Best Defense guest explicator
Another damn army scandal, another damn book about it; worse, a book with a lurid title: Black Hearts, and an even more lurid subtitle: One platoon's descent into madness in Iraq's Triangle of Death. War weariness and a proliferation of books about individual actions in Iraq and Afghanistan seem to have left this book in publishing's no man's land: number 286,309 in the Amazon hit parade this month. Hard to understand why more than a quarter million other books at Amazon outsell it.
This seems a pity. Black Hearts is the battle name adopted by the 1st battalion, 2nd brigade combat team, 101st Airborne. The book by senior Time magazine editor Jim Frederick is described by senior British war and military correspondent Max Hastings as matching In Cold Blood, Truman Capote's 1965 account of the murder of the Clutter family on their farm in Holcomb, Kansas. Three Black Heart soldiers murdered the Iraqi al-Janabi family of Yusufiyah, a father, mother and six- and 14-year-old daughters. The cousin who found their corpses in March 2006, demented by grief and his desire to offer some propriety to the scene, snatched a kettle and ran back and forth to a nearby stream, gathering water to put out the fire that had consumed every part of the 14-year-old's upper body, other than her fingertips.
As Frederick recounts matters, the army was called in minutes later, and contrary to physical evidence on the scene, was content to attribute the crime to other Iraqis. Then a Black Heart's conscience started to trouble him and the reality of what happened to the al-Janabis came to light. Those who entered the house and killed them were prosecuted and in his masterwork, Frederick sets the incident in the context of army administration as it was in 2006.
Why his book is a masterwork, its ten-page foreword makes clear.
At sundry officer levels, the 101st's leading edge units were administered in an atmosphere of public insults and sarcasm. 1000 men were required to do the work that by 2008 was being done by 30,000, and those lonely first thousand were bleeding heavily. Black Hearts platoons lost their leaders to enemy action one by one; three months after the al-Janabis died, three Americans were overrun by insurgents. One died during the battle. The survivors were later mutilated, beheaded and their bodies were booby-trapped.
In Tokyo, having read reading brief wire service reports about the al-Janabi family's deaths and the later small battle, Frederick, then Time Magazine's bureau chief in that city received a phone call from army captain James Culp, a former infantry sergeant turned lawyer who had been assigned to defend one of the three Bravo Company men accused of the Yusufiyah atrocity. He wanted Frederick to come as a reporter, "if not for the sake of my client, then for the sake of the other guys in Bravo." He did, and later, he gained assignment to Iraq both as a reporter and, in time, in preparation for what turned out to be his book.
His research occupied much of the next three years, and what marks the difference between Black Hearts and most other books on similar subjects was that he started contacting101st men to see if they were willing to talk. Surprisingly, they were.
Frederick writes: "Despondent over being judged for the actions of a few criminals in their midst, they were eager to share their stories ... They were generous with their time, unvarnished in their honesty ... arguing that I could not properly understand the crime and the abduction if I did not understand their whole deployment.
"[As well,] I could not understand (the errant) 1st platoon if I did not understand 2nd and 3rd platoons, who had labored under exactly the same conditions but who had come home with far fewer losses and their sense of brotherhood and accomplishment intact."
In some cases he interviewed individual veterans repeatedly, building a history, scaffolding it with context. He spoke to relatives of the al-Janabi dead and attended the trials of the men charged with killing the little family. He used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain reams of official documents.
"Every opened door led to a new one," his foreword recounts. "Most soldiers and officers I talked to offered to put me in touch with more. Some shared journals, letters and emails, photos ... classified reports and investigations."
Honorable men. The heart and sinew of Black Hearts is those few sentences. The conclusion of this multidimensional examination of army practice is its head. So also is its conclusion: "I had thought that the Army way was for everyone to accept a small piece of the responsibilities for any debacle truly too big to be of one man's making ... [and so,] make the fiasco something that the army could study and learn from. But the ordeal generated so much bile and rancor for so many people that the army seems more interested in forgetting about the tragedy entirely, than in ensuring that it never happens again ...
"[M]any men feel that blame was unfairly pushed down to the lower ranks and not shared by a higher command they believed was also culpable."
The ten-page foreword is a clear and fair introduction to the rest of the book's contents.
Those closing remarks match what General Antonio Taguba told West Point in an oral history interview available on the web. If you question Frederick's conclusions as reported in his book, ponder the calm and confident retired general telling his interviewer that his investigation of Abu Ghraib satisfied him that army abuses there were widespread through Iraq, and that, given permission to do so, he would certainly have sheeted home some responsibility for them to general Ricardo Sanchez, V Corps' 1st Armored Division commander when those abuses were in flower.Keep in mind also that Frederick was writing down his conclusions before the 5th Stryker murders of Afghan civilians were widely known, and before this year's Panjwali massacre, in which 16 Afghan peasants were killed. All these actions were performed either by an individual or a very small and aberrant criminal group. Virtually all other soldiers despise them. And, as Frederick suggests, their recurrence suggests the army isn't very good at forestalling future such outbreaks, staining as they do the name of an entire military arm of this great nation.
Keep in mind also that Frederick was writing down his conclusions before the 5th Stryker murders of Afghan civilians were widely known, and before this year's Panjwali massacre, in which 16 Afghan peasants were killed. All these actions were performed either by an individual or a very small and aberrant criminal group. Virtually all other soldiers despise them. And, as Frederick suggests, their recurrence suggests the army isn't very good at forestalling future such outbreaks, staining as they do the name of an entire military arm of this great nation.
By “A. Puzzled Prof”
Best Defense guest columnist
I read your piece on the resignation of Hans Binnendijk, the head research guru of the National Defense University and one of America's leading strategic thinkers. It comes amidst much turmoil imposed on the university from the top. It isn't pretty, and it will surely not serve the national interest. I am not directly involved in it, but this is what I have been told by many who are.
The new uniformed leadership of the Armed Forces, i.e., General Dempsey and his staff, apparently intend to prune NDU back to where it was a few decades ago. There will be some modest resource savings, but since the entire university budget doesn't amount to the cost of a single joint strike fighter, one has to wonder what is motivating all of what is happening here. In the cuts that have been discussed, Dempsey's deputy, Marine Lt. Gen. George J. Flynn has wielded the meat axe, often with the aid of micromanaging action officers. No one here in the rank-and-file is sure if the urbane chairman is on board with the details of all of this. (Ironically, both the chairman and J-7 are NDU graduates with advanced degrees.)
This set of changes took place in stages. First, while very few general or flag officer slots were cut in the armed forces, the three-star president of the university slot was downgraded to two, and the school commandants, downgraded from two to one star. No big deal, one might say, but one would be wrong, very wrong. A three star in Washington can go head-to-head with a principal on the joint staff or a senior OSD bureaucrat to protect the university. To compound the problem, the last three star president was retired in the spring and the university was left for a few months under the command of a senior foreign service officer, a former ambassador, a woman of great diplomatic talent and experience with no clout in the Pentagon. The new commandant --- a highly regarded Army two-star --- will not report until deep into June, when all or most of the cuts have been set in concrete. (Interesting question: can an employee of the State Department legally or even virtually assume command of a DoD organization?)
Second, the university was moved from a direct report to the chairman of the joint chiefs to reporting through the J-7, Lt Gen Flynn, whose staff section is nearly as big as the rest of the joint staff. This move violated the old SOP of commanders reporting to commanders, not staff officers. It also made the J-7 the ersatz president of the university during a period of severe resource reductions.
A new "charter" was subsequently published by the Chairman. It focused the university on joint professional military education and training, which in itself, is a good thing. Immediately, however, the research and outreach activities of the university, often more focused on national strategy than military affairs, came under intense scrutiny. These outfits had grown way beyond their original charters and had become effective and highly regarded servants of a wider interagency community. Much of their work was not done for the joint staff but for OSD Policy, and some of that in conjunction with civilian think-tanks. The research arm of the university was productive, even if not always useful in a practical way to the joint staff. It also was helpful to the colleges in a much more proximate and direct fashion than other think tanks, like RAND.
Third, a series of this-year and next-year budget cuts were announced. The J-7, armed with the new charter, pushed the university to take most of the cuts in the research, gaming, and publications sections, all of which had grown significantly in the last two decades. The mantra became, in effect, that if this or that did not directly support the war colleges, it was wrong and needed to be eliminated or cut way back. No one, of course, spoke to the need for out of the box thinking on future national security subjects. Fundamental research -- which has to operate miles and years ahead of war college coursework -- had no powerful friends in the leadership of the operating forces.
The research, gaming, and publications arms of the university -- a major part of the big-think, future concepts and policy business here -- will be cut to somewhere between half and a third of their original sizes. To make things worse, many of the specific cuts appear to have been crafted in the Pentagon, and nasty emails have come down from on high, about how the university is bankrupt and going into receivership, which was never the judgment of the military and civilian accrediting officials, who inspect us regularly and have generally given the university high marks.
All of this represents the systematic destruction of well respected institutions, three decades in the making, all in the name of very small savings and right-sizing. The position of the senior vice president for research and related things will be eliminated. The future-oriented, big picture research program will shrivel, the number of academic books coming through the NDU Press will be cut to a small fraction of this year's production, and gaming will be severely restricted. The university will no longer support the popular, interagency-oriented journal, PRISM. The Information Resources Management College and other non-war or staff college schools are in jeopardy of being zeroed out. Sadly, OSD policy has not come to the rescue of any of these institutions which have labored hard on its behalf and that of the interagency community.
Worse than functional changes, many government employees, especially senior professionals hired under yearly contracts, so-called Title X professionals, will lose their jobs. Firing them by not renewing their contracts is much easier than firing tenured civil servants. This takes some financial pressure off of the colleges, but not much. All of the savings will go to meet predetermined cuts, conceived ahead of time on the Joint Staff or passed on to them by the departmental comptroller.
One has to wonder why this is going on here. Sequestration is not upon us. No one is forcing the joint staff to dismember a significant part of this institution. There are no great dollar savings to be had here. Certainly, no academic or management expert would think that dismantling the research, publications, and gaming arms of a policy-oriented university is progress.
In times of great stress and famine, a roach will eat itself, starting with its hind legs. Without such stress or famine, the leadership of the joint staff has decided to consume part of the lobes of its brain. This is an organizational tragedy that will not help us adapt to a challenging future.
So, that's what's going on over here, and I wonder why civil experts aren't writing more about it, and why Congress -- long the guardian angel of the university -- isn't getting involved."A.P. Prof" is just that.
Yesterday the Pentagon put out a bunch of releases about the movements of general officers. I was struck that in one of them, three of the four Air Force generals listed were female: Maj. Gen. Margaret H. Woodward, Maj. Gen. Sharon K. Dunbar, and Brig. Gen. Gina M. Grosso.
On the other hand, two of those three seem to specialize in personnel matters. I remember being told that HR has gotten a reputation in the corporate world of being a female ghetto. I wonder if the same is happening in the military.
If he's lucky, I think the national security advisor lasts until January. If he is not, he blows up on the launchpad in the middle of the presidential election campaign. His fate, it seems to me, rests in the hands of David Sanger, who broke the news that the American and Israeli governments were jointly conducting a cybercampaign against the Iranian nuclear program, and had successfully inserted a virus that wrecked Iranian centrifuges. If Sanger cooperates with the special counsels looking into the leaks about this highly classified program, things are going to get interesting very quickly.
It wouldn't matter if Sanger, a fine reporter, first got wind of highly classified info from an underling. What matters is what Donilon said when asked by him. The moment of truth likely will be when a government lawyer says, "Mr. Donilon, when Mr. Sanger asked you about 'Olympic Games,' how did you reply?" If Donilon discussed the program with Sanger, he's got a legal problem, I would think.
Hmmm -- anyone remember who Scooter Libby's lawyer was?
By Kathleen McInnis
Best Defense guest respondent
If the grand strategic project of the 21st century is to either (a) shore up the Westphalian system or (b) develop an acceptable post-Westphalian system, then the ability to effectively wage asymmetric and counterinsurgency warfare will be, by necessity, part of the toolkit to do so. I really thought Bob Killebrew captured that part well; because the actors in the system are blurring the definitions of what it means to be a legitimate, violence-wielding actor in the global system, we will continue to need capabilities to work in that blurry, murky space.
Washington seems to conflate preparedness with intention and for the life of me, I can't figure out why. Indeed, I think it's really worrying that we do so. We're limiting our ability to signal military intent short of going to war, as well as limiting our ability to use military tools to help advance political discussions, negotiations, etc. Exercises, planning, capability development are all ways to signal to potential adversaries (state and non-state alike) the seriousness of U.S. intent. Utilized appropriately, these tools can even get actors back to the negotiating table. Preparedness is key, which is why Celeste Ward's work to put a finer point on the term COIN should be applauded -- preparedness requires a higher degree of intellectual precision than we currently have with respect to "COIN." That's what deterrence is largely about. But we seem to think that if we develop a capability, we will -- or should -- use it.
The notion that if we have a force capable of conducting COIN, we will get ourselves embroiled in even more conflicts around the globe is absurd. The point, in my mind, is to ensure that the U.S. has the toolkit to respond to whatever contingency is in the no-kidding national interest. If we don't use those capabilities, bonus. But I suspect you're right -- we will have to.
Kathleen McInnis is an MPhil/PhD candidate at the Department of War Studies, King's College London and an Adjunct Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She previously served on the NATO Policy-Afghanistan desk in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (Policy).
By Robert Goldich
Best Defense department of academic accreditation
I recently had a lengthy discussion with a faculty member at an NDU institution. This person is very concerned indeed. Longtime high quality staff is retiring and not being replaced. The downgrading of the NDU president to two stars and the NWC and ICAF commandants to one is, correctly in my view, seen as an assault on the prestige of the institution and is viewed as unquestionably diminishing its bureaucratic clout. The placing of NDU under the J-7 is construed as interposing yet another layer of bureaucracy between the central joint PME institutions in the country and the CJCS/JCS.
This faculty member (a civilian) also suggested that as the U.S. military component of the student body is down to a little more than 60 percent, the military orientation of what are, after all, military institutions is being significantly eroded. There are, for example, 35 international fellows in this year's National War College (NWC) class. Almost everybody I talk to values the presence of the international fellows, but the sheer number may be constraining the ability of in this case NWC to focus on U.S. national and military strategy. Similarly, everybody at both NWC and ICAF understands the significance of whole of government, interagency, etc. But too large a proportion of U.s. government civilian students also dilutes the military/war/defense broth.
What all this suggests to me is that nobody in high places, from the current CJCS on down, seems to attach particular importance to NDU, both its PME institutions and its research components. This is particularly surprising and disappointing in that I have been told by people I respect that Gen. Dempsey was a clear standout in the class of 1996 at NWC. It seems to me it is time for comprehensive study, analysis, and reflection both within the department and congress about the future of NDU and its components. Right now it is incoherent, in steady decline, and adrift. The one bright spot -- the student body, by all accounts, continues to be as high a quality selection of officers and senior civilians as ever, if not more so -- deserves better.
Tom again: Speaking of academic troubles, I was surprised to see the people who recently decapitated the University of Virginia hide behind legalisms: "consistent with sound employment practices, it is the policy of the Board to keep confidential matters of disagreement and those relating to evaluation of progress against mutually agreed upon goals." You can't fire the head of a large and prestigious institution and then pretend its an employment dispute.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
June 7, 2010 would prove to be a bloody Monday for Australian Forces fighting in Mirabad Valley in Afghanistan. It was the first time since the Vietnam War that they saw two soldiers killed in action on the same day -- three including Herbie, the unit's explosives detection dog.
Earlier that day the 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment patrolling in the southern province of Uruzgan had discovered three "substantial" weapons caches including "1600 rounds of ammunition, 23 rocket-propelled grenades and five mortar rounds plus fuses." Leading the mission that day was Herbie, the three and a half year old border collie cross, his handler Sapper Darren Smith, and another military engineer who specialized in disarming explosives, Sapper Jacob Moerland. Reportedly, Herbie had alerted to explosives on the road ahead, but though the team knew of the IED that would ultimately claim their lives, the insurgent tracking them from a distance would detonate the IED before they could clear the danger in time. Herbie was killed instantly, as was one of the soldiers. The other, not identified, was rushed by U.S. medicav to an "Australian-staffed field hospital" at Camp Holland but "succumbed from shock and blood loss soon after he arrived."
In an interview he gave a month prior to his death, Sapper Smith called his partner Herbie his "best mate." Smith, 25 at the time of his death, was the first of Australia's canine handlers to be killed while working with his dog in a combat zone.
Now, almost two years to the day, a special working dog memorial has been dedicated to the memory to the working dog team. The national monument located at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Wacol headquarters has been constructed as a tribute to all of Australia's working dogs -- not just those that have gone to war.
As Retired Lieutenant
Colonel George Hulse put
it, a memorial was needed that would honor, "All who have dog
teams as well ... from time to time sadly they lose someone who is killed on
duty, as well as some dogs that are killed on duty."
In the above photo, explosive detection dog Harry rests in a moment of reflection before a picture of his pal Herbie and handler Sapper Darren Smith during a memorial service at Base Tarin Kot in Afghanistan in June 2010.
Rebecca Frankel, on leave from her FP desk, is currently writing a book about military working dogs, to be published by Free Press.
Is anybody else bothered that the U.S. Senate is going through Brett McGurk's old e-mails to his lover, whom he married? What business is it of the U.S. Senate? I mean, it isn't like the guy is going on a soft ride to Paris. He is up to be the ambassador to Baghdad. They should be thanking him for being willing to go to live in one of the world's worst climates, where violence is still rampant, and where the Iranians will make his professional life not so much fun.
Where is our sense of decency? I think the Senate owes this man an apology -- an apology, sir.
By Ryan Woods
Best Defense department of the soldiers' load
Just a quick hit on the picture on your Afghanistan piece today that I've just been thinking about lately. Seriously, the combat loads that the U.S. military saddles people with are just crazy pants. 60 lbs just to walk around? INSANE. Batshit crazy. Foolish. Dangerous. Stupid.
Even the military's own reduction goals per that report are in no way adequate. They need to be shooting for a weight reduction along the lines of 80-90 percent (at least). In other words a total re-imagining of what it is our troops NEED to be lugging around, the design/materials/build of every last piece of equipment and probably for good measure, a reassessment of how each piece of stuff promotes an actual part of whatever given mission...all the way up to how each piece of stuff supports our overarching strategy in a theater.
Probably the best place to model this on would be to take a page from (unfortunately named) "extreme alpinism." EA is as much a philosophy as a segment of the sport, positing (basically) that every gram you carry does nothing but slow you down and expose you to more danger on your climb and so you should only bring the absolute brutal minimum. Weight = time = danger. It sounds insane but in the last 20 years or so it has been the philosophy behind some pretty amazing feats, ones that are simply impossible using a convention load. Ultralight backpacking is of a piece if not quite as...er...extreme. (See here also.)
This approach leads to a virtuous circle: lighter, more selective equipment leads to being able to use lighter, more selective equipment and the ability to move faster...necessitating less equipment...whereas the current paradigm forces heavier and heavier loads as a way to "manage" the heavier and heavier loads. The perfect example of this is the water loads, WTF! Duh, if a guy has to wear 60 lbs of crap to walk around in the summer, he is going to sweat balls and need to drink like a fool, which means he has to carry more water, which means he has to drink more water just to carry all his water. Bangs head. Or...why does a guy need big huge boots? To keep from turning an ankle trying to run under fire whilst carrying 100 lbs of crap he's never going to use. Of course!
And I'm sorry, but if you were an Afghan villager, and one of these sweating alien-looking a-holes in moon-boots plopped down in your village, would you be helpful or just derisive? Yeah, me too.
I imagine that the single thing most corrosive here is the body armor/helmets. And believe me, I totally get why someone would want to wear it. But it is just like a medieval knight...too bogged down, sweaty, and hot with the weight to be effective. Weight = time = danger. And I am sure that the armor, just like a knight's armor, physically removes people from interacting.
Side benefit: Even if they get the full load down to 20 lbs (an amazing, if not really radical, reduction in crap), you are looking at female soldiers being comparably much more effective.
I am not now nor have I ever been in the military. I am however a lifelong serious outdoors junkie and know a thing or two about being outside and figured I'd toss out a totally different paradigm.
Ryan Woods is a lifelong backcountry skier, hunter, outdoorsy gear obsessive who has been known to overpack but recognizes the value of light packing.
I heard yesterday that Hans Binnendijk, one of the pillars of the National Defense University, is quietly leaving out of unhappiness with its decline as an intellectual institution. Word is that Binnendijk, who has worked on Capitol Hill, at the State Department, and at the White House, as well as in academia, is resigning and moving to Johns Hopkins SAIS in three weeks. Part of the problem with the place is that the generals and admirals overseeing the place don't know much about how to run a university, and wouldn't know intellectual firepower from a day-old dud. There's also fear that with a defense budget squeeze looming, big cuts are going to hit the PME world.
Nora Bensahel of CNAS, speaking at the CNAS conference, says yep. She predicts the defense budget will be cut by more than people think, and that ground forces will be hit hardest by the shortfall.
Dov Zakheim, former Pentagon comptroller, disagreed.
Maj. Fernando Lujan gave a fast-paced, lively talk on the future of the American mission in Afghanistan.
His interlocutor, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, kicked off this part of the CNAS conference with a provocative question: Aren't most Afghan soldiers lazy, corrupt guys just waiting to shoot an American soldier in the back?
Lujan tackled that one quickly. Yes, he said, there are some terrible and corrupt senior leaders in the ranks. But for every one of them, he said, there are several good aggressive junior leaders. As for shooting Americans, he said, some of those incidents come from the Taliban, but others are the result of the "well of resentment" that builds up when Afghan soldiers see the contrast between how they live on a base and how Americans have air conditioning, the internet and other "luxuries." Afghan soldiers are also treated insensitively, and spoken to as if they were recruits being corrected by a drill instructor.
Furthermore, he said, the Afghan perspective tends to be different -- our people are on a one-year sprint, and want to see results, while many Afghans have been in the fight a long time.
The Afghan war is about to get very interesting, Lujan said. "The really hard part begins right now." With the number of American troops declining, he explained, American advisors increasingly will be forced to let the Afghans lead the way, and do it their way.
One place to watch, he said, is Zabul Province, just north of Kandahar, where the Taliban is very active and where two Afghan battalions are operating "without coalition assistance." The problems the Afghans encounter are not lack of infantry training or ardor, but lack of medics, mechanics, and logistical support.
Lujan heads back to Afghanistan in a couple of months for another tour of advisory duty, Chandrasekaran said.
If you are a glutton for Afghan stuff, here is another discussion, from the American Security Project.
For a security conference focused on the U.S. in Asia, it is amazing how little Taiwan is mentioned. I can remember when it dominated discussions of the American relationship with China. I think this is a sign of progress.
I'm at the annual day-long conference that CNAS throws every year. Clearly the hot topic this year is the U.S. in Asia.
Lurking just underneath that is the state of the U.S. economy. Kurt Campbell, the assistant secretary of State for East Asia, began the festivities talking about the U.S. in Asia but took a surprising detour into the problems smaller American companies have in learning how to operate in Asia. Because of the size and health of the American economy for many decades, he said, "many companies haven't had to think about exports until recently."
Campbell, who was one of the founders of CNAS before going back into gummint, also said that the U.S.-China relationship is the most complex of any bilateral relationship the U.S. has ever had. It is an interesting assertion, but I suspect that the American relationship with Great Britain was more complicated, at least in the first 100 years of U.S. history.
He also said that the United States needs to work more closely with Europe on Asian issues -- trade, human rights, and political developments. I am not quite sure where he is going with this, or what it means.
If you want to watch the conference, just click here.
By Lt. Col. Tom Cooper, USAF
Best Defense fine fellow
After a year as the Air Force Fellow at the Center for a New American Security, I think I finally understand how think tanks help make the world work. Prior to this, I had no practical sense of how think tanks are useful in policy debates in Washington. During Air Force Fellows orientation in August of 2011, Peter Singer from Brookings Institution told us, "Think tanks are like the bicycle chain that links the policy world with the research world, applying academic rigor to contemporary policy problems." This analogy became even more clear when I examined what one military service might do with a report published by a think tank.
A recent CNAS report titled "Sustaining Preeminence: Reforming the U.S. Military at a Time of Strategic Change" is a great example of how think tank reports are useful. Recommendations in the report impact diverse organizations and will upset some and please others. The tension created by pleasing some and angering some is exactly what powers the bicycle chain described by Singer. How the pedals are turned by policy actors is what makes the report useful and can help shape future dialogue.
Two issues in the report related to the Air Force can be examined to understand how one organization can turn the cranks moving the chain -- even if in different directions. The first is the ongoing debate about force structure changes and how a think tank recommendation can be used. The second is the report's misperception of how the Air Force has changed over the past decade and how a service can use the report to correct or improve messaging efforts.
In "Sustainable Preeminence," the authors take a stand on a contentious Air Force issue -- cuts to the Air National Guard in the FY13 budget. Based on independent examination, the authors conclude that "reductions to the reserve component proposed by the Air Force in the FY2013 budget are reasonable." This statement is incredibly useful for the Air Force. The authors, not known for their support of air issues, conclude these changes are good and should be encouraged to explain their conclusion. The Air Force could use the support presented in this report and work with CNAS to reinforce this message on Capital Hill.
The second issue in "Sustainable Preeminence" relates to what the Air Force has been doing to support recent conflicts and how it has transformed to support the other services. The report states: "The infusion of billions of dollars in the past decade has moved the services away from deeper integration and interdependence, as each service has sought greater self-sufficiency rather than rely upon the capabilities of other services." This statement is not true for the Air Force.
Over the past decade, the Air Force has changed air mobility methods, ISR force structure (everything from the number of remotely piloted aircraft patrols to a 4000 percent increase in processing, exploitation, and dissemination of intelligence to tactical forces), how combat air support is directly connected to the warfighter, and modifying aircraft and weapons to support ground force engagements. These examples are proof the Air Force has moved towards greater integration and interdependence, all while reducing end-strength and force structure. The lack of understanding demonstrated in the report is an example of how services, and the Air Force in particular, can identify misperceptions and help inform the research world. The Air Force can use this to plan future interactions with the think tank community.
In spending the last year at CNAS, I've learned how the think tank research process is useful in creating policy. By watching how reports like "Sustainable Preeminence" are produced, I've seen how important it is to work with think tanks to achieve policy outcomes. The process that sometimes creates tension shouldn't lead to greater tension, instead policy actors would do better to recognize how to turn the pedals and use the "chain linking the policy world and the research world" as a way to help advance their interests.
Lt. Col. Tom Cooper is the Air Force fellow at the Center for a New American Security. He flew the E-3 Sentry, SAMFOX C-9s in the 89 AW and C-40s as commander of the AF Reserve's active associate 54 AS.
I'm surprised I haven't seen PTSD raised in the court martial of Col. Johnson. What if he is suffering from severe post-traumatic stress? In that case, is he being punished for acts that he committed as the result of his mental wounding? If so, that wouldn't make him innocent, but it might cast a different light on his behavior.
David McNew/Getty Images
I was disappointed. This is not his best stuff. Basically he says we need to think about counterinsurgency in the context of strategy. Indeed, he repeats the point this several different ways. It doesn't strike me as an astonishing insight. Nor did I put down the article thinking about counterinsurgency differently. The article is long on assertions and short on specifics, so it feels like a lot of shadowboxing with unidentified players.
I may well be wrong. We all have off days, and it may be mine, not his. Gray's no slouch, so I am going to put the article aside and re-read it down the road, and see if it feels different.
By David Mullin
Best Defense guest commenter
Air Force Academy officials recently stated that the honor system works because, they said, 78 cadets were caught cheating on a Math 142 (integral calculus) exam.
The Superintendent, Lt. Gen. Michael Gould, and the Vice Dean, Col. Richard Fullerton, have gone on record stating that fragmentary evidence of declining honor cases in recent years is evidence that the honor system is working. So if the number of cadets caught in honor violations is up, the system is working. And if known honor violations are down, the system is working. It's no wonder that the Center for Character Development and Leadership, the Air Force Academy unit responsible for running the honor system, has been consistently uninterested in using the best available data sets in assessing the effectiveness of the honor system.
The Air Force Academy also said that the system works because many of those 78 cadets will go through honor probation. This program, which started in 1990, has never been validated by the Air Force Academy. But our initial data analysis shows that is ineffective in improving adherence to the honor code.
My research colleague, Fred Malmstrom, has been collecting survey data following strict scientific, random-sampling procedures from graduates for nearly thirty years. It is now a comprehensive collection spanning from the first Air Force Academy class of 1959 to the class of 2010. Comparable data were collected from graduates from West Point and Annapolis, and we have hundreds of observations of cadets who resigned or who went through honor probation.
Dr. Malmstrom and I have just completed a study which shows that the best explanation for why honor cases have been down in recent years is that there has been a dramatic increase of cadets tolerating others of cheating. About 70 percent of recent Air Force Academy graduates -- significantly higher than the rate of violations by West Point graduates -- have admitted to violating the honor code.
In 2009 when Col. Fullerton was writing the self-study report for academic re-accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission, he was carefully told of the existence of these very informative data and he was offered ample help to conduct proper analysis. He was even told of the disturbing declining trends of cadets' adherence and enforcement of the honor code. Instead of using the data for constructive evaluation of the honor system, he chose to claim that no data existed to do the analysis that we are now publishing independently of the Air Force Academy. It is no wonder that the Air Force Inspector General found that Col. Fullerton was negligent in falsifying the self-study report. His superior Dean of Faculty, Brig. Gen. Dana Born, was also found to be negligent in overstating faculty credentials. Lt. Gen. Gould has chosen not to punish meaningfully either of them.
If officers who hold leadership positions at the Air Force Academy can get away with dishonorable behavior, is it any wonder that many cadets are so cynical of the honor system there? Or that large numbers of cadets cheated on the math exam? Or that senior athletes who trashed Air Force Academy golf carts last month were allowed to graduate by Lt Gen Gould? Or that a cadet was caught secretly video recording two other cadets have sex in a dorm?
Corruption of leaders breeds corruption of their subordinates.
David Mullin is a research econometrician who teaches at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. For 13 years he was an Air Force Academy economics professor.
I just finished reading Robert Graves' autobiography of World War I service for the fourth time. I read it first as a teenager in Kabul in 1970. (I have no idea how I happened to come across it there in Afghanistan, or why picked it up.) I think it was the first book of military history that ever really grabbed me, for which I remain grateful. I can't think of any other book that I have read four times, except perhaps for some of Shakespeare's tragedies.
I read Graves' memoir again in my 20s, at Yale, and then in my 30s, in Washington, D.C.. It was different book each time for me. I realized recently I hadn't looked at it in about 20 years, so picked it up to see how it felt now. I also wanted to see what had captured me so much in the previous readings.
I have to say I was less impressed this time. The first and second times I read it, it seemed kind of shocking. This time it felt a bit tame. That might be because I have read so many other memoirs, some stronger, and also seen some war myself in Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and, Afghanistan.
Some passages that struck me this time:
--On how to pick platoon leaders: "Our final selection was made by watching the candidates play games, principally Rugger and soccer. Those who played rough but not dirty, and had quick reactions, were the sort needed."
--At the front, "I kept myself awake and alive by drinking about a bottle of whiskey a day. I had never drunk it before, and have seldom drunk it since."
--His friend Siegfried Sassoon on leave in London: "very ill, he wrote that often when he went for a walk he saw corpses lying about on the pavements."
--After the war, "It has taken some ten years for my blood to recover." Also, "strangers in daytime would assume the faces of friends who had been killed."
It made me wonder the extent to which for Europe, World War I, with its industrialization of killing, was the event that set the tone for the entire 20th century. I think that maybe for the U.S., World War II was more significant, but maybe not for Europe, and especially for the British.
After six years teaching at West Point, I came to the same conclusion as Tom: What the hell are we wasting our money for? The cadets are on average far less attentive than normal college kids, and they are sequestered in an environment that imposes the burden of their success upon their teachers in an alarmingly disproportionate way. It was damn hard to fail a cadet. That was a sickening experience for me personally as a teacher. What mattered more at WP was religion and, as an extension of religion, the creation of a weirdly narrow perspective on the importance of the place and its denizens. It was flat-out perverse in the level of self-deception it fostered. Sorry, but the place left a palpable bad taste in my mouth. The "character building" aspect of its pretensions was the most appalling. How do you, on an individual level, develop character when you have a safety-net strung below you and the institution holds teachers responsible for your success or failure? It's nonsense."
By Rebecca Frankel, Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
The Washington Times ran an article yesterday that caught my attention. The story's subhead, "Fewer canines on battlefield," made me raise a skeptical brow, but its opening line, "In Afghanistan, a soldier's best friend is no longer a bomb-sniffing dog, but an electronic sensor" had me scoffing out loud.
The news of the piece is focused around the comments of Rod Korba, identified in the article as a spokesman for JIEDDO; comments that the reporter says represent a supposed "shift" in the organization's strategy. I assume Korba's statement is recent though no date or forum is mentioned. Though some readers might understandably assume this article is commenting on the MWD program at large, Korba is talking about JIEDDO's investments, saying that JIEDDO-engineered hand-held sensors are outperforming the JIEDDO-funded IED detection dogs (different than MWDs). "What it comes down to," says Korba, "is we have other resources that we have had greater statistical success, handheld sensors and things like that."
Unfortunately, that "statistical success" is not shared in the Washington Times' report nor is it validated by any reports of on-the-ground experience. Korba might only be speaking of JIEDDO-funded dogs, but the lack of clarity here undermines the work of the entire community. None of the program managers, or handlers I've spoken to who have worked -- or are still working -- dogs downrange, say these sensors outperform MWD teams. Furthermore, those that have seen the sensors in action have told me they've observed battery failure, false readings, and say that to be utilized to full effectiveness these technologies require very controlled situations. (There's also a failure here to address some basic points. For example: Korba references the hand-held sensor which implies the person holding it has to be close to the source of explosives to make a reliable find, while a dog can be worked off leash alerting to odor at a reliable distance from source, but more importantly a safe distance from its handler.)
Furthermore, I didn't find Korba's comments about canines to ring with much truth -- especially his asinine critique that dogs' effectiveness is diminished because troops "end up befriending these animals" -- and their presentation in this instance borders on irresponsible. Korba is quoted early on in the piece saying, "We are sort of de-emphasizing [dogs] because we find that other technologies are far more effective"
Sort of? Well, we are sort of still sending our dog teams out on missions. After spending this last week talking with those in the MWD community struggling with the loss of fellow handlers (as well as canines) who were recently KIA in Afghanistan, this is particularly infuriating.
To be sure, there is no perfect dog or infallible dog team. Dogs get tired, overheated, or they may lose their nerve. Handlers also get worn down; some might even get lazy and neglect reinforcing obedience training (a far greater offense than showing affection to their canine partner). And combat zones are unpredictable and terrible places -- the reality is there is simply no way to avoid every roadside bomb.
Now that the U.S. military is struggling with budget cuts that are likely to deepen with a troop drawdown, we need to make sure that the troops still fighting have the best support funding allows. The real danger with an article like this is not only that it is intellectually or journalistically weak, but that one day soon our troops might be conducting combat operations with electronic sensors in their hands when what they really need is a dog by their side.
Above, U.S. Army Sergeant Nathan Arriaga walks with Zzarr, a 6-year old Dutch Shepherd at FOB Walton, on patrol mission with 1st Battalion 67th Armoured Regiment, Task Force Dealers in the Arghandab district on July 25, 2011.
ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images
By Stacy Bare
Best Defense bureau of veterans' affairs
There is no easy way to discuss the issue of veteran entitlement in America. It is a sensitive topic and that there are those veterans among us who have an issue with what entitlement is, perhaps a natural reaction. It is also a reaction that our strategic leadership should have foreseen. When you are part of the 1 percent who serves repeatedly and you come home to a country where most people are absorbed with Jersey Shore, the Karadashians, or Michael Vick's dog trial but can't find Afghanistan on a map nor pick out the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a lineup, it is easy to feel like society owes you something. That is, however, not why we choose to serve and is antithetical to the nature of service and duty.
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, America was encouraged by our president to go back to the lives we were used to living. We were not asked to gird ourselves for sacrifice, for war, for men and women who would come home disconnected and misunderstood by their communities; at worst, broken and bruised emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Since then, the men and women who served our nation have come home to a country that had little understanding of the war or what the war had done to our minds and bodies. Since Korea, our veterans have deserved better, but America was not ready then, nor were they now, for the wars of the last 11 years.
America panicked, and rightly so; we did not want a repeat of what happened during and after Vietnam. America did something and a lot of it. Something, however, does not always equate to the right thing. In our attempt to heal, to be generous, and to be thankful to those who volunteered to serve, America inadvertently created a cadre of veterans for whom nothing would ever be good enough and at times dis-incentivized reintegration back home. Our country was good enough to go fight for, why isn't it good enough to come home to?
We've got a lot of work to do in this country: It isn't just veteran issues that need fixing, and veterans can and should take an active leadership role. For example, roughly 1,000 service members have lost an arm since we started the war in Afghanistan. An estimated 30,000 Americans will lose an arm this year alone. Here is our opportunity to be a hero, to be a real warrior even without our uniform, to be leaders in our communities. To embrace that challenge is a decision we as veterans have to make.
Our generation is easily the best supported generation of veterans since those of World War II. A lot of the something America has done is necessary, needed, and deeply appreciated. However, we have been nervous to say out loud that service alone should not guarantee free admission and the front of the line every time for every service member.
So what do we do?
We need to follow the examples of those veterans who have politely said "No ,thank tou" to the handouts and asked instead for a hand up, an opportunity to excel, a level playing field -- not free admission. We as veterans need to create a return on investment for the sacrifices and resources we're being given by a grateful nation and we need to stand beside America in the long hard work of creating a better future for younger generations, not just wait for free tickets to the next baseball game.
Jeff Dyche, who used to teach at the Air Force Academy, asserts so in an article I read yesterday. At the academy, he writes, "Learning for the sake of learning was all but anathema. ... Combine this attitude with a faculty that may comprise a group of the least educated college instructors in the entire country and you have the basic framework of the US Air Force Academy."
Dyche, who now teaches at James Madison University, adds that at the academy, it seemed to him that academic work "took a back seat of military training, athletics, religiosity and ... 'character building'."
I also didn't know that all faculty members are required to be in their offices at 7:30 am, even if they have no morning classes, and that civilian faculty have to fill out time cards every week.
When I read articles like this I wonder why we still have military academies, if they aren't producing officers any better than those from ROTC and OCS routes. It seems to me that the academies are producing bright but undereducated officers at great expense. As Dyche notes, it costs taxpayers five to ten times more to produce a service academy officer as it does a ROTC officer.
Here is a link to my review in today's New York Times of David Sanger's new book on President Obama's foreign policy. As I say in the review, the strongest part of the book is the stuff about the joint Israeli-American cybercampaign against the Iranian nuclear infrastructure. (Btw, the copyeditor for the book review told me while editing it that she had checked and this is the first time the Times has used the word "cybercampaign" to describe a series of cyberattacks, which surprised me.)
An interesting side observation in the book is Sanger's comment that Obama's "legendary self-control . . . makes him seem like a politician from a more buttoned-down, controlled Asian environment."
I wonder: Is Obama actually our first Asian president?
"We are trying to have an open, transparent, and mutually beneficial relationship with the U.S. based on our national interest," the Pakistani prime minister told officers at that country's Command and Staff college. Well, that is good news!
But then I read more of his comments and I realized Prime
Minister Gilani probably was engaging in what one of my sisters used to call
"grandma talk," to signify when my mother would say the opposite of what she
actually meant (e.g., "You look thin!"). For example, the Pak PM said, "we
want to play our role in the stability and peace in Afghanistan." And he said
he believes that "our children and the generations to follow will lead a
peaceful and productive life." Just use the Grandma interpreter, and you
will understand what he is saying.
By Col. Robert Killebrew, USA (Ret.)
Director, Best Defense office of Market Garden studies
as the war in Afghanistan continues to boil, the defense intellectual crowd has
wandered into an unnecessary and counterproductive debate about whether the
United States can avoid being involved in future counterinsurgency wars. "Unnecessary and counterproductive" is an appropriate
description of a largely contrived argument that distracts brainpower from
focusing on the real issue -- the changing nature of warfare in the emerging
Of course the U.S. is going to be involved in counterinsurgency in the future, just as we will be involved in all kinds of wars, period. Insurgency is one of the oldest forms of warfare -- an uprising against a government. But the terms under which rebellions are put down are changing fast. Until very recently, the Westphalian attitude of the times reinforced the authority of governments to suppress internal rebellions without too much regard to sensitivities or legal restraints; both the American revolution and Napoleon's war on the Iberian Peninsula, for example, featured insurgencies that were brutally suppressed by regular forces, but there was no thought of holding commanders -- much less governments -- responsible for brutal reprisals.
All that is changing as the world is changing. Nuremburg mattered a lot. The WWII Germans felt no need for a counterinsurgency doctrine -- their reaction to resistance in occupied countries was just to round up hostages and shoot them -- but after the war some commanders were held to account despite the argument that they were only obeying orders, a legal landmark. Punishing commanders for massacres was not only simple justice, but an indication that civilians were no longer just an incidental backdrop to a war. Rather individuals began to be regarded as having rights that continued even during warfare, and even when they rise against their rulers. That principle of the universality of human rights in war is a historic change that is now considered applicable even in modern struggles against the medieval brutalities of al Qaeda or the Taliban. In the 21st century, international law is struggling to replace the Westphalian compact as the new firebreak against indiscriminate barbarism.
This is the nub of the challenge of counterinsurgency (or COIN, as it is known by its unfortunate acronym). People may rise in rebellion against their government, or against the government of a conquering power, but the government's reaction can no longer be to slaughter them wholesale -- as is happening now in Syria -- for two reasons. First, sanctions to punish indiscriminate killing are spreading and increasingly effective, as the Syrian leadership will eventually learn. This is the emergence of the new sensibility of human rights, which will accompany widespread political changes in the new century (as we are seeing today in the Arab world). Second, and more practically, killing alone doesn't work against a determined opposition -- never has, in fact. Insurgency, which stems from political dissatisfaction, ultimately requires a political solution, so the greatest part of any successful COIN campaign requires political solutions that address the fundamental issue that started the insurgency in the first place, while security forces -- both military and, increasingly, police -- try to contain violence and drive it down to tolerable levels.
All this can frustrate soldiers when they get tasked to fight insurgents under restrictive rules of engagement and with little backing from the political class. An American military that in the 1990s trained for violent high-tech short wars has been understandably frustrated to find itself bogged down in an inconclusive, decades-long war that its political leadership has either misunderstood or backed away from. The "COIN is dead" school of military thought is a reaction to that frustration -- and to the damage that our protracted focus on counterinsurgency has done to other, essential military capabilities -- but it is wrongheaded for a number of reasons.
First, insurgencies aren't going away, and the United States will fight more of them. For a variety of reasons, populations and individuals today are more empowered than ever before, and governments are under more pressure to meet the expectations of their people. Political dissatisfaction, mass migration, widespread armaments, and crime are producing an international landscape that will challenge weak governments for decades, and often insurgencies will be supported by outside powers hostile to the United States or our friends. Aggression by insurgency is an old strategy that will recur.
Second, because they're hard doesn't mean we can't win them. In fact, insurgencies are more unsuccessful than otherwise. When states react to insurgencies wisely, insurgents are usually defeated. Colombia is in the process of defeating an insurgency that was threatening its survival a decade ago. The once-inevitable revolution in El Salvador is long over. The government of Iraq is consolidating power and looks to be on a success curve. In all cases, political reforms marched hand with increasing military and police capabilities and the collapse of the insurgency's outside sponsor. One significant point for military planners is the degree to which military power must be blended with the state's police and other civil powers, which until recently was contrary to U.S. military tradition and practice. Nothing changes tradition and practice, though, like hard lessons in the field.
Thirdly, American military (and political) planners and doctrine-writers must understand that the U.S. is not, and never will be, the primary COIN force -- our best course will always be to work "by, with, and through" the host country in the lead, with Americans playing a supporting role. This is a profound change for soldiers who are trained to take charge of dangerous situations. Even in Afghanistan and Iraq, where U.S. forces faced the worst-case COIN scenario possible -- the absence of a government to support -- ultimate success has not been, and will not be, possible until the local government shoulders the load. We were far too slow to understand this in these two theaters, and too slow to plan and resource local leaders once we did understand it.
Finally, wars are never fought the same way twice, though armies invariably prepare for the last one. The American military faces a daunting challenge -- to correctly draw lessons out of a decade of experience in two wars that will prepare them for the next one, without falling into the last-war trap that a decade of war has prepared for us. Additionally, the military services know they will be the ones on the ground compensating for weaknesses in the other branches of government. Getting this right in the manuals will be very tough, and may challenge deeply-held Service beliefs and organizational imperatives; a noted COIN authority is fond of reminding his friends "counterinsurgency is more intellectual than a bayonet charge." That is certainly true -- but no reason to walk away from it.
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.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.