Monday, January 23, 2006

Half-baked spotted dick

NB: UPDATE - The below is the result of my knee-jerk reaction to a malicious editing job from the WaPo. I will leave the post below as I wrote it in order to remind me not to trust them again. Please click here for my Mea Culpa.
Like a helping of spotted dick, it is usually best to take a deep breath and open your mind before reading something from a guy with the name Nigel Aylwin-Foster. Brigadier Aylwin-Foster to you and me.
There is no other Army in the world that could even have attempted such a venture. It is, rather, an attempt to understand the apparently paradoxical currents of strength and weakness witnessed at close hand over the course of a year. Ultimately, the intent is to be helpful to an institution I greatly respect.

My own experience, serving at the heart of a U.S. dominated command within the coalition from December 2003 to November 2004, suggests something of an enigma, hence the spur to study the subject further. My overriding impression was of an Army imbued with an unparalleled sense of patriotism, duty, passion, commitment and determination, with plenty of talent, and in no way lacking in humanity or compassion. Yet it seemed weighed down by bureaucracy, a stiflingly hierarchical outlook, a pre-disposition to offensive operations and a sense that duty required all issues to be confronted head-on. Many personnel seemed to struggle to understand the nuances of the OIF Phase 4 [stabilization] environment. Moreover, whilst they were almost unfailingly courteous and considerate, at times their cultural insensitivity, almost certainly inadvertent, arguably amounted to institutional racism.
That is a great example of a dressing up an insult in a lace of prais. Having served with Brits, let me translate for you. He is saying,
"You are nice, loyal chaps; like a simple serf - but you are simply too hidebound and bigoted to be of a proper quality."
This reminds me a lot of the arguments that the British Army and the U.S. Army had during WWII. Some good points, but served with a large dose of patiarchal condensation.

He makes a good point about bureaucracy, a VERY brave statement coming from someone from the UK. Perhaps he did this on purpose, but he hurts his argument some more when he starts to talk about Fallujah.
This sense of moral righteousness combined with an emotivity that was rarely far from the surface, and in extremis manifested as deep indignation or outrage that could serve to distort collective military judgment. The most striking example during this period occurred in April 2004 when insurgents captured and mutilated four U.S. contractors in Fallujah. In classic insurgency doctrine, this act was almost certainly a come-on, designed to invoke a disproportionate response, thereby further polarizing the situation and driving a wedge between the domestic population and the coalition forces. It succeeded.
It would be nice if he understood that the problem with, (1) Wanting to smash, and (2) then stopping before it was done was not the idea of the U.S. Marines in charge of Fallujah. That was all Army and civilians (see No True Glory for the details). Small point and all, but he makes a huge error by not discussing the Marines and how they have a VERY different way of fighting and execution in Iraq than the U.S. Army.
The U.S. Army's laudable and emphatic "can-do" approach to operations paradoxically encouraged another trait, which has been described elsewhere as damaging optimism. Self-belief and resilient optimism are recognized necessities for successful command, and all professional forces strive for a strong can-do ethos. However, it is unhelpful if it discourages junior commanders from reporting unwelcome news up the chain of command. The U.S. Army during this period of OIF exemplified both sides of this coin.
Perhaps true (I know Navy, worked directly with Marines (know them), know the USAF some, but only know Army through what the Marines say - go figure) - but again he misses a chance to tell a balanced story. Let's go back to Fallujah. The Marines there had no problem (LT GEN Mattis) telling CENTCOM and the CPA their opinions - they were ignored and their opinions NOT passed to the civilian and military leadership in D.C. That WAS Army.

He is better here.
Armies reflect the culture of the civil society from which they are drawn. According to [retired Army Col. Don] Snider [a West Point senior lecturer], the Army is characterized, like U.S. domestic society, by an aspiration to achieve quick results. This in turn engenders a command and planning climate that promotes those solutions that appear to favor quick results. In conventional warfighting situations this is likely to be advantageous, but in other operations it often tends to prolong the situation, ironically, as the quick solution turns out to be the wrong one. In COIN terms the most obvious example is the predilection for wide-ranging kinetic options (sweep, search and destroy) in preference to the longer term hearts and minds work and intelligence led operations.
But he is, in my opinion, off center here.
The Army's "Warrior Ethos" is also illuminating in this respect. It was introduced in 2001. At its core is the Soldier's Creed. Note that it enjoins the soldier to have just the one type of interaction with his enemy -- "to engage and destroy him": not defeat , which could permit a number of other politically attuned options, but destroy . It is very decidedly a war-fighting creed, which has no doubt served well to promote the much sought conventional warfighting ethos, but cannot be helping soldiers to understand that on many occasions in unconventional situations they have to be soldiers, not warriors.

As important, the Army needs to learn to see itself as others do, particularly its actual or potential opponents and their supporters. They are the ones who need to be persuaded to succumb, because the alternative approach is to kill or capture them all, and that hardly seems practicable, even for the most powerful Army in the world.
This is making the rounds of Flag Officers right now. It is nice to hear the advice of friends and see what you might learn. A mistake would be to take everything he is saying. There are some significant holes inside the nice-juicy bits. Again, lumping in the Marines with the Army is just, well, daft.

Hat tip reader JK.

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