Friday, April 9, 2010

Bully Pulpit


Last month General Stanley McChrystal said,

"Good leaders are more important than equipment ... more important than doctrine."

Is this true? Ranger thinks not.

Talk amongst yourselves.


  1. I think the answer is situational and thus I cannot say that one is clearly more important than the other.

  2. Well, personally, I think he needs to qualify the assumptions that he left hanging in his "quotable quote."
    For example...a leader without anyone to lead is just another lone dog on the prairie pretending to be a pack leader.
    However, the one I would take exception to is the "...more important than doctrine" statement because whatever the doctrine is, it is the guiding principle, the parameters that define any given profession, and since our military, obstensibly is considered a profession, it and it's presumptious leaders better follow the goddamn doctrine we all agree on, or else I'll find someone who will, Mr. McChrystal (the appellation of Mr instead of Gen is intentional and signifies intent of "conform or be cast out")

  3. Good men in high positions lead to good effects in almost everything else, while good doctrine doesn't mean anything good in itself. It's even impossible to use a good doctrine if the leadership isn't good enough.

  4. Sven,
    We went into AFGH/IRQ without even considering anything related to doctrine for GW/UW or even COIN.. Is this leadership or folly?
    The Rusn army was large and generally well equipped but they folded to superior doctrine, as well as solid leadership.
    They had no doctrine to fight the armored advances therefore they lost ground and armies. Later they developed doctrine for armor use and strictly adhered to it. Even without superior leaders they kicked ass after Jan 43. They fought stereotypically and according to doctrine.
    Just sayin'.

  5. Sven,
    Sorry i mentioned the Ostfront ,cause this will go off in a historical direction.
    I should stay OT and remain in PWOT terrain.
    Will a three legged stool work with 2 legs?
    Can a 3 legged dog piss on a fire plug?

  6. Ranger,

    Musn't forget that the Russians outnumbered the Germans in men and material a buttload to one by 43 and finally had sufficient combat experience.. sorry I took the tangent, but I don't think doctrine was the main factor

  7. I consider the Barrbarossa example to be an anecdote in favour of my position.

    The Russians had the '44-'45 doctrine ready by '36. They lacked proper leadership due to purging and the neglect of a NCO corps.

    Anyway; I assert that good brains in high ranking positions leads to good performance of other areas than leadership while doctrine itself rescues nobody.

  8. The Wehrmacht kept the Germans in WWII far longer than they had a right to be. You decide if it was leadership or doctrine.

  9. In terms of McChrystal's war, he has a point; occupations (and guerrilla wars) are made or broken by the aggregate actions of individuals.

    Look back at the now-infamous helo shoot video: two guys in an aircraft make a decision they thought was a good one at the time and now their actions have made them and our Army look like callous butchers.

    Despite our "doctrine" of supposedly population-centric COIN, we're still strafing weddings, still shooting expectant mothers racing to emergency rooms at checkpoints, still blowing away client government officers because our intel and understanding of the places were fighting is so fucking bad.

    Do we have the right equipment? We have assloads of it, and the most expensive. Do we have the right doctrine? We talk the talk all right.

    Do we have the right leaders? Can you think of anyone who has talked to the American public honestly about what we're doing in central Asia - what we're REALLY doing as opposed to the glittering generalities about what we SAY we want to do and what we want to achieve?

    I'd say McChrystal answers his own paradigm. Leadership in his case IS paramount, and the lack of intelligent strategic thinking among our leaders is a huge factor in the circular goatscrew that is our central Asian misadventure.

  10. Chief brings up an important point.

    Is the current doctrine of the military a description of how it *actually* behaves or is current doctrine a description of how the field manuals say it should behave.

    Clearly, given the consistency of shooting up weddings, etc, there is a pattern of continuing behaviour. This behaviour has only a slight correlation with the published doctrine.

  11. About's not law or regulation. It's doctrine. A very bright colonel, while once remonstrating me for something I did counter to doctrine, observed that "doctrine is 51% of the time." And then he went on to note that I'd been successful (and he was honest enough to say I wouldn't have been if I'd followed doctrine) but that he'd appreciate it if I wouldn't share some of my unorthodox thoughts with peers and subordinates. Interestingly, he wasn't really criticizing me—he was a good friend—he was making a teaching point. Doctrine is the safe path. Go against it, you'd better win. He made it to three stars, BTW, by picking and choosing doctrine.

    I've heard it said that the US Army is fundamentally a Jominian organization—as opposed to Clausewitzian—in its emphasis on doctrine, hierarchy and training at the operational and tactical levels. According to this view, although the Army says it's Clausewitzian, in its downplaying of the role of "great men" and individual thinking, it's really not. In my experience, that makes sense. The problem with the Jominian POV is that the military commander is supposed to be put out in the field and then left alone by the political system to do his thing. That was fine for Pershing, Marshall, MacArthur and Eisenhower, but it hasn't happened in my military era. That the Army may doctrinally still think this should happen is a fatal cultural flaw, IMO.

    Field manuals—which is where doctrine resides—were less and less important to me as I gained more experience. They're probably fine 90% of the time—face it, they capture much wisdom and experience and they're valuable references—but that 10%? Well, I'd rather keep my options open.

    McChrystal is dealing with unconventional matters. My career, albeit on a much smaller stage, was characterized by having to deal with matters on the fly and in circumstances where access to more senior and presumably wiser heads was usually not feasible until after the fact. Decisions had to be made. Senior people reposed trust in me. So I did it.

    I'm sympathetic to what McChrystal is saying. But I also believe that, as FDChief suggests, no matter how bright he may be, he's screwed by the failure of our NCA. And that means we're all screwed.

  12. Interesting discussion. I agree with the statement, doctrine is just a baseline, a form of communication, but it is leaders who have to decide if the doctrine is appropriate for the fight. In intel terms, it is analogous to laying a doctrinal template on the terrain and creating your operational template. For example, doctrine for an ambush may state that a security position must be set up 100m away from the ambush line. However, what if there is a cliff 100m from the ambush line? A leader must adapt doctrine to fit the operational environment.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but hasn't this belief always been in the US Army? I believe it was the Soviets who said:

    "The hardest thing about fighting the US Army is that they don't even know their own doctrine!"

    It seems like many of the early comments were discussing doctrine as if it is some strategy, when it is really just a collection of tactics, techniques and procedures. I agree with what Publius said, and I will go further to say that the true value in doctrine is that it is a shared language. That shared language allows efficient communication between leaders/service members who have never met and never worked together.

  13. What I find interesting is that there really are two different "doctrines" in play.

    There is the "what you say you do doctrine" and the "what you actually do" doctrine.

    People get very good at saying what they are expected to say and do what they are expected to do. They often don't even realize that what they are saying they do and what they are actually doing don't have that much in common.

    For example, McChrystal points out the difference between the two doctrines when he notes that a lot of Afghans have been killed when they were not a threat even though the stated mission is to help the Afghan population.

    It isn't that there are a lot of rogue soldiers. Rather they are following two different doctrines A "what do I say if a person asks me when do I pull the trigger" doctrine and a "when do I actually pull the trigger doctrine".

    Of course, nobody actually tells them the latter doctrine, but people are very good at learning by watching others. I'm sure that many soldiers don't ever realize the two things are different.

    A big problem in dealing with the differences is that the "what you do" part is *never* verbalized. If you try and verbalize it, you violate the "what you say" part and get treated like a heretic.

  14. ( There is the "what you say you do doctrine" and the "what you actually do" doctrine. )

    I think the latter belongs often more into the realm of "army culture" than doctrine.

    I recall an account about mortar Plt doctrine. The doctrine sees the Plt as a small unit, while actual employment requires leap-frogging for constant readiness of at least one mortar team, so the small unit needs to be split into two during mobile ops.
    The NCO in charge did the practical thing, but he didn't do it in accordance to some unofficial doctrine; he simply followed the army culture of doing what's necessary. That culture is not self-evident, some armies lack it.

  15. To all,
    In IOAC we had 2 wks of leadership and 81/2 months of tactics, which was really doctrinal training.I really can't remember any leadership classes in CGS&C which may mean that we didn't have any such training , OR i ignored it. I really don't know which.
    The basis of all my training was that we were all interchangeable replicants of a TRADOC doctrine. What was ALB but doctrine for dummies.? It's essential that we all are the same b/c when a Div G3 gets killed then the replacement MUST be a replicant , or the Division will do cart wheels. Our weapons remain a given.
    I feel that doctrine is a strong part of our lives as soldiers. Aren't our creeds nothing but a doctrine similar to the Lord's prayer??
    What is leadership but the application of doctrine?
    The problem in COIN is that we don't have a scenario that fits our doctrine, and we can't even define what we are trying to achieve and so ,as soldiers, we fall back to comfortable terrain which we define as leadership. But the fact is it's merely a smoke and mirrors thing- nobody knows what to do with the ball of wax called AFGH/COIN. It's not that we don't have doctrine , but rather we don't have a war to apply it to properly.Nobody has a clue and we call this leadership.
    How many thousands of FM's/TC's does the Army possess? The amount is tangible BUT we have one crummy little COIN FM and a entire war is supposed to hang on it's every word, and that word is "bulls--t.

  16. It seems to me interpreting doctrine is one of the arts of leadership. Knowing doctrine is one thing - being able to apply (or ignore it) in specific situations is quite another.

    I still think both are important and that relative importance is situational. For example, the 1st Marine Division withdrawal from Chosin - obviously doctrine was very important, but it seems to me that is a case where leadership made the crucial difference.

  17. I would have been more impressed if McC had said, "We are having to make it up as we go along", as that is probably what he is doing.

    Doctrine should be a compilation of Lessons Learned coupled with a dose of modernization and seasoned with a bit of very careful futurism. Without doctrine, how do we man, organize, equip and train the force? Especially in this age of sophisticated weaponry.

    As stated previously, doctrine is a template. Obviously, if we see that the template is inappropriate for a given mission or circumstances, we need to adjust the manning, organizing and training to meet the new mission/conditions. But, without doctrine, the military would be a rather disorganized bunch of mal-equipped rabble. Where leadership comes in is when it is apparent that the template won't work or isn't working. But without doctrine to put a know in place, every leader would have to start totally from scratch, and war is too serious a business to reinvent the wheel for each and every possible scenario.

    Whether or not we have invested enough talent into developing a doctrinal template for the current task at hand is a different issue. The lack of a template is indeed a leadership issue, especially after the number of years we have spent screwing this football.

    I call "bullshit" on the general.

  18. "What is leadership but the application of doctrine?"

    I recommend to read a translation of the pages 9-36 of H.Dv. 300/1 Part I, Berlin 1933.
    That's the famous "Truppenführung" FM and it really begins with a long and excellent chapter on leadership.
    The Combined Arms Research Library is supposed to have an online translation of it, but I cannot retrieve it right now.

    Another good work on leadership is Eike Middeldorf's "Handbuch der Taktik" (it was published in English, probably as "handbook of tactics", a commercial 1950's publication.

  19. Sven: Working as a split section (or sections if the base maneuver element is a platoon) is pretty standard U.S. Army mortar tactics right out of FM 7-90.

    But here's the catch: most noob infantry company commanders have a very vague concept of mortar doctrine as well as the technical capability of the gun systems. One of the crucial bits of tactical proficiency you're supposed to gain from experience is the ability to integrate fires with maneuver.

    Leadership enters the picture when you work with some officers who learn to "get it". Some just flat out don't.

    And I think this translates to the sort of "big picture" leadership we're discussing here. As Al points out, the thing here is that this whole "population-centric COIN" (if that is in fact what's going on) is so ill-defined and so situation specific that nothing more than the broadest doctrine can be applied to it. Instead it's all about the lieutenants and captains figuring out on the fly how to make stuff work; who do I trust? Will going in hard work with these people, or do I need to be all cooperation and accomodation? What is the most dangerous enemy course of action, and will making tactical adjustments to counter it end up making us a bigger threat to the non-hostile locals than just grabbing a hat?

    You can't really WRITE a doctrine for this. You can't really teach it in a school. And the possibilities that extend from a young officer NOT "getting it" and making the wrong decision - shooting up a house that turns out to have the local district intel chief rather than a Talib inside - has so many harmful consequences that it's no wonder that the officers above the level of engagement (the LTCs, colonels and flag ranks) have ulcers fretting about them.

    And, I think, a huge part of the problem is that in a sense our Army HAS to be Jominian to work in conventional wars. The brigade commander has to feel confident that if one of his battalion commanders gets blown away that the battalion XO can step in and perform the doctrinal tactical operations exactly as his predecessor did. The scope for individual genius is crucial for senior officers..but for subordinates? It drives U.S. Army commanders nuts.

    For all that we claim to work on an aufstragtaktik basis, my perception of the reality is that that's bullshit, especially now that battalion and higher can reach down almost to the squad leader level.

    So I can see how this becomes a real problem, with people like McChrystal talking the talk, but his majors and LTCs not walking the walk, especially where "force protection" gets involved.

  20. Bacevich on Bill Moyers makes it clear we don't have the leaders or the doctrine:

    "BILL MOYERS: What does it say to you as a soldier that our political leaders, time and again, send men and women to fight for, on behalf of corrupt guys like Karzai?

    ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, we don't learn from history. And there is this persistent, and I think almost inexplicable belief that the use of military force in some godforsaken country on the far side of the planet will not only yield some kind of purposeful result, but by extension, will produce significant benefits for the United States. I mean, one of the obvious things about the Afghanistan war that is so striking and yet so frequently overlooked is that we're now in the ninth year of this war.

    It is the longest war in American history. And it is a war for which there is no end in sight. "

  21. Andy,
    The Chosin breakout from the encirclement was not leadership , but rather followership.
    The fighting man did that baby, not the generals.
    This act was pure doctrine, and mirrored Gordan at Ft. Stedham/Petersburg.Even the direction of the breakout was evident to a buck ass private.
    Leadership CAUSED the need for the action.

  22. Aviator,
    If i understand your comment , then leadership is jumping thru your ass and pulling the troops in behind you.

  23. Sven,
    I'll read German translations when and if they ever win a war.

  24. srv,
    The Moyer interview recharged my batteries. It's nice to hear somebody/anybody attempting to use logic/reason to figure out what's really happening.
    It's sad and sorry to say , but i DO NOT believe ANYTHING that our leaders say-whether military or civilian.
    I was embarrassed to hear Commanante O giving a GWB like speech-it was pure garbage.

  25. jim-

    "I'll read German translations when and if they ever win a war."

    The conquest of Denmark in 1940 was a war. It was one of a whole series of wars we refer to as World War II . . . Nineteen forty-five was the last time the US won a decisive military victory, or am I wrong?

    This gives us four years over the Germans, since their last one was in 1941 . . .

    Quite impressive . . .

  26. Feel free to ignore the TF booklet's chapter on leadership.

    So far everyone to whom I recommended it AND read it was enthusiastic.

  27. Seydlitz and Sven,
    I was just yanking Sven's chain.
    I actually have studied the ww2 euro war to the limits of my understanding and intelligence.
    We need to lighten up every now and then.

  28. Jim,

    Oh, I thought you were talking about leadership at all levels, not just generals.

  29. jim:

    If i understand your comment , then leadership is jumping thru your ass and pulling the troops in behind you.

    No, it's preparing in the first place to not have to jump through your ass for known or foreseen missions, applying that preparation in execution when the foreseen arises, and having the wisdom to see when you are in the unforeseen and making adjustments. But without "doctrine" in the first place, the entire world is reduced to unforeseen circumstances. Doctrine is not static, but adjusts, in a measured manner to changing circumstances. Doctrine that is constantly in turmoil was probably poor to begin with and remains so as a result of jumping through your ass. Doctrine is not the answer to everything, but simply the answer to those issues for which it was developed. Another aspect of leadership, be it individual or corporate, is wisely selecting the scenarios for which doctrine should be developed. Lastly, leadership is not just something at the highest levels, but is needed at all levels. leadership at the highest levels is just more obvious because it's results (or lack thereof) are typically more profound. But high level leadership cannot succeed without the synergism of lower level leaders. But the lack of high level leadership can surely negate all the lower level leaders in the world.