The Enemy Within

By lex, on December 12th, 2009

No, it’s not the latest crewe of knuckleheads crossing the seas to wage war on their countrymen. They are a blip lost in the noise band of extremism, and at least they were romantic and foolish enough to eschew domestic terror to fight in the field. If they hadn’t gotten swept up by the Pakistani authorities before they could wage jihad, they would very probably have been treated more or less respectfully by the graves registration detail before being shipped home in caskets.

Non, mes amis – we have met the enemy and they are us:

(Decisions) move through the process of risk mitigation like molasses. When the Taliban arrive in a village, I discovered, it takes 96 hours for an Army commander to obtain necessary approvals to act. In the first half of 2009, the Army Special Forces company I was with repeatedly tried to interdict Taliban. By our informal count, however, we (and the Afghan commandos we worked with) were stopped on 70 percent of our attempts because we could not achieve the requisite 11 approvals in time…

The red tape isn’t just on the battlefield. Combat commanders are required to submit reports in PowerPoint with proper fonts, line widths and colors so that the filing system is not derailed. Small aid projects lag because of multimonth authorization procedures. A United States-financed health clinic in Khost Province was built last year, but its opening was delayed for more than eight months while paperwork for erecting its protective fence waited in the approval queue…

Mid-level leaders win or lose conflicts. Our forces are better than the Taliban’s, but we have leashed them so tightly that they are unable to compete.

This isn’t just an Army thing. Naval fleet commanders want live video streamed from Scan Eagle UAVs to fleet headquarters ashore so that a three-star flag officer can look over the shoulder of deployed destroyer or cruiser commanding officers on site and help them fix their problems with a thousand mile screwdriver.

This places the flag officer back in his comfort zone – he was a successful commanding officer, or else he wouldn’t be wearing those stars. But it’s a terribly inefficient to fight a war against a nimble adversary that appears, terrorizes and then melts away.

You can train your people to do their jobs, equip them for the missions you’ve assigned and hold them accountable for their actions. Or you can do their jobs for them.

But if you’re doing that, then who is doing your job?

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  1. Pingback: Index – The Best of Neptunus Lex | The Lexicans

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