The Best Defense

The narrowness of Obama’s national security picks: If you liked Les Aspin . . .

I cannot remember another modern administration that pulled almost all its top national security officials from the Congress. Right now we have former members of Congress as the secretary of defense, secretary of state, president, and vice president. They are advised by a national security advisor and deputy national security advisor with backgrounds as Capitol Hill staffers. And now the president is said to be considering replacing the current people at State and Defense with two other senators -- John Kerry and Chuck Hagel.

Wait a minute. I thought diversity was a good thing! How about some people with backgrounds in academia (such as William Perry, who was a fine secretary of defense, or George Shultz), corporate America (such as David Packard), Wall Street (see Robert Lovett), the law (Edwin Stanton, Henry Stimson, Caspar Weinberger), career-track federal service (Robert Gates), or the military (George Marshall or Colin Powell)? How about people who have actually run something (members of Congress don't run anything but their offices).

President Obama's nightmare is said to be following in the tracks of LBJ -- that is, having a great domestic agenda undercut by backing into war. But he might pay more attention to JFK, who had a narrow team of advisors who thought they were smarter than everyone else. I think Obama is unnecessarily creating a vulnerability -- that is, why voluntarily wear blinders by getting people largely experienced in one relatively small aspect of the world? There is a reason that diversity is not just right but also smart practice. You'd think Obama would understand that.


The Best Defense

A response to the departing Marine: Junior officers need to do more than just walk away from the problem

By Capt. Doug Pelletier, U.S. Army

Best Defense guest respondent

I want to respond to a post from a Marine first lieutenant in your blog on Friday. While I have experienced the type of mindless arrogance he described in his letter, I have come to different conclusions about the solution. I have been truly outraged in the military was when I was in Iraq conducting engineer operations and had to suffer through listening to an O-6 explain to me and my peers that the engineer branch was not what it used to be. The O-6 condescendingly explained to us that he feared for the future of the military because none of me or my peers had ever emplaced a minefield. While that comment was hilarious given the amount of combat experience in that room, there is nothing funny about the arrogance and presumption behind that mindset. While I agree that this sort of attitude is a danger to the military and is hurting retention, I disagree with the author's conclusions that new ideas are not welcomed in the military.

I wrote when I was a first lieutenant serving as an executive officer in Iraq. The ideas therein were put together by myself, my first sergeant (now a sergeant major), and my operations sergeant (now a first sergeant). All three of us have pushed this paper and the ideas contained in it very aggressively and I must say that I have found a very receptive audience. I have gotten the paper into the hands of one three-star general and have received multiple emails about it from senior NCOs, both active and retired, who are helping to push the ideas that we were able to come up with. I have found the upper echelons of the military to be very receptive to good arguments that are well-developed and presented professionally. The problem is that our senior leadership are not receiving very many good ideas from the junior ranks.

Far too often, junior officers in the military see the dysfunctionality of the organization they find themselves in and, rather than fighting back, they complain about their leadership and walk away from the problem. I have seen far too many of my peers complain about what senior officers are doing to the military; however, when I ask them what they are doing to counteract these bad ideas and influence decision-makers they have nothing to say. Most of the senior leaders I have met are very open to new ideas, they are just not receiving any from the men on the ground. My point is that junior officers have responsibilities that we have been shirking. It is far too easy to sit back and complain about our leadership without getting involved. Junior leaders need to be actively involved in the debate about the future of our organizations or else we will be ceding both the argument and our ability to complain about its outcome.

Douglas Pelletier is a 2007 West Point grad who served as an engineer platoon leader and executive officer in Iraq from June 2009 to May 2010. He recently completed the Special Forces Qualification Course at Ft. Bragg and is awaiting transfer to Ft. Campbell to join the 5th Special Forces Group. The views expressed are his own.