Skip to content

December 6 2014

December 8, 2014


6 December 2014


Also on a blog at


For Obama and the Pentagon, an uneasy relationship


Nov. 29, 2014 11:03 AM EST


WASHINGTON (AP) — On a trip to Afghanistan during President Barack Obama’s first term, Defense Secretary Robert Gates was stunned to find a telephone line at the military’s special operations headquarters that linked directly back to a top White House national security official.

“I had them tear it out while I was standing there,” Gates said earlier this month as he recounted his discovery. “I told the commanders, ‘If you get a call from the White House, you tell them to go to hell and call me.'”

To Gates, the phone in Kabul came to symbolize Obama’s efforts to micromanage the Pentagon and centralize decision-making in the White House. That criticism later would be echoed publicly and pointedly by Gates’ successor, Leon Panetta.

The president’s third Pentagon chief, Chuck Hagel, was picked partly because he was thought to be more deferential to Obama’s close circle of White House advisers. But over time, Hagel also grew frustrated with what he saw as the West Wing’s insularity.

There have been similar gripes from other Cabinet officials, but the friction between the White House and the Pentagon has been particularly pronounced during Obama’s six years in office. That dynamic already appears to be affecting the president’s ability to find a replacement for Hagel, who resigned Monday under pressure from Obama.

Within hours, former Pentagon official Michele Flournoy called Obama to take herself out of consideration, even though she was widely seen as his top choice and would have been the first woman to hold the post.

Flournoy officially cited family concerns, but people close to her say she also had reservations about being restrained like Hagel and would perhaps wait to see if she could get the job if another Democrat — namely Hillary Rodham Clinton — won the presidency in 2016.

Obama’s eventual nominee will join a national security team that is under intense criticism for its response to the rise of the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq. The president has authorized airstrikes in both countries and sent about 3,000 U.S. troops to train and assist Iraqi security forces.

He has resisted sending American troops into ground combat and has insisted the military campaign is not designed to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose 3½ year assault on civilians helped create the chaos that allowed the Islamic State to thrive.


The foreign policy landscape looks far different from what Obama envisioned when he ran for the White House and pledged to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama has been seen in the Pentagon as being overly suspicious of the military and its inclination to use force to address problems. To some in the Pentagon, the president’s approach to the military seems particularly cool and detached when compared with that of his predecessor, Republican George W. Bush, who was more eager to embrace the military and accept its judgments.

Stephen Biddle, an occasional adviser to U.S. combat commanders, said the White House has fallen victim to “group think” and is distrustful of advice or perspectives that challenge its own.

“That’s a bad policy development design,” said Biddle, a political science professor at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.

Several White House, defense and other administration officials discussed the relationship between the president and the Pentagon on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to do so publicly.

On foreign policy decision-making, Obama relies in particular on national security adviser Susan Rice and chief of staff Denis McDonough. Secretary of State John Kerry has managed to carve out some areas of influence, particularly on Iranian nuclear negotiations. Some Pentagon officials say they have seen an increasingly close relationship between Obama and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

But at the Pentagon, senior officials say there is growing frustration with a lack of policy direction and clarity from the White House that has hampered the military’s ability to quickly respond to fast-moving events around the world. Policy recommendations from the Pentagon are often discussed exhaustively in White House meetings that can bog down, delaying decisions and sometimes resulting in conclusions that remain vague.

Over the past year, officials said the Pentagon leadership was particularly baffled by the White House’s slow deliberations on Russia’s moves against Ukraine and the rise of Islamic State militants.

Earlier this fall, officials said, Hagel sent Rice a memo on Syria reflecting the views of military commanders who feel Obama’s strategy lacks cohesion and has included too many one-off decisions, such as resupplying Kurdish forces fighting the militants in the Syrian town of Kobani. Hagel and military commanders were particularly concerned about a lack of clarity over Obama’s position toward Assad.

On Ukraine, officials say Hagel pressed the White House to speed up the protracted debate over providing even nonlethal assistance to Ukrainian forces and to look for new options when the support the administration did provide proved ineffective in stopping Russian-backed rebels.

Obama’s advisers deny Hagel was ousted because he challenged the president. They cast the former Republican senator as the wrong fit for a job in which he never appeared comfortable. The aides also defended the White House’s lengthy internal deliberations, saying Obama’s decision-making process reflects the complexity of the problems.

Hagel’s ouster has spurred a flurry of suggestions from foreign policy experts for how Obama can repair his relationship with the Pentagon, from ousting his West Wing aides to revamping the White House’s National Security Council, which has ballooned from a few dozen staffers in the 1970s to more than 400.

But Gates, the former Pentagon chief who voiced his frustrations during a forum this month at the Ronald Reagan presidential library in California, suggested the real issue rested with the president himself.

“When a president wants highly centralized control in the White House at the degree of micromanagement that I’m describing, that’s not bureaucratic, that’s political,” he said.



Defense Firms Could Be Skeptical of Investing in Research

Marcus Weisgerber

November 26, 2014


Despite a recent push by the Defense Department for companies to invest more in research projects, the Pentagon might continue having trouble getting firms to spend more of their own money for this, experts say.

Unless DOD creates “more compelling threats of potential lost business” so-called prime contractors — such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and General Dynamics – will be less likely to boost research spending, a new report by analyst Byron Callan at Capital Alpha Partners has found.

Callan’s report comes just days after the Pentagon officially launched a project to find new technologies that it hopes will give it an edge on the battlefield decades from now.

The project, called the Long-Range Research and Development Planning Program, is akin to the so-called “offset strategies” that the Pentagon employed after World War II and again in the 1970s. The terminology refers to offsetting an enemy’s military with a technology. Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, the driving force behind the effort, has termed the latest effort the “third offset strategy.”

Nuclear weapons were considered the first offset and stealth and precision weapons were considered the second offset. So-called smart bombs, that could hit targets hundreds of miles away with pinpoint accuracy, have given the U.S. military a battlefield advantage for nearly four decades, but now other nations are catching up.

Work envisions a future where the U.S. military will have to fight from farther away with stealthy air, sea and ground weapons. Technologies, including biotechnology and robotics could all play into this concept as well as using different technologies in concert with one another.

“The key thing is, what is something that we believe that will give us a competitive advantage?” Work said during an interview at the Defense One Summit last week.

And other countries, including adversaries, will try to duplicate this strategy, Work said. The Pentagon’s first two offset strategies were “relatively hard to duplicate.” Not the case anymore as adversaries will be able to copy the way DOD uses the technology.

“We have potential competitors who are very, very good in this business and cannot only steal our [intellectual property], but can duplicate things very fast,” he said.

The prior offset strategy has lasted about four decades, but “it is unlikely the next one will last that long,” Work said.

Parts of the new offset strategy will be classified and kept secret while others will be remain in the open.

“There are certain capabilities that might surprise us so much that we say: ‘Hey, we would not want to reveal this capability,'” Work said. He likened this to the development of the Air Force’s fleet of F-117 stealth fighters, which were battle-ready for years before they were publically acknowledged.

Even though the Pentagon has been spending less in recent years, defense firms have still been able to turn sizable profits by downsizing, reorganizing and expanding commercial business.

“We did not want our potential adversaries to know we had the capability,” Work said. And they didn’t until 1988.

Defense firms were integral to the last offset strategy and Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall is trying to get companies to buy in to this latest round. Over the next six months, DOD leaders will build a “conceptual framework” for the new offset strategy.

Defense leaders argue that companies that spend their own money on research projects will be better positioned to win contracts down the road when Pentagon spending rebounds from the current decline.

Companies with large commercial businesses oftentimes spend multiples more on research than pure defense companies. That’s because there is a far greater chance of recouping investments with a successful commercial technological breakthrough. That is not the case with defense technology.

So if Apple develops a new phone, it could sell hundreds of millions of them worldwide leading to billions of dollars in profit. If Lockheed Martin develops a new missile with sensitive military technology and DOD doesn’t want it, the company loses the money it cost to build the weapon since there are not as many sales options.

Even though the Pentagon has been spending less in recent years, defense firms have still been able to turn sizable profits by downsizing, reorganizing and expanding commercial business. DOD’s research spending has been slowing in recent years as well. But as Pentagon spending continues to fall, it will be difficult for DOD to convince companies to tap into profits to expand research spending.

Companies are not required to say how much they’re spending on research, but many have been more open about disclosing figures, particularly over the past year as DOD has challenged firms to step it up.

Lockheed officials have said the company would boost research project spending in 2014 to about $730 million, but that’s still well below the $822 million the company spent in 1999.

And leadership is key to keeping the military services focused on the effort, particularly making sure they budget money for research projects, according to experts.

Work called the effort a “very big priority” for Pentagon leaders of the remaining two years of the Obama administration. Despite budget constraints, Pentagon officials are trying to free up money for prototyping projects, Work said.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in September put an emphasis on using prototyping as a way to keep company design teams fresh when there are fewer DOD funded research projects.


Ex-DoD official Carter leads list of SECDEF candidates

By Leo Shane III, Staff writer 1:41 p.m. EST November 26, 2014

Within an hour of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s resignation announcement, defense watchers began looking to potential nominees to replace him. Within two days, two of the top contenders removed themselves from that list.

On Monday, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said through his staff that he had no interest in the job. A day later, Michèle Flournoy, the former top policy adviser at the Pentagon, asked the White House to drop her name from consideration as well.

The moves leave Ash Carter, the former deputy secretary of defense, as the most-rumored name to be selected for the post. White House officials have floated his name as a possible Pentagon leader for years.

Carter has worked both as the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer and budget official, and still commands the respect of many in the building and on Capitol Hill. He’s a Rhodes scholar with degrees in theoretical physics and medieval history, and also served as an assistant defense secretary during Bill Clinton’s presidency.

But he’s not the only name still under consideration. Here’s an updated look at some of the other rumored candidates:

• Robert Work: The current Defense Department deputy secretary has played a major role in recent military budget planning issues. He’s a former Navy undersecretary and has close ties to a pair of prominent defense think tanks. He’s also been a long-trusted adviser to President Obama, taking a lead role on his defense transition team.

• Deborah Lee James: The current Air Force secretary boasts more than 30 years of national security experience in the government and private sector, with ties to influencers in both arenas. She also has ties to the Clinton administration, serving as an assistant secretary for reserve affairs. And she worked on the House Armed Services Committee staff for a decade, giving her allies on Capitol Hill as well.

• Ray Mabus: The former Mississippi governor works as secretary of the Navy, and was a key figure in the department’s reaction to the 2013 Navy Yard shooting. Mabus was also previously tapped by the White House to lead clean-up efforts following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

• Other names in the mix: Army Secretary John McHugh, Clinton’s Navy Secretary Richard Danzig, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Clinton Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre.

• Names not in the mix: Retiring Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin has said he’s looking forward to returning home to Michigan at the end of the year. A spokeswoman for former Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell said he has no interest in returning to the government.


Sunni vs. Shi’ite: Why the U.S. plan to save Iraq is doomed to fail

By Peter Van Buren November 25, 2014

If the United States was looking for the surest way to lose Iraq War 3.0, it might start by retraining the failed Iraqi Army to send north — alongside ruthless Shi’ite militias — into Sunni-majority territory and hope that the Sunnis will welcome them with open arms, throwing out the evil Islamic State.


Maybe it’s time for a better plan.

And the way to find one is by understanding how we lost Iraq War 2.0. We need a plan to create a stable, tri-state solution to the Sunni-Shi’ite-Kurd divide, or the current war will fail as surely as the previous one.

A critical first step is, of course, to remove Islamic State from the equation, but not how the Obama administration envisions. The way to drive Islamic State out of Iraq is to remove the reason Islamic State has been able to remain in Iraq: as a protector of the Sunnis. In Iraq War 2.0, the Iraqi Sunnis never melded politically with al Qaeda; they allied out of expediency, against the Shi’ite militias and the Shi’ite central government. The same situation applies to Islamic State, the new al Qaeda in Iraq.

The United States is acting nearly 180 degrees counter to this strategy, enabling Shi’ite militia and Iranian forces’ entry into Anbar and other Sunni-majority areas to fight Islamic State. The more Shi’ite influence, the more Sunnis feel they need Islamic State muscle. More Iranian fighters also solidify Iran’s grip on the Shi’ite government in Baghdad, and weakens America’s. The presence of additional Sunni players, like the Gulf States, will simply grow the violence indecisively, with the various local factions manipulated as armed proxies.

Iraq in 2007 was, on the surface, a struggle between insurgents and the United States. However, the real fight was happening in parallel, as the minority Sunnis sought a place in the new Shi’ite-dominated Iraq. The solution was supposedly the Anbar Awakening. Indigenous Iraqi Sunnis would be pried lose from al Qaeda under American protection (that word again), along with the brokered promise that the Shi’ites would grant them a substantive role in governance. The Shi’ites balked almost from day one, and the deal fell apart even before America’s 2011 withdrawal — I was in Iraq with the Department of State and saw it myself. The myth that “we won” only to have the victory thrown away by the Iraqis — a favorite among 2.0 apologists — is very dangerous. It suggests repeating the strategy will result in something other than repeating the results. The Sunnis won’t be so easily fooled again.

Progress otherwise in Iraq? The new prime minister has accomplished little toward unity, selecting a Badr militia politician to head the Interior Ministry, for example. The Badr group has been a key player in sectarian violence.

Islamic State still controls 80 percent of Anbar Province, the key city of Mosul and is attacking in Ramadi. U.S. air strikes cannot seize ground. The Iraqi Army will never rise to the fullness of the challenge. One can only imagine the thoughts of the American trainers, retraining some of the same Iraqi troops from War 2.0.

Military vehicles of the Kurdish security forces are seen during an intensive security deployment in Diyala province north of BaghdadElsewhere, the Kurds are already a de facto separate state. Their ownership of Arbil, the new agreement to allow the overt export of some of their own oil, and the spread of the peshmerga to link up with Kurdish forces in Syria, are genies that won’t go back into the bottle. America need only restrain Kurdish ambitions to ensure stability.

Present Iraq strategy delays, at great cost — in every definition of that word — the necessary long-term tristate solution. It is time to hasten it. The United States must use its influence with the Shi’ites to have their forces, along with the Iranians, withdraw to Baghdad. America would create a buffer zone, encompassing the strategically critical international airport as a “peacekeeping base.” Using air power, America would seal the Iraq-Syria border in western Anbar, at least against any medium-to-large scale Islamic State resupply effort. Arm the Sunni tribes if they will push Islamic State out of their towns. Support goes to those tribes who hold territory, a measurable, ground-truth based policy, not an ideological one. Implementing the plan in northwest Iraq can also succeed, but will be complicated by Kurd ambitions, greater ethnic diversity among the Iraqis and a stronger Islamic State tactical hold on cities like Mosul. There’ll be another tough challenge, the sharing of oil revenues between the new Sunni and Shi’ite states, so this plan is by no means a slam-dunk.

The broad outline is not new; in 2006 then-Senator Joe Biden proposed a federal partition of Iraq along the Bosnian model. Bush-era zeal kept the idea from getting a full review. But much has transpired since 2006.

If the tristate plan works, it will deny Islamic State sanctuary where it is now most powerful, and a strategy for northwest Iraq may emerge. America will realize its long-sought enduring bases in Iraq as a check on Iranian ambitions and an assurance of security for the embassy. The president can decouple Syrian policy from Iraq. An indefinite American presence in Iraq will not be fully welcomed, though one hastens to add it basically is evolving anyway.

For advocates of disengagement, this is bitter medicine. But we are where we are in Iraq, and wishful thinking, on their part or the White House’s, is no longer practical. A divided Iraq, maintained by an American presence, is the only hope for long-term stability. Otherwise, stay tuned for Iraq War 4.0.


National Security Policymakers—No Experience Necessary?

Chris Miller

Posted on November 30, 2014

The United States possesses the most capable military in human history accompanied by the largest intelligence community in the world. The well-oiled machine that is our military-industrial complex underpins all other components of American national strength. Even with all of this power at our disposal, national security decisions with great ramifications are often made on the basis of executive summaries and PowerPoint briefings to congressional and executive branch officials–including presidents–who have little to no real national security experience of their own to draw on. Our leaders cannot properly defend America while learning about national security 45 minutes at a time. The learning curve is far too steep.


No Experience Necessary?

The President of the United States and U.S. Representatives and Senators, using history as a guide, are generally white males past middle age of above average wealth and education. They are most likely lawyers by training, clawed their way up through the ranks of one of the major political parties, held local, state, and national political offices, and served several years as a Congressman, Senator, or perhaps Governor.

On average, they have little to no military or national security experience, other than perhaps serving on related congressional committees or as commander of a state’s National Guard. This common lack of experience among our national leaders holds true even of presidents and congressmen who are not white, male, older, Christian, educated and rich. Lack of national security experience seems to be the common trait that our national leaders have in common, no matter their background. Yet they are the ultimate decision-makers for the most capable national security complex in the history of the world, all the way up to Commander in Chief. As the number of veterans in congress dwindles every year, it should not surprise us that we are struggling to form a coherent national strategy.

No person in their right mind would knowingly hire a dentist, a lawyer, a carpenter, or a plumber who has neither experience nor training. But America’s system elects leaders who are qualified for little else than winning elections.

Those involved in helping elected officials make security decisions update them on the full historical background, developments, and nuances of a complex international situation involving the interests of the United States and other countries that may have great implications for American national security. In this discussion, they must consider America’s national strategy, whether and how it should act, its goals if it does act, and how to achieve these goals using the specific tools—military, economic, diplomatic, and social—the country has to achieve them. The only tools for the briefing are an executive summary and a PowerPoint presentation, after which they must be prepared to answer detailed questions.

How the President’s daily window onto the world since the Kennedy administration—the Presidential Daily Brief (PDB)—is delivered depends upon their personal taste, issues they find most important, their desired level of detail, and determines which issues are left out as well as included. It is usually delivered in under an hour each day. Naturally, those, such as the Director of National Intelligence, who determine what the President is told and how and what he is not told are in a position of some power. They are responsible for building the President’s knowledge of the state of the world, especially if he has very little experience of his own to draw upon. Not all national security decision-making follows or is based upon such a complex process as the NIE. Nonetheless, the product of what may be weeks, months, or even years of work is often briefed to the President in blocks of 45 minutes at a time.

Before the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, President Kennedy only devoted 45 minutes at a time to briefings on the planning, conduct, and chances of success of the operation and later believed if he had understood the full picture and ramifications, he would never have approved it. Kennedy was a WWII veteran who initially served as a U.S. Navy intelligence officer. Some would argue—especially those without security experience—that this is proof such experience makes little difference. However, a more clear-eyed view would be that if someone with military and intelligence experience such as Kennedy could not spot the pitfalls or folly of such an operation following 45-minute briefings, what chance does someone who does not possess even that much experience have?


To the Election Victor Goes the Spoils

Though the smoke is still clearing over the imminent departure of Chuck Hagel from the Pentagon, it appears that Secretary of Defense, a former Republican and Vietnam veteran, was never accepted into the inner circle of decision-making at the White House. Hagel was supposed to simply preside over the final departure of U.S. troops from the Middle East, but instead has presided over a slowing of the withdrawal from Afghanistan and a return to military operations—against ISIS this time—in Iraq. That Hagel and America’s top Generals were at odds with the White House on Syria and Iraq was obvious almost from the beginning.

Much of America’s security policy in the post-9/11 era, spanning both Democratic and Republican administrations and multiple shifts in party control of congress, has been wrought with bipartisan policy failures that have outweighed military and intelligence successes. As Mark Lowenthal points out, we are always told about intelligence failures and policy successes, but never of intelligence successes and policy failures. The bin Laden raid, the Libyan intervention, and the targeted elimination of militants throughout the MENA region have been successes. However, these successes have been overshadowed by poor policy in Iraq and Afghanistan and the opportunity cost they represent which has left the U.S. looking impotent in the face of Russian aggression and put the “Asia Pivot” on hold.

Our military has performed valiantly in the face of great strain over the past decade, with 1% of the citizenry called upon to do all of the fighting. There are no signs it will let up soon. Despite all of Americans’ grumbling about elected leaders, Congress enjoys a re-election rate over 90% despite approval in the lower-teens. Congress agreed with the President that Iraq and Afghanistan should be invaded and America should stay until they were “secure and stable”, but they would not pay for civilian experts from places such as the State Department to help get the job done. Americans dislike “foreign aid.” So battle-hardened Marines and soldiers were called upon to fill the roles of aid workers, public works directors, sociologists, anthropologists, economists, and diplomats and managed to succeed in limited measures despite the impossibility of the task. Defense was forced to fill the hole left by State.

The limited successes America has experienced in the post-9/11 era show that our tools of national power still do work, it is just the decisions made by those who use them that are faulty. This is because they are operating them with no experience and they have not read the instruction manual. Working in national security is the necessary experience. The academic study of war and conflict is the instruction manual. No person in their right mind would knowingly hire a dentist, a lawyer, a carpenter, or a plumber who has neither experience nor training. But America’s system elects leaders who are qualified for little else than winning elections.

It is a no-brainer to say that national security decision-making is a complex task. Even with years of experience, academic study, or both it is still complicated. America’s premier national intelligence product—the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE)—has been likened to the final product of a complex machine that funnels the whole of the nation’s knowledge on a problem and then assembles it; validates it; interprets it; analyses it; condenses it, and; reports it to policymakers. Capabilities across the U.S. government in the intelligence community, the Departments of Defense, State, Justice, Homeland Security, Energy, Treasury, and others feed information through the estimative “machine” in order to develop a product. This product is checked and re-checked by those possessing relevant knowledge and experience within multiple organizations until it is judged fit for purpose. Inter-agency meeting are held to iron out differences and dissents.

After this complex and carefully-constructed process, the result of months or years of work by thousands of experienced, trained personnel, it ends up in the hands of presidents and congressmen who make decisions based upon a written synopsis and a 45-minute briefing. They do have staffers to help them. However, as is frequently lamented, the greatest qualification many possess is having worked on the campaign and then having stayed put, wearing their clearances and committee staff roles as qualification badges. As Kevin Parsneau found, presidents place “loyalty” above “experience” when it comes to choosing staff. Many career State Department Foreign Service Officers, often with decades of experience, lament working under political appointees who often have half their qualifications.

Many will argue that the American system was designed to ensure that civilian control over the security complex is maintained. This is true and it should be maintained. However, all of America’s founding fathers either served in the continental army during the revolution or supported the war effort diplomatically, all of them knowing from the moment they signed the Declaration of Independence that they would be hung if it failed. Today, leaders and their advisers who set troops up to fail get re-elected at no cost to themselves. George Washington set aside his uniform as America’s first military commander and its first spy chief to become its first president, but he did not set aside that experience.

Of recent note, the sequestration debacle, triggering untargeted, across-the-board cuts to defense spending, is further proof of Congress’ misguided understanding of national security. Congress is so broken as an institution that, knowing the parties could not reach an agreement on the budget, they agreed instead to place the added pressure upon one another to reach a compromise by setting this sequestration trap for themselves. They both believed that with defense spending on the line, the other party would cave.

Neither of them did. Congress played a game of chicken with the defense budget and both congressional Democrats and Republicans were willing to ride off the cliff together rather than work together. Now, as Army Chief of Staff Raymond Odierno points out, these military spending cuts are squeezing the defense budget just as more requirements are being placed upon it by the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, not to mention Russian aggression in Ukraine and the Asia Pivot. Congress is not only inexperienced when it comes to national security; it is also reckless and irresponsible.

America’s national security, especially in an era of great uncertainty, is too important to leave in the hands of amateurs. You cannot teach nor learn national security with an executive summary and a 45-minute briefing. We are often told that our leaders are surrounded with the best advisers. They are most often surrounded with those most loyal to them and those who tell them what they want to hear. To sort this mess out, going forward those without experience need not apply.


Chris MillerChris Miller is a U.S. Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient and has worked as a military contractor in the Middle East. His work currently focuses on strategic studies. His interests are CBRNe, military and veterans issues, the Cold War, and international security affairs.


The Perversion of Military Ideas: How Innovative Thinking is Inadvertently Destroyed

by Dr Aaron P. Jackson

Journal Article | December 1, 2014 – 3:04am

Abstract: Have you ever read a military concept or doctrine publication, or an academic or professional paper about warfare or military operations, and wondered how it came to include such an ill-conceived idea? Odds are that the idea you read is a perversion of an earlier, better idea that in its original incarnation was actually quite innovative and insightful. This article explains the process by which such innovative and insightful military ideas are inadvertently oversimplified and/or distorted into intellectually questionable caricatures of their former selves.

A saying attributed to Confucius is that ‘the beginning of wisdom is calling things by their right names’.[1] Assuming for a minute that this is a truism, then contemporary Western militaries aren’t particularly wise. The latest buzzword to make the ‘bingo’ list is ‘ambiguous warfare’, coined to describe Russian actions in Ukraine, which involved an ‘unconventional attack, using asymmetric tactics’ (two more buzzwords to tick off on the bingo card).[2] Forgive me if I’m oversimplifying things, but doesn’t the word ‘warfare’ itself imply that a situation might be ambiguous? Also, aren’t tactics variable, and is it not good practice to continually adapt them to maximise the odds of achieving the strategic aims that one has gone to war for in the first place? In other words, Russian tactics and strategy in Ukraine need to be understood and organisations like NATO need to figure out how to respond to them. But this doesn’t warrant the invention of yet another new buzzword.

Of course I’m not the first to complain about the proliferation of buzzwords at the cost of genuine understanding; in fact what might be dubbed ‘the buzzword problem’ has grown to the extent that complaining about it has become something of a cliché. Even such world-renowned strategists as Colin Grey have observed that ‘Americans in the 2000s went to war and by and large have remained conceptually wounded’.[3] But the wittiest summary of the buzzword problem has to be that of Justin Kelly and Ben Fitzgerald, who penned a short paper entitled ‘when a cup of coffee becomes a soy decaf mint mocha chip frappuccino’.[4] Bingo!

There is a flip side to this coin, however, noting that I use the word ‘coin’ in the literal, dictionary definition sense, not as an acronym or abbreviation or attempt to employ some kind of once clever but now exhausted counterinsurgency related homonym. The flip side is that with so many buzzwords proliferating it becomes hard to separate good, innovative, insightful ideas and approaches from white noise. As far as the volume of complaints go, this flip side has been relatively neglected. People prefer to disparage the white noise, not lament what gets lost in it. I intend to buck this trend, and will do so by offering an explanation of how good military ideas (or concepts, or theories, or models, or whatever else they may be called) are assimilated by the military community and quickly but inadvertently turned into mere buzzwords that form part of the white noise. This process might well be called the birth, perversion and death of good military ideas.

Regardless of which particular military idea (or concept or theory or model) we examine, thinking about it will tend to follow this trajectory:

(1) A very intelligent thinker comes up with an innovative idea or approach that captures the attention of a core group of people who become adherents to the thinker’s ideas. Alternatively, a think tank comes up with a bad idea that someone, somewhere can profit from, and adherents are drawn to it by good old-fashioned profit motives. Either way, proceed to step 2.

(2) The core group of adherents writes secondary material (journal articles etc) about the thinker’s original work, including their interpretations of it, how to practically apply it and (in the case of long-dead thinkers) how to modify it for current conditions.[5]

(3) A much broader group of military personnel (a ‘lay audience’) engages with the secondary literature, re-interprets and simplifies that literature, and ends up popularising an over-simplified and often inaccurate or distorted version of the original thinker’s idea.[6] Usually very few within this lay audience will bother going back to the original thinker’s work and actually reading and considering it directly (for example, how many people can you think of who have quoted but never read Clausewitz?). Furthermore, somewhere between the adherents and the lay audience historical context is often lost and as a result ideas that were derived within specific historical circumstances tend to morph into timeless caricatures of themselves, even if the original idea was explicitly intended only to suit the circumstances in which it was first conceived (for example, Boyd’s decision making process, a complex model developed to guide fighter pilots in aerial combat, has morphed into a simplified ‘OODA loop’ that seems to promise victory to whichever side can go around the loop quickest).

With very rare exception it is only once a military idea (or concept etc) has reached a point of multiple reinterpretations and gross oversimplification that it tends to be incorporated into doctrine. This is for a few reasons. First, doctrine writers, sadly and due to what I call ‘being a subject matter expert by virtue of posting’, tend to fall into the third group of idea developer identified above (the lay audience). Second, to end up in doctrine an idea must be generally accepted by the military as an institution, and to reach the critical mass necessary for this acceptance an idea has to have reached the lay audience (and hence has to have been dumbed down). It also doesn’t help that doctrine is written by consensus and, as the old saying goes, a committee that sets out to build a horse usually ends up with a camel.[7]

Examples of this process are everywhere; indeed, they are for the most part the white noise itself! Terms such as ‘complexity’, ‘design’, and perhaps even ‘system’ spring immediately to mind. Ideas like ‘network centric warfare’, ‘effects based operations’ and ‘centre of gravity’ also roll quickly off the tongue. These ideas all started life as novel, innovative ways to think about warfare. And all were subsequently simplified (or distorted), generalised and applied in a way that removed them from their original context. Other times, an existing idea has been altered slightly then re-labelled so that it appears to be something completely new when it actually isn’t. For example, ‘ambiguous warfare’ is essentially a relatively minor variation to what was last year called ‘hybrid warfare’, itself a relatively minor variation to what was called ‘irregular warfare’ a few years earlier still. Such new terms create the impression of analysis and understanding, while in reality they obscure genuine understanding, especially if one desires to make valid and meaningful historical comparisons.

These terms are not the only examples of this process; they are merely some of the better-known or more recent. Which brings me to the final part of the process.

(4) The oversimplified, reinterpreted version of the original idea, often perverted to the point that it has lost its original meaning (and goodness), then suffers one of two fates. If it has a high enough profile (i.e. a large enough group of adherents), it gets to ride on the ‘good ideas merry-go-round’ for the rest of infinity. Centre of gravity is an excellent example; in fact, this idea may well own the merry-go-round and therefore ride for free. Centre of gravity isn’t ever going to be applied in the way Clausewitz intended, because his writings were sufficiently open to interpretation that we don’t actually know precisely how he would have applied the term himself. So adherents are able to debate, interpret and re-interpret the concept ad infinitum—heck, one of them has even gone so far as to advocate disconnecting it from the writings of Clausewitz altogether, leaving this commentator wondering why the concept’s other adherents haven’t yet burned him as a heretic![8]

The second possible fate is that the idea gets so distorted as to become detrimental and so is dumped from the lexicon altogether (General Mattis’ memorandum directing US Joint Forces Command to cease use of the ‘effects based operations’ concept is perhaps the most famous example).[9] Unfortunately, this second option is (by a wide margin) the one less exercised (meaning that most ideas get their infinite merry-go-round ride).

Sadly there is little that can be done to stop this process. The most effective solution may well be one that can only be implemented by individuals and to that end I offer the following advice. If you see or hear about a military idea and think it looks like a good one, first find the original source of the idea, read it and ensure you understand it. Second, find, read and critically evaluate the existing secondary literature about it.[10] Do this before you write something of your own about the idea (or push for it to be included in doctrine). Third, if having read what is already out there you decide that what you’ve got to say isn’t actually new or innovative, avoid the temptation to re-package the same old junk in a shiny new box; find something else to write about instead. Finally, and above all, please don’t invent a new term when there is another perfectly good term already in use! Sure, this proposed approach will involve some additional time and intellectual effort, but the alternative is worse. The alternative is ambiguous warfare.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this paper are the author’s own and are not necessarily those of the Australian Defence Organisation or any part thereof.

End Notes

[1] Quoted in: Charles M. Westenhoff, Military Airpower: A Revised Digest of Airpower Opinions and Thoughts, Maxwell Air Force Base: Air University Press, 2007, p. 239 (available online,, accessed 26 November 2014).

[2] Peter Apps, ”Ambiguous Warfare’ Providing NATO with New Challenge’, Reuters, 21 August 2014 (available online,, accessed 17 October 2014).

[3] Colin S. Gray, ‘Concept Failure: COIN, Counterinsurgency, and Strategic Theory,’ Prism, Vol. 3, No. 3, June 2012, pp. 18-19 (available online,, accessed 26 November 2014).

[4] Justin Kelly & Ben Fitzgerald, ‘When a Cup of Coffee Becomes a Soy Decaf Mint Mocha Chip Frappuccino’, Small Wars Journal, 13 September 2009 (available online,, accessed 17 October 2014).

[5] The first two steps in this process echo the relationship between what Thomas Kuhn labelled ‘paradigms’ and ‘normal science’. The first of these terms is defined by Kuhn as the ‘constellation of beliefs, values, techniques and so on shared by the members of a given [scientific] community’ and the latter involves the conduct of further research (which Kuhn also refers to as ‘puzzle solving’) within the confines of the paradigm. Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (4th ed., Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2012), quote p. 174.

[6] The term ‘lay audience’ is used here in deference to Ludwig Fleck’s concept of ‘thought collectives’. This concept posits the existence within any field where ideas are exchanged (e.g. science, art, religion, medicine, etc) of an ‘esoteric circle’ consisting of specialists and an ‘exoteric circle’ consisting of their followers. Core ideas within the field are generated by the esoteric circle, but the opinions and feedback of the exoteric circle are nevertheless important as they validate and give impetus to thought generation by members of the esoteric circle. Ludwig Fleck, The
Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact (transl. by Fred Bradley & Thaddeus J. Trenn, ed. by Thaddeus J. Trenn & Robert K. Merton, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1979).

[7] Although a single central authority ultimately approves doctrine, it is nevertheless developed at working level through compromise between various stakeholder groups within a military organisation (e.g. different units that have an interest in the same doctrine publication for a variety of training, teaching or operational purposes).

[8] Dale C. Eikmeier, ‘Give Carl von Clausewitz and the Centre of Gravity a Divorce’, Small Wars Journal, 2 July 2013 (available online,, accessed 17 October 2014).

[9] General J. N. Mattis, U.S. Joint Forces Command Commander’s Guidance for Effects Based Operations, unpublished memorandum dated 14 August 2008 (available online,, accessed 26 November 2014).

[10] For those who are willing to ‘swallow the red pill’, I recommend going one step further: in addition to thinking about the idea, try thinking about thinking about the idea. This seems a bit abstract and philosophical, but such an approach helps enable an evaluation not only of why an idea does or doesn’t work, but also of the institutional reasons underlying why a military or its members covet an idea in the first place.


Canada Issues Clear Guidelines for UAS Flying    

UAS Vision

Dec 3 2014


Transport Canada has released the details of its new rules governing the commercial use of unmanned aerial systems. Last month, the agency, the equivalent of the FAA, announced a significant liberalization of so-called “low threat” UAS operations. Those were generally described as line-of-sight operations below 300 feet in rural areas away from airports by UASs weighing less than 4.4 pounds and up to 55 pounds. The advisory circular fills in the blanks, explicitly laying out the responsibilities of owners and operators and acknowledging operational circumstances in which some compromise is appropriate. It also clearly shows that Canada isn’t requiring UAS pilots to be licensed per se, but they do have to complete a ground school course to fly the larger class of UAS.

The agency has also published a consumer-friendly part of its web site that guides users easily through the regulations on flying an unmanned aircraft.


Drones Face Critical Moment As White House Prepares To Act

Gregory S. McNeal

Washington 11/30/2014 @ 6:23PM


The White House is currently reviewing a series of policy initiatives related to the integration of drones into the national airspace. At the conclusion of the policy review process, the White House will act on both the FAA’s sUAS rule and on matters related to privacy. For an industry begging for clear rules that won’t stifle innovation, the next few weeks will be the most critical since the passage of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.


The FAA is preparing to publicly release their rules for small drones (under 55 pounds). Rather than recognizing the potential benefits of small drones, and distinguishing between very risky high powered, high speed, heavier drones, and less risky lightweight aircraft (some weighing as few as one or two pounds), it appears that the FAA is poised to treat all sUAS as identical. The rules, according to the Wall Street Journal, will “require operators to have a license and limit flights to daylight hours, below 400 feet and within sight of the person at the controls.” If the reporting is accurate, these rules will disappoint many and will put America far behind other developed nations which have already established risk-based rules that recognize that large 55 pound fuel powered unmanned aircraft present different risks than small battery powered multicopters, and even smaller remote controlled toys.

In the coming weeks, America’s drone laws will be in the hands of the White House. I reached out to individuals familiar with the process at the White House and have provided below an overview of what to expect in the short run. That overview is followed by a short preview of what 2015 will bring.


Where is the sUAS (drone) rule?

The rule is out of the hands of the FAA and is currently being reviewed by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at the White House. This review is the last opportunity for individuals outside of the FAA to correct the FAA’s proposed rule. The FAA cannot publish the rule until the White House review is complete, and that review is supposed to focus on costs vs. benefits. The FAA has made it clear that they are an agency focused on safety, not innovation, as such when their regulators conduct a cost-benefit analysis of drones, they see only safety costs and few innovation benefits. The job of OIRA is to push back against that regulatory mindset and conduct a true cost-benefit analysis. The next few weeks will determine whether the White House does their job and ensures that the FAA doesn’t stifle innovation with overly burdensome rules.

Last week a group of U.S. Senators contacted the FAA demanding answers about the status of the new regulations regarding drones. Those Senators expressed concern that “…proposed regulations on small, commercial unmanned aircraft will be costly, needlessly restrictive and hinder research and development for the growing UAS industry.” If those Senators truly want to influence policy, they should immediately contact the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and discuss the specifics of their concerns. Unfortunately, the fact that five Senators didn’t know that the sUAS rule was pending regulatory review at the White House (in their letter they embarrassingly asked the FAA for a status update) indicates that the quality of their commentary may be less than helpful.


What about privacy?

The White House is preparing an executive order to deal with the privacy issues related to drones. The executive order has been delayed while the White House awaits the completion of its review of the draft FAA sUAS rule and conducts a preliminary review of a European study on privacy and drones. Sources familiar with the White House’s deliberations tell me that the executive order will segment the privacy issues related to drones into two categories — public and private. For public drones (that is, drones purchased with federal dollars), the President’s order will establish a series of privacy and transparency guidelines. The order will include some operational guidelines, and will require that agencies operating drones reveal information about their use and surveillance capabilities. (For some possible guidelines regarding drones and privacy, see this white paper “Drones and Aerial Surveillance: Considerations for Legislators”).

The second part of the executive order will address the privacy concerns associated with private uses of drones. In the order, the President will direct that the Department of Commerce’s, National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) chair a process for creating privacy rules for private drone operators. The NTIA typically creates these rules by convening stakeholder meetings with individuals from industry, consumer groups, and advocacy groups.

The process will likely begin with a notification and a request for public comments regarding a privacy blueprint. That blueprint will be available for sixty days of commentary. Following the receipt of comments, a notice will be published regarding a series of multi-stakeholder meetings. Those stakeholder meetings are designed to create a set of consensus based rules — which may take up to a year to draft. The final set of rules become what are known as a “voluntary, enforceable code of conduct.” The codes are voluntary, in that NTIA does not have the regulatory authority to impose their rules on individuals or organizations. However, the rules are enforceable in that those individuals or organizations who claim to comply with a “voluntary, enforceable code of conduct” are subject to the Federal Trade Commission’s enforcement authority if they fail to comply with the code of conduct.

Public commentary will dominate 2015.

In light of the expected publication of the FAA’s sUAS rule for public commentary, and the NTIA’s multi-stakeholder privacy guideline process, 2015 will be a year in which public commentary on drone rules and regulations will be critical . While these processes will be open for the general public to submit comments, the reality is that those who hire experienced regulatory affairs professionals usually have the most influence in these processes. Big businesses know this and already have teams of regulatory professionals working on their behalf.

If small drone businesses want to have a voice, they will need to work with experienced professionals individually, or organize and hire someone to represent their views collectively. That may be hard for some small businesses to hear, but that’s the reality of regulation, organized interests dominate. 2015 will be all about whose voice is heard in the commentary process — get ready for it.

Gregory S. McNeal is a professor specializing in law and public policy. You can follow him on Twitter @GregoryMcNeal or on Facebook


Russia Establishes Military UAV Unit

Russia has reportedly established a dedicated unmanned air vehicle unit in the eastern region of Chukotka, believed to stem from a $9.2 billion investment in the technology pledged by the nation’s defence ministry in May.

According to the state-owned Sputnik news agency, Alexander Gordeev, spokesperson for the Russian Eastern Military District (EMD), says the unit was formed at the Ugolny military and civil airfield, and it is expecting to receive a number of indigenously-designed Orlan-10 surveillance UAVs by the end of the year.

Flight testing with the type in cold conditions is expected to take place in early 2015, and the type will be operated by Orlan to begin with, until the military unit is fully trained on the aircraft.

On 20 May, the Russian defence ministry said it would invest some $9.2 billion on UAVs by 2020.

Separately, President Vladimir Putin has ordered the establishment of a public body responsible for the implementation of Russian policies in the Arctic, Sputnik says. Putin also requires that a naval force of warships and submarines be positioned near the Arctic to bolster the country’s border defence in the region.

In August it was reported that EMD personnel had started assembling Russian-built Forpost UAVs, which were to carry out patrol missions over Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula.

The unit was to operate six of the type, which entered service at the beginning of 2015, and as of August operators had already completed a training course on the system, Sputnik says.

The use of unmanned technology by Russia is prevalent. This is demonstrated by the reported Russian use of UAVs over Ukraine, as observed by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s special monitoring mission (SMM) to the country.

According to the OSCE, the SMM visited Strelkov on the Arabat Spit on 1 December to meet with representatives of the Ukrainian army, who said they had observed military activities on the Crimean side of the peninsula, with a UAV flying every 2-3 days. The SMM could not verify this information, however.

These flights, the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine says, are increasing. Seven flights took place – alongside terrorist attacks – on 24 November alone.

On 28 November, the NSDC said a Russian UAV was shot down in the Shchastya region of Ukraine, using a ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft weapon.


Reports: Ash Carter Tapped as Next Defense Secretary

Dec. 1, 2014 – 03:45AM | By PAUL McLEARY | Comments


WASHINGTON — Ashton Carter, the former deputy defense secretary, will be nominated to be the next defense secretary to replace Chuck Hagel, sources have told CNN and The Associated Press.

Carter served as the Pentagon’s No. 2 civilian official from October 2011 to December 2013, and had a stint as the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer before that. He has mostly kept quiet since leaving the Pentagon.

Described as an “uber wonk” by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey at Carter’s farewell ceremony last year, Carter was in the thick of the wartime rapid fielding initiatives of the past decade, playing a key role in procuring tens of thousands of hulking MRAPs to Iraq and Afghanistan in just about two years.

“It’s lucky for us that you have worked without glamor or fame behind the scenes to make sure through good management and common sense and discipline that we are an organization that continues to adapt to the challenge that we find in front of us,” Dempsey added at Carter’s farewell ceremony.

Known for his ability to work through complicated budgetary issues while playing a large — and thoughtful — role behind the scenes, Carter has given few clues as to some of the priorities he would bring with him to the Pentagon.

He has stressed the need to retain some of the rapid fielding offices and initiatives that were stood up during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I very much hope we can retain that agility,” Carter told the New York Times in a November 2013 exit interview just before departing the Pentagon. “Rapid fielding — not on a Cold War schedule of years and decades, because that’s how slowly the Soviet Union changed, but on weeks and months, because that’s how fast the battlefield has changed in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

In a Foreign Affairs story published in January, he wrote that in a postwar environment, “it is important to understand what prevented the Pentagon from rapidly meeting immediate demands during those wars, what enduring lessons can be learned from its efforts to become more responsive, and how to put in place the right institutions to ensure success against future threats when agility is crucial.”

These ideas are in keeping with the initiatives recently launched by Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work and the chief weapons buyer Frank Kendall — both of whom hold offices previously occupied by Carter — that are aimed at streamlining acquisition processes, and rapidly developing new technologies to meet new threats.

And Carter has friends on the Hill.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who has seen many confirmation processes over his three decades in the chamber, told reporters on Tuesday that he believes Carter “would do very, very well in a confirmation hearing” run by Republicans in the new Congress.

“Offhand, I don’t foresee that there would be a big issue because I think he’s highly respected on both sides of the aisle,” Levin said.

Republican lawmakers responded by stressing the president must change what some have dubbed a micromanaging style over the department, no matter who gets the nomination.

Carter is “a good guy,” retiring House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., told reporters Tuesday morning.

“It’s not the secretary. It’s the president,” McKeon said. “And he’s going to keep going through these guys unless they do just whatever he tells them to do.

The lawmaker who is set to replace McKeon as HASC chair, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas., said of Carter: “I have a lot of respect for him.”

“I hope that whoever gets the job has an understanding that he or she is going to do what’s best and not be micromanaged from the White House,” Thornberry said. “He knows the Pentagon. He certainly knows some of the acquisition issues I’ve been dealing with. So, we’ll see.”

Carter earned bachelor’s degrees in physics and medieval history from Yale University in 1976. He received his doctorate in theoretical physics from Oxford in 1979, where he was a Rhodes Scholar.


He also worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Rockefeller University and MIT, as well as a research associated at Brookhaven and Fermilab National Laboratories.

In government, Carter has been awarded the Department of Defense Distinguished Service Medal four times, along with the Defense Intelligence Medal.

During the Clinton Administration, Carter was assistant defense secretary for International Security Policy. From 1990 until 1993, he served as director of the Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and chairman of the Editorial Board of International Security.

Has co-edited and co-authored 11 books. ■


It’s Not a (Totally) Poisoned Chalice

Some “presidential” suggestions for Ash Carter on taking the Pentagon’s top job.

BY James Stavridis

DECEMBER 3, 2014


From: President of the United States (POTUS)

To: Forthcoming Secretary of Defense

Subj: The Top Challenges and Opportunities Ahead


First, I want to thank you for taking the job, Ash. After Michèle Flournoy, Jeh Johnson, and Jack Reed all turned down the job before anyone even asked them to serve, a lot of people started to talk about the secretary of defense job as a “poisoned chalice.” I know working with John McCain on one side and Valerie Jarrett on the other won’t be fun, but there is so much to do — even with only two years left. So let me give you a sense of a few of the top things I would like to see you working on.

Islamic State: We need to come together on a coherent strategy and put the foot on the gas pedal. Two key elements will be getting NATO to step up to the plate (and I am personally willing to lean on leaders in Europe) and hopefully energizing the Turks to get in the game with strikes from Incirlik and quickly moving troops into the field. We also need to work with the Jordanians, especially their special forces. Let’s get IS under a three-front war: Peshmerga from the north; Iraqi security forces from the south and east; and first bombing and then Syrian opposition forces from the west. We will soon see they are not ten feet tall if we put them under multi-axis pressure.


Ukraine and Putin:

The key strategic terrain in Europe isn’t southeast Ukraine — it is the six inches between Vladimir Putin’s ears.

The key strategic terrain in Europe isn’t southeast Ukraine — it is the six inches between Vladimir Putin’s ears. We have to get his attention and that means reassuring NATO (with strong rotational air, sea, and ground forces); arming the Ukrainian military with effective lethal assistance and cyber support; and creating real pain for Russia by stretching their forces globally. That means meeting them in the Mediterranean, Arctic, Atlantic, and anywhere else they decide to operate, including the English Channel and the Caribbean Sea. As the price of oil falls through the floor, their disposable cash for operations and new expensive weapons systems will dwindle, and we can help pressurize them along the way. And the White House will support you by keeping the sanctions viable.


Cyber: We are far behind where we should be in cyberspace operations. Let’s start by splitting the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command, as both jobs are expanding rapidly in scope and scale — having one officer commanding both, even one as good as Adm. Mike Rogers, is a mistake. Let Mike take Cyber Command, and turn the NSA over to a highly qualified civilian with both technical and legal training. We also need to be exploring offensive cyber capability, developing cyber doctrine (starting with defining just what an “attack” means and what our range of responses should be), and building the outline of a true U.S. Cyber Force to stand alongside the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. The Chinese and Russians are already doing so and we cannot afford to fall behind.


Third Offset strategy: Take a good look at the paper from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis on the idea of a new “offset” strategy. This would be the third one since the 1950s “New Look” and the 1970s “Offset Strategy” and the idea would be to find our technological and organizational edge in facing potential 21st-century opponents. The idea of a triad of cyber, special forces, and unmanned systems working together is probably part of it, as are standing up new organizations to operate in a hugely networked era as the “Internet of things” emerges. For example, look hard at the Unified Command Plan — do we really need six geographic combatant commanders when so many challenges are global and don’t respect boundaries? Your undersecretary, Bob Work, has worked this hard and is a superb source of ideas and insights. Frankly, we are so consumed with the day-to-day crises that we need to consciously step back from the tactical and think strategically. I am not sure anyone is really doing that in the Pentagon and figuring out how to nurture that will be crucial.


Opportunity agenda: It is not all gloom and doom, no matter what David Ignatius and Tom Friedman are always writing about. In addition to the inevitable firefighting, you also have to find time to focus on the positive elements of what the Pentagon can do. Continuing to help our Colombian colleagues as they move toward a peace agreement with the FARC is a good one. Ensuring the Balkans stay on track is another. So is a robust program of disaster relief and humanitarian work, using the tools of smart power. Consolidating our global alliance systems with NATO, the Partnership for Peace nations who were with us in Afghanistan and have real capacity (e.g. Sweden, Austria, Finland), and our Pacific partners (e.g. Japan, South Korea, and Australia) is crucial. Working with the interagency — especially State and USAID, but also the Directorate of National Intelligence, the Department of Homeland Security, Justice, and Treasury — will yield dividends.


Strategic communications. Get out and tell the story, Ash. You must be the principal spokesman for what this enormous department is all about. Naturally, we want to have coherence and alignment across the executive branch, but that still means you going forth and explaining what our men and women are doing for the nation at every turn. Gen. Martin Dempsey may have a great singing voice, but there is no substitute for hearing from the secretary directly. Craft a strategy for the Pentagon’s message and move it fast.


Two years is not a long pull at the oar, so this may be more a sprint than a marathon. Energy, determination, and a good sense of humor will help, as will a thick skin. The nation is counting on you, and I wish you the best. And good luck at the confirmation hearings — you’ll need it!


Barack Obama

P.S. Does DARPA have anything in the locker over there that can help people quit smoking? Just thought I would check.…



Shutdown-Avoiding ‘Cromnibus’ Emerges in House – With Reid’s Endorsement

Dec. 2, 2014 – 03:45AM | By JOHN T. BENNETT | Comments


WASHINGTON — A plan is emerging on Capitol Hill to avoid a government shutdown while also passing a full 2015 Pentagon spending measure, and a key senator is on board.

Republican lawmakers trickled out of a morning caucus meeting in the Capitol basement and signaled they have decided to move a bill that would fund all but one federal agency for all of 2015.

Excluded would be an appropriations measure that funds the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for all of fiscal 2015, the GOP’s first legislative response to President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration.

But included would be a bill to hand the Pentagon around $500 billion in base funding and likely over $60 billion in war funding, one House Appropriations aide said.

Several House members spoke to reporters following a closed caucus meeting and predicted something called a “cromnibus” is most likely to pass next week.

The bill would by a hybrid of the omnibus spending measure the leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations committees had been working on for weeks. That measure would have included full-year spending bills for a dozen agencies, including the Defense Department.

The emerging “cromnibus” would also include a full Pentagon bill, as well as the same for many other agencies. But it would be merged with a continuing resolution for DHS in retaliation for the immigration action — hence the new moniker “cromnibus.”

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., told reporters he expects a vote on the cromnibus next week.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Tuesday that “no decisions have been made at this point.”

“We’ll continue to discuss with our members a number of options in terms of how we will deal with this in consultation, again, with the members,” Boehner said.

If such a bill passes the House late this week, it would land in the Senate just days ahead of a Dec. 11 deadline. That’s when funding for the Pentagon and the rest of the government runs out.


Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., hinted Tuesday he would bring a “cromnibus” to a vote and let the new Congress fight over immigration next year.

“That would be a big accomplishment if we could get a bill over here that would fund all the appropriations subcommittees except for one,” he said.

Reid dubbed it “kind of unfortunate” the House would withhold the DHS full-year funding, but seemed more interested in averting a shutdown.

“That’s the way it is,” he said.

Minutes later, John McCain, the incoming Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, told reporters he is betting strongly against a government shutdown next week.

“They might do their usual ‘pass something then leave town’ — so watch the House,” McCain said. “It’s all driven by time, and you don’t make decisions until you have to. That’s how the Senate works.” ■



Pentagon to Begin Drafting Technology Roadmap
By Sandra I. Erwin

Dec 3, 2014




The Defense Department is seeking to recapture the technology magic of decades past that propelled the United States to become the world’s only superpower.

The Pentagon’s new effort to spur innovation is casting a wide net in hopes that outsiders in the private sector and academia can help inject new thinking into weapon programs and investment plans.

“We recognize that all good ideas don’t originate in this building,” said Stephen P. Welby, deputy assistant secretary of defense for systems engineering.

Welby is overseeing the technology initiative, named “long-range research and development plan.” His team will spend six months perusing proposals and determining whether they merit further study and investment. The recommendations will go to Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall in time to influence the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2017 budget request.

Companies, think tanks, universities, and the general public are being invited to send ideas. A “request for information” was published Dec. 2 on the website

“We are inviting folks for a dialogue,” Welby told reporters. The Pentagon wants to understand the “art of the possible” a decade or two into the future, he said. “What is emerging across the private sector that might shape the future of military capabilities?” The Defense Department recognizes that innovation now comes from the private sector, so it wants to become a “fast follower,” Welby said.

The long-range R&D study is part of a broader “offset” strategy that Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work and Kendall are leading. It is modeled after the strategy the Pentagon adopted during the Cold War, when the Eisenhower administration figured out how to “offset” the Warsaw Pact’s much larger conventional forces with nuclear weapons. In the 1970s, Secretary of Defense Harold Brown and Undersecretary William Perry pushed a second offset initiative to use digital microelectronics and information technology to counter conventional forces. The Pentagon will attempt a third offset strategy in order to jump ahead of future enemies that are acquiring increasingly advanced technology.

The Pentagon worries that countries like Russia and China have steadily invested in advanced technology over the past decade. Potential adversaries are fielding advanced aircraft, submarines, long-range, precision-guided missiles, undersea and electronic warfare technologies.

The long-range R&D plan will identify “high-payoff enabling technology investments that could provide an opportunity to shape key future U.S. materiel investments, offer opportunities to shape the trajectory of future competition for technical superiority, and will focus on technology that can be moved into development programs within the next five years,” said the solicitation.

Welby’s team is divided into five groups that will focus on space, undersea technology, air dominance and strike, air and missile defense, and broadly emerging technology. The last category is likely to include autonomous vehicles, agile manufacturing and nanotechnology.

This does not mean that the Pentagon only is interested in those five areas, Welby said. The five priorities were chosen for efficiency. “We are not building a hundred panels,” he said. “We are starting with those five.”

The panels also have been instructed to not engage in the inter-service infighting that typically occurs when programs and dollars might be at stake. “We recruited folks who are bright and open minded,” said Welby. “We want to make sure we don’t get trapped into silos.”

For the private sector, this project is not necessarily going to lead to procurement contracts, he noted. “We are thinking about a decade out. We’re not talking about the next opportunity, the next win,” he said. The questions at hand for the next six months will be: Where are the long bets, what are the markets going, and where is technology headed, Welby said. “There are no dollars associated with this RFI.”


Rasmussen Reports

What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls

Bottom of Form

Saturday, December 06, 2014

It’s often been said that there are two or more Americas within the fabric of this great nation. Racially, that’s certainly true.

The refusal of grand juries in Ferguson, Missouri and on Staten Island in New York to indict white police officers following the deaths of two young black men has highlighted this division. Many had high hopes that the election of the nation’s first black president would help heal our racial wounds, but just eight percent (8%) think race relations in America are better since Barack Obama became president in 2009. That’s something that blacks, whites and other minority Americans agree on.

But while 54% of whites think the U.S. justice system is fair to blacks, 84% of black voters consider the justice system unfair to them

Eighty-two percent (82%) of black voters think most black Americans receive unfair treatment from the police. White voters by a 56% to 30% margin don’t believe that’s true.

In the Ferguson case, 59% of blacks think white police officer Darren Wilson should be charged with murder for the shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown.Just 15% of whites agree.

Similar racial divides are found on a number of key issues, with blacks more favorable to a big government approach than whites are. Black voters also continue to overwhelmingly approve of the job Obama is doing as president, while most whites disapprove.

That disapproval is expected to cost the president’s party another seat in the U.S. Senate when Louisiana voters choose in a runoff election today between incumbent Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu and her Republican challenger, Congressman Bill Cassidy.

Republicans are still out front on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot.

While his party took a shellacking at the polls in early November, the president’s monthly job approval held steady at 47% for the third month in a row. Fifty-one percent (51%) disapprove.

Nearly half of voters want Congress to stop the president’s new plan to protect up to five million illegal immigrants from deportation. Americans rate their citizenship highly and aren’t keen on putting many of those here illegally on the path to citizenship.

Thirty-six percent (36%) of voters now give the president good or excellent ratings for his handling of issues related to immigration, his highest positive ratings since late January. Forty-eight percent (48%) still say the president is doing a poor job in this area.

Many voters expect the new Republican Congress to repeal Obamacare, but for the first time, most want to fix the new national health care law rather than repeal it.

 Voters remain closely divided on the issue of gun control, but  they also continue to strongly believe it would be bad for the country if only police and other government officials were allowed to have guns. 

 The Rasmussen Employment Index which measures worker confidence jumped to a six-year high in November, correctly predicting the upbeat jobs report released by the federal government on Friday.

One-out-of-two working Americans expect a pay raise in the coming year. But fewer of these employed adults are confident that their next job will be better than the one they’ve got now.

Consumer confidence remains lukewarm this holiday season, but investors are definitely feeling more upbeat.

More Americans than ever are doing their holiday shopping online, but they’re also highly concerned about cyberattacks from abroad. Voters feel more strongly than ever that these cyberattacks – the most recent ones allegedly from Iran and North Korea – should be considered acts of war.

 In other surveys last week:

 — Just 25% of Likely Voters think the country is heading in the right direction. The number of voters who think the country is on the right course has been below 30% most weeks since June of last year.

  — But few Americans have ever thought about giving up their U.S. citizenship.

  — The number of Americans who have started their holiday shopping jumped dramatically following the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales weekend.

  — Here’s a closer look at those Black Friday sales.


From → Uncategorized

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: