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I am not Kafka. But..

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

[by Charles Cameron — a very preliminary salute to James Bennett and Michael Lotus’ new book, with blues harp to match ]


Okay, I’m a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles, a jackdaw, not the most consistent of readers — but I did stumble upon something…

I’ll admit, I cannot even see how “the actual time and materials cost of the hammer might be $60 a hammer” when its “functional equivalent might cost $20 in a hardware store” — but let’s overlook that 200% markup for a moment, and chew on the rest of this dazzling paragraph from James C. Bennett and Michael J. Lotus, America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity in the 21st Century — Why America’s Greatest Days Are Yet to Come, pp. 266-67:

The Department of Defense requires that the labor time and materials used in building defense items on a “time and materials” basis, which is the great majority of all such items, be documented in excruciating detail. The costs of doing this are themselves allowed as expenses, so that the government ultimately pays for the costs of this proof. Therefore, when lurid accounts of $600 hammers procured by the Pentagon surface in the press, what is actually happening is a hammer whose functional equivalent might cost $20 in a hardware store is purchased in the Pentagon system, the actual time and materials cost of the hammer might be $60, with an additional $540 in documentation costs to ensure that the government is not being over¬charged for the item.

I admit, I am not Kafka.

But if that isn’t a snake biting its own tail arrangement, I don’t know what is.


What can I say?


Interesting, btw — I’ll bet there’s a story behind the decision to switch book covers from the one proposed earlier (at the top of the post, left) to the one the book now carries (right)!

A Culture of Punitive Raiding

Saturday, July 9th, 2011


Robert Haddick agrees with me, albeit with greater eloquence and length ( hat tip to Colonel Dave).

From SWJ Blog:

This Week at War: Rumsfeld’s Revenge

….Rumsfeld’s and Schoomaker’s redesign of the Army into a lighter, more mobile, and more expeditionary force seems permanent. Gone is the Cold War and Desert Storm concept of the long buildup of armor as prelude to a massive decisive battle. Instead, globally mobile brigade combat teams will provide deterrence, respond to crises, and sustain expeditionary campaigns. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the current Army chief of staff (and soon to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) recently described a sustainable brigade rotation system, an expeditionary adaptation that the Navy and Marine Corps have employed for decades. In addition, both the Army and Marine Corps have drawn up plans to shrink their headcounts back near the Rumsfeld-era levels. Rumsfeld’s concerns about personnel costs sapping modernization are now coming to pass.

There now seems to be a near-consensus inside Washington that the large open-ended ground campaigns that Rumsfeld resisted are no longer sustainable. The former defense secretary’s preference for special operations forces, air power, networked intelligence, and indigenous allies is now back in vogue. Even Gen. David Petraeus, who burnished his reputation by reversing Rumsfeld’s policies in Iraq, will now implement Rumsfeld’s doctrine in eastern Afghanistan. According to the New York Times, the U.S. will counter the deteriorating situation there not by shifting in conventional ground troops for pacification, but with “more special forces, intelligence, surveillance, air power … [and] substantially more Afghan boots on the ground.”

While we agree that this is “Rumsfeld’s revenge”, unlike Haddick, I would not choose “doctrine” to describe it. This is really about a “Community of Operators” across services , agencies and their White House superiors adopting a culture of punitive raiding for at least the medium term. A doctrine might come along later but there are downsides to institutionalizing punitive raiding that have already been very well expressed by others (see comments section at SWJ). I’d prefer punitive raiding remain a flexible tool rather than a reflexive response ( it might help if we created a “Community of Thinkers” before we get too comfortable as an international flying squad).

At this point, I will stop and recommend a fine piece by Adam Elkus on the subject of punitive raiding, From Roman Legions to Navy SEALs: Military Raiding and its Discontents. A good primer on the history, implications and drawbacks.

Why is this happening?  Economics and the subsequent electoral politics of a finance-sector driven global depression. The same thing that brought COIN to an end and then finally killed it as an operationally oriented policy.

Punitive raiding is relatively cheaper. It permits defense cuts in the size of the Army and Marine Corps that are badly desired by the administration and Congress. It preserves and justifies investments in naval and air striking power that will bring joy to the Lexington Institute and satisfy many MoC concerned about defense jobs for constituents. On a point of genuine importance, this also hedges against near peer competitors (ahem…cough…China).

Is it a done deal? Unless the economy roars back, yes.


Check out these two directly related posts by Pundita and Joseph Fouche:

America’s Light Footprint Era (Revised) 

Unhappy Medium: The Perils of Annoyance as Your Strategic Default

Tool of the Week Award

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010


“The only people celebrating at the Pentagon last week were the Mexicans working on renovating the building.”                               –  Dr. Loren Thompson

It takes a rare class of wit to combine an allusion to an ethnic minority group while shilling for a fabulously overpaid and notoriously dysfunctional industry that is anxious that we are spending too much money on the war wounded. Full story at Danger Room.

Remember people, every dollar wasted on caring for a critically injured combat veteran, or on a pay raise that keeps a private’s family off of food stamps is a dollar that could have gone to cost overruns or a desperately needed executive bonus.

Spinney on the QDR

Friday, February 5th, 2010

Boyd Acolyte Franklin “Chuck” Spinney writing on the QDR ( Hat tip to Kev Hall).

The Pentagon Goes Intellectually AWOL

….Even by the dismal intellectual standards of Pentagon bureaucracy, the QDR and the FY 2011 budget, taken together, establish a new standard of analytical vacuity, psychological denial, and just plane meaningless drivel. I will keep this short by using just one important case to prove my allegation. Judge for yourself if it is necessary and sufficient to make the point.

First, I must bore you with a little background: The Pentagon has been producing FYDPs since 1962. But these FYDPs have been repeatedly criticized for producing defense budgets that were disconnected from the national military strategy — and because the dollar allocations made in any budget determine what any government’s policy really is, the critique was logically equivalent to saying there was no strategy. The congressional legislation in the mid 1990s that established the QDR was only the most recent attempt to deal with this long standing criticism. The aim of that legislation was to require the Pentagon to lay out an intellectual framework for matching its military strategy and ambitions to the resource constraints shaping those ambitions, especially budgetary constraints, but also constraints relating to people, the limitations imposed by available technologies, etc.

The new FY 2011 budget and its accompanying FYDP, therefore, are supposed to attach budgetary and programmatic meat to the strategic skeleton that is the QDR, both of which were completed at the same time and made public on 1 February — itself a somewhat illogical sequence, given that one is supposed to precede the other. In theory, these documents should permit an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses implicit in the matchup between resources and strategy. Therefore, these documents should enable the Secretary of Defense to send the President and the Congress a comprehensive set of priorities, opportunity costs, and risks associated with his strategic plan. This information would then become the grist for a rational national debate by linking strategic considerations to the inevitable compromises made in the sausage making factory that is Congress. Moreover, as this is President Obama’s first budget, and because it represents $700+ billion that Mr. Obama just put off limits in the coming national debate over whether or how to shrink the federal deficit, it was crucially important for the Pentagon to get the QDR and the accompanying FY 2011-2015 FYDP right in a logically consistent and transparent manner.

If we apply this standard to the Pentagon’s recently completed handiwork, only one conclusion is possible: the Pentagon flunked the test by being intellectually absent without leave.

Read the rest here.

Defense acquisitions and budgeting process arcana are not my forte, but Spinney is not the only defense analyst giving the QDR a thumbs down for being insufficient on important issues. If the process is rigidly determinative of the kinds of outcomes generated and if that process is dysfunctional or broken, then even a talented top DoD civilian staff armed with an ocean of money and a deep reservoir of political capital will not be able to translate our national security priorities into concrete military results.

“Methods are the masters of masters.” – Talleyrand

The Incredible Shrinking State Department must Evolve or Die

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

A quick ‘think” post.

It is generally a bad sign for a SECSTATE so early in an administration to have to come out and deny that they have been marginalized by the White House, as Secretary Clinton felt compelld to do the other day. The denial itself serves as confirmation of the fact.

It is tempting to write this off as another example of traditional, politically-motivated, battles between White House staffers, determined to protect the authority of the POTUS over foreign policy and the bureaucracy at State.  We have seen this struggle in the past with Al Haig, Cyrus Vance, William Rogers, Cordell Hull, Robert Lansing and other SECSTATEs who sooner or later found themselves sidelined and excluded from key foreign policy decisions by the president. However, this is not just a case of Obama insiders distrusting and attempting to “box in” the Clintons as political rivals, by using other high profile players ( though that has been done to Clinton).

Nor is it just that State is grossly underfunded relative to its responsibilities by the U.S. Congress, which it most certainly is. I’m pretty critical of State but to do everything they *should* be doing, and to do the job right, requires a sizable budget increase, perhaps upwards of 50 %. This cut off the nose to spite our foreign policy face niggardliness by the legislature is not new. Go back and read the memoirs of diplomats of a century ago. They wrestled with the same budgetary penury as State has to deal with today; even during WWII when you’d have thought money would be no object, Congress stiffed diplomats in hazardous, war-zone, postings on their food allowances. The foreign service was long the preserve of wealthy, well-connected, white men because back in the day, only they could afford to live on a State Department salary.

No, the hidden problem for the State Department is that in an age of failing, failed and fake states, diplomacy means less than it once did and accomplishes less in a greater number of places. You could replace Hillary Clinton with Talleyrand as SECSTATE and give him $ 100 billion to play with and he’d still be stuck with a collection of chaotic Gap states without effective internal governance, eroding sovereignty and multiplying non-state actors freebooting across international borders. The problem for State is the global evironment and their disinclination to adapt effectively to it as an institution. It’s foreign interlocutors frequently cannot deliver on any deals, even if they wanted to do so. When that is the reality, what role does diplomacy have in policy or strategy?

State needs to overhaul its personnel system and FSO culture to embrace the reality that interagency teamwork at the inception of policy planning is the only way the USG will be able to effectively advance its interests and nurture stability. The age of ambassadors or even mano-a-mano superpower summitry is over, even among great powers because State cannot execute policy across the DIME bureaucratic spectrum much less bring in the private sector on its own. It has neither the imagination nor the power to go it alone. For that matter, State is having enough  trouble just managing its core functions plus public diplomacy and development aid ( the last two so poorly they should be hived off immediately).

SECSTATE Clinton would like to be the Mario Andretti of Obama ‘s foreign policy but what she’s driving amounts to an Edsel. State needs an engineer to re-design it, and an advocate who can pull in the funding, not an operator or manager of the status quo. If State does not change its culture and its structures in the next decade, it is just marking time until some catastrophe results in it being retired to the historical graveyard and replaced with a new agency better suited to the conditions of the 21st century.

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