STOPPING STANDARD SNAFUS
13 February 2001

BY DAVID H. HACKWORTH

The Israeli-Palestinian conflagration is sizzling away on the front burner, and the USA could be right out there taking the heat with them. Why? We've already sent our Patriot missiles to Israel, along with a sizable contingent of soldiers.

Besides American troops dying in the Middle East, there could be other consequences, including:

* terrorist attacks against other Americans, both at home and overseas;

* oil shortages in the USA;

* expansion of the conflict far beyond the original antagonists.

In the U.S. military, where boldness and drive are two of the traits traditionally looked for in the promotion process, caution can be viewed as a wimp disease. Maybe that's why U.S. commanders seldom learn from the past or think out the long-range consequences of their actions. Cause-and-effect doesn't seem that big a deal in their DNA -- they're gung-ho action types who aim to win by charging hard and getting the job done yesterday.

Here are a few examples of the brass not thinking out the consequences:

* The deployment of several hundred U.S. advisers to Vietnam grew into a hopeless, hapless conflict that killed or wounded 360,000 Americans and almost ripped our nation asunder.

* A defoliate used in Vietnam to clear the bush so the enemy could be more easily found caused horrendous casualties for both us and the very people we were trying to save.

* A new rifle, seemingly ideal for jungle fighting in Vietnam, turned out to be a jammer that sapped the confidence of our soldiers -- and killed hundreds of them.

* A failure to ban Iraqi helicopter gunship flights during peace negotiations with Saddam Hussein allowed their later use to put down a revolution that could have overthrown Saddam -- who 10 years later still remains one of our biggest national-security concerns.

* A Pentagon turn-down regarding the deployment of tanks to protect troops resulted in 18 American deaths, more than 100 wounded and our being chased out of Somalia with our tail between our legs -- just the way we left Vietnam.

Besides failing to compute the long-term effects of actions, American military leaders seldom have learned from the past. History shows they've repeatedly made the same mistakes. Stuff that turned sour in World War II also went wrong in Vietnam -- and the screw-ups that went down there were replayed again in Somalia. Despite all the Lessons Learned pamphlets, the studies and the history books, the record shows there's little institutional memory in the U.S. armed forces.

Generals George Marshall and Matthew Ridgway were exceptions to the rule. Interestingly, both took special care to have a fire team of truth-tellers on staff and always kept the door open to their mavericks. Here's a way to hitchhike on the wisdom of these smart, highly successful leaders:

Add a Consequence/Lessons Learned officer to the CO's staff at every level from battalion/squadron on up. COs already have an S-1 who does Administration, an S-2 for Intelligence, an S-3 for Operations, an S-4 for Logistics and an S-5 for Civil Affairs. Now they'd have an S-6 or G-6 or J-6, depending on their level -- from battalion all the way up to the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- to advise the boss of both the consequences of his or her intended act or policy and any relevant history lessons from the past several hundred years where we waded through the same or similar minefields.

Probably the Consequence Officer or S-6 should be a recalled, very savvy, retired warrant officer. Warrants -- mainly former senior noncoms with a fierce reputation for no-nonsense truth-telling -- are known for rarely sweating the fallout from sounding off.

Because of their maverick, straight-shooting behavior, warrants on active duty are often feared by today's officer corps, who too often either lead by consensus or are go-along-to-get-along commandos. For openers, warrants never wanted to be officers. And as retirees with no career to concern themselves about, they'd be twice as irreverent.

They should be senior in age to the CO they'd be advising and -- in the event their advice falls on deaf ears -- be free to take their views to the CO twice-removed from their boss.

The S-6 would prevent self-inflicted wounds by making sure our commanders had all the historical facts and thought long enough and hard enough about all possible consequences before leaping into the fray.