The Princess Leia Doctrine

(c) 2011 Graham Art Productions

Doctrine Man!’s Facebook page this morning links to a Politico article Robert Gates’s Final Act: Slow Afghan Drawdown

As his final act before leaving the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is working to build support for what he is calling a “modest” drawdown in Afghanistan, even though a war-weary Capitol Hill wants more.

Gates, who retires June 30, is hoping that his 12th and final trip to Afghanistan will help steer the Washington debate subtly away from the number of troops that will come home next month — a figure that is almost certain to disappoint the growing number of Washington critics of the war.

I’m a big fan of Doctrine Man! – and not just because he is a ‘doctrine’ guy (clearly some very very bad karma in a previous life!!) – his ‘life on the staff’ cartoons are great,and  his FB output is not only prolific, but also spurs robust debate. Some of the comments on the Gates’ article include:

 I don’t think we are going to get a choice here. Politically these wars have been milked to death, and I think regular old Americans are actually pushing this. A collective “sick and tired of war” let’s bring them home has settled in. I remain on the fence as to whether it is good or not, but I count myself in the “sick and tired of war”. You know some idiot will start spouting about win/loss war, but we all know it’s just ego. Military did their job, state department failed miserably.

With other examples of leaders making some very negative comments on their way out the door, this is one that can be seen as very consistent with the profile of the man (who, by the way, warned against Libyan intervention). Good stuff.

 However brilliant one might think Gates is, you never hear any of this drawdown talk discussed in the same context with objectives. Either we are saying objectives are unachievable and we drawdown anyway, or we are drawing down for the pure political gain the appearance gives. Either way, the American people need to hear specifically what we are trying to achieve, in clear, unambiguous terms.

Of course, that comes on the heels of being asked (by a planner) what the difference was between tasks and objectives. For the third or fourth time. If deep-seated rage is a symptom of PTSD, then DM probably needs to get checked out.

It would help me be a little more positive about staying if I knew in measurable terms (a) what the desired end-state is, (b) how much that’s likely to cost in death, injury, and treasure, (c) how long it’s likely to take, and (d) where the money is going to come from.

To those who say “this is war, we can’t tell you these things,” I say that we do these kinds of multi-variable plans all the time in the civilian economy; now go back and get us some answers.

Failing those sorts of answers, I’d rather see us stick to the drawdown plan we have — or accelerate it. I don’t want to see one more American service member or NGO person come home in a box or on a gurney than is absolutely necessary and the thing that haunts me most is the memory of those who died in my war while Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho were arguing the merits of round table vs. square table in Paris.

Re tasks and objectives, whatever happen to the Princess Leia doctrine “When you broke in here, did you have a plan for getting out?”

The last comment is, of course, mine…I have been a staunch proponent of the Leia doctrine for years and wonder  if, with the fall of Saigon only two years previous to the release of Star Wars, George Lucas was actually slipping in some very insightful commentary on recent history…some ammunition for pub trivia: Saigon fell on April 30 1975, Star Wars was released on an unsuspecting world on May 25, 1977.  His 1973 American Graffitti has clear parallels today of a nation in war but possibly not at war in Vietnam, as perhaps it is today with Afghanistan…

In conducting my typically superficial research for this article (Google is our friend, as is Wikipedia) I was caught by this paragraph from the Wikipedia item on the Fall of Saigon…

Among Vietnamese refugees in the United States and in many other countries, the week of April 30 is referred to as Black April and is used as a time of commemoration of the fall of Saigon. The event is approached from different perspectives, with arguments that the date was a sign of American abandonment, or as a memorial of the war and mass exodus as a whole.

No one can argue that South Vietnam was abandoned in 1975 but it is unfair and inaccurate to label this as solely ‘American abandonment‘ . America was not the only nation involved in Vietnam, nor the only one that walked away…let’s not forget that the only nation that was there to the very end was America…everyone else had just quietly drifted away…With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, the application of US air power (like anyone else was going to ante up) in 1975 would only have prolonged the pain of and for Vietnam…

Abandonment is also the word that springs to mind when discussing drawdowns in Afghanistan…the true failure in Afghanistan has not been one of tactics or capability but quite simply one of having no clear idea what it’s all about. If there is only one lesson we learn from a decade (come November this year) in a nation that NO ONE have ever managed to pacify over millennia, it surely must be the Leia Doctrine…

Before you go in, have a plan for getting out.

This is such a fundamental of life, NOT just the military…as any teenage boy in his girlfriend’s room knows where he hears her father’s footsteps outside the door…how can it be that it has been purged from our doctrine and our thinking for so long? Of conflicts since the end of WW2, the 1982 Falklands War and DESERT SHIELD/ STORM in 1991 are the only two that I can remember  where the strategic objectives were clearly stated, adhered to and achieved…

And while contemporary planning doctrine may prattle on about metrics and measureables, it rarely if ever links these to decision points and from there to exit strategies. During one of my irregular warfare engagements in this trip, we used an analogy of the campaign plan as a freeway and each off-ramp along the journey being both a decision point and a potential exit…depending upon how well a driver understands where they are going and why, they will consider off-ramps along the way and opt to drive off or stay the course…

It also just struck me that the freeway analogy also works quite well as an analogy for unilateral, alliance and coalition warfare:

When you are the only driver on the freeway, it is quite easy to select your course, speed and direction.

When you are driving with habitual partners of which you normally only have a small number and who all generally sing off the same sheet of music, it’s much the same.

When you have a coalition, all driving with different national rules and customs, most if not all free to join and depart the coalition at will, and many for whom the use of indicators is totally alien, you have potential chaos, traffic jams and pile-ups..

That’s something I will explore further in another item…today’s takeaway is to promote and encourage adoption and application of the Leia Doctrine to hopefully avoid replays of this…

Never again?

1 thought on “The Princess Leia Doctrine

  1. Pingback: The magnificent seven ride again… « The World According to Me…

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