The Right Woman to Lead the Pentagon
I am not deeply familiar with Michele Flournoy’s record at the Defense Department or with her overall qualifications to be Secretary of Defense, but I know about one aspect of her work as Undersecretary of Defense for Policy that weighs heavily on the plus scale in considering her credentials for that important post.
When a new commander, Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, was sent to Afghanistan in November of 2009 to take charge of the mission of training and organizing Afghan Security Forces, Flournoy told him - very correctly - that the success of his mission was the key to US success in Afghanistan and she didn’t think we were doing it very well. “I’m not sure what it takes to do better, but we must do better and I hope you will tell me what we need to do.”
In fact, the training mission was on the brink of failure. In the previous month, more personnel had left the Afghan Security Forces than had joined it. Caldwell was given only 1,200 US personnel under his command, whereas he quickly concluded that the minimum requirement was for 3-4,000. But coming just months after a surge of combat troops, his requests for trainer support fell on deaf ears.
The story might have ended there. But fortunately, Flournoy kept her finger on the pulse of “the details” and - working with Caldwell and other military officers - was able to get the Pentagon to move with a speed that is rare in a place that is affectionately dubbed “the five-sided puzzle palace” by those who work in it. Admiral Mike Mullen, then the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, directed that the next battalion arriving in Afghanistan be reassigned from a combat mission to a training mission.
Over the next two years, under Caldwell’s leadership and with Flournoy’s strong support, Afghan Security Forces grew from just under 200,000 to 305,000 when Caldwell left and reached 352,000 this October.