Friday, August 29, 2014

A Tale of Two Strategists

How times have changed.

In the dark days following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, General George Marshall turned to a then-unknown staff officer, Brigadier General Dwight Eisenhower, and gave him a critical assignment: develop a U.S. military strategy for the Pacific.  From the Army's history website:

"Five days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought an American declaration of war on the Axis Powers, Col. Walter Bedell Smith telephoned Third Army's chief of staff (Eisenhower). Smith, Secretary of the General Staff in the War Department, told Eisenhower that General George C. Marshall wanted him in Washington immediately. Marshall knew Eisenhower by reputation as a man who would assume responsibility, but he put that reputation to a test immediately. When Eisenhower reported for duty, Marshall posed a problem to which he already knew the answer. He asked for a recommendation on how the entire Pacific strategy should be handled. Eisenhower returned to the Chief of Staff s office a few hours later and briefed a strategic concept with which Marshall agreed."

Ike's handling of that first task brought an even greater challenge from General Marshall: develop an overall strategy for fighting a global conflict: 

In late February 1942, Marshall asked for a memorandum to outline for the President and the Combined Chiefs the general strategy the Allies should pursue. In response, Eisenhower drafted a document that was in effect a precis of the next three years of the war. He observed that there were many desirable objectives the alliance might pursue, but warned that the resources did not exist to tackle every problem. Instead, he wrote, it was crucial to concentrate exclusively on those operations that were necessary to defeat the Axis. In his view, such a resolutely disciplined strategic conception offered the only hope of victory.

In a tightly focused summary, he sketched the actions necessary to prevent defeat while the Allies armed and organized themselves to take the offensive. Holding rigidly to the distinction between the necessary and the desirable, Eisenhower delineated a plan that included security for the North American arsenal, maintenance of Great Britain, and lend-lease to keep the Soviet Union in the war. His analysis excluded Pacific operations, so important to Americans for emotional reasons, as being of secondary importance.

Turning to the question of which offensive operation would contribute most directly to Axis defeat, he reasoned that Germany was the most dangerous enemy and the only one that all three members of the coalition could attack simultaneously. He accordingly reaffirmed the alliance's earliest strategic conception of dealing with Europe first and advocated a culminating attack on Germany through northern France, using Great Britain as a base. He adduced many advantages for this plan. The United States was already supplying Great Britain's needs, and to conduct the buildup there for the attack involved the minimum additional demands for shipping and escort vessels. A United Kingdom base was closest to the Continent, had plentiful airfields, and was the only logical place from which to employ the bulk of British Empire forces. [Positioning large numbers of American troops in Britain would also force Germany to keep significant forces in France, reducing pressure on the Soviet Union]. 
It's worth noting that Eisenhower produced his first memo in a matter of hours; the second strategy document was generated in a matter of days.  And the officer who created them was a recently-promoted one-star who (until that point) had enjoyed a solid, if unspectacular military career.  Outside the Army, very few Americans had heard of Dwight David Eisenhower in early 1942.  But Ike was clearly up to the challenge; his education at West Point and the Army War College, along with mentoring by such leaders as Major General Fox Conner and years of staff work, gave him the preparation required for assessing strategic situations and formulating strategy. 
Compare that to yesterday's performance at the White House.  Resplendent in a tan suit, President Obama took to the podium to announce we don't yet have a strategy for fighting ISIS, despite the fact that his own defense secretary has described the terror organization as "beyond anything we've seen," and his JCS Chairman advocated (at least temporarily) a comprehensive strategy that includes going after ISIS targets in Syria. 
Meanwhile, Britain has raised its terror threat to "severe," indicating that an attack is highly likely.   The revised U.K. assessment is directly related to events in Syria and Iraq, where ISIS has taken control of vast swaths of territory; captured a wide array of advanced weapons from security forces and established an Islamic caliphate, complete with paid civil servants, sharia law and the mass slaughter of anyone who doesn't agree with their seventh-century world view. 
And, as the British government clearly understands, ISIS may soon extend its battlefield to Europe--and beyond.  Thousands of fighters from western Europe, Australia and even the U.S. have flocked to the Middle East and enlisted in the terrorist Army.  Virtually all are traveling on passports issued by their home country and will eventually return home, providing a ready cadre that could carry out attacks on western soil (if ISIS decides to wait that long). 
But back in Washington, there's no agreement on how we fight the terror group--or even if it poses a threat to the United States.  According to Josh Rogin and Eli Lake of the Daily Beast, President Obama's top advisers can't agree on a strategy: 
"After a week of talk of eliminating the "cancer" of ISIS, President Obama said Thursday that he was not planning to significantly expand the war against the Islamic extremist movement anytime soon.

His remarks came after days of heated debate inside the top levels of his own national security bureaucracy about how, where, and whether to strike ISIS in Syria. But those deliberations – which included a bleak intelligence assessment of America's potential allies in Syria -- failed to produce a consensus battle plan. And so Obama, who has long been reluctant to enter into the Syrian conflict, told reporters Thursday that “we don’t have a strategy yet” for confronting ISIS on a regional level."      

And just to make things clear, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told interviewers today that the U.S. in "not at war" with ISIS.  Guess we're waiting for that first dirty bomb to be detonated in Times Square or Lafayette Park, or a shoulder-fired SAM that takes down an airliner departing LAX. 

In fairness, strategy is hard--particularly when dealing with the type of threats posed by a terrorist Army.  But it's no more difficult than the challenges we faced in 1942, when George Marshall asked a single staff officer how we should proceed in the Pacific, with our "Plan Orange" strategy in ruins, and thousands of Americans facing death or capture in places like the Philippines.  And it is certainly no less daunting that drafting a strategy for fighting a world war against implacable foes. 

Truth be told, strategy development is most difficult when you don't want to do it--and that's the biggest problem facing Team Obama.  The President who was "elected to end wars" now finds himself facing a new enemy--an enemy is largely a by-product of his own, failed strategy for getting completely out of Iraq, with no regard for the long-term consequences. 

We could sure use another Eisenhower right about now.  To be sure, the man from Abilene was among the best and brightest of the storied West Point class of 1915--often referred to as "the class the stars fell on" because 59 of its graduates reached flag rank.  And early, revisionist depictions of Ike as a military dullard who did little more than play golf and read western novels have long been replaced by more accurate accounts of an exemplary soldier and statesman who ranks among our greatest military leaders and presidents.

But there are two things that separate the Eisenhower of 1942 from the current crop of military and political advisers in D.C.  First, Brigadier General Eisenhower worked for leaders who recognized an existential threat to America and were determined to defeat it, no matter what the cost.  Grand strategy becomes a bit easier when you're playing to win.  Secondly, Eisenhower was a man with the courage of his convictions, willing to make hard choices (to coin a phrase) and stick by them.  Barely two years later, as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, Ike personally drafted a statement, to be issued in the event the D-Day landings failed.  In his statement, General Eisenhower took full responsibility for the failure, while lauding the efforts of the men and women under his command.

Try finding a senior political or military leader serving today who would accept the same level of blame for a potential failure of catastrophic proportions--or be willing to risk career and reputation on a plan that was well-reasoned, but might not succeed.  Maybe that's why strategy seems so much harder than it was 70 years ago. 
Maybe this will add a little urgency to the strategy forumulation process:  Judicial Watch, citing senior intelligence and homeland security sources, claims that ISIS terrorists are now operating in Mexican cities along the U.S. border, most notably Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso. 

Islamic terrorist groups are operating in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez and planning to attack the United States with car bombs or other vehicle born improvised explosive devices (VBIED). High-level federal law enforcement, intelligence and other sources have confirmed to Judicial Watch that a warning bulletin for an imminent terrorist attack on the border has been issued. Agents across a number of Homeland Security, Justice and Defense agencies have all been placed on alert and instructed to aggressively work all possible leads and sources concerning this imminent terrorist threat.

Specifically, Judicial Watch sources reveal that the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) is confirmed to now be operating in Juarez, a famously crime-infested narcotics hotbed situated across from El Paso, Texas. Violent crimes are so rampant in Juarez that the U.S. State Department has issued a number of travel warnings for anyone planning to go there. The last one was issued just a few days ago.

Intelligence officials have picked up radio talk and chatter indicating that the terrorist groups are going to “carry out an attack on the border,” according to one JW source. “It’s coming very soon,” according to this high-level source, who clearly identified the groups planning the plots as “ISIS and Al Qaeda.” An attack is so imminent that the commanding general at Ft. Bliss, the U.S. Army post in El Paso, is being briefed, another source confirms. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) did not respond to multiple inquiries from Judicial Watch, both telephonic and in writing, about this information.

However, the Director of Homeland Security says he is "unaware" of any specific threat to the homeland from ISIS.  The afore-mentioned warning bulletin (if it actually exists) should be easy enough to obtain; hopefully, Judicial Watch can produce the document and affirm that Jeh Johnson is yet another administration official willing to pay fast and loose with the truth--and potentially, American lives.       



sykes.1 said...

Russian and China do not (yet) pose any existential threats to the US, but ISIS does. The threat is seizure of the Persian Gulf oil fields that fuel the world economy. That is a threat well worth going to war over, which we did twice to thwart Saddam Hussein. The West has fought there four times, including WW I and WW II, to keep control of the fields, and we will have to do so again or disappear as a civilization.

boinky said...

Our Philippine papers are noting an Islamacist attack on UN peacekeepers in the Golan Heights. A prelude to an attack on Israel?