Many of you have seen the controversial NRO essay by David French on absurdly restrictive rules of engagement that enlisted men and their NCO’s and junior officers have been forced to wrestle with in Iraq, Afghanistan and miscellaneous conflict zones. This is a problem that began under the Bush II administration as the Army and Marine Corps wrestled with pop-centric COIN theory, but ROE became increasingly self-defeating under the Obama administration’s philosophy of micromanaging the world from the White House staff conference room. If you have not read the article yet, here it is with a blurb:
….This evening, however, our troopers believed that the car ahead wasn’t full of civilians. The driver was too skilled, his tactics too knowing for a carload of shepherds. As the car disappeared into the night, the senior officer on the scene radioed for permission to fire. His request went to the TOC, the tactical operations center, which is the beating heart of command and control in the battlefield environment. There the “battle captain,” or the senior officer in the chain of command, would decide — shoot or don’t shoot.
But first there was a call for the battle captain to make, all the way to brigade headquarters, where a JAG officer — an Army lawyer — was on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. His job was to analyze the request, apply the governing rules of engagement, and make a recommendation to the chain of command. While the commander made the ultimate decision, he rarely contradicted JAG recommendations. After all, if soldiers opened fire after a lawyer had deemed the attack outside the rules, they would risk discipline — even prosecution — if the engagement went awry.
Acting on the best available information — including a description of the suspect vehicle, a description of its tactics, analysis of relevant intelligence, and any available video feeds — the JAG officer had to determine whether there was sufficient evidence of “hostile intent” to authorize the use of deadly force. He had to make a life-or-death decision in mere minutes. In this case, the lawyer said no — insufficient evidence. No deadly force. Move to detain rather than shoot to kill. The commander deferred. No shot. Move to detain.
So the chase continued, across roads and open desert. The suspect vehicle did its best to shake free, but at last it was cornered by converging American forces. There was no escape. Four men emerged from the car. American soldiers dismounted from their MRAPs, and with one man in the lead, weapons raised, they ordered the Iraqis to surrender. Those who were in the TOC that night initially thought someone had stepped on a land mine. Watching on video feed, they saw the screen go white, then black. For several agonizing minutes, no one knew what had happened. Then the call came. Suicide bomber. One of the suspects had self-detonated, and Americans were hurt. One badly — very badly. Despite desperate efforts to save his life, he died just before he arrived at a functioning aid station. Another casualty of the rules of engagement.
Such a system, where brigade headquarters must be consulted by low level patrols or checkpoints before any combat action can be taken is essentially organizational paralysis of the fighting force, an fundamental principle of the art of defeat. What to do?
If we are to take the premises of the domestic-politics driven ROE imposed on front-line troops by the Obama administration and a pliant senior leadership because they believe that our soldiers and Marines cannot be trusted with even the smallest decisions, the solution is obvious: we could field platoons composed entirely of lawyers. At least until robot soldiery becomes fully autonomous.
Our newly established ObamaCorps Lawyer-Infantry units would have troops all certified as JAG officers in charge of supervising themselves in decisions to fire. No officers or NCOs will be required since they are effectively expected to defer to a lawyer over the radio anyway, they no longer serve a useful purpose in modern battle.
We will save time, save money on radios and radio operator positions ( we will have lawyer-pilots to do CAS and lawyer-artillery men to decide on when to bombard the enemy). We can also save money on general officers by drafting retired Supreme Court justices to serve as a Board of Appeal in place of a theater or combatant commander. Should work better than what we do now at least.
JAG officers are not to blame for this situation, they are inserted where commanders and politicians demand they be inserted and they must follow orders in interpreting ROE as best they can. You could remove the lawyers entirely from this process and a SSG or LT having to call up a 24 hour “hot line” to brigade headquarters (!) to talk to staff officer colonels of infantry before letting privates fire their weapon in a normal combat situation remains equally ludicrous and ineffective.
What the Obama administration has done by incremental steps, aided by a careerist and risk averse leadership, is put American troops under unworkable “police model” warfighting constraints without openly admitting this is their policy goal. Moreover, the longer these constraints and procedures remain in place, the more institutionalized they become as the new “American way of war” and legal Catch-22 for low level troops is the normal way of doing business.
Without serious pushback, the risk to troops and tactical harm becomes likely to endure long after the Obama staff apparatchiks leave office.
President Obama addressed the nation in the wake of the ISIS-inspired terrorism San Bernardino that killed 14 people. You can read a transcript of his speech here. A few quick comments:
It is a positive, albeit small, step toward realism in the White House that the President managed to connect an act with terrorism with radical Islam as a causal factor in public. Furthermore, the recognition that our policies on immigration from states with extremely problematic connections with Islamist extremism and terrorism (i.e. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) contributed to the massacre is a welcome change. Recall that the administration’s initial reaction was to call the murders “gun violence” -as if the culprits here were some kind of mystery – and for the Attorney-General to make disturbing noises about criminalizing free speech critical of Islam she found objectionable.
The President’s reluctance to get into a large ground war with ISIS in Iraq and Syria is laudable. That does not mean our current actions against ISIS are effective or vigorous. They have been up until Russia’s intervention in Syria, remarkably tepid. It is laudable because at present the administration lacks a strategy for a major ground campaign; would be diplomatically unable, or find unpalatable, coordinating such a campaign with Russia, Iran, the Kurds, the Iraqi government, France and Turkey; and because the Congress and public would not wish to pay for a war of that magnitude. The President’s current strategy of air power, special forces, advice and aid is not bad in principle, but will not likely be effective in crippling ISIS unless ramped up by many orders of magnitude. Even then it would be a process of grinding ISIS down over time. Will this POTUS do that?
The President’s plea for gun control on semi-automatic rifles is a pet partisan issue for liberal Democrats irrelevant to stopping terrorism. It has no chance of passing either House of Congress. He will have no luck either with barring people on the No-Fly list from buying guns until he proposes legislation that specifically accommodates the due process rights of the accused. Nor should he until this happens, given the number of people who have ended up on the unaccountable, secret, No-Fly list out of error, capricious bureaucrats, mistaken identity and for being critical in print or online of the performance of government agencies.
The fact is the POTUS is by this time, a lame duck while 2016 campaigning is well under way. The president has never liked compromise with Republicans or advice from fellow Democrats and has kept counsel with a very small group of advisers in his second term. We are unlikely see much change in policy without a broadening of his inner circle.
It is now 2015, so for practical purposes, we’re thinking here about prophecies and predictions that offer what their authors hope will come close to 35-year foresight.
Short form: I don’t get it.
Obama, like him or not, Christor Antichrist, Peace-Nobelist or Pol, is now US President and has — whatever his strengths, failings, or both — some influence on how the earth turns, which way the moral arc of the universe bends, and or what history will be seen and written once the future is present.
Short form: How does history happen?
I’ll raise that question by posting three videos along one such arc of history — and I’ll avoid the usual genre of “news” and work with song, dream and sermon.
Describing the impact of Billie Holliday’s song, Strange Fruit, David Margolick wrote in his “biography of a song“:
An “historic document,” the famed songwriter E.Y. “Yip” Harburg called “Strange Fruit.” The late jazz writer Leonard Feather once called “Strange Fruit” “the first significant protest in words and music, the first unmuted cry against racism.” To Bobby Short, the song was “very, very pivotal,” a way of moving the tragedy of lynching out of the black press and into the white consciousness. “When you think of the South and Jim Crow, you naturally think of the song, not of `We Shall Overcome,’” said Studs Terkel. Ahmet Ertegun, the legendary record producer, called “Strange Fruit,” which Holiday first sang sixteen years before Rosa Parks refused to yield her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus, “a declaration of war … the beginning of the civil rights movement.”
As Shelley reported, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”
Preaching borders on prophecy when it addresses dreams, as in Martin Luther King’s great 1963 oration, spoken decades after Abel Meeropol published Strange Fruit as a poem in 1937 and Billie Holliday recorded it in 1939:
The focus on “I have a dream” comes through the speech’s delivery. Toward the end of its delivery, noted African American gospel singer Mahalia Jackson shouted to King from the crowd, “Tell them about the dream, Martin.” King stopped delivering his prepared speech, and started “preaching”, punctuating his points with “I have a dream.”
The President of the United States is an acknowledged legislator, constrained by checks and balances that preachers and poets do not face, yet his voice too has been raised from rhetoric to song:
The choice of grace as the unifying theme, which by the standards of political speeches qualifies as a stroke of genius.
The shifting registers in which Obama spoke—by which I mean “black” versus “white” modes of speech — and the accompanying deliberate shifts in shadings of the word we.
The start-to-end framing of his remarks as religious, and explicitly Christian, and often African American Christian, which allowed him to present political points in an unexpected way.
Amazing Grace now takes the place of Strange Fruit, and a President that of a poet and a singer — much has changed, yet much remains.
My own Prior Art on prognostication:
Recently, in Simply so much.. 02 here on Zenpundit, I pondered the nature of foresight in terms of a Marine Corps forecast:
I’m thinking of Lise Meitner as I view the Marine Corps’ ambitiously titled Security Environment Forecast 2030-2045. Who would have thought in 1919 that Hahn, Meitner and Strassmann in 1935 would begin a program that resulted in 1939 in her 1939 paper Disintegration of Uranium by Neutrons: A New Type of Nuclear Reaction — which in turn led to Moe Berg‘s attending a lecture by Heisenberg, the Trinity test at Alamagordo, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
And yet the period from 1919 (Treaty of Versailles) to 1939 (fission theorized) is only 20 years, and from 1919 to 1945 (nuclear warfare) is 26 years — equivalents, respectively, to the periods from 2015 (today) to 2035 (a third of the way into the USMC’s period of prediction) and 2041 (still within the UMSC timeline).
That’s my attempt at a sober assessment of how difficult it is to “see ahead”.
My Art of Future Warfare story, War in Heaven, is set — as the contest rules required — in 2090.
By twenty-ninety, in my fanciful hypothesis, we may well have learned how to choose which timeline we want to live along in a “manyworld” of constantly branching possibilities – “words are many, worlds are many more, if possible” I wrote, and supplied portals to worlds secular, magical, religious and fictitious:
Forty some years from now, in the wake of John Hardy Elk’s vision and its definitive corroboration “in the external” by physicists at the CERN Diffraction Lab, Shamanism is overturning “the Enlightenment” as the preferred intellectual basis for inquiry. With its gestalt understanding of the interconnectedness not only of space and time but of chance and will, context and perspective, self and other, the Shamanic method of burrowing into deep external space “in the internal” has proven more powerful, faster, and – yes — way more creative than what are now known as the old “heavy lifting” methods of transport.
With schools of Tibetan, Navaho, Benedictine and other forms of contemplative instruction now rapidly surpassing CalTech as the educational venues of choice, and Oxford morphing back towards its earlier life in which theology was Queen of the Sciences, a great many talented explorers have now visited realms considered impossibly “far away” even a decade earlier, the “digital” has fallen away at a time when communication between the like-minded is achieved telepathically, and “radiance bombs” vie with “dark bombs” in the end-of-century duels scattered across many galaxies in which “white” and “black” magics compete — under the law, some would say theory, of the Conservation of Moral Balance.
40 years is the period from Fort Sumter to the Death of Victoria, from the Death of Victoria to Pearl Harbor, from Pearl Harbor to the inauguration of Ronald Reagan. It is a big chunk of history. It is enough time to gain perspective.
The event, then, was pitched five years past the Marines’ forecast, though still forty years short of my War in Heaven. And once again, though more explicitly this time, I relied on the branching worlds idea.. Here, though, I attempted –- not unlike a circus performer astride two horses -– to bring together the physical and moral universes:
Historians — on the world-line this is written from, and consequently in those cognate worldlines in which you are reading me — tend to date the by now (2050) clear shift in priorities (if not in actualization) currently emerging along these world-lines to the 2020 joint publication in Nature and Physical Review G of Dogen’s confirmation of the Everett-Klee Transformation Hypothesis, which stated (in its minimal formulation) that free choice is the mechanism by which a human individual switches tracks in a given “present moment” from a “past” world-line to a particular “future” world-line, branching “in that moment” from the first.
We don’t, I posited, move across parallel “shadow” worlds by diving into portrait size Tarot cards, walking a kundalini-enhancing maze, or substituting the sky, landscape and other furniture of one world-line into that of another, though the great Roger Zelazny in his Amber series posits these as methods for planet-hopping.
My suggestion: we chose which routes we take when faced with the constant bifurcations of the manyworlds by the moral choices we make.
And in all this I attempt, however playfully, to glimpse how the past and present might prefigure our possible and impossible futures — and how one or more of those futures may pass through the sieve of the onward-pressing present to become history
Zenpundit is a blog dedicated to exploring the intersections of foreign policy, history, military theory, national security,strategic thinking, futurism, cognition and a number of other esoteric pursuits.