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Of bombs and cemeteries, documents and doubts

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- a meander of thoughts, from Gaza and Gothic via documentary style photoraphs to juxtaposition and its possible modes of reading ]
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"Israel bombs the dead in Gaza cemeteries" - Jan 2009

As the photo above documents, this strange “twist of fated” has happened before — image drawn from Bin Laden demands holy war as Israel bombs the dead in Gaza cemeteries, Daily Mail, 14 January 2009.

Gazan Gothic.

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My friend Bryan Alexander hosts the Infocult blog, where he showcases gothic elements in our daily lives. It’s a fascinating blog to follow, and a day or three ago Bryan discussed gothic elements in the shooting down of the MH17 over the Ukraine. One rebel source, for instance, reported:

According to the information received from the people who collected the corpses, a large number of the corpses are “not fresh” – these are people who died a few days ago.

Macabre. Gothic.

Bryan’s post concluded thus:

Infocult offers this hypothesis: all intense politics ultimately tend to the Gothic.

– and that’s what brings me back again to Gaza.

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I ran across Gazan Gothic redux in a Foreign Policy piece titled Ramadan in Gaza — in a paragraph that reads:

My six-year-old nephew Bashar told me that he thinks Israelis are crazy. After an airstrike hit a cemetery, he asked me innocently, “Have they meant to kill the dead again, aunt?” I have no words to explain.

That’s gothic for you, and could serve as a fine data point to support Bryan’s hypothesis. But wait a minute…

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That morning I also read — and this had me off on quite a tangent — Arthur Lubow‘s piece, Documentary Art, in the Threepenny Review. Lubow offers a different trajectory from “intense politics” — one that ends in a form of art, not an expression of gothic.. He asks:

What makes a documentary photograph also a work of art? When does its news remain fresh, even after the daily paper or monthly magazine that printed it has faded?

He quotes photographer Walker Evans [Let us now praise famous men] on the difference between two kinds of “current events” photography:

An example of a literal document would be a police photograph of a murder scene. You see, a document has use, whereas art is really useless. Therefore art is never a document, although it certainly can adopt that style.

and writes of the photographer Bruce Davidson, two of whose books he is reviewing:

A photograph of a shattered car in an empty field is a ghastly, violent image. The driver’s window is blown out, the seat is blood-soaked, the doors hang open like broken arms. But to comprehend the horror of this picture, you need to know things that you can learn only from a caption. This was the car that Viola Liuzzo, a volunteer civil rights worker from Detroit, was driving in Alabama when she was shot and killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan in 1965. It is, as Evans would have it, a literal document.

Compare that to another Davidson photograph, taken six years earlier. A pretty girl with a full mane of sun-streaked blonde hair is primping in the mirror of a cigarette machine. A handsome boy alongside her is carefully rolling up a sleeve of his T-shirt. They have placed their drinks on top of the machine: a can of beer for him, a bottle of soda pop for her. In the background, other young people are heading for the lockers. The photograph was shot in Coney Island, one of a series on a Brooklyn gang called the Jokers, whom Davidson followed for almost a year in 1959. But any facts about the Jokers are extraneous to one’s appreciation of this photograph, which is all about the narcissistic eroticism of youth. The graceful crook of the feminine elbow in counterpoint to the taut extension of the boy’s arm, the tarnished reflective surface that reveals the girl’s fleeting beauty, the self-involvement and the sexual heat—these are specific to this scene, and general enough for a viewer to understand. It is documentary style.

Further, he writes:

If a photograph can be reduced to a sentence, its interest is fleeting. When the point is sharp and clear, the afterlife is short. .. It’s a didactic style in which the aphorism needn’t be spelled out in words. On East 100th Street, Davidson photographed a child behind a meshed window, alongside a caged bird, and a boy on a filthy mattress in an alley, almost indistinguishable from piles of strewn garbage. These are valuable as documents. But when he portrays a tiny infant with two figurines, all resting on a couch, or a young man with close-set eyes, holding a pet pigeon, he leaves enough mental space around the image for you to wonder. Like any work of art, a great photograph is suggestive but not dispositive. Its power resides in its ambiguity.

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We’re seemingly a long way from Gaza here, but photographs of Gaza too can be “documents” or “documentary-style” art photos. So alongside Bryan’s hypothesis:

all intense politics ultimately tend to the Gothic

I’ll place my own:

all intense politics ultimately tend to art.

My point here is not to deny Bryan’s, but to point up the many tendencies and end points to which “intense politics” may lead simultaneously – carnage, death and grief prominent among them, and a just peace seldom indeed.

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There’s a quote from the same Lubow piece about photographic juxtapositions that has application to my overall DoubleQuotes project. Describing a photo of “an African-American Freedom Rider .. surrounded by .. jeering white youths” Lubow comments:

The black protestor and several of his tormentors are wearing the same collegiate uniform— — a button-down, light-colored Oxford shirt and dark trousers.

The similarity of clothing worn by the warriors on both sides of the racial divide raises provocative questions. The best photographs do. Whereas (to pick up Evans’s distinction) a documentary photograph can be introduced as evidence, a good documentary-style photograph will raise more doubts than it resolves.

Juxtapositions can point to conclusions, but they are most interesting when they “raise provocative questions” rather than scoring “conclusive” points — my DoubleQuotes included.

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Chet’s Boydian Post-Script to American Spartan

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

Dr. Chet Richards had some kind words to say about my review of American Spartan the other day and added some Boydian strategic analysis to the saga of Major Jim Gant to boot:

Zen Pundit on American Spartan 

….As Mark notes, the strategy of supporting local insurgents goes way back, and it can be highly successful — the United States wouldn’t be here if the French hadn’t taken this approach. But it’s also true, as he notes, that if you create a monster to fight a monster, you have, in fact, created a monster. You’d think we might have learned this from our first Afghan adventure. So I certainly agree with Mark when he says that “It should only be done with eyes wide open as to the potential drawbacks (numerous) and it won’t always work but the militia option works often enough historically that it should be carefully considered,” but “eyes wide open” is easier after the fact. Even a mechanical system of three or more parts can become complex and therefore unpredictable. So we have, at the very least, the US forces, the various tribes and militias, and the government. You see where I’m going with this, and that’s before we consider that the players are hardly mechanical parts whose behavior can be predicted over any length of time.

Still, Mark’s point is spot on — why do we always have to be the redcoats and let the other guys hide behind rocks and trees? Why do we keep doing dumb things? We don’t always, and we haven’t always, but somehow, we’ve developed a knack for discarding winning tactics.

…..One cause of this might be the mentality, attributed to Lord Palmerston several years back, that states have no permanent friends, only permanent interests. Glib statements like this are dangerous because they substitute for understanding and help lock orientation. Furthermore, they lead to the sorts of moral failings that Mark has identified. If you stop and think about it, the exact opposite would be a better way to run a foreign policy.

No organism, including a state, has long-term interests outside of survival on its own terms and increasing its capacity for independent action. As Boyd pointed out, these are easier to achieve if you have others who are sympathetic to your aims. In particular we should conduct our grand strategy (for that’s what Mark is talking about) so that we:

  • Support national goal;
  • Pump up our resolve, drain away adversary resolve, and attract the uncommitted;
  • End conflict on favorable terms;
  • Ensure that conflict and peace terms do not provide seeds for (unfavorable) future conflict. Patterns139

Or, put another way:

Morally we interact with others by avoiding mismatches between what we say we are, what we are, and the world we have to deal with, as well as by abiding by those other cultural codes or standards that we are expected to uphold.  Strategic Game 49

It’s not that hard. Our long-term friends are those who, like us, support our ideals, which we have made explicit….

Read the rest here.

I have to agree with Dr. Chet that we, or rather the USG, continues to do dumb things. It is virtually our default position now. The era of President Abraham Lincoln sending a case of whatever Ulysses S. Grant was drinking to his other generals is long over. Why?

I suspect by needlessly ramping up our organizational complexity we generate endless amounts of unnecessary friction against our ostensible purpose without adding any value. Aside from automatically increasing the number of folks involved who are neither motivated nor competent, making orgs more complex means too many voices and too many lawyers on every decision, of whom too few have a vested interest in the overall success of the policy to keep our strategic ( or at times, tactical) Ends uppermost in mind.

Policy, hell – maybe the first order of business should be to start using more bluntly honest terms like “victory” and “defeat” again in assessing results of military campaigns. They clarify the mind.

Maybe this is why the OSS, enterprising CIA officers like Kermit Roosevelt, Jr. , Edward Lansdale , Duane Clarridge or counterinsurgents like David Hackworth and Jim Gant could accrue large results while operating on a relative shoestring while enormous, powerful, quasi-institutional bureaucratic commands that spanned many years like MACV and ISAF have failed. The former led small teams that were simple, highly motivated and focused on adapting to win.

I fear things will have to get worse – much worse – before they get better.

 

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Bifocal: my friends Benzon and Blake

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- of sight and vision ]
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Wm Blake: The Sun at his Eastern Gate

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My young friend, William Benzon, writes:

When we look at a cloud and see an elephant we don’t conclude that an elephant is up there in the sky, or that the cloud decided to take on an elephant-like form. We know that the cloud has its own dynamics, whatever they might be, and we realize that the elephant form is something we are projecting onto the world.

And mine ancient friend, William Blake, wrote:

“What,” it will be Question’d, “When the Sun rises, do you not see a round disk of fire somewhat like a Guinea?” O no, no, I see an Innumerable company of the Heavenly host crying, `Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.’ I question not my Corporeal or Vegetative eye any more than I would Question a window concerning a Sight. I look thro’ it & not with it.”

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Albrecht Durer, Apocalypse

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As I have written elsewhere:

The great German engraver Albrecht Dürer’s illustrations of the Apocalypse (Book of Revelation) differ from contemporary televised images of warfare not only in terms of the armor and weaponry used, but also and more importantly by recording two worlds, the visible and the invisible, where the television camera records only the visible. The sky in television reports of war contains missiles and warplanes, and if anything “invisible” is depicted, it is invisible only by virtue of being viewed in the infra-red portion of the spectrum via night scope. Dürer’s sky is not merely “sky” but also “heaven”, and thus depicts that “war in heaven” alluded to in Revelations 12: 7, with its angels and demons and dragon, its Lady clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet, and crowned with the stars…

A crucial shift in the way in which we envision “reality” has occurred between Albrecht Dürer’s time and our own, and that shift has indeed largely deprived us of a real sense of the existence of an “invisible world” — whether it be the invisible world of faerie or sacrament, of poetic vision or apocalypse. That great modern prophet William Blake both predicted and lamented this loss, and his entire corpus of poetry and paintings can be viewed as a singular attempt to replace in our culture that visionary quality that our increasing scientism so easily deprives us of.

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Can we restore imagination — Blakean vision, the “heaven” of Albrecht Durer — to a significant place in our lives, without abandoning the clarity as to fact that comes with simple sight and its more sophisticated extensions — the camera, the space probe, the electron microscope?

Have we even any interest in doing that?

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BOOK REVIEW: Adaptive Leadership Handbook by Leland & Vandergriff

Monday, June 16th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

Adaptive Leadership Handbook: :Law Enforcement & Security by Fred Leland & Don Vandergriff 

The Adaptive Leadership Handbook is an unusual book. It is a work about thinking for men and women of action. It is an argument about learning for people whose professional life is governed by their training. Finally, it is a call for dynamic reflection for those accustomed to following proper procedure.  The authors have written a guide to reinventing an organization’s institutional epistemology, the “cognitive culture” in which high stakes decisions are made, how challenges are met and the standards by which outcomes are judged.  They are well qualified to make their case:

Fred Leland, a police lieutenant, former sheriff’s deputy and Marine “….is the Founder and Principal Trainer of LESC: Law Enforcement & Security Consulting and a certified instructor. He specializes in homeland security exercise and evaluation programs (HSEEP), red teaming, ongoing deadly action (active shootings), handling dynamic and violent encounters, recognizing the signs and signals of danger(body language), police operational art, use of force, and decision making under pressure. He develops leaders with the adaptive leadership methodology. His focus is translating theory to practice and facilitating training workshops to law enforcement, military, public and private, campus and university security professionals, in an effort to continually improve officer safety and effectiveness.”

Don Vandergriff is a retired Army major, military consultant, a nationally regarded trainer on leadership development and adaptive decision game methodology, well-regarded author on military affairs whose works include Raising the Bar (required reading at West Point), The Path to Victory and Manning the Future Legions of the United States. For much of the past year Don has been working in Afghanistan, teaching some of what the book is preaching.

I have also had the pleasure of seeing both authors presenting and conducting exercises at Boyd & Beyond conferences and can recommend them strongly. On to the review….

First of all, who is the intended audience for Adaptive Leadership Handbook? Who would benefit from reading it?

1. Any law enforcement personnel at any level – Federal, State, county or municipal. The book has been written with the perspective and problems of their field in mind.

2.  Security professionals, private or public, who provide supplementary or complementary services to law enforcement, public safety, government agencies, corporations or individuals

3.  First responders other than law enforcement

4.  Military personnel who will be engaged in humanitarian relief deployments or constabulary duties among foreign civilian populations in conflict zones or National Guardsmen who might be assigned to disaster relief or civil disorder operations at home.

5.  Academics and journalists who study law enforcement and security issues or MOOTW, FID and COIN

6.  Anyone struggling to reconcile ongoing development of a genuinely professional culture within a bureaucratic-political context

As a reviewer, I fall primarily into categories 6 and 5, so in terms of details, as an outsider, reading the book for me was also a window into the world of professional policing and procedure, especially in terms of making good tactical decisions in real life situations. While for a police officer the authors are discussing familiar scenarios that go to the heart of the law enforcement profession’s work on the street, for me these were illuminating vignettes.  Police facing uncooperative or indecisive or mentally ill suspects, active shooter scenarios, the traffic stop gone bad, possible suicidal individuals and intoxicated parties to a domestic dispute are among the examples used to illustrate how officers can adapt tactically or suffer the consequences if they fail to do so. Each scenario is analyzed with a view not just to alternative tactics but alternative ways to think differently to respond more effectively.

Drawing on  thinkers as diverse as Gary Klein, John Boyd, Clausewitz, John Poole, Sid Heal , Hans  von Seeckt, Paul Van Riper, Sun Tzu and Heraclitus, the thrust of Adaptive Leadership Handbook is the authors attempt to bring police officers beyond the culture of ingrained procedure and rote training methods who react to situations into oriented, intuitive decision-makers and learning, thinking, reflective professionals. A shift of tactical mentality from “Go get him” to “Set him up to get him with an adaptive response”  A variety of methods are advocated to be used regularly in order to cultivate adaptive leaders – After Action Reviews (AAR), Tactical Decision Games (TDG),  Decision Making Critique (DMC) free play exercises, fingerspitzengefuhl, reading body language and pattern recognition. Some examples:

…..A flood of questions will come to mind in the heat of a violent encounter. My point is, the questions will be there but the answers will come in a form of judgment – implicit and intuitive decisions based on your experience and training.

Attention to detail is not the sole answer in the non-linear world of violence. Instead, it’s paying attention to detail that has meaning in the heat of the moment. [p.143]

and

….Can those of us involved in extreme situations where life and death are at stake actually make decisions without thinking, without analyzing options, intuitively?

The answer is clearly yes.

Dr. Gary Klein in his research of cognitive development talks about making decisions under pressure in what he describes as “Recognition-Primed Decision Making”. What Klein found working with the united States marine Corps, Emergency workers and Businesses across the country was, “It was not that commanders were refusing to compare options. I had become so fixated on what they were not doing that I had missed the real finding: that the commanders could come up with a good course of action from the start. That is what the stories were telling us. Even when faced with a complex situation, the commanders could see it as familiar and know how to react. [....] the commanders secret was that their experience let them see a situation, even a non-routine one, as an example of a prototype, so they knew the typical course of action right away. Their experience let them identify a reasonable reaction as the first one they considered, so they did not bother thinking of others. They were not being perverse. They were being skillful.” [p. 89]

and

With an adversary who says NO and takes action to thwart our efforts we will always have to be prepared to use our awareness, insight imagination and initiative applying the science and art of tactics, operationally, while striving ouselves to overcome the effects of friction, while interacting with an adversary. We must attempt at the same time to raise our adversary’s friction to a level that weakens his ability to fight. This interplay is necessary in an effort to shape and reshape the climate of a situation and win without fighting if possible.

Leland and Vandergriff are aiming at reshaping police organizations cognitive culture to permit decentralized decision-making as close to the problem on the street as possible, with officers confident and capable of taking the initiative and exercising good judgment in the context of circumstances. This entails a reframing of procedures from rules to tools, from being directions to being a map or template for independent decision making. A shift on the spectrum from training toward learning to make each officer more effective and more adaptive.

Strongly recommended.

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Don Vandergriff Reviews American Spartan by Ann Scott Tyson

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen']

American Spartan: The Promise, the Mission, and the Betrayal of Special Forces Major Jim Gant by Ann Scott Tyson

Over at Fred Leland’s LESC blog, friend of ZP, Major Don Vandergriff has spot-on reviewed the controversial bio-memoir American Spartan:

 Have We Not Learned Anything From History? Don Vandergriff’s Book Review on American Spartan

 

American Spartan: The Promise, the Mission, and the Betrayal of Special Forces Major Jim Gant  is a MUST read for any military professional on how the United States military, including US Special Operations Command remains a bureaucratic organization hampered by a top down hierarchy filled with people more concerned with their egos, status-quo, than accomplishment of the mission, regardless of who achieves that goal.

The focus of most reviews has been on Jim Gant’s unethical conduct (easily recognized as being caused by PTSD (Jim was in combat longer than most people)), while ignoring the main themes of the book. Most people have referenced Jim Gant going native and assuming the persona of rogue Special Forces COL Walter Kurtz from the movie Apocalypse Now (based on Joseph Conrad’s book Heart of Darkness (1899)). Unfortunately, based off personal experiences with the Army, I firmly believe his violations of breaking General Order #1 (and all the subsets of such which includes alcohol consumption, engaging in sexual activities with the woman who later became his wife, etc) had nothing to do with some Military brass desires in destroying his career—though these actions made it easier (how many of the brass flew into see Jim while these were going on, but as long as his actions were successful, tended not to notice them?).

Instead, I am almost certain it had to do with that fact that Gant was a major, did not plow the traditional lanes prescribed by the personal system. Gant was a proven combat leader (Silver and Bronze Stars as well as well as Purple Hearts), had a great idea, then had the moral courage to write and push it in order to win in Afghanistan. His paper “One Tribe at a Time” was recognized by the highest levels of the government and the military. But, and a big but, he did this as a major and not as a selected member of the club (which is actually more significant). He was so adamant in his belief on how to deliver victory, that he broke from the prescribed career course to accomplish this task. I can speak from personal experience.

Shortly after my book Path to Victory: America’s Army and the Revolution in Human Affairs was published in May 2002, it was an immediate hit on the media circles (as well as being read at the highest levels of the government and Army). In early August 2002, while recovering from having the first of my two feet rebuilt, I received a call from a journalist. “Don, did you hear what happened at the Secretary of the Army [Tom White] media round table?” “No I did not.” I replied. Well, the journalist went on and told me that “he [the Secretary] held up my book and said it was the future blueprint for the Army.”

Immediately after a two hour briefing to the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, General Jack Keane, in late June 2002, the general told me to brief a long list of people, coupled with guidance from the Secretary of the Army’s staff, I spent two years from June 2002 to June 2004 briefing almost a hundred senior leaders ranging from senior generals, to Congressman, senior civilians as well as staffers and think tanks. All this, like Jim Gant was followed by a vocal order only. There was no written order or directive to my chain of command detailing these important additional duties prescribed by the highest levels of the Army. My wife and I were left to get me to the briefings on our own, with no assistance from anyone (I had one of two feet rebuilt at the time, so my wife Lorraine had to drive me all over D.C. to get to these briefings).

Shortly after Jim Gant’s VTC briefing with Admiral Eric Thor Olson Commander of Special Operations Command, who verbally ordered Jim to begin his mission, the warnings to watch your back began to appear, “But as quickly as Jim had gotten his dream mission, forces within his Army chain of command tried to take it away. Jim was fully aware that he, a lowly major, had unleashed a rash of professional jealousy by winning such high-level praise. What he didn’t realize was that two military hierarchies were about to battle over his fate—one in the United States and the other in Afghanistan.”

Compare the story of Major Jim Gant with how German Captain Willy Rohr changed infantry tactics, weapons and doctrine within the World War One German Army is a remarkable story. He succeeded in his task as a result of the German Army’s ideas of operational adaptability, mission command and decentralized authority. Captain Rohr changed squad warfare and German Army tactics in two years and seven months. Capt Rohr’s unit did it all – experimented with new weapons and equipment, combat tested new ideas, evaluated new tactics, and trained those which would change an entire army. He completely revolutionized the infantry linear tactics of the preceding hundred years. The German HQ used decentralization to great effect with Captain Rohr. No rules, regulations nor superiors held Captain Rohr from developing the doctrine or training the entire German Army on the Western Front.

Even with the excellent support that Jim Gant received from the Special Forces Chain of Command at Fort Bragg right after his VTC with Admiral Olson, he began to also get emails in contradictions to the intent of the chain of command in the U.S., “One morning just two weeks after he spoke with Adm. Olson, Jim opened his email at his house in Fayetteville to find a terse and defensive message from Col. Mark Swartz, operations director for the Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command—Afghanistan (CFSOCC-A) in Kabul…There is no intent to put you on a ‘special team’ conducting tribal engagement.”

To dig the dagger deeper, Swartz, echoing the command in Afghanistan, went on, “…instead,’ he said, ‘Jim would be assigned as a ‘staff officer to the J35 Future Operations Directorate,’ putting Jim in the last place on earth he ever wished to be: behind a desk.” Swartz went on to close out his email to Jim, “I understand that you were potentially putting together a select group of NCOs to accompany you to the headquarters. Now that you have a better understanding of the scope of your duties working within the J35, you realize you do not require a team of individuals to accompany you,’ Swartz wrote.” All this occurred in contrast to the support Jim had received from the President, Secretary of Defense, and senior military leaders such as Admiral Olson and General David Petraeus upon reading his paper. They recognized Gant had a solution to the strategic problem called Afghanistan. Jim Gant was one of the few that understood how to successful conduct Counter-Insurgency (COIN). The question would become, how much support would they throw behind this major?

Not much.

Well, that’s not exactly accurate. For a time, Major Gant had an unusually large amount of operational  leeway in handling his mission while his “top cover” lasted as well as high-profile “facetime” with the most senior leaders in the Army, including General David Petraeus. This contrasted with a bizarre allocation of personnel and at times, spiteful denial of basic military supplies, by Gant’s chain of command. The combination struck me as bureaucratically schizophrenic and self-defeating.

Vandergriff continues:

….The book also exposes the misuse of the Special Forces from a strategic asset to a tactical tool focused on attrition warfare. The organization is a strategic asset, experts at developing and assisting foreign forces in fighting our enemies, so US forces do not have too. Jim Gant’s push of “One Tribe at a Time” exposed the emphasis on tactical attrition in the use of “direct-action” missions (raids, assaults, the killing and capture of “high-value targets”).

No one questions the bravery and unique skills of the Special Forces soldier (I have many friends in Special Forces and they are some of the finest professionals I have had the honor to know), but transferring them from a strategic to a tactical asset fulfilled the short-term career outlooks of many officers. There was more glory in kicking in doors, seizing objectives in night time raids that satisfied the short-term requirements built into officer performance evaluations than the long term requirement, taking many years, to build up indigent forces.

Also the results from direct action missions brief better statistically on PowerPoint slides showing immediate, time-now progress, versus the time it takes to grow local forces easily emerges into the “show-me now” personnel system. The year-long rotation of individuals and units, a lesson not learned from Vietnam also fits into the former, and not the latter problem—people staying for less than one year, could not grow the relationships built on trust necessary for Jim’s program to succeed. Jim Gant recognized all these issues, but his highlighting them through “One Tribe at a Time” did not sit well with many middle grate and senior officers.

George S. Patton was a Lieutenant when World War I began for the U.S. Army. On May 15, 1917 he was promoted to Captain. Taking command of the new U.S. Army Armor school and recognized for his ability to train and innovate, he was promoted to Major on January 26, 1918. Upon assuming the command of the 1st US Army tank battalion, he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on April 3, 1918. And for his heroic actions in leading the 1st US Tank Brigade in Meuse Argonne, he was promoted to Colonel on October 17, 1918 (though by 1920 he was demoted back to major in the peacetime Army—but he was put in a position based on his talents to help the Allies win the War).

Jim Gant recognized the downfall with direct action missions and even admitted that he to had been drawn to the excitement of conducting them. But he realized that it would not win the war in Afghanistan. As he experienced with his replacement in Kunar province in 2010, “…was already concerned about making the handoff in April to the incoming Special Forces team. The team leader, Capt. Randy Fleming, had emailed him asking questions about the gym and chow hall. Clearly Fleming had no concept of living in an Afghan qalat [compound], let alone the overall mission.”

Jim Gant did have allies, even though few stepped forward to do more than to give him vocal support by warning him to stay out of the middle of the bureaucratic battle that was reminiscent of high school power games than a professional army. At one point he was told after receiving high level support and guidance from Special Forces Command, “Your employment will be decided by the in-theater chain of command.”

The military system is unique where we thrive in ridiculous out of date concepts like “up or out” (first employed by the Navy in 1917) or “Never make your leaders look bad” (based on the fact that through most wars, superiors were not prepared competently for the challenges of combat). While in the true test of a military professional, Gant succeeded in his mission and in doing so, he made some military leaders look bad because they were more focused on routine, process and remaining in FOBs (Forwarding Operating Bases) than doing what it took to win. Jim even received an email from his commander prescribing the length of facial hair of Special Forces soldiers while he was in the middle of making his plan work in combat!

That part about an 0-6 wasting valuable time in theater fussing in minute detail about beards on a handful of soldiers who were working in mufti with Pashtun tribesmen struck me also as something straight out of Catch-22. Don has encapsulated many of the frustrations I felt when reading American Spartan all too well.

Read the rest of Don’s review here.

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