Category Archives: Uncategorized

Getting Rid of Generals Won’t Save Much Money, But It’s Still a Good Idea

The National Interest

July 4, 2016

Proposed reforms to the U.S. military command structure designed to save money likely won’t save enough to matter. They could, however, be a good idea anyway.

Six years ago, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced plans to, among other things, shut down Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) and move to cut at least fifty generals and admirals and 150 Senior Executive Service positions over the next two years. This was in reaction to the new “austerity” facing the Department of Defense and was ostensibly going to provide cost savings that could be “reinvested” in the warfighting forces. JFCOM was ultimately absorbed into the Joint Staff and the personnel cuts never came.

Gates’ successor, Chuck Hagel, ordered a 20 percent cut in his own staff at the Pentagon as a “first step.” His uniformed counterpart, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, made vague promises of similar cuts in his staff as well as those of the Combatant Commands and the service component staffs that support them. Thus far, little has happened to implement these plans.

Now, Congress is getting involved.

John McCain (R-AZ), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has been especially vocal for the need to revisit the iconic Goldwater-Nichols reforms. That law, which celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this October, went a long way to breaking down the provincialism between the military services (the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines) by elevating the role of the Chairman and the geographic combatant commanders (the heads of Central Command, European Command, etc.).

His chamber’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2017 would, among many other changes, increase the power of the Chairman to reallocate forces between the GCCs and to require the Secretary to “select one combatant command and direct the commander to replace the service component commands with joint task forces focused on operational military missions” in hopes of “improving the integration of operational efforts across the command, streamlining unnecessary layers of management, and reducing the number of staff.”

Additionally, the Senate bill would reduce the number of generals and admirals 25 percent across the board., contending that “the size of the general and flag officer corps has become increasingly out of balance with the size of the force it leads” and noting that “Over the past 30 years, the end-strength of the joint force has decreased 38 percent, but the ratio of four-star officers to the overall force has increased by 65 percent.” But, again, the main focus is on budgetary savings to allow leadership to “shift as many personnel as possible from staff functions to operational and other vital roles.”

As Brian Palmer noted back when Gates proposed the cuts, getting rid of generals and admirals doesn’t really save much money in the grand scheme of a $600 billion annual Defense budget. That remains true even when one factors in the accompanying support staff that goes with each of those billets.

Further, as Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) rightly notes, the 25 percent figure seems “pulled out of thin air” rather than as the basis of any serious needs assessment.

Still, the proposals are a step in the right direction.

While planning staffs are an essential part of large military organizations, there has been massive bloat in the three decades since Goldwater-Nichols. Partly, that’s a function of the law’s requirement that officers complete a qualifying joint assignment before being selected for general or flag rank. That, naturally, creates institutional pressure to create qualifying billets. More significantly, the law rightly stripped much of the power that the service secretaries and chiefs had in the budget process. The bureaucratic work-around was to increase the size of the service component staffs at each of the combatant commands in order to ensure service “equities” were constantly looked after in the planning process. While understandable, it not only led to much larger and more expensive staffs than necessary but undermined the chain of command. The (usually four-star) commanders of Army, Navy, Marine and Air Forces in a theater report directly to the four-star geographic combatant commander. But they also answer “indirectly” to their service chiefs, who have Title 10 “man, train, and equip” authorities. The two masters are in constant tension.

The pilot program is a step toward mitigating that problem. Take the current Pacific Command organizational chart as an example. The four-star commander has a three-star deputy and a two-star chief of staff. There are nine J-code staff directors, who range from two-stars to colonel/captain rank, each of whom have a subordinate staff. There are three subordinate unified commands (Japan, Korea, and special operations) commanded by three-, four-, and two-star generals, respectively. Then there are four subordinate component commands, representing the services. The Army and Navy each have four-stars, while the Air Force and Marines have three-stars. There’s also a separate standing task force commanded by a rear admiral and a handful of special headquarters. And that’s just the top level of the organization.

Not only is that a lot of overlapping staff, with several four-stars reporting to one another (and in some cases to yet another) but it’s not even a warfighting headquarters. In the old days, a General Norman Schwarzkopf would run the war as the CENTCOM commander. Nowadays, we form a joint or combined task force, typically assigning either the deputy GCC or one of the component commanders as the task force commander and then designating a joint/combined ground force, maritime force, and air component commander. Why not just operate that way all the time rather than creating a new organization on the fly when it’s time to actually fight the force?

Relatedly, the Senate plan would cut the number of four-star officers from the current 41 to 27, limiting the billets to the most obvious posts (“Chairman, Vice Chairman, and other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including the head of the National Guard Bureau; the Combatant Commanders”) plus “the Commander of U.S. Forces– Korea; one additional joint billet for which the President could nominate for advice and consent by the Senate an officer for a four-star joint command (such as the current mission in Afghanistan); and three additional four-star billets each for the Army, Navy, and Air Force to be filled as they choose.”

Indeed, from a pure unity of command perspective, the three “filled as they choose” slots for the services seem superfluous. It makes sense for the Joint Chiefs to be four-star officers. Ditto the combatant commanders, whether geographical or functional. They’re the core uniformed leadership of the armed forces. Likewise, it makes sense for commanders of especially large long-term task forces, such as the commanders in Korea and Afghanistan, to hold four-star rank, since they have multiple three-star subordinates.

It’s not obvious, however, why the vice-chiefs of the services need to also be four-star officers. Or the service-level component commanders at each of the combatant commands. Let alone the service-level Materiel Commands. The Director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program?

Again, reducing these posts to three-star billets would have negligible impact on the budget. Because their pay is capped based on the Executive Schedule, they’re all paid the same, so all we’d save is a bit on the staff-related perquisites. But, aside from truly large warfighting commands nested under a geographic combatant commander, there’s no obvious reason to have four-stars report to four-stars, let alone have three and four layers of that.

Among the other proposals in the bill are 25 percent reductions in staffing of DoD and Service-level headquarters, including a 25 percent cut in senior executive service civilians employed by them, and a modest realignment of bureaucracy at the assistant-secretary level. Given that “25 percent” seems to be the figure that they arrived at in every instance, one strongly suspects that Kaine’s “thin air” was indeed the source. Still, the nature of bureaucracy is to increase with the addition of new problems and areas of emphasis, but not to go away once the problem at hand is solved or minimized. An order from Congress, combined with corresponding funding cuts, is not a bad starting point for Pentagon leadership to conduct a thorough reassessment of their staffing structure and seeing what’s really needed.

The House version is much less ambitious. Its main reforms are to the acquisitions process, which is beyond the scope of both this essay and my expertise, and to end strength. Additionally, it has similar language with respect to the role of the Chairman and modifying the formal strategic-review process. We shall see how much of the Senate vision makes it through the conference process. And, of course, there’s always the potential for President Obama to veto the bill over completely unrelated issues.

It’s long past time to decrease the bloat in our military command and staff structure. While the cost savings that are driving reform are likely illusory, streamlining the process and sharpening the lines of command are valuable in their own right.

Original article

America’s Massive Decline in Gun Violence

Christian Science Monitor

December 4, 2015

This week’s mass shooting in San Bernandino, which killed 14 innocents and wounded another 21, seems sadly routine. We’ve had so many of these incidents in recent years that they flow together. And yet, as Max Ehrenfreund notes at the Washington Post, we’ve actually had a “massive decline” in gun violence over the last two decades.

Premeditated mass shootings in public places are happening more often, some researchers say, plunging towns and cities into grief and riveting the attention of a horrified nation. In general, though, fewer Americans are dying as a result of gun violence — a shift that began about two decades ago.

In 1993, there were seven homicides by firearm for every 100,000 Americans, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By 2013, that figure had fallen by nearly half, to 3.6 — a total of 11,208 firearm homicides. The number of victims of crimes involving guns that did not result in death (such as robberies) declined even more precipitously, from 725 per 100,000 people in 1993 to 175 in 2013.

Older data suggests that gun violence might have been even more widespread previously. The rate of murder and manslaughter excluding negligence reached an apex in 1980, according to the FBI. That year, there were 10.8 willful killings per 100,000 people. Although not a perfect measure of the overall rate of gun violence, the decline in the rate of murder and manslaughter is suggestive: Two in three homicides these days are committed with guns.

This decline in gun violence is part of an overall decline in violent crime. According to the FBI’s data, the national rate of violent crime has decreased 49 percent since its apex in 1991. Even as a certain type of mass shooting is apparently becoming more frequent, America has become a much less violent place.

Ehrenfreund suggests several explanations for the decline including more cops on the beat, the use of computer data analysis to more effectively target policing, a sharp decline in alcohol consumption, the campaign to remove harmful lead from the environment, and an improved economy. There have also been demographic changes; an older population is less violent.

Regardless, the difference between perception and reality here is stark. Mass shootings of strangers are, quite naturally, scarier and more attention-grabbing than ordinary homicides involving people known to the shooter. They make national news and spark debates over the state of our society and what public policy solutions ought be applied. And, yet, they are a statistically insignificant part of the overall homicide numbers.

The Mother Jones article Ehrenfreund links, published in October 2014, notes that the rate of these mass shootings (defined as “attacks that took place in public, in which the shooter and the victims generally were unrelated and unknown to each other, and in which the shooter murdered four or more people”) has taken a sharp uptick since 2011. But the real news, from a dispassionate point of view, is how rare they are. The researches note that “a public mass shooting occurred on average every 172 days since 1982” but that “every 64 days on average” starting with an incident on September 6, 2011.  They estimate the likelihood of this spike occurring by chance at less than one percent. That is, of course, way too many. But it’s a tiny percentage of the overall homicide rate, whether measured in terms of incidents or deaths.

The spectacular nature of the mass shootings makes them natural fodder for public debate. But their rarity and the fact that they’re overwhelmingly committed by the mentally ill make them a poor choice for basing our public policy.

While I own multiple guns, I have no problem with background checks, registration, safety training, closing gun show loopholes, and various other measures offered in the wake of these incidents. They strike me as common sense for a variety of reasons. In combination, they’d make it slightly more difficult for petty criminals to get guns, make it slightly easier for police to investigate shootings after the fact, and help reduce accidental shootings. But they would have essentially no impact on mass shootings, which are rare and unique events.

Original article

This is Why Civilianizing Military Justice Can Work

James Weirick and James Joyner

War on The Rocks

October 16, 2015

Gen. Charles Dunlap makes a number of compelling rebuttals to our argument for civilianizing felony prosecution in the military to remove the unlawful command influence Catch-22. Nonetheless, our central thesis remains unchanged: Military commanders have two jobs — sending the message that sexual assault will not be tolerated and prosecuting those who break the law — that are in conflict. Because the first of those jobs is essential to the commander’s role while the second can be done by objective outside professionals, the two must be split.

We do not claim, as Dunlap alleges, “that courts-martial would robotically make judgments in sexual assault cases because of the statements by superiors, regardless of the facts.” Rather, we argue that military justice is unique in that commanders simultaneously recommend prosecution and have direct authority over the jurors who try the cases; that there is no direct civilian analog to unlawful command influence; and that a series of judicial decisions overturning convictions on that basis signal a need for change. Given that statements by President Obama himself have been implicated in the most recent of these cases, this is a problem that will not solve itself.

Because we recognize the major differences between military and civilian law and values, we do not recommend removing the most serious military offenses, such as disrespect, desertion, dereliction of duty, cowardice, from military jurisdiction, contrary to what Dunlap states. Because those offenses are strictly about maintaining good order and discipline within the ranks, they’re best handled within the military. For crimes like murder, rape, and sexual assault — which not only have direct civilian analogs but also demand separation from society upon conviction — civilian courts, free from the unlawful command influence problem, are best equipped to handle them.

The thrust of Dunlap’s argument centers on retaining the status quo because that is how we have always done it. While the military justice system has served the U.S. military well in the past and generally continues to do so, that does not render the system beyond improvement.

How many cases are we willing to sacrifice to maintain the commander-centric form of military justice? This is an argument of degrees. Our position remains that we have crossed into an intolerable category due results in recent sexual assault causes. The time has come for removing commanders from the most serious military offenses.

Dunlap calls into question the legitimacy of the federal criminal justice system. It is axiomatic that any system of criminal justice is imperfect and is always in need of improvement. But attempting to indict the entire federal criminal justice system is unnecessary and counterproductive.

He also attempts to parse the difference between actual and apparent unlawful command influence. This is of little utility, as the highest military appellate court has determined, “allegations of unlawful command influence are reviewed for actual unlawful command influence as well as the appearance of unlawful command influence.” It is noteworthy that the case from which the above quote was pulled, United States v. Salyer, resulted in the dismissal of a conviction for possession of child pornography as the result of unlawful command influence.

Finally, Dunlap makes much of prosecutorial efficiency in the military justice system and its ability to conduct trials overseas. But an examination of general courts-martial, the military equivalent of a felony, involving serious misconduct demonstrates that overseas trials are not the norm, and efficient justice by the military justice system is a bit of an exaggeration.

The alleged murder of 24 civilians in Haditha, Iraq occurred in November 2005. The senior Marine charged with a crime, Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich was eventually taken to trial in January 2012, at Camp Pendleton, California. The military personnel accused of murdering of an Iraqi man in Hamdania, Iraq in April 2006 were also all tried at Camp Pendleton. The senior Marine involved in that incident, Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III, was eventually convicted of murder in June 2015. Is this efficiency?

The Army also tends to try serious cases away from the battlefield. Sgt. Hasan Akbar, convicted of the murder of two officers in Kuwait, was brought to trial at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Similarly, the “Kill Teams” from the 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division were tried at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, despite the murders having occurring in Afghanistan.

We recognize the many virtues of the current military justice system raised by Dunlap. We simply believe it would be improved by removing a handful of the most sensitive cases from the possibility of unlawful command influence.

Original article

Why Congress is AWOL on National Security Policy

Christian Science Monitor

February 6, 2015

Matt Bennett and Mieke Eoyang, both former Washington staffers, explore “Why Congress is AWOL on national security policymaking today.” Contrasting Rep. Ron Dellums’s two-decade-long campaign to end apartheid in South Africa, they argue that today’s members lack the staying power to exert major influence.

The American public, with its fleeting attention span, seems to focus on a problem only for the length of one news cycle, looking for neat resolution quickly. But foreign and security policy often moves at a different pace. Change takes time. America has only so many levers with which to move the world.

This disconnect between public expectations and practical reality has meant that Congress, when it gets involved at all, often looks to act within a blink. Members offer legislation with catchy titles that take haphazard steps to address devilishly tricky long-term problems. Not surprisingly, the outcomes are unsatisfying and rarely do much to solve the problem.

Yes, Congress will do oversight – but too often that gets hijacked by political sideshows like the never-ending Benghazi blame game. What members do not do much anymore is dive deep into the major questions and prepare themselves to challenge theWhite House – where so much of this decision-making has become centralized – or the State Department and the security agencies over the details of executive-branch policy decisions and come up with ideas of their own.

Changes in the way that Congress does business have contributed to this decline. The incessant demands to raise money for their campaigns and the new normal of flying back to their districts on Thursday and staying away from Washington until Monday mean that members simply do not have the time to dig deeply into some of these issues. When they do turn to policy, the low salience of national security issues in political campaigns – “It’s the economy, stupid” – means their staff and advisers want their energies focused largely on domestic concerns. In turn, this means that when members take the time to go overseas, they risk being accused of taking a junket, rather than seeking to better understand the world.

Within the institution itself, the centralization of power in both parties and both chambers in leadership has eroded the role of many committees where members have an opportunity to dig deep. And the sharp polarization in Congress has left fewer members willing to work together across the aisle on big initiatives.

Now, all of those things are true. But even at the time that Dellums was a House freshman, there were cries of an “imperial presidency” with regard to foreign policy. Going back at least to FDR’s time in office, foreign policymaking – and especially the war power – had shifted almost completely to the White House and the national security staff. As the pace of decisionmaking sped up, Congress became less influential.

Still, it’s not hard to think of major Congressional interventions in national security policy in the 1970s and 1980s. The War Powers Resolution. The Church Committee. The Boland Amendment. The Goldwater-Nichols and Cohen-Nunn reforms. Congress took an active role in backing the Afghan mujahideen against the Soviet invaders, the fights in El Salvador and Nicaragua, the first Gulf War, and the reaction to the 9/11 attacks. Still, they’ve largely deferred to the executive – or the executive has simply gone around Congress – for most of the modern era.

Bennett and Eoyang conclude,

Congress is abdicating its role in security and foreign affairs policymaking to the executive. Yet today’s world is too volatile and complex for Congress to limit itself to the pursuit of talking points and short-term solutions. We live in a time in which our defense, intelligence, diplomatic and foreign-aid infrastructures are in need of overhaul, repair or, at least, reexamination. We live in a world in which Iran is both an implacable foe and a co-combatant against the Islamic State; the Arab Spring has turned to winter; a North Korean despot has nuclear arms and a cyber army; Pakistan is at war with itself; and Russia is occupying Ukraine. The resolution of these issues will not come from a monthlong campaign of airstrikes, nor will lasting change come simply through occupation by American troops.

In fairness, Congress did participate in a significant reorganization of our national security apparatus in the wake of 9/11, most notably the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the restructuring of our airport security system, and a modest reshuffling of the intelligence community. There’s also been the USA Patriot Act and various other efforts.

Certainly, Congress is at least debating what to do about Iran’s nuclear program. And the administration, as administrations are wont to do, is arguing that Congress is mucking things up and endangering the great work being done with the administration. Nor has Congress been silent on Pakistan or Russia. But our national security experts – whether in government or out – have no good solution for these crises. It’s almost unfathomable that Congress will come up with one.

To a large extent, Congress is seemingly ineffective on national security affairs because, well, it’s ineffective. It’s ineffective by design and has been rendered much more so by the speed of modern communications and the imposition of a parliamentary style of lockstep partisan voting upon a system that’s supposed to force cross-cutting compromise.

It’s also gotten worse partly because it’s gotten more democratic. In the era Bennett and Eoyang pine for, Democrats controlled the House of Representatives from 1955 to 1995 with no interruptions and the GOP only controlled it for two Congresses from 1931 to 1995.  The Senate was more competitive but Democrats still controlled it, often with filibuster-proof majorities, from 1955 to 1981 and 1987 to 1995. While there was doubtless a laudable civility that came with that order, the committee chairmen were mandarins with inordinate power and the minority had every incentive to compromise given their permanent status in that role. It’s not a slam dunk that that was better.

Original article

Neoconservatives, the Iraq Debate and Ad Hominem Attacks

The National Interest
June 27, 2014

The stunning success of the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham has renewed American interest in a country where we fought almost continuously for over two decades before pulling the plug in December 2011. Suddenly, old debates have begun again and new ones have arisen as to “who lost Iraq” and what, if anything, the United States should do about it.

On our television screens and op-ed pages, some familiar faces and names have again been talking about Iraq, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and former Iraq Coalition Provisional Authority administrator Paul Bremer, along with various neocon pols and pundits who never went away. Some are now arguing that, having gotten Iraq so spectacularly wrong the last time, these people should not be listened to now. That idea is both misguided and dangerous.

In full disclosure, while I had an infinitesimal fraction of the impact on the public debate as those in question, I was among those who got Iraq wrong in 2003. I was the reverse John Kerry, in that I was opposed to the war before supporting it. The early arguments made by Wolfowitz and company, focusing on Saddam’s evil character and his long past use of chemical weapons against his own people, struck me as a poor justification for war. Despite having opposed virtually every significant U.S. military intervention of the past quarter century, though, I was eventually persuaded that regime change in Iraq was necessary. In the wake of North Korea joining the nuclear club and the sudden dwindling of American options on the Peninsula, I believed a nuclear-empowered Saddam was an unacceptable risk.

While I’ve long since acknowledged that the war was a mistake and eschewed the nation-building campaign almost from its outset, it took me longer than most who write under the TNI masthead to advocate withdrawal, for a variety of reasons too complicated and tangential to this column to go into here.

Regardless, I supported President Obama’s decision to follow through on the withdrawal timetable negotiated by his predecessor and assign almost none of the blame for what’s going wrong in Iraq now to him. Furthermore, I almost always disagree with those in question on their instinct for muscular American military intervention in virtually every crisis anywhere on the globe. Regardless, I believe most of them to have something valuable to contribute to the debate.

Quite a few otherwise-sober analysts disagree.

James Fallows, the eminent journalist and author who served as President Jimmy Carter’s chief speechwriter, threw down the gauntlet weeks ago via Twitter: “Working hypothesis: no one who stumped for original Iraq invasion gets to give ‘advice’ about disaster now. Or should get listened to.”

Mother Jones Washington bureau chief David Corn chimed in, “Like his neocon comrades—Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, Robert Kagan, and others—Wolfowitz does not deserve to be presented as an expert with important ideas about the ongoing mess. He and the rest of this gang should have had their pundit licenses revoked after the Iraq War.”

Paul Waldman, an editor at The American Prospect and a Washington Postcontributor, makes a more nuanced version of the argument, declaring, “there are few people who understand Iraq less than the Republican politicians and pundits who are being sought out for their comments on the current situation.” He singles out for particular scorn John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Kristol, cautioning, “Don’t forget what happened the last time the country listened to them.”

That’s fair enough, particularly since none of the three have any special insights to add to the conversation. Kristol, in particular, despite a PhD in government from Harvard, is simply a pundit with no substantive or regional expertise. But, frankly, that’s true of most politicians and pundits being interviewed on television, not just the Republicans. And note that Waldman and company don’t make the same argument about Joe Biden, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, and scores of Democratic pols and pundits who also got Iraq wrong.

Huffington Post senior media reporter and NYU adjunct professor Michael Calderone laments that “Bremer and others who were largely discredited when it comes to Iraq are back in the spotlight, and they’re being treated as credible experts on the growing chaos in the country.” Among said “others” are Paul Wolfowitz, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Douglas Feith, Andrew Carr, and even former New York Times reporter Judith Miller.

Nor is the argument being advanced solely by Democratic partisans.

Stephen Saideman, the Paterson Chair in International Affairs at Carleton University and expert in the causes and consequences of intervention into intrastate conflicts, contends that “those who partake of major screw-ups can be seen but should not be heard. They can grimace, gnash teeth, jump up and down, gesticulate, but not speak up as they have very little credibility.” He specifically cites Elliot Abrams, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, Bremer, and Oliver North for exclusion, adding, “I am not saying that they should not be allowed to speak, but I don’t see why anyone has to give them a microphone and a camera. Let them rail in private clubs, on street corners, and elsewhere. But why give them attention they no longer deserve?”

More pithily, as is her wont, Christine Fair, a counterterrorism and South Asia scholar at Georgetown, exclaimed, “Today on Faux News, Wolfo-twits was yammering on about Iraq. Really? The NERVE! Put a sock in it you warmongering sack of cat crap!”

Ad hominem is a logical fallacy for a reason. An argument’s strength doesn’t depend on who’s making it. Excluding people from the discourse who have gotten it wrong in the past diminishes, rather than increases, our collective understanding. Even if we presume there’s actually an objective process for identifying right and wrong in complex policy decisions where counterfactuals aren’t available to us, the fact is that anyone who has made a significant number of hard choices will invariably have gotten some wrong.

It’s perfectly legitimate for journalists interviewing former senior officials in the Bush administration—as with any other guests—to press them on their past decisions and statements. To the extent Wolfowitz or anyone else has shown poor judgment on a specific issue, they should absolutely be called upon to explain why we should trust their judgment now. And, if they’re making arguments now that a Democrat is president that contradict arguments they made when their guy was in office, they should be challenged to explain why circumstances are different now or whether there are legitimate reasons as to why their position evolved.

Beyond that, as “Meet The Press” host David Gregory explained in justifying having Wolfowitz on his program to talk about the latest mess in Iraq, it’s worthwhile to speak with Iraq war architects when seeking to answer the question, “How did we get here?” In particular, it’s valuable to “examine why the Bush administration’s goal of training an Iraqi army and helping to create a self-sustaining, democratic government after U.S. withdrawal didn’t come to fruition.”

Now, again, it might be better to ask legitimate experts on the region and foreign internal defense rather than pols and pundits. But that’s not how these shows work, and it never has been. Whether rightly or otherwise, those who book talking heads shows or fill op-ed holes have almost always gravitated towards famous politicians and media celebrities. Being engaging on television—and being willing to show up to engage in lively opinion-mongering, preferably with an identifiably partisan slant—is much more prized than deep knowledge.

While beginning with the ad hominem, Corn followed it with a more nuanced argument: that Wolfowitz was spectacularly wrong about the nature of Sunni-Shia tensions a decade ago and seems not to have learned anything about that subject in the interim.

That’s a fair point that’s actually useful in furthering our understanding. Wolfowitz is legitimately an expert on many things. He’s a Chicago PhD who wrote a dissertation on nuclear proliferation in the Middle East and taught political science at Yale. He’s held prominent positions, including director of policy planning and assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs at State, ambassador to Indonesia, undersecretary for policy and deputy secretary at Defense, and president of the World Bank. That’s more than half a century of education and wisdom that the vast number of us watching television news or reading op-eds don’t have and can therefore benefit from. He knows an incredible amount about how policy is made and has broad regional expertise in the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific. But that doesn’t mean he knows everything or, indeed, that he knows what he doesn’t know.

Similarly, Cheney has served as a Congressman, White House chief of staff, defense secretary, and vice president. Prior to the Iraq fiasco, he had a sterling reputation from his management of the first Gulf War and other successes. Few have more insights into how our government works and how difficult policy decisions are made.

Think Progress national-security editor Hayes Brown takes a more thoughtful approach, arguing that key people who got it right then at substantial political cost—Brent Scowcroft, Anthony Zinni, Howard Dean, Richard Clarke, and others—should be more prominently featured now. That’s a fair point. Interestingly, he also includes Colin Powell, who many liberals despise for his role in selling the Iraq WMD story to the UN but is considered a turncoat by many Republicans for not backing the war with sufficient zeal, on the list. Brown believes, correctly, that Powell distinguished himself from others on the Bush Iraq team by taking responsibility for his mistakes once they became apparent and changing his mind when new evidence came to light.

Like Brown, I do think those who’ve obviously reflected upon and learned from their mistakes are more credible—and, frankly, more interesting—commentators than those who cling stubbornly to their old positions, facts be damned. It’s one thing to still believe that the 2003 invasion was the right course of action. It’s quite another to argue that we did the right thing, say, in throwing low-level Baath Party members out of the military and civil service. If former officials and longstanding pundits are simply going to emulate Baghdad Bob, regurgitating comically stupid talking points, they’re of no value. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan observed, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

Relatedly, while bad judgments on complex issues don’t necessarily devalue one’s value as a commentator, bad faith does. For example, some of the pols and pundits in question have demonstrated a repeated willingness to shade the truth to advance their position.

Salon‘s Heather Digby Parton notes, “in 2008, the Center for Public Integrity and its affiliated group, the Fund for Independence in Journalism, released a study of the false rationales that led the nation into the Iraq War. It found that leading Bush administration officials had publicly lied at least 935 times,” adding, “The major lie was about the Saddam Hussein regime possessing weapons of mass destruction. But the second most common lie was that there was a link between Saddam and al-Qaida, which made the possibility of an Iraqi nuclear weapon falling into the hands of the terrorists who perpetrated 9/11 particularly frightening.”

Now, the group in question had a decided agenda and one can certainly dispute their coding decisions. Even some of the statements that Parton singles out as examples, such as Cheney’s assertion that, “the evidence is pretty conclusive that the Iraqis have indeed harbored terrorists,” are arguably true—if perhaps intentionally misleading. (That is, the “terrorists” in question were fighting for the Palestinian cause and weren’t, as Cheney presumably hoped would be inferred, Al Qaeda-related jihadis.) For that matter, repeating an untrue fact that you genuinely believe to be true is not a lie.

Still, as Paul Pillar exhaustively and skillfully documented in Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy: Iraq, 9/11, and Misguided Reform, Cheney, Wolfowitz, and other senior Bush administration officials consistently cited intelligence they knew to be disputed when it supported their agenda and willfully ignored intelligence that they found inconvenient. Given the enormous pressures they were under in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, I’m willing to believe that they did so in support of a policy they genuinely believed necessary to secure the nation from foreign threats. But it’s their history of mendacity, not their bad judgments, that make them suspect as participants in the public debate.

Original article

The U.S. Military’s Ethics Crisis

The National Interest

February 13, 2014

Military officers behaving badly have been making headlines. But, rather than a sign of widespread corruption, the fact that they’re being caught and disciplined is an indication of how seriously the profession takes its ethical responsibilities.

From massive cheating scandals with Air Force and Navy nuclear officers and Army National Guard recruiters to generals and admirals abusing the perks of their office or sending wildly inappropriate emails detailing the things they’d like to do with female Members of Congress, the string of reports have many seeing an ethical crisis in the American armed forces.

They prompted TNI contributing editor Paul Pillar to ask, “What’s going on with military officers?” The Pentagon’s senior leadership is apparently asking themselves the same thing. Earlier this month, the DoD’s press secretary put out word that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is “concerned about the health of the force and the health of the strong culture of accountability and responsibility that Americans have come to expect from their military” and “generally concerned that there could be at least at some level a breakdown in ethical behavior and in the demonstration of moral courage.” Friday, the other shoe dropped, with Hagel himself announcing that he would appoint a senior general as an ethics czar and that “It will be an individual who is experienced in not just this building, but I want someone who understands the outside, who understands the pressures of combat, the pressures of curriculums and testing, and who has a good, well-rounded background in command.”

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, agrees, proclaiming that, “It is not the war that has caused this. It is the pace, and our failure to understand that at that pace, we were neglecting the tools that manage us as a profession over time.” This was Pillar’s instinct as well. He observed that “The U.S. armed forces are coming off more than a decade of continuous involvement in overseas warfare, with the particular wars in question not having gone especially well” and noted “One thinks, by way of comparison, of the years immediately after the Vietnam War, another overseas war that did not go well and a time when aberrant conduct in the military such as drug abuse was high.”

Regardless, Dempsey says, “This challenge didn’t accumulate overnight, and it won’t be solved overnight.” Further, Dempsey added, “Acts of crime, misconduct, ethical breaches, command climate, and stupidity each require a distinct solution. But the overall solution is attention to who we are as a profession.” Hagel echoed this, declaring, “Ethics and character are absolute values that we cannot take for granted. They must be constantly reinforced.”

While the secretary and chairman are of course right, it’s worth noting that America’s military officers have for generations been selected for and educated in the ethical standards of their profession. Before even being selected for officer training, candidates must pass extensive background checks and be eligible for a security clearance. Even minor brushes with the law and experimentation with recreational drugs can be disqualifying. Cadets are given extensive training on professional ethics, the law of war and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. This education is continued throughout their careers, with reinforcement and expansion through basic and advanced courses and then taken to broader context at staff and war colleges. Further, throughout their careers, their efficiency reports rate them on integrity, with anything but the highest marks an assurance they won’t be promoted.

Few professions have anything like this level of screening and training for character. The only analog that occurs to me, the Roman Catholic priesthood*, is instructive.

Like military officers, Catholic priests are required** to have a bachelor’s degree and extensive follow-on education. Typically, priests have a master’s degree in divinity, with extensive coursework in ethics and moral philosophy, prior to ordination. The American military, by contrast, maintains extensive professional education for its officers throughout their careers, with most getting master’s degrees some time in their second decade of service.

The overwhelming number of officers and priests alike are credits to their chosen calling, performing exemplary public service and upholding the highest moral standards. In both cases, however, some fall short; some, spectacularly so. And, because the standards are so high and the uniforms of their profession make them so identifiable as a group, the public scrutiny that comes from these failures is not only high, but reflects on the whole.

Two observations come from the comparison.

First, it would seem that no amount of screening for character or training in the rules of moral behavior is sufficient to ensure that every single member of a very large group lives up to the standard. Some people will do the wrong thing even when they’re trained to know what the right thing is. Some will be able to rationalize their bad behavior. Others will simply prove weak in the face of temptation. Others still may simply be hard-wired for evil.

Second, while there are certainly exceptions, the instinct of the military brass has been to identify and punish the transgressors, even if doing so embarrasses the profession in the public eye, while the instinct of the Catholic hierarchy was to try to hide the problem to protect the image of the Church. Why Church acted as it did is complicated and, in any case, beyond my expertise. But the opposite reaction of the military profession is worth highlighting.

Our military culture demands accountability, with little tolerance for failure.

General James Amos, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, is under fire for being perhaps too enthusiastic in going after Marines accused of sexual assault and urinating on the corpses of Taliban militants. While his instinct was right in both cases—seeking to uphold the highest standards of his profession—he may well have overstepped his bounds, violating the rules against command influence over the military justice system.

In his new book, former defense secretary Robert Gates shared his frustration that General Stanley McChrystal didn’t fight to keep his job after an embarrassing Rolling Stone article quoted the commander of US forces in Afghanistan and his staff making disparaging remarks about President Obama and other senior civilian leaders. Gates remarked that, “I wish Stan had given me something to defend him with.” Instead, “It was like he was at West Point again and it was just: ‘No excuses, Sir.’” Gates gathered that McChrystal “didn’t want to throw his staff under the bus” and instead took full responsibility, thereby handing “his opponents in the White House the ammunition to get rid of him.” But that shouldn’t have been surprising. While nearly four decades steeped in the military culture, going back to his plebe year, wasn’t enough to keep him from stepping across the line, McChrystal instantly recognized that he’d violated his profession’s code when he saw it in print. Falling on his sword was not only required by that code but a way of going out with honor.

One of the reason so many of these scandals are coming to light is the fact that the chain of command actively encourages reporting of transgressions. There are all manner of channels for even low-ranking personnel to report bad conduct without fear of reprisal.

That’s how a recent incident in which three Navy admirals were rebuked for a questionable trip to London came to light. An “anonymous whistleblower” reported the trip to the Navy Inspector General, saying it may have been technically legal but violated the “Washington Post Test,” that is, that it would be embarrassing if reported in the press. The transgression according to, ironically enough, the Washington Post: “Over seven days, the U.S. admirals visited the British Ministry of Defense for two hours, spent half a day at the U.S. Embassy in London and visited several British Navy installations. At the same time, they did take along their wives (although not at taxpayer expense), arranged a leisurely visit to Bath and didn’t do any business over the weekend.”

Now, the “Washington Post Test” is a good one. As both leaders of people who put their lives on the line for their country and stewards of the taxpayers’ money, flag and general officers ought to be above reproach, avoiding even the appearance of impropriety. But it’s worth noting that they’re being held to a much higher standard than not only their civilian commander-in-chief, the Members of Congress with oversight responsibility over the armed forces, and their private sector counterparts. Presidents, Congressmen, and corporate executives routinely mix business and pleasure, going on trips to nice locations with minimal business to do and taking their families along.

Indeed, The Pentagon’s General Counsel’s Standards of Conduct Office regularly publishes The Encyclopedia of Ethical Failures, a huge volume cataloging in minute and sometimes humorous detail indiscretions committed by uniformed and civilian employees of the Defense Department. Aside from the sheer stupidity of some of the perpetrators, what quickly stands out is that DoD employees are often punished quite severely for conduct that wouldn’t draw a second glance in the private sector.

The nuclear test scandals, especially the Air Force’s, are both more serious and more indicative of a more widespread problem. There, a zero-defects mentality created perhaps unreasonable pressure to excel on the exams and led to a culture where cheating came to be seen as justified. The practice was apparently longstanding and widely known by the community leadership. But, once it came to light, the Air Force and Pentagon senior leadership immediately went to work to fix the problem. Among the solutions? Encouraging more bottom-up reporting of problems.

It’s a good thing, indeed, that the military’s civilian and uniformed leadership is taking this recent spate of ethical lapses seriously. Constant vigilance and scrutiny is good for the profession. But it’s worth keeping in mind how ingrained in the culture they already are.


Original article

Preparing for the Next War

The New Individualist

April 2007

“Perhaps there is no great point in recalling all the tragic and idiotic blunders, all the false optimism, all the unrealism of the first phases of the war, but it is not possible to appreciate fully the heroism of the Security Forces unless the stupidities of some of those in command are remembered.”

The quotation above is from an April 1960 editorial in the Straits Times, reflecting back on a successful British-led campaign against the Malayan insurgency. Astute readers will see no small similarity with the yet-unfinished business in Iraq. It should be noted that winning in Malaya took twelve years. Our most recent adventure in Iraq will have barely passed the four-year mark by the time you read this.
As Genghis Khan observed some eight hundred-odd years ago, “Conquering a country while mounted is easy, dismounting and building a nation is difficult.” There have been amazing advances in the art of war since then, but that remains just as true today. Wondering why we fail to turn the world’s most disconnected and impoverished societies into “instant democracies” is, as the strategist Thomas Barnett puts it, “like wondering why the oncologist lets so many of his patients die.”
The United States spends more on national defense than all the other nations of the world combined. We do so because our interests are global in a way that no other country’s are, and because, quite frankly, we can afford it. The result is, by all accounts, the most highly trained and lethal fighting force the world has ever seen.
Unfortunately, that has spoiled us. Our first war in Iraq, 1991’s Desert Storm, involved a few weeks of missile strikes and aerial bombardment followed by a ground war that took precisely one hundred hours. Such walkover victories raised our expectations to grossly unrealistic levels.
We now face a foe that cannot be defeated with a few guided missiles, smart bombs, or shock and awe. We’re not simply fighting “terror” or “terrorists,” but, as Barnett puts it, “those who want to isolate large chunks of humanity.” These people are, quite literally, enemies of freedom and of its underlying values. The global economy, its rules, and its attendant culture threaten their way of life, and they will stop at nothing to cut themselves off from the reach of Western values.
The good news is that this enemy doesn’t have the ability that the Soviet Union had to wipe out the planet. The bad news is that this enemy may be harder to defeat. And remember: the Cold War lasted more than forty years.
Joseph Stalin was a butcher who had upwards of twenty million of his countrymen murdered and who allied himself with Adolf Hitler until getting double crossed. Yet he never came close to using his hydrogen bombs against us. Nikita Khrushchev was a little on the nutty side but, on the brink of nuclear war with the United States, he backed down and took a back-door deal offered by John Kennedy. But these enemies, no matter how depraved, still valued their own survival. By contrast, if Osama bin Laden gets his hands on even a single nuke, you can rest assured he will use it.
It’s also hard to imagine Russians volunteering their teenage sons and daughters for suicide missions in which they would strap bombs to themselves and murder random innocents in a marketplace. The jihadists do that with such regularity that the individual incidents have become a blur. For them, suicide in the cause of their religious fanaticism is the ultimate glory.
Nor does our enemy even pay lip service to the rules of war developed over centuries by the civilized world. While we go out of our way to avoid innocent casualties, even at the risk of our own, the jihadists actively target non-combatants as a central part of their strategy.
This is the essence of asymmetrical warfare. Our enemies can’t afford to “fight fair.” And they don’t care about surviving the fight, either. What they lack in resources, they make up for in sheer fanaticism.
To protect ourselves against this kind of nihilistic enemy requires a complete rethinking and restructuring of our national defense.

What We Got Right

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld correctly understood that we needed to radically transform our post-Cold-War military to handle this new threat. His plan did not go nearly far enough, partly because his aim was to defeat a hypothetical peer competitor of the future rather than the all-too-real threat from these forces of systemic disruption.
The Bush administration’s endorsement of the pre-emptive use of force, and its abandonment of the international consensus that tried to isolate and contain the world’s worst tyrants, drew howls even from Republican establishment stalwarts like Brent Scowcroft and Jim Baker. But in these respects its national defense policy was on the money. The old-style “realism,” aiming at international “stability,” had propped up despots, starved millions through sanctions regimes, but done nothing to stop terrorism.
After all, al Qaeda was at its apex well before President Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech, let alone the invasion of Iraq. Bin Laden’s organization had formally declared war on us in 1996 and again in 1998. They backed the first bombing of the World Trade Center and the “Blackhawk Down” incident in Somalia, both in 1993; the 1998 bombings of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania; and the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, among others—all before George W. Bush was elected.

Where We Went Wrong

While they grasped the big picture of the new warfare, though, the administration has gotten much of its strategic execution wrong. There have been a myriad of mistakes made in fighting the Iraq War that have been extensively covered elsewhere. A synopsis of the most significant ones, though, will suffice as a jumping-off point for fixing the problems.
The overarching mistake, as Washington Post correspondent Thomas Ricks put it in Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, was “simultaneously ‘worst-casing’ the threat presented by Iraq while ‘best-casing’ the subsequent cost and difficulty of occupying the country.” This led to and was compounded by a series of poor decisions and tactical judgments.
Failure to Plan for Stability. The conventional wisdom, as Ricks documents extensively, is that the Bush administration and its military leaders failed to conduct detailed planning for “Phase IV,” the post-regime-change occupation and rebuilding of Iraq. Ultimately, though, Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor are closer to the mark in Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq. “The violent chaos that followed Saddam’s defeat,” they write, “was not a matter of not having a plan but of adhering too rigidly to the wrong one.”
Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and others were convinced that the Iraqis would “greet us as liberators” and that a large American contingent would remove the incentives for the Iraqis to get to work. Another top Pentagon official, Lawrence Di Rita, proclaimed, “Within 120 days, we’ll win this war and get all U.S. troops out of the country, except 30,000.” This attitude prevailed because the administration’s key decision-makers, including President Bush, were adamant that we needed to avoid the kind of long-term nation-building projects that we had undertaken in the Balkans, Haiti, and elsewhere.
Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice later explained, “The concept was that we would defeat the army, but the institutions would hold, everything from ministries to police forces. You would be able to bring new leadership but we were going to keep the body in place.” Indeed, that was the decision President Bush had made in an open meeting. For whatever reason, however, Paul Bremer, as U.S. Administrator of Iraq after the invasion, countermanded this policy and was allowed to get away with it.
General David McKiernan, who commanded all ground forces during the invasion, said that, as late as summer 2003, “I could walk the streets anywhere in Baghdad. Most Iraqis there still viewed us as liberators.” Retired Major General James “Spider” Marks agreed, arguing that “we lost momentum and that the insurgency was not inevitable.”
Ignoring Our Status as Occupiers. Wanting to be seen as “liberators,” American forces were hesitant to take control and were too eager to pass off the job to locals. In so doing, we lost an opportunity to establish security and restore some semblance of normalcy to Iraqi society.
But the idea that the Iraqi people, bitterly divided along sectarian lines and long oppressed by a brutal dictator, were going to simply spring into action, work in perfect harmony, and get their country working without massive outside help, was foolhardy. Breaking up the existing security forces and the bureaucratic infrastructure guaranteed that it wouldn’t happen.
The result? Rampant looting, including the stripping of the country’s infrastructure. Sewage treatment plants that had to be rebuilt. Ministries ransacked. Even the police stations themselves, according to Gordon and Trainor, “had been picked clean by looters—electrical wires, phones, light fixtures, even some of their door jambs had been stolen.”
Too Few Troops. Rumsfeld was quite right that a high-tech force much smaller than that used to fight Operation Desert Storm could achieve surprise and take down Saddam’s regime quickly. But he was terribly wrong to dismiss the advice of Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki and many other experts who argued that it would take more troops to handle the aftermath than the invasion itself. This error would be compounded by the dispersal of the Iraqi security forces, which ensured that local augmentation would not be forthcoming.
Most significantly, it meant that, in the early days and weeks after the fall of Baghdad, the gates were open. Anbar province was virtually unprotected, leaving it to become the base of the post-invasion insurgency. Weapons caches were left unsecured, ensuring that those insurgents would be well armed. And former regime loyalists were able to escape in droves to Syria, “taking money, weapons, and records with them with which to establish a safe headquarters for the insurgency,” as Ricks notes.
Radical de-Baathification. We had learned during the earliest days of post-World War II reconstruction that trying to run an occupation without the assistance of former officials of the deposed regimes was impossible. Instead, we left the people with expertise in their old jobs to effect a smooth transition, weeding out only the truly bad actors. Conversely, in Iraq, we ordered a massive purge of Baath party members, even down to the level of schoolteachers, effectively banning hundreds of thousands of people from gainful employment. This included some 285,000 police and domestic security forces. The purge “created a vast pool of humiliated, antagonized, and politicized men,” according to Faleh Jabar of the U.S. Institute of Peace.
Ricks argues that Paul Bremer made this decision unilaterally, in direct contravention of months of planning and a direct decision by President Bush to go the other way. Gordon and Trainor, though, report that the administration was always committed to de-Baathification on ideological grounds. Regardless, the results were entirely predictable by anyone with even a modicum of understanding of civil affairs, and the results made themselves manifest within weeks. Yet, incredibly, we’re only now reversing ourselves.
Breaking Up the Iraqi Army.Similarly, Paul Bremer’s decision to break up the regular Iraqi army, contrary to all previous planning, proved catastrophic. It put 385,000 embittered, armed, well-trained men on the street without a job, providing the heart of the insurgent militias. It also destroyed the major non-sectarian institution in Iraqi society.
Former Central Command chief Anthony Zinni points out that it also reinforced the sense that Americans couldn’t be trusted, noting, “We had spent a decade psyopsing the Iraqi army, telling them we would take care of those who didn’t fight.”
Failing to Recognize the Insurgency.The insurgency was allowed to blossom for months while being dismissed by the administration and its senior leaders in Iraq—originally as mere “dead enders” and then as foreign terrorists when, in reality, it was mostly native Iraqis with a variety of distinct grievances—many caused by the decisions listed here.
Incoming CENTCOM commander John Abizaid acknowledged that he was facing “a classical guerrilla-type campaign” upon taking command in July 2003, much to the consternation of his bosses. It would be months, however, before there was any institutional reaction to that awareness.
Cultural Ignorance. Despite knowing since at least the early 1990s that the U.S. military was going to be involved constantly in the Middle East, there remains to this day a woeful lack of people able to speak even rudimentary Arabic and few with any serious understanding of the local culture. Even at the highest level, moves are made without consulting regional experts.
This results in amusing things like naming the replacement military force “the New Iraqi Corps,” or NIC, which just happens to sound like an Arabic vulgarism for sexual intercourse.

The Wrong Managers. Then there was the crippling combination of leaders badly suited to manage the occupation: General Tommy Franks, a brilliant tactician universally derided as one who “didn’t think strategically” and one of the few senior military leaders without experience in the 1990s stability operations; Paul Bremer, a diplomat with zero experience in the Middle East or with postwar occupations; and Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, a micromanager with a conventional warfare mentality. Indeed, it would have been hard to pick a worse team to manage the day-to-day operations of a counterinsurgency and reconstruction mission.

The Wrong Troops for Rebuilding. In addition to having too few troops for the early post-regime-change period, we had too few of the right kind available.
In particular, we were woefully short of military police, civil affairs, engineer, and translator assets. Troops trained to close with and destroy the enemy but without any knowledge of the local culture or ability to communicate with the people made a bad situation much worse.
This was compounded by having many of those specialists diverted on what proved to be a wild goose chase to find non-existent WMD caches. This left translators and others unavailable at the most crucial early stages.
Constant Turnover.There’s a joke in military circles that there are no “lessons learned,” only “lessons identified.” Virtually all historians of the Vietnam War will tell you that we made a monumental mistake in rotating troops out once a year and officers out of line units every six months. Yet we’ve been doing much the same thing in Iraq.
For example, five different units were in charge of Fallujah between April 2003 and April 2004. Not only do these sorts of rotations mean that there is a constant influx of “green” troops who have to learn the culture all over again, but it sends the message to the locals that getting our soldiers back home is more important to the United States than getting the job done. Insurgents already have a big advantage over a foreign force because, by definition, they’re around for the long haul. The only way to combat that is to keep troops there for the duration and take the time to build relationships and trust.
While we’ve gotten smarter and are at least rotating at the unit rather than individual level, the constant movement of units in and out of theater and from locality to locality within theater has hindered us in gaining the local trust and establishing the intelligence network that all agree are vital to counterinsurgency.
This game of musical chairs was played at the top level, too. Franks was replaced by Abizaid, Garner by Bremer, McKiernan with Sanchez, and other major changes were made in the early months, too. New incoming leaders need a transition period to get their bearings. Time is a luxury one can’t afford in the early months of a counterinsurgency operation.
No Unified Command. Perhaps the most fundamental principle of war was violated in the post-major combat phase of the war: the lack of a single command structure.
While Rumsfeld and the military were the face of the operation, it was never quite clear who was in charge. Bremer reported either to the National Security Advisor, Rumsfeld, or the President; it was never clear which. He was not, however, in charge of the security or training operations, which were definitely under military control. He was also unable to incorporate the massive military staff resource.

Moving Forward

As we look ahead to fighting insurgencies in the future, the most difficult challenges we face are outside the realm of simple prescription.
First and foremost, we must develop a national, bi-partisan consensus, such as existed during the Cold War, about the nature of the enemy and how best to fight it. That kind of consensus must be at the level of fundamental values.
It used to be said that politics stopped at the water’s edge. But the combination of a permanent electoral campaign, instant punditry, and a blurring of where foreign policy leaves off and domestic politics begins has eroded that tradition.
To be sure, there were often bitter battles over how to fight the Cold War. The wisdom of using CIA hit teams to take out dictators in Latin America, the conduct of the war in Vietnam, and the nuclear freeze debate are but the most obvious examples. There was, however, no serious disagreement that the Soviets were the central national security threat. Further, there was at least high-level agreement on the Containment strategy, which persisted through many changes in presidential administration.
Without a national consensus about the fundamental rightness of our cause, and a national recognition that our enemy is implacably committed to use whatever means necessary to destroy us, we will simply never sustain the willpower to devote the years, if not decades, required to establish order in failed states. No amount of bureaucratic reorganization or technological investment will achieve this. Commitment is a matter of basic philosophy and values.
Conversely, we must only enter conflicts where our aims can be justified to the people. Our leaders need to think about that in advance. If the answer to the question, “How many American troops are we willing to lose to accomplish this mission?” is something other than “As many as it takes,” then the mission must be shelved. As Army Lieutenant Colonel Duke Christie said, “If Washington decides to pull out of Colombia just because a bunch of us get killed, then we shouldn’t be here in the first place.”
War fighting is and has always been about achieving political objectives rather than military ones. In Vietnam, we managed to lose the war without losing a single battle. Even the infamous Tet Offensive resulted in a resounding military victory for our forces.
That has military implications that will be discussed shortly. On the national leadership side, though, this requires that we not undersell the enemy or over-promise speedy results, thus turning wins into losses. Guerrilla wars—the wars of our future—can take a very long time: the Chinese Communists fought twenty-seven years, the Viet Cong thirty, and the Sandinistas eighteen. The Palestinians have been at it on and off since 1967. Our leaders need to be up front with the American people about that, not promising any cakewalk, quick withdrawal of our forces, or that the war will pay for itself.
That said, building a military force geared to fighting what has been called “Fourth-Generation Warfare” (“4GW”) would at least give our leaders the proper tools to use.

The Right Force Mix

We need aradical realignment of our force structure, which still far too closely resembles the one we built to fight the Soviets. We still need tanks, heavy artillery, fighter jets, and the like. But not nearly so many. We toppled Saddam’s regime with a far smaller force than was necessary a decade earlier and, as Thomas Barnett notes, “we no longer even need strategic surprise to defeat a well-armed enemy.” We can announce when we’re coming and they can’t stop us.
We should move most of our heavy forces into the reserves, keeping mostly light and medium forces on active duty. At the same time, we must dramatically increase the number of military police, civil affairs, engineer, and special operations forces. We need  far more people with cultural and linguistic expertise, like Foreign Area Officers and translators.
The challenge in reconstituting our forces isn’t doctrine but culture. Since at least the 1993 “Blackhawk Down” debacle in Somalia, it has been clear that our force was not properly configured for what we now call “Stability and Support Operations.” Unfortunately, during the post-Soviet period of downsizing, a military leadership steeped in the Cold War tradition naturally fought to preserve the type of force with which they were comfortable: a heavy, high-tech one built to defeat a peer competitor. That none was on the horizon was of little consequence, as the military mindset was that any force that could defeat a Big Foe could easily beat nuisance forces. Our experiences in Somalia and Iraq have demonstrated, yet again, that this is not the case.
To his credit, Donald Rumsfeld began to change this a few years ago. He canceled a handful of incredibly expensive weapons systems we clearly didn’t need, earning the bitter enmity of his generals, while ordering an increase in our Special Forces and civil affairs capabilities. But the speed and scope of the changes have been inadequate to the operational requirements.

The Right Force Mindset

In the failed states where we are likely to be operating, national unity and cultural homogeneity are rare. Almost always, we will confront tribal politics in lands with artificially imposed borders. As Colonel Thomas Hammes notes in The Sling and the Stone: On Warfare in the 21st Century, this means that “alliances are always shifting based on the needs of the tribal, clan, or village leaders.” Small actions can trigger deep-seated animosities between groups pitted against each other under colonialization and post-colonial despots.
We can’t turn all our troops into Green Berets. Special operations soldiers can’t be mass produced; only a select few have the combination of athleticism, mental toughness, and smarts to succeed. We can, however, teach some of the Special Forces ethic to our regular forces—such as the maxim that “Humans are more important than hardware” and the emphasis on language and cultural training.
Since at least the 1950s, we have placed a high value on professional military education for our officers and non-commissioned officers. Additionally, our mid- and senior-grade officers are far more likely to have graduate degrees than their business peers. Even our NCOs are encouraged to take at least some college courses. We have the best educated military in the history of the planet, and it shows.
This emphasis must be redoubled, however. The nature of 4GW is decidedly non-hierarchical, requiring even young corporals to make difficult decisions in culturally sensitive situations that can have a major impact on mission success. At a minimum, all our soldiers should have at least rudimentary training in a foreign language and an understanding of the history and culture of the country they’re operating in that goes beyond some flash cards and a two-hour familiarization brief.
Creating this kind of force will require substantial trade-offs. For our career officers and NCOs, it means even more time on education, especially military history, foreign studies, and language training. This means less time doing something else. Hammes suggests having field grade officers spend less time on high-level staffs, which can easily be solved by flattening the hierarchy and thus eliminating several layers of headquarters.
Additionally, because these skills quickly atrophy if not used, we must significantly rethink our personnel policies. Currently, we rotate people from unit to unit in a variety of unrelated assignments to broaden them for higher-level assignments. Soldiers go from stateside bases to Germany, back to a different stateside base, then on to a short tour in Korea, and so on. This is especially true for our officer corps.
Given the type of wars we will be fighting in the years and decades to come, it would be far more efficient to establish a constabulary model, exemplified by the Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) and, to a lesser extent, the Marine Corps. As experts have noted, soldiers assigned to SOUTHCOM tend to spend most of their careers rotating through assignments in the Latin American theater. There’s no reason that we could not create a career rotation pattern where troops specialized in a particular region of the world.
Certainly, from a morale and family standpoint, soldiers would need to spend a substantial portion of their careers stateside. However, overseas commands could be partnered with stateside bases whose personnel would periodically rotate back to those same regions. This would lead to genuine specialization, and, as a side benefit, unit morale would greatly increase.

Go Small Whenever Possible

While an operation of the scale and complexity of rebuilding Iraq needs a large force to provide security and stabilization, many of our fights against the jihadists can be accomplished with a much smaller footprint. Most of the time, the fewer foreign faces seen in an occupied society, the better the chances of success.
One of the few cases of a foreign intervener successfully beating an insurgency was in El Salvador, where, as journalist Robert Kaplan notes in Imperial Grunts, “55 Special Forces trainers accomplished arguably more than 550,000 troops in Vietnam.” A key to their success was the absence of grandiose nation-building ambitions. Rather than trying to reform the society, or even the military, as a whole, they concentrated on training the trainers, establishing a local cadre force that could replicate itself. Kaplan notes that before the 9/11 attacks, U.S. Special Operators were conducting missions in 170 countries with an average of nine people each.
In addition to keeping a small footprint, this approach obviates the obsession with force protection. The more forces we have on the ground, the more visible our presence, and the more inviting they are as targets. Also, the support tail grows geometrically with the number of troops on the ground. We create large support staffs, forward operating bases, and Little Americas to support them.

Hire Locally, Buy Locally

Some jobs are so complex that only sophisticated contractors like Haliburton can do them efficiently. The rule of thumb, though, must be to use local people and products to the maximum extent possible. This provides jobs, bolsters the local economy, ties the locals to the American effort, and builds trust.
And if you’re hiring them to rebuild the local infrastructure, you get the “two-fer” bonus: it not only denies the insurgents recruits but, ideally, gains valuable intelligence.

Not Just Joint, But Interagency

A truism of 4GW, Hammes points out, is that “if the government is not succeeding, the insurgents are getting stronger.” That means the government and its coalition partners must quickly get a handle on security and ensure that there is a functioning economic infrastructure. In cases like Iraq, where a regime has been toppled, this will mean training and reforming not just police and security forces but also the court and prison system, banking, currency, customs, public health, business regulation, and taxation.
This is all well beyond the capability of even a highly educated military. Much more needs to be done to augment the military force with help from the State Department and other agencies. One model is the Provincial Reconstruction Teams working in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have done this sort of thing on a smaller scale. They combine coalition and local military, indigenous government agencies, and NGOs. By producing concrete improvements in people’s lives, they foster trust which in turn leads to crucial intelligence. As Kaplan puts it, they create “influence without the stigma of occupation.”

Manage the Information War

Iraq is being fought as an asymmetric war, with the world’s best military trying to contain a guerrilla force that, as Christopher Hitchens notes, is reduced to “the use of random murder to create a sectarian and ethnic civil war” and efforts “to alienate coalition soldiers from the population.” Yet, the information war is asymmetric, too. The enemy can dominate media coverage by staging constant acts of mayhem. News about mundane affairs of state—like the coalescing of democratic institutions, revitalization of the infrastructure, or even the relative peace and prosperity in most of Iraq—is very much “dog bites man” when there’s gore to be shown.
Even when the photos tell the truth, as in Abu Ghraib, the power of stirring images is such that anomalies get heightened emphasis and sometimes contexts get dropped. A handful of bad soldiers in that camp got far more coverage than the tens of thousands of decent ones; the former simply make for more titillating news.
Sadly, however, these tactics have been sufficient to turn American public opinion against the war. Well over three thousand American servicemen have lost their lives in over three years of fighting in Iraq. While tragic, that is tiny in relation to past wars. Indeed, during the Civil War we lost more people at Antietam alone and nearly two times that at Gettysburg. But those wars weren’t on television and every single death was not memorialized daily on the national news.
Kaplan has observed that “the actions of the lowliest corporals and privates could be of great strategic impact under the spotlight of the global media.” As we saw with Abu Ghraib, Haditha, and elsewhere, nothing helps an insurgency more than human rights violations by outside interveners or government forces.
To be sure, in fighting insurgencies, the rules of engagement are different, because the bad guys may be more readily shot rather than arrested and tried. Still, counterinsurgency forces are, in essence, beat cops and must practice many of the principles of community policing. It’s not a matter of pie-in-the-sky morality or silly rules but at the very essence of mission success.

Stay In for the Long Haul

In preparing for the next war, perhaps the most important virtue we must learn to practice is one unfamiliar to most Americans: Patience.
From a practical standpoint, we should radically overhaul the defense budgeting process, which not only impedes long-range planning but also sends the wrong signals. We currently budget one year at a time and are invariably late in doing so, leading to continuing resolutions and regular funding disruptions.
The pretense that long-term endeavors like the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are short-term “emergencies” is not only dishonest domestically, it signals to our potential allies in those countries that we’re playing it by ear and might leave at any moment. And it sends the same message to our enemies.
It would be nice to live in a world where we could overthrow hostile regimes and simply walk away. But in the power vacuums we leave behind, new enemies will arise to threaten us. The nature of modern, asymmetrical warfare is that even remote and savage places like Afghanistan can serve as bases for terrorists to plot and train, and then bring carnage to our own shores.
Thomas Barnett explains that “if we simply engage in drive-by regime change without waging the peace that must follow all such wars, then all our victories will remain forever hollow, and they will necessarily be repeated time and time again.” Invasion, followed by “cut and run,” is a strategic option that Fourth-Generational Warfare has rendered obsolete—and dangerous.
So, our patience must be broad and deep. It must be grounded in our recognition of the fundamental goodness of our nation and its values, and the rightness of our cause. Ultimately, our patience must be rooted in love—a love of life and liberty so strong that it will outlast and overwhelm our enemies’ hatred of both.

‘Real Power Is Something You Take’

TCS Daily

January 11, 2006

The controversy over President Bush’s ordering the NSA to monitor phone conversations without a warrant is the latest in a long line of fights over executive authority during wartime. Congress has been increasingly frustrated at being cut out of the decision loop in matters ranging from the conduct of the war in Iraq to the treatment of prisoners in Guantánamo Bay. South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham asked a very pointed question during the Alito confirmation hearings: “Do you believe that any president, because we’re at war, could say the statute on torture gets in the way of my ability to defend the United States, therefore, I don’t have to comply with it?”

Liberal blogger Kevin Drum poses a more fundamental question: What is a wartime president? He acknowledges that, “It’s safe to say that whatever Bush’s NSA program actually involves, no one would have batted an eyelash if FDR had approved a similar program during World War II.” Still, the United States has, to varying extents, been in a state of war for most of the last 60 years. Where do we draw the line?

Nearly half a century ago, legal scholar Edward S. Corwin wrote that, “The Constitution is an invitation to struggle for the privilege of directing American foreign policy.”[1] His argument was that, while the Framers clearly intended for the legislature to be the predominant branch in domestic policy, both branches had substantial power in the realm of international affairs without bright lines to delineate them. Most notably, the Congress had the power to declare war but the president, as Commander-in-Chief, had the power to send troops into harm’s way.

Fictional “Dallas” patriarch Jock Ewing once told his equally fictional son, Bobby, that “Nobody gives you power. Real power is something you take.” All of our great presidents — and some of the less-than-great ones — took great liberty with the Constitution. The have seized the initiative and forced Congress to react.

Teddy Roosevelt quipped, “I took the canal zone and let Congress debate, and while the debate goes on the canal does also.” More famously, he solved a dispute with Congress over sending the fleet around the world thusly:

“The head of the Senate Committee on Naval Affairs announced that the fleet should not and could not go because Congress would refuse to appropriate the money—he being from an Eastern seaboard State. However, I announced in response that I had enough money to take the fleet around to the Pacific anyhow, that the fleet would certainly go, and that if Congress did not choose to appropriate enough money to get the fleet back, why, it would stay in the Pacific. There was no further difficulty about the money.”

He understood that, while Congress theoretically has the power to thwart the president, it is politically unfeasible if the action is popular.

As Drum noted, Franklin Roosevelt claimed and was granted extraordinary powers during the war. Indeed, he asserted the right to ignore laws passed by Congress that he deemed harmful to the war effort. On September 7, 1942 he demanded that Congress repeal certain provisions of the Emergency Price Control Act and wrote,

“In the event that the Congress should fail to act, and act adequately, I shall accept the responsibility, and I will act. . . . The President has the powers, under the Constitution and under Congressional acts, to take measures necessary to avert a disaster which would interfere with the winning of the war. I have given the most thoughtful consideration to meeting this issue without further reference to the Congress. I have determined, however, on this vital matter to consult with the Congress. . . . The American people can be sure that I will use my powers with a full sense of my responsibility to the Constitution and to my country. The American people can also be sure that I shall not hesitate to use every power vested in me to accomplish the defeat of our enemies in any part of the world where our own safety demands such defeat. When the war is won, the powers under which I act automatically revert to the people–to whom they belong.”

Congress acceded to this demand, so we never heard from the judiciary whether the president could so brazenly flout the law. In February of that same year, FDR issued, “by virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States, and Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy,” Executive Order 9066, ordering Japanese-Americans to be placed in detention centers. The Supreme Court upheld this order in Korematsu v. U.S. (1944).

World War II was followed, with almost no hiatus, by the Cold War and the National Security Act of 1947. That legislation further centralized national security policy in the White House and further isolated Congress. This was quickly followed by an undeclared war in Korea, a slow descent into war in Vietnam, and numerous military and intelligence operations of dubious legality, especially in Latin America.

Arthur Schlesinger dubbed this largely unchecked growth of executive power the Imperial Presidency. Congress reasserted itself with the 1973 War Powers Act and the 1975 Church Committee hearings but the momentum was too great. Presidents have largely treated the former with impunity and the latter, while halting some of the abuses of the past, has received substantial blame for the intelligence failures leading up to the 9/11 attacks.

If the Constitution is “an invitation to struggle,” it is one that presidents have been winning since the 1940s. The modern president has reversed the Constitutional presumption that Congress is the preeminent branch and the president secondary. Since Roosevelt, it has been axiomatic that “the president proposes, Congress disposes.” That is especially true in foreign policy and even more so in national security matters.

It’s true that Bush doesn’t have the degree of autonomy in this war as FDR and Lincoln did in theirs. But that’s mostly a function of public perception of the nature of a war–what he can get away with, to put it more crassly–than any limitation of constitutional power. Much of what FDR and others have done is extraconstitutional. But bold wartime leaders have been flouting the Constitution since at least Lincoln, with the full support of the public.


[1] The President: Office and Powers, 1787-1957, New York, New York University Press, 1957. p. 171.

Original article