The Best Defense

Ignorantest newspaper line of the day

The following sentences, printed under the byline of Julie Bosman of the New York Times, could only be written by someone who has not been paying attention:

"Now that American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan is winding down, the warriors are telling their stories. . . The books appear to be part of the next generation of writing from the wars, following a first crop of books by journalists, like "Imperial Life in the Emerald City" by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, about Iraq.

Actually, one of the surprises of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq has been just the opposite: How many fine memoirs have been written over the last 10 years by soldiers, including many by enlisted ones.

As a public service, here is a remedial reading list for Ms. Bosman:

Nathaniel Fick, One Bullet Away

Andrew Exum, This Man's Army

Craig Mullaney, The Unforgiving Minute

Peter Mansoor, Baghdad at Sunrise

Kayla Williams,  Love My Rifle More Than You

Matt Gallagher, Kaboom

Benjamin Tupper, Greetings from Afghanistan

Seth Folsom, The Highway War

David Bellavia, House to House

Joe LeBleu, Long Rifle

Milo Afong, Hogs in the Shadows

Donovan Campbell, Joker One

Nick Popaditch, Once a Marine

John Crawford, The Last True

Jeremiah Workman, Shadow of the Sword

Jason Hartley, Just Another Soldier

Paul Rieckhoff, Chasing Ghosts

Nathan Sassaman, Warrior King

Vivian Gembara, Drowning in the Desert

Rusty Bradley, Lions of Kandahar

Sean Parnell, Outlaw Platoon

Brandon Friedman, The War I Always Wanted

Nate Self, Two Wars

Michael Franzak, A Nightmare's Prayer

I know I am leaving out a bunch more, but all my books are 600 miles from where I am writing this. And I haven't even included memoirs by spies, diplomats and other civilian officials. I suggest that as penance, Ms. Bosman read at least five of these memoirs.


The Best Defense

More on command and control: It is difficult because it is inherently political -- especially so in limited war

By Capt. Rosemary Mariner, USN (Ret.)

Best Defense guest columnist

Tom posed the question of why are we so bad at command and control? Because they are intrinsically political, I doubt it is possible to have a "good" combined command structure in limited coalition wars. Civilian command and NATO demands during the Korean War (under the auspices of the United Nations with U.S. President Truman designated the executive agent) drove MacArthur nuts. One reason Vietnam C2 looked suspect was that MACV had to at least keep up appearances that the South Vietnamese government was in charge of something. Undeclared limited wars, especially as part of ad-hoc coalitions or even formal alliances, are inherently difficult to command or control.

Nor is this just a limited war problem. The WW I command structure was a deliberate attempt to keep the American Expeditionary Force from being used as replacement cannon fodder (amalgamation) for the Allies. After Congress declared it, Wilson took the country to war as an "associate power" so America could perform an independent military role in defeating the central powers, thus enabling it to play a major part in shaping the post-war world. Pershing understood his marching orders. From a pure military viewpoint, this made little sense. Conflicts with WW II divided command structure in the Pacific (in no small part to appease MacArthur) drove many of the post-war unification debates and ultimately the National Security Act of 1947. The whole "jointness" thing was never simply about the services working together. It is about statutory centralized command and control, ergo the unified command structure.

Given the huge challenges of coalition warfare operating under U.N. resolutions, command and control in the Gulf War was a big success story. Operation Desert Storm, the first major post-Vietnam and post-Goldwater Nichols Act military operation, allowed CINCCENT the advantage of a clear war aim to eject the Iraqis from Kuwait. (According to Schwarzkopf's 1992 autobiography, going to Baghdad "to finish the job" was never considered. Coalition and allied support was only to liberate Kuwait. Had we taken all of Iraq, we would have been "like the dinosaur in the tar pit," still there, by ourselves, years later.) The Joint and Combined Command structure had problems, but it worked.

Perspective wise, if "military efficiency" were the yardstick, then we would have the German/Prussian General Staff. As a republic, military efficiency has never been the primary driver, much to the chagrin of Emory Upton and folks unfamiliar with the reasons behind America's long standing distrust of professional armies evident in Article I of the U.S. constitution. This document gives the president and Congress control of all things military, including command structures. The generals advise, not decide. Like others, I get frustrated when C2 issues are framed as strictly military problems while ignoring the fact that the armed forces are wisely under civilian command. And I'm not an apologist for generals; under civilian control of the military, vertical accountability extends to our civilian masters.

Rosemary Mariner is a scholar-in-residence at the University of Tennessee's Center for the Study of War and Society. Prior to retirement, she served as the CJCS Professor of Military Studies at the National War College.