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Twilight of the Generals: The Deeper Implications of the Petraeus Scandal

“War with impersonal leadership la a brutal soul-destroying; business, provocative only of class animosity and bad workmanship. Our senior officers must get back to sharing danger and sacrifice with their men, however exalted their rank, just as sailors have to do. That used to be the British way, but, unfortunately, there was a grievous lapse from it in the last war.” Colonel C.S.O. Head, A Glance at Gallipoli 

It has been a strange week for the military. I will be writing some more on this over the next few days but in the wake of the scandals wracking the military.

Some of these things have been brewing for some time.  But the revelations of an extramarital affair of retired Army General and now former CIA Director David Petreus, the revelation that Petraeus’ successor in Afghanistan Marine General John Allen sending allegedly flirtatious e-mails with the woman whose complaints of e-mail harassment triggered the investigation that exposed the Petraeus and his mistress-biographer Paula Broadwell.

General William “Kip” Ward, the former commander of US AFRICOM was demoted following an investigation that tied him to “unauthorized expenses” and “lavish travel” to the tune of 129,000 on an 11 day “business trip” that only three days were actual business.

Meanwhile in Fort Bragg North Carolina Army Brigadier General Jeffery Sinclair is going through the military version of a grand-jury investigation for sexual harassment and other such crimes against a number of his female staff officers. One alleges that Sinclair forced her to have oral sex and that he threatened to kill her or her family if she told anyone.

As a career officer myself, having spent the last 31 years in the Army, the Reserve Components of the Army and the Active Duty Navy I am disappointed but not surprised. I spent almost over half my career as a company grade officer or enlisted man and a fan of the late Colonel David Hackworth, who called he senior leaders of the military “perfumed princes.”

I think part of the problem is that many of us in the military have become more supporters of the preservation of the institution of the military than we are of the Constitution or the country. This is not surprising and in a sense I can understand this and probably at more than one point in my career been guilty of this. We are afraid of cuts to the military institution because it impacts us.

The roots of the problem go back to Vietnam but can probably be traced further back. The revolt of liberals and young people against the war, the military and the draft forced an end to the draft and the beginning of the All Volunteer force. This was a two edged sword. On the positive side it allowed the military to reform, reorganize and become the premier fighting force in the world. On the minus side of the equation was the fact that the military became a society within the society. We became insular and in many cases, including mine distrusted liberals and Democrats on any national security issue. Those old enough can trace that back to how either we, or our fathers were treated by liberals, Democrats and the media during the Vietnam war and its aftermath. Others, younger than me simply have bought the lie that liberals and Democrats are inherently anti-military. This has been particularly the case since the end of the Reagan administration and the George H.W. Bush led Gulf War victory over Iraq which cemented a narrative that the military was invincible.

Over the course of the next 20 years, the 8 years of Bill Clinton, the 8 years of George W. Bush and the first 4 years of Barak Obama the esteem for the military by the general population has continued to go up, even as that population is increasingly divorced from the need to serve in the military. The military at any given times in the past 20 years numbered less than 1% of the American population. This statistic is unlikely to go up in the near future with the reduction of the military to its pre-Iraq war strength and the increase in the population.

While the military has been engaged in a protracted war since the attacks of 9-11 and heavily involved in other wars or “operations other than war” since the Gulf War it has continued to shrink in relative terms to the US population. At the same time the military has become a lot more top-heavy in  numbers of General and Flag Officers since before the Second World War. The percentage of Generals and Flag officers added to the military since the beginning of the War on Terror has only increased, especially at the 3 and 4 star level.

There were in 2011 a total of 964 Generals and Admirals in the US military down slightly from 1017 at the end of the Cold War when there were more than 600,000 more personnel in the military. In the Second World War there were about 1.7 Generals or admirals per 10,000 personnel, the line today is about 6.8 per 10,000. See ( http://www.pogo.org/pogo-files/testimony/national-security/ns-wds-20110914.html )

Regardless of the administration in power the senior ranks of the military have increased not only in numbers but in influence in the government. Highly respected by the public and with probably more power than at any time in our history the senior leadership of the Armed Forces has become insular and isolated. The senior ranks of the military have become a culture within a culture within the culture. The ongoing revelations of the Petraeus affair and possible involvement of General Allen regarding two women, most notably Jill Kelley a socialite who has cultivated close relationships with military leaders assigned to CENTCOM in Tampa as well as the culture of the Washington Beltway shows the depth of that disconnect.

At any given time there are well under 10% of flag and general officers commanding troops in combat. The rest are assigned to stateside units and staffs of various combatant commands, staffs and the Pentagon. In my service the Navy in World War II there were about 130 ships for every Admiral, today there are almost as many admirals as ships. While the ranks of the military have shrunk the numbers of Generals and Admirals has risen and the culture surrounding them has become more opaque. Generals and Admirals have become celebrities and power players in society in their own right. In fact I would guess that only the Great German Imperial General Staff of the Kaiser Reich had such influence in society at large or political power.

That respect which these men and women have earned in the nation which is often earned due to the incredible sacrifice of ordinary Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen. Likewise many General and Flag officer have done time in combat zones as lower ranking commanders and staff officers and have spent many years deployed and away from their families in direct combat or in supporting roles.

In spite of this there is obviously something amiss in the senior ranks of the military. The record numbers of the relief for cause of many senior officers and commanders due to various infractions, many of a personal, ethical or sexual nature is cause for concern. The concern that I hear from young men and women serving in the military and read about almost every day is that there is a separate set of standards for senior ranks than junior ranks. I have been fortunate that commands that I have been a part over the past 15 years have sensitive to this and have worked hard to ensure that standards are enforced regardless of rank but that is not always the case. High profile stories of scandal, privilege on the part of some have tarnished the hard work of many stellar officers and NCOs and the great sacrifice of those killed, maimed or wounded in mind, body and spirit in our current war.

The indiscreet and sometimes criminal actions of General Petraeus, General Ward, General Sinclair and fairly substantial number of other commanders who have been relieved for cause is is something to be concerned about.

Major General J.F.C. Fuller who served in the Royal Tank Corps in the First World War wrote a small but timeless book called “Generalship: Its Diseases and Their Cure: A Study of the Personal Factors of Command” in 1932. Fuller was quite critical of a culture in the higher ranks which had led to unnecessary slaughter and suffering during the First World War. It is a book that is well worth the read in such a time as ours. As the scandal continued to develop this week I remembered it and decided to re-read it.

The problems that we face are not unique to us. Scandals that are rocking the US Military are not new, they have been faced by other militaries before. The issue today is that the modern media and communications age has made it nearly impossible for those involved in salacious behavior to have it covered up. The Petraeus scandal has unfolded in large part due to the electronic media which almost all of us are dependent on, even for routine communications that never would have seen the light of day had they not been recorded in the cyber records of Google, Facebook, Twitter, text messages, e-mail providers or other electronic communication systems. There might have been insinuations, innuendo and accusations but many would have never seen the light of day.

The indiscretions of these men actually opened a door for honest questions and examination of the health of the American civil-military institutions. The military institution and those that swear to support and defend the Constitution of the United States cannot become just another special interest group. Yes it is important to maintain national security and to take care of the troops when they return to civilian society. We cannot allow ourselves to become a state within a state or culture within a culture. The exaggerated numbers of General and Flag Officers compared to the overall numbers of personnel in the military can only be justified by the necessary bureaucratic and institutional power provided by the rank, not by mission or responsibility.

The power of the institution is dangerous when its leaders subtly shift the mission from the defense of the Constitution and the people to the defense and maintenance of the institution itself and their own power.

This is not simply about sex, improper relationships, assault or financial indiscretions of leaders, it points to broader and perhaps more dangerous threats to our system of government, but the unbridled temptation of power and influence that believes that comes with the unquestioned adulation of politicians, pundits and preachers, the Unholy Trinity. So even as the scandals rock the military it is not a bad thing. If we do not address them they will become millstones about our necks that will drag us under and expose the people and Constitution that we are sworn to defend to untold disaster.

Dwight D. Eisenhower reminded us so well about this danger in his farewell address in 1961:

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, leadership, Military, national security

Adjusting Strategy to Reality

Taliban Fighters

“The core goal of the U.S. strategy in the Afghanistan and Pakistan theater remains to disrupt, dismantle, and eventually defeat al-Qa’ida in the region and to prevent its return to either country…” US Strategy in Afghanistan for 2011

“The aim of war should be the defeat of the enemy.  But what constitutes defeat?  The conquest of his whole territory is not always necessary, and total occupation of his territory may not be enough.” Carl Von Clausewitz

Strategic goals cannot remain fixed on geographic objectives which have lost their strategic importance because it is no longer the enemy’s center of gravity. On September 11th 2011 the Taliban ruled Afghanistan which harbored Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda terrorist organization became the central front in the new “War on Terrorism.”  For about a year Afghanistan remained the central focus of United States efforts against Al Qaeda until President Bush and his administration changed the primary effort to the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime.

The effect of switching the American strategic focus from Afghanistan where we were making headway despite the limited resources provided to Iraq was a mistake of epic proportions that only became evident when Iraq did not go the way that the Bush administration led by Vice President Dick Cheney. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Bremer the head of the Coalition Provision Authority planned.  Instead of a quick withdraw a series of mistakes and miscalculations turned the majority of the Iraqi people who had welcomed US Forces with open arms against us and an insurgency which claimed over 4000 American military personnel deaths and over 30,000 wounded became our primary focus.  We are still trying to figure out how to end our involvement in that country hoping that Iraq will not sink into another civil war.

Contrary to expectations Iraq became a front which consumed U.S. Forces and limited strategic flexibility in other regions of the world including Afghanistan.  In that country the indigenous Taliban which had been driven from power in 2001 began a gradual and deliberate return to political and military viability which was finally noticed by the United States in 2008 and 2009.  The Taliban were supported by the Pakistani Taliban, elements of the Bin Laden organization and in many cases duplicitous elements within the Pakistani military and intelligence services which were using the situation to support their own strategic goals of gaining influence in Afghanistan while strengthening their position against their perceived mortal enemy India.  Throughout the war the Pakistanis acted in their own interest while placating American demands to do more against the Taliban and Al Qaeda operating in Pakistan proper.

The Obama administration attempted to regain the initiative with a “surge” of 30,000 additional troops which raised the overall commitment of the United States to a force of over 100,000 troops assisted by NATO Allies and the corrupt, ill-trained and often Taliban Afghan Army and Police.  The surge was controversial and marked with controversy was the US Commander General Stanley McCrystal was relieved of command after an article in the Rolling Stone magazine which made it appear that he held the Obama administration in contempt. Since McCrystal recently returned to the Administration in a civilian capacity one wonders if the administration discovered that the article was meant to discredit McCrystal. McCrystal was relieved by his superior CENTCOM Commander General David Petreaus who had helped devise the strategy which in conjunction with the Anbar Awakening turned the tide against Al Qaeda and indigenous Iraqi insurgents in 2007-2008.  It achieved some success but even the United States recognizes that whatever success has been wrought is fragile and could easily be erased.

Unfortunately while the United States and its Allies continue to reinforce the campaign in Afghanistan their efforts are often undercut by the corrupt and duplicitous regime of Mohammed Karzai as well as our supposed Pakistani allies.  The Karzai regime hunkered down in Kabul has little influence outside the Presidential Palace except in its dealing in the Opium trade which helps finance the Taliban. The Pakistanis have over the 10 year duration of the war failed to maintain the security on their side of the border and often have clandestinely supported the Taliban and according to some may have given sanctuary to Al Qaeda.  The most recent setback came today when the Pakistani Chief of the General Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Chief of Intelligence Ahmed Shuja Pasha issued a demand for the US to stop Predator Drone strikes in the border regions, cut Special Forces and CIA Staff and give the Pakistani Intelligence Service, the ISI visibility on CIA operations.  This has been long in the works but came to a head with the arrest of a CIA contractor under the suspicion of murdering two Pakistanis.  The incident created quite a rift in US and Pakistani relations in part brought about by internal Pakistani politics.  Of course the ISI has long been a source of aid to the Taliban so the United States has good reason not to trust the ISI with information that could endanger American lives.

Protests in Bahrain: The Arabian Peninsula as the new Center of Gravity

The fact is without full Pakistani cooperation and substantial Afghani political reform to end corruption and provide real security to Afghani people there is no way to set conditions for a US withdraw that would leave Afghanistan a less dangerous place for its own people and for US and Western security interests. After all no one wants another 9-11 attack.  The US plans to begin withdrawing forces this year but the mission has been extended to at least 2014 at a cost of 119.4 billion dollars per year at the estimated 2011 rate and has increased exponentially since the US involvement began in 2001. The cost of the Afghanistan war in human, material and economic terms has imperiled other strategic priorities and limits the flexibility of the United States in other more vital regions.

Afghanistan is now an expensive sideshow in a larger war where the strategic center of gravity has shifted decisively to the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean where Al Qaeda seeks to use democratic revolts against autocratic despots to further its own ends. The key countries are Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt with Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict boiling over.  While all of these crises grow on what seem to be a daily basis the United States and its Allies are mired in Afghanistan reinforcing failure.  Our troops on the ground have not lost a battle but like our brothers in Vietnam could “lose” the war.

This is the point where political and military leaders have to count the cost of the operation and weigh them against our actual strategic interests. The fact is if we withdrew the bulk of our ground combat forces and shifted to a lower footprint special operations and CIA campaign with a goal of ensuring that Al Qaeda cannot operate in Afghanistan with impunity as they did before 9-11 that we would likely be no worse off than we are now and have a greater amount of strategic flexibility to deal with other crises, political, military and humanitarian around the world.

The real crux of the issue is that Afghanistan is much like Stalingrad to the Germans in 1942. It has become a psychological more than a military campaign. We have invested so much in it that we do not believe that we can withdraw even though a scaled back presence would do much to improve our overall strategic situation.  Hitler denuded more important areas to attempt to capture Stalingrad and lost everything. Yes Al Qaeda used Afghanistan as its base to attack us in 2001 but they have moved on and Al Qaeda in Yemen and the Arabian Peninsula is a far greater strategic danger simply because of the oil supplies and strategic waterways in the area.

We simply need to look at all components of national strategy and decide where to concentrate.  Sometimes a strategic withdraw is necessary and actually vital to recover the initiative and set the stage for long term success. In Afghanistan this is not an admission of defeat but rather an acknowledgement that the central focus of the war and our strategic interests are elsewhere.  Our enemies would love to have us continue the campaign in Afghanistan in its current form, they know that our commitment drains our military, imperils our overall strategy and bleeds us dry economically all the while providing propaganda grist for them in their war against us.

However despite the cost the political situation in the United States keeps President Obama invested in Afghanistan. If he withdraws his opponents will say that he lost the war. Unfortunately the war in Afghanistan was ceded to the Taliban in 2003 when we decided that Iraq was more important. Now we reap the terrible consequences of that decision.  Now we have to decide how to make something positive out of this unenviable strategic position. But as Napoleon Bonaparte said “In order to govern, the question is not to follow out a more or less valid theory but to build with whatever materials are at hand. The inevitable must be accepted and turned to advantage.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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The Danger of Right Wing and Left Wing Extremism

“Let everyone regulate his conduct… by the golden rule of doing to others as in similar circumstances we would have them do to us, and the path of duty will be clear before him.”  William Wilberforce

The past two weeks have been a watershed in modern American History.  For the first time in memory we have had a series of ideological, political and religious murders committed by men who believed that their actions were justifiable homicide.  The first was the murder of a physician who had a fair amount of his practice devoted to abortions including late term abortions.  George Teller was killed by Scott Roeder a militant anti-government member of the Freemen and a fringe player in anti-abortion groups who was influenced by the militant anti-abortion group The Army of God which believes in justifiable homicide.  The murder was in Tiller’s church.  The clinic which Tiller operated is being shut down by his family.  Roeder believes it a victory but many in the pro-life movement are concerned that it will lead to crackdown on mainstream pro-lifers, and also that the closing of the Tiller clinic could lead to similar attacks by those emboldened by Roeder’s action.

The second killing was that of Army Pvt. William Long outside of a recruiting station in Little Rock.  The confessed murderer used an assault rifle to kill Pvt. Long and wound another soldier serving as home town recruiters prior to reporting to their unit following their initial entry training.  The suspects, an American convert to Islam named Abdul Hakim Mujahid Muhammad told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he didn’t consider the killing a murder because U.S. military action in the Middle East made the killing justified.  “I don’t think it was murder, because murder is when a person kills another person without justified reason.”  Mujahid Muhammad warned soldiers and their families in the US that they were also targets: “The battlefield is not just in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Muhammad says.  “A battlefield is anywhere we see you at.  And those people in the Army and those families of the people in the Army and the military and personnel all over the country, if you don’t want to die or get shot for this so called war on terrorism, war on Islam, then get out of the Army.  Get out of the Army and don’t walk, run.” This attack followed other attacks on recruiting stations including the bombing of the Armed Forces Recruiting station in Times Square last year.

The most recent attack occurred today as an 88 year old White Supremacist and Holocaust denier James Von Brunn walked into the Holocaust Memorial Museum killing a guard.  Von Brunn’s sites as well as other Neo-Nazi websites such as Stormfront prominently spew Von Brunn’s hatred toward minorities in the United States.   His book, “Kill The Best Gentiles,” embraces Adolf Hitler’s view that Jews concocted World War I as part of a scheme to stab Germany in the back — a myth the Nazis used to justify the Holocaust. He is called an “independent investigator by some and has issued statements on the citizenship controversy pushed by some on the far Right about President Obama’s eligibility to serve as President  and comments about the religion of then CENTCOM commander General Tommy Franks.

All three of these men evidently believe in justifiable homicide and are willing to kill for their ideological or religious beliefs.  What makes this sudden spike in assassination for ideological reasons significant is that the nation is polarized by the extreme Right and extreme Left which both see the world and their causes no matter what they are in black and white terms.  There is no intent by any extreme group to dialogue or find compromise with their opponents, even if such compromise would gain them at least part of what they want.  Instead, the rhetoric of the extremes has continued to increase and find airtime on supposedly “mainstream” media outlets both liberal and conservative.  This provides some manner of legitimacy to the extremist groups even as their more boisterous political and media supporters ratchet up the rhetoric.  This makes for an incredibly volatile situation which is fraught with danger for all as more and more people see violence, including justifiable homicide as a legitimate option to push their agenda.  In our country we cannot forget that John Brown, though right in his desire to end slavery engaged in tactics which helped push the country to civil war, a war that while freeing African-Americans from the yoke of slavery imposed a yoke nearly as heavy on them, know as Jim Crow laws that lasted until the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King and the Voting Rights Act of 1964.  Even still racism is still a reality for many blacks and other minorities.  Brown’s desire to end slavery may have been righteous but he destroyed the political center which could have ended it peacefully in time just as William Wilberforce and his allies in Parliament had done in England.

The perilous situation that exists now is that which erodes the center on which all depend on to hold.  Neither Left Wing or Right Wing extremists give a damn about the majority who are somewhere in between.  As a passionate moderate I see this as a dangerous trend.  In Germany of the late 1920s and early 1930s both the Communists and Nazis polarized the nation.  The more moderate Social Democrats, Catholic Center Party and other smaller middle of the road parties were marginalized as time went on.  Eventually the Nazis won that power struggle with dire consequences which extended far beyond Germany.  As the rhetoric rises and those who justify violence be it against people, institutions or property are emboldened to act it will further fracture the middle.  It is imperative that the Center to hold, as Edmund Burke said: “All it needs for evil to prosper is for people of goodwill to do nothing.”

These actions could well be harbingers of things to come.  What is even more concerning as they take place at a time of worldwide economic crisis when we have hundreds of thousands of troops deployed to war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Additionally, North Korea rattling sabers and several critical nations, some with nuclear weapons on the brink of collapse, failure or civil war.  I pray that men and women of goodwill and courage arise in the center and passionately advocate not for a particular party or cause, but the good of all.  People of faith need to pray not for a particular political resolution favorable to them, but for God’s peace and healing in our country.

Peace, Steve+

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Filed under History, Loose thoughts and musings, Political Commentary