Wednesday, November 20, 2013

CINC vs. Generals is not the Story

Rosa Brooks's article at Politico got a lot of play over the weekend, but most commentary focused on the title and the gossipy nature of the "who loves who, and how is saying naughty things about who" discussion of the civilian military divide that has been around since well before the Punic Wars.

No, that is not what concerns me, what concerns me are the nuggets of insight into the colossal ignorance we have from people with their hands on the levers of power. Not stupidity. No these are smart, patriotic Americans who are doing the best they can in a job their President has asked them to do. Ignorance; people put in jobs they are ill-trained for and never have the time to learn the fundamentals, or have the people around them which will properly brief things.
There was the White House staffer who called me up and asked me to have CENTCOM move a U.S. drone to Kyrgyzstan, for instance, in an effort to track an alarming outbreak of ethnic violence. When I told him why I couldn’t—the chain of command just doesn’t work that way, and in any case no formal planning or risk assessments had taken place—he quickly grew exasperated. 
“You guys”—the Pentagon—“are always stonewalling us on everything. I’m calling you from the White House. The president wants to prevent genocide in Kyrgyzstan. Whatever happened to civilian control of the military? 
“You,” I had to tell him, “are the wrong civilian.” 
As if to emphasize the culture clash, after episodes like this one, the response from some of my Obama administration colleagues in the White House was bitter: Had I “gone over to the other side?” one asked.
Interesting confrontation in the faculty lounge, but really? That is the conversation of some of the President's most powerful policy and decisions makers have.  Let that soak in while I grab my lance and look askance at that windmill again.

Some things must be confronted. Some things need to be repeated over and over, simply because they are the truth.

The next part of this post will be nothing new to longtime residents of the Front Porch, I walked you through this over and over in the last half-decade. Stick with me though, as we need to review it. We need to speak it. It needs to be brought up every time the false premise is brought up. The truth must always be represented, otherwise the past is lost.

Here we go.
Was there a single moment when Obama’s relationship with the military began to sour? Most observers point to the bruising 2009 debates about troop numbers in Afghanistan.

Immediately after his 2009 Inauguration, Obama set out to make good on his promise to “finish the job” in Afghanistan. He commissioned a sweeping review of U.S. policy and announced that he had authorized the interim deployment of an additional 17,000 U.S. troops in response to theater commander Gen. David McKiernan’s request.

By the end of February 2009, the president had adopted the new strategic objectives recommended by his interagency review team: From now on, the United States would emphasize the fight against al Qaeda—and build up the Afghan military’s security forces. But by mid-May, McKiernan, the first of several Afghanistan theater commanders under Obama to discover just how elusive “finishing the job” would be, had been fired. “War is a tough auditor,” retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis told me. Not every commander passes muster.

McKiernan was succeeded by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was in turn assigned to undertake his own 60-day assessment. But when word spread that McChrystal intended to propose a substantial new increase in forces, which Pentagon gossip initially put as high as 80,000 additional troops, waves of dismay spread through the White House. In late September 2009, a copy of McChrystal’s assessment was leaked to the Washington Post. Its bottom line was clear: If the United States did not pour significant additional resources into Afghanistan, and fast, the likely result would be “mission failure.”

I don’t think Obama really realized we were losing the war in Afghanistan until late in 2009,” a retired Army general with substantial Afghanistan experience told me. Furious at the leak—which they blamed on the Pentagon—and reluctant to accept McChrystal’s grim conclusions, senior White House aides engaged in strategic counter-leaks. In their version, McChrystal and the Pentagon were trying to box in the president by pushing to deploy tens of thousands more troops and refusing to consider other approaches.

After months of increasingly tense meetings, Obama came to a decision: Another 30,000 U.S. troops would be sent to Afghanistan, but after 18 months those troops would begin to withdraw.
No. That is not how it happened. Here is the rough outline.

The USA handed over the operation in AFG to NATO in late '05 and early '06 as ISAF moved out from Regional Command Capital. After that, NATO had Tactical and the bastardized "In Theater Operational" control of AFG through COMISAF (post '05 always an American), technical Operational Control through a German 4-Star in the NATO Joint Forces Command in The Netherlands, and the Strategic Control through SACEUR in Mons, BEL - always an American 4-Star.

The USA had a parallel Command and Control Structure which was to a large measure limited to scattered USA forces and Regional Command East. COMISAF had both a NATO and a USA hat. Big difference, we would do Counter Terrorism (CT) while few others would.

The Germans and Scandinavians were mostly in Regional Command North in Masar-e-Sharif, the Italians and Spaniards in Regional Command West in Herat, and the British, Canadians, Dutch, Australians, with very effective Danes and Estonians in Regional Command South. Other NATO and non-NATO nations contributed as well, scattered here and there.

There was also the humorous fact on the civilian side that the AFG judicial system was to be mentored by the Italians (!), the police by the Germans (then EUPOL), disbandment of illegally armed groups by Japan (!), and so on.

As we tired to figure out the AFG tribal situation, we soon fell in to our own tribal problems. NATO's version of USA Embedded Training Teams (ETT), Operational Mentor and Liaison Team (OMLT) never were sourced to the level promised, so training of AFG forces never got up on step in line with the OPLAN. Those OMLT who were working would not follow their Kandak from one RC to another making continuity impossible.

With few exceptions (Anglosphere nations plus Dutch, Estonians, Danes, and some other nation's SOF), NATO and non-NATO forces were so laden with restrictive Rules of Engagement and caveats that they were worse than useless for any type of direct action. Each Regional Command became a national fiefdom, and drift began.

NATO would not deliver the forces they promised to even inside their humble, risk adverse, low-balled Statement of Requirements. By mid-2007, inside the USA lifelines of CENTCOM and the Joint Staff - especially after NATO's failure mid-year to even send enough cargo helicopters or logistics forcing the USA to jump through hoops to make it work -  it became obvious the the USA had to take the keys back; NATO could not drive the car.

We had to be careful; NATO liked its new job. Other nations got their General Officers forward deployed time, and made sure they were there just long enough to get the check in the block and then move on. The Flags-to-Posts exercise was very nice for our allies.

We also were in the middle of the successful surge in IRQ - we had to balance what forces we could quickly move to AFG without side-tracking the good we were doing in IRQ - and not hurting our friends' feelings by jerking back too much from NATO too fast, and then doing significant long term damage to our alliance. 

By 2007, the Canadians and Dutch had already signaled that their maneuver forces were leaving. Careful balancing was needed ... but we needed to stabilize AFG beyond Kabul, the north, the west, and our FOBs.

When General McKiernan came in and brought to the front Shape, Clear, Hold, Build - the structure to make the change took place. Throughout late 2007 and 2008, the USA Joint Staff, CENTCOM and others looked at what was needed to execute Shape, Clear, Hold, Build, and more importantly - to take back the most difficult parts of AFG (mostly Pashtun areas) that our NATO allies either couldn't or wouldn't do what needed to be done. First forces of this "surge" started moving in by late '08 - before Obama was elected.

As all plans are, it was multi-phase; nothing happens at once.

After the 2008 election, Obama had his team do their little dog and pony show in theater (different story for a different day). As we chronicled here, he did a few things to put his stink on it - but nothing of any significance. The great Obama AFG surge was all, and I mean all, planned and put in to motion well before he even got the Democrat nomination. He didn't create it - he just approved it with slight to no modifications; initially.

There was a point that AFG did become all his; everything changed in DEC 09 with President Obama's West Point speech where he signaled retreat via a shift from a Conditions Based Plan to a Calendar Based Plan.

That was the moment that AFG was thrown to its fate. Everything since has been window dressing, vanity, and commentary.

Full stop.

Back to Rosa Brooks's article; 
... most of the military leaders I interviewed said they believed that military recommendations often go unheeded by senior White House staff, who now assume that a risk-averse Pentagon exaggerates every difficulty and inflates every request for troops or money.

This assumption turns discussions into antagonistic negotiating sessions. As one retired general puts it, “If you said, ‘We need 40,000 troops,’ they’d immediately say, ‘20,000.’ Not because they thought that was the right number, but they just took it for granted that any number coming from the military was inflated.”

“Sometimes you want to tell them, ‘This isn’t a political bargaining process,’” another retired senior military official says ruefully. “Where the military comes in high, they counter low, and we settle on an option that splits the difference. Needless to say, the right answer is not always in the middle.”

A former White House official with Pentagon experience says White House staff often remain willfully uninformed about the logic behind military recommendations: They “don’t want to take the time to go through the slide deck or get the full briefing. Basically, they don’t want to know.”

Over time, of course, a White House tendency to split the difference is bound to create perverse incentives for military planners, making mutual mistrust self-reinforcing. “If you believe the mission truly requires 50,000 troops and $50 billion, but you know that the White House is going to automatically cut every number in half, you’ll come in asking for 100,000 troops and $100 billion,” says the aforementioned former White House official. “The military eventually starts playing the very game the White House has always suspected them of playing.”
Amazing. Simply amazing. Ask General Shinseki over at the VA if he was inflating his numbers.

I really want to know who she was talking to. Names would be nice. I can't speak for them, but I can speak for others as one of the guys in the cheap seats who stayed quite but saw it all play out. What she speaks of may have happened somewhere she is aware of - but not where I sat actual and via VTC in AFG, Europe, Qatar, Kuwait, and in CONUS from DC to Tamps.

Let me tell you about the teams and commands I worked for/with on AFG; we never inflated numbers. As a matter of fact, we were bounded by Restraints and Constraints that kept our numbers low, but as accurate as possible. We were never ordered to inflate for the sake of inflation. We may argue of one number or another - but it was all about Troops-to-Task and forces needed to create Desired Effects - not negotiating. Not once General Officer, USA or NATO, ever directed numbers to be bumped up for political negotiating purposed. Just the opposite, more often it was about the ceiling on numbers coming from political D&G - as it should be.

Deliberately lie on an OPLAN or be ordered to do so for political negotiation purposes? No; the Bull Colonels and Captains would have had head on pikes or resigned first.

I never saw that at the Operational, COCOM or Joint Staff levels. If it did happen, let's see some names. Our beefy Union Thugs from Operational Planners and Targeteers Local 302 would like to pay them a visit.

Even today, it looks like the national security intellectual capital in the Obama Administration has not changed. The intellectual shallowness and malunderstanding of military history is the only logical reason the President's spokesman would say something like this;
Alternative explanation: they are knowingly misleading the American people. That is a different topic for a different day.

A war does not end just because one side leaves the field and is being pursued by the other. That is a fighting retreat or a route.

End of a war? No, the end of one phase.

So, there you go. Intelligence such as Rosa's and her colleagues do not translate in to the best in military or foreign policy affairs. "The Best and Brightest" who are out of their area of expertise rarely do.

No, the Gossip Girl story of the civilian military divide should not concern you - the fact that in the very serious business of fighting a war, political talking points and spin has in the minds of important people been made flesh - that is the story.

You can only learn from history if that history is based on fact. Without honest history, you only set up the future for failure.

1 comment:

Evol-D said...

Funny you should post that old US today link there. You should go back and read that WHOLE article and some of the rest from around that time. Nationalistic hubris is clearly the most dangerous threat posed to US security and is exercised regularly here. Bush vs BHO isnt even a debate. BHO is the adult here and you types should really not take yourselves too seriously.