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Monday Morning Mini-Rants

If I wrote a blog post each time something I read annoyed me, I would obviously blog more frequently. Two things that I have noticed over the past few days, though, deserve especial mention this morning.

1. If you study conflict and conflicts long enough, you will either gain invaluable perspective over your peers or lose your perspective entirely. By the end of his career, for example, the late John Keegan, who once wrote this masterpiece which forever changed the way military historians write history, was writing silly things like, "Politics played no part in the conduct of the First World War worth mentioning." (Step forward, Hew Strachan.)

Robert Fisk has his defenders and his detractors. I have never been accused of being the former, though I re-read a lot of his reporting for The Times in the 1980s as part of my doctoral work and came away impressed by his earlier work. Fisk has been accused by his peers of being a fabulist, and today he writes columns for the Independent. He once bragged to me, after I questioned the veracity of one particular column, that his editors never question what he writes. I'll let you decide whether or not that is a good thing. Of late, meanwhile, Fisk has been the target of some pretty withering satire.

Fisk's column today is the result of what happens when an observer of conflict loses all moral perspective. Fisk does not excuse any atrocities or crimes. No, he does the opposite. For Fisk, all crimes of war are now for all intents and purposes equal, and all armies at war are criminal. This is a valid perspective, I guess, in that one could make a moral argument in its favor. But unlike this, it doesn't tell me anything useful about what is taking place in Syria. If all acts of wars are crimes and they are all equal, I don't need Robert Fisk's first-hand observations, do I? They don't tell me anything of substance. 

Among his peers, Fisk is arguably the least popular journalist covering either conflict or the Middle East today. That's probably because in addition to the alleged fabulism and lack of any useful perspective, in Fisk's narrative of conflict and conflicts, there is only room for one truly good man: and that man's name is always "Robert Fisk."

2. I finished Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic War this weekend -- yes, I realize that reads exactly how Robert Fisk might begin one of his columns -- and a few things struck me:

a. The successful Roman counterinsurgency campaign in Gaul took eight years.

b. The enemies against which Rome fought were not a unitary actor, and neither were Rome's allies. 

c. Rome's allies one summer were often Rome's enemies by winter. And visa versa.

But the two things that made the biggest impression on me were the following:

d. Caesar was the commander for eight full years, and he enjoyed similar continuity among his subordinate commanders.

e. Caesar very rarely sent green units into the offensive. By the fourth and fifth year of the campaign, he is still making those legions which were the last to be raised in Italy responsible for guarding the freaking baggage. He relies over and over again on those legions -- most especially the Tenth -- that have proven themselves in combat in Gaul.

With Caesar's commentaries in mind, I read Doug Ollivant's lament about Gen. Joe Dunford. Gen. Dunford will be the fifteenth commander of NATO-ISAF in eleven years of combat in Afghanistan and the ninth U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Each of his subordinate commanders have rotated on an annual basis. Gen. Dunford -- who is, by all accounts, an excellent officer and highly respected by his peers -- has never served in Afghanistan

The cultures, politics, tribes and peoples of Afghanistan are at least as complex as those of ancient Gaul, yet we Americans are so arrogant to think that we can send officers there with no experience and, owing to our superior knowledge of combat operations, watch them succeed. We will then send units which have never deployed to Afghanistan to partner with Afghan forces and wonder why they do not get along.

This is madness. The casual arrogance with which the U.S. military has approached the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan has a direct relation to the difficulty with which we have fought each war. That we think we can send a commander to Afghanistan with no prior knowledge of Afghanistan and watch him be successful in the eleventh year of the conflict shows that after eleven years of conflict, we really don't know too much about Afghanistan. And we might not know too much about conflict either.

Afghanistan, Journalism, Syria

16 comments

Ex, did Caesar enjoy any

Ex, did Caesar enjoy any resupply or reinforcement from Rome?

I think the willingness to

I think the willingness to swap commanders at all levels stems from the American Belief in "Systems". We think no one person is better than the system of the higher CONUS Headquarter defining strategy and pushing that strategy down to the field. This probably comes from a Rand study that didn't work in the rice paddies either.

Josh

Your point wold be valid if

Your point wold be valid if anyone thought that officer rotation is part of a strategy to achieve victory in Afghanistan. But as Pres. Obama has stated, "victory is not our goal in Afghanistan". The point of officer (and unit) rotation through this holding action is obviously to provide combat training for a future conflict that may be deemed important enough to actually do whatever is necessary to win.

While I doubt that few

While I doubt that few soldiers and marines would want to deploy to Afghanistan for eight years in a row, I think it is a mistake to deploy soldiers and marines as expeditionary units. Instead, the expeditionary units should be permanent. The personnel should be rotated out and into the units as individuals so that in every squad, there would always be at jest 50 per cent personnel who have served at least six months in the area.

Similarly, no one should command a unit without first having served in the Afghanistan in a non-command position.

This kind of arrangement would foster organizational continuity.

Keegan was right about world

Keegan was right about world war 1.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJWg2DBwH6k (SOFREP Xperience)

What the feasibility of this statement proposed at SOFREP.com:

" Saudi oil has backed and supported one interpretation, I think the US/West, instead of backing a moderate "Muslim", can go for the throat and pursue/fund Qur'anic textual criticism. Very do-able. "

Read more: http://sofrep.com/7660/cyber-spec-ops-warrior-thj35t3r-jester/#ixzz24lVk...

Andrew, you are in

Andrew, you are in Washington. You should know better. Just hope that later in life that some whipper snapper doesn't dress you down in public. More files are had with honey. Every organization has people that do what they want, they either have protectors or cannot be fired. It is not your job to correct the people doing what they want, it is your job to make sure that you are correct and build your credibility in your peers eyes. Conflict does not do that, publishing and gathering an audience that validates your correctness does.

What it really boils down to is rants are not really too useful. Might make you feel better temporarily, long term it is just bad karma. The successful candidate looks at a problem and within the context of the organization creates a useful solution. Middle management running the show are not having a jolly time of it, so when they get good input they remember the source. Shit rolls down hill not up. It helps to remember that life is not well ordered, the natural state of being is usually a cluster fuck. The bigger the scope of the project the worst it gets and Afghanistan only validates that.

More than anything else, it really has to do with the people at the top because they set the tempo. Unfortunately the higher you go in any organization the more political are the agendas. America is not a dictatorship and we do not have leaders for long term. Our leaders are expected to be professionals. We hope that they exercise disinterestedness and make correct decisions for all those involved. There has to be continuity in an organization to continue a long term project. The politics have morphed both at home and in the oval office as we have gone from 9/11 to today. Economies and people's attention changes.

It is something that would be useful to note for future COIN conflict, something that I am sure will loose its importance over time. It is the same problem, people do not live forever if they did we would not reinvent the wheel so often. Each generation weighs the importance of past data based on their own interests.

Problem in Afghanistan is we jumped and knitted our parachute on the way down. Seemed like the best thing to do at the time, there was a lot of political pressure to get action on 9/11. Leaders put out warning signals in public of what the future held for the US, but no one was listening pure action was more interesting. First we had a short term goal to deny AQ Afghanistan as a training ground now we have surged into a future commitment of ten years with $2B in foreign aid for each year.

It is not about arrogance, it is about knowing your capabilities and setting a plan around them. That is not what Generals and Presidents do very well because they are pure politicians.

Stop trying to make Afghanistan into little America. The USofA's only interest is to stop groups from using Afghanistan as a base to launch attacks from.

Maybe we are trying to hard to make ourselves happy. The Afghans might be happy to get the USG out of their business.

That concept is universal and transcends cultures.

Keegan was right when he said

Keegan was right when he said politics played no part in the "conduct" of the First World War. Note he did not say that politics didn’t play a role in starting it or in ending it, but in the CONDUCT of it. Why in heaven's name do you think Clemenceau uttered the famous phrase that war now is too important "to be left up to the generals?" He said that because the militaries fighting the war through the strict adherence to their own operational framework ended up excluding policy. Hey, just like we have done in Afghanistan.

No Andrew the madness rests not with putting one general in command who has no experience in the place: at this point do you really think that that is all it takes, getting the right guy in charge? No wonder you liked Little America so much. No dear Andrew the madness was people like you who thought that the US could do successful nation building (aka American coin) in a handful of years simply because the better general rode onto the scene in spring 2009 and brought his bevy of experts along with him.

gian

To the comment above that we

To the comment above that we should be rotating individuals instead of entire units: Westmoreland tried this in the last few years of the Vietnam War when he was Chief of Staff, rotating out individuals rather than entire units. The result was the overwhelming degradation of unit cohesiveness, as replacement soldiers and leaders were unable to maintain continuity in an ever-shifting sea of faces and experiences. While it is true that deploying units in an expeditionary fashion makes it hard to gain in-depth understanding of a geographic and cultural landscape, there is something to be said for deploying soldiers together who have trained and worked together for months or years prior to the deployment. Interpersonal relationships in our own ranks are just as important as relationships with our host nation partners on the ground.

In regards to each rant: 1.

In regards to each rant:

1. I'm happy to see props to Hew Strachan. The history that he wrote of WW1 was awesome, as was the BBC series that was inspired from it. John Keegan, may he RIP, lost my heart after he came out in the early 2000's as an outspoken supporter of the Bush administration's foreign policies.

2. I haven't read Caesar's "Commentary on the Gallic Wars", but now I intend to. Your mini-rant made me chuckle because while Caesar was ultimately successful in his counterinsurgency campaign, the territory he subjugated is now proudly populated by people who reject his military conquest. As a kid, I attended bilingual schools here in the US where the main language of instruction was French and the curriculum was approved by the French state. I remember very clearly (and, for what it's worth, very fondly) how the teachers dutifully parroted Paris's propaganda to us wee youngsters: how the French people were descended from Vercingetorix, how they had bravely resisted the Romans and annihilated them at La Bataille de Gergovie, and how (this is the richest bit) in the end it was the Romans who adopted the Gallic lifestyle in Gaul, bringing with them some of their Italian comforts but otherwise becoming what they termed "Gallo-Romain". The comic series "Asterix", which uses some Gaulish characters to ruthlessly lampoon both the Romans and other things (mostly themes in modern European politics), is perhaps the surest sign that, however complete Caesar may have thought his victory in 52 B.C., in the long run the conqueror can't prevent the conquered from making him out to be a fool. The long run could be 8 years, or it could be 2,000.

Individual reinforcements

Individual reinforcements don't work.

Visitor 8:43 has the correct info...study after study from WWII, Vietnam, etc. has shown that replacing individuals in units does not work particularly well. In fact, those individuals that are rotated into a unit tend to have higher casualty rates than the veterans in part because they don't know the TTPs and in part because nobody is specifically looking out for them. This was one of the critical lessons learned, that you use entirely fresh units to replace fatigued units rather than simply sending in more bodies.

Secondly, to play devil's advocate, the US rotates commanders through because they don't want to install defacto "kings" to the region. This is the Afghani's fight, not ours. And one person in command for an extended period of time will pick and choose his subordinate commanders, will find the NCOs he wants, and will govern his realm like a proconsul. This is not an ideal situtation either.

This is then compounded with the question of "is continuity really a good thing if you've been doing things wrong for the last year?" Injecting fresh minds into the fight gives you the opportunity to modify tactics and approaches based on a new/different perspective. The TTPs that really do work, will survive each rotation. The ones that don't, or are not obviously superior, will be modified or replaced by the new leaders. (However, I have seen this approach completely destroyed when the same unit rotated in and out of the same area. They simply re-used their previous TTPs regardless of whatever new, better TTPs had been developed in their absence.)

I do agree that commander's should have served previously in theater, that seems like a more appropriate recipe for success. However, for units in general, I think the answer is more likely to lie in better training state-side before they deploy than to expect continuity in theater to be the saving factor. More virtual partnering between in theater units and at home relief units would help to feed this continuity with excessive influence of "but this is how we've always done it" as discussed previously.

Having seen this first hand in Iraq and its corrollary between military personnel who rotate and DoD civilians who don't, I feel pretty confident that what you are seeing is less about "arrogantly" assuming that we don't need to know the battlespace and more along the lines of apprecaiting the faults that lie in alternative solutions (such as leaving "kings" in theater for extended periods of time or simply swapping out individual solders).

Up thread there are comments

Up thread there are comments addressing this post's discussion of continuity. I mean long term command responsibility .vs. rotation. Rotation is the current normal, is the war progressing as planned? This is not to imply that long term command responsibility is the only or part of the answer.

This is the SITREP.
1) The current Administration has made a ten year commitment in Afghanistan.
2) For the ten year commitment in Afghanistan to be successful the Afghan Government needs to secure itself.
3) Green on Blue indicates all is not well.
4) There is an open question if Afghan troops are ready for the task of their own control.
5) Afghanistan has never been fully a centralized state. Kunar Province has no concept of paying taxes to a central government. What happens after the US ten year commitment? The US has built an army in Afghanistan which they can not afford to operate. Is the plan dependence on the US for funding (which takes us back to #2 above)?

How does this post's discussion help create a plan of action that addresses all the points above? How many more points need to be addressed?

Andrew does having a commander in place for the duration of the campaign address all concerns? If not, you do not have a solution. You are confusing command with a successful long term strategy the are distinct concepts.

No matter how this problem is looked at there is no success with out the Afghans buying in and having their own interest in nation building. Afghan's past does not give confidence America's idea of success is what the Afghan people want. What is even more difficult is the fact that there is not one Afghan people, but tribes of people.

What really is needed here is not continuity in US command, but a RELIABLE and CONTINUOUS AFGHAN LEADER that can organize the tribes which is the sole element of a successful long term strategy. If America does that organization of tribes, we will never be able to leave. If Afghanistan can not find a way to levy taxes on the people, America will never be able to leave. America will always be an outsider in the tribe's eyes and the green on blue will continue until America steps out of the way.

America leadership tells the US people we have an exit plan out of Afghanistan, where is it? It is hard to make a non-political forward looking plan when you are trying to serve the dead children of the fathers and mothers of your country.

Exum, now you know your task. Stop Frosting Fisk and work on your credibility.

BTW....I do not know Fisk or want to. Fisk is doing what the left does best, they protest and make noise.

Do what Americans do best and find a solution.

This will split opinion

This will split opinion perhaps... is there an 'arrogance' in giving senior US government appointments which are key to engagement with Muslim actors (Islamic officials, key figures, governments etc) to women? Or is it well intentioned cultural neglect?

Paul Smyth on August 29, 2012

Paul Smyth on August 29, 2012 - 7:38am

Paul, I did hear that!

Glad you mentioned something about the strategy of selecting the messenger of FP in the middle east. What is the protocol for holding hands with the Saudis if the messenger is not a relative? Considering the cultures of the ME which person would they be most relaxed hearing the message from? Is hearing the message important to successful listening? Is listening important for results?

I was always taught when I had a meeting, the environment set the expected result. Maybe we are getting close to the root cause, who determined the messenger?

Artur Davis should have been nominated, example of how a messenger can enable listening.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BlNUf-Ha2oc

BTW.....Would Fisk be a good messenger of FP? If you had problems with the selection Exum, then you know selection is key.

This is interesting......http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/seal-book-depicts-bin-laden-as-unarmed-when-shot-in-hallway-contradicting-original-account/2012/08/29/b097d664-f193-11e1-b74c-84ed55e0300b_story.html

WASHINGTON — A firsthand account of the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden contradicts previous accounts by administration officials, raising questions as to whether the terror mastermind presented a clear threat when SEALs first fired upon him.
.
Bissonnette says he was directly behind a “point man” going up the stairs in the pitch black hallway. “Less than five steps” from top of the stairs, he heard “suppressed” gunfire: “BOP. BOP.” The point man had seen a “man peeking out of the door” on the right side of the hallway.
.
The author writes that bin Laden ducked back into his bedroom and the SEALs followed, only to find the terrorist crumpled on the floor in a pool of blood with a hole visible on the right side of his head and two women wailing over his body.

The pictures inside the bedroom as released after the raid support Bissontte's story. I am referring to were UBL had collapsed at the end of the bed which is consistent with if a person had been looking down the hall way then turned into the room and then collapsed.

In respects to number 2, I'd

In respects to number 2, I'd say that the ever growing roation of commanders is exhibit A in "Why we want to stay there, bogged down." If this doesnt explicitly prove that we want a strategy that keeps us there, I dont know what is. We dont want continuity, because that would make for a narrative, a compelling storyline that can actually be objectified. We want the revolving door because its harder to connect the dots on. With gaps in recollection, come rewriting of history. Look no further my friends to the exterior details on what a corporate war looks like.

Re point 2, I could have told

Re point 2, I could have told you same simply based on serving in Korea in the late 90s. The difference in value to the unit between the otherwise decent soldiers who were in and out of the unit in 1 year compared to the soldiers who extended was obvious. I did 18 months due to my ETS date and even those few extra months made a significant difference in my value to the unit. It's not casual arrogance - it's inflexible bureaucracy carried over from peacetime.

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