Sunday, April 25, 2010

Speaking from whence one does not know.

"Speaking from whence one does not know."  It's a nice way of saying "talking out your ass."  In any case, it's what I think when I hear most non-professionals (journalists, writers, and other media folks) as well as junior officers and enlisted talking about strategy.
Sure, they may have an understanding of the word--it describes the overall plan for doing things.  But strategy isn't tactics.  Tactics is the 50-meter fight.  The "why and how" and the ways and means in tactics are pretty easy:  set a base of fire, move your assault team into position, assault through the objective as your support lifts or shifts its fire.  Establish security on the objective.  Consolidate all forces on the objective.

Defensive tactics are about as simple.
Strategy, however, is a bit harder and requires a MUCH longer view.  For instance, in WWII, the taking of North Africa was hard.  (If you've never heard of Kasserine Pass, go read about it.)  Had we not had strategic plans, it would have stayed nigh-on-impossible.  What we realized, and what eventually won North Africa, was that it was the German and Italian lines of communication and  lines of logistics that had to be cut--and that meant owning the waters of the Mediterranean, and ports along the coast, which would eventually weaken the Nazis by isolating their ability to repair or replace damaged and destroyed equipment and personnel, and allow our forces to overwhelm them.  Some people would question putting the emphasis on Naval forces in the Med while the "fight" was on the ground, in North Africa, but it was clear they didn't understand the strategy behind why we were doing it.
One of the ways we use to build an Operational picture, for framing the problem(s) and developing a plan, is something we call operational design.  It is a construct used to help us understand the problem(s) we face, internally and externally, and the other critical factors that may bear on the problem. 
Operational design begins by problem framing, with the first step being to establish the strategic context of the problem.

What is the history of the problem? What is its genesis?
Who are the parties interested in the problem and what are the implications of likely outcomes?
What caused the problem to come to the fore?
Why is this emerging problem important to the nation’s strategic leaders? Particularly consider factors such as:
Are national interests and ideals at stake?
What are the domestic political considerations for taking action?
What are the economic considerations of action?
Are there treaty obligations that require or block the ability to act?
Why do strategic leaders believe this problem requires a military solution?
To this, we might add in even more fundamental questions regarding the nature of the problem in Afghanistan:
Who are the enemies? What are their goals? Where are they located? What threat does each group pose to the United States? What effect does ISAF involvement in Afghanistan have on them?

So you see, the problem is FAR more complex than most people understand when they speak of strategy and policy.  We don't, in general, make a habit of explaining our answers to these questions to every soldier in the Army.  Quite frankly, the first time I was introduced to operational design was here at the command and general staff college, and it took over a week of explaining the details and intricacies for it to begin making sense.  I'm a no rocket surgeon, but I'm also not Lenny, looking for bunnies to pet; this stuff took time to absorb and understand.  Even then, it is only through repetitive use that we began to understand how to use Design.
The "we" I mention is a group of over 1000 Majors, 90% of whom are combat veterans, 60% of whom are multiple tour combat veterans, all of whom have commanded companies and led platoons, been responsible for hundreds of soldiers and millions of dollars worth of equipment.  Included in our ranks are Majors from other (lesser) branches of the service, Foreign Officers, and "Other Agencies" from our own government.  The stuff we do here is hard
I question the understanding of people who say our strategy in Iraq or Afghanistan is wrong, or failing.  I question those who try to bring into question the Generals in command of these operations, because it is these same Generals who designed this construct for understanding a problem.  I will grant that there may be a few bad generals out there, but they are the extreme exception to the norm.  It's not exactly a job anyone can do, unlike tapping away on a keyboard and standing in front of a camera (or behind one).  Generalship requires years of training, decades of experience, and a lifetime of learning.  Quite often, the General IS the smartest guy in the room.  More often than that, a General has selected subordinate officers who he has determined are highly competent in their fields and are also extremely intelligent.  Not every staff officer is a superstar, not every officer is a genius.  (Hell, they promoted Me, so it can't be that restrictive.)  But we all share the commonality of wanting and trying to do a good job, wanting and trying to excel and knowing that our actions and performance directly impacts the lives of soldiers.
It just doesn't hold water with me, knowing all the work that goes into designing strategy, when a sophomoric neophyte says that the strategy is all wrong, that we are losing, that our Generals are incompetent.


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