Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Some Comments to 'We Fail Better' Should Not Be the Motto of the U.S. Military

Re October 20, 2015 Foreign Policy podcast 
The E.R.: ‘We Fail Better’ Should Not Be the Motto of the U.S. Military  David Rothkopf, Rosa Brooks, Kori Schake, and Tom Ricks wrestle with America's recent legacy in the Middle East and what's broken with the last superpower's armed forces.   
In the podcast, among other things, Tom Ricks said that he disagreed with exit strategy requirement of the [General Colin] Powell Doctrine.  The Powell Doctrine provides that:
Military force used as last resort
Clear-cut military objective
We can measure that the military objective has been reached (end state)
Military force should be use in overwhelming fashion
The Powell Doctrine was subsequently renounced by the Clinton. For example, Secretary of Defense Les Aspin concluded that such constraint would limit the military usefulness in “achieving policy objectives”. It “could lead to the military becoming like nuclear weapons in the Cold War - important, but not useful”.   Successive administrations concurred.
Isn’t an exit strategy exactly what is necessary to determine whether a military objective has been reached, the end state?    
Von Clausewitz observed that:
Since war is not an act of senseless passion but is controlled by its political object, the value of this object must determine the sacrifices to be made of it in magnitude and also in duration.  Once the expenditure of effort exceeds the value of the political object, the object must be renounced and peace must follow.  Book One, Chapter Two, p. 92.
Sun Tzu illustrates the consequences of failure:
Victory is the main object in war.  If this is long delayed, weapons are blunted and morale depressed.  When troops attack cities, their strength will be exhausted.  The Art of War, Book II, Par. 3.
When the army engages in protracted campaigns the resources of the state will not suffice.  (The Art of War, Book II, Par. 4)
Hence, what is essential in war is victory, not prolonged operations.  And therefore the general who understands war is the Minister of the people’s fate and arbiter of the nation’s destiny.  The Art of War, Book II, Par. 21.
Gulf Conflict.  The Powell Doctrine was given full effect during the 1990-1991 Gulf War; and it was a great success militarily and its clearly stated and limited political objectives:  Iraq must get out of Kuwait—nothing more was required of Saddam Hussein.  Politically, some argue that it was a failure because we did not pursue the Iraqi Army into Iraq proper; thus allowed Saddam Hussein to survive and requiring our greater effort at a later date.   In responding to the issue, I defer to Clausewitz: 
Modifying Condition 3:  In War the Result is Never Final
 Lastly, even the ultimate outcome of a war is not always to be regarded as final.  The defeated state often considers the outcome merely as a transitory evil, for which a remedy may still be found in political conditions at some later date.  It is obvious how this, too, can slacken tension and reduce the vigor of the effort. Book One, Chapter One, § 9, p. 80.
The fact remains that this was a very successful American military operation the likes of which have not been repeated since—as the podcast discussion clearly addressed.
Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.  The Iraq and Afghan wars share that common trait that they’re largely “expeditionary military operations in hostile territories.”  Zbigniew Brzezinski, Strategic Vision:  America and the Crisis of Global Power (New York: Basic Books, 2012), p. 67
Moreover, we could not formulate an end state (much less an exit strategy) because we did not, and still do not, understand the complexity of the environment.  As a result, the Bush as well as the Obama administrations have been unable formulate realistic military and political objectives.
“In both cases, the Bush [and the Obama] administration showed little regard for the complex cultural settings, deeply rooted ethnic rivalries generating conflicts within conflicts, dangerously unsettled regional neighborhoods (especially involving Pakistan and Iran), and the unresolved territorial disputes, al of which severely complicated US actions in Afghanistan and Iraq and ignited wider regional anti-American passions.”  (Id.)
The Powell Doctrine needs to be reexamined in light of our largely unsuccessful expeditionary military operations into areas where our vital interests are clearly not involved. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Two War Stories on Leadership

Leadership… There’s a plethora of books, articles, comments, blogs… you name it there something on it.  I offer no comments on the merits of each, they speak for themselves.  I just share a couple of war stories based on personal experience.

Tale 1

As a young captain in the Air Force, I began to look forward to promotion opportunities. Being appointed the commander of a unit, any unit, is usually a good way to get you on the promotion list.  So I spoke to my Wing Commander about it.  Not being risk averse, I told him ‘give me your toughest job’ and I will do it.  He told me one of the organizational maintenance squadrons was having a tough time and needed new blood.  “I’ll do it” says I.
Organizational maintenance is the heart of Air Force flight operations.  The crew chiefs perform the most important and most thankless jobs in the Air Force.  They take care of the aircraft, get them gassed, clean them, inspect them, you name it and the crew chiefs do it.  This particular squadron was responsible for our bomb wing’s KC-135A and KC-135Rs air refueling tankers.
As I began to work there and got acquainted with these airmen [male and female] and the jobs they had to do, I truly appreciated them infinitely more than I did when I just flew in the aircraft.  These airmen work incredibly long days, don’t get paid a lot, yet take such pride in what they do that it was truly a humbling experience.  I committed to myself to do the very best possible job in order to earn their respect.
About a month into the job, I was tasked for weekend duty.  I was the Officer-In-Charge of the entire squadron responsible for the operational maintenance of over 45 aircraft and about 300 airmen.  I have to admit that I was feeling… good.  I was going to be ‘DA MAN’ that weekend.  That Friday, I briefed the senior non-commissioned officers (NCOs) on what were the most important tasks that weekend, etc.  They knew all this better than me did but we had to follow protocol and standard procedures. 
On Saturday morning, at 0700 I was at ‘MY FLIGHTLINE’  I was the ranking officer in charge and  it was all mine – like in Braveheart when Stephen of Ireland says “It’s my island” [re Ireland].  With my boots spit shined to a glassy black mirrors, my uniform pressed with knife-edge creases, I got into my command truck and began to make the rounds – just stopping by and greeting all the crew chiefs as they did their normal tasks.  Leadership [management] by walking around…
Suddenly on the radio:   “ATTENTION, ATTENTION.  THIS IS NOT AN EXERCISE.  Massive fuel spill on parking spot __, aircraft ____. “ This was repeated a couple of more times.
‘This is it’ I thought, my command moment…
 I turned on the flashing lights on the truck and sped to the appropriate spot.  The senior NCO in charge of the flight of aircraft was already there; nothing appeared amiss.  I drove up to him, and very formally asked him to appraise me of the situation, what steps had been taken, etc.  Now this particular NCO was… a bit on the mild-mannered side.  He gave me a detailed explanation of what had happened and his actions. 
Not fully understanding what he was saying, I declared in a baritone and authoritative command voice, that we should tow all of the aircraft away from this aircraft to ensure safety of the flightline, clear the area, etc. etc. 
He then very seriously asked “Sir, so do you want me to tow all of the aircraft to another area, etc, etc?”  And he was ready to do this….


 Have you ever had one of those Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moments where you are jolted into a clarity of thought and vision wherein everything else fades … and only stark reality remains? 
I suddenly felt that a fog had been lifted from my mind:  I didn’t have a clue of what I was talking about yet this NCO was ready to do whatever I told him to do.
“NO!”  I said, “No.  Just continue to follow the appropriate procedures and let me know when its cleared.”   I then promptly left. 
I drove back to my office, sat down, and thanked God for having jolted me into reality. I was really shaken up.  I couldn’t believe what had just happened… I didn’t know any of the procedures regarding massive fuel spills (hell, I didn’t even know what constituted a massive fuel spill), yet this NCO was ready to do whatever I requested. 
As it turns out, ‘massive’ fuel spills are not at all unusual with tanker aircraft and what is called ‘massive’ may, in reality, not be quite massive at all.   There are well-settled standard procedures to deal with these incidents known to all maintenance personnel who work on these aircraft.
Well, I didn’t know that… 
I sat at my desk for the rest of the day … promising myself to study and prepare so that I would never again issue orders without knowing what I was talking about.  Somebody might actually do what I requested.   A very scary thought when you don’t know what you are talking about…

Tale 2

So there I was… After about a year in the Organizational Maintenance Squadron, our wing was tasked with participating in an exercise wherein we were supposed to generate aircraft [prepare aircraft for flying] in a simulated chemical warfare environment.  In English, we are supposed to do our jobs while wearing chemical warfare equipment, and pretending that this was a real world situation. 
I was appointed the on-site commander for the exercise. I was responsible for both the tanker and bomber aircraft that were part of the exercise.  I had to ensure that all of the aircraft assigned to the exercise were operationally ready to perform their mission.  Naturally, all actions were being monitored by our commanders who in turn had to report our status at various times throughout the exercise.  If you fail to meet a particular milestone, it reflects on the unit, as well as yourself… this is not a good thing. 
Wearing chemical warfare gear is not fun… I was driving around in my command truck monitoring the operations. The aircrews that were going to fly the aircraft came out to their aircraft, completed their preflight and engine runs. Everything appeared to be going well and that we would meet our timelines. 
Suddenly, there’s a radio message stating that bomber so and so has a fuel leak and is grounded.  In essence, our wing would be unable to accomplish its mission,  NOT GOOD.
I drove over to the particular aircraft.  As I came up to it, one of our young lieutenants jumped into my truck—it was supposed to be free of chemicals, so I didn’t have to wear the gas mask.  She took off her gas mask, and told me the aircraft had a fuel leak on one of the line and had been grounded.
Again clarity came over me… I told her to think about the situation.  We were supposed to be preparing to fly an operational mission; the usual normal peacetime rules of operations do not apply in such a situation.  I told her that I wanted the aircraft to be buttoned up for a one-time flight so that it could be declared mission ready.  I also told her that if the aircraft could not be flown even one time, to let me know that as well.
Now this particular lieutenant was a really smart person, with a degree in electrical engineering from MIT.  She looked at me with a look of wonder and clarity… ‘wow, I never thought of it in that way’.  Without a word, she left the truck.  Thirty minutes later, the bomber dispatcher called out on the radio that the aircraft had been buttoned up for a one-time flight and was ready to go.  Our wing was 100 percent operationally ready to accomplish the specified mission.  We passed the exercise…
Later our deputy commander for maintenance gave me thumbs up.   I felt good about this one.  Yes, I was no longer scared that someone would follow my orders…


Sunday, September 6, 2015

Saudi Arabian Support for Taliban /al Qaeda & ISIS Terrorism

Saudi Arabian Support for Taliban /al Qaeda & ISIS Terrorism  -- Sources    

1.         Ahmed Rashid, Descent to Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia (New York:  Viking, 2008)
2.         Thomas L. Friedman, ‘Our Radical Islamic BFF, Saudi Arabia’ New York Times, September 2, 2015
3.         Kim Sengupta, ‘Turkey and Saudi Arabia alarm the West by backing Islamist extremists the Americans had bombed in Syria’, The Independent, May 12, 2015
4.         Lori Plotkin Boghardt, ‘Saudi Funding of ISIS’, The Washington Institute, Policy Watch 2275, June 23, 2014
5.         Vicky Nanjappa, ‘Why Does Saudi Arabia Support the ISIS?’, oneindia, June 29, 2015
6.         Josh Rogin, ‘America’s Allies are Funding ISIS’, The Daily Beast, June 14, 2014,
7.         Steve Clemons, 'Thank God for the Saudis': ISIS, Iraq, and the Lessons of Blowback’, The Atlantic, June 23, 2014,
8.         Salim Mansur, ‘ISIS, Saudi Arabia, Iran and the West’, Gatestone Institute, June 14, 2015,
9.         Michael Stephens, ‘Islamic State: Where does jihadist group get its support?, BBC News, September 1, 2014,
10.       Patrick Cockburn, ‘Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country’, The Independent, July 13, 2014. [Cockburn was former MI-6 boss]
11.       Joshua Keating, ‘Why the Iraq Mess Is So Awkward for Saudi Arabia’, Slate, June 13, 2014,

Sunday, August 2, 2015

War as Continuation of Politics: For Whose Benefit?

The Soviets were great writers on military affairs.  The United States Air Force translated a number of Soviet military works under the series Soviet Military Thought. 

One interesting volume is ‘The Philosophical Heritage of V. I. Lenin and Problems of Contemporary War’ (Moscow, 1972). 
The authors expand Clausewitz’s dictum that ‘war is the continuation of politics by other means’:  Precisely because all wars are, and each given war is, a continuation of politics, they are essentially not only identical but are also profoundly disparate from one another, and frequently complete opposites.  This occurs because the political content of war is determined by the social character of the classes waging it, their political goals and a number of other concretely historical conditions. (p. 25).

[COMMENT]  This is important because particularly in the US, the classes who direct the wars do not fight them directly – volunteer soldiers – no direct impact upon classes who direct and benefit from the country being at war.  Could a disconnect emerge between policy makers and those who fight our wars?  As most Americans do not / have not served in the armed forces, is the civil-military disconnect deeper within American society?  Soldiers are “Heroes” – paid in kudos and acclaim to keep military happy.  Now with decreasing benefits, will military remain subservient? 

[COMMENT]  For example, the problem with the Syrian civil war is the socio-economic and political conditions of the initial stages of the war, that is, the opponents of President Assad versus government forces was changed essentially by the advent of ISIS Daesh, transforming it from a just war against an oppressive government to Assad’s just war against a worse and more unjust threat.  The justice of the cause is from the point of view of the eye of the beholder.  The Syrian civil was whose character was that of a just war, became an unjust war because ISIS is worse threat.  The US and its ‘allies’ [joke] have fought or opposed Assad and Iran.  This is a fact.  But where, when, and who denied utilization of Assad and Iran by US in order to demoralize / destroy the common enemy, ISIS (Daesh)?
Militarism.  As a weapon serving the ruling classes to crush all (political and economic) movements.  (p. 65).  [COMMENT]  Why do we fight these wars?  Follow the money, i.e., whose interests are being advanced?  Who benefits from these wars?  Certainly not the US or the US taxpayers?  So far (2015) the ‘war on terror’ has cost 5K deaths / $2T and we’re still there.  How can our political leaders continue to advocate and pursue ill-defined, ambiguous goals and unwinnable wars?  Are we just mercenaries or cannon fodder for sinister interests that are manipulating us?  Our national security and interests are not threatened so why are we involved in conflicts in the Middle East and Central Asia?  What are we doing there? 
Are we really military adventurists the Soviets accused us of being?  These are basic questions but seem apropos to our actions post-Soviet Union—or even before.  We invaded Grenada in 1983, Lebanon 1983, Panama 1988; Gulf War 1990-91; Haiti, 1994; Somalia 1992; Bosnia 1994-95; Afghanistan 2001; Iraq 2003; Lybia 2011; Syria 2014.  What are we doing?  Is our economic system, capitalism, the cause of war?  Is war a method of resolving antagonistic conflicts based on “private ownership relations?”  (E.g., p. 72).  Are wars for the profit of the 1% at the expense of the rest of us?  Is war class based in the United States—for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many?  Are our interventions another form of exploitation? (E.g., p. 72). 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Role and Place of Ideological Struggle in Modern Warfare

1)     The stability of troop morale depends on the conviction of the rank-and-file masses as to the just nature of the war in which they sacrifice their lives.  If they recognize the cause for which they struggle to be just, they fight with enthusiasm.  (The Philosophical Heritage of V. I. Lenin and Problems of Contemporary War’ (Moscow, 1972), p. 207; translated under the auspices of the US Air Force).  Lenin:  “[C]onviction as to the justness of war and recognitions of the need to sacrifice one’s life for the good of one’s brothers elevates the spirit of soldiers and forces them to endure unheard of burdens.” (Phil. Her., p. 207). 

In contrast.  The bourgeoisie attempts to pass off its own mercenary interests as the interest of all the people.  The problem is to reveal to the soldiers and the entire populace of a given country the criminal goals of the bourgeois government and incite the masses to refuse to be accomplices of the crime.  (Phil. Her., p. 207). 
[COMMENT] In the fight against ISIS and derivatives thereof, US armed forces probably suffer from a lack of ideological conviction as to the justness or importance of the fight.  ISIS on the other hand is a poster child for the above statement.  Politically, it recruits from disaffected Muslims and foreign fighters who do not share the West’s value systems or its aspirations.
2)     Lenin—Revolutionary deeds are performed by millions of individuals at a moment of special upsurge and exertion of all human capabilities, when all their consciousness, will, enthusiasm and fantasy are mobilized… their extensive _____ possesses proletarian instinct, proletarian comprehension and awareness of duty.” (Phil. Her., p. 188). [COMMENT:  ISIS – religion]  “The spiritual capability of revolutionary masses to stand and win in a savage clash with the class enemy is based on the profoundly just character of the struggle being wages by the proletariat and its army.  We can wage war because the masses know what they are fighting for …”  Imperialist armies lack this source.  (Phil. Her., p. 188).   
[COMMENT]  The above observation is the bottom line of why ISIS / derivatives are winning —they are in their  own neighborhoods and the US armed forces are far from home and without real focus, e.g., ‘Why we fight’ series in Word War Two.  Slogans like ‘fighting for democracy’ are just as bland and useless as were Soviet calls for proletarian sentiment.  But the theory and observations stated above correctly assess the issue.  In 2015, ISIS bases its appeal on religion and Muslim victimization. 
3)     It’s not so much that ISIS achieves military objectives – it achieves political objectives. Under a chapter titled ‘Tactical Victory, Strategic Defeat’ Col. Harry Summers recalls a conversation in Hanoi 1975, ““You know you never defeated us on the battlefield” said the American Colonel.  The North Vietnamese colonel pondered this remark for a moment. “That may be so,” he replied, “but it is also irrelevant.”  (On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War (Presidio Press, 1982), p. 1.). US does not have a resonant message to which local population can relate or rally to.  Add to this the view of US as supporter and patron of Israel – anything or anyone we support is suspect.

4)     Even a strong will which is not enlightened by elevated communist ideals [or religious, ideological fervor, etc.] may become a counterfeit jewel, for will without principles or ideals is blind.  (Phil. Her., p. 189).  [US armed forces in 2015 with respect to fight against ISIS, Al-Qaeda, etc.?]
Why is the United States involved in conflicts in which it does not understand and / or fully appreciate the internal dynamics and motivators of the different players?  The fact is that not everyone in the world thinks like Americans, nor share the same views as to what is in their best interests nor share the same aspirations in a specific sense.  Even if they do to an extent, the means to achieve these objectives may be completely at odds with the American views. 
            Moral forces in war provide legitimacy to the struggle.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

A Tale of Two Commanders...

Leadership… There’s a plethora of books, articles, comments, blogs… you name it there's something on it.  I offer no comments on the merits of each, they speak for themselves.  I just share a couple of war stories based on personal experience.

Tale 1

There I was … [all war stories begin this way so humor me with your patience]… a captain in the US Air Force and flying in B-52 bombers as an electronic warfare officer [EWO].  My job was to protect the aircraft and crew from both radar and heat-seeking threats.  One eventful time my B-52H crew was selected to participate in a Red Flag exercise.  Red Flag is an advanced aerial warfare exercise held few times a year at Nellis Air Force Base, Las Vegas, Nevada.  The Red Flag is designed to simulate actual combat operations, i.e., fly as we fight.  The Red Flag ranges contain a multitude of threat radar simulators which mimic those of enemy systems.  Further, on this particular exercise, in addition to the usual F-5 / T-38s masquerading as MIGs, the OPFOR [opposing forces] included RAF Phantoms and Tornados.  The Commander of the exercise was a British Group Commander [0-6] from the Royal Air Force.

“Great!” I thought, because (1) we got an opportunity to test our training and mettle in the most realistic battlefield environment short of actual combat; and (2) we got to spend a few days in Las Vegas.  

The staff guys from our wing tactics’ shop had been sent a couple of weeks ahead to coordinate and assist with the planning.  A few days prior to our deployment, we received the mission package and we began detailed mission planning.  I was really excited. “I’m going to fly Red Flag!”  At the time, B-52 crews included a gunner to operate the 20 mm Gatling cannon [H-models; quad .50 caliber machine guns on G-models].  My gunner and I meticulously reviewed all threat radars, enemy aircraft characteristics, and analyzed possible contingencies like, “if I’m wounded, push this button to keep the jammers active, etc.”  and “There’s no way we’re going to allow our aircraft to be shot down.” 

During our pre-mission briefing, we were informed of the rules of engagement [ROEs].  During low level penetration and bomb run, our altitude was held a few hundred feet higher than we expected.  “Whisky Tango Foxtrot?” says I.  “Why are we being held to such non-tactical parameters?”  But orders are orders and we were to fly at such and such an altitude. “Foxtrot Tango” I was one pissed-off [EWO].

Our flight went smoothly enough through initial low-level penetration to terrain avoidance altitude.  As we approached the range, everything appeared peaceful enough. My warning receivers were operating normal giving no indications of OPFOR activity.

We arrived at the initial point and began our bomb run.  The pilot revved up the aircraft to max power and speed; even though we are wearing helmets with ear protection -- IT IS LOUD!

“BLEEP… BLEEP…” I heard on the earphones in my helmet.  My warning receivers detected the sure tale signs of air surveillance radars. Then height-finders… “Holy Sierra” OPFOR s are there!"

Then all hell broke loose.  Every freaking bell, whistle, and flashing lights [and there are lots of them] began to beep, flash and otherwise go bonkers.  We had encountered the forces of two OPFOR armies and all of their target-tracking radars [TTRs] were on … us.  Imagine playing ten different video games all at the same time while playing the stereo at full blast, with the whole room shaking, and a lot more…

Under such circumstances, your mind cannot keep up with the sensory overload; training takes over.  Before I could even digest the totality of the situation, my hands were flying over the jammers & punching out chaff & flares to protect the aircraft against the TTRs and heat-seekers. 

We proceeded with the bomb run [start humming Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries; or Eye of the Tiger by Survivor depending on your musical preferences] 

Then I noticed the radar signal of an AWACS – directing OPFOR fighters against us.  Jam him too… Over the radios you could hear the controllers directing Brit Phantoms against our aircraft.  I called for lower altitude but the pilot told me we were at the lowest altitude allowed by the ROES.  “F__ the ROES” I screamed on the interphone…  but we couldn’t do that.

Suddenly my brain woke from what seemed to be a mental fog … I had a clear vision of what was going on… I had complied with every procedure called for in such a tactical operation and I did not even realize that I had done it – the value of training over and over.   I could not believe I was getting paid to have this much fun!!!  Even Bill Gates cannot buy such a moment…  My gunner high-fived me as we completed our bomb run and began our exit from low-level altitude.

We got back to Nellis and were slapping each other on the back for a kick butt mission.  The staff pukes told us debriefing was the following morning at 0800 hours (8:00 a. m. for civilians); Vegas night awaited us. 

Next morning at debriefing, the staff pukes from our tactics division informed us that our aircraft had been shot down by OPFOR fighters as we climbed out of low level. 

“BRAVO SIERRA” I said. “There was nothing there.” 

“You got shot down by an infrared missile” said a staffer.

“No way” I said.  “There’s no way we got shot down.” We kept arguing back and forth.  I DEMANDED to see proof that our aircraft had been jumped by OPFOR at low-level exit.  They produced some data showing that, indeed, aircraft had jumped us at our low level exit point… and the pilot had yelled FOX 4 – IR missile “launch”.  I was … yep… the ROES.

Next the British Group Commander came in and began to talk about the mission and the following mission.  Not being too much of a milquetoast kind of guy, I immediately raised my hand:

“Why were the B-52s held at XX altitude?”

His response was not what I expected.  He slammed down his briefing book and began yelling that all of this had been coordinated ahead of time with all units and why in the bloody hell were we asking such questions…  My pilot gave me a look “SHUT THE F___ UP”

Limey bastard, I thought.  “With due respect to your rank , sir, if the object of the exercise is to fly as we expect to fight, then the B-52s should be allowed to fly at tactical altitude? If the object of the exercise is to prove a foregone conclusion…?" I thought the Group Commander was going to explode… then suddenly he burst out laughing…  He looked at his staff… all of them sitting with notebooks on their laps [like those pictures of North Korean generals around Kim Jong Un];  “Why the hell didn’t any of you say this?” Silence.

He came over and gave me a friendly slap on the back… “Well done, Captain.” 

True story…

Tale 2

In a flying wing, all operations are under the control of the deputy commander for operations [DO].  He or she is responsible to the commander of the wing for the flight schedule, aircrew training, flying hours and all of the support necessary to ensure them… It’s a pretty responsible job and was particularly so during the 1980s because of the B-52s nuclear missions.

There I was one day, when our crew was selected to participate in a very secret program.  We were given some guidance and told to develop a mission profile.  Once we did this, we were to travel to Strategic Air Command headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska and brief the vice commander of SAC – a three-star general.  When a crew gets such an assignment, they get bombed [no pun intended] with staff assistance from the wing [i.e., you are going to do this in such and such a way]. 

Our particular DO was a new colonel who was bent on becoming a wing commander, hence, a general.  I had seen him at a number of functions at the officer’s club. He seemed okay to me though I had not had many interactions with him. 

With staff ‘assistance’ we prepared our mission profile, etc. in the required time.  Our DO led a team of staffers, our crew, a KC-135 crew, etc. to SAC HQ to brief vice-CINCSAC.   The briefings went well enough… and a few days later it was time to return home.

I was based in Northern Michigan at the time, and it was COLD.  While we were gone, the base had been through a major snowstorm and had begun to dig itself out of the snow.  We flew back on a KC-135.  Upon landing, there were no buses at hand to pick us up… the temperature outside was around -15 degrees F.  All of the sudden, a command car pulled right up to the tanker.  It was the DO’s assistant.  Without a word to any of us, the DO got in the car and they drove away.  We all looked at each other… and 40 minutes later or so buses arrived to pick us up.

A few months later, we were expecting a staff assistance visit from SAC.  A staff ‘assistance’ visit is an inspection by another name.  The higher staff ‘assists’ you by nitpicking and second-guessing everything you do; and writes action items for you to complete by such and such time.  They are not fun.

The DO was obviously concerned about it because it is report card.  Bad grades affect your promotion opportunities.  As the staff assistance got closer, he decided to have a DO Commander’s Call for his staff.  As I was in a standardization and evaluation crew (Stan Eval) at the time, I was directly under the DO’s command.  In the Air Force duty days run from 0730 to 1630 hrs (7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.). Commanders’ Calls, attendance is mandatory, are held by unit commanders to inform all unit personnel of various activities, recognize people, and such things.  I had never heard of a DO having a commander’s call—as this is a staff unit.  Whatever…

The DO Commanders’ Call was set for 1530 hours [3:30 p.m.].  At 3:00 p.m., we received a call saying that it had been moved to 4:30 p.m. because the DO was busy…

At 4:30 p.m., all of the DO staff gathered at the base theater [about 100 people] for the commanders’ call.  The DO began speaking telling us all how important this visit was and in order to inform everyone of what was going on, he tasked each DO division to brief us on its mission [oy vey…] I settled deeper in my seat…

For the next hour or so the meeting droned on an on with no end in sight.  Around 5:40 p.m., one of the division chiefs got up to brief.  He said he did not know what this was about, and had not prepared anything, so he had a pre-canned briefing of about 100 slides … [collective GROAN...]

I then noticed a young airman looking glumly at his watch…. “Airman, what time does the mess hall close?” I asked quietly.  “Six o’clock, sir” he responded…

There was no way we were going to be done by then… someone had to say something.

I stood up and said to the DO:  “Excuse me, sir.  The mess hall is going to close at six o’clock so we should excuse those who have to eat there.”  I expected him to be understanding… they had just forgotten the time.

His reaction was not what I expected.  “THIS IS IMPORTANT” he screamed almost hysterically. Then rambled something about how important the staff assistance visit was. I thought that our troops having dinner was important too.  I had made my point so I sat down and didn’t say anything further… And the briefing droned on…

About 10 minutes later, at 5:50 p.m., the DO grumbled “Those who have to eat at the mess hall may leave.”  Half of the audience left…  The briefing droned on for another 5 minutes or so.  “Enough of this” the DO said.  “We’re done.”  We never had another DO commanders’ call again… and yeah, we survived the assistance visit.

That night I wondered if I had a career still left, but no regrets.  Next day, some Tanker pilot whom I did not know came up to me and said:  “That took a lot of guts. I can’t believe how poorly he reacted…”

True story…

Monday, January 5, 2015

Russian-American Relations 2014: Mistakes Repeated

George Kennan in discussing American foreign policy and democracy notes that we made two big boo-boos during the cold war.  (1) to attribute to the “Soviet leadership aims and intentions it did not really have; in jumping to conclusion that the Soviet leaders were just like Hitler and his associates…” with the same aspirations, timetable, and who could only be dealt with in the same manner as Hitler was. [1]  (2)  The second postwar mistake was to embrace the nuclear weapon “the mainstay of our military posture, and the faith we placed in it to assure our military and political ascendancy in this postwar era.”[2] 

"It is from these two great mistakes that there has flowed, as I see it, the extreme militarization not only of our thought but of our lives that has become the mark of this postwar age. And this is a militarization that has had profound effects not just on our foreign policies but also on our own society… And this habit—the habit of pouring so great a part of our gross national product year after year into sterile and socially negative forms of production—has now risen to the status of what I have ventured to call a genuine national addiction. We could not now break ourselves of the habit without the serious of withdrawal symptoms. Millions of people, is addition to those other millions who are in uniform, have become accustomed to deriving their livelihood from the military-industrial complex. Thousands of firms have become dependent on it, not to mention labor unions and communities. It is the main source of our highly destabilizing budgetary deficit. An elaborate and most unhealthy bond has been created between those who manufacture and sell the armaments and those in Washington who buy them. We have created immense vested interests in the maintenance of a huge armed establishment in time of peace and in the export of great quantities of arms to other peoples—great vested interests, in other words, in the Cold War. We have made ourselves dependent on this invidious national practice; so much so that it may fairly be said that if we did not have the Russians and their alleged iniquities to serve as a rationalization for it, we would have to invent some adversary to take their place—which would be hard to do.[3][My highlight]"

In 2014 it appears that the United States repeated these mistakes (1) to attribute to the Russian leadership aims and intentions that it does not really have; in jumping to conclusion that Putin is just like Stalin and communists. (2) The second mistake it to embrace military instrument of national power as the mainstay of our politico-diplomatic posture despite its limitations in a geopolitical heartland largely outside our strategic reach and capabilities to affect political outcomes.

Question for policy makers: “Is it possible that we may be expecting of Russia [or an other country] higher standards of international conduct than our own?” (Vera Micheles Dean, “Is Russia Alone to Blame?” Foreign Policy Reports, Vol. XXV, March 8, 1946).[4]

[1] George F. Kennan,  At a Century’s Ending.  Reflections 1982-1995 (New York:  W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1996), p. 130.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Idid., pp. 130-131
[4] Direct cite from Kenneth W. Thompson, Interpreters and Critics of the Cold War.  Wash. DC: University Press of America (1978), p. iv