Small Wars Journal

JFQ - Point - Counterpoint - SWJ Early Exclusive

Colonel David Gurney (USMC Ret.), Editor of Joint Force Quarterly and Director of National Defense University Press, has been closely following the debate between John Nagl and Gian Gentile and our guest commentators here on Small Wars Journal. For SWJ newcomers or the uninitiated - this debate has centered on the kinds of threats the U.S. will face in the period ahead and how U.S. ground forces should prepare for those threats.

Colonel Gurney has kindly -- and we greatly appreciate this -- granted SWJ permission to post a Nagl-Gentile "point-counterpoint" that will appear in the January 2009 issue of JFQ.

Without further ado here it is:

POINT: Let's Win the Wars We're In by John Nagl

A stunning if predictable development in the military community over the past 2 years has been the backlash against the promulgation of counterinsurgency learning in the midst of the ongoing campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. These wars have spurred long-overdue changes in the way the U.S. military prepares for and prioritizes irregular warfare. These changes are hard-won: they have been achieved only after years of wartime trials and tribulations that have cost the United States dearly in money, materiel, and the lives of its courageous Service-members.

Yet despite the relatively tentative nature of such changes, there are already those who predict grim strategic outcomes for America if its military, particularly the Army, continues the process of adaptation. Gian Gentile, the vocal Army critic of counterinsurgency adaptation, has written that a "hyper-emphasis on counterinsurgency puts the American Army in a perilous condition. Its ability to fight wars consisting of head-on battles using tanks and mechanized infantry is in danger of atrophy." He is not alone in his views. Three brigade commanders in the Iraq War wrote a white paper warning about the degradation of seldom used field artillery, declaring that the Army is "mortgaging [its] ability to fight the next war" by neglecting the requirements for combined arms operations. The Army Secretary, Pete Geren, and Chief of Staff, General George Casey, both assert that the Army is "out of balance" in part because of "a focus on training for counterinsurgency operations to the exclusion of other capabilities." Prominent civilian thinkers in the academic community have presented similar arguments. With such dire warnings, one might forget that there's a war on right now...

Lieutenant Colonel John A. Nagl, USA (Ret.), is a Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security.

COUNTERPOINT: Let's Build an Army to Win All Wars by Gian Gentile

The U.S. Army officer corps has not seriously debated the content of the many doctrinal field manuals (FM) published over the past 2 years (for example, FM 3--24, Counterinsurgency, FM 3--0, Operations, and FM 3--07, Stability Operations and Support Operations). Though these manuals have been successfully pushed through the bureaucratic lines of the Army's senior leadership, few other officers raised questions about the wisdom of employing American military power to build nations where none exist or where an American military presence is not wanted. Instead, the Army has been steamrolled by a process that proposes its use as an instrument of nationbuilding in the most unstable parts of the world. Nationbuilding, rather than fighting, has become the core function of the U.S. Army.

The Army under the Petraeus Doctrine "is entering into an era in which armed conflict will be protracted, ambiguous, and continuous - with the application of force becoming a lesser part of the soldier's repertoire." The implication of this doctrine is that the Army should be transformed into a light infantry-based constabulary force designed to police the world's endless numbers of unstable areas. The concept rests on the assumption that the much- touted "surge" in Iraq was a successful feat of arms, an assertion that despite the claims of punditry supporters in the press has yet to be proven. The war in Iraq is not yet over...

Colonel Gian P. Gentile, USA, is Director of the Military History Program at the United States Military Academy.

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