Small Wars Journal

Changed by Iraq, Military Asks What Will Stick

Changed by Iraq, Military Asks What Will Stick by Julian Barnes, Wall Street Journal.

The U.S. military left Iraq in December with new technologies that are likely to change the shape of future wars. But some of the skills developed alongside are in danger of falling away, several people throughout the ranks worry.

Ten years ago, the U.S. military was firmly under the control of the generals. It was steeply hierarchical, slow to evolve and squarely focused on "big wars" between armies of opposing nations.

A decade of painstaking, often painful lessons resulted in a military that is in many ways fleeter and more adaptable. It is also flatter: The generals are still in charge, but Iraq and Afghanistan showed that independent thinking by low-level captains and lieutenants is also critical to success...


G Martin

Mon, 01/02/2012 - 12:23pm

In reply to by gian gentile

I often wonder if our Army is successful (mainly at the tactical level) and adaptable IN SPITE of our doctrine/culture/structure/training/leadership. Every now and then when I get especially cynical and discouraged, a quick trip down to visit the E-4s through WO3s in our organization make me think there is still some of the WWII citizen soldier culture made famous by the Soviet adage:

<em>"One of the serious problems in planning against American doctrine is that the Americans do not read their manuals nor do they feel any obligations to follow their doctrine."</em>

So, when faced with the decision to prioritize limited training time, one might want to stick with the kind of operations that, if bad in, one will lose the most soldiers in (i.e.- conventional operations). Either way we can- and have- relied on our Army's ability- coming natural from our countrymen's culture- of being highly adaptable due to the untrusting nature of top-down directives and guidance...

This makes it look like we adjust quickly when faced with assymetrical threats- when, however, the truth is that you can throw a group of Americans at almost any problem- and they will ignore what they are told to do and figure out a solution on their own. The only problem with doing that in a conventional war is that an army can lose an awful lot of folks in a conventional war mighty quickly.

gian gentile

Sat, 12/31/2011 - 5:26pm

Since i am not a subscriber to WSJ I could not get past the pay-wall. However, reading the intro to the piece posted by DD this article seems to be just like the NPR piece that came out a few weeks ago. Or in another words, more Coindinista learning-and-adapting shtick. You know the trope, big stupid army that only focused on conventional wars slowly but surely learned and adapted to Coin (energized by the coin experts, 3-24, the Surge, and savior generals). Now as the narrative goes the army is in danger of losing these hard won skills.

Hokum I say. In fact it was a conventionally trained, combined arms army that was the basis for its ability to learn and adapt in Iraq from the start, and not in February 2007.

Moreover this WSJ article posits that the army is "more adaptable" now than before to which i add double hokum. In fact because the army's combined arms skills have atrophied due to doing almost nothing but coin, we are much less adaptable than we were 10 years ago.

Lastly the piece said this: that in Iraq and Astan the "independent thinking by low-level captains and lieutenants is also critical to success...", thus implying that in other types of war that kind of thinking for lts and captains is less important, to which i argue hokum for the third time. Go read Glover Johns's classic "Clay Pigeons of St. Lo" and tell me if independent thinking wasn’t important for junior officers.

Gosh I wonder when these journos are going to start with some really critical reporting on these matters instead of regurgitating the stock learning-coin narrative.



Sat, 12/31/2011 - 5:23pm

Don't worry, all that "independent think" by junior leaders is ending. Unless something erupts somewhere, we are 90% of the way back to a garrison military that fields a number of GOs comparable to WWII, with about 25% of the troop count.

Most of the senior leaders have merely been transplanting their garrison ways overseas for their rotations. They will not change, and the majority didn't change at all during the past ten years.

So, I would not look for the military to show signs of some great epiphany. Just isn't going to happen.