Why Our Enemies Are Doing Well

The answer is straightforward:

* Social insularity: Our leaders know fellow insiders around the world; our enemies know everyone else.

* The mandarin’s distaste for physicality: We are led through blood-smeared times by those who’ve never suffered a bloody nose.

* And last but not least, bad educations in our very best schools: Our leadership has been educated in chaste political theory, while our enemies know, firsthand, the stuff of life.


[W]hen new blood does enter — through those same “elite” institutions — it’s channeled into the same old calcium-clogged arteries. And we get generals with Ivy League Ph.D.s writing military doctrine that adheres cringingly to politically correct truisms and leaves out the very factors, such as the power of religion or ethnic hatred, that prove decisive. Or a usually astute commentator on Eastern European affairs who dismisses Vladimir Putin as a mere chinovnik, a petty bureaucrat, since Putin was only a lieutenant colonel in the KGB when the Soviet Union collapsed and didn’t go to a Swiss prep school like John Kerry.

That analyst overlooked the fact that Hitler had been a mere lance corporal. Stalin was a failed seminarian. Lenin was a destitute syphilitic. Ho Chi Minh washed dishes in the basement of a Paris Hotel. And when the French Revolution erupted, Napoleon was a junior artillery officer.
Certainly it's the weak and the poor who have the most interest in overturning any given system. But Peters, though not wrong, has only half the answer. The problem isn't just that the elite is both insular and so detached from the real world as to be largely immune to the pain their bad decisions cause. That's true, but it's not the whole truth.

The other half of the problem is the old problem of scale. We talk about this here often under the heading of Schumpeter's economic principle; it's more familiar to military science as the OODA loop. Our institutions are so large and so intricate in their approval chains that there's a huge advantage in terms of how fast a decision can be made and acted upon for streamlined organizations. Putin just issues orders, after all. ISIS isn't very big. USEUCOM or USCENTCOM has to socialize a plan among all their staff sections, who reach down to subordinate commands for input and then hash out a plan among themselves before they present it to their general. Most likely, he will need to push that plan up to the Pentagon if it represents a radical change to existing strategy. They have their own process before an answer comes back down, and the easiest answer is to push the suspense for the decision to the right while we ask a few more people. If the change requires a change from an interagency partner, their bureaucracies have to get involved too.

Even if the President were replaced with someone with new-blood ideas and the will to enact them, the bureaucracy would still have to go through at least a basic staffing process to ensure that it carried out the decisions in an orderly fashion. Because the bureaucrats are part of the existing order, there will be many who drag their feet or otherwise resist firm leadership (remember the CIA's campaign of leaks to the press about Bush's programs?).

In the absence of firm leadership from a President with such ideas, the system is almost too ossified to move at all. This is a real issue even for those leaders who are correctly motivated and trying to do the right thing.

What has to be done to address these challenges is to create a new way of responding to them -- one that isn't part of the bureaucracy, and that doesn't answer to it. A lot of the success of the special operations community comes from the fact that it operates on a much shorter chain. Were Congress to issue a letter of marque to a private organization tasked with fighting ISIS, that organization could act with Congressional authorization without any need to be directed by the State Department or the other executive bureaucracies at all.

It's absolutely true that we need new blood from outside of this elite, people who are more familiar with and in more direct contact with real life. We also need for them to be able to move fast and hard. They need to be able to make a call and make it happen with the same speed that our enemies can leverage. Otherwise, even our great strength and wealth will but little avail us.


Dad29 said...

IIRC, the difficulty of 'scale' was addressed in Gulliver's Travels.

The other word for it might be 'sclerotic.'

Eric Blair said...

If so, then what is your solution?

raven said...

Once the struggle becomes existential (ie, top people losing their lives) things will change fast- the question is will we have enough time, even with the sped up process. The technology lever affects both scale and time. We had enough time in WW2, thanks to a handful of competent officers who somehow hung on during the thirties and drove for more efficient methods of training,and we had the huge advantage of distance from attack.
My nightmare is our indecisiveness will be used against us, by upping an attack in increments, each one being just below the threshold that would demand specific action, enabling a waffling response, burning options till at last the final blow is dealt with no recourse.

Texan99 said...

Who says there is a solution? Sometimes the only solution to a bad system is for the system to fail and be replaced. It's not much fun for people depending on the system, though.

E Hines said...

My nightmare is our indecisiveness....

Mine is not that. It's the nature of modern economies and modern wars. We'll fight our next set piece war with the equipment we have on hand, and with the pace of a modern war, no hope of combat replacements. Once we're out of weapons, we'll be done. Unless the other side runs out first. An advantage of not being dependent on cutting edge military weaponry.

Eric Hines

raven said...

"Once we're out of weapons, we'll be done."

Mine is the leading edge nightmare, yours is the trailing edge..

MikeD said...

The way history trends and our military's luck seems to run, the next major conflict will catch us undermanned, underequipped, and trained to fight the last war (i.e. counter-terrorism/counter-insurgency) rather than this one. Which leads me to believe it will be a major land war in Europe, probably against the Russians, and we will get our butts kicked and trade land for time (probably losing Europe up to the Rhine) until we can get back on a conventional war footing, likely with 1980's era equipment. With luck, it won't go nuclear.

Just my prediction.

E Hines said...

probably against the Russians, and we will get our butts kicked and trade land for time (probably losing Europe up to the Rhine) until we can get back on a conventional war footing

The war game scenario when I was stationed in Germany. Most of our games, because of our REFORGER proficiency, had us backed up to Benelux in brigade strength. But with quality reinforcements landing, the Russians in front of us at company strength and third-tier troops and WWII equipment enroute. Despite those frightful casualties, we didn't expect to take long getting across the Vistula and on the dead run. The games got uncertain on the question of the nuclear threshold.

Today, though, I see that land war being in Asia, not Europe, and fronted by a naval war--which wars haven't been the disasters some gentlemen have warned us against. My problem is that we're not among those currently capable of fighting a land war anywhere against any serious nation-state. Much less take on terrorist organizations.

Eric Hines

Grim said...

My solution set involves recognizing that this is an issue, and taking steps to leverage the advantages of smaller decision making chains. We don't have to disband the army to do that; we can create units with more freedom of action via shorter chains and fewer needs to consult around (like JSOC).

We can also adopt entrepreneurial methods by allowing small private companies to be endowed with a mission authority via a Congressional letter of marque. They would not need to report to the bureaucracy at all, nor to coordinate with it. They would be constrained by law, but they would have tremendous freedom of action. Say we were to endow a company with the right to go after ISIS, and keep any oil they secured in this action to sell at their own profit (or even at a 50% profit, sending the rest to some authority designed to distribute it to the 'lawful owners'). Estimates about ISIS's oil supply run to millions of dollars a month, easily making it worth investing in a company designed to seize those oil fields and recover the oil.

We'd still have recourse to the bigger units with the longer decision-making chains, but we'd be able to respond to the fast moving threats as well.

MikeD said...

Today, though, I see that land war being in Asia, not Europe, and fronted by a naval war--which wars haven't been the disasters some gentlemen have warned us against. My problem is that we're not among those currently capable of fighting a land war anywhere against any serious nation-state. Much less take on terrorist organizations.

Eric, I agree that right now we are better prepared for a naval war in Asia than we are for a land war in Europe. We still have the largest operational navy in the world, and the one most capable of force projection (thanks to our CVNs). In fact, it is precisely for that reason that I believe our next war will be a land war in Europe. It is the one we are LEAST prepared for (save for some ridiculous scenarios like an invasion of the CONUS), and therefore, based on our history of constantly facing the exact form of challenge we are least prepared for, I conclude it is the most likely.

I will grant it is possible that it occurs in North Korea, but such a conflict would be (by its very nature) very short. The Norks could do a lot of damage in the first week, but any sustained attack into South Korea would prove to be too great a strain on their logistics, not to mention the absolutely shattering effect actually seeing how people in the South live would have on the psyche of the soldiers of North Korea. It might, in fact, prompt a military coup from the lower ranks. It's one thing to be a pampered and favored general, and quite another to be a common soldier. And while they live better than their countrymen (and know that they do), to see that even the poorest in South Korea has a higher standard of living than they do might cause a revolt.

I halfway wonder if that's a reason they've never seriously considered an attempt to attack the South in force.

E Hines said...

Mike, I was unclear: I was referring to a land war in Asia being the more likely. And the PRC is the only enemy there that could force a naval confrontation first. But the limited reach of naval (or air force) force projection forces a land war there if we don't want to have to repeatedly face PRC provocations and territory grabs.

As for northern Korea, given the obsolescence of their equipment and its maintenance state, I question the north's ability to do much of anything for as long as a week. Their invasion of the RoK would be unfortunate for the soldiers and civilians killed in the south, but northern Korea would be hurting themselves more than the RoK. Except in the manner of a tsunami wave, the north wouldn't penetrate as far south as Seoul.

Eric Hines