Monday, December 01, 2008

Commander's Intent I: Arrrrggh!!!

Back when I was just a baby soldier I and the Army made a very serious mistake. I wanted - and the Army accepted and encouraged me to attempt - to be a Special Forces medic.The ideal of the Special Forces is that of (as their own website puts it):"...Francis Marion, the WWII OSS Jedbourg Teams and Detachment 101 in Burma, as well as the Alamo Scouts." They are supposed to be the "global scouts", the eyes of the Army, as well as leaders in organizing peoples in other lands to - again in theory - resist oppression (the SF motto is "De Oppresso Liber", "We liberate the oppressed") and fight for things that we as Americans are supposed to want other peoples to have: democracy, liberty, equal justice under law.

So you get the picture? Not just military muscle, which is what the Chief ended up as once he settled into the 82nd Airborne, but muscle with a brain behind it. As one of the SF types put it himself back in the Vietnam days, "We go in, organize, train, win their hearts and minds, and if it all goes to shit we can blow the hell out of the place and leave".So the one thing that my time in the SF training program helped me really understand was what the Army calls an Operations Order. It's a fairly useful little format designed to simplify the process of taking a gaggle of armed men from Point A to Point B in good order and accomplishing whatever it is that the movement was intended to do once they get there.One thing I learned was that perhaps the MOST critical part of the OPORD was the first part of Paragraph 3 (Execution), the so-called "Commander's Intent". This is where the boss describes to his henchmen the central idea of what they're doing. All the rest is details. Important details, yes, but just the working plan. So if everything else goes to hell, is it so often does, the commander's intent is supposed to enable the survivors to regroup and drive on. "Okay, well. That sucked. But here's what the Old Man wanted us to do, here's what happened and here's where we are now, so..."

The past week or so has got me thinking about the notion of commander's intent, our foreign policy, and why we so often seem to find ourselves reading about military and politico-military actions in the papers that make you shake your head and say "What the..??"

First was a spate of articles about piracy off the Horn of Africa.Now pirates are great news, first of all, since who the hell doesn't love pirates? Suzanne Vega nails it when she sings "...maybe it's the clothing that's so entertaining, the earrings and swashbuckling blouses that please."

Today's Blog Post Theme: Suzanne Vega - Last Year's Troubles
Who can't swoon for Captain Jack Sparrow and Tyrone Power yo-ho-hoing the Spanish Main and sweeping up Maureen O'Hara in a muscular embrace as the extras hoist the anchor w' a wannion, arrrrgh?

Even modern-day pirates have their fans, even if their tongues are firmly in their cheeks.

The sad reality is that the buccaneers of yesterday were the 18th and 19th Century equivalent of the Somali pirates of today: dirty, desperate hard men with nothing but weapons and the will to use them on people too powerless to resist them. Piracy has always been with us, the waterborne version of robbery with violence, the seagoing reminder of Plautus' warning: Homo homini lupus.

Just as settled human societies (nomads another matter, of course) have always seen the supression of robbery as a civic virtue, so the pursuit and extirpation of piracy has always been a sort of lex universalis of the sea. Our country's early history saw the suppression of piracy as one of our FIRST Middle Eastern adventures; the damn Marines still warble about the "shores of Tripoli" as if it was yesterday. The pirate is the enemy of all sailors, and all navies, regardless of the positions of their governments vis a vis each other, have regarded pirates as a common enemy since Caesar's day.

But the common theme of the stories we're reading about these bold Somali buckos is that for all our carrier strike groups, nuclear attack submarines and global naval power projection capability...the U.S. Navy seems just as stymied as the Indians and the British at the project of protecting Red Sea and west Indian Ocean shipping from these ex-fishermen-turned-searobbers.Ideas floating around the Horn (along with flaming Thai shrimp boats) have included baiting traps with armed merchantmen ("Q ships", an idea right out of the Great War), close blockade, airstrikes and actual invasions of the Somali coast.

So here's the FDChief's First Lesson In The Law Of Unintended Consequences When You Don't State the Commander's Intent. Because my single, ugliest, biggest honkin' enormous problem with what my comrade-in-getting-our-records-fucked-up-at-DA Ranger Jim accurately terms the "Phony War on Terror": the man who authored the phrase, the man that Republicans like to call our "Commander in Chief" (though as a civilian I'd like to state that he's my President, and as such doesn't "command" squat around the Fire Direction Center...) has never really made a clear, concise, sensible statement of the intent of the military and politically aggressive actions we've taken as part of the PWOT. In short, other than "Bomb Islam", we seem to have no coherant, sensible strategy for all this effing around in the wilds of south and southwst Asia and North Africa.That's critical. And I belive that it ties right back into the piracy mess.

First, politically, we've been as stupid as a people and a country could be about the Horm of Africa. "We" includes, of course, the Brits, who have to include Somalia in their "If Not For the Portugese, Belgians, French, and Italians, We'd Be The Worst Fucking Imperialists In History" portfolio, the Italians (natch), the UN, and us. This isn't to let the Somalis off the hook: they've been busy screwing up their country since the late Eighties, one of the few disasters of the late Eighties/early Nineties that can't be attributed to George H.W. Bush or Duran Duran. But one of the biggest ready-fire-aim's of the PWOT period was the Ethiopian Invasion of 2006.

Say what you want about the Islamic Courts: they were hard men for a hard land. But because the only notion of "Commander's Intent" in the PWOT seems to be "If it calls itself Islamic, bomb it" the U.S. openly assisted the Ethiopians - ancient and modern tribal enemies of the Somali clans - to invade!


I'm a Scot, at least the identifiable part of me is. If you came to me and said, Chief, I'm worried about the possibility of terrorism emerging from a post-partition Scotland governed by radical Celtic supporters in Edinburgh, so I think the U.S. should arm and encourage the British Army to invade and occupy the country from the Marches to the Isles. Whaddya think?" I'd reply (after checking your pupils and sniffing your breath): "Are you fucking NUTS? Certifiable? How much crack HAVE you been smoking?!?" Because in terms of failing, nothing fails as spectacularly as encouraging the ancient tribal enemies of a people to invade them.And, sure enough, the Ethiopian invasion appears to be failing, not before having gone a long way to destroying whatever of "government" remained in the Beyond-Thunderdome world of the Somali region of Africa. Whatever chance remained for political and social stability to absorb the piratical energy of these Somali swashbucklers failed with it.

And militarily, our inability to redefine what "national security" means in the PWOT Era means that the U.S. Navy remains hardcanned inside the Carrier War that has been raging in Norfolk and Pearl since 1941.Our littoral combat capabilities have atrophied to nothing from the heyday of the "Mobile Riverine Force" of the Vietnam War, the latest incarnation of the "Brown Water Navy" tradition that stretches back to the U.S. Civil War.Plus I suspect that the irrationally fearful Force Protection instinct that my Army and the Navy have developed in the VOLAR period would hamper truly agressive anti-piracy patrols for fear of a USS Cole sort of attack.So here we are; Swanning around with no idea of how to actually FIGHT guys like Osama, no PLAN for fighting guys like the Somali pirates, an Army ass-deep in central Asia and a Navy stuck at the Battle of Midway or rereading Red Storm Rising. Out of options, out of time, and with a bloodthirsty mob of Somali Jack Sparrows sitting on the Dead Man's Chest.

I wanted to talk about the Masacre in Mumbai as a symptom of the same failure of planning, but this post is already too long. So that's for next time.

Hope you had a good holiday weekend.

Up next: Indian Take-out, or, "My Security Service Sent Me To Bollywood And All I Got Was This Stupid Bullethole"


sheerahkahn said...

You need to be syndicated!
I'm going to link this post to so many dam people you're going to shit bricks and crawl under the covers to hide!
Dam'it man, why aren't you syndicated?
Freaking eh!

pluto said...

I second Sheera's enthusiasm. Well stated, as usual.

My continuing thought also goes back to the history books: Hasn't anybody heard of the Convoy system?

No doubt the ship owners would complain mightily about schedules but this really is a no-brainer. The pirates would give up in relatively short order if they were facing a pretty decent chance of not coming home every time they went out on a raid.

For that matter, I'm tempted to suggest that we sink all of the ships they are currently holding hostage, preferably with excessive force.

That would send two messages to two groups of people that desperately need to hear it:
1. Pirates: we are not paying Danegeld any longer.
2. Ship Owners: Convoy up or watch the US Navy sink your ship because you were stupid.

The only reason I can think of to not do something like this is that the captured crews would suffer and they are the closest thing to an innocent in the area.

On a slightly more realistic note, don't we have SOMETHING resembling a PT boat these days? Using an Aegis missile cruiser to defend against a bunch of guys in speedboats is really stupid and only going to lead to a USS Cole-like incident in the long run.

rangeragainstwar said...

FDChief, A fine essay. It seems that the Cin Chief just ain't wat he sould be.In all senses of the word ain't.-
We can excuse his sorry ass BUT guys like Powell et al should have exerted more influence than they did.It does seem that the entire natnl cmd authority have been eaten up with the paralyzed dumbass.
Sometimes I actually wonder why do i even care?If we're so dumb then we 'll get what we deserve.And so it goes. jim

mike said...

The new littoral combat ship LCS-1 was just commissioned three weeks ago. Seems to me that a good shakedown cruise would be off the Horn of Africa. With a speed of 45 knots, and two onboard MH-60 Seahawk helos she should outrun and outgun any Captain Sparrow wannabees. A 12-foot draft makes her a little less littoral in my mind, but that is the published, unclassified depth of draft and additionally she carries a few hi-performance RHIBs (36-foot zodiacs to you landlubbers) for surf and riverine ops. There was a big cost overrun during design phase, so let's get some money's worth out of her.

Nothing wrong with brown water sailors despite what Karl Rove did to Kerry. In 1907, the first command of Ensign Chester Nimitz (later the architect of America's victory in the Pacific and made a 5-star admiral) was a 90-foot ex-Spanish gunboat the USS Panay. This was the original Panay and not the later one which the Japanese dive bombed during the rape of Nanking. I believe that his XO was Midshipman John S McCain, grandfather of Senator McCain. They spent their time in the inland sea and southern islands of the Phillipine archipelago. They did not hang any Moro pirates, but perhaps showing the flag was enough. Simultaneously he also commanded his own home port, a tiny Naval Station at Polloc that had a 22-man shore detachment of Marines.

And speaking of us jarheads and Tripoli, after that campaign we adopted a Saracen weapon, the Mameluke Sword, as the official sidearm for officers. It was based on the one presented to Lieutenant Presley O'Bannon by the Turkish viceroy, Prince Hamet, on December 8, 1804, during the First Barbary War, after he and his Marines (and former soldier Billy Eaton) made a long and dangerous desert march to capture the city of Derna. BTW they say that Derna now provides a disproportionate number of suicide bombers to Iraq so perhaps we should have stayed out of there 200 years ago???

FDChief said...

Guys: appreciate the kudos...I do my best.

Pluto: my understanding is that part of the problem is that no one wants to "own" this mess and take charge of convoying or escorting the merchantmen. ISTM that this is a symptom of our lack of "commander's intent". Back in the 1980's when our attention was focused on the Gulf we actually hung our flag off Liberian tankers so that the Iranians attacking them would be our legitimate prey. But this is Puntland, we don't really give a fuck, we're wrapped up in whatever nonsense we're up to in central Asia, so this whole thing just drifts.

When you look at actual costs in lives and dollars the wars we're fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are pretty small change. Our failure to readjust the Cold War defense posture we're STILL in twenty years after the Berlin Wall fell often seems just an irritant. My problem with them is that they make us blind to other, real problems. Here's one: a problem as old as the Law of the Sea. If we weren't so fixated on hunting the boogy boogy Islamic Jihadists and/or fighting the Battle of the Fulda Gap we might be able to do something constructive about this, rather than dicking around.

Mike: I suspect that between our fleet light units, carrier aircraft and a Marine LPD or two we actually have a fairly substantial capability to make life pretty miserable for these guys, at least enough to escort the merchies past them. My issue, as I said above, is that we don't have the geopolitical breadth of vision. Lacking a strategic plan, we're sort of playing military whack-a-mole on a global scale.

These littoral conflicts are, ISTM, a reasonably likely "enemy course of action" over the next fifty years, as fishing grounds are depleted and scarce resources send coastal peoples out to sea to find another form of wealth. The fact that DOD hasn't got the Navy working, not just on a vessel (which is a product of military-industrial pork as much as anything), but on operations plans and littoral combat strategy rather than trying to find a way to cram the Navy into the PWOT baffles the hell out of me.

rangeragainstwar said...

Why do we always assume that every problem in the world is a US interest or concern.?This piracy problem is not a US problem-haven't we learned this lesson yet?

sheerahkahn said...

"Why do we always assume that every problem in the world is a US interest or concern.?This piracy problem is not a US problem-haven't we learned this lesson yet?"

I have to second your thoughts.
However, currently, for some insane reason people the world over think that just because the US is the US, and a (soon-to-be-ex) hyper-power that we need to be the worlds policeman.
I also have noticed that a lot of my countrymen, both Dem and Repub, as well as the non-align also share this sentiment.
I have an uncomfortable feeling that Obama may be infected with that sentiment as well.
However, I do take comfort in that if Obama can follow through on his ambitious desire to cut out the need for middle-east oil in his ten year energy plan we may be able to hand that mess over to someone else.
Please, someone else!

FDChief said...

Jim: I would only opine that a handful of things are of interest to any and every nation.

Piracy is just a sort of robbery writ large. It increases the costs of doing business and the risks to travelers in the places the pirates operate. It's "our business" in the same way that it's "my business" to reduce the number and effectiveness of car thieves, burglars and armed robbers in the Portland area. It makes me and everyone around me safer.

That's my point here. We're spending a lot of time and money on things that are really other people's business - like the political and economic infrastructure of Iraq and Afghanistan - and ignoring the "broken windows" of the international commons, like these pirates. It's rotten policy and it sends the message that the U.S. is willing to spend millions to bomb other people we don't agree with politically but not one cent to help police the global street. Like a policeman who very visibly busts heads of the demonstrator outside the corporate HQ but stands by while thugs rob and beat some poor shmoe right outside.

Makes people say "Fuck da police..."

FDChief said...

Sheerah: In a sense, any global power is a policeman or some sort of player in local affairs around the world. We're the big proponant of globalization, we tell everyone that they need to open up, liberalize, marketize their economies, let our companies play in their yards. They, in turn, look at us to enforce the rules that they are too small and too powerless to impose.

In this case, much of east Africa and southwest Asia also sees this as a problem we helped cause, between our support of the Ethiopians and our military adventuring in Puntland. They look to us to help solve it.

Like I was saying to Jim: international relations is a game that includes both hard facts and soft ideas. You need to sweet talk some people some times and suckerpunch others at other times. In this case helping suppress this piracy would be a sort of international "Guardian Angel" publicity stunt with little downside, providing we stuck to escorting the merchies and left the Somalis to their own devices. ISTM that if we're going to get help from other nations and organizations we need to show that we're not going to act ONLY on narrow grounds of self interest; this would be a low-cost, economy-of-force way to do that.

rangeragainstwar said...

I'm afraid that attacking Pirates seems easy and a slam dunk , BUT.
The way we fuck up everything else I won't put any money on the guys in the white hats. jim