Friday, December 26, 2014

hit "pause" in the cyber war

Let me get this straight. Some evil-doer hacked into Sony's computers and did a lot of damage,  Enough that many in the media called him/her/them "terrorists." President Obama labeled the action "cybervandalism" and was excoriated by Republicans for weakness in the face of a serious threat. The FBI attributed the attack to North Korea, and then that isolated country suffered two denial of service attacks -- origin unspecified -- that cut their links to the Internet.

What next? How about "pause"? Why should the United States Government get all hot and bothered about an attack on a Japanese company that is distributing a stupid comedy that includes the assassination of the current North Korean leader as the main story line? Why should the U.S. Government treat this action as anything even approaching terrorism? Sony should have had better security for its business and intellectual property. It's now not even clear that North Korea perpetrated the attack [which would say something about the American government's cyber skills].

Private companies have their own interests in better security. The government has a role in ensuring that critical infrastructure companies, most of which are privately owned, have strong cyber security. Part of the problem Congress hasn't acted is that Republicans don't want to force companies to strengthen security and don't want to pay tax money for that purpose. And companies demand protection from lawsuits if their security measures fail. Something has to give, because better security is important.

But not by government for an entertainment company. And certainly not to the point of cyber war against a foreign government.

wars of choice

The Bush administration created a misleading dichotomy when it tried to distinguish between "wars of choice" and "wars of necessity" and argued, predictably, that both Afghanistan and Iraq fell into the latter category. Americans have always believed that the conflicts they chose to join were forced upon them, though in only a few instances did the United States face an existential peril. In fact, all wars are wars of choice, even if the choice is to avoid conquest or annihilation. All the aspects of war -- ends, ways, and means -- involve choices.

The best recent analysis of the military choices America faces is by Columbia's Dick Betts [a longtime friend] in his Foreign Affairs article, "Pick Your Battles," in the November-December 2014 issue. Among his recommendations:
First, the United States should fight wars less frequently but more decisively.... Second, the country should avoid fighting in places where victory depends on controlling the politics of chaotic countries, since local politicians will rarely do what Americans want when that differs from their own aims. And third, Washington should give priority to first-order challenges, focusing its military planning on fighting wars with great powers and focusing its diplomacy on preventing them.
That second point is especially relevant in figuring what to do about Syria and ISIL. A typical military-centered strategy by Gary Anderson in the Small Wars Journal makes this error. It is superficially encouraging and persuasive as it makes the case for a large-scale western military intervention -- massive boots on the ground that few armchair strategists are willing to recommend.

The problem comes in the second pillar of his strategy:
Phase II (Iraqi) stabilization. This should probably be simultaneous with the third Phase in Syria, but it should not require continued long-term US military involvement in Iraq. This should be primarily a diplomatic-political effort. The Iraqis need to re-forge a constitution that gives more local say and amore even distribution of oil and mineral assets to the Kurds and Sunnis.  Whether this means more federalism or a confederation is less important than eliminating the grievances that allowed for the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq.
Trouble is, that's what we've been trying in Afghanistan and Iraq for a dozen years, buying time for diplomacy and domestic politics with U.S. and allied forces. We bought the time, but we never could dictate the necessary local reconciliation or stabilization. So however brilliant the military activities may be, they are always insufficient.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Churchill as a manager

Good managers often reduce their techniques to simple aphorisms. "Expect what you inspect," was one often used by Senator Lloyd Bentsen [D-TX], for whom I worked for seven years.

I never thought much about Winston Churchill as a manager until recently. I knew that he was hard-driving, self-assured, often unresponsive to the advice of others, easily fixated on grand but dubious schemes -- and yet ultimately successful and much admired as a wartime leader.

In Warlords, by Simon Berthon and Joanna Potts (Da Capo Press, 2006), the authors quote an October 2, 1941 minute to the head of Britain's MI6. The Prime Minister was concerned that Britain share useful information gained from its breaking of German codes, without of course revealing that fact. The Germans had just launched a major operation against Moscow. Churchill wrote: "Are you warning the Russians of the developing concentration? Show me the last five messages  you have sent out to our missions on the subject."

Churchill wasn't satisfied with a simple report. He wanted proof. To me, that's good management.

[Note: The citation is to F.H. Hinsley, British Intelligence in the Second World War: Its Influence on Strategy and Operations, London, 1979-1990, vol. 2, p. 59.]

second thoughts on the new offset strategy

Recently I praised the Pentagon's new offset strategy and repeated my support for a strong military R&D program. Today I see a War on the Rocks piece noting $53 billion in failed or cancelled programs that were part of the previous offset strategy, called the Revolution in Military Affairs [RMA].

To me the failures weren't in the concepts or the early research, but in the later phases of the design and procurement processes -- when unrealistic cost estimates soar and change orders complicate the program, slow it down, and add to costs.

I still agree with the view of the DARPA director when I worked on R&D matters for the Senate Armed Services Committee, who said, "For DARPA to succeed, we need the right to fail." He meant that DARPA would work on many cutting edge ideas that failure was inevitable and even helpful in showing what wouldn't work.

We still need to fix the acquisition process, but shouldn't worry so much about failed experiments.

Hagel's failings

Until now, the media explanation for the firing of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was that he clashed too often with with Susan Rice, the national security adviser; that he never spoke up in meetings, leaving the DOD position unclear or based on what General Dempsey said;  and that he allowed leaks of DOD views critical of the President.  Clearly, that was the White House perspective, conveyed to reporters.

Now we have a critique from somewhere inside the Pentagon. Tom Ricks has published a piece by an anonymous person claiming to be an "E Ring veteran," that is, someone who has worked in one of the senior civilian offices there. I trust that Ricks knows this person and believes him/her credible.

The critique is devastating:

First, Hagel was lazy. This may seem harsh, but the Secretary did not adequately prepare for meetings. Not even close. The 4-5 page briefing papers that Gates devoured, or the two-page memos that satisfied Panetta's intellectual cravings, were replaced by Hagel's preferred briefing material: an index card with 25 words on it. Policy papers were still drafted, but Hagel's inner circle repeatedly made it clear they would never be read. As one official said during a moment of frustration, "How can we prepare the secretary to speak on this complex issue with only a sentence fragment?" Hagel's aversion to words was most noticeable during meetings with foreign counterparts and heads of state where his lack of preparation all but guaranteed that he would have little to contribute aside from pleasantries and small talk. After such engagements, foreign staffers often inquired why Hagel was angry or aloof -- or even worse -- had offended their president or minister by wasting their time. The standard response, "The secretary is not feeling well," seldom proved adequate. Hagel didn't just waste everyone's time, he routinely missed opportunities to advance U.S. policy by learning how our partners viewed complex issues. He also failed to develop important personal relationships that might prove critical when serious problems emerged.

Second, Hagel filled his inner staff with real-life bobbleheads and poor managers. Loyalty is a cherished commodity in Washington, but Hagel's E-Ring office suffered the same groupthink that reportedly occurs in the Oval Office.  Subject-matter experts were routinely denied entry into briefings. Deputy assistant secretaries -- the Pentagon's true regional and functional experts -- often became meeting note-takers while a small army of "assistants to the secretary" took their seats at the table. Hagel's former and current chiefs of staff (Mark Lippert and Rexon Ryu, respectively) were unable to supervise basic office functions such as managing Hagel's official correspondence, calendar, or travel schedule. For example, a diplomatic incident occurred when Hagel's office took four months to respond to a European defense minister's invitation for Hagel to visit. Incidents like this were common during Hagel's tenure. Such dysfunction hurt international defense relationships and enabled close advisors such as Elissa Slotkin to promote their own agendas on the sidelines. Slotkin convinced Hagel to quietly launch his climate change initiative in October to better align the Pentagon's climate policy with the White House, while other issues -- Syria, Iraq, and Ukraine -- simmered in the background.

Third, Hagel never met a 4-star general whom he could refuse. As one military officer said, "The United States cannot have civilian control of the military if civilians are not willing to take control." The current crisis in civilian-military relations was not caused by General Dempsey's outspoken nature during White House meetings. It was created by senior civilian officials -- starting with Hagel -- who steadfastly refused to provide clear guidance to the military services and combatant commands. When the generals went outside their lane -- and they often did -- no one was willing to call them on it.