Another Crisis in Command

We are running a war from the banks of the Potomac much as we did in Vietnam. The Bush administration has been fighting a regional war without any semblance of unity of effort.  Its policy has mysteriously left CENTCOM largely out of the game, despite the appointment of a proven combatant commander, Admiral William J. Fallon, as its head. 

In fact, the command structure implemented since Baghdad fell in 2003, has nearly paralleled that used during the SE Asian conflict.
In mid-2004 after Combined Joint Task Force-7 and CENTCOM had proven incapable of stopping the "insurgency," a four-star was appointed to take direct command of Coalition forces in Iraq.  In Southeast Asia in the 60s, General Westmoreland took command of forces in Vietnam because the distant and seemingly disengaged Pacific Command (PACOM) was unable or unwilling to effectively coordinate operations in Vietnam and just as importantly, in the surrounding countries in the region.

Power gradually drifted to the civilian beltway "professionals" resulting in one of the key failings of LBJ's administration: micromanaging a war from the beltway and the White House.  The leadership even went so far as to have the President personally pick out the bombing targets.  Why did this happen?  Colonel Harry Summers provided the answer in his seminal work, On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War, wherein he chastises the "we" - as in fellow high ranking military officers,

Instead of being experts in the application of military force to achieve the political ends of the United States we became neophyte political scientists [emphasis added] and systems analysts and were outclassed by the civilian professionals who dominated national security policy [...] Without a foundation in military art we could not compete with the rationalistic proposals of the defense analysts and the effect was a failure in our responsibilities to present alternative strategies to our civilian leaders.
Indeed, promulgating a national strategy for the Global War on Terror is expected from the White House, but a White House specific plan for one campaign within the Central Region signals a perceived deficiency in our military leadership, or shows that a weak executive branch and the military establishment are so hopelessly muddled in turf wars that they have been rendered useless in developing any coherent strategy for victory.  Apparently, the days of the president setting the grand strategy such as "Germany first" or "unconditional surrender", and letting the combatant commanders structure the theater campaigns to support the strategy, have gone the way of the do-do.

The troop surge and its attendant strategy is a case in point.  Not only have the Commander-in-Chief, the Pentagon, and other high-level advisors gotten down into the weeds on what amounts to a relatively modest reinforcement of 15 percent, but the on-going public debates and haggling over money and timelines trashed any hope of gaining a modicum of surprise over the enemy.  It's hard to imagine that FDR, Ike, and Patton would have announced on the radio any shift of men and resources in advance of an Allied operation to gain political points since it would ultimately benefit the Nazis more than it would an informed American public.

But the most alarming aspect of the strategy of the surge is that a retired general, in this case, Jack Keane who was formerly Army Vice Chief of Staff, was a co-author of the "Choosing Victory" strategy paper.  Several of the main points if this paper were in fact adopted by the White House for the current strategy to infuse men into Baghdad and adopt a clear and hold set of tactics.

So the trend of diluting the military chain of command with "help" from various Pentagon agencies, think tanks, policy analysts, and retired flag officers is not only bizarre, but indicates that the problems so well-described by Summers are repeating themselves 40 years later.  In other words, if these deep thinkers are so valuable to the war effort, why aren't they on the payroll and in uniform - and in command?

But let's say for discussion's sake that we need a civilian "war czar" to coordinate operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since ostensibly, the military is incapable of doing so.  Thomas Ricks and Peter Baker said in a controversial Washington Post article last week that,

The highest-ranking White House official responsible exclusively for the wars is deputy national security adviser Meghan O'Sullivan, who reports to national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley and does not have power to issue orders to agencies.
They go on to describe the inherent weaknesses of O'Sullivan's position, and how that would change once the new czar came along, but they don't give the history of O'Sullivan's rise to power, or her controversial positions in relation to the war.

Joel Mowbray in the Washington Times in November of 2005 gives a good rundown on O'Sullivan's background.  Most notably,

Before the Iraq war, Miss O'Sullivan was the co-creator of the so-called "smart sanctions" that Saddam easily manipulated time and again, and after his regime fell, she was one of the most passionate defenders of senior Ba'athists.  At other points in recent years, she has tacitly supported Islamists' attempted takeover of the post-Saddam Iraqi education system, and she is widely seen as a leading advocate for engaging the Iranian mullahs.
So, since her appointment in 2005, we have had a highly credentialed civilian with questionable views on the National Security Council "exclusively responsible for wars."  Is this what the President wants to perpetuate, only with a new face as "war czar"?  A person of dubious intentions with new "tasking" authority over military forces, someone who hasn't even commanded a platoon in combat?  Or, a retired flag officer with similar sympathies toward our nominal enemies?  Since O'Sullivan has been in this position for almost a year and a half, and since "personnel is policy," we must assume the intent is continue this disastrous command structure for prosecuting the war.

In his critique of Ricks and Baker and defense of the "war czar" concept yesterday in AT, Christopher Alleva brushes off this whole mess with the remark that the President isn't "'an action officer' like the Defense Secretary."  The National Command Authority (NCA) is in fact, the President, the SecDef, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and they are directly responsible for the overall prosecution of the war.  The American public doesn't spend a lot of time delving into the nuances of command arrangements, and in their view the President has accepted the burden of strategy formulation and some war-fighting operations.  Like it or not, they perceive the NCA's performance in running the war as dismal.

I also think the current situation is worse than even during the Vietnam War.  Then, the powers that be were actually interested in killing the enemy and breaking his stuff.  It may have been foolhardy to have the White House involved in picking nits about the conduct of the war, but at least they were interested in bombing the bad guys; it's just that LBJ and his military command weren't interested in allowing campaigns to fully develop as part of a focused strategy.  Later, President Nixon and Creighton Abrams accomplished more on the military front in two years and with fewer troops, because from Nixon's perspective:

We have the power. The only question is whether we have the will to use that power. What distinguishes me from Johnson is that I have the will in spades."
If President Bush is going to further concentrate authority in the hands of a war czar and the DC establishment, then he would be wise to heed the words of Nixon and forcefully take the reins of power and get us back into the game.  Yet, as the war has progressed, he has shown an odd detachment and soft approach in dealing with a tough and fanatical enemy.  If he can't muster the will necessary, then perhaps the time has come to find the type of military fighters we need, and let them lead us to victory.

Douglas Hanson the is National Security correspondent of American Thinker.
We are running a war from the banks of the Potomac much as we did in Vietnam. The Bush administration has been fighting a regional war without any semblance of unity of effort.  Its policy has mysteriously left CENTCOM largely out of the game, despite the appointment of a proven combatant commander, Admiral William J. Fallon, as its head. 

In fact, the command structure implemented since Baghdad fell in 2003, has nearly paralleled that used during the SE Asian conflict.
In mid-2004 after Combined Joint Task Force-7 and CENTCOM had proven incapable of stopping the "insurgency," a four-star was appointed to take direct command of Coalition forces in Iraq.  In Southeast Asia in the 60s, General Westmoreland took command of forces in Vietnam because the distant and seemingly disengaged Pacific Command (PACOM) was unable or unwilling to effectively coordinate operations in Vietnam and just as importantly, in the surrounding countries in the region.

Power gradually drifted to the civilian beltway "professionals" resulting in one of the key failings of LBJ's administration: micromanaging a war from the beltway and the White House.  The leadership even went so far as to have the President personally pick out the bombing targets.  Why did this happen?  Colonel Harry Summers provided the answer in his seminal work, On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War, wherein he chastises the "we" - as in fellow high ranking military officers,

Instead of being experts in the application of military force to achieve the political ends of the United States we became neophyte political scientists [emphasis added] and systems analysts and were outclassed by the civilian professionals who dominated national security policy [...] Without a foundation in military art we could not compete with the rationalistic proposals of the defense analysts and the effect was a failure in our responsibilities to present alternative strategies to our civilian leaders.
Indeed, promulgating a national strategy for the Global War on Terror is expected from the White House, but a White House specific plan for one campaign within the Central Region signals a perceived deficiency in our military leadership, or shows that a weak executive branch and the military establishment are so hopelessly muddled in turf wars that they have been rendered useless in developing any coherent strategy for victory.  Apparently, the days of the president setting the grand strategy such as "Germany first" or "unconditional surrender", and letting the combatant commanders structure the theater campaigns to support the strategy, have gone the way of the do-do.

The troop surge and its attendant strategy is a case in point.  Not only have the Commander-in-Chief, the Pentagon, and other high-level advisors gotten down into the weeds on what amounts to a relatively modest reinforcement of 15 percent, but the on-going public debates and haggling over money and timelines trashed any hope of gaining a modicum of surprise over the enemy.  It's hard to imagine that FDR, Ike, and Patton would have announced on the radio any shift of men and resources in advance of an Allied operation to gain political points since it would ultimately benefit the Nazis more than it would an informed American public.

But the most alarming aspect of the strategy of the surge is that a retired general, in this case, Jack Keane who was formerly Army Vice Chief of Staff, was a co-author of the "Choosing Victory" strategy paper.  Several of the main points if this paper were in fact adopted by the White House for the current strategy to infuse men into Baghdad and adopt a clear and hold set of tactics.

So the trend of diluting the military chain of command with "help" from various Pentagon agencies, think tanks, policy analysts, and retired flag officers is not only bizarre, but indicates that the problems so well-described by Summers are repeating themselves 40 years later.  In other words, if these deep thinkers are so valuable to the war effort, why aren't they on the payroll and in uniform - and in command?

But let's say for discussion's sake that we need a civilian "war czar" to coordinate operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since ostensibly, the military is incapable of doing so.  Thomas Ricks and Peter Baker said in a controversial Washington Post article last week that,

The highest-ranking White House official responsible exclusively for the wars is deputy national security adviser Meghan O'Sullivan, who reports to national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley and does not have power to issue orders to agencies.
They go on to describe the inherent weaknesses of O'Sullivan's position, and how that would change once the new czar came along, but they don't give the history of O'Sullivan's rise to power, or her controversial positions in relation to the war.

Joel Mowbray in the Washington Times in November of 2005 gives a good rundown on O'Sullivan's background.  Most notably,

Before the Iraq war, Miss O'Sullivan was the co-creator of the so-called "smart sanctions" that Saddam easily manipulated time and again, and after his regime fell, she was one of the most passionate defenders of senior Ba'athists.  At other points in recent years, she has tacitly supported Islamists' attempted takeover of the post-Saddam Iraqi education system, and she is widely seen as a leading advocate for engaging the Iranian mullahs.
So, since her appointment in 2005, we have had a highly credentialed civilian with questionable views on the National Security Council "exclusively responsible for wars."  Is this what the President wants to perpetuate, only with a new face as "war czar"?  A person of dubious intentions with new "tasking" authority over military forces, someone who hasn't even commanded a platoon in combat?  Or, a retired flag officer with similar sympathies toward our nominal enemies?  Since O'Sullivan has been in this position for almost a year and a half, and since "personnel is policy," we must assume the intent is continue this disastrous command structure for prosecuting the war.

In his critique of Ricks and Baker and defense of the "war czar" concept yesterday in AT, Christopher Alleva brushes off this whole mess with the remark that the President isn't "'an action officer' like the Defense Secretary."  The National Command Authority (NCA) is in fact, the President, the SecDef, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and they are directly responsible for the overall prosecution of the war.  The American public doesn't spend a lot of time delving into the nuances of command arrangements, and in their view the President has accepted the burden of strategy formulation and some war-fighting operations.  Like it or not, they perceive the NCA's performance in running the war as dismal.

I also think the current situation is worse than even during the Vietnam War.  Then, the powers that be were actually interested in killing the enemy and breaking his stuff.  It may have been foolhardy to have the White House involved in picking nits about the conduct of the war, but at least they were interested in bombing the bad guys; it's just that LBJ and his military command weren't interested in allowing campaigns to fully develop as part of a focused strategy.  Later, President Nixon and Creighton Abrams accomplished more on the military front in two years and with fewer troops, because from Nixon's perspective:

We have the power. The only question is whether we have the will to use that power. What distinguishes me from Johnson is that I have the will in spades."
If President Bush is going to further concentrate authority in the hands of a war czar and the DC establishment, then he would be wise to heed the words of Nixon and forcefully take the reins of power and get us back into the game.  Yet, as the war has progressed, he has shown an odd detachment and soft approach in dealing with a tough and fanatical enemy.  If he can't muster the will necessary, then perhaps the time has come to find the type of military fighters we need, and let them lead us to victory.

Douglas Hanson the is National Security correspondent of American Thinker.