Sunday, 1 July 2012

Some recommended reading/watching

First up is this superb article on the BBC of all places on COIN. Rare to see something like this on the ol' Beeb, or indeed any mainstream media outlet. Probably the best piece I've seen as a summary of the COIN discipline, it gives an overview of the benefits of COIN and the 'dark side' which has emerged at times throughout history. I will note that the author does go after COIN pretty heavily as a universally negatively used set of tactics, which I think is unfair at times, but he does have the decency to back it up:
I thought I would tell the history of how Counterinsurgency was invented, why it was discredited in America, and how it returned in 2007 to dominate and brutalise the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is a fascinating and weird story that is far odder than anything Jack Idema could have dreamt up - it involves Mao Zedong, John F Kennedy, French fascists, the attempted assassination of Charles De Gaulle, and strange Potemkin-style villages in Vietnam where women get pregnant for no discernible reason.
This piece in Armed Forces Journal touches on some important problems with promotion within the military. The author is actually artificially limiting himself in his piece, as many of the problems he identifies are just as severe in the private sector as they are described to be in the military:

[T]he employment expectations of highly talented people changed a generation ago. The desire for lifetime employment has been replaced by a desire for lifetime employability. That means they vote with their feet when employers fail to reward performance, fail to give people a voice in their work and fail to fire bad bosses.

Indeed, a 2010 study by the Army Research Institute found that the main reason talented people leave is not the lure of a lucrative civilian career, but because mediocre people stay in and get promoted.

Year-group systems promote high talent at nearly the same pace as mediocre and below-average officers during their first 20 years of service. For instance, the active-duty Army promoted 99 percent of lieutenants to captain and 95 percent of captains to major during its 2011 boards. In 2010, selection rates for Army O-5s were 94 percent and above 85 percent in all other services. This is unheard of in the private sector. It rings loudly of institutionalizing mediocrity at best, and poisoning the pool of future senior leaders at worst

A short list of overdue changes to the military personnel system includes efforts to:
  • Promote top performers only when they are selected for higher responsibilities.
  • Eliminate year-group and “time in grade” promotions.
  • Find and release the worst performers at all levels.
  • Establish a job posting system.
  • Give senior leaders responsibility for assessing, hiring and developing talent.
  • Allow top talent to choose non-command assignments.
  • Establish succession-planning processes.
  • Create assignment flexibility between active and reserve components.
  • Learn from exit interviews.
Last but not least, I usually wouldn't such a blatantly partisan piece, but this was too good not to at least mention. Texas Republicans don't want students placed in an environment where their "fixed beliefs" are "challenged". Clearly the last thousand or so years of developing rational thought have been wasted in Texas:


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