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Old 05-07-2009   #1
Gian P Gentile
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Default "Tarnished Brass" (new article by Dick Kohn)

Here is a link to a new essay by historian Dick Kohn in the journal World Affairs on senior American military leadership and what Kohn argues is a failure to be able to do strategy.
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Old 05-07-2009   #2
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Thanks for the link! A very interesting essay.
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Old 05-07-2009   #3
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Not sure what to make of it - I agree with much but I think parts are stereotyped.

I think the politicization worry is somewhat overblown, and am not sure that retired officers have an obligation to remain silent and neutral. I don't think his argument applies outside the GO corps.

And frankly, it may be that the political "firewall" is part of what keeps us from developing effective comprehensive approaches to conflict. If war is ultimately political, we must be trained in that battlefield as well. Of course, partisanship by serving officers remains verboten.

I do think we haven't had much strategic direction, because I think the military expects its civilians to do that for us. They decide, we execute has been the mantra of past years. Our strategic deficit may be because we outsourced our strategic planning to think tanks and politicians. Just off the cuff thoughts.

I also know the professor was savaged by the salty majors in ILE when he visited a few weeks ago.
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Old 05-07-2009   #4
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Default Thanks for posting that, Peacenik...



Good article.

Agree with his descriptions of failures with the caveat that he's being very polite...

Don't agree with all his fixes -- though most would be an improvement. He makes the same mistake most outsiders (including some in uniform...) tend to make, reforming the Monster starting in high places. Won't work, all the Bull Elephants are too set in their ways. They aren't going to change and will not initiate meaningful improvement.

We have created an institution that is risk averse and that stifles innovation. the only way to fix that in a large bureaucratic organization is start at the bottom. Educate the incoming kids, Enlisted and Officer, forcing them to exercise initiative, take risks and to plan things correctly and the system will improve.

You can start that with your charges...
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Old 05-07-2009   #5
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Default We-e-e-lll... Yes and No...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cavguy View Post
I think the politicization worry is somewhat overblown, and am not sure that retired officers have an obligation to remain silent and neutral. I don't think his argument applies outside the GO corps.
I think the professional requirement is what is said where and when rather than who. All ranks should remember that they are now retired and they should be circumspect in comments.

Because they have no responsibility for the issues.
Quote:
Our strategic deficit may be because we outsourced our strategic planning to think tanks and politicians.
Just so. They allow senior leaders to be lazy avoid responsibility, put their Staffs to work on pet projects -- and the Think Tanks do not do it well at all.

Because they have no responsibility for the product...
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Old 05-07-2009   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
We have created an institution that is risk averse and that stifles innovation. the only way to fix that in a large bureaucratic organization is start at the bottom. Educate the incoming kids, Enlisted and Officer, forcing them to exercise initiative, take risks and to plan things correctly and the system will improve.
You're right. But now you have to accomplish it while performing the trick of not getting trampled by the Bull Elephants.
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Old 05-07-2009   #7
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Default Unfortunately

Quote:
Originally Posted by J Wolfsberger View Post
You're right. But now you have to accomplish it while performing the trick of not getting trampled by the Bull Elephants.
Not always as easy as it might seem
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Old 05-07-2009   #8
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Default Innovation and agility, My dear Friends

The bulls don't move all that quick...

On a serious note, I've never really had one give me static if I was right in what I wanted to do. I have occasionally had some ask (yes, ask; not tell) me not to do a certain thing to preclude an adverse reaction from on high (almost always correctly in hindsight). There are those that operate by trying to get what used to be called the Indian Sign by trying to bulldoze you and snarling a lot -- all you have to do is snap back at them (but be right when you do ).

The key with all Bulls is finding a fence they can jump to get to the cows -- or cutting the top few strands of the fence so they can leap it. You can also politely show them a gate they weren't aware of and wait until it's their idea to use that gate.

Do not tell them how great they are (they know that) or try to bring them a cow, both those things are sycophancy (to clean it up) and they'll spot it, use it, use you and then throw you away like an old washrag.

Never ever try milking them. THAT is bad ju ju...
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Old 05-08-2009   #9
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Default Mixed messsages

I got some very mixed messages from this piece, and they suggest shallow thinking.

Re: politicization - "Officers now vote, in substantially higher percentages than the general population; they identify themselves as Republican or Democrat, and less as independent or non-partisan, much more than the American people as a whole."

This guy needs to get over it. The irony of complaining that officers vote is that most vote by absentee ballots which frequently are not counted at all. Officers exercising civic responsibility. The shock and horror of it all, and to make it worse, they have the audacity to not be independents. If the issue is that officers vote "in substantially higher percentages than the general population", whose fault is this? Kohn should be kvetching about the lack of civilian voter turn out. This is the worst sort of inflammatory populist tripe.

Re: retired officers speaking out - Retired officers should stop speaking out when retired academics and retired politicians stop speaking out. Is the problem that they speak out, or that they have more credibility than other retirees? Candidly, it sounds like retired military officers have opposed his interests and this is his petty way of getting back at them.

Re:
"Now there are many other factors in the Iraq War about which the American civilian leadership was even more derelict than the military"
"(T)he Army War College, dedicated to the mission of educating “strategic leaders,” teaches “about strategy,” in the words of a faculty member there, but not “how to develop strategy.”"
"(T)he navy seems actually to have subordinated strategy to the capabilities of its fleets rather than designing its fleets to fit the larger needs of American foreign policy and national security strategy."

The first point is the key one. National strategy is set by civilian leaders. The AWC is doing exactly the right thing, as it is not a soldiers place in a democratic nation to set national strategy. The Navy is acquiring the fleet Congress approved, again as a reflection of Congress' national strategy. Does Kohn lack the fortitude to look our elected officials in the eye and tell them that they need the education in strategy? And for someone so upset of over the politicization of the officer corps, he is awfully quick to recommend that military leaders do civilian leaders' jobs.

He complains about the politicization of the officer corps, but whines that officers aren't doing the civilian leadership's jobs for them.

Re:"a growing careerism that has led to micro-management from above and a sense that any defect will derail a career, which in turn leads to risk aversion and sometimes to cover-ups, avoidance of responsibility"

The Long War has taken the edge off this problem. Careerism appears to be a poison that enters the military in peacetime. Eight years of continuous conflict have reduced the damage inflicted by the early 1990s draw-downs where 'zero defects' was a survival trait.


His recommendations:
-1. choose a greater proportion of candidates with demonstrated intellectual as well as operational and command ability
-2. undertake a systematic effort to eradicate the careerism, anti-intellectualism, and politicization of their officer corps
-3. institute programs of continuing education to be pursued by officers on their own, separate from and in addition to intermediate and advanced professional military education in residence or by correspondence.
-4. make certain that officers at commissioning are fluent in a foreign language and conversant with a foreign culture, and senior service schools should revise theirs so that strategy, leadership, and command are the focus of a war college education. are the focus of a war college education.

1. The services basically require graduate education to go past O-4. Yes there are exceptions, but a masters is the norm (and minimum) for O-5 and up.
2. "Anti-intellectualism"? Has he actually spoken with General Petraeus, Gen. Caldwell, or Gen Lorenz(USAF AETC cdr)? Politicization and careerism were previously addressed.
3. Continuing education for officers outside PME? We're seeing officers get passed over for not completing PME, where do we find the time and resources to support this? Also, has he looked at the PME curriculum? What else are we supposed to study?
4. I was under the impression that the foreign language requirement was already in place. Re:"strategy, leadership, and command " in war collges, again, has even made an effort to check his research? Has he spoken to anyone at a war college?

These are some shockingly stale and sterotyped accusations that have made it to print with no fact checking and flawed internal consistency.
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Old 05-08-2009   #10
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Default Some expansion on this ...

Quote:
from Cav
And frankly, it may be that the political "firewall" is part of what keeps us from developing effective comprehensive approaches to conflict. If war is ultimately political, we must be trained in that battlefield as well. Of course, partisanship by serving officers remains verboten.
focusing on "trained in that battlefield" -

Is "that battlefield" a political battlefied ?

If so, what does it look like ?

And, finally, what kind of training ?

I'm not sure what idea you are floating here - or, whether the paragraph is not internally inconsistent. I.e., all politics (even politics solely issue-oriented and not tied to a political party) are inherently partisan - you have at least two sides hammering and yammering at each other.
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Old 05-08-2009   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jmm99 View Post

I'm not sure what idea you are floating here - or, whether the paragraph is not internally inconsistent. I.e., all politics (even politics solely issue-oriented and not tied to a political party) are inherently partisan - you have at least two sides hammering and yammering at each other.
Stream of consciousness - Van articulated my thoughts better. Basically the same. I don't see officers voting as the downfall of the profession, or retired officers voicing opinions as a threat to the republic.

Niel
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Old 05-08-2009   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Van View Post
I got some very mixed messages from this piece, and they suggest shallow thinking.
Ya All*h! Thank you for saying it first.

There was much I could agree with if for example I thought that "tortoises are stealthy" - rather than just slow and thus usually quiet.

I have a great deal of respect for many US Officers, and I don't adhere to any of the popular stereotypes, bar the few that consistently let the side down.

To my mind these men have always suffered from the "how to do something" mindset, rather than the "why to do something" mindset. This creates a self defeating mechanism, when the why has to be invented to justify the how. - and that is WHY these men
  • either ignore or corrupts military history to the degree to they do.
  • look at other conflicts and armies and consistently draw the wrong conclusions in terms of informing their own decisions.
  • promote faulty and misleading concepts, as forcing mechanisms for their agendas.

This all gets covered in a thick layer of pseudo-intellectualism, and poor writing, using silly words, so the ultimate output is actually quite attractive.

- and strangely I feel that a fair few of us share this belief, yet SWC appears not to be forum in which to present it. - and yes I am an opinionated SOB, but you be reading this post if I wasn't.
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Old 05-08-2009   #13
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I think a greater concern is if the military is being used for domestic gain by political factions at home, and if so, how that influences military decision-makers, the reputation and effectiveness of the armed forces, and the public perception of servicemembers. There are other questions: where does politics end, and where does it begin? The defense budget is a major political issue -- so where does that put the obligations of military officers? Are National Guard officers to be treated differently (as far as this issue is concerned) than Regular Army? What effect, if any, does the internet and other free media have on the 'politicalization' of the officer corps? Is the military's role in strategy different than its role in policy? Has there been an encroachment of civilian authority into traditionally military spheres (i.e. strategy)? And is there any relevance to the absence of an overwhelming moral cause of purpose (i.e. Pearl Harbor, 9/11, Lusitania, USS Maine, etc) for the Iraq War (and some could argue the Afghanistan war, also) that may contribute to this dispute?

I'm curious how other democratic countries handle this issue, if it is an issue at all. I'm also curious the extent the general academic narrative and the military's own narrative align with the historical record, which raises all kinds of questions about real and perceived American traditions.

EDIT: Also, to which is the greater moral obligation: obedience to (civil) authority (loyalty/duty) or one's sense of goodness (integrity/personal courage)? Is this question compounded by the belief that soldiers are citizens first?
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Last edited by AmericanPride; 05-08-2009 at 12:51 PM.
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Old 05-08-2009   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Van View Post
I got some very mixed messages from this piece, and they suggest shallow thinking.

Re: politicization - "Officers now vote, in substantially higher percentages than the general population; they identify themselves as Republican or Democrat, and less as independent or non-partisan, much more than the American people as a whole."

This guy needs to get over it. The irony of complaining that officers vote is that most vote by absentee ballots which frequently are not counted at all. Officers exercising civic responsibility. The shock and horror of it all, and to make it worse, they have the audacity to not be independents. If the issue is that officers vote "in substantially higher percentages than the general population", whose fault is this? Kohn should be kvetching about the lack of civilian voter turn out. This is the worst sort of inflammatory populist tripe.

Re: retired officers speaking out - Retired officers should stop speaking out when retired academics and retired politicians stop speaking out. Is the problem that they speak out, or that they have more credibility than other retirees? Candidly, it sounds like retired military officers have opposed his interests and this is his petty way of getting back at them.

Re:
"Now there are many other factors in the Iraq War about which the American civilian leadership was even more derelict than the military"
"(T)he Army War College, dedicated to the mission of educating “strategic leaders,” teaches “about strategy,” in the words of a faculty member there, but not “how to develop strategy.”"
"(T)he navy seems actually to have subordinated strategy to the capabilities of its fleets rather than designing its fleets to fit the larger needs of American foreign policy and national security strategy."

The first point is the key one. National strategy is set by civilian leaders. The AWC is doing exactly the right thing, as it is not a soldiers place in a democratic nation to set national strategy. The Navy is acquiring the fleet Congress approved, again as a reflection of Congress' national strategy. Does Kohn lack the fortitude to look our elected officials in the eye and tell them that they need the education in strategy? And for someone so upset of over the politicization of the officer corps, he is awfully quick to recommend that military leaders do civilian leaders' jobs.

He complains about the politicization of the officer corps, but whines that officers aren't doing the civilian leadership's jobs for them.

Re:"a growing careerism that has led to micro-management from above and a sense that any defect will derail a career, which in turn leads to risk aversion and sometimes to cover-ups, avoidance of responsibility"

The Long War has taken the edge off this problem. Careerism appears to be a poison that enters the military in peacetime. Eight years of continuous conflict have reduced the damage inflicted by the early 1990s draw-downs where 'zero defects' was a survival trait.


His recommendations:
-1. choose a greater proportion of candidates with demonstrated intellectual as well as operational and command ability
-2. undertake a systematic effort to eradicate the careerism, anti-intellectualism, and politicization of their officer corps
-3. institute programs of continuing education to be pursued by officers on their own, separate from and in addition to intermediate and advanced professional military education in residence or by correspondence.
-4. make certain that officers at commissioning are fluent in a foreign language and conversant with a foreign culture, and senior service schools should revise theirs so that strategy, leadership, and command are the focus of a war college education. are the focus of a war college education.

1. The services basically require graduate education to go past O-4. Yes there are exceptions, but a masters is the norm (and minimum) for O-5 and up.
2. "Anti-intellectualism"? Has he actually spoken with General Petraeus, Gen. Caldwell, or Gen Lorenz(USAF AETC cdr)? Politicization and careerism were previously addressed.
3. Continuing education for officers outside PME? We're seeing officers get passed over for not completing PME, where do we find the time and resources to support this? Also, has he looked at the PME curriculum? What else are we supposed to study?
4. I was under the impression that the foreign language requirement was already in place. Re:"strategy, leadership, and command " in war collges, again, has even made an effort to check his research? Has he spoken to anyone at a war college?

These are some shockingly stale and sterotyped accusations that have made it to print with no fact checking and flawed internal consistency.
Agreed. It would fit nicely in the why do liberal professiors hate the military?thread because it fits that category nicely.
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Old 05-08-2009   #15
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Default Nor, do I, Niel ...

Quote:
from Cav
I don't see officers voting as the downfall of the profession, or retired officers voicing opinions as a threat to the republic.
nor do I.

As to the third part of Kohn's article, starting here:

Quote:
Related to these strategic and political failures are possible moral deficiencies among the officer corps, which have arisen in the last few years.
I simply do not see it based on what I see here; and among the actives and retireds who inhabit my little world.

When I compare the "moral deficiencies" of similar management and leadership classes in the broader civilian world (including my own profession), there is no comparison.

I do see problems with the civilian-military interface (which I perceive to be the focus of Kohn's 1st two points - strategy and politics). We have to communicate better - something about hanging together, or hanging separately.
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Old 05-08-2009   #16
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Default An Antipodian perspective is

that this the article is 100% USA centric. That said, based on my knowledge and experience of the US mil , it is also nearly 100% assertion and prejudice. I think Niel and Van nailed apt responses,

Cheers

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Last edited by Mark O'Neill; 05-08-2009 at 01:33 PM. Reason: typo
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Old 05-08-2009   #17
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Default I wonder if Kohn ever read Catch 22

If he had then he might have recognized that what he is bemoaning is largely an example of such a catch.

On one hand, he describes the lack of strategic abilty, which he also miscategorizes (my opinion, to argue it here is a distraction) as an intellectual failing. On another, he complains about partisanship. I submit that he is arguing along these 2 lines: To be a military strategist requires one to be political; to be political is antithetical to being a military member. For what it is worth, I believe that being partisan is a necessary condition to choosing/fighting for a strategy. Perhaps Kohn and I just have different meanings for partisan and politics.

I am also at somewhat of a loss for his support of LTC Yingling's point about differing punishments for a lost weapon and a lost war. Privates usually have direct control over actions taken to secure their weapons. Flag officers are not so lucky about the degree of control they have in prosecuting wars. Generals do not lose wars by themeselves. They often have to fight the nation's opppnents with one had tied behind their backs. I guess that is as it should be because, according to Kohn's view of things, they are not supposed to be political partisans.

Perhaps our writer might want to review the literature out there on personal and public ethics--the notion that what one does in one's job comes with a set of ethical strictures that may be quite different than the rules one follows as a private citizen. Another point that relates here is the author's unhappiness about the use of contractors. A large number of contractors are former military members who choose to continue to serve in a way that is in keeping with the prior commitment to be apolitical while in uniform. Once the unifrom comes off, former officers may return to support the nation in a way that has a different set of ethical norms.

The UNC-CH basketball staff seems better at its task than this member of its academic faculty.
BTW, was anyone else put off by the use of lower case letters to start Army, Air Force, and Navy, but uppercase for the Marines. Seems like another instance of inconsistent thinking by the author .
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Old 05-08-2009   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wm
the notion that what one does in one's job comes with a set of ethical strictures that may be quite different than the rules one follows as a private citizen.
Yet it is argued in defense of military participation in the political process (i.e. voting) that soldiers are citizens first, and therefore "the rules one follows as a private citizen" ought to supercede the "ethical structures" in "one's job".

Quote:
Originally Posted by wm
A large number of contractors are former military members who choose to continue to serve in a way that is in keeping with the prior commitment to be apolitical while in uniform.
Yet those companies with which contractors are employed are not apolitical.

I think it is important for the purposes of this conversation to differentiate "political" and "partisan".
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Old 05-08-2009   #19
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Default Hmm ...

Quote:
from wm
BTW, was anyone else put off by the use of lower case letters to start Army, Air Force, and Navy, but uppercase for the Marines.
From the bio blurb, Kohn was air force, not a Marine - so that's not an explanation. As they say, Colonialement
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Old 05-08-2009   #20
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Default Oh well,

Quote:
Originally Posted by jmm99 View Post
From the bio blurb, Kohn was air force, not a Marine - so that's not an explanation. As they say, Colonialement
that is an excuse then, as he wasn't in the military....

(tongue firmly in cheek)
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