Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Thoughts on Ukraine, the US officer corps, and Nevada

In May 2008, Russia invades Georgia.  The large, unwieldy Soviet style command and control of the Russian Army proved disastrous.  Russian troops were antiquated and ill-equipped for warfare in the 21st Century.  Mr. Putin spent the next  years changing the Russian army from its Cold War era posture to a lean, modern fighting force that quickly retook the Crimea.  Reports now are coming in that Russian troops in the Ukraine are wearing state-of-the-art body armor.  The armor is believed to have titanium and hard carbide boron ceramic chest and back plates.  If correct, these plates can deflect 5.56mm NATO round and means the Ukraine rifles won't be very effective.  Even the Russian grenade launchers and helmets have take such an order of magnitude leap that a former US general was quoted as saying, "The body armor is better than our body armor. They’re doing a lot of things right. I’m pretty amazed at it.”--Washington Times

As a result, Mr. Obama's foreign policy failures continue to mount.  Mr. Putin has thus far been unpersuaded by threats of isolating Russian on the world market.  Reclaiming Crimea, which was turned over by Khrushchev, is imperative in Mr. Putin's mind to reclaiming Russia's spot as a world power.  Thus far, he has achieved his goal and seems hellbent on keeping it.  In contrast, Mr. Obama's failed foreign policy continues with the assignment of the Ukraine situation falling to elder "statesman" VP Joe Biden.  Kerry out, Biden in and how did the vice president handle this passing of the torch?  By saying upon his arrival in the Ukraine, "Thank you for making me feel relevant again!" (Weekly Standard).  Mr. Biden, this is not about you or your lack of relevance, it's about preventing a potential war.

The state of the US military has to be emboldening Russia.  While Mr. Putin has increased spending over the last 6 years, Mr. Obama first imposed sequestration across the Department of Defense.  While wartime spending needed to be brought under control. the sequestration was a heavy-handed approach that has threatened modernization and has all of the Joint Chiefs scrambling to maintain relevancy.

It is against the backdrop of these events that I read with interest an article by William Lind in the American Conservative, "An Officer Corps That Can't Score".  In it, Lind sees the officer corps has become the land of careerists who seek to reinforce one another's beliefs without challenging the status quo.  He believes, and I agree, the officers are no longer learned professionals who read and study serious military history.  He also feels that there are just too many officers who are in-turn augmented by contractors (who are mostly just retired officers themselves).

The pathologies that flow from this are endless. Command tours are too short to accomplish anything, usually about 18 months, because behind each commander is a long line of fellow officers eagerly awaiting their lick at the ice-cream cone. Decisions are pulled up the chain because the chain is laden with surplus officers looking for something to do. Decisions are committee-consensus, lowest common denominator, which Boyd warned is usually the worst of all possible alternatives. Nothing can be changed or reformed because of the vast number of players defending their “rice bowls.” The only measurable product is entropy. 

 The second and third structural failings are related because both work to undermine moral courage and character, which the Prussian army defined as “eagerness to make decisions and take responsibility.” They are the “up or out” promotion system and “all or nothing” vesting for retirement at 20 years. “Up or out” means an officer must constantly curry favor for promotion because if he is not steadily promoted he must leave the service. “All or nothing” says that if “up or out” pushes him out before he has served 20 years, he leaves with no pension. (Most American officers are married with children.)--The American Conservative

The USAF is accused of being more of a corporation than a military organization at times so I tend to agree more with Lind than if I had been say in the Marine Corps.  Nonetheless, his observations are timely for a military that was for so long trained to fight the Soviet Union, only now to become engaged in a conflict with Russia that it is no longer able to contain.

When one lacks a curious mind, you become locked into reactive state without regard to causes or consequences.  In war, this means you lose.  In the civilian world, it's how over a month after the disappearance of Flight 370 no wreckage has been found.  It had to have crashed, no pilot would have dropped below radar coverage and landed somewhere?  It couldn't have crashed, otherwise our satellites and other systems would have detected the wreckage?  The truth is probably going to be a combination of the pilot intentionally avoiding detection and landing/crashing on an island somewhere.

Of course another, more sinister option brings us back to Russia.  What if there was a way to take over the controls of an aircraft and divert it somewhere or outright destroy it without leaving a trace?  It might just be enough incentive to convince and already iffy US President to stay home and mind his own business.

Speaking of which, apparently US federal agents aren't required to read history books either.  Attempting to takeover a Nevada ranch eerily resembled the Branch Davidian compound from 1995 yet they expected US citizens not to react?  Wisely they were pulled back (is Mr. Obama also failing on his domestic policies?).  I don't think the situation is over in Nevada but I also don't thinks this administration can handle both a domestic and international crisis at the same time.