Small Wars Journal

Is Foggy Bottom Ready for Irregular Warfare?

Is Foggy Bottom Ready for Irregular Warfare? - Robert Haddick, The American

This decade the U.S. military, led by its mid-ranking and junior leaders, has adapted to the demands of irregular warfare. It has thus renewed centuries of American tradition. Now American statesmen must show similar powers of adaptation.

Why has the United States had so much trouble in Iraq and Afghanistan? When U.S. statesmen look at a map, they see national borders and think about their political counterparts in other nation-states. When today's American soldiers look at a map, they see an abstract watercolor of tribal territories, which often run over political boundaries long ignored by the tribal combatants.

After years of trial and error, U.S. soldiers in the field now know how to cooperate on common goals with tribes and local leaders—the pacification of Iraq's Anbar Province through the tribal Awakening movement is the most notable recent example of this. But the United States has encountered hostility when it has attempted to enforce a top-down nation-state model on un—tribes and local leaders—the growing insurgency in Afghanistan is evidence of this. In fact, traditional resistance to central national authority is what has caused the chaotic regions the United States has found itself in to be chaotic in the first place.

Top-level U.S. statesmen are loath to give up on the nation-state system, which is the foundation for so much of international law and diplomacy, and the basis by which U.S. statesmen do their work. Yet American soldiers have learned from hard experience how to succeed in the parts of the world that continue to function on a tribal basis. U.S. statesmen need to catch up in their thinking to where U.S. soldiers already are. Once they do, the United States will have an easier time achieving its national security objectives...

Much more at The American. Robert Haddick is managing editor of Small Wars Journal, writes SWJ's weekly column at Foreign Policy, and is a former U.S. Marine Corps officer.


Granten (not verified)

Thu, 08/06/2009 - 6:07pm

A problem with abandoning the nation-state model is that we have almost no reference on how to deal with something under it. I agree that the model seems outdated, but I haven't the faintest idea of what can be used in its place.