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Old 10-29-2012   #41
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Originally Posted by Bill Moore View Post
If you're talking post Korea it is difficult, but I think an argument can be made that the US Army proved its ability to endure against a potentially superior force during the Battle of Ia Drang in 1965. Some may have some valid arguments to counter argue this.
American air and artillery support available may militate against that being a good example.
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Old 10-29-2012   #42
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The main point of the article is that military boosterism (We're number 1! We're number 1!) blinds one to the obvious military deficiencies exhibited by the American military establishment. And if those flaws are not seen they cannot be corrected. This statement of Sen. McCain "We have the highest trained, most professional, best military in history.” is a fine example of unthinking boosterism. It is the kind of thing that gets in the way of fixing the things, many things, that are broke. The C brothers expand upon this general theme in this post

http://www.onviolence.com/?e=641

about how generals aren't held responsible. And in this post

http://www.onviolence.com/?e=634

about politically correct views of the military.

There is nothing at all objectionable or controversial about the main point of the article. It is simple common sense that if you continually hear that you are the best of best ever that you won't be very inclined to change.

The second big point in the article is that the military establishment (the author uses the word culture) can't adapt. This also seems obvious given the events of recent history. The guys lower down can and have, quite a lot in some cases. But the establishment, all of it, political and military can't. They just go blindly along doing what hasn't worked for the past 10 or 20 years whether it be knowing the F-35 is going to make it or knowing with even more certainty that this is the year the Pak Aarmy/ISI is going to come around.

We have been getting away with this but the lower ranks may not have time to make up for the incompetence of the suits and multi-stars the next time. Which it why it is important that we remove the stars from our eyes. (Get it? Stars in our eyes, a dual reference to removing the baleful influence of the generals and the blindness that We're number 1! afflicts us with. I just now thought of it.)
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Old 10-29-2012   #43
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Posted by Surferbeetle,

Some of your comments had no context, so I didn't understand what you were implying, but comments on a couple.

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Iraq - Saddam, his sons, and many of his gang no longer walk the earth....blood has been spilled to atone for what was taken from us. Oil production is back up to what it was before Saddam took power ~ 3 million bbl/day. Internet penetration has gone from something close to zero to what appeared to be more than 50% in urban areas by my observation.
Saddam and his sons are dead, and good on us, but killing them did not require a major occupation, an excessive de-bathification program, and a largely failed nation building effort. Once Saddam was dead and the sanctions lifted I believe the Iraqis would have gotten their oil production back up to pre-Saddam years on their own (Western corporations would be allowed to provide technical expertise). The 50% internet penetration in itself is not a positive if 50% of them are using it to inform their views from disinformation on radical websites promoting ethnic hatred. That probably isn't happening, but still referring to internet penetration as a positive without understanding its impact seems a bit of reach. However, despite our win and we did win, we pushed Iraq into, or much closer to, Iran's sphere of influence, and ethnic violence is still very active, and the risk of civil war has not been erased. We won, but what the results of that win is too early to assess.

Quote:
Iran - The economy is in shambles. The Syrian connection/pass thru supply route is fractured. Velayat-e faqih has a viable competitor in Najaf. Saudi Arabia & GCC, Turkey and Israel circle, scheme, and smell weakness...
Is an Iranian economy in shambles really in our long term interest? We did the same to Iraq, and when we removed Saddam we had to deal with that economic shamble in addition to an insurgency, a civil war, and transnational terrorism. It was assessed by some experts that weaker economy actually made Saddam more powerful. It seems feasible that a country with a strong and diversified economy would be more difficult for the government to control, because government handouts would be less valuable as a tool to control the masses.

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Arab Spring - The world's largest youth bulge has a better chance to find employment and apply it's energy to productive efforts than previously.
This will be true only if they liberalize and allow their human capital to increase. If the result of Arab Spring is Sharia law and more oppression then I think we and they will all be greatly disappointed.

Quote:
US Army - Many of the weak remaining from the '92 purge have been run off. The SOF model is validated and has earned resourcing...GPF will be cut; unless the 2 trillion mentioned in the campaign is needed to bring a proud and headstrong country to heel (the 12th Iman will not get his chance to come home for a while yet)...and if so GPF will gain a reprieve for a time.
In your opinion what is the SOF model? I think the GPF still has many weak senior leaders who are failing to adapt, and can't think beyond the bounds of outdated doctrine (to include our COIN doctrine). As for the SOF model, we have "a" CT model, but is it the best model possible? We also have a Cold War UW/FID model that we try to apply to every security problem. My point is I hope we don't have a SOF model, but rather an adaptive SOF that constantly evolves and unlike GPF isn't constrained by doctrine.
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Old 10-29-2012   #44
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Posted by Carl

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There is nothing at all objectionable or controversial about the main point of the article. It is simple common sense that if you continually hear that you are the best of best ever that you won't be very inclined to change.
I hate the excessive self-promotion and the everyone in uniform is a hero crap also. It puts the lowest performer on par with the highest performer. Heroes are exceptional individuals, most of us are not heroes and claiming that everyone is weakens the value of the term to mean almost nothing. Most in uniform make sacrifices (deployments, injuries, varying levels of extended discomfort, and of course the ultimate sacrifice), and that deserves some level of respect in my view, but not on the same level as true heroes. Maybe our vocabulary is too limited and we don't have another term that equates to a person to deserves respect, but falls short of a hero.

Claiming that we're the best on the other hand does not prevent us from adapting, and actually it may force us to work harder to retain our position as the best. This seems to apply to corporations who want to retain the reputation of their brand, to athletes, and to special operations. Even Bruce Lee said a little bragging was useful because it forced you to train harder to back up your boasts. There are factors that limit our ability to adapt, but it isn't because we recognize ourselves as the world's best military.

Quote:
The second big point in the article is that the military establishment (the author uses the word culture) can't adapt. This also seems obvious given the events of recent history. The guys lower down can and have, quite a lot in some cases. But the establishment, all of it, political and military can't. They just go blindly along doing what hasn't worked for the past 10 or 20 years whether it be knowing the F-35 is going to make it or knowing with even more certainty that this is the year the Pak Aarmy/ISI is going to come around.
The author comes from the conventional military, and their ability to adapt is slower than the Special Operations community, but to state we continue to go on blindly doing what hasn't worked for 10 years is a gross exaggeration. The system that holds us back more than any other is Congress and the money associated with military spending. The military is frequently stopped from adapting by our civilian leadership, and in our country we accept that because we believe the military should be subordinate to our civilian leaders, but that comes with a cost also. Additionally, investing in high tech weapons is wise for a number of reasons the author doesn't have the experience to understand yet. We will have enemies in the future that don't look like the enemies we're fighting today, and it takes time to develop and field higher end capabilities. We also have to retain this industrial base as unpleasant as that may sound.

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We have been getting away with this but the lower ranks may not have time to make up for the incompetence of the suits and multi-stars the next time. Which it why it is important that we remove the stars from our eyes. (Get it? Stars in our eyes, a dual reference to removing the baleful influence of the generals and the blindness that We're number 1! afflicts us with. I just now thought of it.)
Many, if not most, of our Generals and Admirals are very competent. The fact that three in the Army are recently called out for character failures (not necessarily competence failures) is news only because it is NOT the norm. As for your shot at humor, it is best if you keep your day job
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Old 10-29-2012   #45
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Bruce Lee bragging in order to spur himself to greater efforts to back up the brag was a great stratagem, for Bruce Lee. Anything will work for an individual who is driven from within as he was; elite athletes and spec ops types too for that matter. I am not so sure that works for large organizations. Given the frailties of human nature, I think it much more likely that continually crowing about being the best makes such organizations complacent and keeps them in the same old groove. Why change what has made them the "best"? There is more than one factor that keeps us from adapting, but I think that firmly believing we are the "best" is one of the factors.

Blaming the politicians is something the military establishment has done for years. I'll bet it is something they teach at the secret multi-star school that exists in the basement of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. It is true to an extent, but only to an extent. To give two examples of things the military does to itself, flip ones but they do go to the point, the politicians haven't created and inflicted the cult of powerpoint nor that of the reflective belt upon the military. The politicians don't much care if the military is FOBed up or not. They have proved that. The politicians are only partially responsible for constructing the temple of the night raid. The military doesn't adapt at military things they way we would hope. That is partially the fault of the military.

We have gone on doing the same thing for ten years, or one year at a time 10 ten times. That is the sense I get from bits of reading. Are we still road bound? I get the sense that we mostly are. Have we lightened the soldiers load in the 10 years we've been walking those sere hills and mountains? Have we cut down on the night raids? Do very high ranking military officers still go along with the fantasy that the Pak Army/ISI is useful? Is the date when the F-35 will be combat ready still unknown? Do we have a new tanker in the sky yet? Does the LCS have anything but a 57mm gun to fight with yet?

Reading On Violence I believe the authors well understand the value of high tech weapons. What they mostly object to is high tech that isn't worth the cost and weapons that don't seem to work. The F-35 example is mine, the little light bomber that can't-be all things to all men at least not until the year 2035. I can't speak for them on the need to maintain an industrial base but I understand the need for it. And I also see that we are very close to having only one, count it, one fighter mfg.

Competent is as competent does. It doesn't matter if most of the multi-stars know what they are doing if the corps of general officers produces inferior results, which it can be argued, they do.

You don't mean I have to give up selling material to Leno do you?
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Last edited by carl; 10-29-2012 at 03:40 AM.
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Old 10-29-2012   #46
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clearly the US military (not just the political leadership, the military) did not have a clear notion of what an occupation/liberation of Afghanistan would mean and how best to do it if it was needed. I have no doubt that when it comes to an actual tactical maneuver (capturing position X, securing position Y or patrolling down track Z) the US army is one of the best in the world. And without a doubt when it comes to big firepower high tech stuff, its simply in a class of its own; but generals have to be able to think beyond that and the US army does not do a great job of that. It wasnt just the job of some hack in the state department to plan for "the day after" in Iraq, it was General Frank's job and he didnt do it. Same thing in Afghanistan.
And in both cases a reasonably successful outcome (by current standards, a very satisfactory outcome, but of course, not by "ideal" standards, i.e. the standards that are the norm in the liberal imagination) was possible with less treasure and blood then was spent on sub-optimal outcomes.
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Old 10-29-2012   #47
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Originally Posted by omarali50 View Post
clearly the US military (not just the political leadership, the military) did not have a clear notion of what an occupation/liberation of Afghanistan would mean and how best to do it if it was needed.
Of course Cofer Black’s narrative is that the unseating of the Taliban (not to argue that they’re the good guys, but getting rid of them was not exactly a liberation now, was it?) was the CIA’s baby.
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Old 10-29-2012   #48
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Some of your comments had no context, so I didn't understand what you were implying, but comments on a couple.
My comments and list are what I see as GWOT* deeds/deliverables and secondary & tertiary effects resulting from our involvement in the region. I mean to contrast this with the lost war/lost way narrative which I disagree with.

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Saddam and his sons are dead, and good on us, but killing them did not require a major occupation, an excessive de-bathification program, and a largely failed nation building effort.
I agree that we as a coalition overpaid for the results we see at this time.

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Once Saddam was dead and the sanctions lifted I believe the Iraqis would have gotten their oil production back up to pre-Saddam years on their own (Western corporations would be allowed to provide technical expertise).
Can't say regarding the counterfactual you lay out here, however I followed the bidding for various oil and gas fields....western corporations seemed to predominate in Kurdistan while a very interesting variety of corporations won blocks in the rest of the country. Think I posted some newslinks on SWJ regarding this...will look and get back to you.

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The 50% internet penetration in itself is not a positive if 50% of them are using it to inform their views from disinformation on radical websites promoting ethnic hatred. That probably isn't happening, but still referring to internet penetration as a positive without understanding its impact seems a bit of reach.
My first year (03-04) was spent out and about most everyday working with my Iraqi counterparts in utilities and infrastructure. My observations were primarily of engineers, accountants, admin staff, technicians, and blue collar workers...a subset of the population to be sure but I viewed them as a representative slice of the middle class. During my time there I witnessed an 'info wave' as goods and ideas flooded into a 'lacking' northern Iraq. It was a mostly positive experience, and I noted that the engineers in Kurdistan (who had access to these things prior to '03) were well ahead of those where I was at.

Admittedly these are limited and empirical observations, however bottom line, I see internet penetration as a force for good. I fully understand the other side/security concerns and am not attempting to discount the harm resulting from 'misuse' (as I see it) of this technology.

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However, despite our win and we did win, we pushed Iraq into, or much closer to, Iran's sphere of influence, and ethnic violence is still very active, and the risk of civil war has not been erased. We won, but what the results of that win is too early to assess.
Broadly true, and I agree that it is too early to fully assess things.

This article would be an example of the current dynamic at work.

Iraq suffers from its chaotic foreign policy, Ranj Alaaldin, guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 16 October 2012 04.46 EDT, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisf...ional-interest

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Is an Iranian economy in shambles really in our long term interest? We did the same to Iraq, and when we removed Saddam we had to deal with that economic shamble in addition to an insurgency, a civil war, and transnational terrorism. It was assessed by some experts that weaker economy actually made Saddam more powerful. It seems feasible that a country with a strong and diversified economy would be more difficult for the government to control, because government handouts would be less valuable as a tool to control the masses.
You raise some solid points regarding a strong and diversified economy's ability to empower its citizens. I wonder however about the ability of trouble makers, for lack of a more detailed breakout, to siphon off of a vibrant economy and thus pursue problematic/regionally destabilizing courses of action. I also wonder about the opportunity costs of a war with Iran, the obvious point being a stronger economy would allow things to drag on resulting in greater opportunity costs

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This will be true only if they liberalize and allow their human capital to increase. If the result of Arab Spring is Sharia law and more oppression then I think we and they will all be greatly disappointed.
I would argue that another war, or a bungled western economic recovery would result in the opportunity cost of failing to appropriately steady those who would welcome western efforts to do so.

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In your opinion what is the SOF model?
The SOF business model, as I see it, is a product of GWOT.

Broadly it provides our nation with an expanded and consistent/industrial security spectrum/adjustable yield...massive retaliation to individual retaliation...24/7, anywhere. Nukes, GPF/USAF/USN, USMC, and SOF are that spectrum.

The SOF model appears to use drones to coordinate and enable a number of efforts that were not linked previously or linked in time previously.

It appears to be very heavy on direct action and very light on 'SF' as I was taught/observed it as a youngster.

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I think the GPF still has many weak senior leaders who are failing to adapt, and can't think beyond the bounds of outdated doctrine (to include our COIN doctrine).
Yes...but the why is interesting to consider.

I believe that the COIN model is a militarized, autocratic, frankenstein version of what happens in everyday western democratic and chaotic/mostly rank-less civilian life which is closer to a 'policing and development' model.

With respect, many active military have lost touch with civilian life and this is part of the difficulty in translating 'COIN' to the military so that they are able to implement it. JRTC, NTC, and Hohenfels are some of the places where I was taught and attempted to teach this military model before being sent out to implement it...so I also admit that I am part of this problem.

The US military is amazing...but...not everybody is a banker, mayor, city manager, city attorney, city accountant, city engineer, etc...

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Originally Posted by Bill Moore View Post
As for the SOF model, we have "a" CT model, but is it the best model possible? We also have a Cold War UW/FID model that we try to apply to every security problem. My point is I hope we don't have a SOF model, but rather an adaptive SOF that constantly evolves and unlike GPF isn't constrained by doctrine.
Again, I would suggest that MAD is our coldwar business model (conceived and born during that time) and that a new post-coldwar business model is the GWOT SOF model that I have attempted to describe.

This is not to say that there was not a SOF model prior to GWOT, but what I see today appears to be different from yesterday and institutionally blessed as opposed to the arguably red-headed stepchild of yesterday...(again, not deliberately attempting to be needlessly provocative)

*GWOT is no longer 'official' but it's my shorthand for our efforts post 9/11
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Old 10-29-2012   #49
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...the politicians haven't created and inflicted the cult of powerpoint nor that of the reflective belt upon the military. The politicians don't much care if the military is FOBed up or not. They have proved that. The politicians are only partially responsible for constructing the temple of the night raid. The military doesn't adapt at military things they way we would hope. That is partially the fault of the military.
Congress dictates how those who like Powerpoint and Reflective Belts, those who order night raids will be selected, 'educated' and promoted. It approves those who get to Flag rank. Note the words dictate and approve...
Quote:
We have gone on doing the same thing for ten years, or one year at a time 10 ten times. That is the sense I get from bits of reading. Are we still road bound? I get the sense that we mostly are...
Again, speak to your Congress. The Armed forces are risk averse; all those things you cite would entail risk of more casualties and lost careers. It's not a 'risk averse' calling, so why are they so risk averse?
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Have we lightened the soldiers load in the 10 years we've been walking those sere hills and mountains?
Yes. Almost everything but the Armor; the heaviest item. That enforced risk aversion again.
Quote:
Do very high ranking military officers still go along with the fantasy that the Pak Army/ISI is useful?
I'm not sure any ever did believe that though they were told by their civilian masters to be nice for several reasons. They do what they're told...
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Old 10-29-2012   #50
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Nope Ken, don't buy it to the extent you imply it is. There are just too many things done that Congress can't affect. It may approve those who attain flag rank but it doesn't have much to do with selections from O-1 to O-2 to O-3 and on and on. That is the military establishment. Congress didn't promote the "kill team" platoon leader after the crime was known about. And Congress didn't put the female O-6 at the door of the PX to make sure that everybody had or bought a reflective belt. Congress doesn't write the field manuals or supervise and approve the curriculum at the various schools. They may grandstand from time to time about something but they don't maintain the hive. Nope, don't buy it. To easy to blame somebody else instead of looking at the military establishment, which is what the original article said must be done.

Nor do I buy that Congress and by extension the Americans are especially risk averse. We stay at the war for over a decade now despite the casualties. Congress went for the various surges knowing full well that increased casualties would result. What Congress doesn't like is foolish casualties and they look into that. But, again aside from occasional grandstanding, they, and we, are willing to accept losses if they seem to make sense.

You are right that the military is not a risk averse calling. But it seems quite evident that the star wearing is a risk averse calling. It being my opinion that that is not to be laid at the feet of Congress, that leaves something else. My forever a civilian uniformed opinion is that military culture changes radically at the very high levels. Maybe their risk aversion at that level has something to do with it being easier to count and make judgments than actually think hard. At those levels Congress can only approve what they are presented with. And I remember that officer McMaster was not originally going to be selected for promotion beyond COL.

With the Pak Army/ISI they do what they are told to an extent. But nobody told GEN Barno to share info with the ISI despite advice from his intel people (as related in Operation Dark Heart). He did that on his own. And ADM Mullen gushed entirely too much about how he and Kayani were good buddies for that to be an ordered act. And Omar is entirely too convincing when he speaks about how easy the Pak Army can charm the brains out of high ranking heads.

The point of the article is that we have to start looking at the military failures of the military. We do.
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Old 10-29-2012   #51
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There are a number of reasons for the evolution of the risk-adverse culture. Some come from within the military, others originate outside it. Hanging it all on Congress is the easy answer, and ignores the problems that exist within the services. Doesn't mean that Congress doesn't have a share in the blame...but just that they aren't the only ones.

Constant rotation, a stunning cultural inability to look at its own history (but at least they've been consistent in that inability), accelerated deification of the military by outsiders with their own agendas, and a host of other things contribute to the military's inability to look at itself honestly and find answers. Congress...they're a mixed bag as well. If they pay attention at all, they remember the Cold War and its associated misconceptions and flawed assumptions about the US's historical military norms. They like spending programs, because those translate to jobs they can brag about and a certain level of myth creation.
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Old 10-29-2012   #52
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Nope Ken, don't buy it to the extent you imply it is.
Don't try to determine what I'm 'implying.' Read what I write and don't add the gospel according to Carl to it.
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There are just too many things done that Congress can't affect.
No question and I've never denied that. As I said above, Steve's right. He's more right than you happen to be because he understands it's a mixed bag. What I wrote was this:

""Congress dictates how those who like Powerpoint and Reflective Belts, those who order night raids will be selected, 'educated' and promoted. It approves those who get to Flag rank. Note the words dictate and approve...""

As you acknowledge:
Quote:
It may approve those who attain flag rank but it doesn't have much to do with selections from O-1 to O-2 to O-3 and on and on. That is the military establishment.
True -- but those FlagOs do make those selections and decisions...

Not only that but Congress acceded to other Politicians to place Troops in a position where 'night raids' were one of the few answers to the tactical problem presented in a combat situation that is artificially constrained by political and not military considerations.

Don't fix the belts and raids, they're only symptoms of a far broader problem. That's the point.
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To easy to blame somebody else instead of looking at the military establishment, which is what the original article said must be done.
In reverse order, I was more than likely strongly criticizing the military establishment before you and the author of that article were born. What has happened since then is that I've learned that while much of that criticism was and is well deserved, the Flags aren't the only problem. It is cultural (and much of that is American societally induced) and it is pervasive -- I'm merely pointing out that as is true of much wrong in American society today, a series of well intentioned but poorly thought out laws affect the military in strange and unforeseen ways.

I'm not blaming anyone -- there's enough of that for a whole slew of folks. What I am doing is writing that if you want to fix it, fix all of it or the problems will just reappear. We've done partial fixes before, after Korea and after Viet Nam -- but those fixes attacked the outward manifestations (or some of them...) and did not address the long standing political, systemic and societal problems at the root of the dysfunction.
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Nor do I buy that Congress and by extension the Americans are especially risk averse.
Again, read what I wrote. I did not write that, you assumed it as you do many things. I specifically wrote that the Armed Forces were risk averse. They live in fear of Congress -- they don't understand the Congress and it doesn't understand them...

They aren't afraid of the bad guys; they're afraid of Congressional disapproval and 'harmful' media attention. The Talibs don't keep the Troops roadbound or overloaded. The FlagOs know as well as you that those things are wrong but they continue to do them because they're averse to the political consequences of not doing it.
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But, again aside from occasional grandstanding, they, and we, are willing to accept losses if they seem to make sense.
Broadly agree -- but that grandstanding has adverse impacts. See MRAP...

We are roadbound party due to those creatures, MRAPs, of the media and Congress -- none of the service really wanted to buy them (sometimes not for the right reasons...) but buy them we did -- at the SecDefs's insistence to placate Congress and hush the uninformed media howling. He did that over the objections of the services.
Quote:
But it seems quite evident that the star wearing is a risk averse calling.
It always has been to a great extent; fear of strange political maneuvering has always permeated the US Army even back to the Revolution. Many FlagOs avoided it in years gone by but now we communicate too well -- and with visuals...
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It being my opinion that that is not to be laid at the feet of Congress, that leaves something else.My forever a civilian uniformed opinion
Civilian or uniformed...
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is that military culture changes radically at the very high levels.
that's correct.

Two Stars are the crossover point; almost none escape that.
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Maybe their risk aversion at that level has something to do with it being easier to count and make judgments than actually think hard.
Not nearly that simple.
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At those levels Congress can only approve what they are presented with.
Not so -- at those levels, the whims and wishes of various Congress creature are made known by discrete letters and phone calls. Those whims are ignored at one's peril and the Two and more Stars know that while few lesser beings get to see it -- and rarely suffer from it.
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And I remember that officer McMaster was not originally going to be selected for promotion beyond COL.
Yep, he was a threat to the institution, not because he could and did think and would say things the General's didn't want to hear -- but because he had attracted Congressional attention.
Quote:
The point of the article is that we have to start looking at the military failures of the military. We do.
What the heck do you think I've been writing here for over five years? Look. No question it's definitely needed -- but an improperly focused look can give you the wrong result.

For examples of that, see DoD, Goldwater-Nichols / Combatant Commands and USSOCOM -- all creatures of the politicians in Congress. All well meaning but all directly contributing to the malaise you see, the bureaucracy you can't and all demanding risk averse thought less Congress meddle some more. A malaise and meddling that some of us had or have to live with and that Michael C illustrates...

You've got to fix the problems, not the symptoms.
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Old 10-30-2012   #53
carl
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Default Steve is right, absolutely

Ken:

Steve is able to say the thing well and more clearly than I in many fewer words. Well and ably said.

I do read what you write and what you imply too. There was a plainly implicated suggestion that I responded to..

I hope Flag Os don't make decisions about promoting from O-1 to O-2. They should leave those decisions to people lower down. I don't see how a Flag O could possibly know enough about an individual not on his immediate staff to know if that person should go from O-2 to O-3.

Nope Ken, don't buy it when you say "Not only that but Congress acceded to other Politicians to place Troops in a position where 'night raids' were one of the few answers to the tactical problem presented in a combat situation that is artificially constrained by political and not military considerations." Night raids are the solution chosen. And it is the solution stuck with even when it doesn't work well and hasn't for years. That is a failure of military imagination, a failure of the military. The civilians may put the military in difficult situations, sometimes even impossible. But those Flag Os get paid to use their noodles and adapt in imaginative ways. They don't seem to do that very well. And no sympathy for the Flag Os if they want to complain about political constraints. That is the way it has always been.

The mortal enemy of good enough is perfect. An ally of perfect is "fix the whole thing and not just part of it." Mostly. Often you gotta do what you can do when you can do it. If you don't because you are waiting for the opportunity to do the whole thing, nothing gets done because that opportunity may not come in time or ever. It would be much better to fix "the long standing political, systemic and societal problems at the root of the dysfunction.", but that is a pretty tall order and not likely to happen. If all that isn't done, problem will likely return, but not for a while and during that while things may be a bit better.

This is what you wrote about Congressional risk aversion "Again, speak to your Congress. The Armed forces are risk averse; all those things you cite would entail risk of more casualties and lost careers. It's not a 'risk averse' calling, so why are they so risk averse?" It seems quite reasonable to view that as a powerful statement about how risk averse Congress is. But I was wrong. Good. We are in agreement that Congress isn't all that risk averse.

If the Flag Os won't do what they know is the right thing because "they're afraid of Congressional disapproval and 'harmful' media attention", that is moral cowardice. No sympathy nor absolution for what is plainly a lack of strong moral character.

In the end it doesn't matter why we are so tightly bound to the road. We are. That is a bad thing. The Flag Os of an army that is road bound probably can't be judged in a favorable light.

I disagree about the MRAPs. They were developed and fielded because the Humvees couldn't take the hits. It was pretty apparent that the choice wasn't between getting off the road or going MRAP. The military establishment wasn't going to get off the road. So that left the MRAP as the only out. That was a perfectly rational response to the situation. And it was caused by a military failure.

What I said was "My forever a civilian uniformed opinion". What I meant to say was 'My forever a civilian uniNformed opinion'. Oh what a difference an n makes. I mostly lose my hat while wearing it on my head too.

Granted that Congress creatures make their wishes known. But that is late in the process. Most of the winnowing out has been done by then I would guess, done by the military establishment.

I don't understand why McMaster having attracted Congressional attention would matter unless he was espousing things that the establishment didn't want to hear. It would seem to me that if merely having attracted attention was the sin, then the sin is actually jealousy by the establishment. And besides, you said at those levels the whims and wishes of Congress are made known so the people become known to Congress anyway.

You are right about a Congress trying to fix things and getting it wrong. But the Congress tries fix things because nothing will get done otherwise. The military establishment won't do it, refuses to do it so Congress tries, poorly but at least they try. I agree too that in order to fix it you have to see it in focus but the people who can see it most clearly, won't do anything. But they are more likely to do something, a little tiny bit anyway, if they don't have dopey statements about being the best in world history ringing in their ears.
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Last edited by carl; 10-30-2012 at 02:53 AM.
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Old 10-30-2012   #54
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Quote:
Originally Posted by carl View Post
I do read what you write and what you imply too. There was a plainly implicated suggestion that I responded to...
Not so but I'd never expect you to acknowledge that.
Quote:
I hope Flag Os don't make decisions about promoting from O-1 to O-2. They should leave those decisions to people lower down. I don't see how a Flag O could possibly know enough about an individual not on his immediate staff to know if that person should go from O-2 to O-3.
Yet another case of perceiving an implication that wasn't there. You're focusing on the wrong things, those symptoms. Of course they don't make those decisions -- and your lack of knowledge is showing. There decisions are made in accordance with the Congressionally dictated Defense Officer Personnel Management Act (DOPMA) as amended into OPMs 21. Those acts are nominally produced by the Armed forces and Congress merely writes them into law and the Prez signs them. In fact, congressional staffers virtually dictate what goes into them and the FlagOs sign off because they have little choice.
Quote:
But those Flag Os get paid to use their noodles and adapt in imaginative ways. They don't seem to do that very well. And no sympathy for the Flag Os if they want to complain about political constraints. That is the way it has always been.
I'm not disputing that, I'm merely trying to show you that the system isn't as simplistic as you seem to think.
Quote:
It would be much better to fix "the long standing political, systemic and societal problems at the root of the dysfunction.", but that is a pretty tall order and not likely to happen. If all that isn't done, problem will likely return, but not for a while and during that while things may be a bit better.
As it did when Max Taylor turned the Army around in the late 50s (that worked until McNamara got in an screwed up everything...) and Shy Meyer and others did in the 70s. It'll happen again -- but not until last years LTCs hit four stars -- in about 6 to 10 years.
Quote:
"This is what you wrote about Congressional risk aversion "Again, speak to your Congress. The Armed forces are risk averse; all those things you cite would entail risk of more casualties and lost careers. It's not a 'risk averse' calling, so why are they so risk averse?" It seems quite reasonable to view that as a powerful statement about how risk averse Congress is. But I was wrong. Good. We are in agreement that Congress isn't all that risk averse." (emphasis added / kw)
We obviously define 'quite reasonable' differently. I specifically wrote the Armed Forces were risk averse.

Congress isn't risk averse, not a bit, they are not in danger and basically don't care much about anything military -- they just want happy voters and do not want the Armed Forces to upset anyone...
Quote:
If the Flag Os won't do what they know is the right thing because "they're afraid of Congressional disapproval and 'harmful' media attention", that is moral cowardice. No sympathy nor absolution for what is plainly a lack of strong moral character.
I'm not sure they want your sympathy and I certainly wasn't seeking it. It is quite easy to stand outside any system or process and kibitz rifghteously. Neither you nor I know what you would do in their situation. What I do know is that I've seen a number stand up for what they thought was right and get creamed for it and that trend has worsened in the last 30 years or so. As one of the better three stars I've known once told me "I'm mediocre -- all Generals are mediocre; if you're too good the system will kill you as threat to its well being." Another said "I can walk down the hall and stick my elbows out but if I stick them out too far, they'll get cut off -- I can't do any one or any thing a bit of good with no elbows..." Should it be that way? No, absolutely not but unlike you, they have to deal with what is, not what's ideal or should be.

You and I agree that it should not be that way, we disagree on what can be done. I served through two major reform periods when things were dramatically improved but the underlying problems were not addressed and so I watched all those reforms dissipate -- and in each case, the system worsened after the reform period to a lower state than it was before the reforms started. That's why I'm adamant that fixing the symptoms is not wise. It's been done and each time, things not only reverted, they worsened. I contend no major fix is going to happen absent an existential problem. Not necessarily a big or bad war -- real and significant national economic problems could do it.
Quote:
I disagree about the MRAPs. They were developed and fielded because the Humvees couldn't take the hits. It was pretty apparent that the choice wasn't between getting off the road or going MRAP. The military establishment wasn't going to get off the road. So that left the MRAP as the only out. That was a perfectly rational response to the situation. And it was caused by a military failure.
Yes and no. There was a failure to procure and adequate vehicle when there were plenty of indicators of probable need as far back as the late 70s. That's lick on the Generals. However, the MRAP was a terrible answer to that failure, not really rational or tactically sound but it certainly was expedient (and expensive...). That's a lick on the politicians.

What it also did was provide mobile cocoons, armored shelter -- troops that use them quickly become conditioned to the relative safety and don't want to leave them. The Generals know that and would force the Troops out but they know if they get a whopping number of casualties that the news media and a fickle congress can be unpredictable so best to avoid casualties. The Good guys don't worry about it but due to a personnel system that rewards mediocrity to achieve 'fairness,' every Commander isn't a good guy...

Also, be careful what you assume. A lot of folks in the Army and Marines did and do today in fact get off the road -- too many do not but a lot do and much depends on the quality of the unit and its commander. That all commanders are not good or strong enough to do that is an indictment of that Officer Personnel Management system that says selection must be 'fair' and 'objective.' What that essentially means is that he or she whose turn it is gets to command, competent or not. Back to those O1 and O2 folks -- virtually everyone on of them will be a Captain. Some should not be. Many will make Major and so on...

On that score and on risk aversion aside from the BLT sitting off the coast of North Africa there were some elements at Sigonella who could've been in Benghazi very quickly. They were ready and willing and I hear some FlagOs wanted to go -- I'll bet big bucks they were told to forget it by ecehlons above reality. We'll see...
Quote:
... then the sin is actually jealousy by the establishment.
A bit, there's more to it. The two Stars and above see themselves as Stewards of the Institution -- no question in my mind they overplay that role.
Quote:
And besides, you said at those levels the whims and wishes of Congress are made known so the people become known to Congress anyway.
Yes but the key to their survival is in how well they 'protect' the institution and that means not offending Congress OR slamming the institution. McMaster was not viewed as adequately protective...
Quote:
But they are more likely to do something, a little tiny bit anyway, if they don't have dopey statements about being the best in world history ringing in their ears.
For every person in a position to achieve some change, positive or negative, who believes that stupid trope, there are five to ten who do not. Things are neither as broken or as easy to fix as you seem to think.
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Old 10-30-2012   #55
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There are a number of reasons for the evolution of the risk-adverse culture. Some come from within the military, others originate outside it. Hanging it all on Congress is the easy answer, and ignores the problems that exist within the services. Doesn't mean that Congress doesn't have a share in the blame...but just that they aren't the only ones.

Constant rotation, a stunning cultural inability to look at its own history (but at least they've been consistent in that inability), accelerated deification of the military by outsiders with their own agendas, and a host of other things contribute to the military's inability to look at itself honestly and find answers. Congress...they're a mixed bag as well. If they pay attention at all, they remember the Cold War and its associated misconceptions and flawed assumptions about the US's historical military norms. They like spending programs, because those translate to jobs they can brag about and a certain level of myth creation.
Steve, while I may sound like an apologist for the military I'm far from it, but it gets a little old when everyone, especially those uninformed on how things actually work only throw stones at our senior military leaders.

I don't think we have a cultural inability to look at our history, but rather like most we cherry pick our history to conform with our preconceptions. I agree strongly with Ken that our problems are largely cultural in orign. The only saving grace is that most others, perhaps all others, have even worse cultural problems which is why most militaries around the world are somewhat of a joke. That is no excuse for us not to adapt, but it does put it in perspective.

The last two weeks at my location have been exceptionally frustrating. Dealing with officers who can't see past doctrine and they continuously struggle to make problems conform to their preconceived doctrinal solutions. I have seen nothing positive come from our officers indoctrinated in JMPE. I think it is a stretch to call it education, at best it is training. This is how you will work in my factory.

We have many, many constraints on our people ranging from cultural, educational, Congress, media, and of course good ole ineptness. We should actually be pleasantly surprised we're as good as we are.

Carl,

You have a media fed bias against night raids, so it is your opinion they should cease, and just because the military doesn't share your opinion they're inept? The fact of the matter is those targeted by them fear them, but yes it also disrupts normal life, but it should be needless to say that war disrupts normal life, and even if we were naive enough to quit conducting them their life would still be disrupted by those you are indirectly arguing that we support. Until we're allowed to address the threats that reside relatively safely across the border, night raids are a viable tactic (not a strategy) to disrupt attacks on our troops. It is not a strategy for winning, but then we never a strategy for winning.

Last edited by Bill Moore; 10-30-2012 at 06:24 AM.
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Old 10-30-2012   #56
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Night Raids are a tactical masterpiece. No question about it. Equally, they are a strategic disaster. That is the counter-intuitive reality of operations such as being conducted in Afghanistan today. Caveat: This was not nearly as true in Iraq, but that is because in Iraq they were conducted primarily against another foreign party to the fight (AQ proper, there conducting UW and Guerrilla Warfare, and the foreign fighters they brought with them).

This is one of many examples where we simply transplanted a reasonably successful tactic from one fight to the next with no strategic understanding of why it worked in one place but had little chance of doing much more than temporary suppression of the insurgent at the cost of growth of the insurgency in the other. The Marine's transplant of Clear-Hold-Build from Anbar to Helmand is another example of this.

Why is this true? Largely because those measures implemented to increase tactical efficiency and effectiveness against the insurgent by a foreign force come at the direct expense of reinforcing the very perceptions of the host nation government among the affected populaces that are critical to success. Night Raids and C-H-B operations as we have been conducting them absolutely destroy any perceptions of host nation Sovereignty, Legitimacy; They also destroy any perception that the affected populace is being treated with respect or justice.

We say with one voice that we "support the sovereign and legitimate government of Afghanistan," Then when the President of that "Sovereign" country demands that we make changes to our tactics that will come at the cost of the efficiency and effectiveness we need to maximize our scores on our tactical metrics, he is told to essentially stand down and shut up by a foreign general. That is what US-delivered "sovereignty" equates to? Really?

We are a slave to our tactics and our tactical metrics. We delude ourselves into believing that tactical successes in this kind of conflict can somehow add up to a strategic victory. This is why everyone scratches their heads over the persistent reports of "progress" and "success" in Afghanistan, while at the same time violence is increasing, green on blues are increasing, and the government is showing no signs of interest in becoming what we want them to be. Huh.

The fix is pretty damn easy, but it will cause all of our tactical metrics to plummet. Just ask these questions in the design of every campaign, and tailor the operation until one has a COA that maximizes these perceptions:

1. How will the conduct of this operation shape the perceptions of the populaces both directly and indirectly affected by it to think that their government is going about its business in a manner they deem appropriate?

2. How will the conduct of this operation shape the perceptions of the populaces both directly and indirectly affected by it to think that their government actually has the right to govern them?

3. How will the conduct of this operation shape the perceptions of the populaces both directly and indirectly affected by it to think that their government treats their small segment of the overall populace with equal respect to other similarly situated populaces?

4. How will the conduct of this operation shape the perceptions of the populaces both directly and indirectly affected by it to think that their government implements the rule of law in a manner perceived as "just" by that populace?

5. If the populace affected by this action does feel that it is improper in any way, what effective, legal, vehicles do they perceive they have to raise their concerns and have them addressed?

It is that simple. Putting a couple of Afghan Commandos on a raiding team and gaining a warrant from some judge in Kabul may sound like a good fix to an American commander who wants to appease a whining President of Afghanistan who does not understand how these raids are winning the war; but such fixes in no way address the damage these operations do to those critical perceptions. For every tactical step forward when a true "high value" guy is taken off the battlefield in such a manner is matched with a much larger strategic failure in the effects that same operation had on these critical perceptions among the populaces directly and indirectly affected by the same action.

We are tactical geniuses, and strategic idiots. It is really that simple. And we prioritize tactics and the immediate gratification of tactics executed well. We are woodchoppers.

Oh, back to Iraq: Why the difference? Because when one illegitimate outsider beats up on another illegitimate outsider, the populace doesn't much care. But when an illegitimate outsider is beating up on your friends and family in order to impose upon you a government and system of governance that has little to no legitimacy in your eyes? Then they care very much indeed.

(For any interested I will be briefing an expanded version of this at an assessments workshop next week).
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Old 10-30-2012   #57
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Steve, while I may sound like an apologist for the military I'm far from it, but it gets a little old when everyone, especially those uninformed on how things actually work only throw stones at our senior military leaders.

I don't think we have a cultural inability to look at our history, but rather like most we cherry pick our history to conform with our preconceptions. I agree strongly with Ken that our problems are largely cultural in orign. The only saving grace is that most others, perhaps all others, have even worse cultural problems which is why most militaries around the world are somewhat of a joke. That is no excuse for us not to adapt, but it does put it in perspective.
Bill,

I think you misunderstand my point. I don't think that issues lie only at the feet of senior military leadership. There's enough to go around...and at all levels.
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Old 10-30-2012   #58
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Default Bob: Nice piece

I have to add the obligatory - the problem is political and not to be solved by the US. So, forget nation building in Astan.

Reasoning: The Kabul government is a lousy bunch; just as the Saigon government was a lousy bunch. In both cases, their opponents are and were even lousier. The major difference between the two situations politically are the multitude of regional power centers in Astan vice only two material power centers in Vietnam.

Regards

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Old 10-30-2012   #59
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Bob Jones:

I second Mike's opinion. Very well written and argued. Asking the questions is a good approach and the questions are good.

I am very interested in an expanded version. Is there any way you can get it to those of us who here in the hinterland (mainly me)?
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Old 10-30-2012   #60
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On that score and on risk aversion aside from the BLT sitting off the coast of North Africa there were some elements at Sigonella who could've been in Benghazi very quickly. They were ready and willing and I hear some FlagOs wanted to go -- I'll bet big bucks they were told to forget it by ecehlons above reality. We'll see...A bit, there's more to it.
Over at the The Captain's Journal

http://www.captainsjournal.com/

information is posted that Gen. Ham wanted to go and was going to send forces despite the word from above and was relieved just seconds after telling people to act.

You have no idea how much I hope that is true. Speaking for myself, it would be a huge morale booster if an actual made member of the multi-star club was determined to do the right thing regardless of career consequences. That kind of demonstration is important beyond immediate effects I think. It is good example and shows the people low down on the totem pole that maybe all isn't lost. Of course, the story, if true includes that Gen Ham's second in command was so willing to relieve him put a bit of a damper on the thing but I'll take what I can get.
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