Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Form follows function

Bill Roggio's experience with Military Transition Teams in Habbaniya highlights how crucial mission selection and rules of engagement are in setting directions in Iraq. Regarding the question of setting directions, Roggio's post is full of amazement at how much money is used in efforts that have no obvious operational impact while so little is available for certain crucial operations themselves.

During my first embed in December of 2005, I had an odd experience which did not register immediately. After being picked up at Al Asad Air Base by Lieutenant Rob Dolan, then the Public Affairs Officer for Regimental Combat Team – 2, he took me for a tour of the airbase. After about 15 minutes of driving, we were pulled over by a Military Police patrol for speeding on the empty desert roads of the airbase. While the trigger pullers outside the wire struggled for resources, the Al Asad base commandant had the luxury of devoting Military Policemen to serve as traffic cops in Anbar province.

Large organizations respond to stimuli and the military is probably no exception. Once directed to establish large FOBs, these bases inevitably create a constituency to which the bureaucracy caters; they become goals in themselves. Their improvement and elaboration become, somewhat to the surprise and chagrin of men living in the outposts, the focus of many an officer's life. It is the mission that drives the culture just as surely as form follows function among living organism.  

The same dynamic probably applies in shaping rules of engagement in dealing with the enemy.

"We are fighting a Politically Correct war,"said Major Owens. "Specifically, Abu Ghraib has taken exponential importance " in how we approach fighting the insurgency, and has led to an excess in caution in dealing with arrest and detainee issues. The interrogation process has been neutered due to past errors. "PC has filled us with false fear," said Major West. "We treat detainees better than I treated my college roommates."

This absurdity is probably rooted in the organizational behavior as well. Like a gigantic beast prodded in the budgetary testicles by the red-hot iron of adverse publicity, the Green Machine will shy away from what hurts it organizationally. With "catch and detain fraught with organizational peril, "catch and release" becomes the inevitable alternative.

Bill Roggio's experience is an interesting vantage from which to view the "Surge". Will adding more troop numbers make much difference in Iraq? Maybe. Yes, perhaps not as much as changing the way they are used. The slogan that "it isn't how many troops you have but how they are used" is simply a way of saying that the cart must come before the horse. Strategy and objectives should define activity and not the other way around. Activity without a clear goal is effort waiting to be hijacked. Le Clerc must have known, when he headed for Paris in 1944, that missions, like everything else, create constituencies. Once the the process of liberating Paris was underway it acquired a fatal momentum, whatever its military merits. The Surge will never be a replacement for clear goal-setting. The danger to strategic fuzziness is that fuzziness itself may become the mission.


Blogger Ed onWestSlope said...

"After about 15 minutes of driving, we were pulled over by a Military Police patrol for speeding on the empty desert roads of the airbase."

This took me back to Spring, 1971, driving north, off the Hai Van Pass toward Hue and then to firebases along the DMZ. 35 mph in a war zone and the MPs were out in force.

"The danger to strategic fuzziness is that fuzziness itself may become the mission."
I will post this for my employees. They will understand it immediately as they deal with local Planning Departments and Municipal Engineering Offices.

Now how can we condemn the National and Military Leaders when the exact problems are all around us, and we haven't solved the local problem.

1/24/2007 03:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The untold story of this war has been bureacratic etrenchment and interdapartmental rivalries. DoS has been obstructionist at best and at the worst has done whatever it can do undermine the President's plans, some might even say criminal. The Libby trial is a great example of how helpful Armitage et al were. The US Embassy in the green zone rivals Turtle Bay in waste and grandiose aspirations. Did you know State won't hire any Iraqis to work on their embassy? On the other hand mess halls are closed and new ones are built a quarter of a mile away because some bureaucrat decided that that particular building needed to be turned over immediately to the Iraqis. For over a year the emphasis has been on shutting down and the bean counters in DC can't figure out why reconstruction costs so much. Over 60 pages to get a badge. As Newt Gingrich said on Sunday the US government is broken, and yet we expect the Iraqi government to set up in 3 years.
Last night the Presient suggest a civilian corps of former military to help. Who does he think is there right now running reconstruction?

My family have sacrificed much to make this work, and continue to so. I still believe in the war and that Iraq can be made whole and stable. Our military has done great work, incredible rebuilding has been accomplished and there remains much more to be done, but I wonder if our government will be able to ever pull together as a functional and coherent whole to really make this work.

1/24/2007 03:44:00 PM  
Blogger Mike H. said...

War is like sausage. Never watch it being made.

1/24/2007 08:54:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

The bureaucracy has enormous momentum, but it is amazing how much change a commander can make.

On one base where I served, one new commander came from Air Training Command, and quickly recognized that training in our large organization was for all purposes nonexistent. He began to emphasize training, and probably even did some good.

His replacement was from Air Training Command as well, and he chose to emphasize – speeding. He personally manned a radar gun and instructed all the other senior officers in the organization to pull over speeders when they saw them. Full colonels and general officers were playing traffic cop.

But probably the biggest impact is the definition of the task and the associated chain of command. Simple but pointless tasks – the savings bond drive, the Combined Federal Campaign, organizing a going away dinner or the organization picnic, review of the Security Handbook – have simple and well defined objectives and a chain of command to match. The result is that it is very easy to assign responsibility and allocate blame – so they get a lot of emphasis. The really important tasks are far more complex, and also have far more cooks tossing in ingredients and tasting the broth. Fuzziness is inherent in complexity, and there are always those who seek to take advanatge of this.

The net result is that the meaningless molehills are carefully watched and the mountain often lost sight of completely.

1/25/2007 05:37:00 AM  

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