Tuesday, May 6, 2003

Rumsfeld v. The Army

A number of stories in the last several days -- including those on Secretary White's resignation and General Shinseki's sacking -- have created the perception that the U.S. Army occupies Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's doghouse on the Potomac. The Pentagon has added fuel to this fire by releasing a slew of general officer transfer orders (like this one) for the Army, including this message today announcing that MG Ricardo S. Sanchez would take command of V Corps from LTG William Wallace. Already, the press is painting this as a decision to remove LTG Wallace for comments he made during the war that the Iraqis were fighting differently than the Army's planners had wargamed.

Today, Slate's Fred Kaplan adds his voice to the fray, predicting great conflicts between The Army (capitalized to represent the Army's establishment of generals, retired generals and major contractors) and the SecDef's office.
Now, with his postwar political favor riding high, Rumsfeld is turning the tables, using the triumph of the "light" force in Iraq as a weapon—the rhetorical equivalent of heavy artillery—in his renewed battles against the Army brass. And in that battle, James Roche will be the wedge that breaches through the line.

Rumsfeld signaled his intentions a few weeks ago, when he told the Army secretary, Thomas White, that he wanted to replace him with someone new. Then, after White marked June 9 as his date of departure, Rumsfeld had Wolfowitz call White to tell him to move out by May 9. Already, Rumsfeld had made it clear that he would accept the resignation of Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, with whom he had tangled several times, most recently when Shinseki told a congressional committee that "hundreds of thousands" of U.S. troops would have to stay in Iraq after a war, a view that Wolfowitz was called out to denounce in harsh terms. (The new chief of staff is likely to be Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of Centcom, who directed Gulf War II and remained loyal to Rumsfeld throughout.)

Civilian service secretaries are often figureheads, but they have enormous statutory authority, and Roche is likely to exercise that authority with Rumsfeld's blessing. Eliot Cohen, the author of Supreme Command and an experienced military consultant, notes, for example, that service secretaries have enormous influence over the appointments of new generals. A key ingredient of "military transformation" is the grooming of new military leaders, and Roche will take a hand in that. "If I were a creative Army captain, I'd find Roche's appointment kind of exciting," Cohen said. "If I were a three-star general, I'd be very scared."
My thoughts... First off, I can sympathize with the creative Army captain's position much more than the three-star general. I think the Army has grown to be too lethargic, too top heavy, and much in need of some churning at the top. Pick your metaphor -- sacred cows make the best hamburger, or you have to break a few eggs to make omelettes. Reforming the military requires officers who can shed old paradigms for new ones, and who are not afraid to take risks in the pursuit of excellence. So far, the Army's generals have not shown a great degree of audacity in pursuing transformation -- save a few generals at middle levels who have actually led the transformed units like the 4th Infantry Division. If the Army's leadership is unable or unwilling to transform the Army to meet the SecDef's vision, then he's right to fire them. (See Supreme Command by Eliot Cohen for an excellent study of civilian leadership in wartime)

However, I'm not sure the SecDef's vision is entirely right. Transformation is great -- it's a wonderful thing to be able to see yourself, see the enemy, and see the terrain. Total situational awareness -- and the ability to precisely hit the enemy -- enable the U.S. to dominate any foe on the battlefield. But warfighting isn't the only thing the American military does. America's military is chartered with conducting "full spectrum operations" -- everything on the continuum from peace to war. Whether they are conducting humanitarian work in Honduras, counter-drug training in Colombia, peace-keeping in Kosovo, nation-building in Afghanistan, or armored warfare in Iraq, our soldiers see more than just the kind of battle where it counts to put steel on target. Most of these missions are decidedly un-high tech; they rely on well-trained people more than high-tech gadgets. Secretary Rumsfeld and his team may have a great solution for winning America's wars in record speed. But the Army establishment may know something about transformation too, and their voices shouldn't be discarded so ruthlessly.

The great irony in all this is that Gen. Eric Shinseki has pushed harder than any officer in the Pentagon for transformation -- he's been doing it since 1999, before Rumsfeld came to town. After Kosovo, Gen. Shinseki saw the writing on the wall for the Army and started pushing them down the road of lighter, faster, more deployable forces. He pushed the concept of a rapidly-deployable medium brigade, and fought for the money to build a prototype at Fort Lewis. Yet, Gen. Shinseki also knew that you could not transform the Army without maintaining a "legacy force" at the same time to make current missions happen. He ultimately lost his job for that belief, and open clashes with Sec. Rumsfeld over the best way to transform the military. If Gen. Tommy Franks is to be his replacement, I hope he is able to carry on the torch of transformation as well as Gen. Shinseki -- and stand up to the SecDef when necessary.

Update: Tom Bowman reports in today's Baltimore Sun on many of the same things I discussed yesterday, including the sentiment within the Army that they're already doing a lot to transform themselves. A lot of this could simply be personality -- that Army Secretary Tom White and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld simply didn't/couldn't/wouldn't get along.

Update II: It's official. The Washington Post reports that President Bush has tapped James Roche to be the next Secretary of the Army, and Colin R. McMillan to be the next Secretary of the Navy.

Update III: I may have created the wrong impression with respect to LTG William Wallace's replacement as V Corps commander. First off, he was due to be replaced this summer anyway, having served two years in this position. Second, changes of command usually happen during the summer, so the actual timing is quite normal. Third, if he were being promoted to a new position, like J-5 (Plans and Policy) officer on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he would have to leave command first. I don't think the Pentagon is as upset with LTG Wallace as the press thinks. Indeed, I think they're quite pleased with his performance in the Gulf as V Corps commander. He's also the kind of guy the Army needs to keep around. LTG Wallace commanded the Army's digitized 4th Infantry Division, he commanded V Corps in combat, and he arguably knows as much as anyone about transformation and where the Army needs to go from here.
Riot control -- a mission that can really stink

DefenseTech passes on a real stinker of a story about new non-lethal weaponry for riot control. Simply put, the technology uses chemically-enhanced concoctions that smell so bad they force rioters to disperse. Conceptually, this is similar to the use of CS tear gas, in the sense that it creates physiological discomfort in a certain geographic space in order to disperse a crowd. Of course, stink bombing a crowd can be a bit more messy than tear gas.
Pamela Dalton, an experimental psychologist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, says a military group approached her study odorants likely to offend everyone, everywhere. "We focused on odors that had biological origin, reasoning that they had the best chance of being universally recognized and reviled," she explains. "Vomit odor, the odor of human excrement, urine, human sweat odor, rotting fish, decomposing bodies, burned hair."

The Monell Center examined how the presence of a malodor distracted people from tasks they were performing, and researched the best strategies for developing chemical likenesses of the odor combinations. Although it didn't tackle dispersal techniques, Dalton says, "I can say from personal experience that the diffusivity of some of these odorants is quite high. As little as a few molecules in the AC system was capable of odorizing—and evacuating—the entire building."
One legal note: The U.S. military has tap-danced around this issue for sometime -- whether it can use non-lethal riot-control agents overseas. The Pentagon's legal answer is yes, in the context of peacekeeping, rear-area security, and other non-battle missions. But in the context of combat, such use would fall under the Chemical Weapons Convention and thus be illegal as a matter of international law. I think it's safe to say that we've entered the peace-enforcement/nation-building phase in Iraq, so we could start to use these kinds of agents there. But then the question becomes: do we want to? Given the collective memory of the Iraqi people towards chemical weapons, and their use by the Hussein regime, I'm not sure we really want to use this stuff on the Iraqi people at all. The last thing we want is to create grounds for comparison between our regime and the one we deposed.

Monday, May 5, 2003

Soldiers pump money into Iraqi economy

Since the end of the war, the military has started paying its soldiers and Marines on the ground in Iraq through a system called "casual pay." Without getting into the details, the system basically pays each servicemember a portion of his/her salary for incidentals that they may want on the ground, like sodas and snacks from PX vans that have been shipped into Iraq. (All soldiers have direct-deposit, so their pay automatically gets paid even if they don't see it while they're in combat, allowing families to support themselves while the soldiers are overseas.) Guy Taylor (an embed with the 4th Infantry Division) reports in today's Washington Times that this money is also being spent on the Iraqi economy -- and that it's creating a burgeoning market in Iraq to meet soldier demand.

In many ways, this reminds me of the informal economies of Peru that Hernando De Soto wrote about in The Other Path. This book has been heralded by market-minded economists as proof that market economies will take hold even when the state opposed them, because they remain the best system for the distribution of goods, services and wealth. I'm not so sure that's true, but the Peruvian and Iraqi cases combine to paint an interesting picture of how market economies flourish under adverse conditions. As the reconstruction effort gets off the ground, I think this story will become even more important. Building a capitalistic economy is not easy, as the Russians have found out. The informal market economy in Tikrit is not the kind of system on which a national economy can be based -- it's a rudimentary cash-based or bartering-based system at best. Most importantly, it revolves around transactions at arm's length, thus the problem of trust is significantly less. Issues of contract enforcement can be dealt with in person, without resort to courts. For a national economy to flourish, however, a national system of laws must take root. De Soto makes this point too -- no national economy can work unless businesses feel confident that their contractual obligations will be enforced, and that their property rights will be protected.

Sunday, May 4, 2003

One embed's perspective on the war

Los Angeles Times reporter David Zucchino had an extremely thoughtful Column One piece in Saturday's paper on his experience as an "embed" in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Zucchino reported from several different units during the war, eventually reaching Baghdad with the 3rd Infantry Division. He writes with startling candor about his experiences in Iraq, and his story provides a great collection of lessons for the good and bad parts of embedding.
During seven weeks spent with half a dozen units, I slept in fighting holes and armored vehicles, on a rooftop, a garage floor and in lumbering troop trucks. For days at a time, I didn't sleep. I ate with the troops, choking down processed meals of "meat, chunked and formed" that came out of brown plastic bags. I rode with them in loud, claustrophobic and disorienting Bradley fighting vehicles. I complained with them about the choking dust, the lack of water, our foul-smelling bodies and our scaly, rotting feet.

At 5:30 a.m. on April 7, precisely 72 hours after plummeting into the canal, I was in the belly of a Bradley, its 25-millimeter cannon pumping out rounds, as an armored column of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division rumbled under fire into downtown Baghdad. And 72 hours after that, I was sleeping on the marble floor of Saddam Hussein's Presidential Palace.

I saw what the soldiers saw. And, like most of them, I emerged filthy, exhausted and aware of what Winston Churchill meant when he said that "nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without effect."
* * *
Most important, I wrote stories I could not have produced had I not been embedded -- on the pivotal battle for Baghdad; the performance of U.S. soldiers in combat; the crass opulence of Hussein's palaces; U.S. airstrikes on an office tower in central Baghdad; souvenir-hunting by soldiers and reporters; and the discovery of more than $750 million in cash in a neighborhood that had been the preserve of top Iraqi officials.

Yet that same access could be suffocating and blinding. Often I was too close or confined to comprehend the war's broad sweep. I could not interview survivors of Iraqi civilians killed by U.S. soldiers or speak to Iraqi fighters trying to kill Americans. I was not present when Americans died at the hands of fellow soldiers in what the military calls "frat," for fratricide. I had no idea what ordinary Iraqis were experiencing. I was ignorant of Iraqi government decisions and U.S. command strategy.

Embedded reporters were entirely dependent on the military for food, water, power and transportation. And ultimately, we depended on them for something more fundamental: access. We were placed in a potentially compromised position long before the fighting began, and we knew it.
The Post weighs in... The Sunday Washington Post's Outlook section has some thoughts & reflections from its embedded reporters -- also worth the read.
Did Clinton's military win the second Gulf War?

Slate columnist Fred Kaplan poses this question, and others, in his Friday piece titled "Bush's Army -- or Bill's?". The answer has to be part yes, and part no, according to Kaplan, who writes that President Clinton did preside over some of the innovations which played a big role this time around -- like the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM). But in reality, presidents do little more than preside and give slight direction to the ship that is the military-industrial-congressional complex. The Pentagon's procurement programs move on despite the occupant of the White House, with some major exceptions (such as missile defense).
In other words, the military generally goes about its business, and it is often a mere coincidence which president pays for researching, developing, or deploying a particular weapon. It is doubtful that Clinton knew what a Predator was, nor is it likely that Bush could have passed an exam on the topic before the war in Afghanistan made it famous. Contrary to many Republicans' claims, Bill Clinton did not weaken the U.S. military—far from it. On the other hand, as defense analyst William Arkin put it, "If Jesse Jackson had been president, we would still have JDAM."
Maybe... But if George Bush had won in 1992, or Bob Dole had won in 1996, it's not clear that we'd have the same military today. Fred Kaplan gets the technology piece right -- the Pentagon will buy stuff no matter who's in office. But he fails to draw the connection between foreign policy choices and the military, and the way today's missions shape tomorrow's military.

I believe that missions -- which reflect foreign-policy decisions by the President to deploy the military -- have a profound effect on the military as an institution. This effect is mostly qualitative, though it can also be reduced to metrics like "Number of soldiers who have been shot at in anger" or "number of officers who have deployed for a UN mission." The military expeditions of the 1990s -- driven by policy choices in the Clinton Administration -- had a major effect on the military as an institution. Today's military isn't just a collection of gadgets -- it's an organization of 1.4 million men and women. After Somalia (which was initiated by President Bush I), Rwanda, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, and every other place you don't know about, our military learned how to embrace missions like "peace enforcement" and "nation building." Our military learned how to deploy quickly to hot spots, de-escalate a situation, build order from chaos, work with NGOs, and do the muscle work of diplomacy. In every battalion deployed to Iraq right now, there are dozens -- or hundreds -- of soldiers, sergeants and officers who have been on these deployments. This experience gives them an edge, because they've been on a tough mission with difficult rules of engagement and live ammunition in their load-bearing vests.

Today's military is qualitatively better because of the deployments it did in the 1990s; that makes the Gulf War II military a product of the Clinton Administration's policy choices. To the extent that people -- not hardware -- win wars, this may mean that those policy choices were even more important than the hardware procurement decisions which were made by any one administration. (See Stephen Biddle's brilliant piece Victory Misunderstood for an exegesis of the roles that skill and technology played in the first Gulf War.) Today's military reflects the missions it has run during the lifetime of its soldiers. Many have criticized the "OPTEMPO" of the Clinton Administration, saying that it deployed the military too far, too much, and without enough money. That may be true. But in Afghanistan and Iraq, we have seen the payoff from the heavy lifting our military did during the 1990s.

Friday, May 2, 2003

For the complete UC-Los Alamos story, see DefenseTech

Noah Shachtman has probably done more of the journalistic legwork than anyone recently on the security problems at the University of California-run Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory in New Mexico. He's broken a bunch of stories (e.g. here and here) before any other reporter, and he's even broken into LANL on a story to see just how good the installation's physical security was. Now, it appears his journalism has had a real effect. The Energy Department announced this week that the contract to run Los Alamos -- something the UC system has had for 60 years (since the Manhattan Project) -- is being put up for bids. The University of Texas, Lockheed-Martin, and others are expected to compete with the UC for the contract, and many expect they will beat the venerable California institution. Already, Los Alamos is seeing a brain drain because of UC management issues and uncertainty over the lab's future. Today, he has even more reporting on the lab's shaky future. Kudos to Noah and his DefenseTech weblog -- your work has had a major impact.
Slightly less painful than having a boat propeller slice into my leg

I just finished my first exam of the term -- this one in Constitutional Criminal Procedure. I took the course from UCLA law professor Peter Arenella, who some may recall from the OJ Simpson trial as one of the original insta-pundits (apologies to InstaPundit). Overall, I'd give the exam a B+ -- it was generally fair, and it was quite broad in comparison to some law school "issue spotters" that only test one part of course (which means if you didn't study that part, you're toast). Unfortunately, the exam didn't test some of my favorite topics in depth, like the Fourth Amendment and searches/seizures. And the hypotheticals were somewhat trite. But it's law school -- not The New York Times. (For the record, I have had a boat propeller slice into both legs, and it's less than fun)

Next up: First Amendment law on Monday. I've been told that Eugene Volokh gives excruciatingly difficult exams in which he expects his students to write a Supreme Court opinion -- something Prof. Volokh did as a law clerk for Justice O'Connor. I'm not sure if he's scouting future talent or having a little professorial fun with us. In any case, it should be challenging.