Rep. Dan Daneil(D-Va.), chairman of the readiness subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, is making trouble, and a good thing, too. Like everybody else, he was deeply shaken by the military's performance in the Iran rescue mission and the Grenada invasion. The services were given separate pieces of the action, but could not put their pieces together effectively. Command was fractured, and as a result lives were lost and the mission encumbered. Mr. Daniel bounced several possible remedies off the Pentagon, got no adequate response, and is now working up an idea of his own.
His subcommittee is considering legislation in effect to break off a part of the Pentagon -- the part devoted to antiterrorism and counterinsurgency missions, among others -- and to set it up as a separate entity. He would take the Army's Delta Force and Green Berets, the Navy's Seals and some Army and Air Force air units, detach them from their home services and park them in a new unified command (a Defense Special Operations Agency) under a single civilian chief reporting directly to the secretary of defense. The idea would be to have special forces that worked right.
The town's many astute students and passionate defenders of military turf will tell you instantly what's wrong with this plan. It's a legislative (translation: congressionally coerced) solution. It deals with just part of a much larger problem of military organization. It treats as a separate function special operations that should not be divorced from regular structures and operations. It solves one dilemma of command and control by creating another. It ignores the requirement of strong military leadership. And so on. It would be nice to have a dollar for every memo that is going to be written to throttle this proposal in the crib.
The services are eager to retain, if they cannot expand, their separate missions, and they are always leery of new proposals (the Carter-era Rapid Deployment Force, for instance) that threaten their familiar turf. But Mr. Daniel has zeroed in on a situation that everyone bemoans and no one will grasp. If the Pentagon is going to resist his proposal, it comes under a burden to offer a better one. If it's not politically feasible to set up a special organization crossing over service lines, then these forces must be lodged securely under some kind of a single roof. In Beirut, there were six layers of command. The commander on the ground literally did not know whom he was reporting to. Mr. Daniel is right in believing this is not tolerable.