The rise and fall and maybe rise of military reform

Two insiders of the “military reform movement” of the 1970s and ’80s have written what amounts to a tell-all: Who was in the movement, who supported it, and who claimed to support it but in the end betrayed it. The military reform movement, for those unfamiliar with the term, was a bi-partisan effort to try to get the Pentagon to buy weapon systems that worked, adopt doctrines that had proven to win, and create personnel and training programs to support the new doctrines, weapons, and tactics. All of these were opposed by the senior leadership of the Pentagon, with few exceptions, and after an initial wave of enthusiasm, by the key leaders of Congress.

Cover of Military ReformAnybody who wonders how and why large organizations successfully resist changes that would make them more effective should read the book, Military Reform, by Winslow Wheeler and Lawrence Korb. It’s not just the Pentagon. American business also suffers from this malaise: The Big 3 automakers, most of the airline industry, Sears, A&P (remember them?), the list goes on. Eventually, though, the immutable laws of economics and other forms of conflict catch up, and we witness the giants of industry overcome by poorly financed start-ups, and our largely non-reformed military struggling against rag-tag cells and militias.

I know practically all of the people mentioned in this book, at least the “good guys” who struggled for reform (Wheeler and Korb try to be objective, but …), and their portraits are both sympathetic and accurate.

It is always darkest before the dawn, and perhaps we are seeing in the Army and Marine Corps the first glimmerings of a new day on the horizon. Retired Army Major Don Vandergriff, for example, is having considerable success in helping the Army think through how to develop officers for 21st century conflict–much more success than he ever had while on active duty. Similarly, retired colonels Mike Wyly (USMC) and Doug Macgregor (Army) have become legendary names to many in their services.

There is also hope in such developments as the new emphasis on counterinsurgency theory. I personally don’t think that C/I is the solution to anything other than insurgency, not a way to suppress the natural desire of people to resist occupation. The officers trying to construct a new C/I doctrine, however, seem to realize that so much of what the military is doing today–that is, the legacy of those who defeated the first round of reformers–simply does not apply to the world the way it is. And that is the first requirement for reform.

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25 Responses to “The rise and fall and maybe rise of military reform”

  1. maximilliangcon 17 Dec 2007 at 12:40 pm 1

    Here’s a list of some notable People who were heavily involved in Mil. reform, that SACRIFICED, did not yield, and in most cases and despite the odds, continue to fight the good fight.

    I’ve never had anything to do in terms of any involvement what so ever with the US military, or any other country’s, and yet I know these names off the top of my head.

    When you get a chance, Take a moment, stand up, put your hand over your heart, and thank God for these people.

    If not for these, the few outspoken, the US military industrial complex would operate virtually, and entirely unopposed.

    Everest Riccioni
    Charles Spinney
    Pierre Sprey
    William Lind
    James Stevenson
    James Burton
    Winslow Wheeler
    Chuck Myers
    Chalmers Johnson

    And of course the late USAF Col, John Boyd himself.

    There are probably several more, including those who use anonymous identities, I apologize for any that I overlooked.

    Max

  2. gracaton 17 Dec 2007 at 8:02 pm 2

    Amen,

    I served in the Vietnam era Army. Father is a WW II vet. And had a really lousy stint in service and chastised myself for years about it. Then in college I started reading and digging deeper into how the worlds militaries and foreign policies are done and realized there could be a better way. I pity todays uneducated service man or woman who enlists for lack of work etc. I grew up in D.C. and still was naive when it came to the ways of the services.

    Donald

  3. maximilliangcon 17 Dec 2007 at 9:52 pm 3

    “I started reading and digging deeper into how the worlds militaries and foreign policies are done and realized there could be a better way.”

    This can be a very painfull realisation for many Americans, that they
    are not as they are told, and told, and told again, “the good guys.”

    Don you are among the enlightened; your just being here on this site
    also says a lot.

    MaX

  4. jaylemeuxon 18 Dec 2007 at 7:34 am 4

    what killed me was realizing that even if we were, contrary to what we were told, the “bad guys,” we could have done a better job of doing THAT.

    i thank the above noted reformists for their efforts, but regret to say that unless more join their ranks, the military industrial complex won’t be facing a whole lot of friction any time soon. it maintained its vice-like grip throughout my time in Iraq-instead of teaching us how to get around without moving arrogantly down the main streets in broad daylight, the MIC sold uparmor Humvees as the answer to IEDs. When it became clear that all the resistance had to do was spend a little more energy on placement and targeting to neutralize the armor, the MIC forced the brilliant idea (our leaders’ willingness to swallow it didn’t hurt) of electronic countermeasures as the NEW answer to IEDs.

    when all of that technology didn’t solve the problem, a common answer in many units was to just quit leaving the wire altogether.

  5. maximilliangcon 18 Dec 2007 at 10:36 pm 5

    “the MIC forced the brilliant idea (our leaders’ willingness to swallow it didn’t hurt) of electronic countermeasures as the NEW answer to IEDs.”

    Of course, the US taxpayers must be sold a hundred million dollar solution to a low tech problem, and never mind that we shouldn’t be there in the first place.

    It boils down to this, this GWOT is being run on the model of a perfected sustainable business model. Right out of a Harvard text book.

    MaXimillian.

  6. jaylemeuxon 19 Dec 2007 at 12:18 pm 6

    is it only a hundred million dollars? i always assumed that ECMs (at least the newer ones) were a million apiece. Maybe that was a bit high.

  7. maximilliangcon 19 Dec 2007 at 4:57 pm 7

    “i always assumed that ECMs (at least the newer ones) were a million apiece”

    Of course that maybe classified, but the overall program costs are probably
    available if you are willing to dig.

    I’ve heard the price of $ 10,000.00 to equip each vehicle.

    Details aside,
    The relevent issue however boils down to this simple level.

    Yet again, the US expendature is wildly dis-proprtionate to what
    the opposition is spending to produce the threat.

    Is is an essential aspect of 4GW to understand, it’s an
    aspect of asymetry, that drawn to logical conclusions
    will bankrupt the state.

    Do the math, that trend simply cannot continue forvever, US tax
    payer resourches are not infinite, and conciquently the
    standard of living we’re supposidly fighting to protect
    (I do not believe it) is continuously erroding for the middle class.
    MC
    ____________
    “When war becomes that profitable, you’re going to see more of it.”*
    “What we are risking is the republic itself”*

    *Chalmers Johnson

    http://www.sonyclassics.com/whywefight/main.html

  8. jaylemeuxon 22 Dec 2007 at 11:22 pm 8

    oh, I totally agree that the trend cannot continue forever. Had U.S. taxpayer resources actually been drawn on to support the occupation, we might not have invaded in the first place.

    It’s not that important, but I seriously doubt that some of the ECMs I know of only cost $10,000, even if for no other reason than MIC greed.

  9. rogelio007on 23 Dec 2007 at 2:53 am 9

    The biggest scam the MIC is pulling on the US taxpayer is the F-22 Raptor, a plane designed to fight the Soviet Union. We have generals and admirals who like to pretend the Cold War is not over.

  10. arminius1963on 24 Dec 2007 at 7:46 pm 10

    This is a common theme for *any* large, hierarchical, bureaucratic entity. It will always resent change or initiative from below. It will always put “turf” above success for the whole. It will always be more comfortable promoting horse-holders who smile and say “That’s a great idea boss!” instead of the talented who say “You’re wrong. This is a better idea.” The fact of the matter is that results don’t really count as long as the entity survives to benefit those who hold power.

    I have come to the conclusion that these entities, once upon this path, must be allowed to crash and burn. One can only hope that something rises from the ashes to take its place to begin a new cycle where results *do* count.

  11. maximilliangcon 26 Dec 2007 at 8:11 pm 11

    A great quote from the book.

    Page 106.

    “the size of a defense budget is almost without meaning for the
    quality of the military force it supports, or fails to support.”

    “Smaller budgets can and have meant a stronger force, larger budgets
    can and do mean a weaker force.”

    “If both were NOT true, and if a disparity in the cost of a force would
    accelerate victory for the richer force, then France & Britian would
    have defeated Germany in 1940, America would have won the war in Vietnam,
    and President Bush would have won the war(s) in Afganistan & Iraq long ago.”

    Now breaking news on more “progress” by the (SURGE)*
    *TM

    http://www.antiwar.com/updates/?articleid=12112

  12. rogelio007on 27 Dec 2007 at 2:30 am 12

    Yep. The United States military is primarily about money, not fighting ability. That is why, despite having by far the largest military budget in the world, we are getting our butts kicked by ragtag desert guerrillas who set off homemade bombs using cell phones.

  13. maximilliangcon 27 Dec 2007 at 5:30 pm 13

    “Yep. The United States military is primarily about money, not fighting ability”
    _____________

    “The world is a bussiness, Mr. Beale ! And it
    has been, since man climbed out of the slime.”*

    * Line delivered by Harve Jensen
    In Patty Chernesky’s hollywood
    production of “Network.”

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/LWJF/

  14. maximilliangcon 28 Dec 2007 at 4:22 pm 14

    http://www.newsobserver.com/news/story/848848.html

    Military industry growing in North Carolina
    State effort seeks to replace lost jobs.

  15. oldskepticon 29 Dec 2007 at 1:19 pm 15

    The world has changed my friends, particularly the US, UK, Austrlia, Canada, NZ. That is, the Anglo-Saxon (so called) countries.

    We’ve all had the ‘right wing’ changes. Now you must note its not really right wing (i.e., conservative), it’s a radical agenda. And it’s a nasty agenda that flies on the face of all old ‘right’ and ‘left’ beliefs (which are much closer than most people understand).

    Now that is something that everyone, from so called ‘left’ wing and and ‘right’ wing groups must understand. Both ‘left’ and ‘right’ people have, at the core, common beliefs:

    Individual rights.
    A distrust of big business.
    A distrust of big Govt (I can hear the ‘right’ howling now, but the old left want massive checks and balances on Govt, such as freedom of information, that the right hate, actually ends up as the same).
    Belief in education (both get it wrong, the ‘left’ is right in eduction as a right for all, the ‘right’ are correct in tough, results based eduction).
    Both completely misunderstand the market as it really works. Though the ‘old’ left tends to be a bit more realistic about the affects on people.
    Both have a true belief in people.

    The last point is what separates the old ‘left’ and ‘right’ from the new crowd (whatever they call themselves e.g ‘New Labour’), who in their view are just drones to be used and lied to. Cannon fodder for the latest crusade.

  16. jaylemeuxon 29 Dec 2007 at 5:11 pm 16

    rogelio007 – “The biggest scam the MIC is pulling on the US taxpayer is the F-22 Raptor, a plane designed to fight the Soviet Union. We have generals and admirals who like to pretend the Cold War is not over.”

    you say so now, but what about when the terrorists start shooting down our F-16’s?

  17. rogelio007on 29 Dec 2007 at 10:34 pm 17

    Terrorists could not shoot down an F-4 Phantom, a forty-plus-year-old plane from the Viet Nam era, much less an F-16. Terrorists don’t have air forces with which to engage our planes in dogfights. And the only way they could get the ground fire which might possibly take down one of our planes would be from a state sponsor such as Iran.

  18. maximilliangcon 30 Dec 2007 at 8:53 pm 18

    “Terrorists could not shoot down an F-4 Phantom, SNIP, much less an F-16.”

    THAT has happened, in addition to A-10 losses,
    and particularly the AH-1 Apache & Blackhawk “Combat” Helicopters”*

    *Non sequitor.

    The US tries to use the Apache as a flying tank,
    which it is NOT.
    The US also pretends that the Blackhawk is
    a flying armoured personnel carrier, which it
    is NOT.

    The irony further compounded by the fact that
    the BH despite its acute vulnerability, is
    in many instances a safer means than ground
    based transportation.

    Yes, Virginia, the Humvees.

    MC

    http://iraqwar.mirror-world.ru/article/110407

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Coalition_aircraft_losses_in_Iraq

    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,83504,00.html

  19. maximilliangcon 30 Dec 2007 at 8:59 pm 19

    “Now you must note its not really right wing (i.e., conservative), it’s a radical agenda. And it’s a nasty agenda that flies on the face of all old ‘right’ and ‘left’ beliefs (which are much closer than most people understand).”

    I fully appreicate the nuaince OS, and I appreciate
    the description, the subtlies in the current climate is vauge and difficult to put one’s finger on.

    The closest parity in US living memory might be
    the short lived McCarthy era.

    Respectfully.
    MaXimillian

  20. rogelio007on 31 Dec 2007 at 12:04 am 20

    In the days of Saddam a Humvee would not have been necessary to travel the roads of Iraq. It would have been safe to do so in an open-air convertible sports car. Yep, George W. really made the world a more civilized place, didn’t he?

  21. jaylemeuxon 31 Dec 2007 at 8:13 am 21

    rogelio- “Terrorists could not shoot down an F-4 Phantom, a forty-plus-year-old plane from the Viet Nam era, much less an F-16. Terrorists don’t have air forces with which to engage our planes in dogfights. And the only way they could get the ground fire which might possibly take down one of our planes would be from a state sponsor such as Iran.”

    I was joking.

  22. maximilliangcon 31 Dec 2007 at 1:54 pm 22

    “I was joking.”

    Acknowledged.
    I usually insert a little “(sarc)”
    when I’m being festicous.

    It doesn’t always work and some pepole
    occasionally mis-understand.

    Early Daze here, we’re getting to know
    one another.

    Those with aviation interests and in keeping
    with the specific perspectives of this forum
    might enjoy this topical & news forum as well.

    Thanks in advance to Chet, if he overlooks
    my shameless self promotion.

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/LWJF/?yguid=36978693

    Another interesting site of Carleton Myers,
    http://www.g2mil.com/

  23. maximilliangcon 31 Dec 2007 at 2:06 pm 23

    “In the days of Saddam a Humvee would not have been necessary to travel the roads of Iraq.”

    Well yes, that’s probably true.

    It seems to me, that in these types of scenarios,
    and I don’t care if we’re talking about Cuba, Vietnam,
    Iraq, or practicaly anywhere else the US foolishly
    gets involved.

    (Fabius Maximus will be interested)

    That there’s this mysterious and mis-placed expectation
    that the indigenous population, where ever they maybe,
    that they will rise up, and behave in US interests against their oppressors (real or imagined by the US)
    and behave as the highly mythologised version of the methods, and the motives of the original US war of indepenence revolutionaries.

    Yet time and time again, the US is disappointed
    when that practically never happens according to script.

    As a matter of fact, the more the US gets involved by
    direct military intervention in these scenarios, the less likely the favourable outcome.

    Now, if I can see that, how come Washington can’t ?

    MaXimillian

  24. arminius1963on 01 Jan 2008 at 7:00 pm 24

    “Now, if I can see that, how come Washington can’t ?”

    Public education, crime, standard of living/median household income, breakdown of traditional mores, etc. ad nauseum.

    They *see* the same things you do. But, they interpret what they see through the filter of their ideology. They will continue to make the same errors. The results don’t count. Following the ideology does.

  25. maximilliangcon 02 Jan 2008 at 3:21 pm 25

    “They will continue to make the same errors. The results don’t count. Following the ideology does.”

    And where does that leave the average “schmuck”
    American voter ?
    Who time and time again makes the decisions
    and empowers those.
    Then admonishes any RESPONIBILITY for those
    decisions.

    And this American Democracy, is so great, so hyped
    up, to an extent that it’s a GOD given right to export,
    by force (shock & Awe) invade, destroy and murder enmass.

    Nice.
    Happy New Year.
    MaX