Category Archives: Long Reads

Lengthy overviews of books and maritime topics.

The Problem With Personnel Reform: Who Are the Army’s Best and Brightest?

This piece was originally published by Small Wars Journal and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here.

By Robert P. Callahan, Jr.

The phrase “best and brightest” is frequently used but ambiguously defined. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s Force of the Future aims to recruit and retain this group, but it fails to define who the best and brightest are. Many proposed personnel reforms do the same thing. Doctrinal and popular sources define which officers are the Army’s best and which are its brightest. These sources suggest that the Army’s best and brightest officers form two almost completely independent groups. The best officers succeed in traditional leadership positions, the brightest officers leverage their participation in Broadening Opportunity Programs to attempt to improve the Army, and the best and brightest do both. The firmly defined career track of the Army’s best and the Army’s up-or-out policy combine to prevent the best and the brightest from overlapping. A number of reforms have been proposed to address this state of affairs, but recent reports suggest that the Army’s policies will not change.

Setting the Stage

During late February 1991, Captain Herbert McMaster led Eagle Troop, 2nd Squadron, 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR) east across the deserts of Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm. Eagle Troop was ordered to the 70th easting (a measure of distance east or west) on the afternoon of February 26th, and their advance led directly into a village heavily defended by Iraqis. After engaging the Iraqis and bypassing the village to the north, CPT McMaster’s soldiers decisively engaged a dug-in Iraqi position on the back slope of a ridge. Weaving through minefields, clearing bunkers, and peppering the unprotected rears of Iraqi tanks, Eagle Troop wiped out the Iraqi position. During the course of these actions, Eagle Troop had moved beyond the 70th easting to the 73rd easting. When McMaster’s executive officer radioed a reminder that the 70th easting was the limit of advance, McMaster replied, “I can’t stop. We’re still in contact. Tell them I’m sorry.”[i] McMaster was awarded the Silver Star, the Army’s third highest award for bravery, for his initiative and the successes of Eagle Troop.

Following Desert Storm, McMaster rose steadily through the ranks, commanding 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment and the 3rd ACR. Then Colonel McMaster deployed to Iraq with 3ACR in 2005 and 2006. Before its deployment, McMaster replaced a typical National Training Center rotation, which would have closely resembled then CPT McMaster’s experiences at 73 Easting nearly 15 years earlier, with innovative language and cultural training, which even incorporated Arab-Americans role-playing as Iraqi locals. 3ACR put this training to use while clearing Tal Afar, Iraq in 2005 and 2006. At the outset of this effort, Tal Afar was a training base for foreign fighters and home to cells from Al-Qaeda, Ansar Al-Sunna, and former Baathist elements. 3ACR began pushing into Tal Afar on September 2nd, 2005 and successfully cleared the city after overcoming some heavy resistance. 3ACR’s cavalrymen and a battalion of paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne then set out to keep the anti-government forces from retaking the city. These cavalrymen and paratroopers set up a network of small outposts throughout the city and they stayed for months, thereby convincing the locals that the American military and, by extension, the Iraqi government was there to stay. Violent incidents became less frequent and less deadly, and the 3ACR’s actions were heralded as proof that “individuals and units within the Army could learn and adapt on their own.”[ii]

Although McMaster’s career may seem prototypical, the years between his commands in the Middle East and his conduct as 3ACR’s commander marked McMaster as an unusual officer. McMaster taught history at West Point during the mid-1990s, earned a PhD in history from the University of North Carolina, and challenged the conventional wisdom that the military leadership was blameless for the conduct of the Vietnam War in the 1997 Dereliction of Duty, based on his dissertation. Despite these academic and professional successes, McMaster was passed over twice for promotion to brigadier general. Contemporary accounts suggest that it took bringing General David Patraeus, then the commander in Iraq, back to the United States to chair the 2008 brigadier general promotion board for McMaster to be selected for promotion.[iii] When the 2008 brigadier general selections were announced, Slate trumpeted, “Finally, the Army is promoting the right officers.”[iv] According to some commenters, McMaster’s promotion to brigadier general by exception proved the rule that the Army disdains innovative officers.[v] As these commenters tell it, the Army will face an unknown threat in the future, and stifling innovative officers, such as McMaster, will have negative consequences on the future battlefield.[vi]

Meeting the Future Head on

This argument is one of many that conclude that the Army’s current personnel policies, for whatever reason, are setting the Army up for failure.[vii] Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s Force of the Future, an initiative focused on recruiting and retaining the people our country needs “to serve and defend our country in the years to come,” is intended to prevent such a situation from occurring.[viii] During a speech introducing the initiative, Secretary Carter stated that the military is committed to recruiting America’s “best and brightest” to serve as soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines, and that America will need its best and brightest to serve our country in order to meet the challenges of the future.

Perhaps the Force of the Future is just in time. Some people feel that the US Army has been losing its best and brightest since at least 2007.[ix] Others disagree, instead arguing that the best and brightest officers remain in uniform for a full career.[x] What both groups agree on is that there is some group of officers who are the Army’s best and brightest. Unfortunately, neither group defines who these best and brightest officers are. According to Secretary Carter, “college and higher learning are encouraged because we need our sailors, soldiers, airmen, and Marines to be the best and the brightest.”[xi] Secretary Carter’s logic suggests that the best and the brightest are the college educated. However, educational attainment is of limited use as a discriminator since effectively every active duty commissioned officer is required to hold a bachelor’s degree. Therefore, we need to understand who our best and brightest officers are if we are going to examine how our personnel system influences the military service of these officers.

Examining the relationship between the Army’s best officers and its brightest officers offers a path towards gaining such an understanding, and hopefully we can discover which of the following three statements is true: first, all of the Army’s best officers are also its brightest officers, second, some of the Army’s best officers are also its brightest officers, or third, the Army’s best officers and brightest officers are two entirely independent groups. ADRP 6-22 Army Leadership and the Officer Evaluation Report (OER) define the best Army officers, and both Army regulations and popular discourse can be used to characterize the brightest Army officers. These definitions will allow us to explore the relationship between the best and the brightest and to examine how these officers contribute to the Army. Finally, we can use the current state of the Army’s best and brightest as a baseline for discussing some of the proposed reforms; reforms that are predicated on maximizing the impact of these officers.

You Want to be the Very Best

According to a 2014 Human Resources Command brief, the Army changed its OER in part to “identify talent” and correctly assess officers at different grades.[xii] In an attempt to keep the OER relevant and adaptive, the changes were informed by a variety of sources including two Chiefs of Staff of the Army, the other Armed Services, and Industry examples. HRC highlighted that the new OER would help identify talent by assessing performance based on leadership attributes and competencies. According to ADRP 6-22, a leader’s attributes are character, presence, and intellect, and a leader’s competencies are leading, developing, and achieving. Although every officer is expected to demonstrate the leadership attributes and competencies, how these characteristics are evaluated depends on the rank of the rated officer.

The Army Leadership Requirements Model

First and foremost among the leadership attributes and competencies is character. Every officer who receives an OER is rated on her character. The character of a company grade or field grade officer is evaluated independently from any other metric; this emphasis says that nothing else matters if an officer’s character is deficient. A brigadier general’s character and potential are described in a single paragraph; this combination recognizes that an officer’s potential to shepherd the Army as an institution is inextricably tied up in his character. Although this notion may seem quaint, the aftermath of Colonel James Johnson’s affair demonstrated how an officer’s character influences his effectiveness as a leader and public servant. But what about the other attributes and competencies in the Army Leadership Requirements Model?

A company grade officer’s presence and intellect, who she leads and develops, and what she achieves are all described independently. For a field grade officer, these assessments are no longer independent, but are instead evaluated through one all-encompassing narrative. For a brigadier general, this assessment falls completely to the wayside and is replaced by two observations of her character and potential. What does this demonstrate about how the Army determines who its best are? One possibility is that if an officer has been promoted, then the Army has already determined that she possesses the attributes and competencies required of an Army officer in her grade; in short, her rank speaks for itself. However, as the saying goes, it’s never what you’ve done, it’s what you’ve done lately. Therefore, it is safe to assume that the Army has designed its rating scheme with a different justification in mind.

Making It Happen

According to ADRP 6-0 Mission Command, “military operations are complex, human endeavors characterized by the continuous, mutual adaptation of give and take, moves, and countermoves among all participants,” and “the unpredictability of human behavior affects military operations. Commanders and subordinates must learn from experience, anticipate change, and develop adaptability,” and these processes occur as a part of Mission Command.[xiii] “Mission Command is the exercise of authority and direction by the commander using mission orders to enable disciplined initiative within the commander’s intent to empower agile and adaptive leaders in the conduct of unified land operations.”[xiv] Each commander assigns a part of accomplishing the mission to each of his subordinate units and sets the limits within which the subordinate units can act towards mission accomplishment. As mission orders propagate down the chain of command, smaller and smaller units are assigned more and more specific tasks, but those tasks are still placed in the context of the one and two level higher unit’s mission and the higher unit commander’s intent. Eagle Troop’s success at 73 Easting can be viewed as a textbook implementation of this concept. Although then CPT McMaster had an explicit order to halt at the 70th easting, Eagle Troop did not halt there because continuing to engage the Iraqi forces would have done more to contribute to both 2nd Squadron’s and 2ACR’s missions that day than remaining at the 70th easting.

There is an inverse relationship between an officer’s rank and the availability of troop leading positions. A review of DA PAM 600-3 Commissioned Officer Professional Development and Career Management shows that successful company grade officers are typically expected to be in at least two troop leading positions, specifically platoon leader and troop/battery/company commander, but higher ranking officers will spend the majority of their time off the line. A field grade officer will not command a unit again unless he is selected both for lieutenant colonel and for battalion/squadron command, and he cannot compete for brigade command unless he has already been selected for colonel. A typical general officer’s first command opportunity is a two-star division command. Furthermore, a specific leader’s breadth of responsibility decreases the further he is down the Chain of Command. Subordinate leaders must accomplish their assigned task in support of their immediate commander’s mission. However, they can also achieve results that contribute to their one and two level higher unit’s mission.

When 3ACR deployed to Tal Afar, then COL McMaster set the stage for his unit’s actions, but his subordinates actually made them happen. Indeed, then LTC Chris Hickey met with tribal leaders from both sides of the Shia-Sunni divide in order to lay the groundwork for stabilizing Tal Afar, and the company and platoon level leaders of and attached to 3ACR established and manned the network of outposts which created a semblance of stability in Tal Afar. The facts that lower ranking officers have more leadership opportunities and lower level leaders have an outsize opportunity to exercise disciplined initiative can together explain why an officer’s attributes and competencies go from individually evaluated, to generally evaluated, to not evaluated at all as an officer is promoted from the company grades through the field grades to the general officer level. Given this rating scheme, the best officers are those who possess impeccable character, excel in the Army’s desired leadership attributes and competencies early in their careers, and continue to develop potential as they are promoted up the ranks. Now that we understand what makes an Army officer one of the best, we can turn our attention to which Army officers should be considered the brightest.

Who Burns the Brightest?

The doctrinal definition for the brightest Army officers would most likely be those officers who best leverage the attribute the Army has dubbed intellect. According to ADRP 6-22, “an Army leader’s intellect draws on the mental tendencies and resources that shape conceptual abilities applied to one’s duties and responsibilities.”[xv] Using this definition sheds no light on who would be Army’s “best and brightest” since the Army’s definition for best already includes a consideration of each officer’s intellect. It would be akin to saying that CPT Smith has the highest PT score in the battalion and also did the most push-ups in the battalion during the last APFT. These two facts tell us different things, but the first tells us the totality of what the Army would like to know about CPT Smith while the second provides information that is suggested by the first. Ideally, defining the population of the brightest Army officers would provide some information not explicitly or implicitly provided by our definition of the best Army officers.

We can begin defining who our brightest officers are by examining which Americans are generally considered to be the brightest. In public discourse, someone is usually considered bright for one of two, usually juxtaposed, reasons. The first definition for a bright person would be one who has performed well in academic settings throughout their life, attended an undergraduate or graduate program with pedigree, and holds or will hold a high-prestige job in government, academia, or the private sector. Such people tend to be lampooned by many, including the proponents of the second definition. Under the second view, our country’s brightest are distinguished by their efforts to improve the lives of others, their innovative nature, or their commitment to change. As demonstrated by Forbes, these two definitions are not always mutually exclusive; pedigree does not preclude public service, nor does membership in an established profession necessarily prohibit fostering innovation.[xvi] Therefore, let us consider bright to generally mean some combination of a name-brand education or profession and a desire to innovate, a proclivity for change, or a drive to solve others’ problems.

Who among the Army’s officers would best match this description? The most likely candidates are participants in the Army’s Advanced Civil School options and other Broadening Opportunity Programs. According to MyArmyBenefits, ACS, “facilitates the professional development of Regular Army Officers by providing them the opportunity to participate in a fully funded graduate degree program.” Most, but not all, Broadening Opportunity Programs are administered under the aegis of ACS, but the Broadening Opportunity Programs have a specific mission of, “building a cohort of leaders that allow the Army to succeed at all levels in all environments.”[xvii] Those officers who participate in a Broadening Opportunity Program or complete Advanced Civil Schooling form the population that includes the Army’s brightest, but we still need a method for separating the truly bright from the academically inclined.

Although the term bright has intellectual connotations, our initial pool of possibly bright officers has already been defined purely by their educational choices and career paths. Perhaps then, the brightest officers should be identified by how their personal choices demonstrate the habits of mind indicative of an innovative nature or commitment to improving the Army. For example, McMaster was not marked as a one of the brightest Army officer solely for earning a PhD. Instead, McMaster’s reputation as a bright officer began when he adapted his dissertation research into a book which challenged the reader to reexamine the role of the Army’s leadership in national decision making. The Army’s brightest officers do not always tread the well worn path of the Army’s best. However, their personal efforts help foster a healthy institutional Army which the Army’s best officers can lead “to prevent, shape, and win in the land domain.”[xviii]

The brightest Americans are generally considered to be those who are well educated or act upon an outstanding character. The Army’s brightest officers are drawn from those who have participated in the Broadening Opportunity Programs or completed Advanced Civil Schooling, but they are specifically identified by the impact of their personal endeavors on their professional activities. Since we have identified that best as being responsible for leading the Army and the brightest for ensuring that we have an Army worth, it is time to turn our attention to the relationship between the Army’s best and brightest.

Whiz Kids or Warrior Monks?

The Army’s best officers are promoted to positions of ever greater responsibility, and its brightest officers leverage their additional education and nonconventional assignments to sustain and improve the Institutional Army. Some of the Army’s Advanced Civil School opportunities are functional area producing courses of study and a majority of the Army’s general officers are promoted from the combat arms, therefore the Army’s best and its brightest cannot be the same exact group. That leaves two possible options: there is some overlap between the Army’s best and its brightest or the best and the brightest are completely independent.

In 2015, Spain, Mohundro, and Banks found that ceteris paribus for a one standard deviation increase in what they termed the “Intellectual Human Capital” of a West Point graduate, that officer was 29% less likely to be promoted early to major, 18% less likely to be promoted early to lieutenant colonel, and 32% less likely to be selected for battalion command.[xix] Spain et al. suggested a number of potential reasons for this relationship. One hypothesis is that such officers participate in Advanced Civil School and other Broadening Opportunity Programs, which means that these officers receive fewer Officer Evaluation Reports and have less of the troop leading experience which the Army values. Therefore, these officers present a less competitive profile to the promotion and command selection boards. If Spain et al.’s hypothesis is correct, then there is a very strong case that the Army’s personnel policies create two groups: one comprising the Army’s best officers and another its brightest officers. Accepting this conclusion, the School of Advanced Military Studies’ Advanced Strategic Planning and Policy Program (ASP3) offers one of the few bridges between the Army’s best and brightest. The Army’s decision to allow select field grade officers the opportunity to both command and pursue a PhD highlights an important fact about the relationship between the Army’s best and brightest. Those few officers, like LTG McMaster, whose careers place them at the intersection of the Army’s best and brightest provide something that its best and its brightest cannot provide alone.

The career requirements placed on the Army’s best make it impossible for the best and the brightest to overlap at the tactical level. Many of the authors who have discussed the “best and brightest” offered suggestions for what to change in order to retain their undefined group of officers, advice which is no less valid when applied to a defined group of the best and brightest.[xx] In fact, Darrell Fawley posits that some of the Army’s best want the chance to also be its brightest, and the chance to become the “best and brightest” earlier in their careers.[xxi] Most of these suggestions can be summarized as loosening restrictions on the military’s labor market and eliminating time in grade or time in service considerations in order to place each officer in the position where they can best contribute to the Army’s mission.[xxii]

Regardless of whether or how the Army reforms its personnel policies, the policies the Army has in places matter because, as Colin Griffin points out, “[they are] about whether America can win wars.”[xxiii] The rhetoric surrounding the Force of the Future has been focused on preparing the US military for some nebulous “future battlefield,” but others argue that the future battlefield is now.[xxiv] If these dissidents are correct, the effects of America’s personnel decisions will be felt in the coming months and years, not years and decades. In the worst case, making the wrong choices will cost American lives and could cost the survival of the American experiment.

Secretary Carter’s Force of the Future initiative is motivated by a desire for the armed services to maintain a competitive edge in the quality of its service members and civilian employees. Thus far, these reforms have focused on improving the military services’ human resources practices and family leave policies; a good thing given that the military’s best and brightest can only consist of those who are willing to join and remain in the military. Recent reports suggest that, despite the Force of the Future, the Army will not change its personnel policies. The current policies discourage the best and brightest officers from overlapping; the result is that the Army’s best officers spend the majority of their time leading and its brightest officers do little else but think. If the Army wants to grow officers who can both lead and think, then its assignment and promotion policies must change. However, the Army must first ask itself whether it wants to change at all. The answer will depend on which officers get to answer. Who will it be: the best, the brightest, or both? SWJ.

1st Lieutenant Robert P. Callahan, Jr. is assigned to Fort Rucker, AL. Rob is an associate member of the Military Writers Guild.

End Notes

[i] McMaster, Herbert R. “Battle of 73 Easting.” February 26, 1991. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.benning.army.mil/Library/content/McMasterHR%20CPT_Battleof73Easting.pdf

[ii] Packer, George. “The Lesson of Tal Afar.” The New Yorker. April 10, 2006. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2006/04/10/the-lesson-of-tal-afar

[iii] “McMaster to Be Brigadier General.” BlackFive. July 16, 2008. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.blackfive.net/main/2008/07/mcmaster-to-be.html

[iv] Kaplan, Fred. “Finally, the Army Is Promoting the Right Officers.” Slate, 4 Aug. 2008. Accessed 24 Mar. 2016. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/war_stories/2008/08/annual_general_meeting.single.html

[v] Barno, Dave. “Major General Herbert Raymond McMaster: The World’s 100 Most Influential People.” Time. 23 Apr. 2014. Accessed 24 Mar. 2016. http://time.com/70886/herbert-raymond-mcmaster-2014-time-100/; Freedberg, Sydney J., Jr. “Army Taps Controversial Generals: What McMaster & Mangum Mean For The Future.” Breaking Defense. February 19, 2014. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://breakingdefense.com/2014/02/army-promotes-controversial-generals-what-mcmaster-mangum-mean-for-the-future/; Joyner, James. “H.R. McMaster Gets Third Star, Charge of Army Future.” Outside the Beltway. February 19, 2014. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/h-r-mcmaster-gets-third-star-charged-army-future/; Freedberg, Sydney J., Jr. “How To Get Best Military Leaders: CNAS Says Split Warriors From Managers.” Breaking Defense. October 25, 2013. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://breakingdefense.com/2013/10/how-to-get-best-military-leaders-cnas-says-split-warriors-from-managers/;

[vi] Schafer, Amy. “Why Military Personnel Reform Matters.” War on the Rocks. October 28, 2015. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://warontherocks.com/2015/10/why-military-personnel-reform-matters/;

[vii] Freedberg, Sydney J., Jr. “Big Army Must Improve People Management Or Lose Talent.” Breaking Defense. September 12, 2011. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://breakingdefense.com/2011/09/big-army-must-improve-people-management-or-lose-talent/; Lind, William S. “An Officer Corps That Can’t Score.” The American Conservative. April 17, 2014. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/an-officer-corps-that-cant-score/

[viii] Carter, Ash. “Remarks by Secretary Carter on the Force of the Future.” U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE. March 30, 2015. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.defense.gov/News/Speeches/Speech-View/Article/606658

[ix] Tilghman, Andrew. “The Army’s Other Crisis.” Washington Monthly. December 2007. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2007/0712.tilghman.html; Kane, Tim. “Why Our Best Officers Are Leaving.” The Atlantic. January/February 2011. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/01/why-our-best-officers-are-leaving/308346/; Andrews, Fred. “The Military Machine as a Management Wreck.” The New York Times. January 05, 2013. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/06/business/bleeding-talent-sees-a-military-management-mess.html?_r=0; Joyner, James. “Why America’s Best Officers Are Leaving.” Outside the Beltway. January 6, 2011. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/why-americas-best-officers-are-leaving/; Kane, Tim. “How to Lose Great Leaders? Ask the Army.” Washington Post. February 5, 2013. Accessed March 24, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-leadership/how-to-lose-great-leaders-ask-the-army/2013/02/05/725f177e-6fae-11e2-ac36-3d8d9dcaa2e2_story.html; Farley, Darrell. “A Junior Officer’s Perspective on Brain Drain.” Small Wars Journal. June 17, 2013. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/a-junior-officers-perspective-on-brain-drain; Schafer, Amy. “What Stands in the Way of the Pentagon Keeping Its Best and Brightest?” Defense One. July 14, 2014. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2014/07/what-stands-way-pentagon-keeping-its-best-and-brightest/88630/; Stensland, John. “Military’s Best, Brightest Deserve Commensurate Benefits.” Statesman Journal. September 10, 2015. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.statesmanjournal.com/story/opinion/readers/2015/09/10/militarys-best-brightest-deserve-commensurate-benefits/72035738/; Barno, David, and Nora Bensahel. “Can the U.S. Military Halt Its Brain Drain?” The Atlantic. November 5, 2015. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/11/us-military-tries-halt-brain-drain/413965/; Barno, David. “Military Brain Drain.” Foreign Policy. February 13, 2013. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://foreignpolicy.com/2013/02/13/military-brain-drain/

[x] Hodges, Frederick. “Army Strong.” Foreign Policy. March 27, 2013. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://foreignpolicy.com/2013/03/27/army-strong/; Kroesen, Frederick J. “Losing the ‘Best and Brightest,’ Again.” ARMY Magazine. March 2011. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.ausa.org/publications/armymagazine/archive/2011/3/Documents/FC_Kroesen_0311.pdf

[xi] Carter. “Force of the Future.”

[xii] “Revised Officer Evaluation Reports.” U.S. Army Human Resources Command. April 1, 2011. Accessed March 24, 2016. https://www.hrc.army.mil/site/ASSETS/PDF/MOD1_Revised_Officer_Evaluation_Reports_Jan14.pdf pg. 2

[xiii] ADRP 6-0: Mission Command. Washington, DC: Headquarters, Department of the Army., 2012. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://armypubs.army.mil/doctrine/DR_pubs/dr_a/pdf/adrp6_0.pdf pg. 1-1

[xiv] ADP 6-0: Mission Command. Washington, DC: Headquarters, Department of the Army., 2012. Accessed March 24, 2016 .http://armypubs.army.mil/doctrine/DR_pubs/dr_a/pdf/adp6_0.pdf pg. 1

[xv] ADRP 6-22: Army Leadership. Washington, D.C.: Headquarters, Department of the Army, 2012. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://armypubs.army.mil/doctrine/DR_pubs/dr_a/pdf/adrp6_22.pdf pg. 5-1

[xvi] “30 Under 30.” Forbes. 2016. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.forbes.com/30-under-30-2016/

[xvii] “Advanced Civil Schooling (ACS).” MyArmyBenefits. August 4, 2015. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://myarmybenefits.us.army.mil/Home/Benefit_Library/Federal_Benefits_Page/Advanced_Civil_Schooling_(ACS).html?serv=147; “Broadening Opportunity Programs.” U.S. Army Human Resources Command. January 29, 2016. Accessed March 24, 2016. https://www.hrc.army.mil/OPMD/Broadening%20Opportunity%20Programs%20Building%20a%20cohort%20of%20leaders%20that%20allow%20the%20Army%20to%20succeed%20at%20all%20levels%20in%20all%20environments

[xviii] ADP 1: The Army. Washington, D.C.: Headquarters, Department of the Army, 2012. Accessed March 23, 2016. http://armypubs.army.mil/doctrine/DR_pubs/dr_a/pdf/adp1.pdf

[xix] Spain, Everett S. P., J. D. Mohundro, and Barnard B. Banks. “Intellectual Capital: A Case for Cultural Change.” Parameters. Summer 2015. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pubs/parameters/Issues/Summer_2015/10_Spain.pdf

[xx] Simons, Anna. “Intellectual Capital: A Cautionary Note.” Parameters. Summer 2015. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pubs/parameters/Issues/Summer_2015/11_Simons.pdf; Wallace, Cory. “A Tale of Two Majors: Talent Management and Army Officer Promotions.” War on the Rocks. January 13, 2016. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://warontherocks.com/2016/01/a-tale-of-two-majors-talent-management-and-army-officer-promotions/; Griffin, Colin. “Who’s Out of Control?” Small Wars Journal. February 6, 2016. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/who’s-out-of-control/; Arnold, Mark C. “Don’t Promote Mediocrity.” Armed Forces Journal. May 1, 2012. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.armedforcesjournal.com/dont-promote-mediocrity/; Schafer. “What Stands in the Way of the Pentagon.”; Barno. “Military Brain Drain.”; MacLean, Aaron. “We Don’t Reward Top Military Performers-and It’s Costing Us.” Washington Post. 9 Nov. 2011. Web. 24 Mar. 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-leadership/we-dont-reward-top-military-performersand-its-costing-us/2011/11/09/gIQApzbj5M_story.html; Kane. “How to Lose Great Leaders.”; Joyner. “America’s Best Officers Are Leaving.”; Kane. “Our Best Officers are Leaving.”

[xxi] Farley. “A Junior Officer’s Perspective.”

[xxii] Grazier, Dan. “Military Reform Begins With Personnel Reform.” Project On Government Oversight. August 25, 2015. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.pogo.org/blog/2015/08/military-personnel-reform.html; Grazier, Dan. “The Pentagon’s Pricey Culture of Mediocrity.” Project On Government Oversight. January 27, 2016. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.pogo.org/straus/issues/military-people-and-ideas/2016/the-pentagons-pricey-culture-of-mediocrity.html;

[xxiii] Griffin. “Who’s Out of Control.”

[xxiv] Barno and Bansahel. “Can the U.S. Military Halt Its Brain Drain?”; “World War III: Stop Trying to Prevent It.” The Angry Staff Officer. February 13, 2016. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://angrystaffofficer.com/2016/02/13/world-war-iii-stop-trying-to-prevent-it/; Buchanan, Patrick J. “No End to War in Sight.” The American Conservative. February 12, 2016. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.theamericanconservative.com/buchanan/no-end-to-war-in-sight/

Featured Image: Secretary of Defense Ash Carter addresses U.S. Army ROTC cadets attending training at Fort Knox, Ky., June 22, 2016. (DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley/Released)

On Books: An Interview with VADM James P. “Phil” Wisecup, USN(ret)

Vice Admiral James Wisecup recently sat down with me to chat about books and how they have shaped him throughout his career.  It was a wide-ranging discussion — covering everything from poetry, science-fiction, history, and some of his favorite authors.  Following our conversation, I purchased some of the recommendations he offers below.  Suddenly, my stack of books to read has become much, much taller.

The interview has been edited for style and length.

What do you think the state of reading is in the naval profession today?

I think everybody knows they should be reading.  I think that many naval officers are voracious readers. I’ve talked to a few of my friends in the last couple of weeks.  And one of the first things we always ask each other is: “What are you reading?” In the normal life of an active naval officer, you have to carve that time out to read, no one is going to give it to you.  If you are going to work those long days then you have to cultivate it in yourself.  And it is a lifelong thing if you do.  In formal education you can develop that, but you know, the naval officers’ ability to carve that time out to read is a personal thing, you either do or you don’t.  Unfortunately, everybody doesn’t make time to read.

What are three of your favorite biographies?  And why?

One is J.O. Richardson’s On the Treadmill To Pearl

Admiral James O. Richardson. He was relieved in 1941, shortly before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Admiral James O. Richardson. He was relieved in 1941, shortly before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Harbor.  Richardson was the fleet commander before Husband Kimmel.  Richardson got across the breakers with FDR over whether the fleet should stay out in Pearl Harbor and watch it diminish little by little, because there was no place to train — or to bring it back to United States for training.  Richardson wanted to bring the fleet back to the U.S.  Well, in the end, Roosevelt wanted to leave the Fleet out in Hawaii, so Richardson was asked to retire.  He was relieved by Husband Kimmel.  That’s one book I like.  I also enjoy the biography of Admiral Spruance, The Quiet Warrior.  Another book that I like is Eric Larrabee’s Commander in Chief.  Larrabee’s chapter on FDR is excellent.  All three of those books are great.   

What books do you think are timeless — ones that you would recommend to officers from ensign to admiral?  

The first book that appealed to me when I was a young officer was a book of collected essays by Jonathan Swift.  I read them when I was in my frigate wardroom.   This was years ago. These were the days before TV.  In that book was an essay he wrote on good manners and good breading.  I encourage you to read it.  It’s very interesting.  And it is where I developed some of my philosophy, some of my thinking.  The key thing he says in there, is that the person with the best manners is the person who makes others feel at ease.  When people think about manners they think about how they hold their fork, and sit, etc. But in the end what it really has to do with is a way of being.  Whether you want to put the other person at ease or make them tense. I have also recently been reading books about the Greeks.  Of course, part of that started when I was at the naval war college, with Thucydides.  J.E. Lendon wrote a book called Song Of Wrath.  And it is another take on the Peloponnesian War, and it is very interesting.   I like short stories, myself.  One is a collection of stories by Richard McKenna called The Left-Handed Monkey Wrench. It’s a hard to find book. Richard McKenna wrote the well-known book called The Sand Pebbles. Well, The Left-Handed Monkey Wrench is a series of stories that he tells of essentially the old Navy.  But what the book really is, is a book that talks about people.  That’s whats interesting about it in my view.  A lot of these kinds of stories are still relevant today because the people are still the central piece of the Navy.  Even though we work with machines — and we work a lot with machines — it is still about the stories you tell are rarely about the machines.  They are mostly about what people do.  

The Admiral's at work library.
The Admiral’s at work library.

There’s an author named Robert Harris who has written two books on the Romans, one is called Imperium the other is called Conspirata.  One of my heroes is Cicero.  While he wasn’t a perfect man, Harris tells the story of how Cicero rooted out corruption in many places. He also tells the story as his rise as a magistrate.  What you really see from reading these types of stories is that human nature is unchanging over time.  As I’ve read more-and-more of the classics, that’s what I’ve learned.  There is a book by Steven Pressfield called The Tides of War where he talks about Alcibiades.  It’s interesting because he basically says about Alcibiades is that “the Spartans understood battle, Alcibiades understood the rest.”  I reread that and I thought it was very interesting. Steven Pressfield has also written three nonfiction books that are very interesting.  The one I like the most is Do the Work.  There are times where you have to simply buckle down and work.  And if you know Pressfield’s story, you know he never had it easy.

That’s right.  I believe Pressfield wrote The Legend of Bagger Vance while living out of his car?

Yes, that’s absolutely right.  It’s a great story.

Other books that you think are timeless?

The other book that I came across — and this was in 1990, after Desert Storm — I came across the Norton Book of Modern War, edited by Paul Fussell. After I read it I wrote a letter to him.  This was in the days before e-mail.  He wrote me back on a postcard; he was in the imperial war museum doing research.  I was coming back from Desert Storm and I found Fussell’s book in Hong Kong, and I sent him a short note.  

Paul Fussell postcard

Another timeless book is Jacob Needleman’s The American Soul. Needleman is a philosopher out at the University of San Francisco.  One of the interesting things in this book is the preamble. He has a great quote in the book on how we shouldn’t take the U.S. for granted.  He has great anecdotes in this book about why the U.S. has become the country it is today.  There is also a great story later in the book about George Washington that people must read — the Michael Widman story about Euphrata.  It’s a story that goes to the American Soul.  Joseph Ellis’ Founding Brothers is also a great book.  One of the stories in there is the story about how Washington D.C. became the nation’s capital, in a story called “The Dinner.”

You’ve had a long and distinguished career.  Did you use books to prepare you for any of the jobs you have entered?

I didn’t necessarily use my reading to help me prepare for the job I was going into.  But often I came across books that were helpful when I was in a particular job.  Here’s an example, War and Politics by Bernard Brodie, which falls in the timeless category, and every naval officer should read this.  He writes this in 1973, and it really lays out the difference between the political and the military.  In the first chapter, Brodie asks the question, quoting Ferdinand Foch — “What’s the war about?”  Someone has to be able to explain what a war is about.  In the end, it’s up to the politicians to decide what is worth fighting for, and then explain that to everybody.

I also like to reread a section in The Thin Red Line, by James Jones.  And a movie was also made about it.  It is about World War II and Guadalcanal.  It’s one of those books in which there is fighting, but it also talks about risk.  What’s worth it?  In other words, the captain in the book doesn’t want to take his men to attack a machine gun nest, because he doesn’t want to get them killed.  There is some interesting dialogue in that book about what is worth it.

What book or writers did you think were great stylists that helped you with your own writing?

I love George Orwell.  His essays are very interesting.  He wrote a book called Why I Write.  It’s a little Penguin book, only about 120 pages. But it is a great book.  I’ve read most of his stuff and really enjoy it.

Do you enjoy poetry?

I do. In the Fussell book there is a good bit of poetry.  And some from the First World War; in it there is some from every war.  Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon, they are all in there.  There’s also some World War II poetry, like “The Ball Turret Gunner,” for example.  Fussell has included poetry in there all the way up to Vietnam.  So yes, I do like poetry.

If you could only choose one book to take with you, a book that you would come back to over-and-over again, what book would that be?

It is Paul Fussell’s book.  I’ve read it and reread it.  There are a lot of short stories in there, which are what I like.  Another book that I must mention is Hemingway’s book, called Men at War, which came out in the forties.  It is a selection of Hemingway’s favorite war stories.  He included, in its entirety, Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage.  I like Hemingway’s short stories as well.

Do you enjoy fiction?

Oh yes.  I particularly like William Gibson’s science fiction.  And those books over there, those are some of the books in the Harry Turtledove series — for example, Legion of Videssos — which I was reading with my son.

What’s your oldest book in your library?

Oh, that is at home.  It’s a book of Joseph Conrad’s short stories.  

Sir — Thank you for your time, I enjoyed it.

Thank you.  I enjoyed talking with you.

Vice Admiral Wisecup is the Director of the Chief of Naval Operations’ Strategic Studies Group, assuming the position on 1 October 2013. He is from Piqua, Ohio. A 1977 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, he served 36 years of active duty service. He earned his Master’s degree in International Relations from the University of Southern California, graduated from the Naval War College in 1998, and also earned a degree from the University of Strasbourg, France, as an Olmsted Scholar, in 1982.

 At sea, he served as executive officer of USS Valley Forge (CG 50) during Operation Desert Storm. As commanding officer, USS Callaghan (DDG 994), he was awarded the Vice Admiral James Stockdale Award for Inspirational Leadership. He served as commander, Destroyer Squadron 21 during Operation Enduring Freedom after 9/11. His last sea assignment was commander, Carrier Strike Group 7 (USS Ronald Reagan Strike Group).

Ashore, Wisecup was assigned to NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, served as force planner and ship scheduler for Commander, U.S. Naval Surface Forces, Pacific, and served as action officer for Navy Headquarters Plans/Policy Staff. He served as a CNO fellow on the Chief of Naval Operations Strategic Studies Group; as director, White House Situation Room, and Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Korea. He served as the 52nd president of the U.S. Naval War College.  

Lieutenant Commander Christopher Nelson is CIMSEC’s book review editor.  Readers interested in reviewing books for CIMSEC can contact him at books@cimsec.org.

The Men Who Shaped A World: Author and Journalist Stephen Kinzer on John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles

brothers

Back in March, I had the opportunity to listen to a panel at Brown University on civilian-military relations, titled, “In and Out of Uniform: Civilian Military Relations Reconsidered.”  The panel was born from the provocative piece by James Fallows in The Atlantic magazine, titled, “The Tragedy of the American Military.”  It was an interesting discussion.  One of the highlights that day, at least for me, was walking away with a book.  I happened to sit next to journalist and author Stephen Kinzer during a lunch that preceded the panel.  We got to talking, and eventually he brought up his book The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and their Secret World War.  Later that day he gave me a copy.  A few weeks later I read it.  It was a fascinating book on two men that, unknown to me, had a big impact on American foreign policy during the Cold War.  Recently I had the chance to chat with Stephen about the Dulles brothers and their legacy in U.S. foreign affairs.

Stephen Kinzer, welcome. I enjoyed the opening anecdote of your book about the naming of the Dulles airport and how you “found” the bust of John Foster Dulles.  How did that come about?

This is a fascinating story and there is actually a footnote that you probably don’t know. So as you say, I do start out my book with this anecdote about Dulles airport. So of course, John Foster Dulles was the secretary of state during the 1950s when his brother Allen was head of the CIA.  The new airport being built outside of Washington D.C. was being named after John Foster Dulles.  In 1962 there was a big ceremony at the airport.  I watched a video on YouTube which showed when the airport was inaugurated.  President Kennedy was there, former President Eisenhower was there, Allen Dulles was there.  And a curtain was pulled back to reveal a bust of John Foster Dulles.  The bust was placed in the center of the airport.

While I was writing this book I decided I want to go to the airport and find the bust.  I wanted to commune with it in a sense; I wanted to see what it looked like.  But I couldn’t find it.  I asked around and nobody knew where the bust was.  It’s a long story, but ultimately I found it in a closed conference room.  And I used this story as a kind of a nice metaphor for how much we have forgotten John Foster Dulles. I repeated that story during my book tour.  I probably gave 100 talks about this book over the last year or two and that was often the way it would start out.  This story about how this guy was so famous and now how you can’t even find his bust.  So that’s the story, but here’s the footnote.

President John F. Kennedy and former President Dwight Eisenhower at the opening of the Dulles Airport.

Not long ago I got a phone call from one of my friends who said, “You are not going to believe this.  I’m calling you from Dulles airport.  The bust is back.”  And sure enough, they’ve taken the bust out of the private conference room and put it back on public display. So first I wondered if this had something to do with the fact that I had pointed out what had happened with the bust.  I thought I had achieved something great that showed the massive power of the press.  But now I realize that it’s not so good because I have brought him out of the obscurity which into it had fallen, but without any context, so he is essentially being portrayed as a heroic figure.  I am wondering whether I couldn’t set up a little booth next to the bust and sell copies of my book so people could understand who he really was.

Why the Dulles brothers?  What interested you about them to write a book on those two men?

I am interested in the question of American intervention overseas.  One thing I often ask myself is Why are Americans like this? Why do we do this? Why are we so eager to intervene in the affairs of other countries?  I concluded that the story of the Dulles brothers and what they did in the 1950s would help explain some of that.  The forces that created the Dulles brothers are the forces that created America.  If you can understand those sources you can understand a good deal about this country.  And they left us some important lessons that are still relevant.  So I am presenting a biography here: this is the story of these two immensely powerful brothers who helped shape the world in the 1950s.  But in the larger sense I am using the framework of biography to ask larger questions about the way the United States behaves in the world.

It seems like John Foster Dulles, and Allen Dulles to a certain extent, were very religious.  And as I read your book, it appeared that their religious background colored their world view.  Did it not?

They were brought up in a particular Calvinist religious tradition and came from a long line of clergymen and missionaries.  They were taught, first of all, that the world was divided between good and evil  and that there was one true religion, that all the other religions were wrong and evil.  If you believe that about religions, it is a very short step to believing the same thing about world politics — that there is one political system that’s the right and good system for people to live under rather than all the other systems which are wrong and evil.  In addition, they grew up with a strong admiration for the missionary idea, which tells you that a good Christian should not simply stay home and hope that good triumphs over evil, but now he has to go out and wage the fight on behalf of good.  This is another religious precept that is easily transferable to the political realm.  You begin to believe that it isn’t enough for us to enjoy the blessings of freedom at home.  We need to go out into the world and liberate others who are not enjoying what we consider the blessings that they deserve.

While the brothers do share similar traits, they did have different temperaments.  Is that correct?

It is quite a remarkable feature, their personalities.  Politically and professionally they were identical.  They saw the world the same way.  They had grown up intimately, shared a worldview and hardly ever disagreed about anything.  That was one reason it was so dangerous to the United States to have the two of them in power.  They never felt the need to consult any experts other than the two

of them.  So politically they were peas in a pod. In their private lives however, in their personalities, they were direct opposites.  Foster Dulles was dour and gruff and socially inept.  I have a whole page in my book about all the awkward things he would do.  Even his friends didn’t like him.  Allen Dulles, the CIA director, was just the opposite.  He was a sparkling personality with an endless supply of stories. He had a wine cellar; he was a tennis player; he had a 100 mistresses; he was a wonderful addition to the Washington dinner scene.

Allen Dulles, as you say in your book, was intrigued with Rudyard Kipling’s Kim.  Do you think this paved the way for him to become a spy.  Is this something that he was incredibly intrigued with?

I think there was a kind of romantic fascination on the part of Allen Dulles in the idea of covert action.  He read Kim when he was a young man and he kept it with him his whole life.  It was on his bed table when he died.  I would go on to another equally romanticized version of the espionage trade that Allen Dulles came to appreciate later in life.  That was the novels of James Bond. Those novels have nothing to do with real life intelligence work.  They show that the work of a single intrepid agent can change the course of history and that there are never any long term effects as soon as the bad people are done away with.  This is a very dangerous mindset for intelligence agents to get into because the real world is not like that.  At some point Allen Dulles even asked his tech division at the CIA to duplicate some of the gadgets that James Bond used.  He was told that those were not realistic.  It shows a little bit of the danger of mixing reality and fiction.  I think Allen Dulles fell into that sometimes.

The First Edition of Rudyard Kipling's Kim. First published in book form in 1901.
The First Edition of Rudyard Kipling’s Kim. First published in book form in 1901.

 

The Dulles family, specifically their grandfather and their uncle, had a lot to do with their path in life.  I thought it was fascinating that John Watson Foster, their grandfather, is responsible for the concept of defense attachés in our embassies.  Could you expound on that?

I mentioned a moment ago that one of the factors that shaped the Dulles brothers was their religious background.  A second factor is the family background to which you refer. Their uncle was secretary of state — Robert Lansing — but their grandfather, John Watson, was also secretary of state.  So as kids they grew up with these two remarkable relatives.  John Watson Foster was a remarkable paragon of the American experience during the age of Manifest Destiny.  He grew up on the frontier and made a business for himself, ingratiated himself to powerful men, rose through politics and became an ambassador, and then became secretary of state.  Doing among other things, he modernized the state department and began the practice of systemic research into

John Watson Foster. The thirty-second US Secretary of State and Grandfather of John Foster and Allen Dulles.
John Watson Foster. The thirty-second US Secretary of State and Grandfather of John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles.

foreign embassies and advances in foreign weaponry military tactics.  He sent messages to all American legations asking them to send people to libraries and bookstores to look for anything new that was being developed in these fields.  John Watson Foster was also the secretary of state who presided over the first American overthrow of a foreign government — that was Hawaii — in 1893.  He would have later understood the role John Foster Dulles played, almost half a century later in overthrowing governments in Iran, Guatemala, and other places. I began to wonder if there wasn’t some genetic predisposition to regime change in the Dulles family.

The Dulles brothers seemed to jump back and forth between public service and the private sector — particularly back to the law firm Sullivan & Cromwell.  Was this a trend throughout their lives?

Now you are putting your finger on what I think is the third most important factor in shaping the Dulles brothers.  Religious belief was one, family and class background was the second, and certainly the third was the decades that the brothers spent working for the remarkable law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell in New York.  This was not a law firm like any other.  It had its speciality.  Its speciality was helping big American companies pressure foreign governments into doing what they wanted.  Virtually every large American multi-national corporation retained Sullivan & Cromwell.  Every time those companies had trouble in some other country they would turn to Sullivan & Cromwell.  Sullivan & Cromwell found ways to make offers to those countries that they couldn’t refuse.  It means that the Dulles brothers understood the world from the perspective of their Wall Street clients. It also means that at an early age they became experienced in the technique of pressuring foreign governments.  The skills that they learned at Sullivan & Cromwell would serve them well when they came into power in the 1950s.

Both men went to law school.  Was the law just a stepping stone for those men in that age?

John Foster Dulles was the highest paid lawyer in America during the peak of his career.  He was a masterful servant of the plutocracy, although he was not a plutocrat himself.  I think their service in that world gave them a certain perspective about what should motivate American foreign policy.  They saw a world in which a great force was arrayed against the United States.  And they took this back to the experiences they had at the law firm and they felt that foreign governments were always seeking to use pressure on American companies as a way to pressure the United States. It was not possible for them to imagine that foreign governments would take steps that would be harmful to American companies. This was strictly out of reasons that came from domestic politics; not because they had been ordered to do so by the Kremlin or that it was some part of a broader geopolitical plot.  So they came to office with a narrow vision that I do think came from their legal work.

Something that surprised me to learn was that John Foster Dulles was supportive of National Socialism in the early thirties.

John Foster Dulles was quite sympathetic to the Nazi party in the 1930s.  He spent a lot of time in Germany.  He was an admirer of Hitler in the 1930s.  John Foster Dulles became the principal broker in the United States for German bonds that supported the municipalities and corporations.  He also weaved the Krupp iron works company into an international nickel cartel that gave the Nazis access to nickel, which of course is important in warfare. He continued to visit Germany all the during the 1930s.  His law firm closed its office in Germany but he was against it.  So Foster Dulles did have a history of sympathy for the Nazis.  I think part of the reason for that was he saw them as a bulwark against the Communists.

What is happening during the brothers during the 30s?  When did they figure out that they would have to fight the Nazis?  Did John Foster change his thinking?

In the mid-1930s Sullivan & Cromwell took a vote to close their Berlin office.  As I said, Foster Dulles opposed that.  But once the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939 it became impossible to paint them as peace lovers.  And certainly after the American declaration of war everything became quite clear.  It was after that declaration that Allen Dulles was named head of the OSS station out of Bern,

Allen Dulles CIA ID card.
Allen Dulles CIA ID card.

Switzerland.  It was a very important post because it was one of the last remaining neutral outposts in Europe.  Allen had a quite an adventure getting into Bern.  He had a lot of fun times in Switzerland.  It was his second tour there, he had been an intelligence officer in Bern during the First World War.

Let’s fast forward a little bit to the 1940s and 1950s.  Tell us what operation Ajax was and please, if you could, tell us about Allen Dulles and John Foster Dulles roles in that operation.

When the Dulles brothers came into office in the early 1950s, Iran was establishing its democracy and had propelled this interesting leader — Mohammed Mossadegh — to the prime ministers job.  Mossadegh had persuaded the Iranian parliament to vote for the nationalization of the Iranian oil industry.  This industry had been previously owned by one British company which was in turn owned principally by the British government.  So the nationalization of Iranian oil was quite the topic at the time the Dulles brothers came into power.  And they had relations with Iran in the years before that.  The Dulles brothers, when in Sullivan & Cromwell, represented the bank for the British oil company that operated in Iran, and that bank lost its interest.  So the Dulles brothers came into office with a grudge against Mossadegh.  Mossadegh had also helped kill a big development for American engineering firms that Allen Dulles had helped broker.  His threats to the international oil cartel was thought of as dangerous, not just to oil but to all international and multinational businesses because they challenged the concept that rich countries are entitled to resources from poor countries at the price that they want to pay.  So once in power, the Dulles brothers began immediately plotting against Mossadegh, and he was overthrown eight months later and Iran never recovered from it.

President Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles in 1956.
President Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles in 1956.

Communism was also a driving concern for the Dulles brothers at this time as well, correct?

Certainly the way the Dulles brothers saw the world was a great confrontation between Communism and capitalism.  That would have been the way most Americans saw the world.  Most of our major institutions saw the world through that prism.  The Dulles brothers believed that everything that happened in the world was in some way related to this conflict.  People in other parts of the world saw the global situation differently.  In much of Asia and Africa and Latin America the world looked like it was divided in a different way.  It seemed to be divided between dozens of new nations that were trying to find their place in a turbulent world on the one hand.  And then there were the old traditional ruling powers that were trying to keep them back and prevent their nationalism from flowering into projects of development at home and neutralism abroad.  So the world looked very clear to the Dulles brothers, and everything that happened in it seemed to be part of the Cold War struggle.  That’s why they found so many enemies in the world; they were loose in their interpretation what constituted an enemy or hostile activity.

They didn’t necessarily agree with some of the other big names back then that also didn’t like Communism — John Foster Dulles was not a big fan of George Kennan, was he?

No, as a matter of fact it was Dulles who forced George Kennan out of the state department.  Kennan didn’t see the world in as clear black and white terms as Dulles did.  And I think the state department was not big enough for both of them.  It was clear that Dulles could not run the state department listening to Kennan.  And Kennan didn’t want to be there giving advice to someone who saw the world so differently.

The famous theologian and philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr also disagreed with Dulles, didn’t he?

Niebuhr warned against nations becoming too arrogant.  He felt if the United States was faced with extinction as a country it wouldn’t be from a foreign threat; it would be from our own hubris and self-destructive impulses. That was not the way John Foster Dulles saw the world.  So they were critics of each others visions.

Is it true that the birth of the U2 program started at a dinner party?

Allen Dulles was having a dinner with some scientists and they spoke about some advances in high-altitude photography.  This led him to call a few people into his office and ultimately produced what became the U2 project.  That was particularly important in those days.  One reason the Cold War became so intense was our absolute ignorance on what was going on inside the Soviet Union.  Because we were allies during WWII we hadn’t really concentrated on building intelligence networks inside the Soviet Union. So when the war was over we were really shut out; it was a denied area to Americans. One of the very first flights that the U2 took brought back information that we had greatly overestimated the number of fighter jets that the Soviets had.  This kind of information came back repeatedly from U2 flights.  That did play a role, I think, in calming some overblown fears.

 

Let me close with one more question.  What do you think the Dulles brothers biggest effect was on US foreign policy?  What is their legacy look like today?

The Dulles brothers approach to the world did not work out well for the United States. Rather than confront that fact and see what lessons we can draw from that experience, we find it easier to forget about them and move on.  That’s one reason why these brothers who were so famous in the 1950s are now effectively forgotten.  They did however leave some very important legacies.  One is that they were strongly opposed to negotiation with our enemies.  John Foster Dulles always opposed summit meetings between the U.S. President and leaders of the Soviet Union or Communist China.  Nations should first show some sympathy toward us or be friendly toward us or we should not negotiate with them.  That tendency is still strong in the United States today.

A second tendency that they felt was an absolute lack of understanding of the nature of Third World nationalism.  They saw every assertion of nationalism by countries in other parts of the world as defiant to the United States.  They wanted countries to be subservient to the United States.  They couldn’t understand the desire for countries to make their own choices, even if they were not good ones.

The finally legacy they left us is that they had no idea of what today we would call “blowback.”  It never occurred to them that their operations would have such long term consequences.  Perhaps, like James Bond, they kept this idea that you go out in the world and you violently intervene in the political process of another country and then everything will go back to normal, with no serious effect.  It never occurred to them that by destroying democracy in Iran it would send that country into a spiral of dictatorship and religious rule that would last for generations.  When they overthrew the democratic government of Guatemala that a genocidal civil war would break out in which hundreds of thousands of people would be killed.  When they decided to pursue Ho Chi Minh after the British and French decided he could not be defeated, it never occurred to them that it could trigger a war that cost so much pain and horror for Vietnam and the United States.  That’s a good lesson for us to learn from them — I think all three of those are.  Never negotiate with your enemies.  Don’t recognize the nationalist sentiments of people of other countries.  And delude yourself into believing that there will never be any long term effects to foreign intervention.  Those would be the three lessons from the Dulles brothers that we would be wise to learn from.

Thank you very much Stephen, what’s next for you?

I am working on a book about the period when the United States first became involved in taking overseas territories, which was around 1898.  Maybe we can get together for another chat then.

That sounds great.  Thank you Stephen Kinzer, it was a pleasure talking with you.

Thank you.

Stephen Kinzer is an award-winning foreign correspondent whose articles and books have led the Washington Post to place him “among the best in popular foreign policy storytelling.”  Kinzer spent more than 20 years working for the New York Times, most of it as a foreign correspondent. He was the Times bureau chief in Nicaragua during the 1980s, and in Germany during the early 1990s. In 1996 he was named chief of the newly opened Times bureau in Istanbul. Later he was appointed national culture correspondent, based in Chicago.Since leaving the Times, Kinzer has taught journalism, political science, and international relations at Northwestern University and Boston University. He has written books about Central America, Rwanda, Turkey, and Iran, as well as others that trace the history of American foreign policy. He contributes to the New York Review of Books and writes a world affairs column for the Boston Globe.  Currently, he is a Fellow at the Watson Institute of International Studies at Brown University.

Lieutenant Commander Christopher Nelson, USN, is a naval intelligence officer and the book review editor for the Center for International Maritime Security.  He is a recent graduate of the U.S. Naval War College and the Navy’s operational planning school, the Maritime Advanced Warfighting School in Newport, RI.  Those interested in reviewing books for CIMSEC can contact LCDR Nelson at books@cimsec.org  The views expressed in this paper are those of only the authors and do not express the official views of the US Navy, the DoD or any agency of the US Government.

Publication Release: A Special Report on PMSCs

CIMSEC is proud to present the first publication in its series of collected analysis – our Compendium to last year’s Private Military Contractor (PMC), focusing on the role of PMCs, also known as Private Military Security Companies, in the maritime domain.

PMSCAuthors:
Scott Cheney-Peters
Claude Berube
Tim Steigelman

Editors:
Matt Hipple
Chris Papas
Scott Cheney-Peters

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Military contractors are assisting militaries and civilian government agencies throughout the world and across the mission spectrum, including planning, training, logistics, and security. Their use in support of a range of security-related activities is growing. Employing private military contractors (PMCs) for any security purpose, has both distinct advantages and disadvantages. PMCs are seen as having inherent advantages over militaries with regard to cost, flexibility, and responsiveness.

Relying on PMCs, though, does have its share of risks—including safety and liability issues, performance, force management, compliance with international and domestic laws, and lost resources because a capability is outsourced rather than retained. With this increase in contractor use in general, and the rise of privatized firms that are specifically organized to provide security services, the question is now how to determine the right force mix to most effectively and efficiently complete a task or mission. In some cases, contractors may be the best choice; however, they are not the perfect fit for every mission or the right solution for all skill or manpower shortages.

Despite their recent pillorying, PMC’s have existed since before the condotierri and will continue to exist after America’s campaigns. In this publication and the original week of special analysis from April 2014 we discussed their utility and future, especially in the maritime domain.

Whither the Private Maritime Security Companies of South and Southeast Asia? (Parts 1 and 2)
Author: Scott Cheney-Peters

PMCS: The End or the Beginning?
Author: Claude Berube

America Should End Mercenary Contracts
Author: Tim Steigelman

A Response to “America Should End Merceneary Contracts”
Author: Claude Berube

About this Series:

As a multinational community of strategists, researchers, and practitioners, the Center for International Maritime Security strives for a clear, relevant, and quick response to the issues facing international security.

To that end, CIMSEC is publishing collections of its focused articles in PDF format. This allows for quick distribution of diverse opinions on the topics that of relevance to maritime security today. For those who prefer browsing, the articles remain on the website under their respective categories. By organizing and distributing our authors’ analysis in multiple ways, CIMSEC is steaming ahead with the maritime policy-maker in mind.

Credit is due to all CIMSEC members – both contributors and those who share their insights through our informal collaborative channels and make such projects possible. In particular, this series is the work of Chris Papas, Director of Publications, under the guidance of head editor for the project, Matt Hipple, Director of Online Content and the head editor for this project.