Fighting The Last Millennium’s Wars

Interesting article in Government Executive about unhappiness in the mid-ranks of the Army over the Marines being the ones to set up the base in southern Afghanistan, a job that would have been more traditionally fulfilled by the Army. This goes beyond simple interservice rivalry–it speaks to potentially serious problems, in which we have a combination of an Army that is still designed for the Cold War (over for more than a decade now) but with inadequate resources to even fulfill that miscast role.

?The Marine Corps foresight seems to have eliminated the need for the Army,? one Army captain complained in an online forum. ?Here?s the bitter pill I?ve been chewing on. My Army is operating equipment designed to fight Soviets in the Fulda Gap, and the stuff in the pipeline is just a more expensive version of the same. My Army has a personnel system that was build to defeat the Kaiser. My Army trains to fight fictional forces in make-believe lands instead of focusing on real-world missions. My Army has one-half the number of generals as we did at the height of World War II, even though the force is one-tenth the size. The resultant leadership inertia bogs decision-making down in a bureaucratic morass, as more chiefs fight to protect their hallowed turf. The end result of all this is we get to watch the Marines perform Army missions because they can do them better,? he wrote.

This provides a hint of the kinds of issues that Don Rumsfeld was dealing with, even prior to September 11, and it’s perhaps become an even more crucial one as we contemplate Iraq.

[Follow Up]

Reader Craig Biggerstaff writes:

I don’t have any history with either the Army or Marines, or any reason to favor over one another, but this article reinforced what has been obvious for a long time to a casual observer: there is major overlap of capabilities and missions. As a taxpayer, I don’t want to pay twice for the same thing unless there’s an arguable benefit to keeping the redundancy.

Well, there is an arguable benefit for redundancy–it provides backup, and more importantly, it provides competition. That some in the Army are unhappy with the current situation may spur them to improve.

What, really, is the difference between Army Rangers and Marines? Between Army Green Berets and Navy SEALs? Why do all four services have fighter aircraft?

I can’t speak with any detail to the first two questions, but the Army does not, in fact have fighter aircraft. It has the helicopters and the A-10 Warthog attack planes for close-air support, and it had to fight tooth and nail to get them, but finally did because the Air Force refused to give priority to this mission, and guys were getting killed on the ground from its lack. Navy has fighters because it doesn’t make sense to base Air Force operations on aircraft carriers (we haven’t done that, AFAIK, since the Doolittle Raid, which used US Army Air Corps personnel/aircraft). I’m not sure why the Marines have them.

Perhaps someone more knowledgeable on this can comment. Assuming for the sake of argument that overlap exists, what ought to be done about it? Merge or consolidate services? Transfer duties and personnel from one to another? Or keep them separate but merge the command hierarchy (general/flag officer staff below JCS)?

One has to be very careful in reorganizing and consolidating to not overdo it, and totally eliminate competition, which is as useful in government bureaucracies as in the free market. In theory it seems more efficient to consolidate, but this is always based on the assumption that the consolidated entity will perform properly without the ongoing threat of losing its mission. This assumption is almost always invalid.

To change the subject only slightly, one of the reasons that NASA is such a disaster (and this is largely due to Dan Goldin) is that, in a bid for efficiency and to allow the budget cuts of the ’90s, he set up “Centers of Excellence” with technical specialties, and eliminated any competition to them at the other NASA centers. This, combined with little accountability, contributed greatly to the problems that we’ve seen with, among other things, ISS, various failed planetary probes, and our failure to make much progress in supersonic flight.

[Update at 12:30 PM PST]

UPI columnist Jim Bennett weighs in with the following:

See the discussion in the chapter entitled “The Material Bias: Why We Need More Fraud, Waste and Mismanagement,” in Edward N.Luttwak, The Pentagon and the Art of War (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985), 13056.

According to Luttwak, “[The] outputs that count in war are very particular and very different from the outputs that count in peacetime, and when civilian notions of efficiency are applied, the difference is routinely overlooked.”

Saying that all combat aircraft, or even all such aircraft of a particular type, should be procured by a single service, and therefore procured by a single decision point, is Soviet-style central planning. Furthermore, it is central planning about an area in which past expertise is often misleading. Luttwak discusses the experience of the Marine air arm in Korea, where the general consensus was that the Marine pilots flew lower, stayed longer, and took more risks than their Air Force and Navy counterparts while flying close support missions. This may have been because Marine pilots had been trained with the ground troops before they became pilots, and it may have been because they were more likely to actually know the people on the ground. Also, the Marine air arm has been more innovative in procurement: in buying the Harrier, they were the first service in decades to fly a non-US fighter.

Too bad the Air Force doesn’t have tanks, as some South American forces do.

He also refers readers to this article for further background on the close-air support issue.

The Guitars Gently Weep

A greatly underrated and underappreciated guitarist has left this world. Condolences to his family who, of course, I know not at all.

I won’t say much more than that–I’m sure that many bits and dead trees will be consumed in memorializing Mr. Harrison in the coming days, offering words far more eloquent and worthwhile than any meager contribution from me. As a metacomment, however, it will be interesting to see how we deal with the first major celebrity death since, well…, you know. Are we starting to get back to normal?

Continued Ambiguity

In today’s Opinion Journal, Daniel Henninger writes:

The first thing to be said in defense of the Bush/Ashcroft military tribunals is that if nothing else they make it clear we are in a war.

Well, perhaps, but the best way to make it clear that we are in a war is to have a declaration of war–an action that the Congress still refuses to take, or the Administration to seriously request.

How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count The Ways…

At Liberty Log, fellow Michiganian Chris Pellerito notes:

Speaking of Reuters, they also report that the US is the world’s sexual superpower. This claim is based entirely on poll data, in which nobody has any incentive to tell the truth. This point is so totally lost on Reuters that they diligently report:

“Men appeared to be more sexually active than women, claiming a frequency of 102 times a year against 91.”

Somebody explain to me how that is possible …

Well, possibility one is that, as Chris noted, they’re being a little parsimonious with the truth, as men have a wont to be in matters sexual (“Really, honey, that is eight inches…Really, honey, I can readily survive for over five minutes without breathing through either my nose or mouth…”).

Possibility two is that the male/female ratio in some of the reported encounters was something other than one to one.

Possibility three (also highly likely) is that the number of partners for men is not necessarily the same as the number of partners for women.

Possibility four is that not all of the encounters were heterosexual.

Possibility five (almost certainly the most likely) is some combination of all of the above.

Bottom line–don’t try to draw any conclusions, useful or otherwise, from sex surveys…

Educational Disaster

I don’t often whine about our educational system, because it generally seems so beyond hope (though that’s not rational, because it doesn’t really differentiate it much from most of the other things that I whine about–maybe it’s just because it’s so much more important).

But I ran across this piece in the Atlantic by Elinor Burkett, that I had to share. At the age when most are seriously thinking about retirement, she decided to go back to high school as a journalist, and find out what was going on there. Based on the experience, she wrote a book entitled Another Planet: A Year in the Life of a Suburban High School, published in the last month.

I haven’t yet read the book–I don’t know if I can bear it. It brought to mind the conclusion of the report almost two decades ago by the commission on education that stated something like, “if a foreign power had imposed on our nation the educational system that we have, it would justifiably be considered an act of war.” Nothing of significance seems to have changed in the past twenty years. The interview almost brought me (a relatively tough guy) to tears over the (mis/non)education of our nation’s youth.

Read it.

Stupid Teaser of the Day (If Not The Week) Award

Well, OK, maybe I can’t really judge, since I haven’t seen every channel continuously, but this has to be right up there. I occasionally watch Hannity and Colmes on Fox, but tonight I was channel surfing, and I just happened to catch their teaser for the next segment. Alphonse D’Amato was sitting in for Hannity. Now, to begin with, I always thought that Senator D’Amato was an exemplary example of the Peter Principle–never the brightest bulb on the Senatorial string (not that there’s a lot of competition). But I heard him say, honest, in attempting to entice people to watch the next segment, something like “An American has been killed in Afghanistan. Is the price of the war too high?”

No other comment.

Trying To Impress The Virgins?

In reading a piece describing the carnage after the prison revolt in Mazar-i-Sharif in The Guardian, this little bit caught my eye.

Unlike their Pakistani counterparts, dressed in flimsy salwar kameezes, the Arabs wore expensive fleece jackets and trousers. One Talib corpse sported a San Francisco 49ers football sweatshirt; another a zip-up Dolce & Gabbana top.

Osama bin Laden’s fighters may have rejected the west’s relativist ideology, but not its fashions.

Casualties To Date

There’s some kind of irony that, so far, we’ve lost more journalists (eight) than soldiers (one, or zero if you don’t count CIA operatives as military) in this war. Given their performance to date, I’m having trouble feeling very bad about that. But I suppose that’s not fair–the ones in danger aren’t the problem–it’s the ones sitting safely back here on their behinds, getting the vapors about quagmires, who are putting in the truly-disappointing performance.

“It’s” baaaaaccckkk

What a difference a few months make. According to Wired, Dean Kamen’s er.. device, code-named “Ginger” and hyped by the likes of Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs, will be unveiled next week. Somehow, I’m having trouble caring, unless it really does turn out to be an energy-efficient personal-transportation device, in which case I’ll pick one up to avoid flying…

“It’s” baaaaaccckkk

What a difference a few months make. According to Wired, Dean Kamen’s er.. device, code-named “Ginger” and hyped by the likes of Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs, will be unveiled next week. Somehow, I’m having trouble caring, unless it really does turn out to be an energy-efficient personal-transportation device, in which case I’ll pick one up to avoid flying…

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!

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