Thursday, December 16, 2004

Blame only the civilians at DoD? Not so fast...

Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, has an essay in the latest Policy Review that will be controversial. His main argument:

The post-invasion phase of the Iraq mission has been the least well-planned American military mission since Somalia in 1993, if not Lebanon in 1983, and its consequences for the nation have been far worse than any set of military mistakes since Vietnam. The U.S. armed forces simply were not prepared for the core task that the United States needed to perform when it destroyed Iraq’s existing government — to provide security, always the first responsibility of any sovereign government or occupier.

The standard explanation for this lack of preparedness among most defense and foreign policy specialists, and the U.S. military as well, is that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and much of the rest of the Bush administration insisted on fighting the war with too few troops and too Polyannaish a view of what would happen inside Iraq once Saddam was overthrown. This explanation is largely right. Taken to an extreme, however, it is dangerously wrong. It blames the mistakes of one civilian leader of the Department of Defense, and one particular administration, for a debacle that was foreseeable and indeed foreseen by most experts in the field. Under these circumstances, planners and high-ranking officers of the U.S. armed forces were not fulfilling their responsibilities to the Constitution or their own brave fighting men and women by quietly and subserviently deferring to the civilian leadership. Congress might have been expected to do more as well, but in fact it did a considerable amount of work to highlight the issue of post-invasion planning — and in any case, it was not well positioned to critique or improve or even know the intricacies of war plans. On this issue, the country’s primary hope for an effective system of checks and balances on the mistakes of executive branch officials was the U.S. armed forces.

The broad argument of this essay is that the tragedy of Iraq — that one of the most brilliant invasion successes in modern military history was followed almost immediately by one of the most incompetently planned occupations — holds a critical lesson for civil-military relations in the United States. The country’s Constitution makes the president commander in chief and requires military leaders to follow his orders. It does not, however, require them to remain mute when poor plans are being prepared. Nor does it require them to remain in uniform when they are asked to undertake actions they know to be unwise or ill-planned.

I think that O'Hanlon is right on the money here. Particularly in regards to the following:
It is of critical importance to the United States that civilians and military personnel share responsibilities. They must not pretend that their jobs can be neatly separated into two broad and distinct bins — high strategy, the primary province of civilians, and military operations, where the uniformed services possess the nation’s principal expertise. There are usually no clear red lines separating strategy from operations. Clausewitz depicted war as a continuation of policy by other means; Sun Tze wrote that the greatest form of military victory was the one that required the least battlefield action. What these observations have in common, from these two great yet very different military theorists, is a recognition that broad strategy and military operations are inherently intertwined.
This ties in closely with the Echevarria essay that I spoke about below, as well as with many other scholars such as the writings of Colin S. Gray.

Positive civil-military conflict, as advocated here by O'Hanlon, and also by scholars such as Sam C. Sarkesian, is essential for effective policy. This will solve only a portion of the problem, however. The U.S. military must also re-think its personnel and force structure assumptions such as the placement of 97% of the Civil Affairs units in the United States Army Reserve. What this means in practise is that with only 3% of the CA force structure in the active component (the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion) there is a very limited production of active duty civil affairs officers that can staff planning cells at the Combatant Commands, let alone work with front-line active duty manuever units. We should not underestimate how this feeds into limiting ourselves to "a way of battle" rather than achieving "a way of war."


Blogger Anthony said...

Great stuff on any number of levels, Michael. Also puts me in mind somewhat of "Dereliction of Duty".

Plus I notice we've posted two plugs for Sam Sarkesian's work in as many days. One more and I think we get air miles or he owes us a kidney or something.


5:48 PM  

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