No one in history has successfully led a more complex organization than General Eisenhower during the liberation of Europe in 1944-45. That is why I have such high regard for his dictum: “The right organization will not guarantee success, but the wrong organization will guarantee failure.
Even as a very junior officer in Vietnam in the 1960s, it was obvious that the U.S. organizational structure was dysfunctional. General Westmoreland thought he was in charge, the US Ambassador thought he was in charge, the CIA station chief thought he was in charge, and the commander of Pacific forces thought he was in charge. This dysfunctional national security model lasted nearly another two decades—through the failed rescue attempt in Iran, the enormous coordination problems encountered during the invasion of Grenada, and the tragedy at the Marine barracks in Beirut.
On the other hand, the organization that planned and conducted the raid on bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan represents a quantum improvement. For that, we can thank the U.S. Congress (something I don’t frequently do). The executive branch would never have stepped forward to make the necessary organizational changes—in fact, the Chief of Naval Operations called the idea “un-American” —but Congress, in one of its greatest demonstrations of courage and wisdom, gave America the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986.
The Congressional hearings on the Marine barracks disaster revealed that there had been 44 levels of command and staff between the President and the on-scene Marine commander. There were no clear lines of authority, responsibility, and accountability. To say Goldwater-Nichols streamlined the organizational model is a gross understatement. It reduced it from 44 to 4, and provided clear lines of authority, responsibility, and accountability.
Beginning with Just Cause in Panama, closely followed by Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the Arabian Peninsula and all the way through the capture and summary execution of bin Laden, we have testament to the power of proper organizations.
Unfortunately, America’s biodefense organizational structure is far closer to Vietnam than what we witnessed in the termination of bin Laden. Today there are more than two dozen Presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed individuals with some responsibility for biodefense, but no one has it for a full-time job and no one is in charge. This is so troubling because the planning, preparation, and execution of a response to an act of bioterrorism is far more complex than the bin Laden operation, and in some respects, even more complex and time-sensitive than Eisenhower’s European campaign.
We have plenty of examples of the results delivered by dysfunctional organizations and some notable models of success. Will Congress once again demonstrate the courage and wisdom to provide the solution to a critical national security problem, or will it be up to a commission appointed by Congress to examine the disastrous response to an act of bioterrorism?