The Best Defense

I think this is the fundamental problem in U.S. civil-military relations these days

Best Defense is in summer re-runs. This item originally ran on April 21, 2014.

The other day I was speaking on an Army base to a bunch of bright officers. Talking and listening, I came away with this thought: The fundamental problem in 21st century American civil-military relations is that we need presidents willing to listen and learn from dissenting generals -- and generals who know how to dissent in strategic discussions, and are willing to do so.

This is not just a hit on President Obama, though I think he has stumbled in this area with Admiral Mullen and General Mattis.

Think, for example, of Tommy Franks, unable to see that Phase IV of the Iraq war was his responsibility, and that if he thought it wasn't, be willing to send up a rocket about that. And think of President Bush, seeking consensus in discussions of Iraq, rather than using those sessions to explore assumptions and bring differences to the fore -- which is the essence of strategy. If you don't solve civil-military splits around the table, they will persist in the field, as happened with General Sanchez and Ambassador Bremer in Iraq in 2003-04.

Remember, if you are comfortable while making strategy, you probably aren't making strategy, you are just listing goals.

Getting generals who are willing and able to educate their presidents in strategic thinking, and presidents willing to respond in kind -- yeah, that's the hard part.


The Best Defense

One of the best military reading lists ever: Direct to you from the Australian army

Best Defense is in summer re-runs. This item originally ran on April 11, 2014.

It's been awhile since I've seen a reading list this good, and so comprehensive. An education itself. One thing I especially like about it is that it doesn't just list books, it tells you why you might want to read each one.

It also has some very helpful introductory essays. For example, there is this comment on how to read an official history:

Learn to read between the lines, particularly the lines of the official histories. Official historians expect their professional readers to be able to read between the lines. For example in speaking of Singapore, the War Office history says, 'Many stragglers were collected in the town and sent back to their units.'

What does this statement suggest? In an advance stragglers are to be expected. Men become detached from their units for quite legitimate reasons. We provide for them by establishing stragglers' posts to collect them and direct them back towards their units. But when we get large numbers of stragglers behind a defensive position, and a long way back at that, it suggests that units have been broken up or that there has been a breakdown of discipline somewhere. And that in turn suggests that the general situation had reached the stage when a lot of people had lost confidence, when morale was at least beginning to break down.

Also, General Paul Van Riper's essay on his own professional education is worth an evening all by itself.