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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Toward at Typology of Military Dysfunction

Cross-posted from the Marine Corps Gazette blog.
 
In previous posts, I've explored some organizational and incentive factors as to why the military acts the way it does.  Actions at the individual level, though, are often the most perplexing.  For instance, why would people who have risen to senior levels with 20 years or more of experience in the organization exhibit such toxic personalities as to drive middle managers to homicidal or suicidal contemplation.  I haven't actually seen a case of actual suicidal thoughts, but I have heard more than one officer say, "I wish they would just fire me and put me out of my misery."  The screaming, belittling, and insecure; the email all-caps yellers (who cc the world); the control freaks; the incompetents; the indifferent...  What is the pathology behind this behavior, I wondered.  I reached out to some friends to test their reactions to the question, has a decade of the stress of combat operations caused irreparable psychological harm to our senior officers?  While the answer is undoubtedly yes in some cases, I think that some more salient factors have contributed to the dysfunction and may move us toward understanding (I doubt rectifying) the situation.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Gordon Gekko, DoD, and the La Brea Tar Pits

It would be good for the stockholders in DoD, Inc. to remember Gordon Gekko thundering in the original Wall Street: "You own the company. That's right, you, the stockholder. And you are all being royally screwed over by these, these bureaucrats, with their luncheons, their hunting and fishing trips, their corporate jets and golden parachutes. ...  Teldar Paper, Mr. Cromwell, Teldar Paper has 33 different vice presidents each earning over 200 thousand dollars a year. Now, I have spent the last two months analyzing what all these guys do, and I still can't figure it out. One thing I do know is that our paper company lost 110 million dollars last year, and I'll bet that half of that was spent in all the paperwork going back and forth between all these vice presidents. The new law of evolution in corporate America seems to be survival of the unfittest. Well, in my book you either do it right or you get eliminated. In the last seven deals that I've been involved with, there were 2.5 million stockholders who have made a pretax profit of 12 billion dollars. Thank you. I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them!"

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Syria, R2P, and the Real World

For more on this back and forth see this post.

I annoyed several people today on Twitter when I mused as to whether those who were touting our responsibility to protect (so glibly abbreviated by people who want this to be a "thing" as R2P) the people of Syria were going to be heading down to recruiting offices to join in the effort.  This was a rhetorical jab and one that some took umbrage to, saying that people who aren't in the military have a right to an opinion, as well, and that such questions are too important to be left to generals.  The sensitivity of these Ivy Tower champions of the utility of force to such jabs drives me to distraction, but it also misses my point.  I do think such issues are too important for generals.  They are also too important for people who have neatly packaged conceptions of the world, designed to fit through the narrow funnel of academic theory and confirmed through "research trips" consisting of friendly conversations sitting cross-legged on a dirt floor or in a coffee house or university, plus maybe a few years working to churn out policies that practitioners shake their heads at from the bowels of the Pentagon or Foggy Bottom.  One need not have served to have an opinion, but I do think that people signing others up to "protect" with glib assumptions of easy and limited interventions and quick success deserve the rhetorical jab.  And this is not a jab at all who inhabit the ivory towers of academia and rarified policy, because some understand the sordid reality of the world just from others' accounts of them.  The ones I aim at, however, have missed them in their quest for elegant theories and policies.  Finally, even for those who vow to "understand the sacrifice" involved in such interventions and have "counted the cost," this is a sterile, abstract, and academic accounting that I think would be far different if they were rallying to the gunfire as idealists once did in a different age, as volunteers in World War I and II or the Spanish Civil War, to take examples in which the U.S. was not involved (initially in the first cases).