I just finished reading the transcript of last week's hearing on the confirmation of former Sen. Charles Hagel to be defense secretary. The question in the headline is what I asked myself as I read it.
I heard a lot on Friday about what a poor job Sen. Hagel did in his confirmation hearings to be secretary of defense. So I sat down with the transcript over the weekend. I was surprised. I've spent many hours covering confirmation hearings, but I never have seen as much bullying as there was in this hearing. The opening thug was Sen. Inhofe (which I expected -- he's always struck me as mean-spirited), but I was surprised to see other Republican senators kicking their former Republican colleague in the shins so hard.
Here's John McCain badgering his erstwhile buddy:
Senator MCCAIN. ...Even as late as August 29th, 2011, in an interview -- 2011, in an interview with the Financial Times, you said, "I disagreed with President Obama, his decision to surge in Iraq as I did with President Bush on the surge in Iraq." Do you stand by those comments, Senator Hagel?
Senator HAGEL. Well, Senator, I stand by them because I made them.
Senator MCCAIN. Were you right? Were you correct in your assessment?
Senator HAGEL. Well, I would defer to the judgment of history to support that out.
Senator MCCAIN. The committee deserves your judgment as to whether you were right or wrong about the surge.
Senator HAGEL. I will explain why I made those comments.
Senator MCCAIN. I want to know if you were right or wrong. That is a direct question. I expect a direct answer.
Senator HAGEL. The surge assisted in the objective. But if we review the record a little bit--
Senator MCCAIN. Will you please answer the question? Were you correct or incorrect when you said that "The surge would be the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam." Where you correct or incorrect, yes or no?
Senator HAGEL. My reference to the surge being the most dangerous--
Senator MCCAIN. Are you going to answer the question, Senator Hagel? The question is, were you right or wrong? That is a pretty straightforward question. I would like an answer whether you were right or wrong, and then you are free to elaborate.
Senator HAGEL. Well, I am not going to give you a yes or no answer on a lot of things today.
Senator MCCAIN. Well, let the record show that you refuse to answer that question. Now, please go ahead.
Senator HAGEL. Well, if you would like me to explain why--
Senator MCCAIN. Well, I actually would like an answer, yes or no.
Senator HAGEL. Well, I am not going to give you a yes or no. I think it is far more complicated that, as I have already said.
Tom again: FWIW, Hagel later got in the point that his comment was that "our war in Iraq was the most fundamental bad, dangerous decision since Vietnam." I think that assessment is correct.
(Senator Chambliss then took a moment to abuse the English language: "We were always able to dialogue, and it never impacted our friendship.")
Then Lindsay Graham waded in.
Senator GRAHAM. ...You said, "The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here. I am not an Israeli senator. I am a U.S. Senator. This pressure makes us do dumb things at times." You have said the Jewish lobby should not have been -- that term shouldn't have been used. It should have been some other term. Name one person, in your opinion, who is intimidated by the Israeli lobby in the U.S. Senate.
Senator HAGEL. Well, first--
Senator GRAHAM. Name one.
Senator HAGEL. I don't know.
Senator GRAHAM. Well, why would you say it?
Senator HAGEL. I didn't have in mind a specific--
Senator GRAHAM. First, do you agree it is a provocative statement? That I can't think of a more provocative thing to say about the relationship between the United States and Israel and the Senate or the Congress than what you said.
Name one dumb thing we have been goaded into doing because of the pressure from the Israeli or Jewish lobby.
Senator HAGEL. I have already stated that I regret the terminology I used.
Senator GRAHAM. But you said back then it makes us do dumb things. You can't name one Senator intimidated. Now give me one example of the dumb things that we are pressured to do up here.
Senator HAGEL. We were talking in that interview about the Middle East, about positions, about Israel. That is what I was referring to.
Senator GRAHAM. So give me an example of where we have been intimidated by the Israeli/Jewish lobby to do something dumb regarding the Mideast, Israel, or anywhere else.
Senator HAGEL. Well, I can't give you an example.
Next to throw some punches was David Vitter:
Senator VITTER. In general, at that time under the Clinton administration, do you think that they were going ‘‘way too far toward Israel in the Middle East peace process"?
Senator HAGEL. No, I don't, because I was very supportive of what the President did at the end of his term in December-January, December 2000, January of 2001. As a matter of fact, I recount that episode in my book, when I was in Israel.
Senator VITTER. Just to clarify, that's the sort of flip-flop I'm talking about, because that's what you said then and you're changing your mind now.
Senator HAGEL. Senator, that's not a flip-flop. I don't recall everything I've said in the last 20 years or 25 years. if I could go back and change some of it, I would. But that still doesn't discount the support that I've always given Israel and continue to give Israel.
Near the end of the day's verbal beating, Senator Manchin said, "Sir, I feel like I want to apologize for some of the tone and demeanor today." That was good of him.
You all know I was not that much of a Hagel fan before. But now I feel more inclined to support him, if only to take a stand against the incivility shown by Senators Inhofe, McCain, Graham, and Vitter, the SASC's own "gang of four."
Alex Wong/Getty Images
I don't know what to say about this murder of the Navy SEAL sniper, committed by a former Marine at a Texas gun range. I do think our culture is sick with guns.
By Jeff Williams
Age of fighting sail bureau
"C. S. Forester" (AKA Cecil Louis Troughton Smith) was a delightful writer of fiction but a less successful writer of naval history. His Age of Fighting Sail has long received mixed reviews among modern naval historians interested in that period. Forester had a tendency towards "received wisdom" and was careful not to contradict technical details he had already incorporated into his marvelously successful "Hornblower" series novels.
As we all know, there is a tendency for nations to inflate their victories and diminish their defeats. Consequently, it had become customary in re-telling the extraordinary saga of the British Navy in the age of sail to emphasize the superiority of French-built ships versus those of the Royal Navy. It made the long period of English naval victories even more amazing and intrepid. Even still, like most myths, the lore of superior French and Spanish ship design did in fact contain an element of truth for a period.
In the past thirty to forty years a great deal of intense academic research has been performed concerning the ship building and construction practices of the French, Dutch, Spanish, and American sailing navies, but most particularly into the British Navy of the sailing era. Much legend (knee deep when it comes to naval affairs) has been stripped away by contemporary naval historians such as Brian Lavery, Robert Gardiner, and others.
Brian Lavery is undoubtedly the world's leading authority on the sailing ships of the line, having spent decades researching the subject to its smallest detail. He has a number of volumes to his credit but the ones that directly address the subject of this article would be:
In Building The Wooden Walls -- The Design and Building of the 74-Gun Ship Valiant, Lavery uses his first two chapters to describe how the Royal Navy entered the 18th century undefeated but with ships that were generally poorly designed. Their design patterns had become rigidly conservative with little scope for experimentation. This was partly due to a complacency derived from long success in battle. Why fix what's not broken?
The French on the other hand, understanding that they could not defeat the British Navy because of the need to finance large standing armies and a shortage of ports and seamen, decided on a policy of building speedier and more powerful ships. Later in the century, the new American Navy facing the same problems as the French adopted a similar policy in lieu of a battle fleet.
For the British the end of that complacency came in 1755 with a new surveyor of the Navy, the redoubtable Sir Thomas Slade, and his partner William Bately. The creative logjam in the hidebound surveyors office, that controlled the design protocols for the Navy, was removed and British shipbuilding moved into a new era.
At the time of the Seven Years War, the Royal Navy as a result of the through defeat of both the French and Spanish in battle had captured many of the latest French and Spanish ships. As standard practice, the Navy took the lines off those ships, repaired them if possible and incorporated them into its own fleet. With the practical experience of having these captured ships now as part of the British fleet it became apparent that they contained many advantageous qualities. Slade merged many of those French ideas with his own into a new British building practice.
As an example, it was customary in that era for French battleships to be more "weatherly" (meaning how close they can sail to the wind) by being able to sail 6 points (on the 32 point compass rose) to the wind, while the average British battleship could usually manage only 7 points. That weatherliness was usually largely a function of the relationship between the length and breadth of a vessel. That feature was very important for ships trying to achieve the "weather gauge" (upwind) on an enemy vessel -- rather like a Spitfire fighter trying to gain an altitude advantage on a ME 109.
Slade's new renaissance in British naval construction is usually considered to have been initiated with the building of HMS Valiant. This ship's lines were actually taken from the captured French Invincible. Valiant, along with her sister Triumph, were the lead ships in a new 74-gun class that began to standardize the British battle line for the next 70 years. British ships were lengthened, their armament re-ordered to be more formidable, and the ships became nearly as fast and weatherly as their French peers but more robustly built.
It should be noted that while French ships were fast and Weatherly, there was a price to pay for those features. One of the costs was "hogging," a circumstance where the bow and stern of the ship actually droops down from a lack longitudinal strength, thus destroying its sailing qualities over time. Generally, British shipwrights tried to keep the scantlings and timbers stouter than French practice and also maintained narrower room and space (the space between frames) than the French in order to minimize the hogging of the keel. Later, British dockyards used the Sepping's method that allowed a greater length to be built into their ships by using a very strong diagonal framing process. Also, in the new class of ships, the British lower main gun decks were designed to be a little higher above the waterline in order to make them less wet and more available when the ship heeled in the wind. Often the lower gun decks of French ships were so low to the water that even in a moderate breeze the gun ports were unusable.
Importantly, I might add that the British were the first to completely copper the bottoms of their entire fleet beginning around the time of the American War for Independence. This factor had a radical impact upon hull durability and speed, comparable with almost any changes in actual ship design. It was hugely expensive but kept ships out of dry-dock and improved their weatherliness and speed and helped assist uniform the speed characteristics of the whole battle fleet when in formation. This crucial change in itself was comparable in impact to the 20th century's incorporation of the microprocessor into modern naval electronics.
In consequence of these changes, the battles fought by the British Navy from the period of the American Revolution, French Revolutionary Wars, and the Napoleonic wars were generally fought with ships of equal or superior design characteristics to those of their assorted opponents. This was particularly true of British frigate designs that evolved even faster and were the blue water cruisers of their era.
As most people who have an interest in naval history know, ship design was only one factor -- important as it was in the development of naval superiority. Unlike armies, navies cannot be improvised. They required factors such as the availability of trained and experienced seamen, gunnery science, navigation skills (advanced mathematics), seamanship, signaling (an area of complete British superiority), and a developed and practiced doctrine of aggressive leadership. These were all crucial in achieving and maintaining superiority at sea. As the superlative American Admiral Nimitz said, "better good men on a bad ship than bad men on a good ship."
As a final note, Spanish ships (many British considered Spanish captures superior to those of the French) and Dutch ships to a lesser extent were also very interesting in their own right and deserve coverage. The Dutch naval tradition is outstanding though their ships had a tendency to be rather small and shallow of draft to allow them to clear the mud flats off the Dutch coast. The American contribution to naval design in the age of sail was both unique and of generally very high quality and is a full story in itself.
Incidentally, Robert Gardiner, a superb historian of naval architecture, has a number of books out on the specific design elements of various classes of ships such as frigates, brigs, ships of the line, etc., of this period. His work is excellent and spares no detail.
Of all the military services, the one I know least about is the Air Force, which doesn't get a lot of electrons on this blog. So I was especially intrigued to finally sit down and go through a study sent to me months ago by a Best Defense reader. "Darker Shades of Blue: A Case Study of Failed Leadership" is a thorough, careful study of how leadership lapses over the course of several years ultimately led to disaster in an Air Force bomber wing. It's also a beautiful if horrifying exploration of how bad shit can happen despite volumes of rules and regulations aimed at ensuring safe practices are followed.
Even if you care nothing about the Air Force, it is a fascinating study of leadership, and applicable to many different situations. Basically, it is the tale of how an out-of-control pilot managed to consistently break the rules, but did so with a clever understanding of how to manipulate the system. So, for example, he would push the limits until his commander sat him down and gave him an oral warning. But these were not recorded. So the pilot, who had a reputation as perhaps the best B-52 pilot in the Air Force, would lay low a bit and then, when the next commander came in, the pattern would repeat itself. The rogue pilot got by on a series of these "last chance" reprimands. Subordinates knew what was going on, and found themselves in the position of either risking their lives by flying with him, or risking their careers by refusing to do so.
When a senior officer was told about video evidence showing a recent instance of flight indiscipline by the free-styling pilot, he responded, "Okay, I don't want to know anything about that."
Eventually, on June 24, 1994, a B-52 with the rogue pilot at the controls went down at Fairchild Air Force Base while attempting a tight 360 degree left turn around the control tower at 250 feet above the ground. It "banked past 90 degrees, stalled, clipped a power line with the left wing and crashed," killing four crew members -- three lieutenant colonels and a colonel.
The key thing to watch, warns the author, Tony Kern, is "incongruity between senior leadership words and actions." That is a very important lesson for any organization.
(A big tip of the official BD baseball cap to the person who sent me the link a couple of months ago -- I searched all four of my e-mail accounts and couldn't find who it was, but I appreciate it.)
Here's a nice review of my new book from Stars & Stripes. (Sorry, Hunter.) They get to the point quickly: "The idea that people who aren't good at their jobs must be fired shouldn't be a revolutionary concept in a place like the Army, where failure gets people killed." The bottom line: "Army leaders would do well to take notes."
I also was on NPR's Talk of the Nation earlier this week with two novelists whose work I admire, Karl Marlantes and Tim O'Brien. They are both Vietnam vets. It was a moving show. I teared up during one of the phone calls.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Tanja, a Belgian Malanois, was up until her retirement from service this week, the longest serving military working dog in the Department of Defense. With a 12-year career behind her, she's deployed five times. They were impressive tours of duty that included uncovering IEDs and even stopping vehicles from making off with "extremely valuable" stolen classified documents.
Tanja, a patrol and detection dog with the 366th Security Forces Squadron was stationed at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho. Her most recent handler, Tech. Sgt. Roseann Kelly, says that despite Tanja's age, the dog was still "kicking butt." During base patrol Tanja noticed a suspicious individual and alerted others to him. When they got close, Kelly says, "he decided to leave instead of deal with her."
Still, the tough exterior didn't mean she was above a little extra comfort. Tanja wasn't handling the cold weather like she used to so Kelly, who is adopting her partner, made sure the dog wore sweaters to keep warm even though the other handlers teased them. "I didn't care," Kelly insists, "because she liked it."
Rebecca Frankel's book about military working dogs will be published by Atria Books in August 2013.
U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Benjamin Sutton
By Max Boot
Best Defense guest columnist
In my new book, Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present, I argue that low-intensity warfare always has been and always will be the dominant form of combat. Assuming my analysis is correct -- and I believe it is confirmed by thousands of years of experience -- what does this mean for the future of the U.S. armed forces? What kind of military do we need to fight terrorists and guerrillas?
It is hard to top the description offered by Colonel Pierre-Noel Raspèguy, one of the central characters in Jean Larteguy's classic novel The Centurions (1962) about the French paratroopers who fought in Indochina and Algeria. Raspèguy, modeled on the real-life legend Marcel "Bruno" Bigeard, says:
I'd like France to have two armies: one for display, with lovely guns, tanks, little soldiers, fanfares, staffs, distinguished and doddering generals, and dear little regimental officers who would be deeply concerned over their general's bowel movements for their colonel's piles: an army that would be shown for a modest fee on every fairground in the country.
The other would be the real one, composed entirely of young enthusiasts in camouflage battledress, who would not be put on display but from whom impossible efforts would be demanded and to whom all sorts of tricks would be taught. That's the army in which I would like to fight.
As it happens, the United States today already has the second kind of army -- and a Marine Corps too: Both have been shaped by a decade of war into counterinsurgency (COIN) forces with few peers in history. They may not look good on parade, and they may not be as proficient at fighting with tanks and artillery as the peacetime forces of prior decades, but at the messy, trying business of fighting terrorists and guerrillas they have few if any equals.
Achieving this level of proficiency has not been easy. It has required overcoming the built-in bias in favor of conventional conflict among all conventional military forces. Indeed the COIN revolution in the U.S. military would never have come about were it not for the fact that the more conventional method of fighting nearly led the United States to disaster in Iraq between 2003 and 2007. The danger now is that the armed forces will revert to their default setting -- preparing to fight some version of the (nonexistent) Red Army -- and turn their back on the hard-won lessons of the past decade.
The danger is especially great because the heavy deployment tempo of the last decade is winding down and both the Army and Marine Corps are downsizing -- the former is set to lose at least 80,000 troops, the latter at least 20,000. Actually, the personnel cuts may be even deeper if $500 billion in sequestration cuts are implemented or if they are turned off by a budget deal that inflicts smaller but still substantial cutbacks on the armed forces. A smaller force that will experience less combat may see the exit of some of its most experienced COIN veterans -- the hardcore warriors who have no desire to serve in a spit-and-polish parade-ground army.
A smaller force will also be less capable of COIN operations in the future because such campaigns are manpower intensive. The Iraq War showed that, while you don't need that many troops anymore to take down a conventional force like Saddam Hussein's army, you need a lot more personnel to pacify a country of 25 million people. We did not have enough troops, in no small part because of the "peace dividend" cuts of the 1990s which eliminated one-third of the Army's active-duty ranks. There was a modest plus-up in active-duty strength over the past decade, but if the Army and Marine Corps are now cut again they will lack the riflemen they need to conduct COIN operations in the future.
Of course COIN requires not only large numbers of general-purpose troops but also as many as possible who know the culture and language of the land where they are deployed. This has long been a weakness of the U.S. military, which has never stressed foreign-language training or foreign-area knowledge save for a handful of foreign affairs officers who are typically consigned to career purgatory. This is supposed to be a specialty of the Army Special Forces, but over the past decade their A-teams from all over the world have been sucked into Iraq and Afghanistan and focused on direct-action missions, sacrificing whatever local language proficiency they might have previously cultivated.
It will be hard to enhance the foreign-area expertise of the armed forces without taking some steps that are anathema to the bureaucracy. Some ideas:
Whenever such proposals are put forward, the bureaucracy raises myriad reasons why they are supposedly impractical. What's really impractical, however, is forcing the armed forces to fight on human terrain they don't understand.
None of these is meant to suggest that we should get rid of all heavy conventional forces. The Army and Marine Corps should keep their tanks, albeit in smaller numbers than today -- not because there is great likelihood that anyone will once again fight an armored war against us, as Saddam Hussein tried to do twice, but because tanks can come in handy in COIN. (See the two battles for Fallujah or the Israeli Operation Defensive Shield during the Second Intifada.) The Air Force and Navy shouldn't focus much on COIN at all -- they need more ships and aircraft to counter the rise of China and deal with other conventional threats. But low-intensity conflict will remain the most common form of warfare in the future, and the Army and Marine Corps will need to dedicate the bulk of their resources to preparing for this kind of war in the future.
And that will require not only identifying and shooting insurgents but also dispelling the conditions that give rise to insurgency. Perhaps the most important step we can take to increase our COIN capacity in the future would be to create a civil-military nation-building office, possibly by transforming USAID into an agency focused not on promoting "development" for its own sake but on building up state structures in strategically important countries that are endangered by actual or potential insurgencies. In other words, places like Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Mali, and post-Assad Syria.
I know that "nation-building" is anathema to political expediency in Washington. But there is really no other choice. If we can't do a better job of assisting other countries to govern themselves, especially in the arc of instability stretching from West Africa to Central Asia, we will find our military forces sucked into more difficult and costly conflicts in the future.
Max Boot is the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present (Liveright).
By Harun Dogo
Best Defense guest columnist
1. Why do we send field grade officers to two or three separate, year-long schools over the course of a decade? In fact, why do we send so many of them for a year of schooling a few years before they retire?
2. If the Army can teach the staff college core at their satellite campuses in 15 weeks, what do we get from the in-resident students for the other eight months of residence that makes the added cost worth it?
3. The objective of both SAMS/SAASS and the War College is to teach strategy. In fact there is much overlap in their reading material. If we really need a number of "Jedi" strategist majors running around, why not just send them to War College early?
4. The Air Force in particular has long had a bit of schizophrenia about whether its officers are required to have a master's degree completed before they meet their major's board. As a result, many of those officers pick up an online master's degree somewhere along the way -- oftentimes those degrees are in a subject area very similar to PME -- see some of AMU's offerings or even the AU's own online programs. With the staff and war colleges both conferring the master's degree too -- is it really necessary for officers to pursue up to three master's degrees in the same subject area over the course of a decade?
5. With the sole exception of the Eisenhower School at the National Defense University (the former Industrial College of the Armed Forces -- ICAF), PME core curricula do not seem to include serious instruction in resource management, economics or statistics. Can strategy that does not consider resource implications still be called a "strategy"? Particularly since DOD might be a tad more resource constrained in the future than it has been in the past...
6. Why does everyone have to study the same thing? Social psychology literature tells us that a greater diversity of experiences and backgrounds makes us better at innovating and avoiding groupthink, despite a greater proclivity for clashing opinions. Why not allow officers to pursue a diversity of graduate opportunities instead -- MBAs, MPPs, master's degrees in social science, engineering or (gasp!) basic science? DOD's corporate universities (NPS and AFIT) could pick up some of it, while still enabling students to complete the core staff/war college courses. For those going out to a civilian university, they can take their indoctrination at a distance or spend the summer re-militarizing their thinking...
7. If the goal of war college is to ensure we have senior military leaders who are familiar with strategic thought, rather than trying to identify those with flag potential among PME students when they are majors, why not wait until they are selected for flag rank and then have them attend whatever strategy education we deem to be necessary? Between the four services there are approximately 100 new flag officers per year, and all of those officers already have to attend the CAPSTONE course. Making war college only a general's course or making it six months like the NATO course in Rome might be a more efficient way of making senior officers more strategic...
8. Why not let promising officers attend PME earlier? George Marshall attended staff college six years into his military career. He seemed to do OK in the long run...
9. We already send a fraction of eligible officers to detail with other government departments, non-profit organizations, or businesses in lieu of attending PME. If those experiences are just as valuable as in-residence education, then why not make them more pervasive at the intermediate level? It might help with that pesky retention problem, or serve as a bridge to that sabbatical idea folks want to see...
10. All that said, it appears that attendance of in-residence PME is (at least in certain services) a signaling device for promotion and a reward for top performers. It can also be seen as an opportunity for a frequently deployed force to rest and recuperate and spend some uninterrupted family time. But the current PME framework has been around since the 19th century -- the world and the military have both changed a bit since then -- is this still the best system we can come up with?
Harun Dogo is a doctoral fellow at the Pardee RAND Graduate School and is currently based in Washington DC. He also hangs with his homeys in the CNAS Next Generation National Security Leaders 2012-2013 cohort.
By yet another departing Marine officer
Best Defense guest columnist
I have been following the Junior Officer Exodus entries with great interest, because I, too, am a Marine Corps company grade officer who will be leaving active duty this summer after five years of active service. I share many of the frustrations of my fellow lieutenants and captains, and even had a number of friends email me to ask if I was the Marine who wrote about being disappointed that the Marines are not the elite force I was expecting. Apparently I have a history with vitriolic rants. Though while my frustrations run deep, I am sure that I would run into similar issues if I worked at the State Department, Goldman Sachs, or GE.
Yet more than any of the frustrations I have with my job, my senior officers, or what I perceive to be my future in this organization, the single driving factor for me leaving active duty is that I never wanted the military as a career. I joined the Marines a few years after graduating from college. Throughout my undergraduate years, I kept pretending that Iraq was a passing event that would be over shortly. I graduated from college to take a corporate job, and after 18 months I couldn't shake the itch that if my country was at war, I should be a part of it. I attended OCS, and the rest is history.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Marine Corps. I believe I had the best job a 24-to-29 year old can have. I joined because I wanted to go to war and lead Marines in the pursuit of an enemy. Now that we are in the full midst of the drawdown of forces in Afghanistan, there is only a slim chance that I will deploy again. I got what I wanted from the military (experience, adventure, the chance to shoot things, maturity, discipline, leadership, new approaches to problem-solving), and the military certainly got their money's worth out of me. It is simply time to move on to a new phase of my life.
The problem I am facing now is that most of my senior officers simply don't understand why I would ever want to leave active duty. With few exceptions, all field grade officers joined the military prior to 9/11. I am not questioning their motivation or patriotism, but those of us who joined after 9/11 did so basically to go to war. I see many older Marines (both officer and enlisted) enjoying the relatively low stress of garrison military life. Fine, but that's not for me. In my late 20s, I am eager to try other things (teaching, graduate school, business), and am willing to take the risk that I will take a pay cut. The majors and lieutenant colonels that I count as mentors have cautioned me against leaving a steady paycheck and a possibility for a pension. I worry that this risk-averse nature it also emblematic of the cover-your-ass trends in the military, but that is an entirely separate discussion.
My caution to others in similar positions is that you should be prepared to be looked at with suspicion and disdain from senior officers as you prepare to leave active duty.
I just learned the other day that George Marshall began planning for the postwar demobilization of the Army on April 14, 1943, before the landings on Sicily, and indeed before a single American soldier was fighting in Europe. That's confidence.
But no, George Marshall was not perfect. On July 16, 1946, the Pentagon "suspended Army enlistment of Negroes (except certain specialists) because Negro recruits enrolled at a rate of 1 to every 5 white recruits, exceeding Army's 1 to 10 ratio." I read in another book that that ratio was set at the end of the Civil War, so hard to blame on Marshall. But still.
Finally, I didn't know that an estimated 20,000 American servicemen publicly demonstrated in Manila in 1946 to be allowed to return to the United States sooner than planned.
(All three facts from the Army's official 1952 History of Personnel Demobilization in the United States Army)
Library of Congress
That's the question that occurred to me as I read Douglas Allen's fine essay on how the Royal Navy managed its skippers -- and provided incentives for aggressive approaches -- during the age of fighting sail. I was struck by his passing observation that in the mid-18th century, 8.5 percent of its captains were dismissed or court-martialed.
That's not far from the rate of relief of 16 out of 155 U.S. Army generals who commanded divisions in combat in World War II -- the point of departure in my latest book. So I wondered: In organizations determined to enforce standards and insist on aggressive competence, is there a natural rate of relief of roughly 9 or 10 percent? Business is not the same as military operations, but I also remember that three decades ago, when I was a Wall Street Journal reporter based in Florida, one of the better banks in the state, Barnett, had an annual branch manager relief rate of 10 percent. A couple of people also have reminded me that GE, under Jack Lynch, had a policy of easing out the bottom 10 percent of its managers every year.
But the piece on the Royal Navy is much more far-ranging. It essentially is a study of how the Navy leadership of the 18th century addressed the important question of how to run a large organization with global reach but iffy communications. (The person who sent it to me was thinking about how one might organize command and control of a future U.S. space fleet.) It was also a successful organization, in which, despite being "constantly outnumbered in terms of ships or guns,...still managed to win most of the time." Professor Allen outlines what he calls "the critical rules of the captains and admirals" that ensured that commanders would operate more or less in the interest of the nation rather than in their own. "The entire governance structure encouraged British captains to fight rather than run" -- and so also to have crews trained to fight.
Prize money was especially important. Some senior officers grew rich off the capture of enemy ships. "At a time when an admiral of the fleet might earn 3,000 pounds a year, some admirals amassed 300,000 pounds of prize money." The awards also trickled down: In 1799, when three frigates captured two Spanish ships, each seaman in the three crews received 182 pounds -- the equivalent of 13 years of annual pay.
By Brandon Friedman
Best Defense guest columnist
Regarding this discussion about women in combat, I have to say I'm amused by the sudden absence, in some quarters, of the "can-do" spirit that has typically defined America's armed forces.
This directive was signed by the secretary of defense and backed by the commander-in-chief -- after being endorsed unanimously by the heads of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.
And instead of, "Roger that, sir, we'll make it happen," we see foot-dragging and explanations for why this won't work and how it's unfair and impractical. Maybe this also happened when women were allowed into West Point and Airborne School. I don't know.
Such arguments would be understandable during the debate, but this is a done deal. The decision has been made. So I'm just surprised there's not more discussion about how to make this work -- as opposed to the hand-wringing about how awful it is.
I would argue that such an attitude is more dangerous to our military than women serving in combat roles.
Brandon Friedman served in Iraq and Afghanistan as an officer with the 101st Airborne Division and is the author of The War I Always Wanted. He is now a vice president at Fleishman-Hillard International Communications in Washington, D.C.
A reader writes with this request for you well-informed BD readers. It reminds me that I read the other day that Russia took more casualties at Stalingrad than the United States suffered during the entire war:
While I've read many books about World War II, they've all been from the Western perspective (and predominantly about the United States' role in the war). I've been reading Dominic Tierney's mediocre but salvageable How We Fight, and he made a particularly interesting note about Russia's more significant role in WWII compared to the US -- more loss of life, greater stakes, and ultimate victory.
I've never read an account of WWII from the Russian perspective, and I'm not quite sure where to start in my search for one or two good volumes. I was hoping you might either have a suggestion, or be interested in posting to your blog to see what answers may come.
This time a three-star, I am told. The usual zipper problems. More to come.
UPDATE: I talked to the general in question. He says his departure is not the result of any allegation of wrongdoing but rather was planned three years ago. "There is no investigation here," he said.
So it appears that I got all excited for nothing. If I hear anything different, I will let you know. But at least for now, it appears that I was misled by multiple hits on the rumor mill.
Someone passed to me an e-mail in which a senior Army military intelligence officer declined a request to brief another unit on the "green on blue" threat presented by Afghan soldiers and police.
"I respectfully decline the offer for Dr. Bordin to conduct an OPD," Col. Sharon Hamilton wrote last May to Lt. Col. Frank Tank. (I know, that name may sound odd, but it is real -- Tank is a Knowlton Award-winning officer who has written for the Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin.) Col. Hamilton explained that Bordin "must remain focused on Brigade mission requirements."
She wasn't being completely candid. But Hamilton's real problem with Bordin giving a briefing was that the Army at that time was unhappy with a controversial report Bordin had just produced on "green-on-blue" killings of American soldiers by Afghan army and police personnel. That report, "A Crisis of Trust and Cultural Incompatibility," subsequently became very well known.
But when Bordin first distributed his findings, he got in hot water. A coalition spokesman, Lt. Cdr. Collette Murphy, told the Wall Street Journal that, "The findings are not consistent with our assessment." Murphy charged that the study was "systematically flawed, and suffered from generalizations, narrow sample sets, unprofessional rhetoric, and sensationalism." As a Stars & Stripes article put it, "His prescient analysis was quickly and publicly ridiculed by military officials, and Bordin was removed from his post as a research team leader."
But a year later, after a sharp escalation in green-on-blue killings, the Army embraced his findings.
I tried to e-mail Col. Hamilton, her old boss, as well as Dr. Bordin and Lt. Col. Tank, in order to request comment and get additional information, but was unable to reach any of them, or at least hear back from them.
Don't you just love military bureaucracy?
George Washington University
By Donna McAleer
Best Defense giant slalom correspondent
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, upon the Joint Chiefs of Staff's unanimous recommendation, last week signed the repeal of the combat exclusion policy of 1994, opening more than 200,000 military jobs to women. This was a military decision endorsed by politicians about military readiness, strategic decision-making, and national security.
More than a year ago, the Army chief of staff, General Raymond Odierno, said, "We need their talent. This is about managing talent. We have incredibly talented females who should be in those positions." This reflected an October 2010 decision by Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus to open two classes of nuclear submarines to women.
Ground combat is paramount in the Army. The Army selects the majority of its senior leaders from ground combat branches. The 1994 combat exclusion policy prohibited women from serving in such units. This meant its most significant jobs, high command positions (division, corps, and chief of staff), only went to men with combat arms unit experience.
With Secretary Panetta's decision, the law has now caught up to reality. The exclusion policy didn't keep women out of combat. The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrated this self-evident truth: bullets, RPGs, and IEDs know no gender. The policy did prevent women from officially gaining battlefield experience required for promotion to high command positions directly responsible for national security, e.g., combat command.
In his letter of recommendation to Secretary Panetta, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey said work remained regarding proper performance standards for those new military roles. He also listed "goals and milestones," with quarterly progress updates.
This is the key to successful integration -- setting physical and mental standards based on job requirements, and physical and mental capability, not gender. Most of the opposition to allowing women in combat arms branches focus on doubts about women possessing the requisite strength and stamina and/or whether the presence of women dilutes unit cohesion. These arguments have been used previously -- against the integration of African-Americans, against integrating women into the regular force in the 1970s, and most recently against gays and lesbians. Each time the military has emerged stronger.
No one suggests a lowering of standards. And the unit cohesion argument is really about sex. Will women and men in mixed company have consensual sex? The military has laws on the books that prohibit relationships that could cause problems within the unit -- similar to both norms and laws in the civilian world regulating the workplace environment. The primary reason has always been that emotional entanglements between soldiers can lead to jealousy, result in favoritism, and prevent soldiers from carrying out their duties impartially -- particularly in a life or death situation. While in the civilian world, a workplace relationship will only kill your career.
Recently, the military has strengthened its laws regarding coercive sex recognizing a significant problem persists with rape and sexual assault. However, correlating women in combat with levels of military rape and sexual violence are inaccurate and inflammatory. Less than a quarter of reported rapes occur in theaters of military operations and combat zones. Being in an all-male unit is no protection from sexual predators. Half of sexual trauma survivors being treated by the Veterans Administration are men.
General Dempsey indicated the persistence of sexual assault in the military is linked partially to the military's separate classes of personnel -- male "warriors" versus everyone else, including women. Lifting the combat exclusion policy and treating the genders equally, he says, is more likely to lead people to treat each other equally.
Today women make up nearly 15 percent of the 1.4 million strong active-duty forces. The United States has been in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq longer than in any previous war. More than 280,000 American women have engaged in combat operations there. It is not unreasonable to think that some have engaged in sexual relationships. Yet, there have been no waves of "get me out of here" pregnancies, no orgies, and no combat failures. In short, our men and women in uniform have behaved as military professionals.
Secretary Panetta's decision is a move in the right direction. Servicewomen now have the opportunity to gain the same experience as their male counterparts. It will take at least 20 years for servicewomen to gain the appropriate escalating combat command experience. But the United States will be well served by the increase in the number of sharp minds at the planning and negotiating tables.
Service to country and in combat has never been about gender, it's about the job.
Donna McAleer is a former congressional candidate for Utah's 1st District, a West Point graduate, an Army veteran, a mother, and the author of Porcelain on Steel: Women of West Point's Long Gray Line (Fortis Publishing, 2010).
I am told that General Mattis was traveling and in a meeting when an aide passed him a note telling him that the Pentagon had announced his replacement as head of Central Command. It was news to him -- he hadn't received a phone call or a heads-up from anyone at the Pentagon or the White House.
I asked a friend about that. He wrote back:
...the commander-in-chief can make a change whenever he wants and give no reason. That is right and proper under our system of government.
But there's also the matter of common courtesy to an uncommon man. Here is what one person wrote to me: "What message does it send to the Services when the one leader known for his war-fighting rather than diplomatic or bureaucratic political skills is retired early via one sentence in the Pentagon's daily press handout? Even in battle, Mattis was inclusive of all under his command. He took the time to pull together his driver and guards after every day's rotation on the battlefield, telling them what he thought he had learned and asking them for input. Surely senior administration officials could have found the time to be gracious. But they didn't." Bing West, admittedly a friend of Mattis and fellow Marine, tells me: "It was injudicious to truncate Mattis's command time because his toughness was well-known across the Middle East. The image of a determined warfighter is precisely what a commander-in-chief should cherish when trying to exert leverage upon a recalcitrant Iran."
Pentagon spokesman George Little sent along this note on Friday afternoon:
I reject in the strongest possible terms your reporting about leadership changes at CENTCOM. The fact of the matter is that Gen. Mattis discussed the timing for a change of command at CENTCOM with the Secretary last fall. At that time, Gen. Mattis was asked for recommendations on who might succeed him at CENTCOM. It would be wildly inaccurate to suggest anything else.
I wrote back to Mr. Little these questions:
Can you answer these questions? They are yes or no, I think: Are you flatly saying that Mattis was in fact called? Or are you saying that Mattis was not called but should not have been surprised? Or are you saying something else?
When he didn't address those questions, I sent them again and said I would publish his statement along with the comment that he wouldn't address my specific questions. This led him to write back:
He wasn't called. He personally met with the Secretary. This wasn't a surprise. You can't say I declined to address your questions.
I think Mr. Little is emphatically denying something I didn't say. That is, I think Mattis knew he would be leaving eventually, which would lead to such a conversation with the secretary, but was in fact surprised by the timing and the lack of notice about a press release announcing his successor being issued.
Cpl. Cassandra Flowers/DVIDS
I suspect that the ease with which the U.S. military has accepted openly gay personnel may have encouraged the Pentagon to drop the much-tattered combat restriction on women. The same arguments that were made against integration of blacks in the 1940s and of gays over the last 10 years were made against allowing women to openly serve in combat roles. But, despite those Chicken Littles and Henny Pennies, the sky didn't fall. And the failure of those dire predictions of destroyed unit cohesion to pan out undercut the argument against women in combat. Also, there was a powerful argument that we already have seen women fight in Iraq -- and be decorated for valor in combat.
Ironically, integrating women into infantry units may be far harder than it was to integrate blacks and male gays. The real battle is yet to come: It will be over whether there will be different standards for women than for men, and if so, how different. Or, as retired Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Mellinger puts it, "'If you want to ride this ride, you must be this tall' must be the mantra, not 'everyone gets to play.'"
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Working at a clip on the snowy ground at Bragram Air Field is Drake, a mine detection dog, and his U.S. Army handler Sgt. Garret Grenier. This dog team (only doing training exercises in this photo taken on Jan. 8th) is part of the 49th Engineer Detachment and their job is to find buried explosives, specifically land mines.
U.S. Army Capt. Jeffrey Vlietstra, the officer-in-charge of the 49th Engineer Detachment, says that the original mission of these dogs that arrived in Afghanistan in 2004 was to find the mines on Bagram Air Field but that "eventually the program expanded and they started working in Kandahar" searching for IEDs.
"Our dog teams are the tip of the spear," Vlietstra explains. "Our engineers clear the way ahead of the maneuver force and our dog teams clear the routes to ensure their safety."
Rebecca Frankel, on leave from her FP desk, is currently writing a book about military working dogs, to be published by Atria Books in August 2013.
U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Christopher Bonebrake
A few years ago I swore off reading more books about the Civil War because I decided I needed to broaden my scope and learn more about other events.
But just when I think I am out, I get pulled back in. The other day I picked up the Army's official History of Military Mobilization in the United States Army, 1775-1945, a 1955 publication. I was looking for information on the history of U.S. military drawdowns, but instead found myself fascinated by the breakout of some personnel statistics from the Civil War.
I was surprised by how small the initial calls for manpower were in April 1861. Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Delaware, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Arkansas each were given quotas of 780 men. The four biggest initial providers of federal manpower were New York (13,906), Pennsylvania (20,175, far greater than its quota of 12,500), Ohio (12,357), and to my surprise, Missouri. This last state had a quota of 3,123 but furnished 10,591 men. Anybody know why? (I don't.)
New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio held their positions during the war as the three largest suppliers of soldiers. But Pennsylvania stands out as the largest source of "paid commutations." Some 28,171 of its people hired a substitute or paid $300 to get out of being drafted. That's about 10,000 more than New York, the second largest commutator. I wonder if this reflects the fact that there were a lot of wealthy Quakers in Philadelphia? (I know the Amish also are pacifists, but I doubt that farmers could afford to pay $300 in 1860s dollars, unless somehow the community collectively raised the money.)
The overall desertion rate also surprised me: Of a total of 2.7 million men raised for the force, there were nearly 200,000 desertions.
Black troops overwhelmingly came from the south. The largest provider of any state was Louisiana, with 24,052, followed by Kentucky (23,703), and Tennessee (20,133). The surprise to me here was Texas, which is listed as providing 47, fewer than any other state, even including Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. My wife, the 19th century historian, says this is because Louisiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee were occupied, while Texas was "the least occupied state." At any rate, the black contributions were significant -- Louisiana and Kentucky provided more black troops than total troops sent to the war by Rhode Island or Delaware.
Dudes, if you don't want your civil liberties infringed, don't ask your pals in the FBI to investigate e-mails you don't like. Instead, do what I do: Hit the "delete" button.
Why the FBI dove into this mess remains, to me, the big unanswered question of the entire episode. Now that D. Petraeus, P. Broadwell, and J. Allen have been cleared, the only pending transgression that has gone unaddressed is that apparently committed by the bureau.
So: What was the role of the FBI in this? Who authorized the investigation -- if anybody? And was the NSA involved? People who care about the American system should care about these questions. Anybody in Congress care to help out here? The word "patriot" gets tossed around a lot these days. Here is an instance where it counts.
Tim Boyles/Getty Images
The new issue of Journal of Military History carries two reviews of my new book. One is by Edward Coffman, one of the grand old men of American military history, who calls The Generals "fascinating." His bottom line: "This is a well researched and written book which informs readers about the Army's command problems since the Korean War."
The other review is by Roger Spiller, a bit more of a military insider than Coffman, having taught for decades at Fort Leavenworth. I've read several of his books, and used one of them quite a lot in writing The Generals. I had expected him to do the "con" review to balance Coffman's. Rather, he also is complimentary. He says I have the reputation of being "the best American military correspondent since Hanson Baldwin." (I think he may need to check out the works of Peter Braestrup, C.J. Chivers, Sean Naylor, Dexter Filkins, and several other people.) His bottom line: "Ricks's assessment may well provoke discussion in official circles, but one might ask whether the leaders produced by the system are capable of reforming themselves."
By Capt. John Byron, U.S. Navy (ret.)
Best Defense chief maritime correspondent
In the final pages of Tom's marvelous book, he recommends the Army take a look at the Navy's stricter standards on command accountability...and start firing those who can't do the job. Good advice.
But then he says the Army should avoid the "unforgiving approach the Navy takes, in which relief from command usually results in leaving the service and often a kind of isolation and disgrace." With this I take issue.
There's no over-arching ‘Navy' practice or policy separating officers fired from their jobs for disciplinary or performance issues. All the services are governed by the same legal procedures of Title 10 of U.S. Code. Aside from instances of moral turpitude, most command reliefs in the Navy don't even rise to the level of consideration for separation, and those that do often decide in favor of retention. So...not ‘unforgiving' and not in any way unique to the Navy.
Yes, a fair number of Navy officers who've gotten across the breakers do leave service. But it's their choice, their decision. Those within striking distance of retirement usually choose to put in their twenty. But a significant number stay longer, often to the full tenure allowed by law. Navy, as the other services, has many arcane byways and cul-de-sacs that need specialized officer leadership. While it won't profit a front-runner to stay in one of these jobs long enough to become expert, those in a terminal pay grade often do homestead as key role-players in important technical and non-traditional billets, to the Navy's and the nation's benefit.
Thus a friend who had a rocky tour as a destroyer executive officer served for many years after as the Navy expert on large-bore rapid-fire guns. Another who left command early after a drunken episode sobered up and became a valuable long-time liaison to the British Trident Program. Another couldn't make it as a surface warfare officer but did make huge contributions as an expert on personnel management systems. Another, a submariner who didn't even get to command, continued on through a series of procurement jobs and ended his service as a successful commanding officer of a major Navy test unit. And many (most) of the Navy students I meet in their visit to The Nation of Florida (final training to be a defense attaché) got there after being dead-ended in their warfare community...but have many years' good and useful service ahead of them as foreign-area specialists. Etc. etc. etc.
The Navy accommodates and desires continued service even from officers who don't make it all the way on their first career path. Soylent Green is a work of fiction.
Here are a few things I have heard since I posted my comments on Friday about the Obama administration pushing General Mattis out at Central Command. Thanks to all who wrote in to make this follow-up possible:
On Saturday I sent the above post over to the NSC for comment. Here, without comment from me, is what NSC spokesman "Tommy" Vietor wrote back:
I greatly appreciate your offer to allow us to comment.
What you describe in your email doesn't at all resemble the rigorous, open NSC process I've been a part of here at the White House. The role of the NSC is to coordinate the interagency and facilitate an all of government process and discussion to ensure each agency has input into national security policy. General Mattis has been a critical part of those discussions about the CENTCOM region, and it's completely inaccurate to say there was any effort to prevent him from airing his views. I'd note that General Mattis prepares a weekly report for the Chairman and SecDef on everything that's happening in his AOR. Tom makes sure that report is delivered to the President each week in full.
With respect to Iran policy, Tom [Donilon] worked directly with CENTCOM's leadership, in particular General Mattis and General Allen, to put together our force posture in the region. Without getting into detail, there has obviously been extensive contingency planning related to Iran and the region, and there has been a policy process that has been deliberately structured to allow for assumptions to be challenged and hard questions to be asked at the highest levels of government.
More broadly speaking, many of DOD's top leaders have said that the process Tom lead to formulate out defense strategy was the most robust, open and inclusive conversation they've been a part of.
To quote Secretary Panetta: "And in my experience, this has been an unprecedented process, to have the President of the United States participate in discussions involving the development of a defense strategy, and to spend time with our service chiefs and spend time with our combatant commanders to get their views. It's truly unprecedented."
Chairman Dempsey: "This strategy emerges from a deeply collaborative process. We sought out and took insights from within and from outside the Department of Defense, to include from the intelligence community and other governmental departments. We weighed facts and assessments. We challenged every assumption. We considered a wide range of recommendations and counter-arguments. I can assure you that the steps we have taken to arrive at this strategy involved all of this and much more. This strategy also benefited from an exceptional amount of attention by our senior military and civilian leadership. On multiple occasions, we held all-day and multi-day discussions with service chiefs and combatant commanders. The service chiefs, who are charged with developing the force for the strategy, were heard early and often. The combatant commanders, charged with executing the strategy, all weighed in time and time again. And we were all afforded extraordinary access to both the president and the secretary of defense."
The bottom line is that we are extraordinarily grateful to General Mattis for his patriotism and his service. He is a critical part of our team, and we look forward to his continued counsel in the months ahead.
Tom Ricks again: That comment struck me as blather that obscured more than it illuminated. I said so to Mr. Vietor, who wrote back to ask me what specifically he hadn't addressed. So I sent over these questions:
Vietor's answer: "I'm going to let General Mattis speak to the timing of his departure."
Vietor's answer: "This won't satisfy you, but both Tom [Donilon] and General Mattis understand that policy debates and advice to the President should remain confidential, so I have no plan to outline their candid advice or views."
Vietor's answer: "The President and Tom both welcome hearing dissenting views. Its crucial to good policy making. I can't speak to an alleged anonymous perception. If you quote someone on the record or something specific, I can try to offer more."
Vietor's answer: "The average tour length of the previous 25 COCOMs is 2.7 years. The longest serving COCOM is Admiral Stavridis, who assumed command of SOUTHCOM in October 2006. The second longest serving COCOM is General James Mattis, who assumed command of Joint Forces Command in November 2007. The President just appointed General Allen SACEUR. The last Marine SACEUR was Jim Jones, who later become NSA. I think that's a pretty strong signal about how much the President values the Marine Corps."
Kris Connor/Getty Images
Word on the national security street is that General James Mattis is being given the bum's rush out of his job as commander of Central Command, and is being told to vacate his office several months earlier than planned.
Why the hurry? Pentagon insiders say that he rubbed civilian officials the wrong way -- not because he went all "mad dog," which is his public image, and the view at the White House, but rather because he pushed the civilians so hard on considering the second- and third-order consequences of military action against Iran. Some of those questions apparently were uncomfortable. Like, what do you do with Iran once the nuclear issue is resolved and it remains a foe? What do you do if Iran then develops conventional capabilities that could make it hazardous for U.S. Navy ships to operate in the Persian Gulf? He kept saying, "And then what?"
Inquiry along these lines apparently was not welcomed -- at least in the CENTCOM view. The White House view, apparently, is that Mattis was too hawkish, which is not something I believe, having seen him in the field over the years. I'd call him a tough-minded realist, someone who'd rather have tea with you than shoot you, but is happy to end the conversation either way.
Presidents should feel free to boot generals anytime they want, of course -- that's our system, and one I applaud. But ousting Mattis at this time, and in this way, seems wrong for several reasons:
TIMING: If Mattis leaves in March, as now appears likely, that means there will be a new person running CENTCOM just as the confrontation season with Iran begins to heat up again.
CIVIL-MILITARY SIGNALS: The message the Obama Administration is sending, intentionally or not, is that it doesn't like tough, smart, skeptical generals who speak candidly to their civilian superiors. In fact, that is exactly what it (and every administration) should want. Had we had more back in 2003, we might not have made the colossal mistake of invading Iraq.
SERVICE RELATIONS: The Obamites might not recognize it, but they now have dissed the two Marine generals who are culture heroes in today's Corps: Mattis and Anthony Zinni. The Marines have long memories. I know some who are still mad at the Navy for steaming away from the Marines left on Guadalcanal. Mattis made famous in Iraq the phrase, "No better friend, no worse enemy." The Obama White House should keep that in mind.
I'm still a fan of President Obama. I just drove for two days down the East Coast listening to his first book, and enjoyed it enormously. But I am at the point where I don't trust his national security team. They strike me as politicized, defensive and narrow. These are people who will not recognize it when they screw up, and will treat as enemies anyone who tells them they are doing that. And that is how things like Vietnam get repeated. Harsh words, I know. But I am worried.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
In preparation for Monday's inauguration, when President Barack Obama will be sworn in for his second term in office, Washington, D.C. is tightening security across the board as it anticipates that upwards of 800,000 people will descend upon the city for the proceedings and celebrations. The Secret Service says it has "42 partners here -- every law enforcement entity, every transportation entity, everyone that's got camera -- we are utilizing." And that includes Military Working Dogs.
In addition to D.C. police dogs, canine teams from around the country will be joining in for the weekend for the extra-special POTUS mission. The Joint Task Force-National Capital Region/Military District of Washington has been "coordinating for [nearly 18] months with the Secret Service and FBI to plan for inauguration security," and that includes providing more dogs -- 45 dog handlers to be exact.
CNN noted that when Thomas Jefferson was sworn into office, "he declined the seven horses and two carriages that were ready to ferry him from his boarding house to the Senate chamber where he would take the oath of office" and just walked. Hard to imagine that Obama could afford to do the same, even if escorted by all 45 dog teams.
And though these teams may not be charged with ferrying Obama safely from location to location, they will be on hand throughout the weekend conducting sweeps of the "parade grounds and the Capitol Building." On inauguration day they will be out in full force, on-hand and at the ready.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Doesn't really matter -- they can still beat you up. Pvt. Tremblay went over the hill in 1981.
By Capt. Kyle Packard, U.S. Army
Best Defense department of AVF issues
The adoption of the All-Volunteer Force (AVF) was a subjective reaction to public opposition to the Vietnam War that has inadvertently stripped away accountability at all levels of the civil-military relationship. Although it is widely viewed as a success both inside and outside the defense establishment, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have exposed its limits. Tactically, the AVF has no peer, however, the last 11 years of war has brought to light several unforeseen strategic consequences that have created an unsustainable relationship between soldier and state.
When framing the problems that have come to define the last decade of conflict, whether it be an archaic personnel system or dishonest civil-military discourse, a lack of accountability is the common thread. When compounded with a reluctance to repeat the emotional isolation of returning Vietnam War veterans, society's disassociation with military service creates an environment where dissension is perceived as socially taboo. If the majority of America's sons and daughters served, then the development of a coherent wartime national defense strategy with a viable endgame would be mandatory, thus creating a culture of accountability. Public officials would be held responsible for both their successes and failures through either the ballot box or via civil unrest.
If there is no shared sacrifice, then there is no obligation to maintain accountability. An exclusively professional military has produced an undeniable divide between those that bear the burden of America from those that benefit from its liberties. Without a nation mobilized, absent from the fight was the influx of ingenuity deemed essential to combat ambiguous insurgent networks. Without a shared economic burden, we have soaring national debt with the potential for a balanced budget continually being shifted to the right.
The wealth and prosperity of post-World War II America has fundamentally changed the social contract between citizen and state; the government ensures the wellbeing of a large segment of society yet requires little in return. To rebalance the inequity, all citizens, or those who desire to become citizens, must serve a term of military or civil service. Mr. Ricks, in his New York Times op-ed, provides a salient solution which should serve to spark a national dialogue. I would add that the War Powers Resolution would need to be revised to require Congress to approve, in conjunction with a declaration of war, a shift towards the armed forces to meet wartime manpower demands.
The American viewpoint of compulsory military service as a government-imposed burden has not evolved with the current role of the state. While the technological and special operation requirements of a 21st century military power requires a small standing force, the sacrifices of war, both materially and psychologically, must be universally shared across society. Without unity of effort, America risks inadvertently creating a military caste that sees itself as superior to the citizens its intent is to serve.
Although today's military has not experienced the postwar pendulum swing of the Vietnam era, a lack of accountability may still hollow the force.
CPT Kyle D. Packard is an U.S. Army infantry officer assigned to Fort Campbell, KY. He has deployed four times to Iraq and Afghanistan with both conventional and special operations units. He plans to attend graduate school in the fall of 2013.
By Capt. Alexander Frank, U.S. Army
Best Defense guest respondent
Thomas Ricks' recent post in Foreign Policy discussing a report on my unit's performance during a major training exercise in Germany presents a scathing critique. From my personal experience and through discussions with my peers throughout the regiment, the criticisms he offers are largely valid. However, they are incomplete and utterly meaningless unless viewed in the broader context of the Army's culture. The points he makes are merely symptoms of underlying cultural problems within the Army rather than the specific failures he enumerates.
In his post, Ricks reviews the Center for Army Lessons Learned reports on our exercise in October. He calls the conclusions of the reports "hair raising" and draws out several key points. The reports found "commanders and command sergeant majors tethered to command posts, rarely visiting subordinate units." Instead of face-to-face interactions, they stayed in their command posts and issued a steady stream of fragmentary orders, "not feeling comfortable to allow subordinates to operate broadly under their intent." In sum, he paints a picture of commanders micro-managing from the safety of their headquarters.
On a personal level, this is consistent with what I saw and my own actions as a leader during the DATE. As an executive officer for one of the best line companies in the regiment, I discussed with my commander before the exercise what my role should be -- mentoring the platoon leaders based on my two years of experience as a PL, including combat. This would involve moving forward to their positions to walk through their plans and provide on the spot guidance during key moments of a firefight, but from there letting them operate broadly within what we were trying to accomplish.
Despite agreement from my commander and clear intent during the exercise, I was never encouraged to move forward of our company command post and did not take the initiative to do so, despite the opportunity. Leaders at all levels rarely did so.
Overall, leaders -- including myself -- were focused on the multitude of tasks prescribed to them in the institutional framework in which we operate. For me, that meant taking part in meetings over the radio with various support personnel, filling out logistics reports, and then running errands in the rear such as picking up graphics from our intelligence people.
The Army bureaucracy and culture prizes information flow and reliance on assets and technology, making personal leadership a secondary priority. For example, reports --how to send them, what was the best format, and their content were the key priority prior to the commencement of DATE during our preparations. This over-emphasis on information flow and technology meant that during the actual exercise, there was little attempt to actually gain good situational awareness through battlefield circulations and terrain analysis.
Partial viewpoints on the nature of warfare
These are merely symptoms of broader cultural problems and assumptions about the nature of war in the 21st century that were brilliantly outlined by T.X. Hammes in The Sling and the Stone. Hammes argues that during the 1990s and into the first years of the 20th century, DOD developed an institutional mindset completely centered around technology. The planning and vision papers put out "see increased technical capabilities of command and control as the key factor shaping future war." The command and control systems created would "exceed the capabilities of any opponent and will provide us with a near-perfect understanding of the battlefield." The enemy becomes "a series of inanimate targets to be serviced. He who services the most targets the fastest wins."
This viewpoint formed the basis for the Future Combat System (FCS) and drove our training and mindset for much of 1990s. As a retired general told me who played a key role in the initiation of FCS , "future combat system was hijacked by people who thought you could completely lift the fog of war." Although FCS was eventually scrapped, the ideas that underpin it still drive Army culture. "Currently, DOD has defined the future as technology and is driving all experiments in that direction."
A perfect illustration of this a movie I was shown at my Infantry Officer Training course. It starts with a rather chubby colonel in a perfectly starched uniform striding into his command post, a comfortable tent with desks, chairs, and several computers set up. A major informs him that a UAV has picked up an enemy tank headed toward his lines. "Very well," he says, "put an artillery target right there, and then fire it on my command." The commander pauses as he watches the tank on a live feed slowly plodding along and then excitedly yells, "Fire." The fire mission destroys the tank and everyone in the command tent gives themselves a pat on the back for enabling their colonel to destroy a lone tank. The movie focused on FBCB2 -- an excellent tool that allows great situational awareness on the battlefield. The narrator introduced it claiming, "FBCB2 and integrated technologies will allow unprecedented low-level initiative and delegation of authority." Not quite what happened in the video, however, but a good illustration of Army culture and mindset.
The criticisms listed by Ricks of our unit flow from the cultural problems observed by T.X. Hammes and others. Hammes discusses how these attitudes have made it very difficult to effectively fight a complex global insurgency that tends not to approach the battlefield straight on, in tanks. Even in a fight against a more conventional enemy, the mindset Hammes describes proved ineffective, leading to the weaknesses Ricks outlines. Because of the emphasis on information flow and technology, it's natural for commanders to remain in their command posts where they can have access to the flow of reports from the front and UAV feeds from above. In theory, they can access a near-perfect view of the battlefield and micro-manage their formations thanks to the excellent communication and sensor technologies at their disposal. In such circumstances, commanders moving forward behind their lead assault elements aren't necessary to get a good idea of the battle or drive their subordinates to take action quickly.
DATE showed the fallacy of this mindset. The opposing forces we fought did not afford us the opportunity when they attacked to form a near-perfect view of the battle. Why? Because they moved so quickly and concentrated their forces so well that by the time reports and UAV feeds were processed, the information was already useless. This occurred because commanders never moved forward to get a good idea of the terrain, and so our enemy was able to utilize it effectively to bypass all of the obstacles and areas we planned to kill them in. The result was that our enemy was deep in our rear before we brought to bear any assets against them. We were unable to develop coherent action in the face of attack and they managed to engage our forces piecemeal one after the other. With their firepower and armor advantage, they were able to beat us in any engagement.
A learning organization
That being said, Ricks tells only one side of the story and ignores the accurate and insightful comments he received from Colonel Barclay. The thrashing we took when we were on the defense served its purpose well. During the next phase of the operation, when we were on the attack, we embraced a far bolder plan with commanders out of their command posts right behind their lead elements. My squadron commander spent the bulk of his time just behind our lead elements where he was able to better influence the fight.
The plan developed by headquarters allowed for more subordinate initiative. One of our platoon leaders noticed a key piece of terrain outside of his area and was allowed to quickly seize it. From there he was able to flank the enemy and we achieved complete tactical surprise. My troop was able to infiltrate deep into the enemy's rear with no resistance and pick off isolated enemy units in front of us. The enemy was never able to take concerted action against us and instead continued to maneuver ineffectually in small isolated elements, similar to our predicament when we were playing defense. A fellow captain's company came up on the enemies reserve while they were essentially sitting in a parking lot and destroyed them.
During the culminating live fire exercise afterwards, my company commander dismounted from his Stryker and got behind the lead platoons rather than managing the fight over the radio and FBCB2, as he had been instructed to in the preliminary briefing. When I saw him afterwards, he was giddy with excitement. "I felt connected with the men," he said. He was actually in a position to influence the battle. Although he might not have been as plugged in to the information flow as well as he could have been further to the rear in his Stryker, he was able to influence the human side of the operation. His mere presence inspired the men, motivated the platoon leaders to take the initiative, and when necessary, quickly make key decisions about individual platoons on the spot. Technology has its place and provides tremendous advantages, but over-emphasis at the expense of the human factor leads to failure in our experience.
Over the past decade, the Army has had to become a learning organization, and my regiment is no different. The important failures early on in the DATE stemming from major cultural flaws I described have driven change. The entire point of exercises such as DATE is to learn those lessons when lives are not at stake, to lessen the chance they will occur on a real battlefield, a point Ricks does not accept or acknowledge. [Interruption from Tom: Please don't forget the second sentence of my original post: "It is worrisome that this unit appears to have deteriorated so much, yet paradoxically reassuring that the Army is using its maneuvers to identify shortcomings."]
Bottom line: After participating in those mistakes, I have the utmost confidence in the leaders in my regiment. The next several years will be a key period for us and the Army as a whole as we relearn how to fight a more combined arms hybrid threat than includes conventional mechanized and armored formations. The mentality and culture we develop now will likely determine the character of our institution for decades to come.
CPT Alexander Frank is an infantry officer with 2nd Cavalry Regiment stationed in beautiful Vilseck, Germany, where he is enjoying the travel opportunities while not training. He has a bachelor's degree in physics from Duke University.
When I was writing my most recent book, one of the things that struck me is how rotating commanders undercuts military effectiveness. So when reading a West Point oral history interview of Eliot Cohen, the Johns Hopkins strategist and historian, I was pleased to see him hit the point solidly:
The rotation of commands, by the way, is -- this is kind of a technical point -- but it's -- it is still insane that what we do is we rotate divisional headquarters and corps headquarters to these places. And that's just military malpractice. I mean it means you have no institutional continuity whatsoever.
Tom again: Cohen makes an interesting observation in the same interview:
...the military obviously likes to say, "Don't come to me with a problem. Come to me with a solution." I think that's sort of bogus. I think first you've got to realize that you've got a problem, and sometimes the solution to the problem may not be clear. But you're only going to begin figuring it out once you acknowledge that you've got a problem.
Johns Hopkins University SAIS
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.