10 April 2017

About those 17 Intelligence Agencies.

On Saturday, NY Congressman Hakeem Jeffries gave the Democratic response to President Trump's weekly address.  While doing so he rolled out and repeated a tired old trope from the Hillary Campaign.  "Seventeen (17) Independent agencies determined that the Russians hacked the DNC Email Server," which led directly to the myth the "Russia Hacked the election.

Frankly, I've had it with the multiple lies that are rolled up in that statement.  There are not 17 Independent Intelligence Agencies, there were not 17 Intelligence agencies working on the question and there was not a real consensus of that many agencies.

So how did we get the constantly repeated line the '17 Independent blah blah blah...?'

The facts:

There are seventeen member of the US Intelligence Community (IC) led by (#1) The Office of The Director of National Intelligence, which coordinates the often overlapping and occasionally conflicting work of the entire community, without command, oversight, or budget authority over anyone but their own staff.  They do however chair the meetings that lead to to findings and "consensuses"

The other sixteen naturally include the most well known of the them the CIA (#2) which almost certainly had a hand in collecting and analyzing the raw intel that produced the "finding."  Also the National Security Agency (NSA) (#3) which is the largest, and sometimes the best funded, of US Intelligence Agencies.  The NSA as the agency responsible for Cyber intelligence abroad would have led the effort to collect evidence of foreign hacking, been involved in the analysis and co-developed the tools used in cyber operations.  Also surely involved was the FBI  (#4) which is in the lead for investigations involving attacks that rise to the level of national security threats and has the lead competency for domestic intelligence and counter-espionage efforts.

What about the other 13 members of the intelligence community?  Not all of whom are independent agencies (more about that in a minute).

Well for starters five of them are the intelligence branches of the five armed services(#s 5-9) , Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and the Coast Guard.  With the exception of the Coast Guard, these agencies focus on three major (and overlapping) concerns: Threats to their parent services, the capabilities of their competitors and peers, and tactical, operational and strategic intelligence affecting ongoing military operations.  The Coast Guard's Intelligence Service focus on Intelligence Threats to the Service and on Ports and Waterways threats to homeland security.  While all of these services undoubtedly retain some cyber collection and analysis capabilities, it's unlikely that those experts were ever involved with the effort to determine who hacked John Podesta's email.

Similar arguments apply to the other Department of Defense Intelligence Community members, the National Reconnaissance Office (#10), which mainly designs, builds, and operates the reconnaissance satellites of the United States government, and provides satellite intelligence, particularly signals intelligence and imagery intelligence, to several other government agencies, and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (#11), which interprets and maps satellite imagery.

The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)(#12),  handles national-level, long term and strategic intelligence for the military and department of defense, as such it  sometimes overlaps with other agencies but is unlikely to have provided much to the discussion of DNC hacking.

Also in the IC, are specialized contributors, the Drug Enforcement Administration's Office of National Security Intelligence (DEA)(#13), which focuses on the drug trade and associated terror networks, The Dept. of Energy's Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence (#14), focusing on Energy Issues and collection threats to US Nuclear programs. Treasury Dept's Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence (#15), is concerned with the economies of foreign states and the financing of terror networks.

Finally there are two more generalists at the table.  The State Dept's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (#16) exists mainly to provide accurate and up to date intelligence from all sources to the Secretary of State and to US Diplomats.  The Dept of Homeland Security's (DHS) Office of Intelligence and Analysis (#17) coordinates and analyzes intelligence for all the component agencies of DHS.  Both of these have some capabilities to look at intelligence information and provide analysis, of the two it is highly unlikely the State Dept. would be involved in more than a summary read of the data, while DHS was consulted.  DHS is along with the FBI the primary guardian of US Security at home.  They issued the joint statement with the FBI, finding that the Russians indeed hacked into DNC servers, back in April.

As to the Independence of these Community Members?  I'm not sure what the Hillarys and Hakeems of the world mean by that phrase.  I've made the argument, I think, that this was not a case of seventeen agencies working independently to investigate this and all reaching the same conclusion.  I think it's also clear that this was not several agencies developing raw intelligence, sharing it out to seventeen and all of them independently reaching the same conclusions.

Of the seventeen members of the IC, fully eight are part of the DOD, two part of DOJ, two DHS, only two, the CIA and the DNI answer directly to the President and are considered "Independent Agencies" ie. not part of a Cabinet Agency. So I'm not sure what "independence" reflects in the claims of Democrats, except an attempt to confuse and mislead the public.

Only three IC members are likely have really been major players in the effort to determine who hacked the DNC server, through collection AND analysis, the NSA, the CIA and the FBI.  These three "agencies"  would have coordinated their findings with and through the office of the DNI.  The DNI could surely have shared those findings with representatives of the other constituent members of the IC and asked for rebuttals, objections, or evidence against the findings.  Then, unless the Dept of Energy or Marines Corps Intelligence had some weirdly relevant intelligence on the matter, they would have concurred as a matter of course.

At the end of the day somewhere between four and five constituent members of the US Intelligence Community made this call.  Two (#4 & #17) signed a joint report And ONE (#1), in the lead, with a Director who answered directly to the President Obama determined "Consenus!" Not seventeen!!

28 April 2016


Donald Trump.  

Not a fan, never have been.  

As a conservative, I’ve never viewed him as a true conservative.  As a fellow New Yorker, I am all too familiar with his real business history to see him as a creator of value.  As a student of history I see in some of his followers (more than in other strains of the conservative movement), a tendency to populism and nationalism that is uninformed and reactionary.

#NeverTrump?  Not quite.  #ProbablyNotTrump is more like how I’ve been feeling lately. 

#WhatisTrumpOfffering?  Can he make commitments to conservatism that make a difference to me?

I would likely be a #NeverTrump, I fall into that camp, emotionally.  But as I work out my options for November assuming a Trump nomination I have to do some calculations.

My wife and others have mentioned the possibility of outright voting for Hillary, based on her long experience, and the lesser of two evils theory.  I am seriously considering  Gary Johnson, a candidate I am closer to ideologically than either Trump or Clinton.  There is also the ongoing threat/discussion of a 3rd party conservative candidate, who might very well be someone I would be inclined to support.

Many of my conservative friends, inclined to the #NeverTrump lane, are considering the 3rd party option, likely voting for Gary Johnson if a conservative alternate does not appear.  Those inclined towards #NeverTrump insist that a vote for a third candidate is not a vote for Hillary Clinton. 

They are half right.  It is a vote for someone who cannot and will not beat Hillary Clinton.  I have traditionally been against protest votes, even when the Republican Party Candidate is not my preferred choice.  Until this race I have never seriously considered the option because while it is personally and ideologically satisfying to one’s integrity and one’s ego, the gesture is empty and essentially concedes the contest to the opposition.

I have not decided not to vote for Gary Johnson, I am still reserving my final decision, as Trump is as personally unpalatable a Republican Candidate as I have ever really contemplated. But…

One phrase keeps rolling about in my consciousness:


It is!  The Republican Senate is fighting a delaying action to prevent President Obama from replacing originalist Justice Antonin Scalia with liberal Merrick Garland.  Should they succeed, and every day that passes without a hearing is a tactical victory, then the next POTUS gets to choose the balance of the SCOTUS. Trump or Clinton!

Even if the GOP Senate folds, conservatives must consider the future of the Court.

While there is no guarantee that President Donald Trump would nominate an originalist, or even a conservative he has indicated a willingness to do so.  Hillary, on the other hand, will surely nominate liberals who would destroy what second amendment rights we have left while continuing the assaults on the first and the tenth.

Donald Trump cannot “Make America Great Again,” it IS Already Great.  He can and may do some harm to the nation, as Hillary Clinton surely would.  He is likely to in the end do great damage to the Republican party, it’s fabric, and its brand.  Will he do less harm overall than Hillary Clinton? Will I have to vote for him, despite my misgivings?

“It’s The Supreme Court Stupid!”

15 October 2014

WMD, It's back, It's bad, It's worse, It's ISIS.

This post was mostly written by Vince Heintz, who deserves most of the credit, both for the article, and for the positive events of our tour in Iraq. I made a few changes but it's narrative, I did spend most of the tour he describes in his Cargo Pocket.

In 2004 our battalion was stationed 10 Kilometers south of a central Iraqi Airfield known as Anaconda/Balad.  Our Operational Area extended west to a road designated Route Golden, which  included the Muthana chemical compound, as recently Identified in a NY Times Article.  All within the area known as the Sunni Triangle. None of our soldiers, to my knowledge, were burned or injured by the weapons stored there, but we knew they were there and assumed the insurgents did too, particularly after word went our in May or June 2004 about a chemical IED going off somewhere else on the battlefield (which, based on the timeline,  is the same one noted in the article as addressed by General Kimmett). 

We conducted several operations at the Muthana Site in order to capture or kill insurgents trying to dig into the bunkers to retrieve those weapons.  To my recollection, our scout snipers may have wounded some guys doing some digging, but those detainees later claimed that they were just looking for scrap metal to sell; as I recall, there was no way to confirm their intent, and I think that they were patched up and cut loose.

Enemy activity generally seemed to be picking up near the area in May and June.  There is no doubt that there was a lot of insurgent movement through that space, which formed a loose line of communication among Fallujah, Baqouba and Samarra.  In May or June, the 1st Infantry Division Commander directed our brigade to clear the area of insurgents (not chemicals), and our brigade commander directed the staffs to plan a robust operation that would have involved most of his combat power for a time.  As the sole light infantry task force in the brigade, we were designated the air assault element with the task of moving by Blackhawk Helicopters to occupy blocking positions across an arc some clicks away from those giant bunkers to disrupt enemy egress from the objective.

This would allow our brigade's main effort, a reinforced battalion task force of Bradley Fighting Vehicless and Abrams tanks, to seize the objective and begin clearing operations.  The operation would have taken days; as  the facility is huge.  Then, after final rehearsals including a full table-top combined arms rehearsal through at brigade HQ in Tikrit, the operation was called off.  We never learned specifically why.  It may have simply been more activity was occurring on MSR Tampa, the key supply route through the Sunni Triangle, and our main focus, but who knows..

We handed off our operations out in December 2004, leaving another infantry battalion from the Minnesota National Guard in our place.  I know that they continued reconnaissance and security operations around the Muthana site.  I once heard a story that they sustained casualties moving to or from the site from the FOB south of Balad.  If true -- I don't know if it is but I can find out -- this suggests that the enemy came to understand that the complex was an enduring concern for us, such that by tempting our reconnaissance assets, our forces might be baited into making the trip our there, allowing the enemy a chance at an IED ambush. 

The enemy's intent remains unknowable.  What is perfectly clear, however, is that everyone knew that there were chemical weapons out there.  That compound and the threats it housed were important both to us and to the enemy, and it all had to do with these "defunct" munitions.  And just like troop quoted in your article, after hearing about the chemical IED and visiting Muthana, many of us felt that the whole notion of Saddam not having chemical munitions (on the basis that these weapons didn't "count" because they were pre-1991) was stupid and bogus, particularly when a critical threat supposedly being mitigated by the entire operation was that Saddam or his operatives would give "terrorists" these types of munitions for use against civilians.  The chemical IED and subsequent warning put the lie to the notion that such use requires state-of-the-art delivery systems, particularly by assymetric operatives who may not have the sophistication to know (or simply may not care) how unstable that material is.

Along with many of my unit I never understood why the Bush Administration never pointed out the problems that this toxic site posed, and how it verified concerns about Saddam's WMD, as there were few options to keep Saddam from using these unstable chemicals, secured as hey were by weak UNMOVIC locks. The Times and the rest of the WMD deniers know the story now.

Thanks again to Lt Col Vince Heintz, both for the article, and for the success of our tour in Iraq.

17 March 2014

Ten Years After

18 March 2004, 0600

It’s six in the AM, and I’m sitting in my hummer, let me tell
you about my night: No shit there I was, standing completely
naked in the shower, toweling myself dry. The company XO (think
Riker on Star Trek) pokes his head round the door and says:
“Get your gear on I think there’s a raid on, you’re prob’ly goin!”
So I grab my shit and the CO confirms, we’re going out. We prep,
issue an order and roll out at midnight. We’re hunting for two
Iranians and a local sheik with RPG’s who are going to rocket the
largest US camp in our region. Finally a real mission.

It seems some E4 intel, from Baghdad weenie has a CI-snitch who can lead us
right in. So our S2(our own intel weenie, Captain type) calls us
in and w e roll down the main highway doing 100 kph, with these 3
on point. We roll right past the turn-off as described, and in
towards a different village then the one we were shown on the map.
We drive down a dirt road/dyke along side a canal, and then un-
ass our vehicles about three hundred meters up from some little
hamlet. We make a lot more noise than we should as we try to
organize our forces as we move out from the vehicles. About 100
meters along we’re finally straightened out when, SNAP Crackle and
POP!!!!!! Guys are hugging the dirt. Hey some motherf—cker down
there is shooting. More rounds. SSG Yap unloads about 20 rounds
downrange, the CO throws a few down. Some guys are paralyzed


And then we’re taking rounds from the flanks, so SSG Hunt
yells for everyone to get in the canal. Our S2 is so scared he’s
trying to dig through the canal and screaming something about
getting out of here. F---ing REMF! This guy tried to tell the
Col that intel guys are worth 20-40 grunts. Not in a gunfight you
ain’t! Now canal may be an exaggeration. It’s a concrete trench
about two and half feet deep. So now I’m sitting in dirty fucking
water getting shot at from three directions. So glad I just
f—cking showered for this!

“POP SMOKE! Haas move your platoon to the objective. Support by
fire. Byrnes pop an HE round out at the fire on the right flank.


Yours truly lets a 40 mm high explosive round fly from the
launcher below his weapon. The rounds stop flying from the
right. All the rounds stop flying.

“Get ready to move out men!”
“I pissed in my pants.”
“IT’S OK!”

SSG Cross and some other guys think we’re being mortared. Sgt Hallinan has
disclocated his shoulder, but popped it back in himself on the side
of the canal. Guys are crazy. It’s five minutes of total chaos.
We move up I’m standing up chasing the CO down the center of
the trench/canal, nice targets and he’s shorter. We get up on the
town. I pop another HE round, to cover movement and we’re doing
CQB, taking buildings.

In a couple of hours we clear all 7 buildings. We find some AKs and ammo a few women and children huddled in fear in the dark, and no men. SOme men, though, are watching
us from the field, with night vision goggles no less. The S2
pulls himself together (he was “a little shaken up”) and comes up
to search. The snitch and the MI weenie are long gone. The women
tell us they thought we were cattle thieves. A couple of Apache’s
fly overhead cover; after the raid! We get no Iranians, no Sheik,
no rockets! The adrenaline is wearing off and I need to get some

Post Script, 20 March:

All concerned from civilians to Iraqi Soldiers tell us we really were
mistaken for cattle thieves. They’re very sorry!

10 September 2013

Twelve Years After

Twelve years ago, sitting in a classroom in Manhattan, my life changed along with the world.  A female voice behind me interrupted the Professor to announce:

“A Plane just hit the World Trade Center!”

The events of the day as I witnessed them are ingrained in my mind forever.  The view, on the TV in the lobby, of the towers burning, seen as I rushed by.  The gasps from fellow students frozen there as the South Tower collapsed.  Running south on Lexington Ave and finally getting a cab to stop.  Waving my military ID at the driver and insisting he had to take me to my Armory on 25 St. before he left Manhattan. Hearing that the Pentagon had been attacked as well, and beating my fists into my locker in frustration.

I got my first chance at a sense of purpose when my commander realized he had no maps.  It was 11 AM or so and there were still only a handful of us at the Armory.  I found myself running against the human tide forced to walk north out of Lower Manhattan as I headed to the nearest Barnes and Noble on Union Square.  A man looked at me running and said:

“Now I’m really scared!”

The bookstore was closed, but the Soldier banging on the glass got some attention, and the manager promptly handed over every local map they had. No money was exchanged.  I ran the half mile back, moving this time with the crowds.

 At the Armory soldiers were beginning to filter in.  We formed up multiple times under various leader’s instructions.  I remember an active duty Special Forces soldier, home in NY on leave showed up in his Green Beret, because it was all he could think to do.  At one point they called for all trained medics and combat lifesavers (me) to grab our aid bags.  We did.  Then we “stood by.”  Eventually we all realized that most of the survivors were already hospitalized, and the dead were beyond our help.

“Let’s give Blood!”
“We called the hospital and they have donors lined up."

Hurry up and wait.  Finally as night set in we got a mission.  We moved out in buses, headed downtown.  We waited at the City’s Command Post while our commander got our mission.  We posted in four man teams along Canal Street.  We took turns walking down the last mile or so to Ground Zero.  I had been to a war zone before, when I had deployed to Somalia.  Now a war zone had come to my home.

In the morning we went back to the Armory and tried to sleep.

Again the next day was long and frustrating as we once again stood by for instructions.  That night we got a new mission, one we were to keep for almost two weeks.  We deployed shortly before midnight.  This time we were posted as site security right on the ground zero perimeter.  It seems that the FDNY Chief, who was the official incident commander could not keep every Tom, Dick and Harry with a badge or a government ID form just wandering onto a living fire and working rescue/recovery site.

Our job was simple deny access to any and all.  Direct them to sign in at the FDNY tent before accessing the site.  Junior soldiers, unarmed turning away the FBI, CIA, State Police you name it.  The only argument we lost was with the NYPD’s Emergency Service Unit, who were working the site trying to rescue or recover their own.
The memories blur over the next two weeks.  That second night it rained.
“God Hates Me!”  My CO muttered as the down pour began.
“No!” I rebutted “Allah hates you, God loves you.”

Later that night I turned to my closest mates and said:

“We’re going to spend more time than we thought in Uniform in the coming years!”

I remember writing a poem.  I remember going home one night and getting some real sleep.  I remember getting relieved from our midnight to noon shift and having to direct traffic for an hour.  I remember when Sean G, a fireman and one of our Squad Leaders, finally showed up, in his bunker gear, and the relief we all felt.  And Chris Engledrum, also FDNY dropped by to let us know he had made it.  Chris died, three years later, just North of Baghdad.

I remember the smiling young ladies passing out sandwiches, from the Salvation Army, from the Red Cross, from their own kitchens and their own hearts.  I saw NYC Public advocate and recently defeated mayoral candidate Mark Green at an Outback Steakhouse tent giving out food to 1st   responders.

I remember Rudolph Guliani’s inspiring leadership.

I remember crying my eyes out at the funeral for Lt. Mike’s sister who died that day.

I remember the FEMA team from San Francisco, their recovery dogs were spent.  The handler told me fourteen days on the job was their limit after that they got to depressed.   I told her I understood.

I remember the Army Psychologist staring out a window, at Jersey City across the Hudson River and asking me what to do next.  I didn't have an answer for him.

I remember being cheered one day as we marched up Hudson St.

I remember how we all came together.

In twelve years much has changed in America.

27 May 2013

Memorial Day Remarks 2013

The content below was delivered as a speech at the city of High Point, North Carolina's 10th Annual memorial day ceremony.  This year the ceremony was dedicated to a new plaque for the African American soldiers who died in defense of our nation during WWII.

Today is Memorial Day. An old tradition that as an official American holiday began to be first celebrated in 1868.  Begun so that communities could commemorate their OWN fallen, among the hundreds of thousands of young Americans who gave their lives during our bloodiest war. Over time those local memorial services at the end of May grew into a great national tradition.

After over a hundred years of community memorials, the US congress finally acted. In 1967 they federalized the holiday, and one year later it legislated the now familiar ‘last Monday in May’ calendar placement. By the early seventies, all US states recognized the federal holiday.

Somewhere on the order of one million American soldiers have died in the nearly two and a half centuries of our national history. These men and women, define diversity. African Americans whose contribution to the Great Struggle against Fascism abroad during WWII we especially honor today have actually served in all our wars.

Immigrants from all four corners of the globe have served and died in our armed forces. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, have all sacrificed their members, Active, Reserve, National Guard and Militia. Christian, Jew, Atheist, Buddhist, and Muslim; Gay and Straight; Democrat, Republican, Whig and Socialist; liberal, conservative, moderate. There have been restrictions on military service over the years, but our war dead represent every part of our great national constituency.

Among those who have fallen recently are many that I called comrade, friend, or brother. Not blood brothers, but “Band of Brothers;” Chris, Segun, Kevin, Casey, Wil, Mark. are a few of the names that I can’t summon to mind without a lingering sadness. This is the burden of service in our current military. Wherever one’s politics lie, these men and four thousand other Americans who have recently made the ultimate sacrifice deserve our respect and a moment of our time. They deserve a day.

As memorial day weekend begins I think of these brothers. My heart always turns first to Specialist Segun Akintade. Before deployment to Iraq I had served as his team leader. A Nigerian immigrant, an American Citizen by choice and affirmation, his full name was an alphabet soup of Nigerian naming conventions. To those who served with us,  he was and always will be Obi Wan.

He chose America seeing a better life for himself and his family here. He was putting himself through college at NYCCT, in New York. He worked nights at Goldman Sachs in an administrative support position. And out of Pride in his New country and because it made financial sense Obi Wan joined the Army National Guard.

He clearly loved being a soldier. He was tall, athletic, focused. He spoke in a deep fierce voice so thick with accent sometimes he was hard to understand. Deploying to Iraq after witnessing the aftermath of September 11, Segun never quite understood the connection. But as a man who had lived in the developing world he had deep abiding compassion for the people of Iraq.

On October 28 In Mushada Iraq, Segun Akintade was riding in the Turret of his squads hummvee when Iraqi Insurgents detonated an IED. His wounds were devastating, as shrapnel passed under the back of his helmet.

Never the less, two of his battle buddies, both civilian first responders with far better lifesaving skills then most line medics, worked feverishly, though in vain, to save him.

I miss my friend. And every Memorial Day I am in contact with my mates from that deployment.

Today, even in recent conflict, our Army is smaller than it has been in a long time. As we wind down nearly a decade and a half conflict Memorial Day has lost part of its meaning for many Americans. Some thank me, as if today were Veterans Day. But it's not. It's not about those of us who have fought and come home. It's about those who never came back.

It does highlight a significant lingering effect of our all volunteer force. We are in some ways more divided from our society than in past conflicts. Fewer Americans today are Gold Star families. And in some ways that is a good thing. We are fighting with smaller smarter forces. We have soldiers surviving wounds that would have killed them in the past.

We must recognize and work to lessen this divide. These men and women whose bravery and sacrifice we recognize here today, their memories may belong only to their families and their mates, but their honor and their sacrifice belong to all Americans.

Veterans, this divide is not only on civilians, but on us. We need to allow Americans to reconnect to our history, our traditions and our national honor. This weekend when folks thank me for my service, I kindly remind them it's not about me, but our national sacrifice.

16 February 2013

Pet Generals or Warriors?

Americans expect our Generals to be aggressive, especially in a time of war. We want wildcats not housecats, wolves and not lapdogs. Presidents and other civilian leaders tend to prefer politicians in uniform, they want pets not guard dogs.

Very few Generals (and some Admirals too) in American history have found a way of entering immediately into the collective consciousness in a way that leaves no doubt of their ferocity as warfighters. Men like Grant, Sherman, Patton, Halsey MacArthur, Swartzkopf, Petraeus, McChrystal.

Others have proven their combat competence with less flair and flamboyance, George Washington, Phil Sheridan, Omar Bradley, Dwight Eisenhower all winners, and eventually household names. These were leaders, the kind whose warriors would follow them into Hell itself.

There have always been Generals who succeed more as political animals, leading organizations, developing a sterling reputation, but never evolving that fighting persona. George C Marshall and Colin Powell for example, led the military, in time of war, without . Some Generals, like William Westmoreland are haunted by the perception of failure.

Many Americans misunderstand the role of the Joint Chiefs.  They are NOT combat leaders.  They are the policy and administrative commanders of their respective services.  They ensure that the men and women under them are trained and led, and prepared to fight. They also serve as the senior military policy board, and the second senior most National Security policy board (second to the National Security Council).  They are led by the Chief and Vice chief, and the Chief serves as the President's Senior military adviser.  They must however, by law allow the Combatant Commanders (like Centcom) fight our wars.

There policy and advisory role, however is important to our military and to our nations.  Today these chiefs are a mixed bag in terms of Combat Leadership. A few of them Like Martin Dempsey and Ray Odierno have served as Generals in Combat. Some like National Guard Bureau Chief, have never seen combat. They have all shown the talent it takes to gain promotion to their services senior ranks.

The last decade, plus, of strife and combat has produced some Genuine American Hero type Generals, men with a reputation for taking it to the enemy. Petraeus, and McChrystal, along with General John Allen were perceived as warfighters, but have all been troubled by scandal, not for the first time in our history. Marine General James Mattis, and Navy Seal Admiral Bill McRaven heading Centcom and USSOCOM respectively, seem today to be the only real wildcats left in the fight, and it's probably best that they have the two key combatant commands in our current conflict.

Our current Joint Chiefs are largely a collection of house cats or lapdogs. Even the Commandant of The Marines Corps, a job held in esteem by active duty and prior service Marines, as THE Guardian of America's warrior traditions, ethos, and standards, is currently an Aviator. Sure USMC Aviators, like all Marines are grunts first, but isn't there a subtle signal sent when the Marines' Commandant, and representative at the highest levels of government spent his career supporting rather than executing the USMC's core competence of Amphibious Infantry operations?

The Chief of Naval Operations is a Submariner. The Air Force Chief spent the better part of the post 9/11 era in bureaucratic jobs, at The CIA and at training units. When he returned to a warfighting command it was in Europe, not exactly the current hotspot of conflict. National Guard Bureau Chief, Frank Grass served as an Army Engineer, as both a National Guard Officer and a civilian in the Army Corps of Engineers. In spite of an operational tempo that has seen hundreds of thousands of National Guard Soldiers and Airmen deployed to combat General Grass has not served overseas in combat.

The JCS, Chairman Army General Martin Dempsey, may at first glance seem like more of a war dog. He commanded the 1
st Armored Division during a prolonged and heated 13 month deployment to Baghdad in 2003-2004 where his division fought and tactically defeated Muqtada Sadr's Mahdi's Army. After promotion to deputy commander at Centcom, he was allowed to act as Centcom commander when Admiral William Fallon retired from that role. However after only six months under Dempsey, command at Centcom went to Dave Petraeus, and Demspsey was hustled off to head the Army's Training and Doctrine Command. Not exactly an endorsement of his warfighting.

General Odierno the Army's chief of Staff is the one semi-exception.  A division commander in Iraq as well, he is known, in the Army as a hard charging military leader.  More of a Bradley than a Patton, he still holds the respect of his soldiers unlike his immediate predecessors, (including Dempsey who he seems to overshadow during joint public appearances).

Look, it takes an enormous amount of education, dedication, competence and other traits to make to even a one star position in the US Military, there is no doubt that all of our Joint Chiefs, like all the men and women they lead are capable and dedicated public servants, who deserve our respect. One does wonder though why during a time of war, maybe one of our military's top brass has a reputation for killer instinct.

The internal politics, within each service, between them, with the civilians at DOD and at the White House, that determine who is on the JCS are complicated, and hardly transparent. Two things, however are clear. It is certainly is politics that determines who is at that table, and who sits at its head. The politics begin start at those officers careers, in service academies, ROTC programs, and their earliest commands. The second thing: the politics for JCS end at the White House.

The Joint Chiefs serve at the pleasure of the President. They may be recommended by current leaders, and they need to be confirmed by the Senate, but they are nominated by the president. Thus in his role as Commander in Chief the POTUS chooses the men who act as Service Chiefs and as his senior military policy advisers. If we ask why the JCS seem more like lapdogs than war-dogs? The answer is simply that President Obama prefers lapdogs.