Monday, February 27, 2017

It Should Be Easier to Get Forgiveness Than Permission

This has long been my worry about the Army:

Our armies, and in particularly ours, are drunk on information and dependent on permission.

That was said by Major General Eric Wesley, commander of the United States Army Maneuver Center of Excellence, about a month ago.

This has long been a worry of mine. Prior to the Iraq War, I worried that a zero mistakes outlook promoted dangerous caution in our Army officer corps. I mentioned that issue in "The Path of the Future Army," which Military Review published in 2000. (It is not online but I saved it here (with editing errors) and here as submitted.)

I worry that our Army, despite two rapid conventional offensives against Iraqi forces since 1991, is in fact a tightly controlled force that at our higher levels of command discourages thinking on your feet in favor of following the plan, timetables and phase lines, and force protection.

What if we face an enemy less cooperative than Saddam Hussein who did nothing to interfere with the plan?

It is common for the Army to remind people that the enemy gets a vote on the outcome of battle and war. Which is true. We try to win and our enemy tries to win. Well, I'm not sure what Saddam was trying to do.

But we could face an enemy with technology approaching ours (and exceeding it in pockets).

And if that enemy makes a real effort to cast their vote by trying hard and with skill to win, will our Army commanders be able to react to a fluid situation that falls outside the PowerPoint presentations that brilliantly illustrate the glorious plan's path to inevitable victory?

Our Army should be more forgiving of mistakes to allow officers to fail in training--and in war--so they learn. There is no shame in learning from your mistakes and it should not be career suicide to make a mistake.

Officers should not be asking for permission in the chaotic environment of war. They should be trained to thrive in chaos and then to ask for forgiveness--and have a presumption of getting it--if things go badly.

UPDATE: I don't like the idea of an "investigation" into the SEAL raid in Yemen that led to the death of one our SEALs. Yes, I'm sorry for our loss. And I feel bad for the father who wants an investigation. Have we really gotten to the point where a single KIA is grounds for thinking a mission a failure?

I'm sure the military is reviewing the mission. Perhaps the plan made during the Obama administration was poorly drafted. Perhaps the training for the mission was inadequate. Perhaps Trump or the military was too eager to pull the trigger when parameters weren't right. Perhaps we performed poorly in the raid. Perhaps we had plain bad luck. Heck, maybe the enemy simply reacted and fought well. Enemies sometimes do that. Our military shouldn't be paralyzed by fear of a single KIA.

UPDATE: A senior US official said we gained "valuable intelligence" on Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in that raid.