Measures of Ineffectiveness

Like most sound tenets of military art, the concepts of "objective" and "measures of effectiveness" have been corrupted by America’s present military leadership.

At his Senate confirmation hearing in June 2009, then-Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal promised the Armed Services Committee he would execute a "holistic" strategy in Afghanistan, and that “the measure of effectiveness will not be the number of enemy killed, it will be the number of Afghans shielded from violence.” In the first three months of 2010, deaths of Afghan civilians at the hands of NATO troops more than doubled over the record posted during the same period last year by Gen. David McKiernan, who was unceremoniously transferred to Fort Palooka to make room for "King David" Petraeus protégé McChrystal.

McChrystal also stated at his Senate hearing that his definition of "success" would be "a complete elimination of al-Qaeda" from Afghanistan and Pakistan. In October 2009, National Security Adviser James Jones said that al-Qaeda in Afghanistan had been contained and that fewer than 100 members remained in the country. You’d think that, with all his air strikes and night commando raids that have been "accidentally" killing all these civilians, McChrystal could have eliminated 100 contained bad guys by now, but he hasn’t. According to U.S. military intelligence, there are fewer than 300 al-Qaediers in Pakistan. Between us and our little buddies in the Afghan and Pakistani security forces, we outnumber al-Qaeda exponentially, yet we can’t put them away: They’re harder to kill off than Freddy Krueger.

Much of the problem, of course, lies in the aforementioned "little buddies." The AfPak strategy that President Obama’s "chess masters" belched out in March 2009 delineated "realistic and achievable objectives" of manufacturing stable, legitimate governments and competent, trustworthy security forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The ensuing year has proven that these goals were neither realistic nor achievable, and that they never will be. Yet we continue to pursue them.

The objective of our Iraq surge, when we launched it in January 2007, was to create a secure environment that would allow for political reconciliation among Iraq’s religious and ethnic factions. King David realized he couldn’t possibly effect reconciliation among people who had hated each other for generations, so he pulled a new twist on the old Vietnam body-count ploy. Instead of using increasing numbers of the enemy casualties as a measure of effectiveness, he reported decreasing numbers of U.S. and Iraqi civilian casualties, statistics he created the old-fashioned way: by manipulating them and lying about them. Months after Iraq’s latest purple-finger folly, the country still resembles an earthquake at a theme park. We may never extract ourselves from that quicksand dune.

Not surprisingly, our land power services don’t have a monopoly on the Pentagon’s pretzel-logic strategies.

Since its establishment in 1954, the Air Force has been on the tip of the sword at selling itself some space-age contraption or other that will revolutionize warfare and make land and sea power obsolete. Their latest Han Solo gizmo is something called Prompt Global Strike, a proposed addition to its conventional shock-and-awe tool kit that promises to reach any target on earth in 30 minutes. The Air Force says this trinket would greatly diminish our reliance on our nuclear arsenal, but it doesn’t say how, which isn’t surprising. A supersonic global-reach missile without a nuke on its nose is little more than a multi-billion dollar bottle rocket. There’s buck for your bang, huh?

Packaging Prompt Global Strike as a counterterrorism weapon, Pentagon bull-feather merchants also tell us it would be so freaking cool to have if we got, like, good intelligence on where Osama bin Laden is, you know? And then we could whack him real fast. Never mind that we haven’t had good intelligence on where Osama bin Laden is in about a decade. The only thing Prompt Global Strike is likely to do in the counter-terror realm is blow up Muslim weddings that our intelligence weenies mistake for evildoer reunions, and heck, the stuff we have in the arsenal now is already doing a damn fine job of that.

Air Force Gen. Kevin P. Chilton, head of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), says we can presently bomb a Muslim wedding within "several hours" of a president’s decision to do so, but he doesn’t think that’s fast enough. Well, the Air Force has always been about dropping bombs on meaningless targets or the wrong ones, so Prompt Global Strike proponents are at least being consistent with their service’s cherished traditions.

The Navy, on the other hand, whose traditional role is control of the seas, doesn’t care to do that job anymore.

After yo-ho-hoing to high heaven about how tough it is at fighting teenage Somali pirates – a poster prominently displayed on naval bases these days boasts "Sea piracy is alive but not exactly well" – the Navy now says buccaneer-spanking is too big a job for it to handle. Adm. Mark Fitzgerald, the top naval commander for Europe and Africa, says, "I don’t think we can sustain the level of operation." The Navy has 10 ships working the operation at any given time. Now I’m here to tell you: the U.S. Navy has a boatload more ships than 10. The Navy only has 10 aircraft carriers, but none of them are one of the 10 ships chasing baby pirates around the Indian Ocean.

A single carrier and its air wing and escorts, with their fixed-wing surveillance, vertical lift, special operations, logistics, and communications capabilities, could shut down Indian Ocean piracy faster than you can say, "Arr, Jim, boy!" If the tactical gurus on active duty now can’t figure out how to do that, I’ll be happy to show them for a nominal consulting fee.*

Half of the carriers are in the yards for repair at any give time (more buck for the bang), but we’ve had two or three of the beastly things deployed as part of the "peacetime" deployment rotation since my first skipper was an ensign. Why can’t one of them work the pirate problem? Fitzgerald, who somewhat resembles Gen. Jack D. Ripper in Doctor Strangelove, explains that such a move would "deprive the global fleet of precious resources." What our precious global aircraft carriers are doing Fitzgerald didn’t say, but I will: They’re helping the Air Force bomb Muslim weddings.

The only national security threat from any theater our forces are operating in now is the poppy crop in Afghanistan, but our troops there have been ordered not to destroy it for fear of upsetting locals like President Hamid Karzai’s drug lord brother Ahmed.

At the rate it’s going, the only way the Department of Defense will ever deliver an effective bang for the bloated buck we feed it is if it turns over all its personnel and assets to the Department of the Interior to fix our national infrastructure.

How soon do you reckon that will happen?

*As partial consideration, a certain admiral would have to kiss my bare bottom in broad daylight on the corner of Coronado Avenue and 1st Street where the Mexican Village restaurant used to be and give me 20 minutes to draw a crowd.

Author: Jeff Huber

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (retired), was a naval flight officer who commanded an aircraft squadron and was operations officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the carrier that fought the Kosovo War. Jeff earned a master of arts degree in post-modern imperialism at the U.S. Naval War College. His weekly satires on U.S. foreign policy high jinks are archived at his blog, Pen and Sword. Jeff's critically applauded novel Bathtub Admirals, a lampoon of America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now. Jeff lives with dogs in a house by the beach on Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, and in the summer he has a nice tan.