“This Is How We Wage War. This Is Why We Keep Losing”

John Schindler wrote this excellent article “Bureaucracy Keeps Doing Its Thing” last year, and posted a link to it recently on his Twitter feed. It’s a depressing analysis of the possibly existential damage that the creaking bureaucracy of the Pentagon, aided and abetted by Congress, has done to our ability to win wars.

His perspective is from the intelligence side of things, and he decries the lack of what could be called “institutional knowledge,” and how that prevents us from understanding the people we are fighting; specifically militant Islam.

…the Pentagon and the IC have spent shocking sums of money trying to understand the enemy, what is properly termed Salafi jihadism. They have consulted experts, inside and outside the Beltway, constantly, for years, hiring them for every imaginable sort of briefing, roundtable, seminar, and professorial BS-session.

But they keep reinventing the wheel, cycling people through positions that require real understanding of the religious and social histories of the enemy.

The military’s professional development and assignments process makes developing serious expertise in anything challenging in the extreme, unless an officer is willing to commit career suicide.

One question that he does not ask or answer is whether it is the purview of our military to understand this enemy. Understanding the history, tribalism and ideology that drives much of militant Islam is tremendously useful if our goal is to conduct a surgical war with perfect precision…something that Schindler recognizes we do very well.

The U.S. military is superbly equipped and magnificently trained, at great expense. Its special operators represent a secret killing machine without equal. Our troops are intelligent and well educated. They are, however, not always informed.

But….I believe that a simpler and more aggressive role for our armed forces is more suited to the organizational limitations that he describes. It is long past the time that we should lose men — good men — in pursuit of the perfect war. Our military is designed for and trained to kill people and break things.

But that is another discussion; one that I hope he has. In the meantime, we are in the unenviable position of winning every battle and losing every war.

Eschewing genuine expertise and knowledge is a choice. One the Pentagon keeps making. We will keep losing wars until we make different choices. In the meantime, there are platoons of outside experts willing to share their expertise, at princely sums, to generals and their staffs…over and over again. Bureaucracy will keep doing its thing.

What frustrated me most about this is that the military is wonderful at some institutional expertise. There are plenty of grizzled veterans who pass that knowledge down. Hell, I am confident that there is someone, somewhere in our vast military who knows how to field strip an 1896 Krag or ware ship or fire a 37mm anti-tank gun or, probably, fly a Curtiss Jenny!

5 comments on ““This Is How We Wage War. This Is Why We Keep Losing”
  1. The military’s problems, like the majority of problems with the government, begin at the top. The military seldom acts without direction from SecDef and his boss, the White House.

    So Priority One in straightening out both missions and operations is to get rid of the incompetent, America-hating CinC. An honest, patriotic leader could clean out the military’s top brass (as installed by Choom Boy) and advise the replacements what their role in keeping the nation safe is to be.

    And, just to all bipartisan and stuff, the military does not exist to aid in nation-building. Sorry, Dubya.

    • Oh, and to your last point: I suspect there are still a considerable number of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine personnel who do indeed still know how to operate military hardware, and who have sufficient tactical knowledge to allow for using said hardware properly.

      After the Mocha Messiah is gone, we may be able to encourage and promote them. If we still have a functioning military at all when he’s done.

  2. Time to make out a list. Add on to it all the SESers who did nothing.

    Procurement reform is also needed. Check out design to IOC times of aircraft from 1950 to today.

    The rot goes all the way down to the O-4 level boards in the Navy. Commander Salamander and Ask the Skipper have some on-point posts. We are not picking good leaders and the best JOs are leaving in droves.

    Congress approves all promotion slates for flag officers. They have been complicit in not promoting good people. So get Congress onboard as well.
    This goes back to the days of Democratic control, and especially since Tailhook 91, when the Navy lost a number of combat winning pilots and other aviators.

    FWIW, every skipper I’d go to war with was not promoted to flag officer. Those I knew that did get promoted did not inspire confidence.

    • “…every skipper I’d go to war with was not promoted to flag officer. Those I knew that did get promoted did not inspire confidence.”

      I know the argument in support of promoting drones…..organizational skills and tactical and strategic thinking is better, blah, blah, blah. And of course the implicit and very carefully unspoken assumption of political reliability and correctness.

      it’s wrong for the military, and it’s wrong in pretty much every other organization.

  3. @CBD, October 25, 2015 at 10:09 am

    That’s why in within six months of the outbreak of most wars the considerable majority of flag officers are cashiered. When the fighting starts, politicking with superiors and submitting reports on time no longer cuts it.

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