Small Wars Journal

Bound by War in Iraq, Three Generals Reconvene in the Situation Room

Bound by War in Iraq, Three Generals Reconvene in the Situation Room by Peter Baker and Eric Schmitt, New York Times

At one point or another, they each strode the sands of Iraq, fighting on the unforgiving battlefield of America’s costliest war since Vietnam. Now all three will sit around the table in the White House Situation Room, steering a new president through the treacherous crosscurrents of a stormy world.

President Trump’s appointment of H. R. McMaster, an Army lieutenant general, as his new national security adviser creates a powerful troika of senior officers who served in Iraq, teaming him up with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and John F. Kelly, the secretary of homeland security, both retired four-star Marine generals. This administration is the first to have all three security jobs filled by senior military veterans at the same time.

The ascension of the three generals to political jobs at the National Security Council reflects the rise of a generation of military leaders that came of age during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that began after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Each officer saw up close what a losing war looked like and took away lessons about how to avoid repeating fatal mistakes. Each got to where he is today in part by bucking the military hierarchy.

“This generation of generals lived through some of the struggles, especially in the ’04, ’05, ’06 time frame in Iraq when we weren’t doing things right,” said Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, an Army veteran who served in Iraq. “They understand that security and military force are the pre-eminent requirement, but it’s not sufficient. This generation of generals who grew up in the Iraq war probably understands that more than any previous generation.” …

Read on.


Bill C.

Thu, 02/23/2017 - 10:57am

A summary of what I believe to be the "lessons learned" by these three generals -- post-the Old Cold War:

Bottom Line:

By the U.S./the West's winning of the Old Cold War, the basic character of war DID NOT, in fact, change.

This because, post-the Old Cold War, such things as "universal western values," the "overwhelming appeal of our way of life" and "the end of history" -- these did not, in fact, become manifest.

Thus, because of this such failure:

a. Great state/great nation cooperation did not become manifest. (The First Gulf War such instance of great nation cooperation turning out to be an anomaly -- rather than an indication of a "New World Order.") Because of this such failure (of "universal western values," etc.):

b. It would still take -- as GEN Shinseki told us -- "several hundreds of thousands of troops" (and a tremendous and open-ended nation-building effort?) to secure such places as Iraq, Afghanistan, etc., following "regime change." Likewise because of this such failure:

c. The "Revolution in Military Affairs" (RMA) could not help us. (RMA was not designed to, nor does it deal with, the rejection by a population of our unusual and unique way of life, our unusual and unique way of governance and our, thus, often alien and profane values, attitudes and beliefs.)

Thus, post-the Old Cold War, and specifically because of the failure of such things as "universal western values," etc., the "basic character of war" did not change.

This, especially, given the fact that the U.S./the West believes that -- only by transforming outlying states and societies more along modern western political, economic, social and value lines -- only in this way can the U.S./the West achieve its national security interests; today and going forward.

("Resistance," thus, by both great nations and small, and by both state and non-state actors, to such a U.S./Western-desired and oriented "New World Order; this being, in fact, [a] the "Old World Order" of our current existence and, thus, [b] the very reason why the "basic character of war" has not changed?)

THESE being the sad, sad lessons of the post-Old Cold War; lessons that our three generals have had to, of late, learn the very hard way?

Bill C.

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 10:59am

Question: And what, might we say, did Iraq (and Afghanistan) teach these three generals?

Answer: That both the American people, and American leadership, must understand that the U.S. military -- and indeed our "whole of government" -- needs to focus, not less, but indeed more, on (a) "nation-building" generally and, specifically, (b) the transformation of outlying states and societies more along modern western lines; this, to be achieved (a) before "combat" if at all possible but (b) after "combat" if such becomes necessary. (Herein, such things as RMA being of little or no use to us?)

In this regard, consider the following from LTG McMaster recently:


These conceits complicated efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq as unrealistic and underdeveloped war plans confronted unanticipated and underappreciated political realities. In particular, coalition forces failed to consider adequately how to consolidate military gains in the wake of the collapse of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the Hussein regime in Iraq. In Afghanistan, after proxy forces helped topple the Taliban regime, those forces and their leaders undermined state-building efforts. Mujahideen-era militias pursued narrow agendas and competed for power and resources within nascent institutions. In Iraq, policies that exacerbated the fears of the minority Sunni Arab and Turkmen populations strengthened the insurgency as Shia Islamist militias and Iranian proxies subverted the government and security forces. In both Afghanistan and Iraq, political competition for power, resources, and survival drove violence and weakened institutions critical to the survival of the state.

With these lessons in mind, the recently published U.S. Army Operating Concept (AOC) observes that “compelling sustainable outcomes in war requires land forces to defeat enemy organizations, establish security, and consolidate gains.” Army forces are prepared to reinforce and integrate the efforts of partners as a fundamental part of campaign design. Military professionals should be particularly skeptical of ideas and concepts that divorce war from its political nature and promise fast, cheap, and efficient victories through the application of advanced military technologies.


Question: With this realization in mind -- to wit: that, following "combat," the U.S. military must be prepared to achieve, via "nation-building," our enduring political objective, to wit: the transformation of outlying states and societies more along modern western lines; given this realization, where and how does this fit into President Trumps' statement that "we’re getting out of the nation-building business and instead focusing on creating stability in the world"?…

Answer: It doesn't. Thus, expect these generals to -- not "blow smoke" -- but, instead, tell the President the ridiculousness of and/or the underlying error in his such thinking.

Herein, to see these generals explaining to the President that in order to (a) "create stability in the world," this will require that the U.S./the West (b) actually redouble its "nation-building" efforts:

a. Before major combat if possible (in this regard, see such things as our WOG "preemptive national security strategy" and corresponding "security force assistance units" and "Phase Zero" operations).

b. Or, following major combat operations -- if major combat operations become necessary.

Bottom Line:

We both decided to go to war, and indeed went to war, thinking that, post-our winning of the Old Cold War, the basic character of war had changed; this, due to such things as "universal western values," "the overwhelming appeal of our way of life" and "the end of history." Now we know this such thinking was terribly wrong. As McMaster "hammers down" in his thoughts above.

Thus, given these "the basic character of war HAS NOT changed post-the Old Cold War" lessons -- that these generals learned via Iraq and Afghanistan -- expect these generals to "square the President away" and, thus, dispel his notion that he can achieve "stability" in some manner other than "nation-building" (preferably before, but certainly after "combat"); this such nation-building to be accomplished, as always for the U.S./the West, more along modern western political, economic, social and value lines.

Expect, thus, these generals to "speak truth to power" -- and expect that what they will say, in this regard, will be as I have suggested above. To wit: the need to -- not step back from -- but indeed redouble -- our "nation-building" efforts?