Excellent Read: “Back on the Mekong Delta… “

From the Washington Post:

CA MAU, Vietnam — It could have been 1969 again as Secretary of State John F. Kerry stood on the bow of the small boat chugging up the Bay Hap River on Saturday, the wind billowing his sleeves and his eyes darting left and right toward banks shrouded in dark foliage.

As a young Navy lieutenant, Kerry commanded a Swift boat along this stretch of churning brown waters in the middle of a free-fire zone. Here, he earned a Silver Star for his heroics when he leapt ashore after an ambush to pursue a fleeing Viet Cong with a grenade launcher and shot him dead.

Now, some 48 years later and with the rapid approach of sunset on a political career spanning almost four decades, Kerry was about to be yanked back to that time, and come face-to-face with a Viet Cong soldier who had taken part in the ambush.

Aides escorted Vo Ban Tam to greet Kerry on the dock, beside a row of blue tourist boats. Tam at 70 is three years younger than Kerry. He was Viet Cong in the communist stronghold of Ca Mau, one of the enemy lying in the tall grasses waiting to entrap unprotected, thin-skinned river patrol boats like Kerry’s.

Tam apparently had been tracked down by U.S. consulate officials and invited to meet the U.S. secretary of state he once tried to kill.

Speaking through a translator, Tam said that he had known the man whom Kerry had chased and killed in the firefight of Feb. 28, 1969.

His name was Ba Thanh, and he was 24 years old.

“He was a good soldier,” Tam told Kerry, explaining the training and skill required to handle an R-40 grenade launcher…

Kerry’s encounter with Tam was the emotional peak of his two-day stop in Vietnam on ­Kerry’s final trip as secretary of state. His office in Foggy Bottom is packed and ready to be shipped to Boston.

It is doubtful the longtime senator from Massachusetts will ever run for public office again, but he will continue to work on climate change and ­environmental issues, and he is particularly concerned about the effect of rising sea levels and hydroelectric dams on the rivers in the lower Mekong Delta. When he wasn’t looking at the ­riverbank for some familiar marker from long ago, he was engrossed in conversation with a local ­scientist who said the effect of rising salinity and dams upstream brought once-in-100-year drought last year and threatened livelihoods…



Its Funny Because it Could Actually Be True

The Duffel Blog, a site the provides satirical takes on the US military, has posted a life could imitate satirical art post entitled: “Troops Sour on Mattis Nomination After He Releases 6,000-Book Reading List“.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A large number of active-duty troops once enthusiastic about the choice of James Mattis for Defense Secretary have since soured on the pick after the retired general released a 6000-book reading list he plans to implement for the entire DoD after he is confirmed, Duffel Blog has learned.

Referred to by some as the “Warrior Monk,” the 66-year-old sent his reading list to the military’s entire email distribution list over the weekend. Most service members who received the 200-page email reported they were still in the process of reading it well into Monday morning.

Almost every senior commander issues a reading list. Its sort of become the in thing to do and Foreign Policy writer Tom Ricks (full disclosure: I know Tom and have written guest posts for him) collects and publishes them or links to them at his Best Defense blog. Gen. Mattis’s preferred nickname, or, at least, the one he doesn’t seem to dislike  – he does not like being referred to as Mad Dog – is The Warrior Monk. The sobriquet is derived from a couple of the realities of Gen. Mattis’s life and career. The first is he is considered by many to be an outstanding warfighter. The second, that like many military senior leaders, he aspired to become what the Army refers to as a Soldier-Scholar. This means that as a Soldier’s career progresses they try to move beyond just being warfighters, increase the breadth and scope of their understanding of operational and then strategic matters through both Professional Military Education and civilian higher education, and become thoughtful, reflective, and (hopefully) strategic thinkers. The third basis for the nickname is because Gen. Mattis, unlike most career US military personnel, is not married. As in never married, hence the other root cause for the Monk.

The Duffel Blog also did a good job accurately capturing just how a lot of personnel would respond to receiving such a reading list – long or short:

Marines, however, were only assigned four coloring books.

“Four? Good Lord, that’s unfair,” said Lance Cpl. Anderson Malcolm, a Marine infantryman who proudly displays his “good enough degree” on his barracks room wall.

A number of troops expressed reservations about the nomination of Mattis to the Pentagon’s highest post after they read the email. While some expected a reading list of some sort, most did not realize just how many books they would be required to get through.

“How are we going to go out and kill the enemy if we have to sit around reading all this shit?” asked Sgt. James Fritter, an Army squad leader.

Its funny, because it could be true!!!!

PS: Last week the Duffel Blog lampooned the US Army’s insistence on having personnel forward deployed on its bases wear reflective safety belts at night (so they don’t get run over when going for chow in the dark, no I am not making this part up, yes I did have to follow this as a member of my BCT’s special staff in Iraq in 2008, and yes, I still have the thing – mine’s the orange one). They did this by picking on a former student of mine, who is the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve Spokesman and colonel in the US Air Force. John was an excellent student, is a sharp strategic thinker, and an excellent public affairs officer. And the satire is funny, because it could be true!



Senate Armed Services Committee on Cyber Security Threats/Russian Hacking of the US During the 2016 Election

Sorry for delay on this, but the Senate Armed Services Committee has just concluded its hearing on cyber security threats, including the Russian influence, desinformatziya, and kompromat operations during the 2016 US elections. Here’s the link to C-SPAN’s video where you can watch the whole thing. And here’s a video embed:

And yes, I know this is the Fox News Youtube feed/embeddable feed. It’s the only one I could find.



Defense Acquisition: Easy as Pie!

We all saw that the President-elect went after the F-35 program this morning. We now know, thanks to Kurt Eichenwald, that what appears to have set him off was a CNN piece yesterday about the program and its price tag.

Regardless of whether the F-35 program is a good idea, or if its anything other than a trillion dollar weaponized Keynesian jobs program, the Defense acquisition process is not for the faint of heart. Here’s the Defense acquisition portal. Here’s the Introduction to Defense Acquisition. And here’s what it looks like as a flow chart:

daularge

The process is detailed and complex. It is covered in Defense Management at the Senior Leader Colleges (the war colleges) and there is a stand alone school just for Defense acquisitions: Defense Acquisitions University, which is attended by acquisitions officers/professionals. I sat through, barring other duties or being on Temporary Duty, four years of my teammate teaching Defense Management. Its dry, its tedious, its very, very, very important! I don’t remember any lesson materials dealing with tweeting!



The 75th Anniversary of the Attack on Pearl Harbor: The Day That Will Live in Infamy

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. For the US it was perceived as an unprovoked attack, which broke the domestic political logjam and brought the US into WW II. From the Japanese perspective it was a response to the economic warfare that the US had been waging on Japan since 1939. This included the US embargo on oil going to Japan.

From 1939 through 1941 the US and Japan were locked into a security dilemma (insecurity spiral) as the result of strategic miscommunication – the miscommunication of policy choices and strategic decisions on both sides. As the Japanese attempted to increase their influence throughout Asia, through the use of both economic and military power, the US sought to check them through the use of economic power. A significant portion of the Roosevelt Administration’s response, which was the result of the preferences of President Roosevelt and Secretaries Stimson, Morgenthau, and Ickes, was to adopt the Open Door Policy for China and impose economic sanctions and actions to limit Japan’s activities in Asia. The US policy was to bankrupt the Japanese and therefore stop their expansionism within Asia. The Japanese response was to utilize military power to get out from under the US’s actions – the attack at Pearl Harbor.

So while we take a moment and consider the events of that day, and those who lost their lives at Pearl Harbor, there is an important lesson to be relearned as 2016 gives way to 2017. Strategic preferences for policy decisions and the actions taken on them have consequences. For every problem solved or resolved as the result of a successful policy and strategy, new problems arise and are created. And context matters. How one’s allies, partners, and competitors understand what you are doing is as important as how you understand it. Failure to account for this is the difference between policy success and strategic failure.

Here is the link for a full roll call of the casualties and fallen at Pearl Harbor.

And here is the link to eyewitness accounts of the attack.

Here is the sole (surviving?) news report of the attack on Pearl Harbor:

Here is President Roosevelt’s Day of Infamy speech to the Nation where he declares war on Japan:

And finally, here is the live feed of today’s 75th Anniversary Remembrance Ceremony.

Rest well Ladies and Gentlemen.

 

 



President Obama’s Address at MacDill Air Force Base Earlier Today

Anybody still here? This blog on? Anyhow, I’ve been both busy on a project and still dragging tuchas from whatever bug I caught, so instead of something thoughtful as I just don’t have it in me, here’s President Obama’s address at MacDill Air Force Base* from earlier today.

* Technically MacDill Air Force Base is now Joint Base MacDill, but no one calls it that.



Strategic Miscommunication

There is a long term International Relations concept called the security dilemma, or as I like to think of it, the insecurity spiral. The security dilemma is a Realist concept that arises from the lack of an international sovereign. Basically because there is no overarching international controlling power, the actions of one or more states, usually in regard to military preparations, can/are misinterpreted leading to other states undertaking responses that in turn lead the original actor or actors to respond, leading to more counter responses. All of which causes a crisis of security, an insecurity spiral, which increases the possibility of conflict.

To avoid a security dilemma states, intergovernmental organizations, and a lot of non state actors, try to utilize strategic communication. Joint Publication 5-0 defines strategic communication as:

… efforts to understand and engage key audiences to create, strengthen, or preserve conditions favorable for the advancement of … interests, policies, and objectives through the use of coordinated programs, plans, themes, messages, and products synchronized with the actions of all instruments of national power. Also called SC.

President-elect Trump’s recent, unsecured communications with many foreign heads of state have many concerned that these conversations are creating a type of security dilemma whereby the President-elect unintentionally or intentionally changes decades of American policy and strategic posture. And does so without the benefit of a State Department Protocol Officer, State Department pre-briefing to prepare for these calls, and secured comms to ensure that his conversations cannot be intercepted and used against the US (and our allies and partners) in the future. These communications have heightened tensions between India and Pakistan. And we now have an escalation in regard to the People’s Republic of China, which actually places the ongoing security of Taiwan at risk.

While some of this is a unique combination of the age of social media, 24/7 news media, and the Internet and a President-elect who seems addicted to social media and has a unique talent for capturing 24/7 news media, it is not unknown. To a certain extent the events that led up to World War I were the result of a classic security dilemma leading to a catastrophic insecurity spiral and the outbreak of actual war.

More recently, in the early 1980s, the aggressive attempts by President Reagan to pressure the Soviet Union led to a breakdown that almost led to war over the NATO war game known as Able Archer.

Able Archer was a 1983 NATO war game that was misinterpreted by the Soviet Union. The signals intercepts being made by Soviet Intelligence led them to mistakenly believe that NATO, led by the US and Britain, was preparing a nuclear strike against the Soviet Union. This almost kicked off a classic security dilemma as the Soviets mobilized in response to the war game. This was initially misinterpreted by NATO as the Soviets conducting their own, counter, war game. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed. After Able Archer’s conclusion, British Intelligence provided a complete report on the security dilemma that resulted from the strategic miscommunication to Downing Street, which then communicated to the Reagan Administration in order to prevent something like this from ever happening again. The documentary below details Able Archer, the Soviet Response, and just how closely everyone, on every side, escaped a war caused by misinterpretation from unintended miscommunication.