This is progress?

I said it about today's Army; it applies to today's Marines as well. The U.S. land forces are "second generation" Civil War armies

... committed to "alignment, synchronicity, spatial management, and the micromanagement of undertrained subordinates" and all new technology is put at the service of these values.
In terms of tactics, this second generation warfare culture is committed to the artillery (or air power) destroying and the infantry occupying as it was in the days of Verdun. Under our current WWI/2GW approach, moreover, the infantry is a 19th Century militia in terms of capability, reliability, and fragility*. It polices the streets, it occupies bombed terrain, it awaits the foe behind earthworks, it is never out of supporting range. Unlike 19th Century militia, however, it is rarely entrusted with live ammunition or discretion in using it.

Now, columnist William Lind notes a certain Marine general is promoting "distributed operations." He concludes that what is meant is operating as classic light infantry. He quotes his general as saying that in distributed operations
"... general purpose forces, operating with deliberate dispersion, where necessary and tactically prudent, and decentralized decision-making consistent with commander's intent to achieve advantages over an enemy in time and space. Distributed operations relies on the ability and judgment of Marines at every level..."
This does not point to a return to older light infantry doctrines to me but to temporary suspension of the requirements of strict control at the highest levels and synchronicity with all surrounding forces. Problem: under current norms, "decentralized decision-making" could mean that full colonels should boss tiny squads instead of generals bossing them. Look at the quote with my additions:
"... general purpose forces [infantry], operating with deliberate dispersion [patrols, pickets, outposts, ambushes, recon], where necessary and tactically prudent [temporarily permitted by the brass], and [exercising] decentralized decision-making consistent with commander's intent to achieve advantages over an enemy in time and space [not letting the enemy get away while awaiting approval to shoot]. Distributed operations relies on the ability and judgment of Marines at every level..." [Not just the Pentagon level.]
Is this even a tiny step forward out of the 19th Century or is it random noise?

One of the many failures of American generalship as it stands now is a complete breakdown of the concept of hierarchical work. In the Civil War, a mass levy of amateurs needed pro guidance in realtime down to the squad level. The colonel was operating in near-real-time and depended on his real-time company-grade officers to run things. The modern mode is to use technology to insert the genius of generals into platoon operations. Martin Börjesson recaps this in non-military terms, but the point stands:

Focus on Quality - a time span of 1 day - 3 months
Focus on Service - a time span of 3 months - 1 year
Focus on Praxis - a time span of 1 - 2 years
Focus on Strategy - a time span of 2 - 5 years
Focus on Intent - a time span of 5 - 10 years

You might substitute for the first item, focus on tactical operations and take the metaphor from there. The point is that time horizons change as one ascends the hierarchy and assumes different responsibilities.

The mania for control at the general officer level is sometimes attributed to pathological risk aversion - the events of but a day during a two-year tour of duty could spoil a career. Each day bears close watching!

And this is where the system breaks down - in the temporal realm. As Martin writes, "at this level of work [proper level for say the general officer's level] we have almost completely left the realm of managing the current and entered into the realm of steering into the future – a place without either feedback, right or wrong. Instead this realm is full of theories, models and ideas." Our generals reject that realm.

Work not being hierarchically organized, the wrong centers are expending the wrong effort in the wrong places. Lind's general is proposing a loosening of puppet strings that works against every general's perceived self-interest (career), every general's temporal sense (now!), and every general's rejection of the responsibility inherent in hierarchical divisions of labor.

Our 19th Century military shall therefore continue to march on the route selected.

* Fragility or brittleness refers to a threshold, expressed in stress or casualties, where the cohesion of a unit breaks down and it becomes ineffective. The less brittle or less fragile units will break up under stress later rather than sooner.