January 13, 2008

Profile of Gen Conway, CMC

Just in case any of you think Charlie has unfairly characterized the Commandant of the Marine Corps, check out this excellent profile of him from the Wall Street Journal:

But it's the future of the Corps, not its past, that dominates Gen. Conway's thoughts and our conversation. We met at the Pentagon earlier this week -- just a few days before the one-year anniversary of President Bush's decision to "surge" more troops into Iraq. He was dressed in cammies, combat boots and an open collar. He's lean and tall and he seemed to envelop the table we were seated at. He's also a man who gives the appearance of someone who would much rather be with his Marines in Anbar province than in an office on the outskirts of Washington.

Two related concerns about the war occupy his mind: That in order to fight this war, his Corps could be transformed into just another "land army"; and, if that should happen, that it would lose the flexibility and expeditionary culture that has made it a powerful military force.

The Corps was built originally to live aboard ships and wade ashore to confront emerging threats far from home. It has long prided itself in being "first to the fight" relying on speed, agility and tenacity to win battles. It's a small, offensive outfit that has its own attack aircraft, but not its own medics, preferring to rely on Navy corpsmen to care for its wounded.

And really, it is actually quite right and proper for the Commandant to be concerned about the effects of current operations on the future of the Corps. And she agrees with LtGen Van Riper's admonition that because many of the skills unique to Marines are perishable, we have consciously maintain them. Amphibious landings are chief among those skills. And readers of this blog will know that the last thing Charlie wants is for the Marine Corps to turn into the Army. The horror!

But Charlie continues to be frustrated by CMC's selective reading of the Marine Corps' history. It's like he went to the National Museum of the Marine Corps and only saw the Iwo Jima exhibit.

Now, however, the Corps is being expanded to 202,000 over the next couple of years. And what's more, the Marines are being asked to conduct patrols and perform other non-offensive operations in Iraq that are forcing the Corps to become a more stationary force than it traditionally has been.

It's a "static environment where there is no forward movement," Gen. Conway says. And "that gets more to an occupational role, and that's what the Army historically does and the Marine Corps has previously seen very little of."

Say again? Is the Commandant trying to tell us that the Marine Corps doesn't have a history of patrolling? Of non-kinetic activity? Of occupation? Jesus H. Christ! Then perhaps Gen. Conway can tell this blogger if he's ever read this book. You know, the little red one that Marines used to wave in the face of anyone who challenged their assertion that they were the small wars force of choice? For the record, the Marines spent the better part of a decade "occupying" Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and when they were done, they wrote a brilliant manual telling everyone else how to do it! They made use of that Small Wars Manual when they established the Combined Action Platoons in Vietnam, one of the Corps' finest hours.

Why the Commandant wants to walk away from this history at the precise historical moment when it is once again so valuable, is beyond Charlie. But he needs to worry less about getting heavy and worry more about winning these wars.