26 July 2006

The Blogger-Military Reform Complex

Brutus at Creative Destruction has kindly noted a couple of my posts on the impact of missile technology on modern warfare. The question he poses in that post is a reasonable one and deserves a little more attention. It is intimately related to the question of why I military blog, which as a civilian with no real deep understanding of the issues at all in this area until I started digging into it a couple of years ago, seems to come out of blue.

[W]ho’s minding the store to ensure that we adapt responsibly to current needs? . . . If some guy with a blog and some free time can assemble well-argued posts on the subject, I have to wonder who in government is paying attention to these issues and planning for the future? The Pentagon? Some government-sponsored think tank? No one? Waiting for an academic review, conducted from the perspective of hindsight, certainly can’t be the answer. That takes too long and, in the meantime, too many lives and opportunities are squandered.

It’s been argued for some time that traditional government, not unlike traditional warfare, no longer fulfills its mission, which itself is difficult to articulate. Significant evidence (omitted for brevity) of government failure, mismanagement, and corruption in the public sector is sometimes likened to market failure in the private sector. As with all mature systems, formalism sets in and renders long-established government bureaucracies incapable of responding to the changing face of both domestic and geopolitical issues. Considering that electoral politics dominates the political sphere (and the cult of personality, corrupt fundraising, and obvious profit taking that go with electoral politics), it’s a wonder that anything gets done at all. . . . [W]e entrust and empower our government to develop a cohesive and comprehensive view of providing for the public welfare. On even the slightest review, however, what we actually have for government looks more like a headless beast, all bloated body and tentacles operating without coordination. We can mostly likely respond to new threats and cataclysms as they occur, but it would sure be nice to be able to anticipate them, which I fear we can’t when no one is truly minding the store.

The first key point to understand that bloggers, like me, are not really the people with the great ideas. Almost all my ideas originate with real military experts, or are obvious corollaries of those ideas. I am an information maven, and not the only one. My goal in life when I military blog, is not to personally come up with solutions to the military's problems, so much as it is to make a wider audience aware of the points being raised by independent thinking reformers within the existing military establishment, who have conviced me that they have worthwhile arguments. The internet makes access to their ideas and the original documents that back them up, much easier to obtain.

The military is deeply frozen into a bureaucratically maintained status quo, which can only be overcome with intentional and intense effort by people in the position to take action. In other words, change can only come from the top military brass and the civilian leadership in the Pentagon, the White House and the relevant committees in Congress. Either the existing leaders have to acknowledge the errors of their ways, or existing elected officials have to step in and take action, or new elected officials need to step into the fray to take action.

The vast majority of reform oriented military blogging takes place in the right wing blogosphere, and as studies have shown, the right wing blogosphere and the left wing blogosphere cross pollinate only very rarely. Military bloggers bear a fair share of the credit for preventing the Air Force from killing the A-10 Warthog attack aircraft, and for a Congressional decision to kill the DD(X) (now DDG-1000) program after a purchase of a mere two ships. They have also been instrumental in pressuring the military and Congress to armor Humvees and to go beyond that step to purchase purpose built armored patrol vehicles for counterinsurgency missions like the one in Iraq. And, it is fair to say that they have also been influential in the discussion over the purchase of a new assault rifle (the XM-8 program), although the ultimate outcome of that debate remains unresolved at the moment.

Military bloggers have had influence in these debates because right wing politicians can be influenced by the collective voice of the right wing blogosphere, which shapes conventional wisdom among Republican members of Congress and Republican political appointees. They are listened to, in part, because Republican politicians are more comfortable thinking about and discussing the nitty gritty of military policy than most Democratic politicians. Democratic politicians tend to be preoccupied with issues like the legality of war on terrorism techniques, military justice, the treatment of returning veterans and the desirability of fighting particular wars (or wars in general) at all. A few Democratic politicians go beyond these issues, rather than simply deferring to the executive branch on the details of military policy. But, a good share of those, like Lieberman, are so moderate politically, that they are DINOs, Democrats In Name Only.

I come to this area not from the military side, but from the political side. My background and contacts are primarily with politicians, not soldiers. And, much as they sometimes resent it, ultimately, it is the politicians, and not the soldiers, who make the key calls on military policy.

I believe that the nitty gritty of the kind of military we want to build at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars, is an issue too important to leave to professionals operating in the context of a dsyfunctional bureaucracy. The issues are not necessarily inherently partisan. Hell, I've praised some of Donald Rumsfield's decisions on this score, even though others have been abysmally bad. But, as an opposition party, and as a potential party of government, the elected officials in the Democratic party are the only way that some of the more deep seated problems with our military can solved through significant reforms. Democrats aren't politically wedded to bad decisions already made on these issues, and the pressures of the military-industrial lobby to which many Republicans are beholden.

Significant reforms, however, will only happen is a significant number of Democratic party politicians take an interest making them happen. This means that Democratic party political players need to be educated about the issues, and that a consensus needs to develop within this group of educated Democratic party political players about certain big picture reforms that need to happen, where reformers backed by solid evidence have been thwarted by existing military institutions. It is in their interest to do so, because the kind of military you develop influences the kinds of wars you will fight, and those decisions should be guided by the values of the Democratic party.

When that consensus develops, a Democratic party military agenda can develop and can be campaigned upon, allowing Democrats to take a leadership role on national security issues that the party has ceded to Republicans since at least the Eisenhower administration. Then, when, sooner or later, the Republicans are ousted, that agenda can be implemented, the country can be made a safer place, and conventional wisdom on key military issues that the brass now has wrong, will change, because conventional wisdom usually follows the opinions of whoever is in charge.

The problem is that right now, Democratic party politicians are largely unaware even of what the issues are, and certainly don't understand them. They lack the confidence, the understanding and the consensus necessary to bring about real reform.

My mission, ambitious as it is, is to play one small part in developing understanding and consensus within the Democratic party about military issues so that this situation can change, and so that real, positive change that makes our country safer can happen.


Kyle said...

That is an ambitious mission, but I think a good one, and one that you are well equipped for.

I've always liked your military related posts, and on more than one occasion have been a bit puzzled that they contained so much information that was completely new to me - as opposed to information I had heard and a perspective I hadn't. This is an area you can write about and be assured most of your readers wouldn't hear about it anywhere else.

Anonymous said...

something worth noting in my opinion

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