Tuesday, February 17, 2009

CJCS; mind the gap

The job of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is an exceptionally difficult job that is probably the most lonely of all Commands. Everything you say will be parsed, and with the exception of a the closely held confident, you have to be suspicious of everyone around you and the information that is presented to you; who has what agenda, who is simply telling me what they think I want to hear - who is actually telling me what they know. Is this person working for me, or is he working for himself?

Those are the obvious minefields, but the hidden ones that will get you out of synch easiest. In that exalted position you have to keep a close eye that though your are in DC, you are not of DC. Though you serve the CINC, you also are leading all those in the military below you.

You not only have to manage your relationship with the CINC to maintain your effectiveness and relevancy, but you also have to manage your relationship with your subordinates - from your Deputy to your driver to the Recruit inprocessing.
Tightrope doesn't even start to describe it.

In that light, let's look at Admiral Mullen's bit Sunday in the WaPo titled "
Building our Best Weapon; Trust." When I first saw that title, I thought he was going to talk about how we recruit, train, employ and grow our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines - but no, he was shooting a little higher than that.
We have learned, after seven years of war, that trust is the coin of the realm -- that building it takes time, losing it takes mere seconds, and maintaining it may be our most important and most difficult objective.

That's why images of prisoner maltreatment at Abu Ghraib still serve as recruiting tools for al-Qaeda. And it's why each civilian casualty for which we are even remotely responsible sets back our efforts to gain the confidence of the Afghan people months, if not years.

It doesn't matter how hard we try to avoid hurting the innocent, and we do try very hard. It doesn't matter how proportional the force we deploy, how precisely we strike. It doesn't even matter if the enemy hides behind civilians. What matters are the death and destruction that result and the expectation that we could have avoided it. In the end, all that matters is that, despite our best efforts, sometimes we take the very lives we are trying to protect.

You cannot defeat an insurgency this way.
I cringed in the beginning - though he backed away from it a bit - when he draped the cloak of Pleminius around the US military. With the talk of counter insurgency, I thought he would at least give a nod to the greatest COIN success in almost half a century; Iraq. But now, the only think we hear is Abu Ghraib which is sad - especially because Abu Ghraib was a case of failed NCO through 1-Star leadership and not an example of official policy, but I gave him a pass as he fired RADM (Ret) Sestak (now Rep. Sestak (D-PA) ) his first day in office as CNO. I'm nice like that.

The thing is - I can't get away from the fact that in a discussion that goes on about counter insurgency, Afghanistan, and a Pakistani-centric view of their grievances (a balm for Sen. Feinstein's (D-CA) joyful moment perhaps) - there is not one other mention of the near-miracle of Iraq. Sure, many have forgotten about it - but over Valentine's Day even the MSM had to write about it.

This victory in Iraq, as it is now, was earned. It was earned and by the lives of thousands of Americans and her allies. Thousands of Iraqis bled for this as well. Yet, the only mention they get is Abu Ghraib? Where is the trust that those who serve put in the hands of those who command them that their sacrifice, if it comes to that, won't be forgotten? One can understand the embarassment of politicians and press - of ranters and pundits when they we so 180deg off from what happened. But from a uniformed leader - it just seems wrong.

It is well known that Admiral Mullen opposed the surge as he wanted to focus on the next war. He was wrong and has come to accept it. I also know that the CINC opposed the surge. He was wrong. The MSM opposed the surge. They were wrong. The CINC mentions Iraq as little as possible for reasons known best to him, as well as the MSM. Why did the CJCS make such and obvious omission? Is this a WaPo editor issue, or is that how it was written?

Admiral Mullen is not a politician. He is not a member of the press. He is the most senior officer in the US Military first and foremost. Isn't there a trust relationship with those in uniform that needs to be cared for and nurtured as well?
Shouldn't that trust be primary? Loyalty to the Constitution; trust in those you serve with?

I have read the
primary sources about Pleminius. I have also read primary sources about the behavior of the Roman Senate and other military Tribunes at that point in history. Now, if we want to start making comparisons about military and political behavior in the Roman Republic during the Second Punic War with what their counterparts are doing in the 21st Century - then I'm all up for it; but you ain't go'n like it.

I would respectfully offer that there is another quote that the Chairman may want to internalize.
We don't always get it right. But like the early Romans, we strive in the end to make it right. We strive to earn trust. And that makes all the difference.
Though unintentional, the Chairman has insulted everyone who was involved in making Iraq a victory. Especially in light of the discussion of winning and insurgency - they deserve a mention. Even the Brits admit that the American military is the best counter insurgency force - due to a great part because of the turn we made in Iraq.

Two days before on Friday in the WaPo, there was someone who did get it right; Charles Krauthammer. About the Iraqi election, he stated,
Iraq moved away from religious sectarianism toward more secular nationalism. "All the parties that had the words 'Islamic' or 'Arab' in their names lost," noted Middle East expert Amir Taheri. "By contrast, all those that had the words 'Iraq' or 'Iraqi' gained."
All this barely pierced the consciousness of official Washington. After all, it fundamentally contradicts the general establishment/media narrative of Iraq as "fiasco."

One leading conservative thinker had concluded as early as 2004 that democracy in Iraq was "a childish fantasy." Another sneered that the 2005 election that brought Maliki to power was "not an election but a census" -- meaning people voted robotically according to their ethnicity and religious identity. The implication being that these primitives have no conception of democracy, and that trying to build one there is a fool's errand.

What was lacking in all this condescension is what the critics so pride themselves in having -- namely, context. What did they expect in the first elections after 30 years of totalitarian rule that destroyed civil society and systematically annihilated any independent or indigenous leadership? The only communal or social ties remaining after Saddam Hussein were those of ethnicity and sect.

But in the intervening years, while the critics washed their hands of Iraq, it began developing the sinews of civil society: a vibrant free press, a plethora of parties, the habits of negotiation and coalition-building. Reflecting these new realities, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani this time purposely and publicly backed no party, strongly signaling a return -- contra Iran -- to the Iraqi tradition of secular governance.

The big strategic winner here is the United States. The big loser is Iran. The parties Tehran backed are in retreat. The prime minister who staked his career on a strategic cooperation agreement with the United States emerged victorious. Moreover, this realignment from enemy state to emerging democratic ally, unlike Egypt's flip from Soviet to U.S. ally in the 1970s, is not the work of a single autocrat (like Anwar Sadat), but a reflection of national opinion expressed in a democratic election.
Isn't that how a proper counter-insurgency ends? Doesn't that deserve a wee bit of a mention? When discussing trust between peoples, shouldn't we mention that we did not let down the trust of the Iraqis who stayed with us - like we abandoned the millions of Vietnamese, Loatians, and Cambodians that fought with us? Doesn't that story have weight? Isn't the sacrifice of one people to help deliver another from evil something worth recognising; can I even bring up that John 15:13 thingy?

A lost opportunity.

Hat tip LBG.

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