Saturday, December 06, 2008

Commander's Intent III: Now What?

So far we've looked at two examples of what happens when you're a global hyperpower with no visible plan for exercising, or not, that power in world affairs. We talked about the coast of Puntland, that Libertatia or Port Royal of 2008 where jolly Somali buckos terrorize the Indian Main, chasing cruise ships and boarding tankers in the grand old pirate fashion and the United States seems to be avoiding leading any sort of grand old pirate-chasing of the Hornblowerian sort due to a lack of direction from above - the "commander's intent" of an operations order - as to what distinguishes something that is a threat to our political and economic well-being from something that is a mere want on our political and economic wish list.

Then we talked about the Massacre in Mumbai, where ten - ten! - galvanized farmers from Muslim Kashmir and the Indus Valley toted gym bags full of Soviet Army surplus into the packed tourist watering places and opened up on full auto. The ensuing mess propelled dozens of civilians into the next world and all but one of the gunmen themselves into the arms of their expected but apocryphal 72 virgins while sending little Richie Lowry and his fellow neo-, semi- pseudo-, hyper-, and paleocons into a sweating swivet of terrorized funk imagining that ten guys with AKMs represented the New Apocalypse coming to get them. And this clueless douchebaggery was typical of the sort of clueless douchebaggery that flourishes when the commander has failed to clarify the critical objectives and tasks for a nation and a People.

So how could a clear "commander's intent" have improved these goat-ropes? Let's try and break it down.

A good commander's intent helps unify the overall picture for the troops. People need an intellectual framework to hang their daily decisions and actions on. In the Cold War we had a simple one: Red Commies bad, Not-Red-Commies good. This made choosing weapons, political allies, strategies and plans pretty simple and clear. Mind you; it didn't always make them right or smart. Looking at the region of our two examples, the littoral of the Indian Ocean, you can see the aftereffects of some of the long-term mistakes we made in pursuit of short-term Cold War objectives. We did nothing to prevent the disintegration of Somali, since the dictator Sidi Barre' was a dirty rotten Commie and "anything was better than that".

Well, okay. No. But it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Okay then, look to the northeast and you can see that part of what fuels and is firing the jihadi madrassis and mullahs is blowback from our central Asian policy of backing Islamic fundamentalists in the Afghan resistance to the Soviet invasion. And our reflexive support of Israel, right or wrong. And our what must seem to the locals constant meddling in the region; from the 1950's invasion of Lebanon to the overthrow of Mossadegh, the Iraqi Baath coup in '63, support of friendly dictators rather than the scary Arab socialist and labor parties, the prisons and murders and repressions that seemed to contradict the supposed American love of liberty and democracy unless that liberty and democracy imperiled the anti-Communist strongman ruling West Buttfuckistan. Then your Arab liberal with his translation of Tom Paine and his Goldwater t-shirt could rot in prison until Muhammad returned, as far as Hank Kissinger and the Arsenal of Democracy were concerned.

So I'm not saying that working up a coherent and clearly understood foreign policy is going to cure all geopolitical ills. But it can't hurt, and might even help.


First, we need to convene a Geopolitical Round-table for Policy to try and determine the fundamental domestic and external needs of an intelligent, progressive U.S. foreign policy. We might consider things from as basic as defense budgets - do we REALLY need to be spending something like 30-40 percent of our tax revenues on military and intelligence - to what are the appropriate roles for individuals and groups from AIPAC to USAID.

Is all of our military hardware buying us that more safety? Have we gotten anything like a return of our investment? What are we buying with those things?

And global hegemony? Do we WANT to be the world's policeman, finance officer, morals teacher and judge? If we want to, can we afford it? Is it worth it for the People of our country? And if we don't, how much of the world's business DO we want? Are we willing to give up "preventive war" a la Iraq? Are we willing to go even further, submit ourselves to international organizations like the ICC and the World Bank? (imagine the fun the IMF would have had imposing austerity measures on us after our financial sector shat the bed!!)

We need to look hard at the lingering Cold War structures and policies still in place. Do we REALLY need twelve active aircraft carrier task forces? I mean, when the Soviets were threatening the GIUK Gap it made sense to have a carrier group in the Atlantic AND one in the Med AND one in the Pacific AND one in the Indian Ocean, AND a backup for each AND a third line that would be in refit or overhaul at the time.

But where's the global blue water threat now?

And, likewise, when the Soviets had a fully functional triad of nuclear delivery systems it made sense for us to maintain the Navy boomers and the USAF bomber and missile fleets. But now?

ISTM that the conclusions any geopolitical defense review would come to would be obvious:

1. There are no clear rivals for global military power in 2008, no polities that appear to have global ambitions combined with globe-spanning economic power. In other words, the Soviet Union is dead. Russia and China are effectively Eurasian powers and show little interest in meddling outside their immediate periphery. No other nation or group of nations (such as the EU) combines size, ambition, economic strength and military potential. With our 12 carrier decks, Star Wars missile defense plans, F-22 fighters and B-2 bombers and fleet of ballistic missile submarines we're muscled up for a Cold War that's been over for twenty years. However, this means that fighting around the globe will be more common rather than less, because...

2. The next forty or fifty years looks likely to be chaotic, with small interstate conflicts and MANY intrastate or state-versus-nonstate-actors (think Lebanon vs Hezbollah or Mexico vs the Drug Cartels). These conflicts will be tempting, inviting U.S. intervention for both liberal humanitarian and conservative stability hawks. They should be handled with extreme caution.

We need, as part of our policy review, to remember that since 1945 no more than a two Western counterinsurgencies have really succeeded: Malaya and Yemen. Both were extremely special cases that cannot be readily applied to other COIN and "foreign internal defense" (FID) settings. Counterinsurgency HAS succeeded, but only when the local government is in full control of both the military and political process. All but two of those situations where American ground troops have been unilaterally thrown into local quarrels (the Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Haiti, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan) have worked poorly or have cost beyond whatever gain they have attained. Of the other two, Grenada barely rises above the level of a joke and Panama was a complete oddity, a Panamanian coup d'etat affected by American troops.

3. So; as a nation and our armed forces, we need to start thinking in terms of what is best, not for Exxon, or Israel, or the starving people of Darfur, or the prestige and reputation of our punditry, but the general good of We, the People. It is in our interest to have a stable nation at home where stability means that wealth and security are as great and spread as wide as politically and economically possible; meaning that the current financial collapse, consumer-driven economy and increasing concentration of wealth in fewer hands is both counterproductive and unsustainable. It is in our interest that we have stable global trading partners and a generally peaceful world (since as the Great Power peace and stability are in our interest - it's the ones on the bottom that benefit from turbulence, not the ones on top, right?) free of existential threats to our existence.

Note I say existential threats. That does not mean ANY threats, and we need to grow up and accept that those threats will exist and will cost us lives and treasure. What happened in Mumbai was, effectively, a squad-sized raid on a soft target. No military force in the world can expect to account for the movements of every single enemy squad. One or two will get through, with the resultant havoc. A mature public and a confident democracy will simply clean up, move on and hope that good intel will head off the next attack...or the next.

4. And the parallel for this is that we need to develop a hell of a lot better understanding of history and economics, both as a nation and a people. Al Qaeda didn't just "happen", and we had something to do with who they are and what they want, any more than Hitler or Tojo just "happened". Understanding your enemies isn't soft or treasonous - it helps you fight them. To pretend that our actions in the Gulf War in the 1980's, in Iran in the 1950's through the 1970's, Iraq in the 1960's and in Palestine/Israel from 1945 until this very minute had nothing to do with AQ and the fix we're in is not just blind, it's stupid.

And to treat AQ, with it's raggedy band of muj, like an enemy of the caliber of the Soviet Union, with it's phalanx of nukes and hundreds of divisions and fleets and aircraft...that's worse than stupid. That's self-destructive.

Even the Greatest of Great Powers has a limit. Attempts to pretend this doesn't happen are the foundation of Imperial Overstretch. It got Spain, France and Great Britain, and if we don't understand this economic history we are condemned to repeat it. And with our deficit-and-credit-card-fueled economy going into the tank, that looks a little more than likely, doesn't it?
Oh, and for the record, two observations about other dumb things we're still doing:

1. Someone really needs to cut the Air Force's nuts off over the whole strategic bombing thing. "Strategic bombing" made sense back in the 1940's when the wing wipers were trying to convince people that the Air Corps needed to be...well, NOT the Army because it was so aeronautical and stuff, because it had these big, war-winning bombers pounding the piss out of Schweinfurt and Kyoto. Except that the bombers didn't - and haven't - "won" anything. "Strategic" bombing has turned out to be all about flattening cities and killing civilians. The only time and place in history it has been measurably effective was against Japan in 1944-1945, which had a LOT more to do with how the Japanese cities were constructed and the fragility of the Japanese industrial base than anything special about firebombing wood-and-paper cities. You need to go back to supporting the ground forces and establishing air superiority over the battlefield, Air Force. Get over it.

2. And for god's sake can we STOP naming our mightiest capital ships after brass hats and politicians? You might be able to make a case for Washington, Lincoln and FDR. Ike and Chet Nimitz seem reasonable based on their WW2 service; I think TR is a bit of a stretch but still within bounds just because I personally respect the man but I'd be willing to hear arguments against him. JFK seems pretty marginal to me, and Harry Truman? Harry Truman? The Harry Truman that Dewey was supposed to have beaten, that Harry Truman? Far be it from me to disparage a fellow redleg, but...damn...

And I don't even want to talk about Ronnie, Jerry, Carl Vinson and John Stennis. And Poppy Bush?

Christ, why not a U.S.S. Adam Clayton Powell?

Jesus wept. Sorry. Back on topic.
Second, after we've done a thorough top-to-bottom policy review, we need to get the word out about what we've decided we want. And that means no more bullshit words like "victory" over things like "terrorism" where no victory is possible. No talk of "democracy" for Egyptians if we don't mean it. Make it clear where we stand.

Obviously, what I hope we will be saying are things like:
- We have no interest in your religion, economy or politics. We want neither your submission nor your ingratiation. We will be an honest trade partner and a peaceful neighbor if you desire it and act accordingly. If not, we will be your worst nightmare. We won't bother mucking around in your internal affairs, though. We will smash you, hard, with punitive force. And then go about our business.
- And the corollary of that is that in our opinion your internal wars are your business. We have men who can train your people in ways to better help you defeat those who attack you - providing you aren't behaving in ways that deserve attack. We will help you form those "Mike Forces". We will not send you our line units to help you kill yours. It's bad for you and it's bad for us. If you cannot rule your own country we have no interest in doing it for you.
- Oh, yes, and our Air Force has promised that they no longer have an interest in bombing your wedding.
- As the Arsenal of Democracy, we will play by our rules, not yours. This will mean that we will not arrest without cause, hold without trial, imprison without law and release when time served. This will cause some of our enemies to slip through our fingers, and it will cause some of us to die. But, as patriots and believers in liberty and justice, this is not weakness. It is our strength.

And once we have firmly established our "commander's intent", like any ood OPORD, we need to constantly assess it and refine it and even scrap it and issue a new one as global conditions change. We've been coasting on intellectual fumes too goddam long. It's time to wake up, Americans, and realize that the present state of our Union is a parlous one. We are, as always, at risk for a fall into oligarchy or worse. There are no enemies outside who can defeat us: that, only we can accomplish.

I wish I thought that most, or even any, of this will happen. My hopes aren't high. Way too many people and too much wealth and power ride on continuing the present condition of our Republic.

And that's sad. Because, as my old battery commander Captain Lee used to say: to err is human. But to REALLY fuck up requires a DoD committee, a dozen legislators, lobbyists, several aides, reams of whitepapers, rafts of deniable sources, and a really, really good PAO prick.


Ael said...

1) I am not so sure that the next 50 years will bring "smallish" wars. If global warming is real, we are likely in for some changes in our ability to grow food. Hungry people have different priorities than well fed folk. They will also take much larger risks.

2) The modern world took shape on Harry Truman's watch. I think you sell him short.

mike said...

Your former battery commander, Captain Lee, had a lot of wisdom.

But what have you got against Teddy: Asst SecNav (he actually ran the dept as his boss was a loafer), founder of the Great White Fleet, war hero, explorer, outdoorsman, naturalist, youngest US President ever, and the first Progressive President long before the Democrats ever heard of the word.

The Navy would be derelict if the did not name a capitol ship after him.

Also, sorry to be a kibitzer, but Le May's strategic bombing did not bring Japan to the surrender table. They were already beaten and were suing for peace. Yes, I know, I know, they were quibbling about the word "unconditional", but that was just to protect the emperor who ended up staying in power anyway. The war in the Pacific was won by aircraft carriers, forward basing, and by submarine warfare. Japan was completely isolated - what Hitler tried to do to Britain but couldn't.

FDChief said...

Ael: Smallish only in that they won't be the "Battle of the Fulda Gap" that we planned our WW3 land battle on. As you point out, on a regional scale they could be quite large indeed - I'm just doubting whether we will see a genuine peer foe of the Soviet sort in a generation or more.

That's assuming that economic distress doesn't reduce us to a much lower "hyperpower" level in the meantime...

mike: Completely agree on LeMay and the bombing of Japan. My point was and is that all the OTHER "strategic" bombing campaigns manifestly did not work as advertised, from the Blitz in 1940 all the way to "shock and awe" over Iraq. The bomber jocks have only one POSSIBLE case, and that's the B-29 raids over Japan, and as you quite correctly point out that's highly arguable.

Bottom line: modern war has and will inclde aerial bombing. But the biggest single case for having a unique and seperate AF has almost always been nontactical theatre-level or higher bombing, and I'm argueing that that's a pretty thin reed.

And I don't mean to pick on either TR, Harry or any other U.S. PResident, other that to argue that the entire precedent is silly and potentially dangerous. Our country was founded on the idea that the Constitution and the People are soverign. To idolize political leaders, to me, reeks of banana republicanism. That said, there ARE a handful of leaders in the "pantheon of heroes" category. Not all of them are Presidents - in fact, most are not. Once we get beyond Lincoln, Washington and possibly Adams (glossing over the Alien and Sedition Acts) and Jefferson, though, you start getting into arguable territory. TR was, IMO, a terrific president and an admirable man - but he has his detractors and they have valid arguments. Likewise FDR. Likewise Ike, Harry Truman, JFK, Lyndon Johnson...and by the time you're done you get to the real hacks, the Poppy Bushes and his ilk.

Let's stick to naming high schools after these guys. We have a perfectly good scheme for naming carriers (famous battles and historic warships). Why not stick to it?

sheerahkahn said...

"If you cannot rule your own country we have no interest in doing it for you."

May I humbly suggest that you make a poster of this.
Perhaps in the manner of a poster?
I'm sure someone creative can forge a word that summates the above quote so that the whole thing is pithy, and yet sweetly poignant.

mike said...

"We have a perfectly good scheme for naming carriers (famous battles and historic warships). Why not stick to it?"

Because sadly, shipbuilding budgets are approved by partisan politicians who want to see their Party hero glorified. Follow the money!

Please do not take my comments on LeMay's B-29s to mean that I disparage the Army Air Corps in the Pacific. I should have mentioned that Army air was critical in the forward basing island hopping campaign that Nimitz pursued. Land based bombers were key in the neutralization and bypassing of major Japanese bases at Rabaul, Truk and Yap. Midway based Army air participated in that battle. And it was Army P-38s that ambushed Admiral Yamamoto. But they were under the command of ComAirPac, which came under Nimitz as CincPAC and CincPOA. And I would assume they were critical for MacArthur's effort in the SW Pacific and the Phillipines.

As far as LeMay and the B-29s, they were an independent command, not under Nimitz. Apparently their firebombing of Tokyo was so admired by Hap Arnold that he directed it use in Europe - hence Dresden. There are many that claim that the air campaign in Europe was the straw that broke Germany's back and was much more influential than B-29s in the Pacific - except for 'Bock's Car' and perhaps the 'Enola Gay'.

FDChief said...

Sheerah: True, and, sadly, mostly ignored. Washington's remarks about foreign entanglements should be tattooed on every SecState's forehead. We have an interest in foreign states foreign affairs; their domestic affairs are and should be their concern.

Mike: "shipbuilding budgets are approved by partisan politicians who want to see their Party hero glorified." see; banana republic, definition of...

Again, I don't want to question that the btrategic bombing campaigns in both Europe and Japan had some effect - they could hardly have avoided having SOME. But my understanding is that the USAF's own postwar analysis showed that the American industrial bobing campaign against Germany was pretty much a wash. It caused the German industrial planners a headache, diverted fighter aircraft and other war materials such as antiaircraft artillery to be held inside Germany rather than be released for the fighting fronts, and in particular crippled the petroleum refining sector. But it was also enormously expensive in men, aircraft and dollars. Only the U.S.'s huge economic superiority vis-a-vis Germany made it do-able, and the effect on German industrial production was much less than either predicted or assessed at the time.

Japan, with her inflammable cities and more rudimentary industry was another matter entirely. The B-29s had effectively destroyed the Japanese war industry - hell, its industry, period - by August 1945. Between the air raids and the USN's submarine commerce raiding the Japanese would have been practically reduced to cannibalism by 1947...

Aerial bombing as a tool of warfare had an effect on the xourse of WW2, no argument. My question is that we might want to look hard at gains versus costs, since the strategic bombing campaigns are still the primary argument for having a seperate USAF eating up 1/3rd of the DoD budget. Is that a good thing for us, given that Defense, in turn, gets something like 20-30 percent of the federal tax dollar? IT may be. Or not. But it seems like a question that might be profitably asked.

mike said...


I agree with your basic premise on strategic bombing campaigns. They did not stop Luftwaffe attacks at Salerno and Anzio. And they did not stop Japanese kamikazes in the Pacific. As a matter of fact, LeMay decided to stop bombing airfields on the Japanese main islands as the airstrips were repaired faster than he could bomb them. And Iwo Jima was originally planned because LeMay wanted a fighter base close to the home islands in order to protect the B-29s - but that was cancelled when he decided to send the B-29s in at high altitude above the flak as it was too dangerous for low level pin-point missions. 99.99% of their bombs never reached the target.

As mentioned previously, the US Navy's submarine wolfpacks had already cut Japan off from he rest of the world and from oil, tin, rubber, and other resources - they were even operating in the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea, cutting of maritime traffic from their armies in China and Korea. Halsey's carrier based attack aircraft were striking military facilities on the main islands. And LeMay's B-29s would have never been able to reach Japan without the Marines and navy island hopping to Tinian in the Marianas.

I do believe that strategic bombing should be part of total war, but it should not be an independent arm that pursues its own agenda to the detriment of your commander's intent.

But no more bickering over minor historical points when I think we agree on the larger issue. Enough about history - especially with US supply lines to Afghanistan possibly now at risk, General Shinseki's resurrection, and our Prez-elect's home state guvnor situation. Not to mention the holidays. But then the holidays are probably the time that Cheney and some Bushistas will try to bamboozle the public while the press is enjoying the brandy-laced eggnog.

FDChief said...

Mike: "I do believe that strategic bombing should be part of total war, but it should not be an independent arm that pursues its own agenda to the detriment of your commander's intent."

Perhaps the best summation of ths issue I've ever read, and better stated than I was capable of.

IMO one of the hardest tasks of NSA chief Jones and whoever Obama's people tap for CJCS will be to tame the services' relentless quest for pork to the detriment of national security. Who knows whether we really need the F-22/35, the Littoral Combat Ship, the Future Combat System? These systems aren't being sold based on the mission - their salesmen torque the mission to suit the product. And, of course, the boring stuff like foot infantry, tube artillery, close support aircraft and brown-water vessels get the shaft because they have no expensive lobbyists.

What a hell of a way to run a military!

But you're right - time to kick back a little and enjoy the holidays - Merry Zappadan!

Lisa said...

"too many people and too much wealth and power ride on continuing the present condition of our Republic"

-- a terse indictment of the venality which buoys up the mediocrity which characterizes our modern military endeavors, which can only continue due to hazy commander's intent.