Friday, April 25, 2008

Kings go forth

I won't comment overlong on the recent announcement of changes at the top of the Army food chain: Chiarelli to VCS, Petraeus to CENTCOM and Odierno to MNF-I. Enough has been said over at Intel Dump and Abu Muquama. Suffice to say that conventional wisdom seems to believe that this means that the Bushies mean to "stay the course" in Iraq while using GEN Petraeus's famous counterinsurgency ("COIN") mojo to include the 'Stan.

My sole observation would be that, while creating a set of COIN grand tactics, neither GEN Petraeus nor anyone else in theatre has come up with a "strategy" beyond whack-a-muj/strategic hamlets in Iraq. With the creation of the Sunni "Concerned Local Citizens" we (in the person of the theatre commander, GEN Petraeus) effectively conceded national sovereignty over the Sunni parts of Iraq (as we already had, de facto, in the Kurdish north). Now we've gone beyond this to actively joining the Shia Malikist faction in suppressing the Shia Sadr faction for the only reason (as far as I can tell) that the Sadrists are against our eternal squatting on their turf. This isn't any kind of "strategy", let alone a COIN strategy; it's the Eight-Trey Crips against the Hollister Bloods only with tac air.

Afghanistan's perennial problem has been that it isn't a state - it's a collection of warlords with tribal fighting tails nominally "ruled" by the warlord in power in Kabul. I fail to see how tapping the guy whose geopolitical cluelessness (or domestic political sycophancy) made him deaf, dumb and blind to the strengthening of sectarian warlordism in Iraq will help in the place where an already-entrenched warlord problem is part of the crux of the biscuit.

Update 4/25 pm: Actually, I do want to generalize a little with this. Back in Imperial Russia there was a saying for this:

"The Cossacks work for the Czar."

The sort of thing we're seen GEN Petraeus represent, both in his daily bulletins and on both occasions of his testimony before Congress, or we've run up against with the "military pundits" story, is the heart of the reason that so many of the Founders were dead set against a professional military. When fighting becomes your profession it becomes difficult to seperate the tactical imperatives of combat from the geopolitical objectives of the nation. And, inevitably, professional officers become tightly bonded to those politicians espousing the policies that support their particular military visions or needs. So you forget that you're supposed to support and defend the Constitution and get mesmerized by the idea that you're defending your Army, or your policy or your own personal insight. You find yourself saluting Authority and moving out smartly, just like you did when you were in uniform. And Authority, in the 21st Century U.S., comes dressed up as the "Commander in Chief".

The Cossacks work for the Czar, remember?

We like to dress up our profession in the robes of honor and discipline, but the fact is that when fighting is your profession the daily mechanics of your business aren't that much different from any other tradesman. The bloody work of making living flesh into meat can obscure the reasons for doing so, or whether the reasons make sense, or are in the best interests of the nation we serve. Therefore the willingness of these uniformed tradesmen to sell themselves to whoever - in this case the GOP - lets them grind the hamburger becomes an active danger to the political health and vitality of the Republic.

So whenever you hear or see Petraeus or Odierno or any one of the "retired military" talking heads pontificating, remember:

The Cossacks work for the Czar.


mike said...

Chief -

Concur with your take on Petraeus' tone-deafness and how it will play between the tribes in what the Brits used to call 'Hell's door knocker'.

I am wondering about General Chiarelli's reshuffling to Army AC/S. He has a rep for being the guy that cleaned up the Baghdad sewage, electrical grid, and water. He supposedly pushed rebuilding as the way to stop the violence and did some good there earlier. He has been quoted as telling his troops that the only way they could defeat the violence in Iraq was to do less shooting and more rebuilding. He was also quoted as saying "Every time we shoot at an Iraqi in this culture — a culture of revenge, a culture of honor — we stand the chance of taking someone who is sitting on the fence and pushing him toward the terrorists and foreign fighters,".

Maybe he can start the rebuilding process for the US Army. Any 1st Cav guys out there who worked for him way back when and can say whether he is the real thing or just another hack?? He is a Seattle boy, so I am hoping he is genuine. I can't find an official Army bio on him. Most of the available web bios are dated.


PS - Regarding the slump test. Back in the early sixties when I served as a pfc in a Pioneer Battalion (Combat Engineers to you Army guys) we were taught a basic slump test for soil stability/composition. It was pretty basic. You could probably do better with a look-and-touch test; duhh this is sand and this is clay. I don't know squat about ceeement - maybe the base engineers or the air wing engineers did that stuff.

FDChief said...

Mike: Slump test for soil - dude! That is Ooooold School. Wow. Kinda like the sand cone test for compaction - dunno any private contractor uses them anymore!

I am hearing good things about Chiarelli, too. God knows someone needs to step in and start knocking heads. Waaay too many of Clausewitz's fourth type of officer (energetic and stupid) made it beyond their ability group during the Rumsnamara Years.

mike said...

Chief -

Time will tell on Chiarelli. Hopefully he will be a better Mr Vice for the Army than General Cody. Where is IRRSoldier when we need the inside dope on this guy??

On that slump test, it was I believe a field expedient handed down by NCOs and probably not taught at Ft Belvoir or in the engineering curriculum at West Point. It was proscribed for use to determine feasibility of soil conditions for excavation walls - and what type of shoring if any should be used. Probably had roots from the trench warfare of ww-1 and/or the sappers of the 18th and 19th centuries.


The Minstrel Boy said...

one can go even further back to alexander's campaign in afghanistan, he was only trying to establish a safe march and supply route into india. it took him three years to hammer out a line which lasted a short time. the tribal nature, the ferocity with which they opposed any and all incursion, the constantly shifting alliances, were maddening to him.

alexander ran into the exact same problems, with the exact same people.

my first thought on the petreaus promotion, given the failed "offensive" in basra, and the standstill draw of sadr city was that they were kicking him upstairs to get some fighting boots on the ground.

Fasteddiez said...

Mike: Pioneer??? were you in the German Army in the sixties? It was spelled Pioniers in the Wermacht (my uncle was one).

PS I can do slump tests on concrete.

FDChief said...

"alexander ran into the exact same problems, with the exact same people."

As did the Brits, and the Soviets.

Military incursion into Afghanistan are either punitive expeditions, or failures.

Historically there has never been a third option.

srv said...

Well said.

mike said...

Eddie -

I believe the Brits and many of their their Commonwealth allies also used the Pioneer unit designation.

The Marine Corps had them in the late fifties and into the sixties or seventies. Not sure when they got redesignated. It was only the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Engineer Battalions assigned to Divisions that got the 'Pioneer' designation. They were generally split up into smaller units and put in direct support, the most common being a platoon in support of an infantry battalion.

The Force Troops level Engineer Battalions (7th, 8th, and 9th???) were more road and airfield builders.

We have come a long way from Ceasar's time when there were no specialized engineer units and every legionary in his Gallic expedition pitched in to bridge the Rhine and constructed massive camp fortifications at every stop on their march.


FDChief said...

"We have come a long way from Ceasar's time when there were no specialized engineer units and every legionary in his Gallic expedition pitched in to bridge the Rhine and constructed massive camp fortifications at every stop on their march."

Agreed - I've always been amazed at the construction capacity of the ordinary Roman legion.

Having said this, in military practice as in nature, organiztions and organisms tend to specialize over time. Think of it this way: how many of us build our own homes? Yet in Roman times, most people outside the elite and the big cities probably built all or most of their homes and buildings.

So with military engineering. As with construction in general, it has become more specialized so specialists tend to do it.

Fasteddiez said...


I didn't know about the USMC divisional engineers being called that. VN was the only place we worked with them as they were often doled out to Company units two at a time.

My Uncle, after being transferred to the western front was captured by the "Amis," and made to work helping the American Combat Engineers, as were many of his brethren-in-arms. Beats sitting in a POW camp waiting to get dysentery, tuberculosis, pleurisy or worse.

Publius said...

T discussion of "pioneers" kind of takes me back in time. Anybody ever hear of the "Young Pioneers?" Some very large youth organizations in the Soviet Union, East Germany and China. All about ensuring youth follows the correct path for the state. I actually came into contact with some of them. Interesting young folks. One wonders what those true believers are up to now that they're getting old.

Somehow I think you're discussing different "pioneers."

mike said...

Publius -

Yeah, Vietnam had them too, I remember running into one or two former Young Pioneers who had gone on to join the NVA. Their background allowed them to enlist as NCOs or as Warrants. Highly propagandized boy scouts, they could quote Ho Chi Minh extensively by memory, and lots of flowery revolutionary poetry.


PS - Good golf in the great northwest yesterday. 15 of 18 fairways were dry, and no mud on the greens.

mike said...

Eddie -

I think they were only called Pioneers for about ten years or so. Not sure where they got that name. I had thought the Brits, but Wiki has no reference to Pioneers in their entry on the Corps of Royal Engineers. The Corps does too much renaming and rebranding of units for my taste. Seems like we bounced back and forth from MEU/MEB/MEF to MAU/MAB/MAF at least ten times during my 22 year career.

My father was an Army combat engineer in Europe during WW2, maybe he met your uncle. And my uncle was a SeaBee in the Pacific.


FDChief said...

My understanding is that most European armies had specialized units to do the road-clearing and road-mending for infantry units on the march. These guys were known as "pioneers" to distinguish them from "sappers" (engineer troops specializing in siegecraft) and "engineers" proper (who were the civil engineers of the day, constructing everything from stables and barracks to fortresses.

Specialization wasn't so nice in the 19th Century that each couldn't do a little of both. But the "pioneers" as such were typically the big guys with the axes and aprons marching at the head of the column of infantry.

Several armies kept the tag as a way of referring to engineer units: the Brits had pioneers, the Germans pionere, the French pioner. So we may not be very familiar with the term but it has a history...

The Minstrel Boy said...

sherman in his march to the sea employed several battalions of "pioneers" whose job it was to cut and build the roads for the wagon train which followed. his men were mostly hardy westerners who had much experience in this as the settlement of the ohio valley was happening.

it was also a nickname given to the cia/oss types who worked and lived among the kachin of burma during ww2.