'87 Sir

Thirty years of service ----USNA Class of 1987 '87 Sir

Friday, February 15, 2013

Leadership and Counterinsurgency-the Marine view

This was the first book I finished of my new trio of goodness for the Society of Military History.

This volume, published by the Marine Corps University Press, which serves as part of their own intermediate war college system, provides the proceedings of a 2009 conference on leadership in COIN operations.  (Hey, Marines have their own university...who knew?)

The essays cover everything from battalion command to national level strategy and are presented by a number of top-notch historians and military commanders, including Eliot Cohen and H.R. McMaster.

From a historian's point of view, this volume is noteworthy as sort of a cross-pollination look at the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and the U.S. military's efforts to apply the "lessons learned" from the Surge in Iraq to the Surge in Afghanistan.

Number ONE of course is to have a President who's serious about winning....which, of course, Bush was and Obama was not.  Little did these people know in 2009 that Obama was fundamentally not serious about doing anything thing but a show and tell that he wasn't a weak and ineffective foreign policy President...."LOOK, LOOK I'm surging to the GOOD war that I hammered George Bush about while I was a wienie Senator!!"...of course all of it on a strict timetable so he could retreat from Afghanistan like he FLED Iraq, consequences be damned...but HEY, we gotta pay for Obamacare...and free pre-school...and free contraception....and free puppies....and free unicorns....and now we will have another mess for another Administration to clean up after January 20, 2017...if we make it that long...Allah have mercy on him...the great Barrack HUSSEIN Obama.

OKAY, OKAY, enough snark....now back to the book...other than the irony that both Paula Broadwell and Dave Petraeus make large inputs to the book...which are pretty good, scandal aside...okay, yes I did snicker a little bit...all of the essays in this book are really first rate.  Things that stood out:
  • No matter how many "lessons learned" the military tried to transfer to Afghanistan from Iraq, the conflicts were fundamentally different.  Iraq was an urbanized, fairly modern cultural that Saddam just put into a time warp for 20 years after the 1st Gulf War.  Afghanistan, however, has never made it out of the 7th century...literally or figuratively.  The Iraq insurgency, while mostly home-grown and Sunni, with a side of Shia...was about political and economic power that could...given the right conditions...be morphed into a political situation that could be resolved...of course US troops would have helped that after 2011..but we already covered that.  The LARGE presence of external Al Qaeda fighters that were not native, were wildly more extreme than even the Sunni insurgents, and were treating their allies like dirt in many cases, gave rise to the Anbar Awakening and the US victory (yes I used that word) that came about in the 2007-2008 campaign...before Obama.  Afghanistan is a tribal country made up of rugged, unimproved terrain with NO national identity, for all intents and purposes.  The Taliban are for the most part Pashtun...live among the Pashtun and will always be welcomed by the Pashtun.  Maybe a little oversimplified, but not much....WE are the outsiders, will always be the outsiders and the Afghans will always HATE the outsiders more than the tribe in the next valley.  Moreover, if Iraq was rundown like Detroit..it has oil, water, and a fairly educated population that can eventually become economically self-sustaining...Afghanistan is rundown like Mogadishu...very little industry...not a lot of easily exploitable natural resources and inhabited by what are basically illiterate hillbillies.  AND of course, the great unspoken...even at this conference...was the role that Pakistan plays in Afghanistan as the great sanctuary and enabler of the Taliban.  The lack of external bases and, for the most part, sponsors in Iraq greatly helped US efforts to end the insurgency. 
  • HOWEVER, given all that...leadership does count in COIN operations.  Mark Moyer, who helped facilitate the conference, wrote an outstanding book on the topic and many of his ideas and concepts were discussed at the conference.  Fundamentally COIN is fought at the battalion and brigade level...sometimes down to the company and platoon level, so small unit leadership is a must.  More importantly, as many of the presenters highlight, each commander..from 2nd LT to COL or higher, must understand how their units' actions or inaction can have a huge impact on the overall fight. The issue of training and mentoring the Iraqi and Afghan army was also the subject of much discussion, with general agreement that the sooner the natives start providing their own security the better, but TOO soon and the government forces will crumble...or worse, defect...and nothing will ever get done.
This was a fine volume to introduce this trio of books...not spectacular.. but a solid piece of work on the challenges facing military leaders on ground as they try to implement "population-centric" counterinsurgency in a very rough part of the world.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

WOOHOO, Repeat performance.

There is nothing more gratifying than affirmation and acceptance by your peers.  SO, imagine the happiness of your Grouchy Historian (not a contradiction--really---okay at least not a contradiction like pro-gun Democrat or moderate Islam) when I received the following email from the editor of the Journal of the Society of Military History, which recently featured...yours truly.  Here's the happy quote:

You made such a big impression with your omnibus take on the war in Iraq that there have been demands for a repeat performance, this time on the war in Afghanistan. I’ve got three books here you might want to consider reviewing: 
This complement makes my little heart go pitter-patter as only pepper bacon can...not only does my writing not suck, which is always good, but apparently I am smarter than Chuck Hagel, which, while not a huge achievement, is at least something to celebrate.

AND OF COURSE, that means more FREE BOOKS...which is what makes the Grouchy Historian happy!!

So here are the three books I am reviewing and they all look outstanding...an added bonus, considering I had very mixed opinions on the last batch of books...which I think came through in a sublime way in my essay...yes sublime...I can be very politely snarky....like the Dowager Grantham....or quietly lethal like a Navy SEAL with a dagger...either way.

Counterinsurgency Leadership (Marine Corps University Press, 2012), edited by Nicholas J. Schlosser & James M. Caiella;  

This book provides the conference proceedings from a 2009 USMC conference on COIN leadership from the national to the battalion level.  COIN leadership is a very hot topic and I am looking forward to the wide range of viewpoints on the topic.

Fighting for Afghanistan: A Rogue Historian at War (Naval Institute Press, 2011), by Sean Maloney;

This will probably be the most interesting, written by a Canadian military historian (so those Taliban, what hosers, eh?) and is the final volume in a trilogy written on the Afghan conflict, primarily from our NATO comrades point of view.  I have the first volume written by him...so at some point, I guess I will have to get the second.

From Kabul to Baghdad and Back: The U.S. at War in Afghanistan and Iraq (Naval Institute Press, 2012), by John Ballard, David W. Lamm, and John Wood.

This looks to be the most interesting book...a combination of history and strategic analysis of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan from a "two-front" war perspective--reminiscent of the never ending debate of the utility of the Italian Campaign versus the campaign in France and Northwest Europe in World War II.  Mr. Ballard also wrote one of the books I reviewed in my other essay, so this should be a great opportunity to critique his efforts again.  This is a particular topic of interest to me--the entire "did we rob Afghanistan to fight in Iraq?" debate and I look forward to seeing what this group of authors has to say.

So, there it is...my homework for the next 6 weeks as I try and assemble another worthwhile essay by the first week of April.

Darn...so many books, so little time....

Monday, February 4, 2013

Economic History--Paul Krugman should read this....

So, I picked up this little book to educate myself on American economic history since that is a serious knowledge deficiency and I hate deficiencies.  It is a small and easy to read volume, but really does an outstanding job of stitching together the economic history of America and showing the very real relationship between business, politics, the law, and society to show how a mere 13 colonies started along a narrow strip on land could become the most dominant economic power in history.

The story of how the colonists were able to financially organize themselves after the Revolution and the Ratification process of the Constitution (you know that archaic document that liberal progressives HATTTTEEE) to pay of the tremendous debts of the colonies was a tremendous tale of economic and political genius....it would seem Alexander Hamilton could teach modern bankers and economists a thing or two.

What I particularly enjoyed about this book was Gordon's ability to show the interconnectedness of new American inventions and industries.  For example, the development of reliable gas lamps  in the mid-1800s to provide safe and reliable light to American homes for their evening activities not only allowed Americans to extend their day, it gave rise to the explosion of newspapers and magazines that developed the American publishing industry.  Another seemingly obvious relationship was the rise of the steel industry and railroads to the rapid connection of American towns and cities and the explosion of commerce in the late 1800s as farmers and other business could get their goods to market faster and cheaper.

The most interesting chapters were those dealing with the era of the "Robber Baron"--Carnegie, Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan and the other titans of that era.  I was particularly fascinated by the tale of how J.P. Morgan PERSONALLY kept the US Government solvent back in the late 1800s when one of the frequent depressions nearly bankrupted the US Government....pretty amazing stuff...kinda like Warren Buffet bailing out the Federal Reserve...and how J.P Morgan was able to keep the cats herded on Wall Street and throughout the major US banks to make his plan work...can you imagine that happening today...WOW would those Occupy Wall Streets foam at the mouth.....

I think Gordon is a LITTLE too in love with the idea of a National Bank to regulate the nation's financial system and but I agree with him that the Federal Reserve works best when it is trying to keep a stable money supply and should be VERRRY cautious about trying to tweak the economy or promote social engineering....something our current Bernanke fellow should heed....trying to micromanage the economy be inflating the money supply is not a good plan....as anyone with half a brain who goes to the grocery store can tell....but apparently not HIGHLY educated government economists who tell us HEY, there is no inflation problem...who you gonna believe me or your wallet...silly little peasants.

But that is a minor nit...overall I thought this book is an excellent introduction to the layman economist to understand how our country was able to innovate, build, dream and prosper over 200 years. 

Whether we will make it another 4 remains to be seen......