July 03, 2009

Palin speech: MacArthur, Schmacarthur

Best sentence of the week honours go to the NYT, in an early draft of the Palin resignation story:

Ms. Palin announced the decision in an often rambling press conference, in which she invoked the words of General Douglas MacArthur and the rules of basketball, but offered few clues about her intentions.

The NYT's text at the link was later changed, unfortunately. Part of the reason was undoubtedly that the "MacArthur" quote is actually a quote attributed to Oliver P. Smith, reacting when he found out he'd been trapped at the Chosin by MacArthur's own incompetence...

When asked if the Marines were retreating, Smith explained that their fighting withdrawal through Chinese lines did not constitute a retreat. His explanation was abbreviated into the famous misquote, "Retreat? Hell, we're attacking in a different direction!" (recalling the famous quote from Captain Lloyd W. Williams in the Battle of Belleau Wood during World War I, "Retreat? Hell, we just got here!").

Geez, old Douglas never gets a bad break, does he? I'm sure the families of the 2,500 American fatalities in that fight, and those of the surviving marines who were saved by Smith's quick determination and loathed MacArthur, wouldn't really care about those kinds of fine points in Palin's speeches, though, so I'm sure it's okay.

On a completely unrelated point, I'm told there are these people, I think they're called researchifyers, who are paid to know stuff like how to look up quotations and stuff. Apparently they're used by people who have no real grasp of the key moments of American military history but can't help using stuff they read on the internet as cheery powerpointy anecdotes anyway. Just saying.

Posted by BruceR at 11:27 PM

On Col. Hope's new paper

I do think Col. Hope's new paper on the unity of command problem in Afghanistan is worth a read, and his recommendations part of any solution. I do wish he had something more to say about those other unity of command issues, those that arise from the Afghan and Western militaries fighting the same battlespace, though. As I hinted in the essay two posts below, the issue here may be the lack of useful historical models for operational mentoring. Hope can talk with authority about the OEF/ISAF split because we can look back at the Eisenhower or Foch coalitions and see how it could be done better.

Posted by BruceR at 12:35 PM

On ANA officers and hope

Good post from yet another good ETT blog here:

The bright spot is that the younger [ANA] officers Iíve worked with are much better than the older guys. Afghan Army officers basically come in three varieties: the older officers who were Russian-trained or influenced; the former mujahideen fighters/commanders; and the new, younger, American-trained generation. The former mujahideen fighters make pretty good officers and are revered by their men but donít have the education or formal schooling and donít listen to advice. The older officers, in the words of my best interpreter, a former ANA 1stSgt, ďdonít ever want to leave the baseĒ and have an excuse why they canít do anything about their problems or act on our suggestions. The new generation of officers is much more willing to do operations, listen to our advice, and make some changes on the fly if need be, although theyíre still somewhat afraid to make mistakes. Unfortunately, for now the power lies with that older group of officers. Hopefully, once the younger, American-trained generation comes of age, things will start changing rapidly for the better.

This is obviously every military mentor's hope, too. I'm skeptical. Something I read somewhere about hope and its relation to a plan.

Yes, no question, in the ANA you've got some very promising senior NCOs and lieutenants, some half decent captains and majors, and some truly awful colonels and generals. And that's before the new Western-trained officers from the new Afghan military college started rejoining the army this spring. Old people have to retire some time, so are things not looking up? Maybe this is just a matter of time?


The trouble is that the ANA has systemic issues that are at least somewhat countervailing. To excel in the ANA today you have to have the attributes your superiors respect. At present in the ANA those include familial connections, a tolerance for senior-level graft, and risk aversion. Things useful to us -- like aggressiveness on the battlefield -- are not on their list. So those who rise rapidly in the ranks in the next couple years are going to have to, to some degree, incorporate those attributes, as well. Which doesn't mean they won't gradually get better as the years go by, but we shouldn't expect they'll get better at the same rate their senior officers get replaced, either, because those same senior officers are the ones picking their replacements.

Note also the use of an ex-ANA senior NCO as a terp. That, too, is unfortunately common. The literate and brainy soldiers, by picking up a little English, can go from $100 a month to $600, and still hang with their buds. Which is still helpful, sure: better for us they work with the army than an NGO. System-wide, it does tend to drain talent from the pool, though, and one suspects is acting to limit the number of actual ANA officers and senior NCOs we can converse with directly.

Posted by BruceR at 12:07 PM