November 24, 2007

Promoting Counterinsurgents

Abu Muqawama just read Max Boot's blog post on promoting tried-and-true counterinsurgents, which echoes Abu Muqawama's rant last week. The more Abu Muqawama thinks about it, the more he thinks bringing in Gen. Petraeus to help select the next batch of generals isn't just an insignificant move that will result in superficial changes. Why? Well, Abu Muqawama was flipping through Stephen P. Rosen's book, Winning the Next War,and came across this passage:

Military organizations are disciplined, hierarchical bureaucracies. Power is won through influence over who is promoted to position of senior command. Control over the promotion of officers is the source of power in the military.

Abu Muqawama isn't going to get into the big debate over how militaries innovate, but it's worth noting here that one major school of thought would argue that putting Petraeus in charge of promoting the colonels to generals is significant and will have serious follow-on effects. Once those colonels are generals, the theory goes, they will in turn help manage the careers of their protegees, who will in turn help the careers of their protegees. Thus, within 20 years, the U.S. Army will be filled with senior-level officers who have been rewarded for studying unconventional warfare and understand counterinsurgency far better than the current crop of generals. Anyway, that's the theory.

(Abu Muqawama is now awaiting an email from Charlie, who studied under Rosen and knows better than this half of your blogging team how Rosen's theory on innovation would apply to this particular case. Charlie, feel free to follow up below.)

Update: Charlie, here. AM is spot on with regard to Rosen's theory (which is why Charlie has been seriously thinking about this since it was announced last week). A truism about the military, reflected throughout the comments on this subject, is that officers tend to promote those whose careers look like theirs. From that perspective, one would expect Petraeus sitting on the promotion board to have an effect. AM is also right that that effect will only be felt in the long term, as those 1-stars selected today sit on future boards and promote those like them.

But what about the short-term? This is where things get interesting. On the one hand, the last several years have seen the quiet retirement of a slew of 0-5s and 0-6s, which dramatically alters the pool eligible for promotion. While not all of these field grade officers are COIN gurus, many of them had/have significant operational experience and/or skills developed in non-traditional career paths (like FAOs) that are now quite relevant for the long war. Like the surge, this would have been an inspired move in 2004 or 2005. Today, it may be too little, too late.

But on the other hand, somebody wanted this signal sent. Wanted these articles and op-eds written. Somebody wanted to tell the Army, this is no way to fight a war. And it was someone with the authority to recall a 4-star general out of theater during a war. The Chief of Staff of the Army and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs are outside the chain of command, so cross them off the list. Admiral Fallon, Gen. Petraeus' boss at Centcom technically has the authority, but no reason to influence Army promotion boards (though it's likely he signed off on the decision). That leaves the civilians: the Secretary of the Army and his boss, the Secretary of Defense. As Fred Kaplan reminds us, only one of them delivered a blistering come-to-Jesus speech to the AUSA meeting earlier this fall.

The SecDef may have found a way to profoundly influence promotions in the Army. More importantly, he may have found a way to tell those field grade officers up for review in several years time that this time hope is actually a plan. Stay tuned.