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!