Reforming the US Army: can be done, must be done

Summary:  Wouldn’t it be nice to win a war occasionally? Don Vandergriff’s previous post in this series explained how the US Army’s leadership problem grew so bad. Today he gives some good news. The Army has begun to reform, with the possibility of more powerful reforms in the future. But reforming only slowly, step by step. He recommends that the Army do drastic reform now, rather than waiting until after we suffer a serious defeat.

“{Military reform} is not attacking the people in the Army, many of which sacrifice so much so many times. It is not the people, the vast majority which really adhere to the values of the services; it is the systems that manage them that are so bad and out of date. A lot of people succeed with selfless service despite the personnel system.”
— From “Leading the Human Dimension Out of a Legacy of Failure” by G.I. Wilson (Colonel, USMC, retired) and Donald Vandergriff in Chapter 3 of America’s Defense Meltdown (2008).

Army Strong

What is the Army doing today?

“We see what we call ‘beer can personnel management’: The operant idea is to reach into the stack (i.e. human resources) of cold beer sitting in the refrigerator, grab one, slam it down, crumple up the beer can (i.e., the individual), toss it out, and reach for another. The cycle is repeated over and over taking an irreparable toll on individuals, the personnel systems and operations.”  {op. cit.}

Augustine's Laws
Available at Amazon.

The army has several experiments with reforms under way. This is slow progress, but a start.

Scott Halter (Lt. Colonel, Army), a successful Aviation Battalion Commander who practices Mission Command and Outcomes Based Training and Education (aka OBTE; details here), wrote “What is an Army but Soldiers: A Critical Assessment of the Army’s Human Capital Management System” in Military Review, Jan-Feb 2012. He described recommendations of the Secretary of the Army’s Human Dimension Task Force to reform the Army’s personnel system. The results of their work? Nothing!”

One promising tool is a 360 degree assessment (aka multisource feedback). Used by the Wehrmacht in WWII, these are based on work going back to the T-groups devised in 1914. The Army experiments with this only on a small scale because too many senior officers fear that the fastest “water walkers” would get exposed by it.

It would be an effective tool. I know guys that commanded companies who were hated by their senior NCOs and Lieutenants – but they were promoted. Some made it to brigade command; some made it to general. They were great politicians, but their soldiers knew the truth.

The Pentagon and the Art of War
An old (1985) & still great key to understanding DoD. Available at Amazon.

Another vital, even necessary, reform is changing from individual replacements of soldiers (IRS) to rotating entire units off the front line for rest and rebuilding. It’s a vital step to maintain the cohesion of fighting units. Marshall devised the IRS in early WWII. It quickly broke down. It has produced ill results in every war since then.

The Army has attempted to reform this broken system, often. So far always unsuccessfully. For an introduction to the problem, see this 2004 article in Military Review. The key conclusions, discussing the Army’s most ambitious attempt at unit rotation (aka UMS): the COHORT system.

“The Army considered it essential that the command climate in the unit and above the unit support the COHORT model. COHORT worked best when an entire division, its home base, and its supporting and higher headquarters supported the idea of stabilized units.…

“COHORT failed because the entire Army did not support it. A small but influential group of advocates in senior positions initiated UMS but it became so complicated and contentious that when its advocates left the Army, it died. The demise of COHORT, however, does not mean that unit stabilization is impossible. If the Army heeds lessons learned from COHORT and current proposals to modify the personnel management and training systems, it might be possible finally to do this right.”

The Army is trying again, but it is reform in name only. The officer and senior NCO corps are not aligned with it. Mandatory career schools are not aligned with it. Nothing will happen.

The Path To Victory
Available at Amazon.

What the Army needs.

Reform is complex not just because it’s difficult, but due to the many second and third order effects that must be understood for success. There is much we can do now, such as reforming the 1980 Defense Officer Personnel Management Act (DOPMA, mandating the “up or out” system), gradually reducing the number of officers (especially at the top), and improving the Army’s education and training programs.

In Path to Victory I proposed that leaders would command in annual war games, free play “force on force” exercises short of combat, which would count toward promotions or reliefs. Also, a smaller officer corps could spend more time on officer development. Our captains command too early and too briefly to be effective. Most will say that they were great, but then turn around and said they did not “get it” until they were almost done. Also, they only know what they know.

But piecemeal reforms might not work. Reforms must go across the board, or what is called Parallel Evolution, changing several institutions side by side at the same time. As described in my March 2005 PowerPoint presentation:

“The Army will fail if it tries to change its parts (institutions) in isolation without changing the culture, particularly in regards to providing the climate to nurture adaptive leaders and innovators.

“Solution: “Parallel evolution”, organizational evolution as a holistic problem …”

Reform will require broad support not just within the military but also in the civilian DoD staff and Congress. Especially Congress, by changing DOPMA 1980 and reducing the number of positions mandated by law (e.g., joint services, acquisition programs).

What’s the alternative to reform?

If we continue our current aggressive global strategy of occupations while executing the façade called COIN {counterinsurgency warfare}, eventually, we will be unable to retreat to Forward Operating Bases (FOBs), while our generals oversee platoon and company fights against an enemy who possesses very little tangibles {material resources} – but has heart. We have strategic defeats concealed by meaningless tactical victories.

Eventually, we will suffer not just hollow victories – such as Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the brilliant initial phase of Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan Oct-Dec 2001). The latter two evolved into costly occupations. Why must reform wait for a disaster such as Kasserine Pass (1943) or Task Force Smith (Battle of Osan, 1950)? Prussia reformed only after Jena-Auerstadt (Oct 1806). Let’s learn from their experience instead of repeating it.

The Army can reform. We should start today.

———————————

Donald Vandergriff

About Donald Vandergriff

Donald Vandergriff retired in 2005 at the rank of Major after 24 years of active duty as an enlisted Marine and Army officer.  He now works as a consultant to the Army and corporations. Don is one of America’s foremost experts on ways to reform the military’s personnel systems. GI Wilson (Colonel, USMC, retired) gives the bottom line to Don’s career.

“Vandergriff battles to improve DoD’s leadership and decision making. He challenges its senior leadership in order to bring meaningful change and accountability to DOD. Like others with his experience, he sees that DOD’s senior leadership (both uniforms and suits) today appears most concerned with their perks and the revolving door opportunities created by boosting profits for defense contractors. They lack the moral courage to serve the people they lead.

“Vandergriff offers creative and rational personnel and leadership solutions that enhance national security. He gives top priority to DoD’s people, ideas, operational creativity, and lastly hardware. Without more people like him in the Pentagon, our national security will continue to be at great peril.”

Posts by Don, providing valuable insights about our mad wars and broken Army. See all of his posts.

  1. About the importance of charisma for leaders.
  2. About military leaders in the 21st century: “Theirs Is to Reason Why”
  3. Afghanistan war logs: Shattering the illusion of a bloodless victory.
  4. Dragging American Military Culture into the 21st Century.
  5. Leadership in action: when resource constraints meet conspicuous consumption, we just ignore the problem.
  6. About the US Army’s leadership problem.

Posts about Don’s work.

  1. 4GW: A solution of the third kind – Vandergriff is one of the few implementing real solutions.
  2. Why Vandergriff’s work is a vital contribution to preparing America for 21st-century warfare
  3. Don Vandergriff strikes sparks that might help reforge the US Army.
  4. Obama can take a bold step to begin reform of the DoD & so end our series of defeats at 4GW – James Fallows proposes putting a reformer – Don – in a key role at DoD.
  5. A step to getting an effective military. We might it need soon. – Why we need to listen to Don.

Here are two excerpts from Manning the Future Legions of the United States: Finding and Developing Tomorrow’s Centurions.

  1. Preface – understanding the problem is the key to finding solutions.
  2. Training of officers, a key step for the forging of an effective military force.

For a description of his work and links to his publications see The Essential 4GW reading list: Donald Vandergriff. For an example of his contributions, see this about his Adaptive Leaders Course. Most importantly, see his books at the end of this post.

For More Information

Ideas! For shopping ideas see my recommended books and films at Amazon.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about our generals, about our officer corps, about ways to reform the military, and especially these about our officer corps …

  1. Building a new generation of visionary leaders for the US military – by GI Wilson.
  2. Overhauling The Officer Corps to build a military that can win wars – by David Evans (Lieutenant Colonel, USMC, retired).
  3. Officers can reform our military and make America stronger! – Only the will to do so is lacking.
  4. Admiral Rickover’s gift to us: showing that we can reform America’s military..

Vandergriff shows that we can reform the US military

Adopting Mission Command: Developing Leaders for a Superior Command Culture
Available at Amazon.

These books by Donald Vandergriff (Major, US Army, retired) explain how we can do it. It won’t be easy.

He takes this work to the next level in his new book, Adopting Mission Command: Developing Leaders for a Superior Command Culture. It draws on his decades of work with US Army officers and experience in our wars, proposing ways to build better leaders. From the publisher …

“In September 2010, James G. Pierce, a retired U.S. Army colonel with the Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, published a study on Army organizational culture. Pierce postulated that “the ability of a professional organization to develop future leaders in a manner that perpetuates readiness to cope with future environmental and internal uncertainty depends on organizational culture.” He found that today’s U.S. Army leadership “may be inadequately prepared to lead the profession toward future success.”

“The need to prepare for future success dovetails with the use of the concepts of mission command. This book offers up a set of recommendations, based on those mission command concepts, for adopting a superior command culture through education and training. Donald E. Vandergriff believes by implementing these recommendations across the Army, that other necessary and long-awaited reforms will take place.”

18 thoughts on “Reforming the US Army: can be done, must be done

    1. Craig,

      As so often the case, the meaning depends on the observer’s perspective. “Water walker” means someone with an exalted reputation in the eyes of his superiors, on the fast track to promotion.

      The Urban Dictionary entry (I use it daily when talking with my kids), shows how such people are often seen by their subordinates: “One who thinks his shit doesn’t stink and is unyielding to bend the rules.”

  1. I never understood the up or out. What if I’m happy being a intel major and damn good at it but don’t want the stress or hassle of being an Intel LT. Col. Why not let me stay there?. Just like in the civilian world, I dont have to take a promotion.

    1. Sven,

      There are no easy answers for military personnel systems. Military organizations function with an unusually diverse range of people, many of whom fit no simple characterization as “good” or “bad.” So they tend to rely on bureaucratic tools that work adequately (if at a low level) even with unskilled operators.

      Without up or out, there are too few promotion opportunities for younger officers and deadwood tends to accumulate in the middle ranks. So a large fraction of the best younger officers will leave, as they will move up faster in the civilian world.

      Saying “just keep the really good people in the middle” is difficult for peacetime militaries. Also, unlike civilian private sector job, pay is on a rigid scale. Corporations use pay to push out underperformers (this is esp easy with moderate inflation, as pay rates shrink each year in real terms).

  2. What counts as a serious defeat for American military forces so that military reform comes now?

    A total party kill of a fire team, a squad, platoon, a company, a BCT, an army? Expending trillions of dollars for wasted energy and maintaining a budget to provide medical care and benefits for disabled veterans for the rest of their lives? Another costly occupation?

    Are there metrics provided for the American citizen so they know when to be invested in military reform? Will they be provided so Americans can wait and see what winning a war entails?

  3. So how does the Army reform itself given the current state of affairs?

    After retiring from the Army Reserves, I taught Army ROTC as a contractor for a while. It started as a 6-month gig to fill in for a deployed cadre member. I ended being there for 6 years. When Mission Command started being the new buzzword, I read everything about it I could get my hands on. Then I read everything abut the German Army from 1806 to WWII that I could find. I used to walk into the office in the morning and laugh because I knew what was on my bookshelf behind my desk, just sitting there loose, was worth at least twice what the government laptop computer chained to the desk was, and nobody knew. When they added Mission Command classes to the MSIV (senior year cadets) curriculum, I volunteered to teach them even though I normally taught the MSIIs (sophomores).
    Part of that was because I liked the subject. A bigger part was because I realized none of the Active Duty officers or NCOs really understood it or made any real attempt to. It was just the latest buzzword going around and a fad that would eventually fade.

    I realized we (the Army) were trying to solve a problem if not with the people who WERE the problem, then people who were a product OF the problem. And I was working with post-command senior Captains, senior NCOs (former First Sergeants and Platoon Sergeants), and Lieutenant Colonel Professors of Military Science. I gave it my best shot at trying to put a germ of an idea into the next generation of officers hoping something comes of it. It felt like an uphill struggle. I could fill pages with examples of how the Active Duty cadre directly and indirectly undid everything I was trying to teach.

    Which brings me back to my original question. How does the Army reform itself when we’re “trying to solve a problem using the same mind that created it”? (I was just using Mission Command as an example, but I think you can see the corollaries to other subjects like Personnel Management). Maybe we get the right people in the right leadership positions, all at the same time, to effect major changes. But I really do feel it is going to take a major shock to the system (e.g. Jena-Auerstadt, Kasserine Pass, Task Force Smith) to get the Army to reform.

    1. David,

      (1) “How does the Army reform?”

      Yes, that is the exact question to ask. Most ask a secondary question, about what reforms are needed. But the will to reform preceeds that, and is much more difficult to find.

      (2) “trying to solve a problem using the same mind that created it”

      Exactly. To state it less poetically, trying to fix a problem using the same people who are (collectively) are the problem.

      (3) “Maybe we get the right people in the right leadership positions, all at the same time, to effect major changes.”

      Unfortunately, the current system works effectively to prevent reformers from reaching high office. Reformers pin their hopes on deus ex machina: a hero lowered onto the stage by crame – representing a gift of the gods. But Congress has little interest in changing today’s money machine. Presidents don’t reform Federal agencies because it takes much political capital and time, but the rewards go to future presidents.

      There are a few indicators that officers in the Marine Corps have grown tired of losing. You will see much about this in the next few months. Unfortunately, “reform” means embrace of maneuver warfare (3rd generation warfare), moving on from WWI methods (2GW). We’ll be ready if the Russians storm through the Fulda Gap, or China decides to copy Japan’s WWII plans.

      There is little interest in learning to fight the wars everybody has actually fought since 1960.

      (4) “But I really do feel it is going to take a major shock to the system (e.g. Jena-Auerstadt, Kasserine Pass, Task Force Smith) to get the Army to reform.”

      Yes, that’s what everybody says. But ponder the absurdity of this. The US officer corps understands the problem and has the ability to reform itself, but chooses not to do so – and instead decides to wait for defeat. Meanwhile, they preen themselves with delusions that they’re #1, despite a series of poorly equipped and untrained insurgents win and win.

      Can you see any precedent in history for this?

      1. “Can you see any precedent in history for this?”

        I can see many, and no need to go that far back:

        as mentioned, Prussia before Iena-Auerstedt: the sclerotic army system left by Frederic II with all its pretense and none of what had give it an edge at one point (that was never as crushing as vaunted considering the soldier king’s contrasted results), where soldiers were considered, as the saying went “halfway between man and thing”, and the generals were un-firable high aristocrats, generally extremely old, and very full of their privileges and position
        my own country, France, and the degradation of its command culture between the two world wars, especially after Maréchal Foch’s death, which left the “Pétain’s school” without a rival (and reformist) faction and left to its own device to NOT really adapt to anything and live on its certitudes. The invisible but essential capacities acquired in WWI at high level (modern large scale fast plannification and conduct of operations, effective general staff work….) were seriously deteriorated by peacetime and a bad command culture (bad because ageing and non adaptive), and the overall military system’s head started to rot, impacting the very way war was to be conceived (operations, materials….).
        Japan before WWII: a political-military problem where bad objectives and strategies on the one side, and bad strategic and tactical concepts on the other, fed each other via a series of problematic phenomenons at the top, essentially between a consenting-in-general-principles-but-against-the-methods from the Imperial level, and a central disease residing in the increasingly important Kwantung Army. The latter not only overstepped (by a lot) all its prerogatives to grow in importance, but developed a mad and murderous ideology (not really one accepting of military and strategic realities) that spread (via officer rotations) to the rest of the armed forces. And it met an already problematic conception of war far too hell bent on the fantasy of a “decisive battle” for which the entire japanese military tool was built, with little capacity to follow on if a strong enough enemy decided not to comply.

      2. Tancrède,

        None of those are precedents. None of those are remotely like precedents. I’ll repeat my question:

        “The US officer corps understands the problem and has the ability to reform itself, but chooses not to do so – and instead decides to wait for defeat. Meanwhile, they preen themselves with delusions that they’re #1, despite a series of poorly equipped and untrained insurgents win and win. Can you see any precedent in history for this?”

        “Prussia before Iena-Auerstedt”

        Poorly organized armies led by elderly generals are common in history. I doubt that there was a single officer in the Prussian army who thought it was #1 in 1806.

        “my own country, France, and the degradation of its command culture between the two world wars”

        Accounts of the French Army in May 1940, on the eve of battle, often remark about its brittle spirit. They were confident in the strength of their Maginot “Wall” and their superiority in tanks. But they were afraid of the Germans. That was made obvious to all by the response of the French Army to Germany’s invasion of Poland: the Saar Offensive (a brief advance into undefended western German, and quick retreat) and the Phoney War.

        “Japan before WWII”

        You must be kidding. Japan’s military was awesome, as their rapid conquests proved. But that didn’t mean they could successfully fight a combination of foes with over 100 times the resources – China, Britain and its empire (esp India), Australia, and the USA.

      3. “Poorly organized armies led by elderly generals are common in history. I doubt that there was a single officer in the Prussian army who thought it was #1 in 1806.”

        And you would be wrong about that. This format is not really adapted for a long exposé about such a matter (we would need a forum for that), but the matter is quite well known and treated. What reformers like Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were confronted to, but suddenly had the means and political capital to partly get rid off, was an extreme case of the “disease of victory” and an army (which in Prussia meant “an army that has a state”, as goes the formula) that had come to idealize itself to high heaven. Far more than just a case of a peacetime army with generals that grow old, don’t change anything and don’t leave.

        “Accounts of the French Army in May 1940, on the eve of battle, often remark about its brittle spirit. (……) the Saar Offensive (a brief advance into undefended western German, and quick retreat) and the Phoney War.”

        That is more linked to rather literary or “journalistic” ways of seeing the situation, with a taint of ideology, as many historians, especially non military, are often prone to do. You’ll also find great “explanations” invoking the “spirit of enjoyment” (which is the 1940 French military equivalent of the 1918 German “stab in the back”: a propaganda excuse for a military failure) of the population that lead to “decadence” (thus politically justifying the “national revolution” program by Pétain, suddenly turned arch-reactionary). This is simply not a militarily sound analysis: the simple fact is that the French Army stopped being mobile, and planning to be, after 1925 (Locarno Treaty and the “guarantee” of the French-German border), building its whole doctrine and operational concept (and therefore training, materials, mentalities) accordingly. Thus nullifying the foreign policy of reverse alliances (Poland, Czechoslovakia) by a simple inability to conduct long range mobile operations. Add the culture crisis in the officer corps, some technological bad choices made worse by the bad operational concept (tank designs, scarcity of radios, problems in the Air Force and aeronautic industry) and several periods of grave underfunding (late 20s, early to mid 30s), and you end up with a major problem, made all the more grave by a not up to date operational concept (the “guided battle” of 1918, actually updated by…. The US Army); an ossified command structure in a hyper-centralized model with a procrastinator and evader in command (Gamelin).

        “You must be kidding. Japan’s military was awesome, as their rapid conquests proved.”

        No kidding, but this is really the point where we would need another format to write about it. Explaining the Japanese obsession for a highly mythologized “decisive battle” and the way the entire military was built about it, the drastic lack of means on a strategic scale to have any chance in an age of industrial total war, the completely delirious and ideological worldview and lack of realism of the military clique that took over in the 30s… Explaining all that in convincing terms would take a very lengthy post and necessitate (I have the data, but mostly on paper, so I’d have to type it all) some developments about operational concepts, doctrine, the concept of “operational art” (vs tactics and strategy), the strategies of means and “materialgesellschaft (no idea of the equivalent word and concept in English)…. Quite the same reasoning could be used towards the Wehrmacht and the limitations of the “German art of war” versus the more advanced “soviet art of war” at the time of WWII (problem for the USSR: not having the tools to implement it in 1941): the pinnacle of the German way was a “battle system” written large (with an monomaniacal obsession for the “kessel” or “battle of Canne”), not a “war system.

        Just to illustrate Japan’s problem in one single area: its naval aviation was the best there was in 1941, an extremely sharp tool made for one, fantasized decisive battle where all would be said and done. Problem: modern mass scale warfare doesn’t work like that. Their sharp tool relied on a tiny elite of pilots (a few hundred) that could not be renewed (too few resources) and could not be everywhere, a small group of major aircraft carriers that could also not be renewed in quantity and fast enough (especially comparatively to the US production), and planes that had no margin of progress (the Zero was not capable of significant upgrades) like most of Japan’s materials (technological lag). Passed Coral Sea and Midway, Japan had lost its very tiny and vulnerable edge: all that remained to help it was geography (distances especially) and the time needed for the American buildup. Problem of building a tiny elite at the expense of all the rest. And of not having enough to actually build the rest to acceptable levels, and sustain their effort.

        But as I said, we would need a forum to not throw things that here will sound too abrupt and simple.

      4. Tancrède,

        I don’t know what you are attempting to say. But you are totally ignoring what I said, looking for precedents. Your essay is about why armies lose. It’s not that you’re wrong, but are ignoring not my specific point. So there’s no point in discussing your comment. Except for this, which is bizarre.

        “like Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were confronted to, but suddenly had the means and political capital to partly get rid off, was an extreme case of the “disease of victory” and an army (which in Prussia meant “an army that has a state”, as goes the formula) that had come to idealize itself to high heaven.”

        Totally absurd. That wasn’t true before their defeats at N’s hands – N’s reputation was fearsome, and the Prussians had been defeated before (Valmy and esp Saalfeld). It certainly was not true when they began their reforms after the Prussia’s defeat. The broad-based reforms of Prussia’s government, including the military, were a reaction to defeat – not victory.

      5. “Totally absurd. That wasn’t true before their defeats at N’s hands – N’s reputation was fearsome, and the Prussians had been defeated before (Valmy and esp Saalfeld). It certainly was not true when they began their reforms after the Prussia’s defeat. The broad-based reforms of Prussia’s government, including the military, were a reaction to defeat – not victory.”

        It was actually true from the end of the Seven Years War to 1806 (what my description was alluding to, sorry if it was unclear), minor defeats notwithstanding (Valmy is for example, as symbolic as it is, just an exchange of artillery followed by a withdrawal, mostly due to an army gone beyond its logistical capabilities): there are multiple observations and analysis noting the phenomenon of self-mythologization in the Prussian Army, aided by an aristocratic and gerontocratic system (that part is common in Ancien Regime-type systems, but it’s even more powerful in Prussia since the reforms of Frederic II’s grandfather and father). But my point was that, more than the success or failure of a particular general, or even of the selection system of high ranking officers, the military system itself was at fault on the Prussian side. And it was a failure of a military system, not just bad generals put in a place they shouldn’t have been in. I should also have said that there were two columns to support that failure: the disease of victory and its consequences on the military in Prussia on one side, and the aristocratic system (and its peculiar iteration in Prussia, quite unique in Europe) on the other side. Both weighed heavily on the army, from fundamental strategy to the tactics of basic units, and all the steps, choices and policies in between (organisation, training, recruitment/mobilization, plannification, doctrine, command culture, structures of units and staffs….). Even the great reforms started by Scharnhorst and Gneisenau couldn’t get rid off some of this weight because it was consubstantial to the Prussian State (notably the Junkers caste and its hold on the institution, and the relations between the institution, as incarnated later by the GrosserGeneralStab, and the State). Even, later on, Moltke the elder himself ended up seeing it (after the campaigns of Austria and France), and with it the problems it caused down the line (concepts of operations, tactical/technical obsessions versus sound concepts of operations and strategy….), trying to remedy these defects to no avail.

        But as I said, it would require another format for discussion. On this one, with its limitations, we end up in a frustrating situation.

  4. I did not intend to comment on this one. However, reading the comments about fighting about some details, and as nobody brought the major idea of the US Army fighting deficiencies and the REASON for their fighting.
    Unless one acknowledges the US is an Empire, there is no need to have hundreds of military bases around the world; and unless one acknowledge the Empire is the “Bad Guy,” there’s no solution in sight.”
    If the Pentagon were to be reduced to defensive establishment, cut their budget (gradually) to — say 20%, remove all foreign involvement, train the troops to fight defensive battles, and so forth with the NAVY and AirForce — the winner would be in the short and, definitely, in the long run, the People, the Tax Payers!

    1. Jako,

      “Unless one acknowledges the US is an Empire”

      This is a complicated issue. I’ve long written about the American Empire, but lately have wondered if I was wrong. “Empire” is a small word that evokes big meanings.

      (1) We are not ruled by an Emperor or monarch, even on a pro forma basis (as was Britain under Queen Victoria).

      (2) What are the states we’ve concquored and rule in our Empire? Most of the places that base US troops want them there. Some even pay some of their costs.

      (3) An Empire is an extractive political system. It runs a profit, usually seen in its trade surplus (like the 13 colonies did w/ Britain, selling raw materials and buying industrial goods). When Britain lost its empire, it slid into bankruptcy – requiring a bailout in 1976 from the IMF (the largest ever until that time).

      Nobody pays tribute to the US. We run trade deficits, and our “empire” costs tens or hundreds of billions of dollars per year. We would be economically better off without our “empire.” So I know call it the “mad American Empire.”

      (4) Since so many nations benefit from our military power – much of Europe, Israel, Japan, Taiwan, etc – perhaps the Empire should be seen as a philanthropic project. Policeman to the world, provided free courtesy of the US taxpayers.

      (5) “If the Pentagon were to be reduced to defensive establishment, cut their budget (gradually) to — say 20%”

      How would the world change if we did this? We can only guess. Some nations would boost their military spending. Taiwan might begin negotiations with China about unification. Israel might begin negotiations with its neighbors for a firmer solution (I assume your proposal would reduce the aid to Israel – and the payments to Egypt that buy peace). Russia and China might become more assertive with their neighbors.

      Would the world be much worse off? Would there be fewer wars without the US sending its troops to raid and occupy nations? I don’t know. As you said, it is worth thinking about.

      1. Thanks Larry,

        I agree with most of your points; however, USA had not meant to be a military nation:
        https://www.fff.org/2019/07/05/trump-reminds-us-that-america-is-a-military-nation/

        (1) US is ruled by plutocrats (even Hitler recognized that back in 1930’s); so there’s no need for a particular figure; figure-heads — they change — e.g. Obama was one of the best:
        https://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2019/07/06/obama-front-man-for-washingtons-imperialism/

        (2) All NATO countries are de facto vassals to US hegemony; plus Japan, Australia etc.

        (3) Profit is a very elusive term — cui bono is more expressive; OTOH, yes, US would be better off without the burden of empire associated “duties and responsibilities.”

        (4) Again, you’re dead on there, why to subsidy/donate to economic adversaries (sort of)?

        (5) I think there may not be much guessing involved. Taiwan would be better of by reuniting with its “home-land.” Israel has enough backing from all the guild-driven nations of Europe, they would not suffer, but they may lose the Golan Heights ;)
        Also, when the Germans, French or Japanese see the trend, they would very quickly realign themselves into defend-able position and it wouldn’t cost US a penny.
        While the trend would be broken, to the whole World benefit:
        http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/51879.htm

        The only loser in this would be the oligarchy — no more extravagant spending on “defense” (e.g. since when a stealth technology i.e. F35 is a defensive weapon?)

        I do not wish to go on to sociological depth (e.g. of Dr. Wallenstein’s) of the “other consequences,” but these will become obvious, if the US of A doesn’t radically change their attitude and their military/economic posture — the whole world will suffer…

  5. Why doesn’t the Army move to a recruiting / matching / sports draft system where commanders choose their people down to NCO level? Division commanders recruit their senior staff, brigade commanders choose their battalion commanders and staff, Battalion CO’s choose their staff and company commanders, Company commanders choose their LT’s and first sergeant. The First Sergeant can assemble his corps of NCO’s. Rotate every two-three years. This builds the core of a cohort system but allows people to opt out for other teams or jobs over time.

    There are several command philosophies that can work and having leadership share philosophy can make them more successful. Conversely, junior people could look for commanders and teams where they would have a good fit.

    This data point: I might have stayed in if I could stick with the right set of commanders on track to rotate to better roles and / or locales. My CO’s and I could have negotiated with me to take a few years to go to grad school or another assignment then rotate back in at some point. We also had NCO’s who were awesome and of the same mind for leadership and execution. Would have been fun to have them along for the ride. At some point, it always seemed likely that I wasn’t going to be so lucky in my draw of commanders and that could end or seriously impede my effectiveness and / or ability to get meaningful assignments.

    1. capusa,

      The problem is not a lack of good ideas about reforms. Proposing more ideas is like pouring water on a wet rock. It does not make it wetter.

      The problem is our inability to implement any reforms of the military. Suggestions about ways to do that would be useful.

      This is Liebig’s Law of the Minimum: growth is limited by the scarcest necessary implement. Applying more of an abundant resource doesn’t help.

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