I started this post back in February, but stopped because I wasn’t sure where to go with it.
I’m glad to see I’m not the only one wondering these things.
RADM Phil Wisecup just passed me the following passage from Tom Ricks’s best-seller THE GAMBLE: General Davis Patraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006 – 2008 (2009) (which I had not seen before):
“But Fallon prided himself on being a strategic thinker, a sense he may have developed because there was little competition in that arena in the Navy, which in recent years has tended to be weak, intellectually, aside from its elite counter-terror force in Special Operations, which is practically a separate service. It is difficult, for example, to think of a senior Navy officer who has played a prominent role in shaping American strategy since 9/11, or of an active-duty Navy officer who has written a book or essay as influential as those produced by the Army’s Col. H.R. McMaster, Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, and Lt. Col. John Nagl.”
My view: Ricks is flat wrong.
The above quote is from Peter Swartz, from CNA. He then goes on to list an impressive array of figures that he claims to have inserted some level of input into various levels of national strategy development.
I’m not saying he’s wrong, but like Galrahn, I’m not saying he’s right either.
The names he drops in defense of maritime strategic thought, while impressive, are almost expected.
“Admirals Clark (CSGs, ESGs, FRP), Cebrowski, Stavridis, Mullen, Morgan, Martoglio, CAPT Wayne Porter, & recent Navy retirees CAPTs Bill Luti, Ryan Henry, Jim Kelly, and Joe Benkert.”
Lots of high profile hitters, and I’m sure they all provided valuable input into the development of national strategy.
But that’s not the point.
Tom Ricks, in the original point, didn’t call out the Navy for not having any strategic thinkers, he called us out for not having a visible role in the development of post 9-11 strategy, and to a certain extent I think he’s right. Say what you will about Admirals providing input, no Naval officer has been the face of the Armed Forces except for Admiral Mullen. I guarantee that you can do a poll in a major city and ask if people recognize the name Petraeus or Stavridis or Mullen and the Army’s going to win every time.
And they should. Let’s be honest, these have been land-centric wars, so the land forces are on point. But that doesn’t mean the Navy should try to prove their worth to the nation by supporting the war through chucking bodies at IA’s and donning fatigues. We have our own role to play in defending the Nation, and it shouldn’t be pretending to do the Army’s.
But the other half of Rick’s point is that there isn’t anyone in the mid-grade levels of the Navy participating in their OWN strategic dialogue.
My wife once asked me if I wanted to be a Marine or something. Why? Because I keep getting books like “One Bullet Away” (Liked it, recommend it), or “The Unforgiving Minute” (On order) and reading blogs like Abu Muquwama. The reason I do these things, I told her, is not because I want to do what they do, it’s because there’s nothing comparable in the Navy.
Where’s the Small Wars Journal for the Navy? Where’s the rank and file of O-4’s standing up to discuss better tactics and strategies? Where’s the websites encouraging discourse? They simply aren’t there.
I’m not discounting the utility of Information Dissemination. Galrahn does a great job, but what does it say when the best naval strategy blog is run by someone who was never in the Navy? USNI Blog? It’s a start, but until it can get past things like crappy half-page book reviews, it’s not going to reach the same level of discourse that Army-centric blogs have. And I’m sorry, I love World War II as much as the next guy, but times have changed and I find little in those tales to be relevant to the types of conflict I may find myself in the middle of should Naval Warfare rise again.
That’s why I initially started this post in February, after my wife’s comment. Because I lament the amount of debate in the Navy, the accessibility of books like Fiasco, or Warrior King. But why is there such a void?
Many will argue that the Navy crushes dissention. Go along to get along as they say. To a certain extent, I agree. After all, I was advised to turn my thesis into a Proceedings article, but opted against it because I didn’t want to call undue attention to myself. So yes, I’m somewhat of a hypocrite in this argument.
But I’d also offer this. The reason there is no mid-level debate in the Navy is because of the nature of the Navy itself. In the Army, a platoon leader, company commander, whatever, is outside the wire and on the line, making things happen. The value of the strategic corporal is in their face. The natural by-product of being forced to execute poor tactics is to discuss ways to get better.
The same level of officer in the Navy is trying to qualify a warfare specialty, run a division, perhaps even a Department. Of course, I’m being incredibly general here, and my argument doesn’t hold for folks like SEALs, EOD, or even pilots. But for the rest of the big, blue, open ocean Navy, the threat of imminent destruction for not finding a method that works simply does not exist. So what’s the impetus to sit back and think strategic level thought? There is none.
I would argue that it is the rare junior to mid-level officer that is actively thinking about ways to improve seagoing tactics. As such, the one who brings it up is often dismissed out of hand. Not saying it’s right, not even saying it happens all the time, I’m just saying.
After all, Command means different things to different people. “Company Command” is just not the same as “Command at Sea.” The burden of Command at Sea is awesome, and it’s not really until you get to that level (or perhaps XO) that you even worry about such things as over-arching tactics, so when a junior officer comes up with an idea, I can see why they would be dismissed. After all, what could they possibly know about the larger picture? (again…I’m just saying…).
I wish I could offer a solution, but I can’t. I think that the level of academic discourse within the ranks off the Navy is a by-product of how we do business. A) It’s not encouraged to study our history and tactics to learn from them at the level it is in the Army or Marine Corps. B) The time demands we place on our Officer corps allow even less time to pursue such studies. We have to get the ship to sea, war or no war. There is no such thing as “garrison” in the Navy.
and continue to wonder what will happen to our Navy, should the spectre of Naval Warfare truly raise its head once more. Will we be able to learn from our mistakes like the Army has? Will we even remember how to do so in a manner/timeline that makes it useful?