March 18, 2011

Libya and the Decision Maker's Dilemma

Now that Muammar Gadhafi supposedly called a cease-fire to his campaign to crush the rebels, let the feel good ism begin. It only took five weeks for those paragons of virtue known as the "international community," specifically the European Union, to screw up the courage to authorize a no-fly zone against a third rate military power. But when you're a no-rate military power like the EU, I guess that's something.

Implementing a no-fly zone is far more complex and resource intensive than its advocates let on. And it's bound to get messy with people getting killed, including civilians. That's why the Euros need NATO, meaning the United States. 

Meanwhile at home, it's so bad on the leadership front that even the French look decisive compared to our greenhorn president. In his book "Diplomacy," Henry Kissinger notes that for decision makers, latitude for action is greatest when available information is at its scarcest; windows of opportunity for bold, decisive leaders to shape events and ensure the national interest. Kissinger, writing for adults, never reckoned on an empty shell chief executive like Obama. Our affirmative action prez, flitting through a succession of jobs in academia and government, leaving no notable achievements, lacks hard experience to inform any meaningful decision making. Thus, Obama, like the know-it-all college freshman who ardently believes in the goodness of internationalism, defers to the consensus of others, certain it's the right thing to do.

Odds are it's Gadhafi who knows what he's doing. The dude will abide by whatever resolutions the Eurocrats put before him, for a time. But bureaucrats, not understanding the Libyan context and operational art, will leave loopholes. Tyrants like Gadhafi, who parse grammar with the same zeal as campus thought police, will exploit those loopholes to murderous effect.

There's the difference between Gadhafi and Obama. One acts as though his life depends on it, and the other couldn't act to save his own.

February 15, 2011

JFCOM and the Unkindest Cut of All

Acknowledging there is waste in defense spending, Max Boot wonders why DoD is at the head of the line for budget cuts while our military is engaged in Iraq, Afghanistan and the war on terror. One early budget casualty was Joint Forces Command. As reported in the Army Times, JFCOM "employs nearly 6,000 military and civilian personnel, with the bulk of those working in southeast Virginia. Its mission is to train troops from all services to work together for specific missions."

Were JFCOM outside of DoD, it likely would have survived in perpetuity, like almost every government program voted into existence. In this case, JFCOM carried the stink of the military. And that, in the age of Obama, makes for a budget cutting opportunity. Ostensibly, Secretary Gates axed it because of the proportionally large numbers of contractors working for JFCOM.

Well... even a broken clock is right twice a day.

JFCOM is to DoD what the “Bridge to Nowhere” is to Alaska: a spending hole with little tangible benefit other than the jobs it provides (with taxpayer money) and the votes it bought. It’s also a place to park yet another four star general waiting for a service chief job to open up, or retirement.

The real reason to shut down JFCOM is that it never worked. I’d wager that almost all of JFCOMs people are capable and devoted. Yet, they assumed an impossible task. There’s an old adage that while many things in life can be learned, few can be taught. Like all other institutes of centralized learning, what JFCOM provides and what the real world demands, highlights the vast difference and utility between explicit and tacit knowledge.

A few years ago my corps was training as a joint task force for an exercise in Thailand. To help us out, Pacific Command sent their “certification” team to our planning conference, armed with the latest doctrine, techniques and procedures from JFCOM. After listening to five minutes of irrelevant checklists, and unworkable procedural advice, I asked the major leading the certification team how he and his team would certify intelligence operations for the JTF?

Major Certification: “Well, for example, we’ll look at how you employ your Trojan Spirit” (intelligence satellite communications).

Me: “We’re not using a Trojan Spirit. Landing rights for the system, transportation, security and spectrum deconfliction are too expensive for the exercise budget. We’ve coordinated for a cheaper T-1 line instead.”

Major C: “OK, then we’ll look at how you employ your all-source analysis system and see how effective it is at battle tracking during the exercise.”

Me: “We aren’t using the all-source. Our intelligence element that runs the system is in Iraq and we’re unable to get personnel who can devote several months training together, here, to run one for the exercise. We’re going to do an exercise workaround instead.”

Major C: “Instead of this workaround, have you checked with Forces Command to try and fill your personnel vacancies?”

Me: “We did that several months ago. The operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have pulled lots of intel folks away. And even if we could get soldiers, they wouldn’t be a cohesive unit with the special training required to run the automation.”

Major C: “Then, we’ll examine your training objectives and match those to your joint mission essential task list to see how you perform. After we observe and control that, you’ll be well on the way to certifying as a JTF.”

Me: “Those essential task lists are so broad as to be meaningless. For example, ‘perform operational intelligence’ could mean anything and everything we do within the exercise context. And the fact you “certify” us as a JTF is meaningless, having trained within the artificialities of a canned scenario lacking any of the depth and complexity of the real world, the ad hoc team we’ve assembled will vanish once the exercise is done.”

Undaunted by a display of tacit knowledge gained through years of experience, the major then continued his brief. To be fair, he was not an intel officer and was merely executing his task. Neither he, nor his superiors, however, seemed to get that the meaningful action is on the periphery, and not at headquarters. Training ad hoc organizations like JTFs are exercises in fluid dynamics; a complex network of people, processors, sensors, communicators and knowledge in constant flux and continual adaptation to its environment and purpose. Such things tend to defy external analysis.

Not living in a hardscrabble world in which one must daily surmount obstacles, intransigence and human frailty, academics prefer maxims and ideas; things easily gained by rote memorization, i.e., explicit knowledge. One can argue that most analysis and commentary in the public domain are external, and thus, shallow. As an example, Abu Muqawama's post:

Rumors of JFCOM's demise have been floating around for some time, though, so this cannot be completely unexpected. One of the wisest military analysts I know remarked, upon hearing the rumors, that JFCOM does three valuable things that either the joint staff or another command will now have to pick up:

  1. Writing joint doctrine.
  2. Monitoring force readiness and modernization across the services.
  3. Coordinating U.S. and NATO modernization efforts.”
NATO is an empty shell only to be revitalized when Europe is attacked by Russia. As for 1 and 2, I believe, like Peter Drucker, that there is nothing so useless as doing well that which should not be done at all.

A truly wise military analyst was Sun Tzu. In his blog, Walter Russell Mead describes how reading The Art of War was an “unsettling experience” since there were no weapons and tactics Sun Tzu would not use, and in his time, Sun Tzu directly conflicted with the prevailing pieties of rule based, Confucian China:

“The Art of War, a book which has inspired Chinese emperors, Japanese shoguns, Napoleon, Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh, does not just subvert conventional morality. It is even more profoundly opposed to the bureaucratic mind: the approach to the world that believes that everything can be reduced to technique and procedures.”

Two thousand years later, we still celebrate Sun Tzu. In a few years, JFCOM and those who created it, will be forgotten. 

February 5, 2011

China's Hubris

Back to blogging after supporting a military exercise in Japan. Working as a defense contractor with our allies provides insight you don't get from the media or foreign policy journals. Most of us, however, do it to reconnect with our armed forces, active and retired.

Discussing China, Tom S., a retired Marine colonel, related his war college trip to Peking in 2000. The soldiers in the elite, palace guard unit in the capital, set up static displays of weapons and equipment for the class. Being a light armored vehicle guy, Tom snuck around the guard and looked inside an armored personnel carrier. He was amazed at how primitive and lacking were the internals. So bad, in fact, he concluded the thing was probably towed to the site. A classmate and Navy captain, the CAG of an aircraft carrier, had similar observations about the Chicoms' answer to the F-16. Looking at the controls, he found seventies era avionics and a disjointed cockpit layout.

Whatever the Chinese allow for foreign consumption is meticulously measured and rehearsed. Unless the Chicoms were channeling Sun Tzu--projecting weakness to hide strength--our officers took home different lessons than intended. First, that the Chicoms suck at public relations. Displaying crappy equipment to your greatest adversary, like the cheesy Top Gun footage of their new stealth fighter, and the fake Olympic fireworks, speaks for itself. Second, and more importantly for their prospects as global power broker, they don't know what they don't know.

Projecting power and influence is something the United States has done for decades. It requires a sublime harmony to nest the instruments of power with national goals and operational art. It's like spiral development of software, except on a national level with proportionally greater complexity. And no system does that better than nations with cherished histories of individual liberty and free markets. Here, whether by temperament or inclination, the Chinese are amateurs who believe a temporarily surging economy will buy global power status. And they believe their time is now.

The Chinese say the United States is "fierce of mien, but feint of heart," a paper tiger. But China should take counsel of another ancient people. It was the Greeks who defined hubris as a human condition. The last time the People's Liberation Army tried to project power on a large scale, the battle tested Vietnamese spanked them. Despite the weakness and indecision of the current occupant of the White House, the Chinese would find testing the U.S. a task of considerably greater magnitude.

Considering China, one is reminded of the famous observation of the Bourbons of France: despite their long reign, they managed to learn nothing and forgot nothing.

January 5, 2011

On Rumsfeld

I've always had two minds about Rumsfeld. His gruff approach to flag officers was always counter-productive. (There was the irony of a few generals and admirals getting back what they long gave to their subordinates.) I suspect a lot of that animosity grew from Rumsfeld's frustration at the "in the box" thinking that characterizes the ground forces, especially the army. Although he once told a soldier that you go to war with the army you have, Rumsfeld expected emerging technologies to be bigger combat multipliers than they were.

CAPT Honors; What's Important

Three points. First, this incident should be viewed in context. However these videos appear to outsiders, consideration for Honors' intent and purpose should have figured in the court of public opinion. Did Honors help his CO maintain a good command climate aboard the Enterprise? Most who served with Honors say yes.

Second, can Honors fight? That's the reason he was selected to command the Enterprise. His superiors had to give Honors glowing efficiency reports for him to command one of eleven carriers in the navy. After appointing Grant commander of the Union Army, Lincoln took flack because of Grant's reputation as a boozer. "He fights," was all Lincoln replied. 

Third, what is the "chilling effect" of all this? Far too many flag officers now are little more than corporate cheerleaders; humorless, with little personality. This latest wussification of the military will be a natural selector for more higher level drones, devoid of imagination and calculating every move based on the risk to their careers.

December 15, 2010

Campus Tyranny

After posting on DADT, I googled some of the latest on the discussion and found this. Mr. Nigrosh's article is full of the usual college freshman, leftish boilerplate and name calling, all designed to cut off debate. In a sophomoric touch, he generously allows that he has no problems with the Republican Party as vital to the two party system, but later says republicans are "confrontational, dismissive, arrogant and closed minded." Yet, he wants to encourage debate.

The Inspector Clouseau of World Leaders

I came across this funny 2008 Daniel Craig interview in Parade magazine. In the interview, which I vaguely remember at the time, Craig was asked who would make the better Bond, then presidential candidates Obama or McCain?

“Obama would be the better Bond because—if he’s true to his word—he’d be willing to quite literally look the enemy in the eye and go toe-to-toe with them. McCain, because of his long service and experience, would probably be a better M,” he adds, mentioning Bond’s boss, played by Dame Judi Dench. “There is, come to think of it, a kind of Judi Dench quality to McCain.”