While I’m very much still interested in and sill do some ongoing research on the political assassinations of the 1960’s, for the last decade or so my interests have become more oriented towards issues of national security and in particular the civilian command and oversight of military operations. My upcoming book In Denial will focus on those subjects – with extensive detail of how that process worked (or did not work) in the Cuba Project launched under Eisenhower and carried out by the CIA under JFK.
In Denial illustrates many of the command problems with covert/deniable action – as well as the extensive disconnects in command and control which occurred during the amphibious landings at the Bay of Pigs. One of the lessons that stands out most clearly in that disaster is the danger of “disconnection” between national policy, as directed by the Commander in Chief, and actual combat operations.
For three months in 1961, President Kennedy worked on defining the mission of the Cuba Project, even expressing it in a new national security memorandum. And throughout that time, the CIA’s senior officers largely ignored his direction in crafting their operational plans. Worse yet, they failed to elevate the issues raised by their own senior military commanders.
Unfortunately, decades later, we are seeing the same disconnections once again jeopardizing missions, and fragmenting our established national security strategies. This time the command and control problems are not within the chain of command; they are clearly with the Commander in Chief. We saw that first in the fiasco related to any structured military response to Iranian actions in the Gulf (and no, as CIC you don’t tweet to tell everyone you are planning and then calling off a major military action). Most recently we are seeing it in Syria. There is simply no evidence of a structured mission, nor of consultation between the CIA and the president’s intelligence or military community.
When the CIC’s spontaneous orders jeopardize an ISIS operation that has been in the works for months, forcing a risky last minute effort to carry out the mission – it’s a good thing when it still works, but a very bad sign in terms of strategy, command, and control.
When that same impromptu command decision results in having your forces literally abandon their bases and equipment – as we just did in Syria, literally handing them over to the Russians, you are forced into extreme measures. In Syria that led to the last resort of bombing to at least minimize the impact of an unplanned retreat – and when you start bombing your own bases, clearly things are out of control.
Then when you announce a withdrawal, then begin sending in even heavier forces, matters get extremely complex – and risky – for the forces in the field.
At this point in time, it is truly unclear if the American forces on the ground know their mission, or whether or not it will change tomorrow. That is a very dangerous situation.
As a veteran myself, I feel quite strongly about our military forces being committed without clear missions, being forced to operate in a state of uncertainty, and constantly having their roles redefined – that increases the risk for them and in all honestly makes us look increasingly vulnerable to our adversaries. It also undermines the sacrifices we ask them to make. And if that sounds like my attitude is showing – it is.