“Tradition” Torpedoes Innovation in Special Operations’ Anti-Terrorism Efforts
Steven Bucci /
It appears that the forces of tradition and status quo have sufficient power to defeat a man who is not normally bested.
Admiral William McRaven, the decorated Navy SEAL officer who heads Special Operations Command (SOCOM), attempted to use the political capital he had garnered based on Special Forces’ recent successes—such as the killing of Osama bin Laden and the rescue of hostages from Somali pirates—to give them more autonomy in performing missions. President Obama has recently touted the virtues of these elite units.
McRaven is not a politician, but he did see an opportunity to improve how the U.S was conducting the war on terrorism by specifically targeting their leadership around the world. During the Bush Administration, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld tried to shift the leadership of this war to SOCOM, recognizing that it was globally oriented and uniquely skilled to work across the geographic boundaries of the more traditional combatant commanders.
At that time, senior SOCOM officers were not willing to shift away from the system known as the Unified Command Plan. McRaven proposed that he be allowed to inform the relevant combatant commanders and ambassadors when he was planning an operation rather than having to seek their permission. He also wanted to avoid the archaic and glacial system of interaction with other militaries known as the Security Assistance Programs. These are mostly outdated processes of the Cold War that channel American military equipment to other countries. The process is agonizingly slow and notoriously inefficient. Telling SOCOM to go through Security Assistance is roughly equivalent to telling it to stay home and stay out of the way.
However, the State Department and the geographic commanders jointly rebuffed McRaven’s proposal.
At a time when there are huge threats to the readiness of the U.S. military, hindering SOCOM by insisting on outdated practices and structures is detrimental to national security. McRaven requested additional autonomy so he could continue to field the most effective force in the world. U.S. leadership should trust his wisdom and dedication and see to it that his national security proposals are implemented.