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"