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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Tours of Duty

Jack Mutha has it wrong when he is advocating longer periods of recuperation; though he is right about ensuring troops go into Iraq fully equipped (On to the Hard Part on Iraq, New York Times, February 17, 2007: A26).

He is wrong because to ensure success in Iraq we either have to lengthen tours of duty or we have to have several months of overlap in tours of duty. This has to be done in order to build trust between the Iraqis and the US troops.

We went into the Iraq war expecting that once the fighting was over there could be a rapid handover to the Iraqis who would have welcomed us with smiles and flowers. The honeymoon lasted for about three days and we were soon embroiled in trying to reconstruct the Iraq infrastructure and trying to contain an insurgency.

Our Human Resource strategy was based on the initial strategy of handing over things to the Iraqis. Our human resource strategy involves rotating troop into Iraq for a six month tour of duty and then having six months or so in a safe haven to retrain the servicemen and women and refurbish equipment.

These six month tours of duty are too short to meet the needs of the current military strategy of builidng security and rebuilding the infrastructure. And it is even more unsuited to the forthcoming strategy of “seize and hold.”

The reason is that in Iraq trust is established between people, rather than between institutions. In many of the books about Iraq that I have read, young officers complain that it takes three or four months for them to build up rapport with the local population and the local leaders; during this time they do not get much cooperation on security and without security there is little chance to rebuild infrastructure permanently. They then have a couple of months when they can actually get things done; the local people help to maintain security by cooperating with the Americans and water plants and sewers and electricity stations can be built with little chance that they will be destroyed. But then the six months is up! Under the current strategy, the troops are likely to be withdrawn and gradually the neighborhood slides back into sectarian violence or anarchy. Under the new seize and hold strategy, a new regiment may take over the area but the bonds of trust between commander and local leaders and between troops and local people have been severed. The ties that had been built up were between individuals, not between role holders.

If the President is going to put more troops into Iraq he must also formalize a new Human Resource strategy – a strategy that will be costly on our individual service men and women because they will have to have much longer tours of duty. Troops will have to stay in Iraq until the job is done. This will be enormously difficult for the men and women involved but I cannot see any other way to ensure that troops and Iraqis develop and maintain the necessary level of trust. If we cannot do this then we cannot continue the war with any hope of success.

If we are going to pursue this war, we have to take it seriously as a war and not fight it half-heartedly as the Bush administration is demanding. We have to have financial sacrifice at home; we need to convert at least part of our economy onto a war footing so that the troops have the equipment that they need and receive timely replacement; and we have to make sure that the decisions about strategy and deployment are wise ones. There is little in the actions of this President to give me confidence that they are – the decisions about whether to surge, to retain the status quo or to withdraw, or to put in an even larger number of fighting men and women should be debated in a secret session of Congress not decided behind closed doors by George Bush and a small number of like-minded advisors that way leads to “GroupThink”

Decision Making

The essence of good decision making is to change one's mind when the situation changes.

The effectiveness of the so-called surge in Iraq was premised on the ability of the Iraqi Army and Police to provide the numbers to bring the ratio of security forces to insurgents up to the level advocated in the Army's Counter-Insurgency Handbook.

Over the first few days of the much heralded counter insurgency operation in Baghdad, the Iraqis have been conspicuous by their absence. Only a small fraction of the necessary Iraqi forces have shown up for duty. This places the whole operation in peril.

To avoid further unnecessary bloodshed, an immediate reaction by the US is essential. either we must engage in a massive ( about 150,000) influx of troops or we must immediately begin an orderly withdrawal. Given our resources, the former is impossible. The facts on the ground require that we adopt the latter course of action immediately.

Will the President concur?

Sent to the Washington Post

Friday, February 16, 2007

Senate Shenanigans

Shame on both parties in the Senate.

It is unseemly to bicker over procedural issues while men and women, Iraqi and American, are dying in the war.

Shame on the Republicans for blocking a debate on Iraq.

Shame on the Democrats for not allowing the Republicans to introduce motions for the debate.

The more motions proposing solutions to the inept prosecution of the war the better.

Let's have a motion to withdraw immediately (i.e., within the next six months).

Let's have a motion to begin withdrawal after six months.

Let's have a motion to withdraw after one year.

Let's have a motion to maintain the status quo.

Let's have a motion supporting the limited surge of 25,000 troops proposed by the President.

Let's have a motion supporting bringing troop levels up to the 300,000 number suggested by the Army's hand book on counter-insurgency.

With votes on each of these motions, we will really be able to see what is supported and what is not and who supports what. And that is what the Americans, and the Iraqis, deserve.

Sent to New York Times

Massachusetts ad settlement

It seems that Martha Coakley sold the state and city short.

It cost $2.00 million dollars for a 30-second spot advertisement on the Super-Bowl show. That's what the perpetrators of the guerilla advertising in Boston paid to get of the hook after closing down the city for several hours and getting fee advertising in every newp[aer in the country!

Surely we could have charged for an hour of time: $240 million -- that would have helped state and city budgets.

Sent to Boston Globe


It is surprising that one of the problems with government outsourcing is that contract officers are overwhelmed because "the number of government workers overseeing contracts has remained the same as spending has shot up." ( In Washington Private Contractors Are Taking On Their Biggest Role Ever, New York Times, February 3, 2007, A1, A24)

One of the lessons that corporations learned from the 1990's research on downsizing is that managing the outsourced functions is of critical importance and that human and financial resources devoted to these tasks has to be increased.

Surely what was sauce for the corporate goose should also be sauce for the government gander.

I suppose on reflection I should not be surprised, this lack of oversight is on a par with the inadequate resources allocated by this administration to Iraq, to the Katrina clean-up, and to veteran health care. This failure to learn from social science research is on a par with the failures at Abu Ghraib.

The author is a former professor of management who has written on downsizing.

Sent to New York Times

Escalating Commitment

Escalation of the war

In the aftermath of the Vietnam war, social scientists led by Berkeley's Barry Staw undertook a series of investigations to explore the escalation phenomenon, why it occurred, and how it might be prevented. It is time to apply their findings to the current situation in Iraq.

We need a new look. It is a mistake to allow those responsible for creating the situation to have a major role in dealing with the aftermath.

One of the more pervasive phenomena in human decision-making is "escalating commitment to a losing course of action." In general this occurs when early investments in terms of troops, money, resources, energy, and time have been committed to a project. At a later stage, the expected pay-offs from the investment have not materialized and the government, person or organization has to decide whether or not to “cut their losses’ or to make an additional investment. Almost inevitably the government, person or organization “throws good money after bad.’

This occurs for a couple of reasons. People are very good at identifying external causes for the initial failure and do not expect those causes to recur so they can justify an additional investment in the project. Secondly, success in the project becomes inextricably tied up with their desire to prove themselves competent, so the desired outcome has shifted from merely being a successful project to that of being a successful project PLUS a successful government, organization or individual. The initial objective is swamped by the personal objective.

I said earlier that it is “almost’ inevitable for good money to be thrown after bad. The exception occurs when a different person makes the second decision whether or not to make an additional investment. Successful Banks demonstrate this when they turn non-performing loans to a “work-out’ unit rather than have the original loan officer attempt to resurrect the deal with the client – that way you get escalation!

If the President, the decider and Commander in Chief, is to be responsible for our future strategy in Iraq, we run the danger that he will be concerned about justifying his prior decisions and, as he seems to have done, put in a politically acceptable small number of troops rather than making a decision based on the facts on the grounds which would indicate either withdrawal or a massive increase as suggested by the Army's counter-terrorism handbook.

The President and Vice-President, who may be the true decider, should recuse themselves from this decision. It is essential for new eyes, with no emotional commitment to the past decisions, to make the difficult choices.

In fact, we have the necessary information with the Iraq study group's recommendations. Let us adopt them.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Changing Top Actors in Iraq: Query and Responses

The Query

Consider today's headline (January 5th. 2007): President Bush to change top officials in Iraq.

Imagine you are a member of the Council of Organization advisors to the President. This doesn't actually exist, but let us act as if it did.

How would you advise the President to act if he wants to achieve the most positive outcomes possible to implement his new policy (details of which are unavailable at present).Should he replace the three top people, the Ambassador, the Commander of CENTCOM (Central Command), and the Commander of Ground Forces in Iraq in one fell swoop?


Should he replace them at 3 month intervals (or longer)?

What are the advantages or disadvantages of each approach. What contingencies would lead to one or the other approach being more successful.

Which approach do you think would be more successful?

Summary of Suggested Solutions (there were only seven suggestions):

It is irrelevant:2
Clean Sweep:3
Phased Replacement:0 (That was my preferred
solution, see below for rationale).
It all depends:1

The Answers:

1. I don't think it matters, but I don't think in either case it makes a difference. He should replace the people who screwed it up in the first place, and that would be the top of the administration including himself. If this were a private-sector company that had made this big a blunder, the CEO and top people would all go.

2. With all due respect, it seems pointless to answer the question, just as Bush's personnel changes appear pointless. Why change people unless it is required to support a change in strategy--the implicit rationale for the Baker commission? Are these changes required to develop and/or implement a new plan or is this simply a rearranging of the deck chairs on the proverbial Titanic that Iraq has become? I suppose the answer depends on specifics of the new strategy. Either way, it doesn't seem logical to make personnel changes--phased or otherwise--unless it supports an overall plan that achieves some clearly defined strategic goal.

3. Not knowing what is actually occurring, it is difficult to make any recommendations on replacement strategies. First, what are the problems; are they failures of leadership, procedural problems or some combination? Is the current leadership unable or unwilling to deal with the perceived problems? Are the solutions to the problems within the control of the leadership team? How would changing the leadership team address the problems identified? Are there candidates available that we believe could do a better job? Change for the sake of appearances results in the same outcome. If the replacements are no better qualified than the incumbents, then it does not really matter whether we fire the incumbents in one mass blood-letting or a phased bleed out.

4. Recap information that I am aware of regarding the question:

The tours of duty for Commander of Centcom and the Commander of Ground Forces in Iraq are up. They were going to be changed. It is strictly a timing issue from a military standpoint. The military are excellent managers of this transition process.

The changing of the Ambassador is a political decision. I am not aware of a rotation policy, but there should be one for hot spots like Iraq. As I understand it, he will be moving to the UN. One could call this a career promotion for service rendered.

You did not mention that the top Director of National Intelligence position is also being changed. The new person has worked with Gates (now head of DoD) before.

New People/Team:

A. Gates - now the head of DoD - position filled, was at the CIA & NSA

B. Retired Navy Adm. John M. McConnell will take the top U.S. intelligence job, U.S. officials say. McConnell directed the National Security Agency from 1992 to 1996 under President Bill Clinton.

C. Adm. William J. Fallon to head the Central Command

D. Gen. David H. Petraeus Ground Commander, who gained fame for training Iraqi troops and securing a volatile city in northern Iraq

E. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, the current envoy to Pakistan, who began his career in the 1970s in Iraq, is the new ambassador to Baghdad

There appears to previous strong linkages between Gates, McConnell. I suspect linkage from McConnell to Fallon (Navy boys)

The bottom line of your question is: Flash Cut vs Phased Change Over.

I have done both in my career in telecommunications and even couple of flash cuts that could not be rolled back. People changes have usually been phased. If we fired someone on the spot, then the transition would not take place. Some VP have been shown the door, if they were just hired by a competitor.

5. I guess I would have to ask first, why the only option is to replace all three? Having been in an officer in the military I know their job is to offer advice/recommendations/alternatives and then follow orders... so one has to ask if their advice, which we really have no way of knowing, has been faulty, or has the policy that they were ordered to implement faulty? If the former, then they should be replaced! If we assume (which I think is a very large assumption) that all three have been giving faulty advice (perhaps groupthink??) then I would say replace them all immediately... yes, there may be some confusion, but the military is full of fine leaders, they will pick up the slack and this gets the transition period over in a very short period of time instead of dragging it out... dragging out change, unlike in most organizational contexts, in the military may cost people there lives... The pressure on leaders in the military, based on my experience in the military, in a corporation, and now in academia, is significantly greater... however, I will say that I think the assumption all this is based on is probably faulty.

6. This is an intriguing question, allow me to weigh in. I will not bother throwing in the theory / citations, I think you can infer this from what is suggested and I do believe I could make a theoretical case for these suggestions.

Though there are considerations at both the individual leader level and the organizational level, I would recommend option #1, replace all three at once. Here is why I think an all-at-once option is preferable on the individual leader level: changing all three simultaneously would allow a new synergy to develop between the three leaders at points of interaction. Keeping two, then adding a new one on one month would bog the new person down he or she may be less likely to proffer or implement change with the “old guard” still around, plus the remaining two would no doubts feel and act like lame ducks anyway. There would be too much tension with the pressure against needed changes if the old leaders stayed on board. The sooner they are gone the sooner change can begin, and presumably this is the reason for the change of leadership in the first place. A group of three new leaders would not have this tension, at least within the group. This does of course assume that the three new ones are competent to do their jobs and do not need “training.” And I would keep the old guys around as advisors, but not with any official authority. I think for political / appearance reasons changing all three in one fell swoop is good. The public would perceive this as a radical (and hopefully positive) change, as if there is a complete overhaul of leadership. In all honesty, and at the risk of sounding cynical, these are three very big ships to turn around, floating in a sea of horrendous obstacle, and the outside political pressure is so great, that a change in one man at the top is, in my opinion, not likely to make much difference. While I study and believe in the power of leadership, in reality there are many other realities that leadership cannot address, at least in conditions such as we are considering. The public and political perception that positive change is happening is probably the greatest thing this change in leadership can offer.

The major down side to option #1, on the organizational level, would be the disruption to three organizations all at once. But this is really only an outside perception. Eventually each organization is going to have to deal with the disruption and the pain involved, and having their disruption occurring at the same time as another organization’s disruption does not matter. To use as a crude example from philosophy, 100 people dying is in reality no more painful than one person dying, but to the public it is more severe, even though the pain of dying to one person is no greater or less than if 99 other people do it at the same time. The exception to this would be tensions at points of interdependencies between the three, though I do not know what this is like and how independently these organizations work, though I imagine that it is considerable. The key here is to have tight coordination of the new three leaders. I would imagine, due to the nature of these organizational cultures, and the war-time conditions present, that top down change is the norm and has a good likelihood of being accepted.

My View

My thought was that phased replacement was better because one of the problems in Iraq has been building trust with the Iraqis, so removing all three who had built up trust with the senior leadership in Iraq might be very disruptive. See here for further elaboration.

But the other case can be made that the three newcomers would bring in fresh ideas and could work together from the start.

This appears to be what is happening - and more - General Petraeus is bringing in a "brains trust" of Ph.D. level colonels with successful counter-terrorism combat experience in Iraq to craft the on-the-ground tactics (Washington Post, February 5th., 2007. [Thanks to one of the respondents for bringing this to my attention recently.]).

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Political Correctness

President Bush's latest executive order (Bush signs order increasing sway at U.S. agencies, New York Times, January 30th., 2007, page A1, A19) turns the US government into the functional equivalent of the former Soviet Army under Stalin. Every unit had its Political Commissar to ensure that political correctness prevailed.

This is yet another American retreat into the unreality that has permeated the decisions made by this administration.

This is real political correctness!

Sent to New York Times