Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Fourth Star

“Even those who learn from history are surrounded by those who are doomed to repeat it.” – Chuck B. on Twitter, April 12, 2016.

The Iraq War tested four four-star generals: John Abizaid, George Casey, Jr., Peter Chiarelli, and David Petraeus. This is their story. (The Fourth Star: Four Generals and the Epic Struggle for the Future of the United States Army by David Cloud and Greg Jaffe, Random House, 2009.) Each of them had a correct view of the challenges and answers. However, without being able to work together, their efforts could not support and reinforce each other. They were not in conflict against each other. Rather, their assignments – and their acceptances of those roles – left them distanced in space and time from each other. Beyond the specifics of the Second Gulf War, this is a book about leadership, leadership styles, and the natural limits to the complete fulfillment of our goals. The narratives here are richly detailed. The writing is tight and active. The authors were the Pentagon correspondents for the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the  Washington Post.

Each of these four generals is an outside-the-box creative thinker. Each is competitive, driven, focused and intelligent. All hold advanced university degrees. Though Petraeus and Casey are connected by family ties within the military general staff, Abizaid and Chiarelli came from blue collar homes. Whereas Casey and Abazaid graduated from West Point, Chiarelli and Petraeus earned their commissions through ROTC. On their way to the top, each took detours within the military. Chiarelli and Petraeus taught in the social science department at West Point. “Sosh” is a fraternity of strategic planners and political thinkers whose connections in the Pentagon allow them to help younger peers get their careers back on track with assignments to combat brigades. Interestingly, Lt. George W. Casey, Jr. first met Lt. David Petraeus through their mothers. Casey’s father was a two-star general. That put Elaine Casey in the same social set as Peggy Knowlton, also the wife of a general, and George Petraeus’s mother-in-law. When Casey was finishing Ranger School, his mother called him and told him to introduce himself to Petraeus who was headed to the 509th Parachute Infantry, the unit Casey had just left. (page 21) 

USA Today
Ethnically Syrian, Gen. John Abizaid is a second-generation American whose foreign language in school was French. He learned Arabic later, completing his MA from Harvard in Middle Eastern Studies with a year at the University of Jordan in 1979-80. In 1985, Major Abizaid was assigned to a UN mission during the Israeli occupation of Lebanon. His experiences gave him an understanding of the problems that the US would face in Iraq. He believed that sectarian divisions, discord, and violence are endemic to the Middle East: no military solution is possible. He accepted the Powell Doctrine: crush the conventional forces of a conventional opponent and get out before you get bogged down in another Vietnam. As the commander of CENTCOM, Abizaid was responsible for the work of the other generals who were charged with delivering a successful conclusion to the invasion of Iraq.

Gen. George W. Casey, Jr. earned his BS in International Relations at Georgetown in 1970. An ROTC student, he expected to repay the army with four years and then go to law school.  Instead, he followed his father, Brig. Gen. George W. Casey, Sr., who was the commander of the 1st Air Cavalry Division when he was killed in Vietnam. (His father also attended Georgetown, earning an MA in international relations in 1958 before completing an MBA at George Washington in 1965. Much more in Wikipedia, of course.) Casey, Jr., went on to complete his MA in international relations at the University of Denver in 1980.  “George had become an expert in navigating the middle ground between his Georgetown friends and his family. He generally supported the war [in Vietnam], but wasn’t the kind of person to get in arguments or begrudge his friends their opinions. Neither was his dad.” (pp. 6-7)

NBC News
Serving in Kosovo in 2000 was Casey’s experience in peacekeeping and counterinsurgency. Having labored to broker a ceasefire for one village, he saw the truce shattered when rifles and hand grenades were found in the home of the village mayor who had been on the negotiating committee. It taught Casey that the US military cannot keep the peace in a country that does not want the peace. But, like all soldiers, he served those who called.  “Just three months before the invasion [of Iraq] he assembled a small group of active and retired officers that was rushed to the Middle East to deal with electricity generation, clean water, and other expected postwar problems.” (p. 162)

Tasked with restoring the nation while fighting the insurgency, Casey’s plan was to draw the resistance into the government to defuse them, to make them part of the solution, and let them hassle out their problems within the structure of the government. That, too, failed.

Western political theory accepts majority rule that is always limited by constitutional law and tradition. That did not apply in Iraq. The authors do not mention that Saddam Hussein ruled like other strongmen by balancing his opponents against each other, while also favoring his power base. That meant oppressing the majority Shiites and minority Kurds, and giving power to the Sunnis. The fall of Saddam Hussein left the Sunnis at the mercy of the merciless Shiites who now controlled the government of Iraq.

Also here, the reader today can see the roots of the ISIS Caliphate. Back then, moderate Sunnis united with the Shiite authorities to fight radical Sunni Islamists from Al Qaeda who were making life hell for everyone. But it was too little, too late.

Conservative Treehouse
Peter Chiarelli earned his BS in political science at Seattle University where he did his ROTC. (He later completed a master’s in public administration at the University of Washington in 1980. He was granted an MA in national security strategy from Salve Regina University. Wikipedia.) Rejected three times for law school - poor at standardized tests, apparently - he entered the army. Sent on orders first to earn the master’s, Chiarelli was tapped for the social science department at West Point. He loved the challenge of teaching. He did not have to take a position personally in order to advocate it. In one class, he said that the US invited the attack at Pearl Harbor by encircling the Japanese and threatening them. Disagree as they did, the cadets were only allowed to argue back with facts. It was good training, both for them, and for him. 

Chiarelli’s goal in Iraq was to win the war by rebuilding the economy. Instead of big-ticket projects to highly-placed defense contractors like Bechtel, Chiarelli wanted many small projects paid for immediately to clean the streets of garbage, to restore electricity to neighborhoods, and to distribute clean water.  He was successful. Sunni fighters left their guns behind to do the simple and dirty work of civil engineering in their neighborhoods. When the money stopped, they went back to being insurgents, and life got worse for everyone. The Sunni grievances were real. Shiite death squads under the cover of government legitimacy as police and security forces pushed the Sunnis out of mixed neighborhoods. The government closed the only bank in Sadr City, forcing Sunnis to travel through deadly Shia territory. Gen. Chiarelli’s rebuilding faltered.

The Telegraph (UK)
General Petraeus was the most conventional of them though his winning strategy was contrary to the wisdom of the time. (Petraeus completed his doctorate from Princeton while he was teaching in the social science department at West Point.) Petraeus pushed for the deployment of 21,000 additional troops – called “The Surge” – to bolster the failing occupation. However, rather than stationing them in huge bases with swimming pools, and a BX the size of a Walmart, he placed them in 120 small detachments close to the civilians. They also worked as advisors and supporters to the Iraqi police and army who were tasked with keeping the peace. The first advantage was that the Iraqi people, civilians and military both, would stop seeing the occupying force as distant and aloof, but in and of them as collaborators. Moreover, the soldiers would come to know the people, not only gaining valuable intelligence, but also becoming less likely to stereotype the locals. More to the point, the strategy came with an exit policy: eventually, the US forces would minimize, and the Iraqi role would strengthen. The first happened. The second did not.

In the Middle Ages, military authority and civil authority were identical. As Europe reawakened, the military was subordinated to civilian control. Ever less often did dukes, kings, and emperors lead their troops into battle.The capture of Napoleon III at Sedan in 1871 was the dunce’s after school lesson. And military dictatorships are notoriously unsuccessful. So, the modern army carries out the orders it is given. The Second Gulf War was not just winnable: it was won. The fifth largest army in the world melted and evaporated. We then met them again in a new fog of war, a war that could not be won. Sometimes, being brilliantly intelligent is just not enough.


Friday, May 27, 2016

Texas State Guard Basic Non-Commissioned Officer Course

BNOC is required of all non-commissioned officers seeking promotion from E-5 (“buck” sergeant) to E-6 (staff sergeant), in my case from Petty Officer 2nd Class to Petty Officer 1st Class.  The training is offered online, but I elected to take the live classroom presentation specifically because it is delivered by the US Air Force Joint Base San Antonio Leadership School at Lackland AFB.  That course was recommended to me by one of the Master Gunnery Sergeants in TMAR, the Texas Maritime Regiment of the Texas State Guard. The class exceeded my expectations.

In all, we had seven different presenters. Each was an expert in one or more fields, but all were instructors at the school and each had volunteered to work with us, in addition to their regular duties.

One of the Many Sights to See at Lackland AFB

The lectures were generally interactive. Questions were always encouraged. On the second day, we had more live exercises.  In many ways, these were similar to other management classes, a comment made, also, by one of my classmates who is working on another master’s degree, this one in administration. The focus, however, was on the military. Some of it was a bit foreign to the TXSG. Although about half of us are prior federal service, what we do seems to draw little from the Warrior Ethos. We take care of people.  However, in our battle books, taken from standard military reporting forms, we do list an enemy: the hurricane, flood, or wildfire. The introductory lecture pointed out that depression is an intangible enemy.
  • Are leaders born or made?
  • What are the characteristics of a good leader?
  • What are the characteristics of a good follower?

Another Sight to See at Lackland AFB, 
Gateway to the Air Force

We explored the interactions between leaders and followers as we learned about contingency theory, skills theory, and transformation theory. We inventoried intrinsic and extrinsic values.
  • What is personal power?
  • What is positional power?
  • What a referential leader? 
  • How can you increase or decrease power? 
  • If all else fails, can you play Rock, Scissors, Stripes?

We learned about Vision Statements and Mission Statements and were encouraged to look up the ones written by and for our own commands.

Team dynamics is an ongoing process involving interaction of individuals (within a team) to achieve a desired result.
Straight out of management theory we were presented with the six stages of a project: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, (Adjourning), and Transforming.  That transformation occurs to the team, its wider organization, and to the individual members of the team.

Everyone else in the class seemed pretty sure that we were a team because we had the same goal, passing the class.  I was not so sure.  For one thing, if that sergeant over there did not take good notes, if she let it go in one ear and out the other, I could still pass the class. More to the point, the set and setting did not provide either a motive or an opportunity to help that other noncom to be successful in this class.  It was a problem that I slept on.

Of course, we explored out own personality types. This class used the “True Colors” or “Four Lenses” temperament theory proposed by Don Lowry, which is apparently based on the Myer-Briggs.  I came out Green: independent, non-conforming, head over heart, data-driven, non-decisive, curious, complex, abstract, and logical. When we Greens created a poster to show our type, we started with an ice cube at the lower left taken by an arrow to a lightbulb at the upper right. Between them were the Starship Enterprise and CDR Spock, a broken heart, and a computer. “Ah!” the instructor said, “you Greens do not have feelings.” Oh, we have feelings, our leader replied. “We just don’t care about yours.”

Making Friends: Two of us were from TMAR

Then we had to devise a no-smoking campaign targeted at our opposites, the feely-squishy Blues.  “No one else is smoking,” we said. “And when you die, you will make everyone else sad.”

Coming back to Earth, we discussed the Oath of Enlistment and the Non-Commissioned Officer’s Creed, and how they define the core values of the profession of arms.

Finally, we debated several either-or propositions, such as “What happens TDY [temporary duty] stays TDY.”  At first we thought of the analogy to Las Vegas, but do we keep commendations secret? We also examined ethical traps such as relativism and the loyalty syndrome.
This was the most professional set of presentations that I have had in the Texas State Guard. My wife thought that I was there to teach. Explaining to her that I was there as a student, referring to the instructors, I called them professors.


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Grammar is Important

"The Quadrilateral Coordination Group, made up of officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States and China, have been engaged in efforts to facilitate direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

The Taliban, who now control or contest more territory than at any time since they was ousted by a U.S.-led intervention in 2001, have attended none of the group's meetings."

Reuters, 18 May 2016 05:48 EDT

It was a minor problem, I admit. From my experience, I guess that the author wrote "... it was... " referring to the Taliban as a collective entity, and an editor changed "it" to "they" without following through.  That error was noticeable.  

Less obvious is the disagreement in the first paragraph. "The Quadrilateral group... have been engaged in efforts..." The noun group is singular. Admittedly, it sounds funny to us to say " a group of people who play softball is meeting at the park." So, we excuse the subject-verb disagreement. Perhaps English is changing to allow the creation of plural collectives nouns. Alternately, the problem also stems from using the objective noun in the prepositional case as if it were nominative.  Prepositions make nouns into objects. "I give him the ball." is the same as "I give the ball to him." (not "I give he the ball." or "I give it to he."). Men are, but a group of men is.  Other languages, such as German and Latin, have stronger, more formal, and older rules for cases: nominative, genitive, accusative, dative, vocative, ablative, locative.  (Hungarian has about a dozen: progressive, regressive, inessive, adessive ...)

Simple as English is - and simplicity is a hallmark of civilized languages: so-called "primitive" people tend to have more complicated grammars - you can still open a can of worms.

"The plank that was approved by delegates at the party's convention this month reads: "Homosexuality is a chosen behavior that is contrary to the fundamental unchanging truths that has been ordained by God in the Bible, recognized by our nations founders, and shared by the majority of Texans."
Lone Star Q, which describes itself as the state's No. 1 source for LGBT news, asked on Twitter on Wednesday to have a "grammar debate" over the wording.

"In response, grammarians pointed out that placement of the final comma in the plank could lead to understanding it to mean that homosexuality is a chosen behavior shared by the majority of Texans. They also noted that "nations" should have an apostrophe and that by using "has been," the plank gives the impression that homosexuality has been ordained by God.

"Party officials did not respond to requests to comment."

Readability is the Only Metric
Why Democracy is Difficult
The Profits and Benefits in Foreign Languages
Indian English: Totally Legend Like Anything

Monday, May 9, 2016

Song: "Texans Serving Texans"

Texans Serving Texans
Lyrics by PO3 Michael Marotta
Music by PO3 Rodney Buckwalter

We are Texans serving Texans.
We are volunteers for you.
We are the Texas State Guard.
We’re the red, white and blue.
The Lone Star shines within us.
We are equal to the task; yes, it’s true.
Your community is in our care.
To republic and union we are true.

Second verse: 
We are Texans serving Texans.
We are volunteers for you:
Aiding civil authorities,
The defense force of our state.
We work to achieve; we are prepared.
We transport, shelter, and protect.
On water or land, search and rescue,
Hosting Web, and radio too.

 This past May 21-24, I attended the annual training exercise of the Maritime Regiment as an instructor for WebEOC. In addition to my primary duty, I was able to meet with Petty Officer Buckwalter and the band. The band worked on the music and we refined the lyrics. The band played the melody for the Awards ceremony on Saturday the 23rd.  Gen. Brian Smallwood asked to hear it again. He liked it. The lyrics here have not yet been approved by the Judge Advocate General. 

I also sent these cadence calls to my instructors from last year's Regional Basic Orientation Training. These calls are also not yet approved by the JAG.

We are Texans serving you.
State Guard is Red, White, and Blue.
Faithful, constant, strong as steel.
Train and drill and gain in skill.

Union and Republic true.
Equal to the task we do.

Transport, shelter, food, and care.
We achieve. We are prepared.

Primary Leadership Training
Community Emergency Response Team
Evaluating a Dive Team
Texans Serving Texans