had foremost had to be a seapower. But France had both land and sea to consider. Moreover, like the United States, it had to weigh how to protect two major non-continuous coasts. The result for France, writes Kennedy, "was to cause an ambivalence in national strategy for the next few centuries, for it was never clear to her leaders how much attention could be devoted to building up sea power as opposed to land power."
Anyone know of a good essay that explores this dilemma in the context of the French and the Americans? Does the United States need to be foremost a seapower or a landpower (or an airpower or a cyberpower)? It is like we have five coasts.
Reacting with alacrity to Monday night's bo-ring debate, my friend Tim Noah had the gumption to find the last American who led a cavalry charge. It was Lt. Edwin P. Ramsey, in January 1942 in the Philippines. (Unless you wanna count 5th SF Group riding with the Northern Alliance in northern Afghanistan in 2001, but that was more indirect approach, not conventional U.S. forces.)
Horse cavalrymen must have been pretty tough hombres. Lt. Price is now 95 years old, and hanging out in Los Angeles -- not unlike Wyatt Earp did a century ago, I guess. When the Japanese prevailed (temporarily) in the Philippines, Ramsey went underground and became a guerrilla leader.
Two possibly related questions: How many American WiFi signals can you pick up from the middle of Bagram Air Base? (A: 54.) How many Taliban WiFi signals can you pick up? (A: Zero.)
Finally, a little-known bayonet fact: O.P. Smith, one of our greatest generals and one of our most under-rated, once did a study of the use of the bayonet in World War I and concluded it was over-rated. He even interviewed surgeons about the wounds that they saw and concluded that the bayonet was actually used very little. I write a little about this in my new book, which has a chapter on him. Another little-known fact: Smith, though a Marine, studied under George C. Marshall at Fort Benning.
By Jim Gourley and Mike Gore
Best Defense gory analysts
Last night's presidential debate on foreign policy is already old news, with most commentators hanging their hats on "horses and bayonets." History will no doubt remember these as some of the most memorable words of the campaign. But beyond declarations of winners, losers, and meme-worthy moments, the real significance of the dialogue lies in other words both spoken and unspoken.
An analysis of key terms indicates how the candidates' arguments represent the greater American dialogue on foreign policy. There were several items mentioned enough times to merit a Twitter hashtag. Others were peculiarly absent.
A foreign policy discussion usually involves relations with other countries, so it's probably most informative to assess which countries came up most often in the conversation. According to the transcript from last night's debate, the rank-ordered list is:
Latin America: 4
North Korea: 1
It is evident that the single issue represented by tensions between Israel and Iran allow them to trump China, which presents a vast array of foreign policy challenges for the United States. It is also puzzling that Iran and Syria can be mentioned more than four and twice as many times as Russia, respectively, when that country is so instrumental in shielding them in the U.N. Security Council, not to mention its resurgence as a power broker in its own right. Afghanistan, the only country where the American military is actively engaged in a full-scale war, is number six.
Also remarkable are those left unmentioned. Completely left out of the discussion are the United States' closest neighbors, as well as Palestine, the diplomatic gravity of which is inescapable by the second-most talked about country in the debate. Especially troubling is Mexico. When one considers the political instability, rising violence and influence of the cartels, the infiltration of drug gangs into the United States, and the increasing sophistication of their networks, it is arguable that narco-terrorism to the south is a greater existential threat to national security than fundamentalist terrorism based overseas.
To further contextualize the shift in American foreign policy dialogue, we examined the transcripts for all three debates during the 2000 presidential election and select phrases in the 2008 foreign policy debate. None of the debates focused on specific issues, which led us to aggregate the total mentions in conversation. The countries, by number of mentions:
Middle East: 18
A comparison before and after 9/11 indicates significant changes in the dialogue. Before 2001, only two countries in the Middle East were mentioned by name in the debates. The rest were considered part of a larger amalgam. In 2012, half a dozen are mentioned by name. Though Russia is arguably as relevant today as it was then, it only received half as many by-name references in this debate. This precipitous decline in noteworthiness seems only to have occurred in the last four years. In the 2008 foreign policy debate, it was tied with Iran for most-mentioned country with 31 by-name references.
There was also no mention of Europe last night, which twelve years ago was the third-highest trending word in the debate. This is especially relevant in the context of Afghanistan and Iraq. Despite the support received from allies in both wars and the prominence of NATO's role in Afghanistan now, NATO was not mentioned a single time in this debate. In 2000 it came up fifteen times in the course of three debates.
Other proportions seem odd. Mali's name was spoken five times with regard to the emergent terrorist threat there, while Yemen and Somalia only received mention in passing despite our existent military presence there for the same reasons. Though the last combat troops were declared withdrawn from Iraq over a year ago, that country was still mentioned more times than Afghanistan. Interestingly, this is a repeat of the 2008 foreign policy debate, in which Iraq out-mentioned Afghanistan by a margin of 35 to 33. Though the fear of nuclear proliferation drove much of the conversation, North Korea was only mentioned once.
There are indications that the United States' foreign policy dialogue has been gradually yet increasingly laced with the vocabulary of fear and force. "9/11" still found its way into the debate on three occasions, while "Arab Spring" only came up once. The word "threat" was used ten times in three debates in 2000. In the 2008 foreign policy debate it surfaced 17 times. It was uttered 25 times last night. It appears that "nuclear" is the only type of threat the candidates cared to discuss. It came up 38 times during the debate, compared to only one mention apiece of cyber and space (both by the President, neither of which he elaborated on). "Military" was mentioned 49 times compared to 56 twelve years ago. Forms of "diplomacy" came up only one-fifth as many. Curiously, in the context of the looming sequestration threat, references to defense and military spending were approximately the same -- six times in 2000 versus seven times in this debate.
Still other causes for concern exist when last night's potent potables are considered in light of this decidedly economy-driven election. The word "economy" came up 25 times; the same number of mentions as "threat." But if economics are so tied to American foreign policy concerns, there is a perplexing absence of certain countries in the discussion. Mexico has already been mentioned, but India, Argentina, Japan, Germany and South Korea join it in the cast of unmentionables.
In all, the debate primarily revolved around American preoccupation with fears of imminent danger and hostility. The candidates spoke to the issues in a distinctly martial dialect. The prevalence of key terms and the glaring omission of others leads one to wonder if the candidates believe politics is the conduct of war by other means. Both candidates are certainly knowledgeable about countries and issues beyond those discussed, but their time was limited. With that said, it is a rational conclusion that the debate was limited to those items perceived as most important to the American public consciousness. Such being the case, this debate was a disconcerting indication that Americans' fixation with bayonets is more troubling than it appears.
Mike Gore is a Journalism and Communications Student at Western Washington University. Jim Gourley is Best Defense's number one commenter.
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
I thought I had some sort of responsibility to listen to last night's debate, so I tried. But this time I lasted only 7 minutes. When Romney's voice started feeling like chalk screeching on the blackboard, the book I'm reading about small boats in big weather suddenly seemed much more interesting. (I'm in the chapter on using drogues as sea anchors.) Andrew Sullivan carries the best summary of the debate: Romney's argument was, "I will lead America the same way, but with more leadership!"
But Jim Gourley has a longer attention span, so he will analyze the debate for us today.
Congratulations to Fort Bragg's Sgt. Saral Shrestha.
The ability of the United States to attract talent and determination from around the world is one of its great strengths.
John Wilkens points out something I hadn't realized: "It's the first time in 80 years that there are no veterans on either major-party ticket for the White House. The last time it happened, in 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt defeated Herbert Hoover."
And even then, FDR had served as assistant Navy secretary, leading him to identify with that service even years later. I recall reading somewhere that he used to tease George Marshall by referring to the Navy as "us" and the Army as "them."
By Col. Jason Brown, USAF
Best Defense guest columnist
In years to come, historians will ask important questions about the role of power in the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns. Specifically, they will ask how Afghanistan became America's longest war, and how we were able to invade and leave Iraq within the bookends of the Afghan conflict. It is especially hard to understand how we recovered power in Iraq after Abu Ghraib and a fractious civil war. Although arguments over what we accomplished in Iraq will endure for years, we regained enough power to leave Iraq without a debate. We subsequently attempted to carry the momentum of the Iraq counterinsurgency campaign to Afghanistan in 2009, but still struggle to achieve something resembling the ambiguous success in Iraq. The disappointment in Afghanistan goes beyond a misapplication of what worked in Iraq; the power equation between Iraq and Afghanistan was altogether different.
In war, power wins. Individuals often confuse military might with power, but in reality, there are many power factors relevant to the outcome of war. Power flows from diplomatic, political, and economic strength as well as strategic, operational, and tactical effectiveness. Sound analysis of warfare will avoid focusing on any one of these sources, and will instead examine relevant power, which accounts for the interplay of power sources within the context of conditions and rivals in a war.
In both Iraq and Afghanistan, our relevant power ebbed and flowed due to changes in our power sources. We did not have adequate power to influence conditions in Iraq before 2007 due to limitations across the power spectrum, from diplomacy to military tactics. Changes in leadership and an effective counterinsurgency campaign adjusted our relevant power to influence the human terrain, the adversary, and the diplomatic and political environment. While many credit the increase in U.S. troops as the key factor in the Iraq campaign, in reality political settlements with the Sunni population, a counterproductive terror campaign by Al Qaeda, and the decision by Iran to no longer incite Shia resistance had greater impacts on stability and thus increased the coalition's relevant power. As conditions changed in Iraq, military coercion became relevant when we coupled it with an acceptable political alternative. In contrast, increasing economic pressures, tensions with Iran and Pakistan, and corruption within the Karzai government have likely created insurmountable conditions for a similar outcome in Afghanistan. Consequently, our military-centric Afghanistan "surge" lacked the political component which boosted our relevant power in Iraq.
Additionally, the Taliban affected the power equation in Afghanistan by using available time and space, provided by our shift in focus to Iraq, to mitigate our counterinsurgency campaign. The Taliban attacked our strategy directly by weathering drone strikes in their Pakistan safe havens, and adopting tactics with strategic payoff-namely IED, high profile, and insider attacks. They understand the parameters of our relevant power in Afghanistan, and to some degree, they learned how to leverage their own power to counter ours.
To understand the relevant power equation between Iraq and Afghanistan, we must keep two things in mind. First, we cannot assume political, economic, or military strength will translate from one conflict to another or will even endure throughout a war. Because power fluctuates between and within wars, the conditions that define a conflict provide the first measuring stick for relevant power. Conditions in Iraq were eventually ripe for our power to influence the political and security situation. Not so in Afghanistan. Second, we cannot always compensate for deficiencies in one source of power by increasing strength in another. War is a duel, and any ability to adjust or adapt depends on the capability of our adversary to do the same. The Taliban exploited conditions to evolve into a strategically savvy opponent, whereas Al Qaeda in Iraq diminished due to their own strategic ineffectiveness. Our relevant power depends on internal factors as well as the external ability of our opponent to counter our strengths, exploit our weaknesses, and adapt and influence at a faster rate.
Power plays the leading role in war, but assessing power is not straightforward. Iraq and Afghanistan proved power in war is neither broadly applicable nor enduring, it is relevant to changes in conditions, our opponents, and ourselves. Good strategy must account for the give-and-take between power sources, and their changing value within and between conflicts. It is far easier for strategists to measure strength in isolation and assume it translates to power, but that shortcut does not serve them well when preparing for war. Success in war requires an understanding of when and how to expend or preserve power -- and when and how to end a war in order to retain future freedom of action. The consequences for misunderstanding relevant power could cause a nation with considerable military might to lose a war by stubbornly pursuing an unrealistic end state, significantly draining its power in the process. Avoiding that outcome requires asking two simple questions. When told our nation inherently possesses power due to military, political and economic strength, our military strategists and the policymakers they serve should ask, "power to do what ... to whom?"
Colonel Jason Brown is an active duty Air Force officer attending the Air War College. He is a graduate of the Marine Corps School of Advanced Warfighting. He commanded the 13th Intelligence Squadron and has deployed to multiple locations including Iraq and Afghanistan. The conclusions and opinions expressed are those of the author. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force, or Air University.
A spell of lousy weather recently enabled me to finish putting together bookcases and then unpack the remaining boxes of military-related books I had in the basement. Now I have all books on military affairs in one place, and shelved, except for perhaps 50 volumes at my office at CNAS, and about 16 feet of military reference books I also have in DC.
There were a few surprises to me in shelving the books. First, how many books I now have on the Iraq war. Second, how few I have on the American Civil War -- a surprise in part because I feel like I've read too much about it, compared to the rest of American and global military history.
So I got out a tape measure to begin comparing the sections by size, measured in terms to shelf space occupied.
The big winner was World War II, with 32 feet of books. This is not a surprise because I just finished writing a book that begins with eight chapters on American generals in World War II. I've read almost all of these except a couple of fairly recent books on Churchill. The case is similar for most sections, except as noted.
The second biggest section was the U.S. war in Iraq, with a total of 31 feet. But the Vietnam War was surprisingly close behind, with 27 feet. This surprised me because I went to Iraq 14 times but have only made one, short trip to Vietnam, decades after the war there ended. The Vietnam section likely will grow in the next year and pass the Iraq section, because I am thinking about writing a book on the Vietnam War.
The next biggest section isn't really a section -- it is an overarching "general U.S. military history from all over the place," like Russell Weigley's classic The American Way of War. It came in at 12 feet.
That's also about the size of the section on the American Revolution, but I have read very few of those. I assembled the collection because I thought I might write a book on George Washington's early military career, and how it shaped his approach to the Revolution, but no one seems much interested in having me do such a book.
In sixth place was the Korean War, with 9 feet. I feel like I have read pretty much everything worthwhile on that one.
Just behind that was the "literature of war" section, which is novels, plays, poetry and literary memoirs, which came in at just under 9 feet. (One-third of that was WWII, one-third was stuff from the last 30 years, and one third was other, such as World War I poetry and John Masters' Bugles and a Tiger.)
The intelligence section measured 7 feet, but that overstates my interest. I have only read about half of this section. Also, about 2 feet of it is old congressional reports on intelligence from the 1970s I saved because I once thought I might write about that someday. But with the passage of time the subject seems less compelling
Next was World War I, at 5 feet long. That surprised me because I don't feel I know that much about that war.
At 4 feet
--Terrorism, of which one foot is "getting bin Laden."
--American Civil War. As I say, I thought it would be more.
--"Other '90s section: Haiti, Somalia, etc": 4 feet
--Ancient military history, general military theory/strategy
military history, from Crusades to the present.
--U.S. Navy, general history
--Air Force, ditto
--Special operations. If I included the "getting bin Laden" section here, it would be 3.5 feet-that is, bigger than my collections on the Navy and Air Force. The American public loves reading about Special Operators, and so publishers churn out these books and mail them to me. I haven't read a lot of these books.
--Pakistan/India (haven't read many of them)
--U.S. military personnel issues (manning the force, women in military, gays in military)
--U.S. wars in Balkans in '90s
--Military transformation (no one remembers but this was a hot issue in the '90s)
century British military history, excluding wars with U.S.: 2 feet
--Marine Corps, general history : 1.5 feet. I thought there would be more, but I guess many of the Marine books are in the war sections, especially World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
--Nuclear weapons: 1.5 feet, but haven't read most of them. I always have found the subject kind of boring.
--Military-media relations: 1 foot
Remember Lt. Gen. William "My God is stronger than yours" Boykin? It turns out he thinks that the United States is on the verge of economic collapse, and that martial law could be declared.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Harley, an IDD dog, was one of many Marines with 1st Combat Engineer Battalion deployed on a June mission supporting Operation Jaws in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province. Their goal was to clear the area of IEDs and create safe passage for troops moving within and through the area and "to aid infantry maneuvering and delivery of supplies." Over the course of the ten-day mission, which included not only the efforts of explosive-detecting Harley, his handler, and their unit, but those of the supporting Afghan National Army teams and other Marine battalions.
Though the teams were attacked while conducting their searches -- hit with RPG rounds and small arms fire by insurgents in attempt to dislodge their efforts -- the mission was deemed a success, their finds boasting upwards of 15 IEDs and an anti-tank explosive.
"My guys did fantastic; I am super proud of them," said Staff Sgt. Gerhard Tauss. "We got into a firefight and they performed admirably; exactly how we trained them to. They kept their cool and I am lucky to have them in my platoon."
Above Harley takes a break in the back of a vehicle on June 23.
Cpl. Anthony Ward Jr
I wish generals and admirals would get out of the business of endorsing presidential candidates. It's a bad business and can only result in politicization of the relationship between our presidents and our military leaders.
The upside of this list is that it is very heavy on Marines and Navy, and surprisingly light on Army generals (with the notable exception of Tommy R. Franks!). Is the Army the most reliably obedient of our services? I remember an admiral saying at the Naval War College that the Navy is a golden retriever, the Air Force is an airedale, and the Army is a loyal Labrador. (He wasn't sure if the Marines were mastiffs or pitbulls.)
By "Tyrtaios" and "Jpwrel"
Best Defense royal office of Royal Navy affairs
Both of us are interested in naval history and have visited HMS Victory in Portsmouth, England, albeit in different ways. As a young Marine officer aboard the USS Trenton, one of us has lunched and drank toasts to Admiral Lord Nelson at CINC NAV Home, Nelson's old headquarters in Portsmouth, England. At this Navy function where a leathery captain of Royal Marines recognized the young Marine as surely as a mustang and made sure he was adequately supplied with jiggers of British Navy rum.
The other one of us culminated a long interest in the Royal Navy's history and its naval architecture by also visiting and intimately inspecting HMS Victory, but in much less rousing form. From the depths of its rarely seen original keelson to its quarterdeck and Nelson's private quarters, he has studied this ship in detail accompanied by the assistant curator of the National Maritime Museum.
The question we want to pose is this: Do we still have commanders that embrace the spirit of "No captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of the enemy," or have we become so reliant on technology and information flow that we allow opportunity to slip away?
"No captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of the enemy." And so it was on October 21, 1805, off Cape Trafalgar, near Cadiz, Spain, two fleets engaged each other to decide who would be master of the seas, the British or Bonaparte and his Spanish allies.
Shortly before engaging the enemy, as the British fleet slowly approached the combined French and Spanish line, Admiral Nelson hoisted a flag signal to his fleet that said: "ENGLAND EXPECTS THAT EVERY MAN WILL DO HIS DUTY." From the quarterdeck on his flagship HMS Victory, the Royal Navy's most gifted admiral commanded a fleet of twenty-seven ships of the line.
Although outnumbered, by executing some unorthodox tactics that would divide his enemy into three segments, Nelson smashed through the line of battle of the thirty-three French and Spanish vessels. A French officer remarked later, "This manner of engaging was contrary to the most simple prudence . . ." And as John Terraine wrote, "That it did not produce a disaster was due entirely to the immense superiority in seamanship, gunnery and morale of the British fleet . . . All factors Nelson was of course fully aware of."
The three-decker Victory that Nelson commanded from, alongside his friend and Flag Captain Thomas Hardy, displayed more than 100 guns, a few of them the new and devastating 68-pound cannons mounted on the forecastle. With its crew of eight hundred, Victory bore down on the French in light air at 3 knots. Engaging first the French flagship Bucentar to port with a raking broadside through her stern galleries and then the French Redoubtable to starboard, Nelson ordered another signal to his fleet, "ENGAGE THE ENEMY MORE CLOSELY."
Cannon fire, grapeshot, musket balls, and deadly splinters of ship's wood destroyed and maimed all in their path. Victory's steering wheel was smashed to bits. All the while, and against the wishes of Hardy, and wearing his finest uniform making himself a more conspicuous target, Nelson calmly paced up and down in clear view of the enemy.
Shortly into the battle, Nelson's personal secretary John Scott was sliced in two by a cannon ball that blew his body parts over the side leaving just scraps of him on deck. Nelson observed one scrap included a silver buckle torn from Scott's shoe, and the Admiral was heard to exclaim, "This is too warm work Hardy to last long!"
The British pressed further to breach their enemies line of battle engaging them with both port and starboard batteries. Both sides were raked with gunfire at close quarters. Masts and rigging fell. Victory and Redoubtable were so close that their rigging entangled side by side as they exchanged point-blank gunfire.
It would be Nelson's friend Hardy that would turn to see Nelson fall to the deck on the exact spot where Scott was killed earlier. The gold braiding was torn from Nelson's epaulet the Admiral having been shot through his left shoulder. The Admiral's spine was also broken and surely he must have known he would not survive the fight.
During a hot sea battle in those days, it was customary to throw the mortally wounded and the dead over the side. However, Captain Hardy ordered that Nelson be carried below. There he died three hours later, perhaps knowing, but not seeing, he had won a great victory at Trafalgar. Nineteen enemy ships had been sunk or captured versus not a single British ship lost and four more of the escaping French ships would be captured two weeks later by Adm. Collingwood, Nelson's able successor.
After the battle, HMS Victory put into Gibraltar for repairs where legend has it that Nelson's body was placed in a large cask of brandy, although some say rum, to preserve it for the long voyage back to England, whereupon arrival back in England, the cask was opened and Nelson's preserved body removed. And it is here that the legend is further embellished in that the brandy was seen to be almost gone. Had the jack tar sailors, probably under the winking watchful eyes of enlisted Royal Marines drilled a small hole at the base of the cask through which they drained the brandy, and with that drank the blood of their Admiral?
I think President Obama lost the debate last night, not because he screwed up, but because the whole debate was so damn boring. I'm an Obama fan, and I turned it off at 9:37 to go read a book, which turned out to be a better use of my time.
Political journalists will go on and on today about the debate, but remember, they had to watch the whole thing, and got paid to do that and also to yak about it. I think that skews their judgment -- they lacked the reasonable option the rest of us had, of just turning it off.
The Miami Herald reports that last June, an Afghan prisoner at Guantanamo Bay sent a note to his lawyer stating that, "LeBron James is very bad man. He shuld [sic] apologise to the city of Cleveland." Under Gitmo rules, this assertion by Muhammed Rahim was classified for two months.
I've been reading a terrific short history of The Company, which argues that the corporation -- not the state, religion or political party -- is the basic unit of modern society, and in fact the biggest change in centuries the way society organizes itself.
The first big modern companies were American railroads, which came out of nowhere in the 19th century, they write. Their presence was revolutionary: "In 1891, the army, navy and marines employed a total of 39,492 people. The Pennsylvania Railroad employed over 110,000." Railroads also played a major role in knitting together the nation, they say.
Companies also reflected national characteristics. In part because guilds had a more durable presence in German society, companies preserved the system of apprenticeships -- which, they write, "helps explain the German fascination with training." Factory foremen had more influence on operations. This carried over into the military, they say: "the Germany army gave far more power to non-commissioned officers."
The Arizona Republic turned over the rock at the Arizona National Guard and a bunch of bad things crawled out. Among them are the usual offenses like "sexual abuse, enlistment improprieties, forgery, firearms violations, embezzlement, and assaults."
But this sick stuff really caught my attention:
"Bum hunts" -- Thirty to 35 times in 2007-08, Sgt. 1st Class Michael Amerson, a former "Recruiter of the Year," drove new cadets and prospective enlistees through Phoenix's Sunnyslope community in search of homeless people.
Military investigators were told that Amerson wore his National Guard uniform and drove a government vehicle marked with recruiting insignia as he and other soldiers -- some still minors -- shot transients with paintballs or got them to perform humiliating song-and-dance routines in return for money. During some of these so-called "bum hunts," female recruits said, they were ordered to flash their breasts at transients. Homeless women, conversely, were offered food, money or drinks for showing their breasts.
Amerson, during military interviews, denied paintball assaults but admitted to some wrongdoing. He was demoted to private and given an other-than-honorable discharge. Amerson declined to be interviewed for this story except to say that allegations against him were untrue.
By Al Mauroni
Best Defense guest columnist
In a recent article in The Diplomat, Professor William Martel says that the strategy of containment is dead. He suggests that containment was useful for dealing with past adversaries with certain political ideologies hostile to our own, but not today's adversaries. He suggests that global trade and commerce has made containment an impossible choice, and that Russia, Iran, and China cannot be "contained" as the Soviet Union was during the Cold War.
I'm not so sure I want to write off containment as part of the national security strategy quite yet.
Let's take a look at two recent examples of containment. First there was the strategy to contain Iraq between 1993 and 2002. After the end of the Persian Gulf War, it was in the U.S. government's interest to contain Saddam Hussein's regime without invading and occupying that country. Through a combination of diplomatic initiatives (such as U.N. security resolutions), economic sanctions, overflights of the north and south regions, and a continued military presence in the Gulf region, the U.S. government effectively stopped Iraq from pursuing its goals to annex Kuwait, suppress the Kurdish and Shi'ite populations, and develop a WMD program. In hindsight, it does not appear that Hussein's regime had any practical capability to do anything hostile to U.S. interests that would have warranted an invasion and overthrow of his government.
Today we have a similar discussion about Iran, in particular whether the tools of government power -- diplomacy, intelligence, military, and economic -- have adequate capability to contain that country's ambitions to grow as a regional power. There are constant discussions within the U.N. Security Council on organizing multi-lateral coalitions against Iran's nuclear power program and support to violent extremist organizations. Iran's economy has taken heavy hits as a result of organized sanctions, and it is surrounded by U.S. military bases in the Gulf States. Where, exactly, is containment failing? Professor Martel suggests that Iran is too tied up in "an economic and technological web of global connectedness" for containment to work. Is that why Iran's government is developing intranets for its people and military forces, effectively taking them off the global information grid?
Why does the U.S. government (and other governments) support a containment strategy against certain militant or authoritarian regimes that have hostile ideologies or agendas to our own? It is because that going to war with a country based on emotional rationale that "well we just don't like them and they won't change to be like us" really isn't a good reason. It is also a very expensive way to challenge hostile regimes (see U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, 2002 to 2012). At the least, it's a principle of war -- economy of force -- that allows the U.S. government to selectively decide where to apply its scarce resources and personnel. At the best, containment is a time-honored approach to smart warfighting strategy. As Sun Tzu said, "To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting."
Al Mauroni is a senior policy analyst with the U.S. Air Force, and has more than 25 years experience addressing counter-WMD policy and defense program issues. The views expressed in this paper represent the personal views of the author and are not necessarily the views of the Department of Defense or of the Department of the Air Force.
By Brian Castner
Best Defense book review department
What is the defining image of America's just-concluded war in Iraq? Not the defining weapon, major battle or significant speech. Rather, what is the image every writer and film-maker will feel compelled to use to sum up the stuff of the place, to distill the essence and personality of the war in a single glance? World War I has the screaming horses and clouds of chlorine in the trenches. The western front of World War II evokes a cloud of bomber formation across the sky. Vietnam, the circle of bare-chested soldiers, smoking cigarettes (or more) in the deep jungle. The towers of black smoke from an oil well fire in the First Gulf War. What comes next?
There are several images that have already appeared in a delayed (though now sudden) wave of books and films. The civilian-clothed veteran searching a U.S. interstate for IEDs and reaching for a rifle that is no longer there. A dead body hiding an IED. Orange and white taxis. A native interpreter wearing a ski-mask to hide his features. The palm groves and orchards that hug the Tigris and Euphrates.
In the National Book Award-nominated The Yellow Birds, essentially a string of such well-drawn images, Kevin Powers makes an eloquent case for those and more, specifically these two that are harder to shake:
--First, the ubiquitous dust that impregnates every crack and every piece of equipment and every thought in Iraq. Layers of dust, 'moon dust' we often called it, dust storms and clouds, swimming pool-sized pits of it and a film of talcum powder that stuck to every available surface via the magic of static electricity. This book is so full of dust that I was amazed I couldn't turn the book over, grab it by the binding, and shake some out.
--Second, and more haunting by far, the songs and screams of the Iraqis themselves. Four times in the book we hear the Muslim call to prayer or the mourning wails of the women after battle. Each time, the ghostly intrusive sound is a harbinger or coda to the worst of the horrors The Yellow Birds has to offer. And in this image, Powers creates a perfect analogy for the war itself. Hide behind the walls of your FOB, behind your machine gun on the highlands overlooking the village, and you can still hear the muezzin's voice from the minarets. Iraqis live publicly in the street. Emotion is public for men and women, whether a pious call to prayer or mourning the dead, public grief as the bodies are recovered and wrapped in white and paraded through the streets for everyone to view and mourn. The mothers and wives and sisters unselfconsciously wail in their grief, and you can't escape it. "I was not sure if it really came from the women around the campfires, if they pulled their hair crying out in mourning or not, but I heard it and even now it seems wrong not to listen," Private Bartle, the main character, tells us. It seeps under your skin. And so will the war; you will bring it home.
It is no spoiler to reveal that it is only Bartle who brings every experience home. The novel follows him, his younger friend Murphy, and their tough platoon sergeant, Sterling. Bartle mistakenly promises Murphy's mother that he will come home safe, a charge we know from the outset that Bartle cannot fulfill. Told in a back-and-forth style, jumping between war and home, the tension for the reader comes in only incrementally understanding both how Murphy dies and how Bartle deals with it.
The title of the book references a chant sung by soldiers while running in formation during physical training. "A yellow bird / With a yellow bill / Was perched upon / My window sill. I lured him in / With a piece of bread / And then I smashed / His f___ing head." I sang that one myself, and others, equally brutal in retrospect. The songs, at the time, are fun: "I went to the market / Where all the women shop / I pulled out my machete / And I began to chop." Singing these chants do more than desensitize the soldier. They make a game of what is coming.
But in truth war is no game, and the only birds smashed in the head in this book are the soldiers themselves, the narrator and Murphy and even the hard-nosed Sterling. Being damaged goods, Bartle is an untrustworthy guide for even his own memory and knowledge of Murphy's tragedy. His post-war ruminations dimly focus on the "why" of Murphy's death, and here he can provide no clear answer either. Sitting in his jail cell at the end of the book, Bartle uses chalk marks to try to recreate a timeline of what happened to him. "Eventually, I realized the marks could not be assembled into any kind of pattern," he tells us. During the firefight that opens the book, Bartle and Murphy and Sterling cover only one small sector of the village. They have control over very little, their view of the war will be small, no national policy issues will be solved in Powers' novel. Bartle focuses only on Murphy, and even here he feels ultimately helpless.
I wish I knew more of Powers' actual war-time experience, and how much resides in this book. In a joint interview the two of us did for Connecticut Public Radio, Powers said that he wrote fiction because he needed the space to first make sense of the war, and then put it down in a new way that provided separation between him and it. I wonder if he also felt it was the only way to tell the truth, because the heart-breaking story of Bartle and Murphy and Sterling is so ordinary, if it wasn't fiction no one would believe it.
Brian Castner is an Iraq veteran, a former Explosive Ordnance Disposal officer, and the author of The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Follows.
I was impressed with last night's debate. This blog has criticized VP Biden quite a lot, so I have to begin by saying I have never seen him so focussed. He only drifted off into blather territory a couple of times. He also scored solid points on foreign policy issues such as Iran. I sit here a bit stunned that Biden did so much better than President Obama did in his own first debate.
I'd never heard Ryan speak more than a sentence or two until last night. I thought he handled himself well. I didn't expect him to be strong on foreign policy, and indeed he hemmed and hawed some, but he didn't commit any major gaffes.
I do think both he and Biden bobbled the question posed by Martha Raddatz from a soldier who reported unhappiness with the tone of the election. I thought Ryan, by getting into military spending in his answer, failed to grasp the question. It was not about the state of the military, it was more about having an election process a soldier can be proud of defending. By the same token, I thought Biden was off base when he rattled on about how the topmost, sacred duty of our leaders is to take care of the military. Rather, the topmost, sacred duty of our leaders is to defend the Constitution.
The third winner was Martha Raddatz, who showed how to moderate one of these things. She should replace Jim Lehrer at NewsHour.
The biggest winner was the American people, who saw what a good debate looks like, and heard real differences explored.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
A fall postcard:
Lance Cpl. Sam Enriquez, a military working dog handler with 3rd Law Enforcement Battalion, and his K-9 partner Kally, take part in night operations training during the Inter-service Advanced Skills K-9 course at the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Ground. Enriquez and 18 other military police K-9 handlers from the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps took part in the advanced pre-deployment course. Since the rigors and dangers of combat don't end when the sun sets, neither does the training the teams go through."
Rebecca Frankel, on leave from her FP desk, is currently writing a book about military working dogs, to be published by Free Press in the fall of 2013.
Photo by Cpl. Aaron Diamant
This is from a detailed 82nd Airborne briefing that involved weighing soldiers wearing their basic loads:
Force cap has reduced the size of the infantry platoon. The overall weight carried by the individual would be lower, but due to being force capped most rifle squads are running at 7 men. Machinegun teams are either 2 or 3 men. This leaves most platoons around 28 personal instead of the 40 they would usually have.
U.S. Air Force
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.