Commentary Magazine


Topic: lieutenant colonel

Our Military Personnel System Is in Definite Need of Reform

A snow day (which is what today is in the New York suburb where I live) is the perfect day to catch up on some reading. For those interested in military affairs, I recommend this intriguing article in the Atlantic, which argues that the armed forces are plagued by an antiquated personnel system which drives the best young officers out of the service.

The weakest part of the article, written by Kauffman Foundation fellow Tim Kane (a former Air Force officer), is its claim that “many of the most talented officers are now abandoning military life for the private sector.” There is little evidence that this is the fact; Kane cites the example of counterinsurgency strategist John Nagl, who left the Army as a lieutenant-colonel, and no doubt he was an outstanding officer; but the officers I meet still on active duty are no slouches either. Nevertheless, Kane makes a cogent critique of the out-of-date, top-down, industrial-era, one-size-fits-all personnel system that is an enduring source of frustration for most career officers. He writes:

The military’s problem is a deeply anti-entrepreneurial personnel structure. From officer evaluations to promotions to job assignments, all branches of the military operate more like a government bureaucracy with a unionized workforce than like a cutting-edge meritocracy. …

[T]he military personnel system—every aspect of it—is nearly blind to merit. Performance evaluations emphasize a zero-defect mentality, meaning that risk-avoidance trickles down the chain of command. Promotions can be anticipated almost to the day—regardless of an officer’s competence—so that there is essentially no difference in rank among officers the same age, even after 15 years of service. Job assignments are managed by a faceless, centralized bureaucracy that keeps everyone guessing where they might be shipped next.

Some of these complaints echo issues I raised in a Foreign Affairs article in 2005. I wrote:

Soldiers shuttle through units with dizzying rapidity: two-thirds of army personnel change stations every year, and the average officer spends only 18 months at each assignment over the course of a 25-year career. This system is designed to create a cadre of generalists who will be qualified for the upper echelons of command, but it prevents the kind of unit cohesion and inspired leadership that characterizes the highest-quality armies. Even the best troop leaders do not get to spend very much time with the troops: the average officer spends no more than 30 percent of his or her career in the field, with the rest spent in staff jobs and schools. Ordinary soldiers shuffle in and out of units just as rapidly.

This personnel system makes it especially difficult to cultivate the kind of cultural and linguistic expertise we need in today’s world, where most wars are fought against insurgents who blend into the population. Read More

A snow day (which is what today is in the New York suburb where I live) is the perfect day to catch up on some reading. For those interested in military affairs, I recommend this intriguing article in the Atlantic, which argues that the armed forces are plagued by an antiquated personnel system which drives the best young officers out of the service.

The weakest part of the article, written by Kauffman Foundation fellow Tim Kane (a former Air Force officer), is its claim that “many of the most talented officers are now abandoning military life for the private sector.” There is little evidence that this is the fact; Kane cites the example of counterinsurgency strategist John Nagl, who left the Army as a lieutenant-colonel, and no doubt he was an outstanding officer; but the officers I meet still on active duty are no slouches either. Nevertheless, Kane makes a cogent critique of the out-of-date, top-down, industrial-era, one-size-fits-all personnel system that is an enduring source of frustration for most career officers. He writes:

The military’s problem is a deeply anti-entrepreneurial personnel structure. From officer evaluations to promotions to job assignments, all branches of the military operate more like a government bureaucracy with a unionized workforce than like a cutting-edge meritocracy. …

[T]he military personnel system—every aspect of it—is nearly blind to merit. Performance evaluations emphasize a zero-defect mentality, meaning that risk-avoidance trickles down the chain of command. Promotions can be anticipated almost to the day—regardless of an officer’s competence—so that there is essentially no difference in rank among officers the same age, even after 15 years of service. Job assignments are managed by a faceless, centralized bureaucracy that keeps everyone guessing where they might be shipped next.

Some of these complaints echo issues I raised in a Foreign Affairs article in 2005. I wrote:

Soldiers shuttle through units with dizzying rapidity: two-thirds of army personnel change stations every year, and the average officer spends only 18 months at each assignment over the course of a 25-year career. This system is designed to create a cadre of generalists who will be qualified for the upper echelons of command, but it prevents the kind of unit cohesion and inspired leadership that characterizes the highest-quality armies. Even the best troop leaders do not get to spend very much time with the troops: the average officer spends no more than 30 percent of his or her career in the field, with the rest spent in staff jobs and schools. Ordinary soldiers shuffle in and out of units just as rapidly.

This personnel system makes it especially difficult to cultivate the kind of cultural and linguistic expertise we need in today’s world, where most wars are fought against insurgents who blend into the population.

Kane suggests that the answer is to borrow personnel practices from the private sector, giving officers more power to choose their own assignments and commanders more power to choose their subordinates, rather than delegating these tasks to some faceless, far-off bureaucracy. He suggests:

Each commander would have sole hiring authority over the people in his unit. Officers would be free to apply for any job opening. If a major applied for an opening above his pay grade, the commander at that unit could hire him (and bear the consequences). Coordination could be done through existing online tools such as monster.com or careerbuilder.com (presumably those companies would be interested in offering rebranded versions for the military). If an officer chose to stay in a job longer than “normal” (“I just want to fly fighter jets, sir”), that would be solely between him and his commander.

I am intrigued by these ideas and hope that at least one of the services will experiment with them. Even if the “best and brightest” aren’t necessarily leaving, and even if the services are hardly broken (in fact the armed forces are as good as they have ever been), there is always room for improvement, and the personnel system, which dates back to World War II, is a prime candidate for reform.

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RE: Did Chuck DeVore Exaggerate His Military Service?

Both DeVore and his press aide contacted me, quite exercised about my post regarding his military service. I imagine the Los Angeles Times is getting the same treatment. DeVore e-mails:

I actually have the micro-cassette recording of Lebanon. You can hear multiple bursts of automatic weapons fire with the Israeli officer finally saying “OK, we are done” and then ordering the  press off the hill. Zelnick stayed to complete his report, BTW, much to the discomfort of his cameraman.

But the issue of proximity, of course, is what is in question.

His press aide complains: “But it’s a he-said, she-said exercise — not even close to ‘Hillary Clinton’s Bosnian gun fire fantasy.’ It’s a shame you’d participate in tearing down the only pro-Israel candidate in this race or [in] either party.”

First, Clinton chose to confess her erroneous recollection, or that too would have been a she-said, they-said incident. Second, a candidate’s pro- or anti-Israel leanings are irrelevant to an issue of character. I frankly don’t care whether Richard Blumenthal is the next John Bolton; he’s unfit to serve. Third, Carly Fiorina is solidly pro-Israel and has repeatedly criticized Obama’s Israel policy and his approach to Iran. She is warmly received and embraced by California Jewish Republicans. Readers will assess just how credible the DeVore team is.

On the radio appearance, his aide says that he introduced himself as a reservist. Yes, but the statement was about his present status. In the debate, he also says things like: “Well, as I mentioned before, I am the sole candidate on either side of the aisle with military experience. I’m a lieutenant colonel of military intelligence within the U.S. army.” Hmm. Wouldn’t the average person think he meant “regular Army” in that capacity? And in a response to a question on Mirandizing terrorists, DeVore says: “Well, this is a very critical question. I am looking at my U.S. Army Military I.D. card and at the bottom it says Geneva Conventions I.D. Card. On the back it indicates that I am Geneva Conventions Category Four. Which is a field grade officer out of anything that means that if I am captured by Geneva Conventions signatory, I can’t be forced to do physical work and of course Enlisted people will laugh at that. The point though is that I am the only candidate out of both my Republican opponents and Barbara Boxer whose actually studied the law of war and knows the Geneva Convention because we have to study it as someone going though the Command General Staff College in the U.S. Army.” I think the average listener would conclude this is evidence of service in the regular Army.

Well, you have the account of the candidate and of a well-respected (by liberals and conservative alike) press reporter. And there is a transcript of the debate. Voters will have to decide whether DeVore was exaggerating his service. Maybe he should hold a press conference and let the media ask all the questions they like.

Both DeVore and his press aide contacted me, quite exercised about my post regarding his military service. I imagine the Los Angeles Times is getting the same treatment. DeVore e-mails:

I actually have the micro-cassette recording of Lebanon. You can hear multiple bursts of automatic weapons fire with the Israeli officer finally saying “OK, we are done” and then ordering the  press off the hill. Zelnick stayed to complete his report, BTW, much to the discomfort of his cameraman.

But the issue of proximity, of course, is what is in question.

His press aide complains: “But it’s a he-said, she-said exercise — not even close to ‘Hillary Clinton’s Bosnian gun fire fantasy.’ It’s a shame you’d participate in tearing down the only pro-Israel candidate in this race or [in] either party.”

First, Clinton chose to confess her erroneous recollection, or that too would have been a she-said, they-said incident. Second, a candidate’s pro- or anti-Israel leanings are irrelevant to an issue of character. I frankly don’t care whether Richard Blumenthal is the next John Bolton; he’s unfit to serve. Third, Carly Fiorina is solidly pro-Israel and has repeatedly criticized Obama’s Israel policy and his approach to Iran. She is warmly received and embraced by California Jewish Republicans. Readers will assess just how credible the DeVore team is.

On the radio appearance, his aide says that he introduced himself as a reservist. Yes, but the statement was about his present status. In the debate, he also says things like: “Well, as I mentioned before, I am the sole candidate on either side of the aisle with military experience. I’m a lieutenant colonel of military intelligence within the U.S. army.” Hmm. Wouldn’t the average person think he meant “regular Army” in that capacity? And in a response to a question on Mirandizing terrorists, DeVore says: “Well, this is a very critical question. I am looking at my U.S. Army Military I.D. card and at the bottom it says Geneva Conventions I.D. Card. On the back it indicates that I am Geneva Conventions Category Four. Which is a field grade officer out of anything that means that if I am captured by Geneva Conventions signatory, I can’t be forced to do physical work and of course Enlisted people will laugh at that. The point though is that I am the only candidate out of both my Republican opponents and Barbara Boxer whose actually studied the law of war and knows the Geneva Convention because we have to study it as someone going though the Command General Staff College in the U.S. Army.” I think the average listener would conclude this is evidence of service in the regular Army.

Well, you have the account of the candidate and of a well-respected (by liberals and conservative alike) press reporter. And there is a transcript of the debate. Voters will have to decide whether DeVore was exaggerating his service. Maybe he should hold a press conference and let the media ask all the questions they like.

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Did Chuck DeVore Exaggerate His Military Service?

I think we’re going to see a flurry of stories on what politicians said about their military service. Howard Dean says the New York Times story on Richard Blumenthal was a “hatchet” job, but if a candidate’s lies about his military service aren’t fair game, I don’t know what is.

The Los Angeles Times has a biographical story on Chuck DeVore, currently running third in the California Senate race. This is not in the league of Richard Blumenthal; it’s more Hillary Clinton–style puffery:

Throughout the campaign, DeVore has emphasized his service as a military officer and a young Reagan White House appointee at the Pentagon as experiences that helped make him the most qualified candidate. But at times he appears to have overstated those accomplishments, particularly his experience under fire and his role in the development of a U.S.-Israeli anti-ballistic-missile defense program.

What does the Times have? In a radio debate, he said he was the only candidate who’d served in the military: “I’m a lieutenant colonel of military intelligence within the U.S. Army,” he said. The Times acknowledges that his campaign literature refers to him as a “lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army retired reserves.” And DeVore argues that it is technically correct to say he is “in the Army” since the reserves are part of the Army. OK, I sort of buy that — but he certainly must have known that the listening audience would have thought he meant the regular Army. This is dicier:

He spoke during the debate of being “shot at in Lebanon” but did not make clear that the shooting occurred in the 1980s while DeVore was a college student studying Arabic and other subjects in the Middle East. Nor did he note that while the shooting was in his vicinity, there was no indication he was a target or was in actual danger.

Now we’re into the territory of Hillary Clinton’s Bosnian gunfire fantasy. The Times tracks down former ABC News correspondent Bob Zelnick (not a partisan liberal by any means) to debunk DeVore’s story.

This is not as damning as Blumenthal’s repeated and direct lies, but it doesn’t help his cause. DeVore is a solid conservative with a firm pro-Israel position who hasn’t gotten much traction in the race. He shouldn’t have puffed up his military background to try to distinguish himself. Conservatives often surge late in Republican primaries, but this may well hold down his level of support among conservatives who have spent the better part of a week pointing out that there are few things lower than misleading voters about your military record.

I think we’re going to see a flurry of stories on what politicians said about their military service. Howard Dean says the New York Times story on Richard Blumenthal was a “hatchet” job, but if a candidate’s lies about his military service aren’t fair game, I don’t know what is.

The Los Angeles Times has a biographical story on Chuck DeVore, currently running third in the California Senate race. This is not in the league of Richard Blumenthal; it’s more Hillary Clinton–style puffery:

Throughout the campaign, DeVore has emphasized his service as a military officer and a young Reagan White House appointee at the Pentagon as experiences that helped make him the most qualified candidate. But at times he appears to have overstated those accomplishments, particularly his experience under fire and his role in the development of a U.S.-Israeli anti-ballistic-missile defense program.

What does the Times have? In a radio debate, he said he was the only candidate who’d served in the military: “I’m a lieutenant colonel of military intelligence within the U.S. Army,” he said. The Times acknowledges that his campaign literature refers to him as a “lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army retired reserves.” And DeVore argues that it is technically correct to say he is “in the Army” since the reserves are part of the Army. OK, I sort of buy that — but he certainly must have known that the listening audience would have thought he meant the regular Army. This is dicier:

He spoke during the debate of being “shot at in Lebanon” but did not make clear that the shooting occurred in the 1980s while DeVore was a college student studying Arabic and other subjects in the Middle East. Nor did he note that while the shooting was in his vicinity, there was no indication he was a target or was in actual danger.

Now we’re into the territory of Hillary Clinton’s Bosnian gunfire fantasy. The Times tracks down former ABC News correspondent Bob Zelnick (not a partisan liberal by any means) to debunk DeVore’s story.

This is not as damning as Blumenthal’s repeated and direct lies, but it doesn’t help his cause. DeVore is a solid conservative with a firm pro-Israel position who hasn’t gotten much traction in the race. He shouldn’t have puffed up his military background to try to distinguish himself. Conservatives often surge late in Republican primaries, but this may well hold down his level of support among conservatives who have spent the better part of a week pointing out that there are few things lower than misleading voters about your military record.

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The Gray Lady Is Stunned: Black Republicans!

The New York Times is caught by surprise. “Unanticipated,” (by whom? liberal reporters?) the Gray Lady calls the discovery that ”at least 32 African-Americans are running for Congress this year as Republicans, the biggest surge since Reconstruction, according to party officials.” The Times hastens to assure us that this is Obama’s doing — inspiring and trailblazing for Republicans — but hastens to cast gloom and doom on their prospects:

But Democrats and other political experts express skepticism about black Republicans’ chances in November. “In 1994 and 2000, there were 24 black G.O.P. nominees,” said Donna Brazile, a Democratic political strategist who ran Al Gore’s presidential campaign and who is black. “And you didn’t see many of them win their elections.”

Tavis Smiley, a prominent black talk show host who has repeatedly criticized Republicans for not doing more to court black voters, said, “It’s worth remembering that the last time it was declared the ‘Year of the Black Republican,’ it fizzled out.”

Well,  far down in the report, the Times lets on that these candidates actually like the Tea Parties and are getting support from supposedly racist, know-nothings (oh, oops, now the media meme tells us they are upscale, over-educated and mainstream Republicans):

The black candidates interviewed overwhelmingly called the racist narrative a news media fiction. “I have been to these rallies, and there are hot dogs and banjos,” said Mr. West, the candidate in Florida, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Army. “There is no violence or racism there.”

And what’s more, African Americans, the Times discovers, are attracted to conservative social positions. (“There is also some evidence that black voters rally around specific conservative causes. A case in point was a 2008 ballot initiative in California outlawing same-sex marriage that passed in large part because of support from black voters in Southern California.”)

If a batch of these candidates wins — with support from the Tea Parties, no less — what will the liberal chattering class do then? (Cognitive dissonance alert!) You can anticipate the spin. These are not “authentic” African-American leaders, they will say. Harry Reid may point out that they don’t sound Black. And the Congressional Black Caucus will be properly recast as the Liberal Congressional Black Caucus (unless the newcomers want to join, which will bring howls of protest from the liberals, who wouldn’t want their leftism to be diluted). But the “Republicans don’t like Blacks” meme (propounded by none other than the hapless Michael Steele) will take a bruising. After all, they can’t all be “inauthentic,” can they?

The New York Times is caught by surprise. “Unanticipated,” (by whom? liberal reporters?) the Gray Lady calls the discovery that ”at least 32 African-Americans are running for Congress this year as Republicans, the biggest surge since Reconstruction, according to party officials.” The Times hastens to assure us that this is Obama’s doing — inspiring and trailblazing for Republicans — but hastens to cast gloom and doom on their prospects:

But Democrats and other political experts express skepticism about black Republicans’ chances in November. “In 1994 and 2000, there were 24 black G.O.P. nominees,” said Donna Brazile, a Democratic political strategist who ran Al Gore’s presidential campaign and who is black. “And you didn’t see many of them win their elections.”

Tavis Smiley, a prominent black talk show host who has repeatedly criticized Republicans for not doing more to court black voters, said, “It’s worth remembering that the last time it was declared the ‘Year of the Black Republican,’ it fizzled out.”

Well,  far down in the report, the Times lets on that these candidates actually like the Tea Parties and are getting support from supposedly racist, know-nothings (oh, oops, now the media meme tells us they are upscale, over-educated and mainstream Republicans):

The black candidates interviewed overwhelmingly called the racist narrative a news media fiction. “I have been to these rallies, and there are hot dogs and banjos,” said Mr. West, the candidate in Florida, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Army. “There is no violence or racism there.”

And what’s more, African Americans, the Times discovers, are attracted to conservative social positions. (“There is also some evidence that black voters rally around specific conservative causes. A case in point was a 2008 ballot initiative in California outlawing same-sex marriage that passed in large part because of support from black voters in Southern California.”)

If a batch of these candidates wins — with support from the Tea Parties, no less — what will the liberal chattering class do then? (Cognitive dissonance alert!) You can anticipate the spin. These are not “authentic” African-American leaders, they will say. Harry Reid may point out that they don’t sound Black. And the Congressional Black Caucus will be properly recast as the Liberal Congressional Black Caucus (unless the newcomers want to join, which will bring howls of protest from the liberals, who wouldn’t want their leftism to be diluted). But the “Republicans don’t like Blacks” meme (propounded by none other than the hapless Michael Steele) will take a bruising. After all, they can’t all be “inauthentic,” can they?

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A Debate On The Surge

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Yochi Dreazen airs the views of Lieutenant Colonel Gian Gentile, an Iraq War veteran now teaching at West Point. Gentile opposes the surge–and thinks the army is making a mistake by preparing for counterinsurgency warfare at the risk of diminishing its conventional combat capabilities. As Gentile makes clear in this essay, he doesn’t think that U.S. forces have gotten any better at counterinsurgency since he commanded a battalion in Baghdad in 2006. The only difference between now and then, he argues, is that we paid off the insurgents not to fight.

Colonel Peter Mansoor, General Petraeus’s executive officer (who is retiring soon to become a professor of military history at Ohio State University), demolishes Gentile’s arguments in the Small Wars Journal. As Mansoor points out:

Gentile’s battalion occupied Ameriyah, which in 2006 was an Al Qaeda safe-haven infested by Sunni insurgents and their Al Qaeda-Iraq allies. I’m certain that he and his soldiers did their best to combat these enemies and to protect the people in their area. But since his battalion lived at Forward Operating Base Falcon and commuted to the neighborhood, they could not accomplish their mission. The soldiers did not fail. The strategy did.

I side with Mansoor in this debate, much as it pains me to disagree with Gentile, a fellow U.C. Berkeley graduate. But I am glad that Gentile is able to express a contrary viewpoint while remaining an officer in good standing. The U.S. Army has a reputation for conformity that is to some extent well-deserved. Obviously you need a “yes, sir” ethos to command forces in battle. But you also need a lively intellectual discourse—the willingness to say “no, sir, you’re wrong” in order to figure out how to prepare for battle. There is no doubt that, as many soldiers themselves say, the army can do better in this department. But as demonstrated by the Mansoor-Gentile debate—and a hundred other doctrinal disputes which are never written up in the Wall Street Journal—there is a greater degree of spirited debate and tolerance for competing viewpoints within the army than on many of our major college campuses.

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Yochi Dreazen airs the views of Lieutenant Colonel Gian Gentile, an Iraq War veteran now teaching at West Point. Gentile opposes the surge–and thinks the army is making a mistake by preparing for counterinsurgency warfare at the risk of diminishing its conventional combat capabilities. As Gentile makes clear in this essay, he doesn’t think that U.S. forces have gotten any better at counterinsurgency since he commanded a battalion in Baghdad in 2006. The only difference between now and then, he argues, is that we paid off the insurgents not to fight.

Colonel Peter Mansoor, General Petraeus’s executive officer (who is retiring soon to become a professor of military history at Ohio State University), demolishes Gentile’s arguments in the Small Wars Journal. As Mansoor points out:

Gentile’s battalion occupied Ameriyah, which in 2006 was an Al Qaeda safe-haven infested by Sunni insurgents and their Al Qaeda-Iraq allies. I’m certain that he and his soldiers did their best to combat these enemies and to protect the people in their area. But since his battalion lived at Forward Operating Base Falcon and commuted to the neighborhood, they could not accomplish their mission. The soldiers did not fail. The strategy did.

I side with Mansoor in this debate, much as it pains me to disagree with Gentile, a fellow U.C. Berkeley graduate. But I am glad that Gentile is able to express a contrary viewpoint while remaining an officer in good standing. The U.S. Army has a reputation for conformity that is to some extent well-deserved. Obviously you need a “yes, sir” ethos to command forces in battle. But you also need a lively intellectual discourse—the willingness to say “no, sir, you’re wrong” in order to figure out how to prepare for battle. There is no doubt that, as many soldiers themselves say, the army can do better in this department. But as demonstrated by the Mansoor-Gentile debate—and a hundred other doctrinal disputes which are never written up in the Wall Street Journal—there is a greater degree of spirited debate and tolerance for competing viewpoints within the army than on many of our major college campuses.

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The Bravery of Iraqis

Iraqi Army soldiers have a terrible reputation for cowardice and corruption – especially in Baghdad – but it’s unfair to write them all off after reading the news out of Iraq’s capital Sunday. Three Iraqi Army soldiers tackled a suicide bomber at an Army Day parade and were killed when he exploded his vest.

While embedded with the United States Army and Marines I heard over and over again that the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police have improved a lot in the past year. This is encouraging, on the one hand, but at the same time it is worrisome. If they are as bad now in some places as I’ve seen myself, they must have really been something in 2005.

At the War Eagle outpost in Baghdad’s Graya’at neighborhood, I was told by a military intelligence officer that the most likely reason we weren’t under mortar attack is because huge numbers of Moqtada al Sadr’s radical Mahdi Army militiamen had infiltrated the ranks of Iraqi Army soldiers who shared the base with us.

A colonel at Camp Taji north of the city told me the U.S. Army doesn’t dare inform their Iraqi Army counterparts about sensitive operations until the very last minute because they don’t want infiltrators to alert the insurgents.

The Iraqi Police in Mushadah, near Taji, were more of a military force than a police force when I visited last July. As many as half were thought to be Al Qaeda operatives, and the other half were so scared they refused to go on patrols until a female American captain showed them up by going outside the station herself.

And this is the new and improved Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police of 2007 during General Petraeus’s surge. Progress in Iraq is relative. It’s hard to say if the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police could hold the country together by themselves in 2008. Personally, I doubt it. So do most American soldiers and Marines I’ve spoken to. The Iraqis certainly could not have held it together in 2005 or 2006.

The Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police deserve kudos for progress, even so. And they deserve more credit for bravery than they’ve been getting. Iraqis are far more likely to be killed in combat than Americans due to their inferior equipment and lack of experience. And if the insurgents win the war, American soldiers and Marines get to go home. Iraqis who sided with the Americans in the army and police will have to face retribution alone, with little chance of escape, from the new regime.

And what of those three who threw themselves on a suicide bomber? They are hardly less brave than American soldiers. They are arguably as brave as the Americans who sacked the Al Qaeda hijackers on United Airlines Flight 93 over Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, and sacrificed themselves so that others could live.

These Iraqis deserve recognition, and they deserved to be recognized by their names. Yet I could not find their names cited in any media articles. All three of their names generate zero hits using Google at the time of this writing. I had to contact Baghdad myself to find out who they were. Lieutenant Colonel James Hutton was kind enough to pass their names on.

Iraq between the time of the initial invasion and 2007 was easily as nasty a place as Lebanon was during the 1980s, and the conflict is eerily similar. Thomas Friedman made a haunting observation about anonymous death during the civil war in his book From Beirut to Jerusalem: “Death had no echo in Beirut. No one’s life seemed to leave any mark on the city or reverberate in its ear.” Then he quoted a young woman. “In the United States if you die in a car accident, at least your name gets mentioned on television,” she said. “Here they don’t even mention your name anymore. They just say ‘thirty people died.’ Well, what thirty people? They don’t even bother to give their names. At least say their names. I want to feel that I was something more than a body when I die.”

Here are the names of the three brave Iraqis who hurled themselves on an exploding suicide bomber.

Malik Abdul Ghanem
Asa’ad Hussein Ali
Abdul-Hamza Abdul-Hassan Rissan

They were friends the Americans and Iraqis did not know we had until they were gone.

Iraqi Army soldiers have a terrible reputation for cowardice and corruption – especially in Baghdad – but it’s unfair to write them all off after reading the news out of Iraq’s capital Sunday. Three Iraqi Army soldiers tackled a suicide bomber at an Army Day parade and were killed when he exploded his vest.

While embedded with the United States Army and Marines I heard over and over again that the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police have improved a lot in the past year. This is encouraging, on the one hand, but at the same time it is worrisome. If they are as bad now in some places as I’ve seen myself, they must have really been something in 2005.

At the War Eagle outpost in Baghdad’s Graya’at neighborhood, I was told by a military intelligence officer that the most likely reason we weren’t under mortar attack is because huge numbers of Moqtada al Sadr’s radical Mahdi Army militiamen had infiltrated the ranks of Iraqi Army soldiers who shared the base with us.

A colonel at Camp Taji north of the city told me the U.S. Army doesn’t dare inform their Iraqi Army counterparts about sensitive operations until the very last minute because they don’t want infiltrators to alert the insurgents.

The Iraqi Police in Mushadah, near Taji, were more of a military force than a police force when I visited last July. As many as half were thought to be Al Qaeda operatives, and the other half were so scared they refused to go on patrols until a female American captain showed them up by going outside the station herself.

And this is the new and improved Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police of 2007 during General Petraeus’s surge. Progress in Iraq is relative. It’s hard to say if the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police could hold the country together by themselves in 2008. Personally, I doubt it. So do most American soldiers and Marines I’ve spoken to. The Iraqis certainly could not have held it together in 2005 or 2006.

The Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police deserve kudos for progress, even so. And they deserve more credit for bravery than they’ve been getting. Iraqis are far more likely to be killed in combat than Americans due to their inferior equipment and lack of experience. And if the insurgents win the war, American soldiers and Marines get to go home. Iraqis who sided with the Americans in the army and police will have to face retribution alone, with little chance of escape, from the new regime.

And what of those three who threw themselves on a suicide bomber? They are hardly less brave than American soldiers. They are arguably as brave as the Americans who sacked the Al Qaeda hijackers on United Airlines Flight 93 over Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, and sacrificed themselves so that others could live.

These Iraqis deserve recognition, and they deserved to be recognized by their names. Yet I could not find their names cited in any media articles. All three of their names generate zero hits using Google at the time of this writing. I had to contact Baghdad myself to find out who they were. Lieutenant Colonel James Hutton was kind enough to pass their names on.

Iraq between the time of the initial invasion and 2007 was easily as nasty a place as Lebanon was during the 1980s, and the conflict is eerily similar. Thomas Friedman made a haunting observation about anonymous death during the civil war in his book From Beirut to Jerusalem: “Death had no echo in Beirut. No one’s life seemed to leave any mark on the city or reverberate in its ear.” Then he quoted a young woman. “In the United States if you die in a car accident, at least your name gets mentioned on television,” she said. “Here they don’t even mention your name anymore. They just say ‘thirty people died.’ Well, what thirty people? They don’t even bother to give their names. At least say their names. I want to feel that I was something more than a body when I die.”

Here are the names of the three brave Iraqis who hurled themselves on an exploding suicide bomber.

Malik Abdul Ghanem
Asa’ad Hussein Ali
Abdul-Hamza Abdul-Hassan Rissan

They were friends the Americans and Iraqis did not know we had until they were gone.

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NATO Goes Soft in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, the hard-won progress of Afghan and international forces is being undermined by NATO’s inefficiency, and it’s a scandal. Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands are looking to withdraw troops by 2010. If these forces remain hindered by the restrictions already imposed upon them, their exit may very well go unnoticed. Self-imposed checks on NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISF) keep most European soldiers out of southern Afghanistan, where they’re needed to fight a resurgent Taliban. Moreover, these troops are only allowed to fire in self-defense.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said he’ll support a stronger French effort in the south. Meanwhile, a story in the Sun—about a leaked memo written by Afghan-stationed German commanders, in which they describe themselves as “useless cake-eaters”—states: “Last month German rescue helicopters refused to fly at night. And their troops are not allowed to travel more than two hours from a military hospital—making huge areas supposedly under their control off-limits.”

Australia’s new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd remains a committed U.S. ally in Afghanistan, but has made intimations about not wanting to pick up the slack for NATO. New Zealand is mulling the idea of sending additional troops.

Washington and NATO have ordered a series of appraisals of policy in Afghanistan. Additionally, Australian Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon is asking for fresh ideas. On loan to the U.S., former Australian Army Lieutenant Colonel David Kilcullen played a critical role in the counterinsurgency strategy that’s turned Iraq around. This kind of collaborative ingenuity could help forces secure and build upon the advances made in Afghanistan. However, if NATO doesn’t step up, the heavy lifting may become too much to bear.

In Afghanistan, the hard-won progress of Afghan and international forces is being undermined by NATO’s inefficiency, and it’s a scandal. Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands are looking to withdraw troops by 2010. If these forces remain hindered by the restrictions already imposed upon them, their exit may very well go unnoticed. Self-imposed checks on NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISF) keep most European soldiers out of southern Afghanistan, where they’re needed to fight a resurgent Taliban. Moreover, these troops are only allowed to fire in self-defense.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said he’ll support a stronger French effort in the south. Meanwhile, a story in the Sun—about a leaked memo written by Afghan-stationed German commanders, in which they describe themselves as “useless cake-eaters”—states: “Last month German rescue helicopters refused to fly at night. And their troops are not allowed to travel more than two hours from a military hospital—making huge areas supposedly under their control off-limits.”

Australia’s new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd remains a committed U.S. ally in Afghanistan, but has made intimations about not wanting to pick up the slack for NATO. New Zealand is mulling the idea of sending additional troops.

Washington and NATO have ordered a series of appraisals of policy in Afghanistan. Additionally, Australian Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon is asking for fresh ideas. On loan to the U.S., former Australian Army Lieutenant Colonel David Kilcullen played a critical role in the counterinsurgency strategy that’s turned Iraq around. This kind of collaborative ingenuity could help forces secure and build upon the advances made in Afghanistan. However, if NATO doesn’t step up, the heavy lifting may become too much to bear.

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What the Army Wants You to See

Some colleagues, readers, and friends have suggested the dispatches I published from Iraq as an embedded reporter might not be reliable, even if true, because I only saw what the United States Army wanted me to see. CBS news anchor Katie Couric said as much about her own coverage when she first arrived in Baghdad in September.

I’ve had the same thoughts myself, and I quietly wondered if I should disclose them. I chose not to, though, because my experience, as it turned out, didn’t actually warrant it.

The Army hooked me up with the 82nd Airborne Division in the Graya’at district of Baghdad in July. There hadn’t been any violence there since early in 2007. The soldiers hadn’t suffered a single casualty—not even one soldier wounded. How convenient, I thought, that the Army sent me to such a place. I appreciated not being thrown into a meat grinder and shot or blown up, but Graya’at did strike me as a dog-and-pony-show sort of location. Maybe it was. It could certainly function as one, if that’s what the Army intended.

I had to check myself, though. Embed coordinators asked me what kind of stories I wanted to cover. I explicitly said I wasn’t there to chase car bombs. The world doesn’t need yet another reporter on that beat. Also, I told them, access to Iraqi civilians is important. Reporting strictly from inside a military bubble is hardly better than filing reports from the Al Rasheed Hotel in the Green Zone. Graya’at, then, was the right place to embed me.

You could just as easily say the coordinators did exactly what I asked them to do instead of accusing them of sending me on a happy tour to skew coverage in the Army’s favor. The worst you could fairly say is that their interests and mine were in alignment.

Baghdad isn’t the only place I went in Iraq with the Army. I also went to Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province and the scene of the some of the most vicious fighting of the entire war.

Captain Phil Messer asked me what I wanted to see when I arrived at his outpost.

“Destruction,” I said, because I hadn’t seen much of it yet and needed some photos. So far my only pictures of war damage were taken from inside a Humvee while driving past on the way somewhere else.

“Whatever you need,” he said. “It’s my job to help you do your job and take you where you need to go.”

Some of the destruction he showed me was total. All of it was horrific. Two American colonels in the area compared the battle of Ramadi to Stalingrad. What Captain Messer showed me made that sound credible. You can see some of the photographs here.

He didn’t know who I was or what I would do with those pictures. I told him nothing about my “agenda” or why I wanted a tour of the damage. I could have used those photos as evidence of wanton American destruction of civilian neighborhoods had I so chosen. Many of those buildings were destroyed by American firepower, but others were destroyed by insurgents. BCIED’s—Building Contained IED’s, or building bombs—exploded all over that city. IED’s buried deep under the roads tore the streets and the sewer system to pieces. Car bombs blew windows out everywhere. It wouldn’t be right to blame it all on the Americans, so I didn’t. Captain Messer, though, didn’t know what I was up to. If it was his job to show me only what the Army wanted me to see, he is not very good at his job.

He did, however, show me what I needed and wanted to see. That was his job, or at least part of it. Plenty of officers in the Army understand that. Lieutenant Colonel Mike Silverman at the Blue Diamond base in Northern Ramadi defended the media’s often negative coverage point blank when I asked him what he thought of it. “It’s true that the media doesn’t have the same agenda in Iraq that we do,” he said, “but I’m not sure it’s the media’s job to have the same agenda in Iraq that we do.”

What ultimately convinced me that the Army didn’t send me off on a Potemkin tour of Iraq was Major Mike Garcia’s suggestion that I visit the small town of Mushadah just north of Baghdad. The Army can’t order me to go anywhere, but he said he could arrange it for me if I was interested. I had not heard of the place until he mentioned it to me, and would never have ended up there on my own.

What I found there was dispiriting, to say the least. He warned me that it was bad news up there, and he was right.

Humvee convoys from Camp Taji to Mushadah were hit with IED’s every day. It was too dangerous for dismounted foot patrols. Captain Maryanne Naro warned me not to step outside my up-armored Humvee for any reason unless something catastrophic happened to it. Half the Iraqi Police officers at the station were too afraid to go out on patrols, and the other half, or so I was told, worked with al Qaeda. I didn’t meet a single American soldier in the area who thought things were going well there, and I wrote a gloomy essay about the experience which you can read here.

The Army never would have put me in a Humvee to Mushadah if their goal was to control what I saw so they could gin up positive stories.

I don’t know why Major Garcia thought I should go to Mushadah, and I didn’t ask. I am grateful, though, for the suggestion and the experience. It provided some necessary balance for the good news I found and reported elsewhere in the country.

Some colleagues, readers, and friends have suggested the dispatches I published from Iraq as an embedded reporter might not be reliable, even if true, because I only saw what the United States Army wanted me to see. CBS news anchor Katie Couric said as much about her own coverage when she first arrived in Baghdad in September.

I’ve had the same thoughts myself, and I quietly wondered if I should disclose them. I chose not to, though, because my experience, as it turned out, didn’t actually warrant it.

The Army hooked me up with the 82nd Airborne Division in the Graya’at district of Baghdad in July. There hadn’t been any violence there since early in 2007. The soldiers hadn’t suffered a single casualty—not even one soldier wounded. How convenient, I thought, that the Army sent me to such a place. I appreciated not being thrown into a meat grinder and shot or blown up, but Graya’at did strike me as a dog-and-pony-show sort of location. Maybe it was. It could certainly function as one, if that’s what the Army intended.

I had to check myself, though. Embed coordinators asked me what kind of stories I wanted to cover. I explicitly said I wasn’t there to chase car bombs. The world doesn’t need yet another reporter on that beat. Also, I told them, access to Iraqi civilians is important. Reporting strictly from inside a military bubble is hardly better than filing reports from the Al Rasheed Hotel in the Green Zone. Graya’at, then, was the right place to embed me.

You could just as easily say the coordinators did exactly what I asked them to do instead of accusing them of sending me on a happy tour to skew coverage in the Army’s favor. The worst you could fairly say is that their interests and mine were in alignment.

Baghdad isn’t the only place I went in Iraq with the Army. I also went to Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province and the scene of the some of the most vicious fighting of the entire war.

Captain Phil Messer asked me what I wanted to see when I arrived at his outpost.

“Destruction,” I said, because I hadn’t seen much of it yet and needed some photos. So far my only pictures of war damage were taken from inside a Humvee while driving past on the way somewhere else.

“Whatever you need,” he said. “It’s my job to help you do your job and take you where you need to go.”

Some of the destruction he showed me was total. All of it was horrific. Two American colonels in the area compared the battle of Ramadi to Stalingrad. What Captain Messer showed me made that sound credible. You can see some of the photographs here.

He didn’t know who I was or what I would do with those pictures. I told him nothing about my “agenda” or why I wanted a tour of the damage. I could have used those photos as evidence of wanton American destruction of civilian neighborhoods had I so chosen. Many of those buildings were destroyed by American firepower, but others were destroyed by insurgents. BCIED’s—Building Contained IED’s, or building bombs—exploded all over that city. IED’s buried deep under the roads tore the streets and the sewer system to pieces. Car bombs blew windows out everywhere. It wouldn’t be right to blame it all on the Americans, so I didn’t. Captain Messer, though, didn’t know what I was up to. If it was his job to show me only what the Army wanted me to see, he is not very good at his job.

He did, however, show me what I needed and wanted to see. That was his job, or at least part of it. Plenty of officers in the Army understand that. Lieutenant Colonel Mike Silverman at the Blue Diamond base in Northern Ramadi defended the media’s often negative coverage point blank when I asked him what he thought of it. “It’s true that the media doesn’t have the same agenda in Iraq that we do,” he said, “but I’m not sure it’s the media’s job to have the same agenda in Iraq that we do.”

What ultimately convinced me that the Army didn’t send me off on a Potemkin tour of Iraq was Major Mike Garcia’s suggestion that I visit the small town of Mushadah just north of Baghdad. The Army can’t order me to go anywhere, but he said he could arrange it for me if I was interested. I had not heard of the place until he mentioned it to me, and would never have ended up there on my own.

What I found there was dispiriting, to say the least. He warned me that it was bad news up there, and he was right.

Humvee convoys from Camp Taji to Mushadah were hit with IED’s every day. It was too dangerous for dismounted foot patrols. Captain Maryanne Naro warned me not to step outside my up-armored Humvee for any reason unless something catastrophic happened to it. Half the Iraqi Police officers at the station were too afraid to go out on patrols, and the other half, or so I was told, worked with al Qaeda. I didn’t meet a single American soldier in the area who thought things were going well there, and I wrote a gloomy essay about the experience which you can read here.

The Army never would have put me in a Humvee to Mushadah if their goal was to control what I saw so they could gin up positive stories.

I don’t know why Major Garcia thought I should go to Mushadah, and I didn’t ask. I am grateful, though, for the suggestion and the experience. It provided some necessary balance for the good news I found and reported elsewhere in the country.

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Acknowledging Advisers

The Washington Post has a small but important story on American military advisers. The new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, has just visited Fort Riley, Kansas, where advisers for Afghanistan and Iraq are trained. He stressed how important these advisory teams are. Ultimately they are our only responsible “exit strategy,” because they can help turn the Afghan and Iraqi armies into forces capable of keeping order largely on their own.

The problem is that the army doesn’t traditionally reward advisory work. It tends to promote officers who lead American troops, not those who advise foreign troops—even if the latter mission is, in the grand scheme of things, more important.

The Post account has some telling quotes from mid-level officers:

“It’s not a dead end, but it slows down your career,” said Capt. Richard Turvey, 35, of Muncie, Ind.

“I became an officer to be a commander; now I’m going to have to wait longer,” agreed Capt. Mark Johnstone, 33, of Denver. “The teams are taking us from our traditional roles as artillerymen.”

“We have to have certain jobs to be competitive.” said Maj. Jason Jones, one of a group of army majors attending school at Fort Leavenworth who voiced reluctance to join the training teams. “That takes me out of the cycle. In essence, it sort of hurts you,” Jones said.

Promotion prospects for those who serve on the teams remain uncertain, said Maj. Kealii T. Morris. “The jury is still out” on how promotion boards will treat officers who serve on the teams, he said.

The army needs to make clear to its promotion boards that this type of service will be valued as highly as more traditional combat duty. One positive step in this direction would be to implement Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl’s idea for an Advisory Corps within the army—something I’ve previously advocated on contentions. Unfortunately, the army so far has resisted this innovation. It will take concerted pressure from the outside—especially from the Secretary of Defense, but also from lawmakers on Capitol Hill—to reform an out-of-touch personnel system that isn’t providing the skill sets we need to win the war on Islamofascism.

The Washington Post has a small but important story on American military advisers. The new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, has just visited Fort Riley, Kansas, where advisers for Afghanistan and Iraq are trained. He stressed how important these advisory teams are. Ultimately they are our only responsible “exit strategy,” because they can help turn the Afghan and Iraqi armies into forces capable of keeping order largely on their own.

The problem is that the army doesn’t traditionally reward advisory work. It tends to promote officers who lead American troops, not those who advise foreign troops—even if the latter mission is, in the grand scheme of things, more important.

The Post account has some telling quotes from mid-level officers:

“It’s not a dead end, but it slows down your career,” said Capt. Richard Turvey, 35, of Muncie, Ind.

“I became an officer to be a commander; now I’m going to have to wait longer,” agreed Capt. Mark Johnstone, 33, of Denver. “The teams are taking us from our traditional roles as artillerymen.”

“We have to have certain jobs to be competitive.” said Maj. Jason Jones, one of a group of army majors attending school at Fort Leavenworth who voiced reluctance to join the training teams. “That takes me out of the cycle. In essence, it sort of hurts you,” Jones said.

Promotion prospects for those who serve on the teams remain uncertain, said Maj. Kealii T. Morris. “The jury is still out” on how promotion boards will treat officers who serve on the teams, he said.

The army needs to make clear to its promotion boards that this type of service will be valued as highly as more traditional combat duty. One positive step in this direction would be to implement Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl’s idea for an Advisory Corps within the army—something I’ve previously advocated on contentions. Unfortunately, the army so far has resisted this innovation. It will take concerted pressure from the outside—especially from the Secretary of Defense, but also from lawmakers on Capitol Hill—to reform an out-of-touch personnel system that isn’t providing the skill sets we need to win the war on Islamofascism.

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Rejecting Nagl

I’ve blogged before about Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl’s idea to create an Advisor Corps within the army that would focus on producing training teams to work with foreign militaries.

I thought Nagl made a convincing case for such an unorthodox approach, and he certainly knows what he is talking about: He is in charge of a battalion at Fort Riley, Kansas, that trains advisors for Iraq and Afghanistan, and he has concluded, based on that experience, that the current training and manning system for advisory teams is too haphazard and too small to meet all of our national security needs.

Not surprisingly, the army doesn’t see it that way. The newsletter Inside the Pentagon reported on September 13th that the army has officially decided, in the words of a public affairs officer, “that is not the way to go.” The army would prefer building cookie-cutter Brigade Combat Teams and relying on a small number of Special Forces to specialize in the training mission. This decision comes, by the way, in the face of copious evidence that there are not nearly enough Green Berets to meet all the demands thrown their way.

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I’ve blogged before about Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl’s idea to create an Advisor Corps within the army that would focus on producing training teams to work with foreign militaries.

I thought Nagl made a convincing case for such an unorthodox approach, and he certainly knows what he is talking about: He is in charge of a battalion at Fort Riley, Kansas, that trains advisors for Iraq and Afghanistan, and he has concluded, based on that experience, that the current training and manning system for advisory teams is too haphazard and too small to meet all of our national security needs.

Not surprisingly, the army doesn’t see it that way. The newsletter Inside the Pentagon reported on September 13th that the army has officially decided, in the words of a public affairs officer, “that is not the way to go.” The army would prefer building cookie-cutter Brigade Combat Teams and relying on a small number of Special Forces to specialize in the training mission. This decision comes, by the way, in the face of copious evidence that there are not nearly enough Green Berets to meet all the demands thrown their way.

There are certainly good arguments that can be made against Nagl’s proposal. But my suspicion is that the army’s view is simply the default position of a lumbering bureaucracy averse to new thinking—even when it comes from within its own ranks. (Perhaps especially when it comes from within its own ranks.)

The larger problem here is the difficulty that the armed services have in assimilating and rewarding brainy officers like Nagl (author of a much-cited book on counterinsurgency lessons from Malaya and Vietnam) who don’t fit the standard mold. Others in that category include a pair of Ph.D. colonels—H.R. McMaster and Peter Mansoor—who have both earned stellar reputations not only in the academy, but also on the battlefield. But they are both in danger of not being promoted to general. Mavericks like them deserve support from the outside—especially on Capitol Hill—to help transform the military in spite of itself.

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Dispatch from Task Force Justice

I visited Forward Operating Base Justice, located in the northwest Baghdad neighborhood of Khadamiyah, in April. Its commander is Lieutenant Colonel Steven Miska. I recently asked him for an update on developments in his AOR (Area of Responsibility) that I could share with contentions readers. Here is his response:

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I visited Forward Operating Base Justice, located in the northwest Baghdad neighborhood of Khadamiyah, in April. Its commander is Lieutenant Colonel Steven Miska. I recently asked him for an update on developments in his AOR (Area of Responsibility) that I could share with contentions readers. Here is his response:

Max,
Some notes below. I will include a few nonstandard items in the update. Apologize for the delay in response. Have been juggling missions, media, and other tasks over the last few days.

Asian World Cup Football: Did you see the CNN coverage live from FOB Justice of the Iraqi Soccer game? We threw a great party with all of our local nationals. You would have thought we were at an Army-Navy tailgate. We went downtown after the game and spoke to people on the street. Khadamiyah was absolutely nuts. Lots of fun and a cathartic experience for the Iraqis to see their team accomplish something across the sectarian divide. Hopefully, more good can come from the victory.

Immigration: A few days ago we said goodbye to “George” who is our first interpreter to get an invitation to the Embassy in Jordan. He will be a pioneer for many of our Iraqi interpreters who have applied for visas. We hope that he will not run into too much resistance and will get his visa. Stories from Jordan are not hopeful. One report said that Iraqis were getting turned around at the border if they said they were entering Jordan to go to the U.S. Embassy. George has a story about going to work for a Jordanian company that has a branch in Baghdad. He knows someone that made the recommendation for him. I have asked him to stay in touch with us, so we can track his progress and any pitfalls along the way. We gave him numerous gifts and a few certificates. I told him that his feedback could help shape U.S. policy. We also have one more interpreter who has his invitation approved. We have 22 total applications in the works. We have 59 interpreters on our base. Many have either chosen not to apply or have not met their year requirement. Many are spreading the word that we need some more interpreters, and telling about our success of getting interpreters approved for a trip to Jordan. We have also been pushing the refugee issue for families who don’t qualify under other provisions, like Iraqi Army leaders. Between the soccer party and our push to take care of our interpreters, I have seen hope in the eyes of our Iraqi colleagues. This initiative will be one of our proudest accomplishments. We will continue to use our success from TF [Task Force] Justice to sensitize other leaders to the subject.

Reconciliation: The MOI [Ministry of Interior] and other government leaders are very reluctant to endorse any initiative that empowers the local Sunni volunteers who are securing neighborhoods like Ameriyah. Ameriyah is like night and day now. One minute it was full-scale kinetic activity. Then our former enemies, Sunni insurgents from the “honorable resistance,” began asking for our assistance to drive al Qaeda out. They were immediately more effective than Americans in driving al Qaeda in Iraq from their neighborhoods. They only asked for U.S. support and coordination. They make no bones about their belief that we need to leave for our alliance to be successful beyond the defeat of al Qaeda. We recognize we may end up fighting these guys again if the GOI [Government of Iraq] doesn’t seize the window of opportunity that is now open. If the GOI can make reasonable gestures of reconciliation, like deputizing these volunteers as local police to secure their own neighborhoods, then we will have made huge strides. As always, the political line of operation is where we need the most help. We have had a steady stream of VIPs come to visit the volunteers. Everyone is pressuring the GOI. Lots of foot-dragging, mumbling, and playing with prayer beads. That being said, things have dramatically improved since the turning of Anbar province. We anticipate that the Shia government will demand repatriation of Shia families in some of these neighborhoods to demonstrate intent on behalf of the former insurgents. As long as each side continues in good faith, they will not undermine the process.

Militia Influence: On the other side of the fence, we have the militia. They are a tough nut to crack. I believe the economic line of operation will be the key to defeating the militia influence. We need to overcome the corruption and graft through vigorous, pragmatic economic policy that jump-starts latent industry and employment. Many of the State Owned Enterprises (SOE) are producing at minimal levels relative to Saddam days. These industries have the capacity to very quickly create jobs and generate productive capacity that spills across sectarian lines. The profit incentive will help drive Sunnis and Shia to collaborate together. As we create more jobs, militia recruiting pools will dry up. We need to create honorable alternatives that allow young, military-age males to provide for their families. The militia has their hands dug deepest into mob-like crime throughout the Shia communities, and most politicians can’t shed themselves of the militia influence (so a political approach is probably not feasible—just my opinion.) We must defeat the militia through economic means. I do have some hope that we might solve this Gordian knot, but it is far from undone. Paul Brinkley [the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Business Transformation] and his group have the right approach, and are encouraging many in the SOEs to bring production back on line through smart application of grants and incentives. This has great potential, but will move with the lag associated with all fiscal economic policy. All other lines of operation must continue to buy time for economic progress to continue.

The Media: The fight is complex. The challenges are hard to boil down into 9-second sound bites or catchy headlines. However, we do spend a lot of time educating reporters, in addition to VIPs. We have a few die-hard reporters that travel to the fight and get a view from the ground on the challenges and opportunities facing our forces and the Iraqis. Most of the journalists I meet are tremendous professionals who make personal sacrifices to provide transparency in a society that needs media spotlights everywhere. The press is instrumental is helping keep the good people honest and the bad guys from committing even more egregious transgressions. Many of our media colleagues have brought attention to significant challenges like immigration, the need for diplomacy around the periphery of Iraq, detainee abuse, and other challenges. We need to encourage them and help them gain access to the stories that will shape human behavior in positive directions.

I hope this provides a brief glimpse into the complexities we face in western Baghdad. We have been very busy, but understand the need to get the word out.

Warm Regards,
Steve

Steven M. Miska
LTC, Infantry
Task Force Justice Commander

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Teaching Soldiers

It seems fairly certain that the Army will expand over the next few years. The only question is by how much. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wants to increase it from 510,000 soldiers to 547,000. Many of the presidential candidates, both Republican and Democratic, are calling for even bigger increases. Tom Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute argues persuasively in the Weekly Standard that we should aim for a force of 750,000, which would represent a return to the level at the end of the cold war.

These calls for expansion are necessary. But an important secondary issue, and one not discussed publicly as much as it should be, is what to do with all these extra troops. Donnelly lays out a wide variety of missions that the U.S. armed forces need to carry out around the world. Unfortunately, as we are learning in Afghanistan and Iraq, today’s military is still not well-prepared for the challenges of a post-9/11 world. But now one of the Army’s most innovative thinkers, Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, has come forward with a simple but brilliant idea for one step that his service should take to reshape itself: create a standing Advisor Corps of 20,000 soldiers for the training of foreign military services.

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It seems fairly certain that the Army will expand over the next few years. The only question is by how much. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wants to increase it from 510,000 soldiers to 547,000. Many of the presidential candidates, both Republican and Democratic, are calling for even bigger increases. Tom Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute argues persuasively in the Weekly Standard that we should aim for a force of 750,000, which would represent a return to the level at the end of the cold war.

These calls for expansion are necessary. But an important secondary issue, and one not discussed publicly as much as it should be, is what to do with all these extra troops. Donnelly lays out a wide variety of missions that the U.S. armed forces need to carry out around the world. Unfortunately, as we are learning in Afghanistan and Iraq, today’s military is still not well-prepared for the challenges of a post-9/11 world. But now one of the Army’s most innovative thinkers, Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, has come forward with a simple but brilliant idea for one step that his service should take to reshape itself: create a standing Advisor Corps of 20,000 soldiers for the training of foreign military services.

Nagl’s views deserve to be taken very seriously. Not only is he a combat veteran of Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, he is a contributor to the new U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual and the author of an influential study of counterinsurgency, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam. Nagl also commands a battalion at Fort Riley, Kansas, that trains teams to educate and advise security forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Though the Army has made advances in how it sets up such training teams, Nagl points out that the soldiers who “train the trainers” don’t, for the most part, have much real-world experience in training foreign militaries. Nagl’s proposed Advisor Corps is a remedy to this problem. “This corps,” he writes, “would develop doctrine and oversee the training and deployment of 750 advisory teams of 25 soldiers each.” Soldiers would rotate through assignments in this Corps just as they currently rotate through the 10th Mountain Division or the 101st Airborne Division. In an ideal world, their advisory service would count as much as service in a “line” unit when it comes to promotion.

Creating such a Corps would enable us to make the kind of long-term commitment to Afghanistan and Iraq necessary to achieve a modicum of stability and democracy. As things stand now, the Army is straining to produce a few thousand embedded advisors—far too few for the challenges ahead.

Adopting Nagl’s idea would make more sense than simply creating more infantry or armor brigades focused on “kinetic” action. We need those too, of course. But we also need different kinds of competencies within our armed forces—and the government at large—if we are to prevail in the long war we now face.

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Dispatch from Baghdad

I recently wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal counseling patience in allowing the troop surge in Baghdad to show its impact. This is an e-mail that I received in response from Lieutenant Colonel Steven Miska, commander of a small base that I recently visited in northwest Baghdad, called Forward Operating Base Justice. He agreed to let me share it with COMMENTARY readers:

Max,

Great article. Keep beating this drum. Most of the leaders on the ground simply ignore the political discourse, as it is not helpful to our mission. Nobody wants to be in the middle of a civil war, low-grade or not, but we have found ourselves here. The only solution military leaders on the ground have is to work with the good allies we have made in Iraq.

We have some true patriots that are sacrificing everything and betting on the U.S. to be there for them. How could we look them in the eye if given the order to pull out? The vast majority of the people on the street want what every American wants—hope for tomorrow, good schools and opportunity for their children, a safe neighborhood, employment. Almost nobody trusts the politicians, but they might if they see the coalition forces standing side by side with Iraqi Security Forces for long enough. As the public begins to develop confidence in the Iraqi formations, that trust could rub off into government legitimacy. Our only other option would be to replace the government, which nobody in the U.S. seems to have the political stomach for at this juncture.

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I recently wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal counseling patience in allowing the troop surge in Baghdad to show its impact. This is an e-mail that I received in response from Lieutenant Colonel Steven Miska, commander of a small base that I recently visited in northwest Baghdad, called Forward Operating Base Justice. He agreed to let me share it with COMMENTARY readers:

Max,

Great article. Keep beating this drum. Most of the leaders on the ground simply ignore the political discourse, as it is not helpful to our mission. Nobody wants to be in the middle of a civil war, low-grade or not, but we have found ourselves here. The only solution military leaders on the ground have is to work with the good allies we have made in Iraq.

We have some true patriots that are sacrificing everything and betting on the U.S. to be there for them. How could we look them in the eye if given the order to pull out? The vast majority of the people on the street want what every American wants—hope for tomorrow, good schools and opportunity for their children, a safe neighborhood, employment. Almost nobody trusts the politicians, but they might if they see the coalition forces standing side by side with Iraqi Security Forces for long enough. As the public begins to develop confidence in the Iraqi formations, that trust could rub off into government legitimacy. Our only other option would be to replace the government, which nobody in the U.S. seems to have the political stomach for at this juncture.

Given that reality, we need to stand by the Iraqis. How long, you ask? I am on my second tour following a year in Tikrit from 2004-2005. A realistic goal is to have stabilized this region by the time my eleven-year-old son is old enough to serve in the military. Not that he is preordained to serve, but my hope is he will not have to deal with the complexity and tragedies that I have witnessed in Baghdad over the last eight months. My only other goal is to be able to look myself in the mirror every day, knowing that I stuck to my principles and did as much as possible to win in this very dangerous environment.

If our government decides to prematurely pull out, I would fail to reach both goals, and my son and his generation may find themselves embroiled in something far worse than what we experience now—all because my generation couldn’t get the job done.

Thanks for your continued intelligent contributions to the current debate. I will try to ignore it all and stay focused on the reality of real people trying to find hope for tomorrow on the streets of the most lethal city in the world.

Sincerely,
Steve Miska
LTC, Infantry
Task Force Justice Commander

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Not A Dead End

I’ve been traveling a lot so have only now gotten around to reading “Dead End: Counterinsurgency Warfare as Military Malpractice,” Edward Luttwak’s article in the February issue of Harper’s. As usual with Luttwak, the article is thought-provoking and stylishly written. It’s also almost entirely wrong.

The blog of the Small Wars Journal has already posted two trenchant critiques of the article, by two of the leading counterinsurgency experts in the world: Dave Kilcullen, a former lieutenant colonel in the Australian army now working as an adviser to General David Petraeus in Baghdad, and Frank Hoffman, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel and a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.

I won’t repeat most of what they have to say, except to note that Kilcullen scores a devastating hit when he observes that Luttwak is critiquing an early draft of FM 3-24, the Army/Marine Corps counterinsurgency field manual. This draft was changed substantially before its publication in December 2006—a full three months before Luttwak’s article appeared. It is also odd to read in Luttwak’s article that the manual’s principal drafters, Army General David Petraeus and Marine Lieutenant General James Mattis, are “each now responsible for the training and doctrine policy of his own service.” In fact, Mattis left that job last year to take over the First Marine Expeditionary Force; Petraeus left earlier this year to take over the U.S. command in Iraq. The editors of Harper’s seem to have sat on Luttwak’s piece for months without bothering to update it.

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I’ve been traveling a lot so have only now gotten around to reading “Dead End: Counterinsurgency Warfare as Military Malpractice,” Edward Luttwak’s article in the February issue of Harper’s. As usual with Luttwak, the article is thought-provoking and stylishly written. It’s also almost entirely wrong.

The blog of the Small Wars Journal has already posted two trenchant critiques of the article, by two of the leading counterinsurgency experts in the world: Dave Kilcullen, a former lieutenant colonel in the Australian army now working as an adviser to General David Petraeus in Baghdad, and Frank Hoffman, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel and a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.

I won’t repeat most of what they have to say, except to note that Kilcullen scores a devastating hit when he observes that Luttwak is critiquing an early draft of FM 3-24, the Army/Marine Corps counterinsurgency field manual. This draft was changed substantially before its publication in December 2006—a full three months before Luttwak’s article appeared. It is also odd to read in Luttwak’s article that the manual’s principal drafters, Army General David Petraeus and Marine Lieutenant General James Mattis, are “each now responsible for the training and doctrine policy of his own service.” In fact, Mattis left that job last year to take over the First Marine Expeditionary Force; Petraeus left earlier this year to take over the U.S. command in Iraq. The editors of Harper’s seem to have sat on Luttwak’s piece for months without bothering to update it.

But these slip-ups, while embarrassing, should not prevent consideration of the merits of Luttwak’s article. He makes some excellent points in noting the difficulties that conventional militaries (such as our own) have in grappling with unconventional foes (such as those we confront today in Iraq and Afghanistan). He is especially accurate in bemoaning the lack of training in foreign languages and cultures that afflicts our armed forces, and the severe limitations of our technological intelligence-gathering systems. He is correct, as well, to argue that counterinsurgencies cannot be based entirely on civil-affairs measures designed to woo the population, and that there must be a strong element of coercion to counter the terrorism usually practiced by guerrillas.

But Luttwak wildly overstates his case. He argues that the only way to defeat an insurgency is to “out-terrorize the insurgents.” He cites almost approvingly the practices of the Ottoman Empire, the Roman Empire, and the German armed forces in World War II, all of whom employed “mass executions” and “massacres” to cow occupied populations into compliance. Oddly enough, he never mentions the success of the Arab uprising against the Ottomans during World War I, nor the numerous barbarian uprisings against the Romans, nor the Yugoslavian uprising against the Germans—all of which show that even utter ruthlessness does not necessarily win the day against determined guerrillas.

Ruthlessness of the kind Luttwak advocates may, in fact, backfire by provoking more resistance than it suppresses. That was certainly the lesson learned by the Red Army in Afghanistan, where, notwithstanding any number of “massacres,” it was defeated by determined indigenous forces. (This is another war that Luttwak does not mention.)

Nor does Luttwak mention the many counterinsurgencies that have been waged successfully along the lines advocated by the new field manual. The list is a long one, including the British prosecution of the first Boer war and the U.S. success in the Philippine uprising, among others.

Luttwak would be on solider ground if he were to write that modern Western democracies have a hard time waging counterinsurgency warfare because of their aversion to casualties, and to the bad press generated by ruthless practices. He would be right to say that autocracies have an easier time of it: witness the brutal way Egypt and Algeria put down Islamist uprisings in the 1990’s. He would certainly be right to say that indigenous governments have more success in putting down rebellions than do foreign occupiers, though foreign governments can do a lot to help local allies prevail. But instead of making these distinctions, he prefers to conclude with melodramatic overstatement, claiming that the prescriptions in FM 3-24 “are in the end of little or no use and amount to a kind of malpractice.”

And yet he recognizes that simply “out-terrorizing” the insurgents is not a policy the U.S. could pursue, even if it were as effective as he says (which it isn’t). So what does he think the U.S. should do? Opt out of irregular warfare entirely? Would that we could! But in order for us to do so, subnational groups like al Qaeda and nation-states like Iran will have to stop their own use of unconventional tactics. And Luttwak nowhere proposes a plan for bringing about this desirable state of affairs.

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A Crisis in Generalship

In the new issue of the Armed Forces Journal, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling, deputy commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and a distinguished veteran of two combat tours in Iraq (three, if you count Operation Desert Storm), has written a blistering critique of American generalship. His article is attracting well-justified attention, such as this Washington Post article by Tom Ricks and Gabriel Schoenfeld’s short take on it here.

Yingling’s article flies in the face of attempts by some civilian and military critics to lay the blame for all that has gone wrong in Iraq exclusively at the feet of George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and other civilian leaders. No doubt Bush and his cabinet are guilty of appalling errors of judgment; ultimately the buck stops in the Oval Office. But, as in the Vietnam war, our senior military leaders deserve their share of blame for trying to fight an insurgency with the tools and tactics of conventional war.

I have been hearing grumbling for a while from the uniformed ranks about the quality of their senior leaders. But until now, few soldiers have had the cojones to speak out publicly. Yingling has broken the code of omertà, at considerable risk to his own career.

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In the new issue of the Armed Forces Journal, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling, deputy commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and a distinguished veteran of two combat tours in Iraq (three, if you count Operation Desert Storm), has written a blistering critique of American generalship. His article is attracting well-justified attention, such as this Washington Post article by Tom Ricks and Gabriel Schoenfeld’s short take on it here.

Yingling’s article flies in the face of attempts by some civilian and military critics to lay the blame for all that has gone wrong in Iraq exclusively at the feet of George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and other civilian leaders. No doubt Bush and his cabinet are guilty of appalling errors of judgment; ultimately the buck stops in the Oval Office. But, as in the Vietnam war, our senior military leaders deserve their share of blame for trying to fight an insurgency with the tools and tactics of conventional war.

I have been hearing grumbling for a while from the uniformed ranks about the quality of their senior leaders. But until now, few soldiers have had the cojones to speak out publicly. Yingling has broken the code of omertà, at considerable risk to his own career.

Yingling writes:

Despite engaging in numerous stability operations throughout the 1990′s, the armed forces did little to bolster their capabilities for civic reconstruction and security-force development. Procurement priorities during the 1990′s followed the cold-war model, with significant funding devoted to new fighter aircraft and artillery systems. The most commonly used tactical scenarios in both schools and training centers replicated high-intensity interstate conflict. At the dawn of the 21st century, the U.S. is fighting brutal, adaptive insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq, while our armed forces have spent the preceding decade having done little to prepare for such conflicts.

Having spent a decade preparing to fight the wrong war, America’s generals then miscalculated both the means and ways necessary to succeed in Iraq. The most fundamental military miscalculation in Iraq has been the failure to commit sufficient forces to provide security to Iraq’s population. . . . Given the lack of troop strength, not even the most brilliant general could have devised the ways necessary to stabilize post-Saddam Iraq. However, inept planning for postwar Iraq took the crisis caused by a lack of troops and quickly transformed it into a debacle. . . . After failing to visualize the conditions of combat in Iraq, America’s generals failed to adapt to the demands of counterinsurgency. . . . After going into Iraq with too few troops and no coherent plan for postwar stabilization, America’s general officer corps did not accurately portray the intensity of the insurgency to the American public. . . . The intellectual and moral failures common to America’s general officer corps in Vietnam and Iraq constitute a crisis in American generalship.

Yingling goes on to suggest that the solution lies in more congressional oversight of the promotion and retention of generals. Senior officers who fail at their assignments could even be retired at a reduced rank.

Whether involving the barons of Capitol Hill more closely will resolve this crisis is, of course, debatable. But there is no disputing Yingling’s cri de coeur: “As matters stand now, a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war.”

That has to change. And the most effective means of change is not more congressional micromanagement. It is a President who takes his responsibilities as commander-in-chief as seriously as Lincoln or FDR did. Although President Bush reportedly read Eliot Cohen’s book on the subject—Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime—he has not so far been nearly as vigorous as our most successful wartime leaders in holding military leaders accountable for their successes and failures. And, as Yingling notes, we’re paying the price in Iraq for that lack of oversight. Left to their own devices, generals often get it wrong.

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