Saturday, December 31, 2011

For the Itinerants

For the itinerants out there, we have the opposite problem of my favorite movie character, Jack. As we go from one year to the next, you'd do well to watch "The Family Man" and think about where you fall out with all of the forces pulling on your life. We've chosen to live as itinerants. But we're not doing it to live for P.K. Lassiter. Far from it. These are a few lines near the end of the movie. If you haven't seen it, you should. It may change your perspective. It isn't a complex movie, but I think I finally figured it out.

-Don’t take Annie out of a school she loves. Don’t move us out of a house we’ve become a family in...

Maybe I was being naive but I believed we’d grow old together in this house. That we’d spend holidays here, have grandchildren visit us here. I had this image of us all grey and wrinkly, me working in the garden, you repainting the deck...

Things change, right? People change...


If you need this, Jack, I mean really need this, I will take these children from a life they love, and take myself from the only home we’ve ever shared, and move wherever you need to go. I’ll do that because I love you...

I love you, Jack. And that’s more important to me than our address...

Kate smiles lovingly at Jack...she walks over to him, kisses him gently on the forehead.

-I choose us.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Leading Change and Managing Stasis

It has been a while since I posted my two missives on leadership and management in the military.  Overall, they were well received, but could use some refinement.  I'll lay out some caveats, then talk about what I've learned from a cursory dive into the literature, then discuss how this impacts my recent commentary about the institution, the budget battle, and Goldwater-Nichols.  I'll break this up into two posts, the first covering the background, the second talking about the application.

First, some caveats.  This message is targeted at the battalion-level and above, though some of its lessons could be used at lower levels.  Overall, I think we do a decent job of leadership at the small unit level and real management is not required for the most part in smaller formations.  Second, my background is from aviation, which brings significant requirements for management at the squadron/battalion level.  We have our own maintenance in the Marine Corps, a significant budget/flight hour program to manage, plus the detailed training and qualification of hundreds of aircrew, for a C-130 squadron.  This perspective is different than a ground-based battalion, however I still think that the unit sizes require management and leadership.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Kennan, Morality, and Leading by Example

In writing about the early formation of American foreign policy, historians Robert Tucker and David Hendrickson contrasted the dichotomy between the roles of crusader and exemplar. Early statesmen like Thomas Jefferson believed that America should stick to the exemplar role. They feared that if America became a crusader for her principles, she would sully herself in the effort and therefore lose the unique qualities she sought to impart on the rest of the world. Nonetheless, even these early statesmen of a country much less powerful in the world than we are today were unable to resist the crusading impulse. With the release of a new biography, much attention has been placed on modern statesman George Kennan. The author of containment, Kennan might be cited by those setting up new cold wars around our globe. They should read carefully, however, as Kennan had words of warning in the Long Telegram that would provide the basis for his “X” article in Foreign Affairs. “[W]e must have courage and self-confidence to cling to our own methods and conceptions of human society.” He saw America’s strength in its power of example and its self-confidence.

Kennan took up this issue again in a 1985 Foreign Affairs article entitled “Morality and Foreign Policy.” He urged America to concern herself with the “interests of the national society” it governed, particularly “military security, the integrity of its political life and the well-being of its people.” This, in and of itself, was such a daunting task in Kennan’s mind that the government would have little capacity for other issues. This was a warning. He specifically stated that, “Democracy, as Americans understand it, is not necessarily the future of all mankind, nor is it the duty of the U.S. government to assure that it becomes that.” He indicted the tendencies of special interests pursuing their moral objectives as a major cause of America’s crusading bent, and of our overextension, stating that it was a duty to limit the country’s commitments to those which it had a reasonable chance of actually and predictably influencing the international environment. He was skeptical, however, (as am I) that this capability for influence was nearly as broad as many thought it.

Nonetheless, the country’s crusading bent had produced military spending “badly out of relationship to the other needs of its economy,” representing no less than a “national addiction.” He condemned the “feeling that we must have the solution to everyone’s problems and a finger in every pie…”

Instead of moralizing crusades, Kennan suggested an inward focus and some humility. “A first step along the path of morality would be the frank recognition of the immense gap between what we dream of doing and what we really have to offer, and a resolve conceived in all humility, to take ourselves under control and to establish a better relationship between our undertakings and our real capabilities.”

While some may quibble, claiming that his approach is immoral because it seeks to be amoral, or that it is too hard-nosed and unsympathetic, or that we ignore moral issues at the peril of our military security, I think that his call for humility and realistic appraisals of our capabilities is spot on. His missive should be required reading for all budding cold and hot policy warriors.