H.R. McMaster on Easy War

{This first ran as The Pipe Dream of Easy War here back in the Summer of 2013. It’s a pretty good indication of why our foreign policy suddenly looks like the adults are in charge again}

Michael Kamber for The New York Times

United States troops in Latafiya, Iraq, in 2007, marked the landing spot for a resupply helicopter with green smoke.

H. R. McMaster is an Army major general and the commanding officer at Fort Benning, Ga., who led the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment in Iraq as a colonel in 2005 and 2006.

That is, of course true but rather cryptic. H.R. McMaster is one of America’s rock star generals and he’s been on everybody’s list since 26 February 1991 when Captain McMaster’s Eagle troop of the 2d ACR (Armored Cavalry Regiment) (Toujours Prêt) charged on in, and took apart the Iraqi Tawakalna Division of the Republican Guard in the Battle of 73 Easting, an action that has been compared favorably with Joshua Chamberlain’s defense of Little Round Top at Gettysburg and Major John Howard’s capture and defense of Pegasus Bridge on D-Day. General McMaster knows all about seeing the elephant. And now he is National Security Advisor to President Trump.

FORT BENNING, Ga. — “A GREAT deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep,” the novelist Saul Bellow once wrote. We should keep that in mind when we consider the lessons from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — lessons of supreme importance as we plan the military of the future.

Our record of learning from previous experience is poor; one reason is that we apply history simplistically, or ignore it altogether, as a result of wishful thinking that makes the future appear easier and fundamentally different from the past.

We engaged in such thinking in the years before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001; many accepted the conceit that lightning victories could be achieved by small numbers of technologically sophisticated American forces capable of launching precision strikes against enemy targets from safe distances.

These defense theories, associated with the belief that new technology had ushered in a whole new era of war, were then applied to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; in both, they clouded our understanding of the conflicts and delayed the development of effective strategies.

Today, budget pressures and the desire to avoid new conflicts have resurrected arguments that emerging technologies — or geopolitical shifts — have ushered in a new era of warfare. Some defense theorists dismiss the difficulties we ran into in Afghanistan and Iraq as aberrations. But they were not aberrations. The best way to guard against a new version of wishful thinking is to understand three age-old truths about war and how our experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq validated their importance.

First, war is political. As the 19th-century Prussian philosopher of war Carl von Clausewitz said, “war should never be thought of as something autonomous, but always as an instrument of policy.”

In the years leading up to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, thinking about defense was driven by ideas that regarded successful military operations as ends in themselves, rather than just one instrument of power that must be coordinated with others to achieve, and sustain, political goals. Believers in the theory known as the “Revolution in Military Affairs” misinterpreted the American-led coalition’s lopsided victory in the 1991 gulf war and predicted that further advances in military technology would deliver dominance over any opponent. Potential adversaries, they suggested, would not dare to threaten vital American interests.

The theory was hubristic. Yet it became orthodoxy […]

Second, war is human. People fight today for the same fundamental reasons the Greek historian Thucydides identified nearly 2,500 years ago: fear, honor and interest. But in the years preceding our last two wars, thinking about defense undervalued the human as well as the political aspects of war. […]

The hard-learned lesson: Defense concepts must consider social, economic and historical factors that constitute the human dimension of war.

THIRD, war is uncertain, precisely because it is political and human. The dominant assumption of the “Revolution in Military Affairs” was that information would be the key to victory. Concepts of “network-centric warfare,” “rapid, decisive operations,” “shock and awe” and “full-spectrum dominance” suggested that near-perfect intelligence would enable precise military operations and point a straight line to success. But in Afghanistan and Iraq, planning did not account for adaptations and initiatives by the enemy. American forces, deployed initially in insufficient numbers to keep pace with the evolution of those conflicts, struggled to maintain security. The lesson: The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, like all wars, were contests of will that unleashed dynamics that made future events impossible to predict.

Fortunately, in Afghanistan and Iraq, American forces adapted. For example, in 2005, in western Nineveh Province, our enemies had pitted sectarian communities against one another in a bloody civil war. In the city of Tal Afar, our cavalry regiment first sought to understand the complex environment while building trust with local Iraqi security forces and a beleaguered population. Alongside United States Special Forces and Iraqi soldiers, our troops sought not only to fight the enemy, but also to build security for civilians and promote conflict resolution among competing groups. As Tal Afar’s mayor, Najim Abdullah Abid al-Jibouri, recalled, “Our city was the main base of operations for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi …Our people were barricaded in their homes out of fear; death awaited them around every corner.” But when the Americans came, he added, “With the skill and precision of surgeons they dealt with the terrorist cancers in the city without causing unnecessary damage.”

What we learned: American forces must cope with the political and human dynamics of war in complex, uncertain environments. Wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq cannot be waged remotely.

Budget pressures and persistent fascination with technology have led some to declare an end to war as we know it. While emerging technologies are essential for military effectiveness, concepts that rely only on those technologies,[…]

Although the defense budget is under pressure, clear thinking about war costs nothing. What we can afford least is to define the problem of future war as we would like it to be, and by doing so introduce into our defense vulnerabilities based on self-delusion.

Do go and read it all I truncated sections rather severely,and the reasoning is far more clear with the detail,  The Pipe Dream of Easy War – NYTimes.com.

Essentially the lesson is the old one, War is serious business, not to be undertaken for light and transient reasons, and never should it be separated from national policy. Clausewitz said it best.

“War is merely a continuation of politics by other means.”

It’s fine to substitute policy or Politik at will for politics, the original German is unclear and various translations have made it clear as mud.

 

Who We Really Are…On Father’s Day

This is based on an article from Tracie Louise Photography from a couple of years ago and wanted to add quite a lot for Father’s Day. Read her work, it made my monitor blurry, not many do that.

I had told George that I have barely looked at a photograph of my mother since she crossed over, 9 years ago this past Easter.  She encouraged me to get out some pictures and look at them, but this was my response:

… she was my best friend. If I am at all wise, or creative, or kind, or spiritual, it’s because of her. And I know exactly what she would say to this comment… if I want to see her, I only need look into my own eyes, and my own heart. And she would be right. She left her body 9 years ago, and moved onto bigger and better things. She was never that body, it just housed her for a time (way too short a time). But it was never who she really was, and looking at a picture of it, will not bring us any closer. I hope you understand what I am saying… I think I might actually be channelling it directly from her, as it seems far to wise to have come from me 

I lost my grandfather when I was 20 years old.  Pop and I had one of those special bonds… you know the ones.  They don’t require words.  There is just this “knowing” between you.  Mum taught me a great deal about life and death when my Pop passed.  She taught me that if I ever wanted to spend time with my grandfather, to look no further than my own heart.  She taught me that there was no need to visit a cemetery because I wouldn’t find Pop there.  She said that Pop would never be truly gone as long as we were around to remember him… to honour him… to live our lives in a manner that would make him proud.

Please do read Tracie’s wonderful post, Who We Really Are…..

This is exactly how I feel about my Dad, who passed in 1978. I still, in quieter moments feel him around me. One of the more unusual things in my family is that almost all of the men are built alike, right down to suit size, and going completely grey in our twenties. In fact, Dad was buried in his son-in-law’s suit because I needed the one I had for the funeral, all three of us, and most of my uncles as well could have traded clothes. Dad pretty much never lectured, he led, he taught, and he disciplined when necessary rarely was more than “I’m disappointed in you.” necessary. In truth my sister (who was 20 years older than me) said, after he was gone that he had always scared her. I understood what she meant immediately. He never did me but, he sure motivated me. I’ve said before that our family motto is “If it’s not absolutely right, it’s completely wrong,” that came from Dad.

He had a command presence in any company. Once after he retired he took a wrong turn with his motorhome in southern Georgia, near as I can tell, he ended up at the main gate of Fort Benning. He found it funny that the gate guard looked at him took a step back and snapped off a parade ground salute, I figured it was normal. He looked and acted like he was at least a colonel, in fact he acted more like a colonel than most of the colonels I’ve met.

In his professional career he was simply the best: Lineman, Project Superintendent, General Manager, and the job nearly killed him because he was also a micromanager. He knew (the bad part is that he was right) that he could do everyone’s job better than they could. He didn’t tolerate sloppiness or second-rate work. He built the house he lived in for the last 30 years of his life. I mean built with his own two hands. He told me once not long before he passed that it had always bothered him that the house was out of square. A friend of mine from college was selling one of the new laser total stations and I talked him into a demonstration one weekend. Dad was right, the house was out of square, 1/32d of an inch in 135 feet. Dad insisted he could see it.

In his career the people that he got along with best were the operations people, he was one of them, and in the time I was around they were almost all World War II combat veterans. They had the same belief system: right or wrong, yes or no. That’s where I first learned “Yes, sir; no, sir; three bags full, sir”.

He trained me as a lineman, with help from the crews, There wasn’t a piece of utility equipment I couldn’t operate (pretty well, too) by the time I was 14, He let me wire an outbuilding on my own when I was 13, he inspected it and took off some hide verbally on a minor violation of Article 250.

To this day he is there looking over my shoulder, every day. Each and everyday my first thought on a problem is what would Dad do? It’s served me very well, not so much financially, that was never the point, but every decision I’ve made, I could defend to the toughest judge I’ll ever face on Earth, Dad.

But you know the other thing about that. When I got my first few jobs as an electrical contractor, I asked him to back check me both on the plans and in the field. He absolutely refused. It hurt my feelings a lot but now I understand. He had taught me and taught me well: now it was up to me to perform. When I did with few problems, it was a huge confidence booster.

We never talked much, we Norse are world renowned for being taciturn but, you can tell just how men feel about each other when they shake hands, words are superfluous. So I know Dad always knew how much I loved him even as I knew how much he loved me. And like Tracie said, If I want to see him, all I have to do is look in a mirror.

The other thing that I realized is that I give all too often a two dimensional portrait of Dad. There was another side (several in fact). The other family tradition is music. Grampa did two things, ran the town light plant and directed the town band, both were passed down. Of the 7 brothers, 3 worked for utility companies, the other 4 directed high school bands (good ones too, even including one that toured Scandinavia and England). Which is how we got here in the first place, my Great Grampa first came to America on a band tour of Iowa and Minnesota, guess he liked what he saw.

Over at Ace’s yesterday, there was a thread about where would you go back to in history, and given the clientele of the site I wasn’t too surprised that most would go back to the old (what I often call “My”) America, usually about from 1880 to 1920 or so. I feel that way myself often. British Airways a few years ago summed up the wonder of the years pretty well with this.

And that was still another thing about Dad. He never lost his sense of wonder at the marvels we had wrought, He’d watch an airplane from horizon to horizon, had the first TV in town, (and the first air conditioner, I think), and one of the first color TV’s as well, which he built himself. I wonder what he would have thought of the internet. Actually, I don’t. He would have loved it, he loved anything that increased the knowledge and power of the average man, that is one of the main reasons, I think, that he loved and honored America, all his life.

I realize this is getting a bit long but one other thing sticks out in my memory. he married one of the prettiest and likely well-off women in his home town, although I doubt he ever took a dime from his father -in-law, he did it himself. But I don’t think he ever looked at another woman, as a woman again. I can remember commenting on a girl’s looks when I was a teenager (she was beautiful). he just looked at me and said, “I didn’t notice.” He was married to Mom for better than 50 years and completely satisfied, it may have been the strongest partnership ever.

I hope he is half as proud of me as I am of being his son. Let’s end with the quote from Tracie that set me off.

She said that Pop would never be truly gone as long as we were around to remember him… to honour him… to live our lives in a manner that would make him proud.

The Pipe Dream of Easy War

{This looks like it could develop into a short series on the theory of conflict, if so, it most likely will be at irregular intervals as I run across appropriate material. In any case: Enjoy!}

Michael Kamber for The New York Times

United States troops in Latafiya, Iraq, in 2007, marked the landing spot for a resupply helicopter with green smoke.

H. R. McMaster is an Army major general and the commanding officer at Fort Benning, Ga., who led the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment in Iraq as a colonel in 2005 and 2006.

That is, of course true but rather cryptic. H.R. McMaster is one of America’s rock star generals and he’s been on everybody’s list since 26 February 1991 when Captain McMaster’s Eagle troop of the 2d ACR (Armored Cavalry Regiment) (Toujours Prêt) charged on in, and took apart the Iraqi Tawakalna Division of the Republican Guard in the Battle of 73 Easting, an action that has been compared favorably with Joshua Chamberlin’s defense of Little Round Top at Gettysburg and Major John Howard’s capture and defense of Pegasus Bridge on D-Day. General McMaster knows all about seeing the elephant.

FORT BENNING, Ga. — “A GREAT deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep,” the novelist Saul Bellow once wrote. We should keep that in mind when we consider the lessons from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — lessons of supreme importance as we plan the military of the future.

Our record of learning from previous experience is poor; one reason is that we apply history simplistically, or ignore it altogether, as a result of wishful thinking that makes the future appear easier and fundamentally different from the past.

We engaged in such thinking in the years before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001; many accepted the conceit that lightning victories could be achieved by small numbers of technologically sophisticated American forces capable of launching precision strikes against enemy targets from safe distances.

These defense theories, associated with the belief that new technology had ushered in a whole new era of war, were then applied to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; in both, they clouded our understanding of the conflicts and delayed the development of effective strategies.

Today, budget pressures and the desire to avoid new conflicts have resurrected arguments that emerging technologies — or geopolitical shifts — have ushered in a new era of warfare. Some defense theorists dismiss the difficulties we ran into in Afghanistan and Iraq as aberrations. But they were not aberrations. The best way to guard against a new version of wishful thinking is to understand three age-old truths about war and how our experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq validated their importance.

First, war is political. As the 19th-century Prussian philosopher of war Carl von Clausewitz said, “war should never be thought of as something autonomous, but always as an instrument of policy.”

In the years leading up to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, thinking about defense was driven by ideas that regarded successful military operations as ends in themselves, rather than just one instrument of power that must be coordinated with others to achieve, and sustain, political goals. Believers in the theory known as the “Revolution in Military Affairs” misinterpreted the American-led coalition’s lopsided victory in the 1991 gulf war and predicted that further advances in military technology would deliver dominance over any opponent. Potential adversaries, they suggested, would not dare to threaten vital American interests.

The theory was hubristic. Yet it became orthodoxy […]

Second, war is human. People fight today for the same fundamental reasons the Greek historian Thucydides identified nearly 2,500 years ago: fear, honor and interest. But in the years preceding our last two wars, thinking about defense undervalued the human as well as the political aspects of war. […]

The hard-learned lesson: Defense concepts must consider social, economic and historical factors that constitute the human dimension of war.

THIRD, war is uncertain, precisely because it is political and human. The dominant assumption of the “Revolution in Military Affairs” was that information would be the key to victory. Concepts of “network-centric warfare,” “rapid, decisive operations,” “shock and awe” and “full-spectrum dominance” suggested that near-perfect intelligence would enable precise military operations and point a straight line to success. But in Afghanistan and Iraq, planning did not account for adaptations and initiatives by the enemy. American forces, deployed initially in insufficient numbers to keep pace with the evolution of those conflicts, struggled to maintain security. The lesson: The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, like all wars, were contests of will that unleashed dynamics that made future events impossible to predict.

Fortunately, in Afghanistan and Iraq, American forces adapted. For example, in 2005, in western Nineveh Province, our enemies had pitted sectarian communities against one another in a bloody civil war. In the city of Tal Afar, our cavalry regiment first sought to understand the complex environment while building trust with local Iraqi security forces and a beleaguered population. Alongside United States Special Forces and Iraqi soldiers, our troops sought not only to fight the enemy, but also to build security for civilians and promote conflict resolution among competing groups. As Tal Afar’s mayor, Najim Abdullah Abid al-Jibouri, recalled, “Our city was the main base of operations for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi …Our people were barricaded in their homes out of fear; death awaited them around every corner.” But when the Americans came, he added, “With the skill and precision of surgeons they dealt with the terrorist cancers in the city without causing unnecessary damage.”

What we learned: American forces must cope with the political and human dynamics of war in complex, uncertain environments. Wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq cannot be waged remotely.

Budget pressures and persistent fascination with technology have led some to declare an end to war as we know it. While emerging technologies are essential for military effectiveness, concepts that rely only on those technologies,[…]

Although the defense budget is under pressure, clear thinking about war costs nothing. What we can afford least is to define the problem of future war as we would like it to be, and by doing so introduce into our defense vulnerabilities based on self-delusion.

Do go and read it all I truncated sections rather severely,and the reasoning is far more clear with the detail,  The Pipe Dream of Easy War – NYTimes.com.

Essentially the lesson is the old one, War is serious business, not to be undertaken for light and transient reasons, and never should it be separated from national policy. Clausewitz said it best.

“War is merely a continuation of politics by other means.”

It’s fine to substitute policy or Politik at will for politics, the original German is unclear and various translations have made it clear as mud.

 

Leadership in Tough Times

The Iron Mike statue at Fort Benning symbolizing the motto of the Infantry:
Follow Me

I’ve been accumulating articles again, this time mostly on leadership. That a good thing because if there is one thing we need in these days, it is good leadership. It seems sometimes that what passes for leadership in the crony-capitalist/ corporatist/ political world is based on three things: 1: who you know; 2: how much money can you give me and; 3: the quarterly bottom line.

Basing your leadership in a business or nation on any (or all) of these things is a recipe for disaster. This is how the Western Roman Empire died. Of taxes grown so high that citizens welcomed the barbarians. America is not exempt from the laws of nature, that’s why our founders used them to try to safeguard us. Ayn Rand (yes, I have problems with her philosophy too but, remember that she was born and raised in Soviet Russia and make allowances) warned us about the looters and moochers, and we ignored her even as we watched them bring the Warsaw Pact down when confronted with a real American leader. Are we Soviet Russia in, say, 1987? Not if enough of us say otherwise. The core of America is still here; the people who know all about doing a day’s work for a day’s pay, and all the rest of the real world’s laws. These are the Americans that need to lead now.

Trevor Nagle is doing extraordinary work in this area. Like me he bases a lot of it on the military. Unlike me, he has extensive experience in the military. But, either way, the US Military is the last reasonably pure concentration of the ‘Old America’ and our sacred traditions. We are wise when we draw on these for they are the representatives of the America that built the modern world. I’ve linked to two of Trevor’s articles here. I recommend that you read everything he writes, including his book. The first is: Leadership Values in Tough Times: A Litmus Test

In the shadows of an announcement of an additional 87 workers being laid off from a local Fortune 500 company this week, I happened upon a rather caustic tweet to the company’s CEO.  In it, the author expressed disgust at the layoffs and corresponding press release, which explained these necessary moves as brought about by expense efficiency efforts to combat an unacceptably high expense ratio and floundering company financials (my words, not theirs).  But it wasn’t the decision to lay off nearly 100 employees (on top of those “lost through attrition”….a poorly spun misnomer at any organization) that bothered the “tweeter,” but rather the exorbitant raises the company’s executives received in the past year.  Quite honestly, it’s a sentiment I share…..

I think back to the federal government’s bailout of AIG several years ago and the uproar brought about by continued payout of huge bonuses to top officials of that beleaguered company.  The explanation offered to the public was that to forego this piece of compensation would result in the loss of many of the senior leaders, those who would flee to “greener” (pun intended) pastures.  I’m sure similar arguments would be posited by this Fortune 500 company.

“But, we can’t afford to lose these executives.”

I’ve never understood that reasoning.  You can’t afford to lose the leaders whose leadership has brought you to the brink of financial disaster????  Who can you afford to lose, if not them??

Emphasis mine.

Continue reading Leadership Values in Tough Times: A Litmus Test.

That’s a lot of the problem, when you get to a certain level in our politically connected corporations or political institutions there is no penalty for failure. If I screw up and cause the injury or death of a fellow worker, I expect to be at least fired, and possibly charged criminally as well as face a civil suit. That’s as it should be. I, and I alone, am responsible for what I, and the people under my command do. Nobody else, not the foreman under me, not my boss, not the pretty girl in a short skirt that distracted me : ME. That’s the way personal responsibility works. Let me add here that I thank God every day for the competent people I work with, they have saved me from many costly screw ups, I said I was responsible, not that I was perfect, none of us are!

That’s all well and good, I hear you saying but, how do I remember that in the heat of the conflict? Good question, I’m glad you asked. You do it the same way our military does it. You distill it down to truisms. Nobody does that better than the people who train their leaders at the school where “Everybody works but John Paul Jones“. That would be the US Navy, Trevor has published five of the truisms from the Division Officer’s Guide. Here they are:

  • Leadership is the essence of our profession.  Certainly, leaders need an understanding of operational details (be that driving a 100-ton warship or ensuring the proper processing of insurance claims).  But regardless of the industry, it’s about leadership, not expertise, that is most critical.  Surround yourself with technical experts.  Then support their ability to leverage their expertise.  Lead…..don’t manage.  And don’t assume because you’re the leader, you are the “smartest one in the room.”
  • People are our most valuable asset.  An aircraft carrier is merely a gigantic piece of floating steel, if not for the skilled and dedicated people running it.  Quit treating your people as a cog in your organization’s money machine, and begin valuing them as the most important asset at your disposal.  Without them, you have nothing but profitless process and machinery.
  • Provide recognition to deserving people.  In keeping with the second truism, if you treat your people as critical to your success, you will naturally want to recognize those who provide the most value to your organization.  This isn’t a call for inequity in treatment, but instead for leaders to provide consistent and continuous recognition (in a way that speaks to the personalities and motivators for each individual follower).
  • Listen to your people.  Get in amongst your followers.  Know their interests, passions, joys and concerns on both personal and professional levels.  Adopt a genuine “we’re in this together” leadership approach.  If you listen to them, you’ll gain loyalty and genuine emotional and rational commitment (the bases of interpersonal trust), and when it comes to technical problem solving, you’ll have many more resources than your own expertise can muster.
  • Accept change and plan for uncertainty. Change is the only constant these days.  Leaders who understand and embrace changes (even when painful) will go far in any organization.  Those who resist change (or fail to champion changes to others) will not lead for long.  Continuous improvement and willingness to adapt to ever-changing environments and situations is critical for today’s leaders.
Doesn’t that sound like the person you want to work for? Yeah, me too. They’re getting very rare but there are still some of us who try.
This is also why our military is so good. This is how General Washington led, So did John Paul Jones, and Stephan Decatur, Winfield Scott, William Sherman, Ulysses Grant, Robert E. Lee, Thomas Jackson, John J. Pershing, Raymond Spruance, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Billy Mitchell, Douglas MacArthur, Anthony McAuliffe and all the rest. Note how their leadership fared in the most intense of leadership challenges, battle itself.
Where are you going to find a better model? Not a community organizer on the south side of Chicago. It is time, in fact it is past time, for the real leaders in and of America to step up to the plate. I would say there are two out and the bases empty in the bottom of the eighth inning and we’re down by a couple of runs. We had best get to work. The other thing is that when times are tough is when we need that steadfast leadership, when things are easy, so is leadership.

An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.
Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric

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