Small Wars Journal

SWC Discussion: The Best Trained, Most Professional Military... Just Lost Two Wars?

Small Wars Council discussion: The Best Trained, Most Professional Military... Just Lost Two Wars? Register, and have at it, professionally of course.



Sun, 11/11/2012 - 9:16am

The funny thing about the military losing two wars is, these wars were in fact, law enforcement and intelligence based wars. When you are dealing with criminals/insurgents the best people to handle these situations are the police and intelligence agencies. The military does not have the experience with conducting penetration operations, running sources,(HUMINT/CRIMINT) into these criminal groups. The whole Counter IED thing should be handled like a narcotics investigation. The military does not have the expertise. The strategy is still the same deter, disrupt and dismantle.

Also, using a failed strategies such as static check points for the police. The police are the focal point of the counter insurgency, yet the military makes checkpoints on the road away from the people.
The role of the police is to protect the people, investigate crimes and criminals and arrest them. The police are not a fighting force and should not be used as one. It's like this, the wolf= Taliban/insugents,
sheepdog = police,sheep = citizens.

The military has pulled the sheepdog away from the sheep, and placed the sheepdog in checkpoints on the road away from the sheep. Therefore, the wolf can devour the sheep and have their way with the sheep. The sheep
have no protection. If the military was smart, they would put the checkpoints near the villages. Then the police could conduct their community oriented policing,gather information about the enemy, and conduct their operations based upon that information.

The reason the police have a greater success at this is they conduct these type of operations all the time around the world. The police work off of human nature. This is a social science. The military says it's due to cultural differences. If that's the case then Sun Tzu and his book the Art of War written thousands of years ago wouldn't apply to what's going on today, when it comes to using spies. Also, the Bible written long before the Art of War used spies in the Old Testament to gather information and mount attacks. The game doesn't change, only the players do.

The author is a former Metropolitan Police Department Washington DC Police officer with 16 years of experience. He was also former Police advisor/Mentor to the Afghan National Police for two years, assigned to Special Operations Task Force South. He was there to train, mentor and advise the Afghan National Police on Rule of Law, Criminal Intelligence,and tactics. The author is also a Masters candidate in a National Security Studies program.


Fri, 11/09/2012 - 5:57am

Rather than a question of winning and losing in Afghanistan I believe it is more productive to consider the last 12 years as the end of the COIN phase and now is the beginning of the FID phase. The Big Army with all its hardware and officer corps has done the Conventional War job and now the ‘Small Army’ with its NCOs will do the Unconventional War job.

However I believe it is critical to appreciate that UW in the Third World is very different to the UW in the First World and as such the organisation/deployment needs to be different. In the Third World a mission must be 5 years – basically you are there working with the same people in the same place for five years with a month's annual leave. In Afghanistan as in any Third World country it takes two years to ‘get it’. For the first two years as far as the locals are concerned you are an idiot. No matter how intelligent, dedicated, well trained, wealthy, culturally aware or fluent in the language you are still considered an idiot.

After two years there is a rapid transformation as to how you are perceived by the natives. Very quickly you find you are trusted as a person and your judgement is considered worth listening to. You then get two more years to establish something of value and in the final year of your mission you transition the mission over to the natives or the next FID team.

You get a year off to decide whether you want another five year mission. Do four missions and you retire a WO and a pension and not much else.

This will put a stop to the careerist with stars in his eyes having to make his mark in six to twelve months and driving everyone crazy. A few token Majors floating about the place probably won’t do any harm but a flattening of the chain of command will put an end to the micro-management problem as NCOs tend to know better than to ‘manage’ other NCOs (if they value their front teeth). Moreover the comms revolution which was always a major headache back in the day will boost the effort as fellow NCOs from everywhere can chew the fat in-country rather than wait to get back in some bar whilst on R&R.

As Dr D J Katz pointed out in his piece… - if after a year’s break you choose another mission in a different region or some other part of the country (say Kunar to Paktia) you go back to being an idiot for two years. The big difference will be you recognize that being an idiot is perfectly understandable but on the other hand your previous mission/s will have established a more effective response from the ‘Small Army’ support structure once you and your hosts get rolling.

Some folks may insist a five year mission in the Third World in the same place will stop the right type of person signing on. I believe the opposite will be the case. At the end of the day if you need more ‘intelligent' or 'qualified’ people to establish industry, health, governance etc there are plenty of civilians who can do this better than the military. However no matter how developed or peaceful the location may become - for at least 5 years - the ODA NCOs will be the final word when a foreigner is asked to make a decision.

Obviously many good people whom the military needs would not consider retiring as a WO with 25 years service as much of a career – that’s fine - join the GPF, the Navy or the Air Farce. Many commentators here say Western militaries can’t do counter-insurgency – I disagree it just needs the same people to stay put in the same place for longer than they currently do. The West & particularly the US need to get back to the pre-Vietnam Army attitude wherein when a NCO suggested a particular individual would make ‘good officer material’ – he wasn’t being complimentary.

Bombs Away,

Bill C.

Tue, 11/06/2012 - 12:14pm

If "winning wars," as Dayuhan suggests, means achieving one's policy objectives,

And if our policy objectives can be summed up as transforming those lesser and remaining "outlier" states and societies along modern western lines; this, so as to provide that these entities might:

a. Come to cause the United States, the modern world and the global economy fewer problems and

b. Come to provide the United States, the modern world and the global economy with greater usefulness and utility instead,

Then could we honestly say that it is much too early to suggest that we have either "won" or "lost" this war/these wars?

Much as it would have been much too early to suggest that we had either won or lost the Cold War immediately after the Korean and/or Vietnam conflicts?

(Herein, I might note that our overall policy objective during the Cold War -- and our overarching policy objective again today -- would seem to be the same, to wit: the transformation of outlier states and societies along modern western lines. The difference being that, while yesterday our effort was directed primarily at transforming the deviant great powers [mission now largely accomplished], today our efforts are directed more toward transforming those lesser and remaining states and societies who are not organized, ordered, oriented and configured along modern western lines.)

Thus, can one loose some battles (for example: Vietnam) and still win the war (example: the Cold War)?

Lesson here for how to proceed?


Thu, 11/08/2012 - 2:54am

In reply to by Move Forward

I don't think there was ever a relevant analogy between Germany or Japan and Iraq or Afghanistan. The extent to which Iraqi Shi'a would be involved with Iran may not have been foreseen, though it was in no way implausible, but it was pretty clear that the potential for ethnic/sectarian conflict in both Iraq and Afghanistan was extremely high. In Iraq it was fairly obvious that in a post-Saddam order the Kurds would want autonomy at the least, the Shi'a would want power, and the Sunni would see a Shi'a ascendancy as a potentially existential threat. All of this was eminently predictable.

I don't think it's inappropriate to use military forces and resources for pure post-conflict reconstruction work, meaning repairing or replacing what was damaged or destroyed in the course of conflict. Asking them to conduct economic or political development work is another thing altogether. Overall I believe that the utility of development projects in COIN is much overrated: the premise that if we build a bunch of stuff they will like us and stop fighting was always tenuous at best and hasn't really stood up to the test of time.

I recall looking on in absolute astonishment during the lead-in to the Iraq war as grown men and women in positions of responsibility spoke blithely of "installing a democracy" in Iraq. The question to me is not how to pursue such goals "right", but whether we should be pursuing them at all. The entire premise of "nation-building", particularly at gunpoint, seems to me too fundamentally flawed to be worth pursuing.

Move Forward

Tue, 11/06/2012 - 10:16pm

In reply to by Dayuhan

Insightful comments as usual Dayuhan, but I suspect nobody believed that Iraqi Shi’ite Arabs would side as much as they have with Iranian "Persians" when the invasion decision was made. Believe it was all about Hussein, the worry of WMD (that Hussein promulgated to scare us and Iranians off), and the need to end the stalemate of the no-fly zone and non-functioning oil for food sanctions.

During WWII, we firebombed Japan and Germany, arguably causing more civilian casualties than Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After WWII, I wager that the total troops on the ground for stability ops and rebuilding far surpassed that in Iraq and Afghanistan per square mile of coverage area and relative to the surviving military age male population count. It seems clear we will never revisit carpet bombing or similar numbers on the ground for stability operations in future conflicts.

That means doing it smarter, but not to the extent that we are dumb about it and ask SOF to do too much, or the state department and USAID to do too little with inadequate security. The military can do it smarter by locating multiple COPs and FOBs near populations and using high tech tools and sensors to safeguard the relatively smaller military element. The military has route clearance packages and mine-sweeping equipment and dogs. Does USAID or the State Department? In theory, aerostats, sensor towers, and UAS plus inadequately fielded ground sensors should allow us to watch any area where foot Soldiers/Marines patrol so that we are not asking dismounts to walk through minefields just for the sake of patrolling and securing the population.

If relying exclusively on honesty traces so that infantry do not retrace the same ground, are they able to see the same crucial areas? If infantry do choose to walk or drive through the same crucial areas where IEDs subsequently will be laid, don’t they enhance risk that those same IEDs will kill civilians? Perhaps the first effort of stability operations must be securing main supply routes with COPs every few kms and constructing bypass roads around towns so they can be surveilled and will only be used by military traffic and adjacent foot patrols under the watchful eye of sensors. How would USAID or State Department civilians secure routes and populations and their own rebuilding efforts?

Benghazi and Libya are less an indictment of our military response following the attacks and more an indication that distant civil, CIA, and State Department folks <strong>hoped</strong> they had sufficient security, and terrorists would not act like terrorists. Hope is not a plan. In theory, the State Department had CIA and all kinds of national intelligence and there was no shortage of indications from earlier attacks that a problem existed. But when the state department, USAID, NGOs, etc are pushing a kumbaya agenda and want to avoid offending the host nation, they may overlook or ignore obvious indicators like earlier attacks. Would the GPF or SOF ignore such indications and wouldn't they be more likely to have local intelligence rather than just high level and technical eyes that often miss things?

Hope is not a plan in diplomacy or rebuilding efforts either and neither can occur overseen primarily from big cities like Kabul and Baghdad exclusively. Only Soldiers/Marines and PRT types seem willing to get out on the ground with regularity, live adjacent to populations to supervise rebuilding and provide civilians diplomats, civil affairs, and similar types a safe place to spend many nights. Am I wrong? I’ve never been there but we all see civil sector reports originating from Kabul, the Green Zone, or Islamabad citing numbers of attacks, success of projects, and civilian casualties. How accurate are hearsay reports relying on the word of locals who may have an agenda?

How do the state department, USAID, and contractors preclude graft and theft of US funds if we simply divert reconstruction funds from the military to civilians...who are more likely to stay in large urban centers far from the reconstruction? Do we task organize civilians with military at COPs instead of FOBs? How many state department, contractors, or USAID types would volunteer to do that and at what much costlier price?

Agreed that there perhaps should be less build emphasis in COIN because unsure anyone can stop the graft. But surely the military can do it safer than the civil sector. Deployable Army Corps of Engineers (but even they are just supervising contractors who are not getting shot at or kidnapped stateside)?


Tue, 11/06/2012 - 7:28pm

In reply to by Move Forward

Can't really agree with this:

<i>First, we were not building or transforming Iraq other than removing Hussein (and minority Sunnis from power) </i>

Removing the Sunni from power, and the attempt to create a structure that would balance Sunni, Kurd, and Shi'a, amounted to a complete transformation of Iraqi political life along lines specified by the US. The attempt to "install" a government recognizable to Americans as "democracy" in Afghanistan is in the same category.

Of course the military has functions in a stabilization or state-building effort, mainly in providing security and in training/equipping host country military forces. The far greater problems of economic and political restructuring are far outside the military's expertise. Because no civilian capacity for these functions exists, the military gets handed the responsibility, and predictably makes a mess of it. That's not their fault, it's just what happens when you order people to manage situations they are not trained or equipped to manage.

If we insist on taking on these missions - and I see no reason why we should - we need to develop a specialized civilian capacity for carrying them out. In the absence of that capacity, and in the absence of any clear and compelling need to be building far away nations to our own specifications, we might ask if we should really be taking on tasks we aren't prepared to address.

Move Forward

Mon, 11/05/2012 - 5:30pm

<blockquote>If the US really wants to go around building nations and transforming states, we need to develop a specialized capacity targeting those functions. Asking the military to do it clearly isn't going to work. </blockquote>

As always, many interesting comments. Perhaps the conversation missed some key issues: unavoidable stability operations, general purpose force (GPF) wide area security strengths…and we are not losing two wars just because a blog says so. It may be correct that we could get away with less <strong>build</strong> and GPF diplomacy, but “clear” and “hold” remain relevant during stability operations that are virtually essential these days to cement any gains made.

First, we were not building or transforming Iraq other than removing Hussein (and minority Sunnis from power) and any perceived WMD threat by a proven user thereof. We were stabilizing Iraq afterwards…which SOF, the Navy, and Air Force could never have accomplished after the destructive phases finished. In fact, the latter two services and EBO and AirSea Battle concepts would guarantee instability and more infrastructure to rebuild. As in restorations of Japan and Europe, the Army and Marines restored Iraq’s existing infrastructure to include that related to one of the world’s largest oil producers. If not obvious, we could not be sanctioning Iranian oil shipments if Iraqi oil was also being sanctioned. It also should be noted that Sunni-Shia-Kurd conflicts drove much of the Iraq insurgencies hindering stability and restoration.

In Afghanistan, any coalition nation-building avoided appearances of an occupation, but also was hindered by different ethnicity struggles for power. Simply sending the Taliban and al Qaeda to Pakistan or incognito solved no long term discord of the multi-ethnic and multi-tribal nation with extensive criminality thrown in for good measure. The remote location of the terrorist training areas, lack of airspace access, and sanctuaries in nuclear Pakistan all continued to pose a long term terror problem that the satisfying destruction following 9/11 did not end.

If we had left in 2003, we would be relying on cruise missiles, bin Laden would be alive along with many other key al Qaeda and Taliban leaders who would still be training and planning unopposed attacks. AfPak has far less access to air and seapower than other coastal terror states and it is utopian to believe if we had left prematurely then, or withdraw entirely now without any lethal options that the terror problem originating from that area would end.

The ANSF would not have been prepared had we left prematurely and it is doubtful that SOF alone could have trained so many ANSF forces with relatively few SOF forces facing 28 million Afghans. Short SOF deployments are another issue since many often cite OEF as 11 separate one-year wars (many under-resourced due to Iraq). Add shorter SOF tours exclusively and what is the result? Are there 22 or more separate wars and commander agendas covering too large an area at too great a risk of massed insurgent attack or hidden insurgent sanctuary that too few SOF cannot cover?

If we wage wars on terror or other conflicts using both land component GPF and SOF, a synergy results, and we divert terrorist or rogue nation attention to an armed and protected coalition that kills many terrorists before they or their surrogates threaten unarmed loved ones in Europe and the US. The US combat losses in Afghanistan, while tragic, remain some of the lowest in history. Yet, it is ludicrous to see articles claim we are entering one of the “safest” eras of recent times. One only need look at Sandy’s damage to envision the radiation, fire damage, and far greater loss of life inherent in a terrorist nuclear attack. If we don’t wage war against terror, jihadists and rogue nations still may try to kill us because we never will turn our back on Israel, will always live a more modern and affluent lifestyle and exhibit different values than those espousing terror, jihad, suicide attacks, and Islamic extremism.

Recent SWJ articles on Chechnya should show that enemy-centric counterinsurgency solves nothing and incites greater Islamic extremism. There was never any question that both the Iraqis and Afghan Taliban were decisively defeated. Germans and Japanese were culturally united in defeat whereas in current conflicts, a large section of both populations felt they had been singled out in defeat. Casualties alone experienced by the USSR, Syria, and Russia in Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Syria illustrate that enemy-centric approaches or leveling a city like Grozny or Aleppo guarantees less success and degrades attitudes toward the counterinsurgent.

We aren’t that kind of counterinsurgent anyway. Even if we were, most insurgents would use such lethal overkill to influence the population and win them over or threaten collaborators from within. We have chosen the wiser path of supporting urban populations to force insurgents to come and fight coalition land forces near the protected population, rather than fruitlessly wasting ground assets searching outlying areas. Even the 2008 commander of forces at Wanat and the Pech Valley has espoused in a recent SWJ article that we must use the Golden Rule in our dealings with the population lest we encourage them to more fully side with the insurgent.

The Libya and Benghazi experiences show that you can bomb a nation into submission when they have nowhere to hide, a small population, and weak air defenses. The underlying problems and insurgency are not solved. Bombing does not ensure that the replacement governments will be to our liking, will not promote terror, or that elite forces like the CIA or SOF can defend themselves against massed insurgent attacks. Without ground forces, we cannot ensure stability and more radical elements may gain access to the despot’s advanced arms and WMD. We cannot cover Texas-sized nations with populations approaching that of California with a few SOF or CIA.

The lessons most despots have learned from the Arab Spring, Egypt, Libya, and Syria is hug and disperse your forces and WMD adjacent to populations, particularly your chemical weapons because it makes it hard to bomb and hard to seize/secure using a small SOF force. They see that they must use or lose their military even against their own people. Despots and terrorists have learned to go underground or hug and infiltrate the population to hide from airborne sensors and bombs. The despot knows that we fear the follow-on government gaining control of WMD and must avoid harming innocent civilians whenever possible. Extremists may not be deterred by MAD, and may believe they can launch Rant Corp’s WMD IED without massive retaliation against the supporting nation state providing the funding.

Finally, regardless of where we fight, some stability operation must occur afterwards and be planned and resourced in advance. Isn’t that a primary Iraq lesson? We may need to hang onto power longer and consider splitting problematic national historic boundaries into multiple nation-states to preclude the risk of civil war PRIOR to holding elections. Neither the state department nor USAID can build nations or exercise “soft power” unless security exists. State department and NGO security will include nothing but security contractors who lack the intelligence assets of the GPF and SOF. Is that a preferred solution to wide area security using the GPF, and SOF for nation-building and direct action?

Land forces and their equipment must be strategically positioned in areas providing more of a deterrent, shorter intratheater distances to multiple theater locations, and reduced likelihood of enemy long-range attack without bringing allies into the fight. Instead of retreating from A2/AD threats, ground forces are hardened and dispersed against them with a minimum of preparation and early warning. We should recognize that any attack on our bases located on Japan, South Korea, or Australia territory wakes a sleeping giant. Allied combat power (Japan’s Navy for instance) is often competitive with China BEFORE introducing reinforcing US GPF and Naval and Airpower.

GPF land forces do not automatically incur large peacetime costs or heavy casualties. Better nation-state infrastructure and close locations to coasts reduces logistics expenses. Battalion-sized US forces in the Sinai have suffered few casualties and avert major war between Egypt and Israel. Peacekeeping in the Balkans resulted in few casualties and averted genocide of Muslims...a fact unrewarded by 9/11 terrorists and other jihadists.

We have some SOF forces in Jordan, air defenders in Israel, GPF in Kuwait and nearby in Europe and could easily locate other rotating GPF battalions or SOF companies in Africa, Jordan, Turkey, other “stans,” and even Kurdish-controlled areas of Syria without much fear of attack (assuming current insurgents win). Even the northern alliance provinces of Afghanistan have experienced far fewer casualties and attacks on the coalition than those areas more likely to be populated by Pashtuns, the Taliban, or cross-border foreign fighters and madrassa students.

Rotating regionally-aligned ground forces in Australia, the Philippines, and Japan would offer additional deterrence with little peacetime risk and not unreasonable costs. Such forces demonstrate US commitment, build coalitions, and test regional forces deployment and logistics plans. Forward deployed forces in Korea solve one clear threat, however even that conflict would require a post conflict stability operation…most likely multinational in nature to include China and Russia in sectors other than those occupied by the South Koreans and the U.S.

Recent history is a good model for future conflict…if we recognize true GPF lessons instead of thinking it’s too hard and its all the ineptitude of GPF land forces instead of realizing that civil leaders must consider exploiting our victories to divide ethnicities so that self-rule is ensured and civil war averted as the stability and restoration operations ensue. Plans to surge GPF for post conflict wide area security should be integrated with planning lethal phases so that damage is minimized making security and rebuilding of infrastructure less problematic. Because regardless of the scenario, a combination of both hard and soft power supported through the air, on land, and by sea will be integral to every joint decisive action.


Mon, 11/05/2012 - 1:39pm

We could have a good large force in all areas, land, sea, air, if we do one thing better: Prioritize Defense Spending. When 50 to 60% of our money is spent of future gizmos and we have to reduce the number of war fighter in order to afford those gizmos, then we need to look a WTH we are doing. As an light infantry guy I have only benifited slightly from this all this so called technogy as an advantage. I am still carrying 100lbs like my forefarthers in the Roman Legions did. The difference is that all of mine in high speed, light and water proof... But at the end of the day it still ways 100lbs.

The P-38 can opener still works better than any other I have found...

We have UAV out the whazoo and can't find enough bad guys to make it worth flying half the missions we do.

We spend billions on unproven technology only to dump it. We have got to get away from the idea that we need to pick up the tab on all of this.

If we did so we could easily afford a good size force and the brass could stop fiddling with it.

Bill C.

Mon, 11/05/2012 - 11:17pm

In reply to by Dayuhan

From FM 3-07, The U.S. Army Stability Operations Field Manual, Chapter One: The Strategic Context, Paragraph 1-7:

"The occupations of Germany and Japan following World War II serve as models for modern post-conflict stability operations as the Army reorganized and retrained its forces for a peacetime role focused on the reconstruction and development of war-torn nations."

We may also wish to consider that neither the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) nor the German Democratic Republic (DDR) existed prior to the end of World War II. Thus, it may be argued that these nations were "built" -- and that their new, separate and certainly different and distinct identities were established -- by the military forces of the United States and its allies (in the case of the FRG) and by the former USSR (in the case of the DDR).

Should we not say, therefore and accordingly, that in the cases of East and West Germany:

a. Some significant degree of "nation-building," "state transformation" and "economic development" (e.g. the Marshall Plan) indeed took place? And that

b. These changes were brought about largely by:

(1) The general purpose forces of the United States and its allies (re: the FRG) -- and by the general purpose forces of the former USSR (re: the DDR) -- both of whom had been

(2) "Reorganized and retrained for a peacetime role focused on reconstruction and development of war-torn nations"?

Bill M.

Tue, 11/06/2012 - 1:13am

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill C.,

In my opinion you're assessment is much more accurate than Bob's this time. The German's were soundly and completely defeated, and their people were tired of war. There was a minor German resistance that didn't generate any support and was quickly suppressed. Compared to other locations we occupied German society had more in common with us and the other occupying countries than subsequent occupation efforts. They were Christian, educated, and understood how a modern economy functioned. Not that it wasn't a major challenge and heroic effort.

Japan was another story entirely, but they were completely defeated and being obedient they followed the orders from their Emperor to comply with the occupation force. We did impose significant cultural changes over time, and most of them were successful. As for fearing the Chinese, that is doubtful in 1945 to 1950. For two years after the Japanese surrender thousands of Japanese troops remained in China patrolling the streets to enforce law and order in support of the allies. China wasn't a threat at that time. However the USSR was very much a real threat to Japan.

There were probably tens, if not hundreds, of reasons there was not or little resistance to the occupation forces that we'll never completely understand.

Bill C.

Mon, 11/05/2012 - 12:02pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Those Germans living in what became East Germany, much like those Germans living in what became West Germany, likewise did not significantly resist.

The reason that why they (those who became the East Germans) did not significantly resist cannot be the same as that which you suggest for those in the West (the United States was the lesser of two evils and our presence protected them from the greater evil).

Accordingly, in looking for a reason why they (those Germans living in the "East" and those Germans living in the "West") did not resist one may need to look elsewhere.

Herein, I would suggest that the reason why those who became the West Germans -- and those who became the East Germans -- did not resist was that their state and society had been brought to its knees.

They no longer had the means to resist. And if they had attempted to resist -- even lacking such means -- then they would have been (those Germans living in the "East" and/or those Germans in the "West") dealt with very quickly and very harshly indeed.

And they (all Germans) knew this and that is what caused them not to resist.

So why did nation-building, etc., "work" in the cases of both East Germany and West Germany (admittedly to different degrees)?

Maybe not because the United States represented the lesser of two evils but, instead, because these two countries had no other alternative.

Robert C. Jones

Mon, 11/05/2012 - 6:19am

In reply to by major.rod

Major Rod,

No matter how decisively one defeats the government and the military of another, one needs to reasonably expect there will be a follow-on resistance as the populace continue the fight. Unless of course, there is a far greater threat just around the corner that said populace is far more scared of than they are of you. To wit, Russia for Germany post WWII; and China for Japan post WWII.

We love to brag about the tremendous success of our post WWII development programs with those two nations, and the successes are undeniable and something we should take pride in. But we take away a very incomplete set of lessons learned when we don't put a huge astrix on each that says: "These nations had just committed massive atrocities during the invasion of a neighbor, and now were rightfully scared s&#^less of retaliation and revenge by the same."

They did not resist primarily because we were the lesser of two evils, and our presence protected them from the greater evil. It is good to understand and remember why some country "likes" us, and why some nation-building program "worked," less we begin to believe our own PSYOP. Otherwise we could end up invading some country and thinking that if we just pick them up, dust them off and give them money they will like us and not resist. That would be silly.


Mon, 11/05/2012 - 5:10am

In reply to by Dayuhan

Dayuhan - I think the stronger point is we defeated the enemy decisively in both Europe and Japan. There was no resistance to interfere in nation building. When the Army gets thrown into disaster relief ops there's a reason we shoot the looters first.

There's a lesson there...

BTW - Your first post was absolutely on target.


Sun, 11/04/2012 - 11:32pm

In reply to by Bill C.

I don't think we did anything resembling "Nation-building, state transformation and economic development" in Germany and Japan. These were already highly developed nations with strong economies, established political structures and government institutions, and very coherent national identities. The same characteristics that made Germany and Japan formidable military opponents made them ideal candidates for effective reconstruction. The same qualities that made overthrowing Saddam or the Taliban a military walkover made them very difficult prospects for reconstruction. I see no relevant parallel.

Bill C.

Sun, 11/04/2012 - 10:23pm

In reply to by Dayuhan

"Winning means achieving your policy objectives: No other definition makes any sense at all." .... "Nation-building, state transformation and economic development are anything but clear, concrete, practical and achievable goals. The Army, particularly the general purpose force, is in no way an appropriate tool for pursuing those objectives."

Post-World War II -- in Germany, Japan and elsewhere -- did we do something along the lines of nation-building, state transformation and economic development? Was the Army, and particularly the general purpose force, the primary instrument used to achieve our policy objectives in these locations and during this post-war period?

Herein, I am suggesting that the general purpose force can -- and possibly has in the not-to-distant past -- been successful in doing this type of thing (nation-building, state transformation and economic development); JUST NOT IN A COUNTER-INSURGENCY MODE.

The other primary differences -- yesterday compared to today -- being that:

a. Re: Iraq and Afghanistan, the subject states and societies were not first brought completely to their knees (as was the case in Germany and Japan). And

b. There is no similar existential threat today (like the former USSR then) hanging over our head which would, as was the case in the post-WWII Germany and Japan, allow us to achieve the national/international concensus -- and the expenditures of blood, time and other treasure -- which would make the pursuit of similar policy objectives in such places as Iraq and Afghanistan reasonable, practical and/or feasible.

"Winning" means achieving your policy objective: no other definition makes sense at all. The first steps toward winning are to assure that the policy objectives are clear, concrete, practical, and achievable and to pursue those objectives with the appropriate tools.

Nation-building, state transformation, and economic development are anything but clear, concrete, practical, and achievable goals. The army, particularly general purpose forces, is in no way an appropriate tool for pursuing those objectives. Yes, they screwed it up., Of course they screwed it up. The purely military end of it was managed reasonably effectively: by no means perfectly, but reasonably effectively. The larger political side, which was essential to winning, was and is a mess, because the objectives were never realistic and the tools chosen to pursue those objectives were not appropriate. Asking generals to build a nation is like asking an engineer to do surgery: it ain't gonna work.

Much of what the military perceives as "complexity" or "wicked problems" comes, I suspect, from handing them problems that they are not trained or equipped to solve. Those problems are not necessarily more complex, they just seem so because they are outside the experience and competence of those assigned to solve them. Auto repair is not more complex than neurosurgery, but if you ask a brain surgeon to fix a car the results aren't going to be good.

If the US really wants to go around building nations and transforming states, we need to develop a specialized capacity targeting those functions. Asking the military to do it clearly isn't going to work. Setting people up for failure by handing them vague, nebulous, impractical objectives that are completely outside their competence and then blaming them for failure seems churlish at best.

Bill M.

Sun, 11/04/2012 - 9:49pm

In reply to by G Martin


Surferbeetle makes a good point with his map analogy. Our job in the military is not to disregard complexity, it has always been there, but for a military to function plans and staff functions must be simple. In other words they shouldn't add to the complexity. KISS is still a sound principle, actually if you buy the theory that complexity always increases, that makes KISS even more sound as a principle. A rifleman's life is tough enough, and he is required to think and make quick decisions under very stressful situations. As leaders we have an obligation to remove any organizational imposed complexity to the extent possible. Simplify the objectives, simplify the ROE, give clear right and left limits and let the American soldier excel.

SOCOM has always been scary, despite its great success in fixing the shortfalls identified during OP EAGLE CLAW and in Grenada. It is a huge organization with very few personnel who have SOF experience. The 80% that don't are constantly dreaming up f'd up ideas for the TSOCs and SOF service components that are "To Stupid To Do (TSTD)." It is just busy work that is no value added. No matter how great the leader is, the worthless and bloated bureaucracy will continue to endure long after the leader leaves (probably frustrated as heck). A leader will push down new roads and expand the realm of the possible, but when he leaves the bureaucracy will default back to their comfortable norm. We try to mitigate stupid by working with the few super stars in the command and minimize the disruptions from the bureaucrats. Far from idea, a HQs that size should be able to provide a lot of value to its subordinates, but it lacks the human capital to do so. One can argue most of its people focus on the wrong thing, which is supporting the operational units.

As to your comment about not as professional and indoctrinated, true we weren't as indoctrinated. As for professional it depends on what context you are using it in. Sadly you are absolutely right about using technology to hinder through micromanagement instead of empowering.


Sun, 11/04/2012 - 6:47pm

In reply to by G Martin

<i>Which makes me wonder- did we really educate, staff, organize our guys differently in the past than normal?<i/>

Making the assumption that today is 'normal', for some specialties, yes we did.

Recall that some Jedburgh Team members were specifically recruited from civilian life for their language & cultural skills, Phd's, and other attributes. Some Military Government folk were directly commissioned due to their civilian skills and in hope that they as "absolutely first class men" had the networks, gravitas, knowledge, etc. to influence out of proportion to their numbers. The spectrum of Military Government veterans across the ages seem to make for a mixed group...

<i>Or, were we not as professional and doctrinally disciplined back then and technology didn't allow micromanagement- and thus our forces in the past had no choice but to be mission-oriented and enabled to adapt, overcome and improvise?<i/>

Heh, question or statement?

Grant, I notice that you seem to wrestle with 'complexity' from time to time. The number of variables are always there, and they are what they are (perhaps platonic forms?). We may not be aware of/ignore them, use simplifying assumptions to be effective, or get lost in the complexity....for example maps are simplifications of reality, a 1 for 1 map would be useless.

<i>The fact that SOCOM is so complex and structured makes me think WE may be the problem- our bureaucracy that is- and that what is needed isn't necessarily different education and organization as much as a total re-making of our DoD. Scrap it and re-build from the bottom up...<i/>

Structure simplifies in that it increases predicability, but there is a tradeoff in there somewhere. When the safety, health, and welfare of the nation is on the line, it would seem that for today's DoD predictability is the goto choice....

Thank you for the Beinhocker recommendation; it is making for interesting reading. ;)


Mon, 11/05/2012 - 5:13am

In reply to by G Martin

Bill - I think you hit one of the big nails on the head. Technology has allowed higher commanders almost enough info they had when they were the commander on the ground while it hasn't increased their restraint or propensity to let lower commanders command.

Simultaneously e-mail has deteriorated the need for face to face interface so leadership skills and knowing your subordinates has suffered.

G Martin

Sun, 11/04/2012 - 5:17pm

In reply to by Surferbeetle

Which makes me wonder- did we really educate, staff, organize our guys differently in the past than normal? Or, were we not as professional and doctrinally disciplined back then and technology didn't allow micromanagement- and thus our forces in the past had no choice but to be mission-oriented and enabled to adapt, overcome and improvise?

The fact that SOCOM is so complex and structured makes me think WE may be the problem- our bureaucracy that is- and that what is needed isn't necessarily different education and organization as much as a total re-making of our DoD. Scrap it and re-build from the bottom up...


Sat, 11/03/2012 - 12:47pm

Bill C, Bill M., et al

The formula one analogy for COIN works: computational fluid dynamics modeling for aerodynamic gain, 3d printers for custom parts, and sublime mechanical engineering trickery vs the pedal car. Let's see if I can riff off of this using two hypothetical scenarios.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have been called in to NYC in it's time of need. Offense, defense, coaching staff, and support team are now in charge of all political, economic/financial, security, infrastructure, and humanitarian concerns. All members will wear team uniform (helmet, mouthguards, pads, skates and sticks + reflective belt) wherever they travel as this is the proper uniform to conduct business in; if nothing else they will be dressed for success and taken seriously in the disparate cultures of politics, economics/finance, security, infrastructure, and humanitarian work. Furthermore their ability to work as a team under high pressure and fast paced change will ensure their success in this critical endeavor, irrespective of their educational and experiential baselines. Finally, NYC is in desperate need of some Canadian the Canadian experience during the financial meltdown with that of the US.

US Army Admin/Personnel forces have been called in to SOCOM during their time of need. Literal target fixation has reduced SOCOM abilities to delivering 'one dimensional kinetic solutions'. Nevermind our nations need for precise, anytime, anywhere lethality, the Army's 42 series is highly trained and motivated and as a result is the obvious choice to take on and resolve this particular conundrum... successful would one realistically anticipate the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Army's 42 series to be in these two hypothetical situations? Based upon the anticipated results would we then be correct in saying that running NYC and SOCOM is simply 'too complex' and can't/shouldn't be done?

Perhaps we could consider staffing, organizing, and educating our folks appropriately since the COIN mission (this end of the violence spectrum) is not going anywhere? A quick run through 'COIN" history brings to mind the Spanish-American War, the USMC in Central America, continues on through WWI, WWII, and of course today...


Sat, 11/03/2012 - 7:41pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill M.,

Agree with your point regarding the need for a national debate on strategy and the constitution. I too would like to see a true & inclusive democratic discussion about our various problems, the proposed solutions to same, and the associated costs and schedule. I have not seen that in the various campaigns to date and I am deeply tired of the corrosive, divisive, selfish, and ultimately self-destructive atmosphere, which I see on daily display in our nation's capital. We as a nation cannot continue to reflexively sprinkle massive quantities of magic military dust on our various interests/problems and honestly expect satisfactory and sustainable resolutions to them.

I also feel that we do not walk on water, that we refuse to take a hard look in a mirror, that we ignore our history, that our expectations and capabilities are misaligned, and that we are significantly out of balance with respect to appropriately resourcing our nation's various institutions. Nonetheless, I fundamentally disagree with those who say we have not been successful with GWOT. As I have mentioned on the thread itself, there are a number of deliverables to consider that have resulted from this effort and I know of no other nation that would be able to deliver them.

In summary, as good stewards of our nation's treasure and given the realities and significant costs of our current approach, it is well past time to have a responsible and honest discussion regarding the way forward.


Mon, 11/05/2012 - 12:34am

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill M: For whatever it is worth, from a former Navy Officer who knows next to nothing (or less) about ground warfare other than how to provide NGFS or conduct coastal patrol, I believe you have precisely defined the strategic / operational problem in this matter -- or at least as close to precise as one can achieve in a brief statement.

Any plan or preparation to "fight these aberrations again" indicates we either learned few lessons or forgot almost everything from the aberration of Vietnam and certainly are not taking away the correct lessons from the costly and strategically pointless large scale occupation / nation building oriented efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan that have consumed the US military for a decade just as occurred during our effort in Vietnam. Occupation oriented efforts executed at great cost doomed to produce almost nothing of strategic value, negating the cost effective benefit which should have operationally accrued to this country at least in Afghanistan given the initially successful SF led operation in that nation.

Bill C.

Sun, 11/04/2012 - 1:18pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Former Secretary of Defense Gates seems to believe that, even with future Iraq and Afganistan-like conflicts being unwanted and unlikely we must, in order to deal with real threats to our national interests, be much better prepared -- today and in the future -- to, so-to-speak, race peddle cars.

And that we must, therefore, recruit, purchase, train, tool-up, etc., accordingly.

Bill M.

Sun, 11/04/2012 - 12:21am

In reply to by carl


I think we are good at fighting small wars if we keep them small. Special Forces augmented with general purpose forces have been fighting or assisting other nations fight small wars almost continuously for decades. We were doing FID long before the new COIN manual was published. OEF-A and OIF are not small wars, and the objectives for both were unrealistic. No doubt we will continue to be involved in small wars, and since Special Forces has already been selected, trained, organized, and equipped to fight and assist others with these conflicts at minimal cost to the US, why do some in the Army feel the need to redirect the effort of BCTs to do the same? SF can't bring the combat power that a BCT can to a fight, a BCT's core competency is fighting. SF core's competency is advising and assisting to enable foreign partners deal with their own problems to achieve reasonable ends, not create a perfect world where rainbows and unicorns are plentiful and everyone loves one another. We aren't broke, what is broke in my opinion is the lessons the Army is taking from a decade at war. They want to reorganize the force to fight to be prepared to fight these aberrations again instead of focusing on real threats to our national interests. I think our national leadership pointed out we don't want to do more OIF's and OEF-A (different from OEF as a whole), yet the Army can't let it go. Since I hail from SF it sounds like my argument is parochical, but that is not my intent.


Sat, 11/03/2012 - 5:07pm

In reply to by Bill M.

If seems to me that the military should aspire to be good at whatever task the nation can be expected to ask of it. Since it has been asked over and over throughout our history to fight small wars, it is reasonable to expect that it will be asked to fight small wars again. So it should expect that and aspire to do a good job when the time comes. That doesn't mean building everything around that to the exclusion of all else. It just means we shouldn't pretend we won't do it again and should strive to actively remember what worked and what didn't. (Which is what I believe Surferbeetle said above.)

Bill M.

Sat, 11/03/2012 - 1:49pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill C. and Surferbeetle,

I think you are both stuck on today's legacy neo-con strategy (Wolfowitz, Chenney, Bush, Nagel, etc.) becoming the enduring U.S. strategy. If that is in fact true, then maybe we do need to switch to pedal cars, but more importantly we need a national level debate that relooks national security strategy (NSS). It seems our national security strategy more and more is a product of whatever administration is in office instead of enduring set of principles and objectives, and why trying to predict future threats is important (even if we get it wrong), it is also important to try to predict the future NSS of the US, because ultimately that will drive "what we're asked to accomplish." There is a big difference between launching punative expeditions, defeating armies, and now finding and killing terrorists before they can strike; and trying to build nations in our image (societial transformation). We we were pretty darn good at the true military tasks, and not so good for a lot of reasons at societial transformation.

What does our nation really want its military to be able to do? I will argue that the military must be able to defend the US and militarily defeat threats to the US, and being good at COIN and stability operations doesn't fall in that must do category despite the well worn arguments that COIN and stability operations will ultimately deny safehaven for AQ. I think that argument has not only been proven false, but our interference in the internal affairs of others is so offensive it generates more terrorists than we can kill.

Our potential national policies are as important as the potential threats when it comes to designing the future force. If we only focus on threats we will design the wrong force for the future, we must also anticipate what our political goals will be. Imagine if responsibility to protect R2P becomes a national security policy? We'll need to increase the size of the Army by at least 25%. Is this really where America wants to go? What is good enough?

Bob makes a strong argument below about the Constitutional constraints we are currently ignoring. Should we continue to do so? Why? What is the risks of doing so and not doing so?


Sat, 11/03/2012 - 10:23am

In reply to by Bill C.

If all that can help get the main point of the C's article across, it's a fine thing.

An analogy:

Let's say that someone is, without question, the greatest Formula One race car driver of the current era.

And let's say that someone else was, without doubt, the greatest Formula One race car driver of another, much earlier period.

Would this be of no moment if:

The requirement today was for Formula One race car drivers to drive and to race -- not Formula One race cars -- but, instead, peddle cars (certainly still "racing" and/or "car racing"); or,

If the requirement today was for Formula One race car drivers to build shopping malls?

Herein, our military (greatest in the world and of all time or not), in the cases of Iraq and Afghanistan, likewise being asked to do something (opposed state and societal transformation) different from what they had otherwise been (1) trained to do and/or (2) were experienced at doing.

Thus, this new mission requiring (as would be the case of the Formula One race car drivers driving and racing peddle cars) a number of very different preparations, personnel recruitments, equipment purchases and refinements, various new calculations, and significant trial, error and learning periods; until initial -- and later repeatable -- success could hope to be achieved and/or replicated?


Sun, 11/04/2012 - 5:50pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

I disagree with your argument Robert. The same excess air and naval capacity observation could be used to support an argument over our involvement in Libya, the ineffective no fly zone over Iraq or even Bosnia. Those situations did not impact our national security and in some ways went on to create enemies where maybe none existed before.

No, I don't buy that "excess capability" cause military interventionism and especially when it's applied to the Army exclusively. I've heard the left and isolationists use that argument for decades to under resource the Army which consistently pays the price in blood early in the next war because of that shortsidedness (Kasserine, TF Smith, not enough body armor). Interestingly. we've never been outclassed in aircraft or ships and not suffered those kins of casualties in those services.

The issue isn't an Army or other service that is too strong but simply Presidents that lead by which way the wind is blowing and Congress that refuses to execute its constitutional role.

Smaller services aren't the answer unless the threats don't exist to support them. One can always count on the enemy not challenging us in the areas where we are most dominant.

Robert C. Jones

Sat, 11/03/2012 - 8:36am

In reply to by Bill M.


We will never know what conflicts were "prevented" or "deterred" by an adversary thinking "but for the size and capacity of the US Army I would do this thing." That is the nature of deterrence. One never knows what others didn't do, or more importantly, why they didn't do it.

But we do know what wars having excessive land force capacity caused.

Who thinks for a minute that Congress would have authorized the funding and raising of an invasion force to go into Iraq? And if they did make that initial decision based upon the justification of "WMD," who thinks that by the time that force was ready to cross the line of departure that cooler heads and better intel would not have led us to wiser approaches to dealing with AQ???

We have adopted a military posture for the Cold War, and have extended it in many ways into the modern era. That force is outside the express intent of the framers of the US Constitution. Ironic, that we take an oath to support and defend that very document with a force that works to errode its very foundations.

This excessive capacity has served to shift the balance of power from the Congress to the President. That is dangerous. (Look at Afghanistan for a classic example of too much power consolidated in one man. We built that to, and now defend it.)

We are so focused on intel-driven threats that we cannot see the true dangers to our nation. Time to refocus, regroup, and get back to our roots. The Services and Department of Defense are only one aspect of this problem, as it pervades our entire system of governance and resides within both parties. We lack strategic understanding, so as humans are apt to do, when one does not know what to do, one either does nothing, or does what they know. The military is about action, so it does what it knows.


Bill M.

Sat, 11/03/2012 - 6:18am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

On the other hand defense scenarios are absolutely necessary to provide the minimum analysis necessary to determine what force structure we think will be needed made on a scenario(s) based on a best guess of what future policies and challenges will be. As you point out scenarios are all too often developed to justify the legacy or a predetermined desired force instead of the force we will likely need.

I think the General got it right, we need to identify what capabilities we need. You can't divorce capabilities from capacity, but capabilities are the key, capacity can be expanded or contracted as required. We differ on the other point though, because the military has always played a role in preventing, shaping and winning if prevention fails. I can make an argument our military posture prevented a lot of conflicts that you can't disprove any more than I can prove. However, most won't dispute that state actors will rarely attack another state unless they think think they win. Iraq easily walked over Kuwait, Russia with minimal risk conducted a punitive operation in Georgia, etc. etc. Of course our military won't prevent Arab Springs or any other internal uprisings. As for AQ and 9/11 it wasn't the military's role to prevent, it was the intelligence and law enforcement communities to prevent, our role was to respond. In a better world, our special operations forces would have responded pre-emptively against AQ, but prior to 9/11 we were too risk adverse. However, now we understand the necessity of doing so, and SOF can "prevent" by striking first if our intelligence community is successful in their challenging task. Unfortunately our response to the 9/11 attacks led to a decade of failed nation building. We managed to pull defeat out of the jaws of victory in Iraq. You may be right we may not need a large standing Army during peacetime (whatever that really means, sometimes I think peace is a self-delusion where we ignore reality); however, we definitely needed a larger Army to conduct these large scale stability operations. The requirement for stability operations was exactly unknown, we had recent experience conducting major stability operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Haiti in the 90s, so employing the military in that type of role wasn't without precedent. The Air-Sea battle will most likely play a role in future fights, but the concept will be of little utility for stability operations.

The bottom line is we first need to find out what capabilities we need, SOF, cyber, missile defense, etc. Then debate the capacity. We can't be so naive that we only base it on real threats to our national interests, but we also have to consider the intrusive nature of our foreign policy to determine capabilities and capacities needed. I don't see that changing anytime soon.


Fri, 11/02/2012 - 12:14pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Mr Jones, spot on. Particularly about "Prevent"... That area belongs to politicians, not the military... You are correct that we can "Shape" heck populations and places... I think we need to concentrate on the "Win" portion... We surely havn't done this well...

Robert C. Jones

Fri, 11/02/2012 - 5:23am

From General Odierno's recent comments at CSIS promoting a Land Force counter to Air-Sea Battle in response to a question about Defense Scenarios used to shape the forces we build:

Odierno replied, "I could come up with a scenario that makes us build a million-man army, or I could come up with a scenario that makes us build a 100,000-man army." Scenarios are just "a guideline," the general said. "It's about having the right capabilities to [do] what I call 'prevent, shape, and win.'"

First, I totally agree with the General regarding Defense Scenarios. They are silly criteria employed by the Defense Department and the Services to attempt to get the force they want in the face of the policies and budgets of a given era (ie, rather than the force we need).

But I do have to ask the General about "Prevent-Shape-Win" in regard to the types of conflicts and competition that challenge our nation in the post-Cold War era: How did large ground forces "prevent" 9/11, or Arab Spring, or any of a dozen other problems we are looking to put ground forces against? How have ground forces created a "win" in Iraq or Afghanistan? Certainly we have "shaped" the hell out of places and populaces all across the planet with ground forces, but does that "prevent and win," or does it more aptly "provoke and conflate" instead?

This is not a shot at the General. Deep respect, and he has a hard job to be the top advocate for the Army in the current era. The historic reality is that the US does not need nor want large ground forces in times of peace. The more modern historic reality is that these forces neither prevent or win the types of problems we are throwing them against.

The Air Force and Navy exaggerate Air-Sea requirements too, but the fact is that for a nation like the US has been for the past couple of centuries, we need more of Air and Sea capacity in peace than we do Land capacity. The benefits of big oceans and friendly (much weaker) neighbors. For the last 80 years of the 19th century we grew to maturity under the protection of the Royal Navy. For the 20th Century we outgrew that capacity and had to expand our own Naval and Air capacity. Armies came and went with the conflicts they were built for.

Now is the time for Defense to defend our nation best by driving major cuts in spending and tailoring a smart force for the modern era. So far that force is not on the table for discussion. It should be.


Sun, 11/04/2012 - 6:00pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Agree with both you fellas points but laying the blame for losing a war solely at the military's feet when it is under resourced, hampered with restrictive ROE or poorly structured strategic objectives by the national command authority isn't exactly right.

While military professionals skin themselves alive for not winning (as they should) and kick around new ways to skin the cat no one ever addresses the other half of the equation. Simply put wars are not only won on the battlefield.

Bill C.

Fri, 11/02/2012 - 8:34am

In reply to by carl

I think that Carl's point is well made here.

If looks like a war, walks like war, talks like war, etc., then kind of dumb not to call it war.

But what if something absolutely, positively does not look like a war, walk like a war, talk like a war, etc., as one might say is the case in these instances (Iraq and Afghanistan). This because the "war" part of the effort has been made to take such an unusual and dramatic "back seat" to the state and societal transformation objectives?

Still corrrect to call such an odd ball thing a war?


Thu, 11/01/2012 - 10:19pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill C:

We could go one step further, anytime we send the military off somewhere to shoot guns and drop bombs on people who shoot guns and blow us up in return and it works out pretty good and our people do things almost pretty well, we can call that war.

And anytime we do that and it doesn't maybe work out like we want it and our people make a lot of mistakes, we can call that something else.

It's a good idea because then our self=esteem will never be threatened.

G Martin

Thu, 11/01/2012 - 3:30pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Good point- and echoes Bob's point: to call everything "war" seems to just confuse. At one point during the COIN manual re-write a proposed new definition for UW brought the comment, "then the Occupy Wall Street movement would be an insurgency"- to which the answer was, "yes". Painting everything war - even when tagging it with an identifier like "hybrid" seems to me to muddy the waters and get us to try to force squares into circles.

Is it safe to say we "won" the two wars we were involved in in Iraq and Afghanistan- and yet the nation-building efforts that the host nation's and most of our governmental agencies were involved with afterwards- at this point may or may not lead to a preferred outcome- depending on what one defines as "preferred" and when one stops measuring "the outcome"...?

I would prefer to measure our's and the host nations' counter-resistance efforts (mostly military efforts in my mind) by locality instead of country-wide. There seems to be a few areas in which the resistance has been successful and some in which they haven't- and trying to make sense of them country-wide doesn't seem too productive IMO.

Bill C.

Thu, 11/01/2012 - 10:28am

Cir. 2003, the United States embarked upon a new path -- a new mission -- this mission was to (1) use the opportunity presented by insurgency, terrorism, humanitian crisis, natural disaster, killing of one's own people, etc., to (2) transform outlier states and societies along modern western lines.

I am not sure we can properly call this activity "war."

Understanding the distinction here, would it be correct to say that we lost two "wars?"

Or would it be more correct to say that we may have failed at these two (Iraq and Afghanistan) state and societal transformation/westernization missions/projects?

Robert C. Jones

Thu, 11/01/2012 - 6:13am

A few random thoughts:

1. The US is pretty good at winning wars; we are not so good at knowing what a war is. The "war" portions of operatoins in Iraq and Afghanistan went like clockwork. It was when we stayed and attempted to play puppet master, picking and protecting governments to secure our interests over those defeated countries, that we started to suck. We shouldn't do that; and while often very violent, is not really a war.

2. The US is pretty good at COIN. COIN is a domestic operation, and I can't think of many countries that could have made the decisions to recover from the Civil War as gracefully as we did, or that would have made the major compromises of government and law that we did to turn the tide of the Civil Rights movement. We should be proud of our COIN record, because the best COIN is pro-active. When a country waits for civil government to fail to the degree military warfare against their own populace is required, in most ways, they have already lost, even if the insurgent is ultimately suppressed.

3. We could be a lot more successful in these manipulative occupations if we would, well, manipulate and occupy a little less in the process. In other words, stop trying to "win" the "war" and start trying to succeed in assiting some nation get to a form and degree of governance that works for them and allows them to find some degree of natural stability.

In other words, we thing about these problems in the wrong way, and therefore bring inappropriate solutions. Predictably, that does not work very well. And when things begin to go bad, we double down. In most of these cases, less is more. But we always go for more and get less.


G Martin

Wed, 10/31/2012 - 3:52pm

I agree that we toot our horn too much. While we have shown a great ability to deploy forces overseas and overthrow regimes/destroy conventional armies (those not equipped, trained, or supported as well as we are mind you...), I'm not sure we've shown much in the way of the thinking required for more complex endeavors and I'd even go so far as to say our strategic and operational capabilities are limited (if one must use those terms).

We seem to be stuck in our own preferred worldview of how wars are supposed to be prepared for and fought. Unfortunately (for us), much of the rest of the world is shifting away from conventional force-on-force operations and formal declarations of war (if they ever really went that way) as the rule and instead seeking other ways with which to attack a country's interests (or it has always been that way- but today there is more capability in those ways/means to have an impact).

Maybe instead of preparing for the next war by arguing against a drawdown- a drawdown is exactly what we need- in order to break the current institution's paradigms and allow a new one to be built largely from the ground up...?

In terms of "decisively defeating the enemy"- again, I think that kind of thinking does not serve us well when faced with non-state actors. We seem to want to force the WWII paradigm onto each and every incident we encounter. And that goes for "end states" as well- who would have thought in 1975 that we would be granting Vietnam the trade status we have now, retiring SF soldiers would be buying homes in Vietnam, and all of my shirts would be made there. Is that a bad "end-state"? Who's to say if the end result of us pulling out of Afghanistan before the network is destroyed is good or bad- I'd argue it depends on what one's definition of the end-state is and at what time do you declare it "the end". I submit that with efforts that are problematic in clearly identifying exactly what is in our interest (do we bankrupt the nation to kill every last terrorist or do we attempt to strike a balance and accept some reasonable amount of risk?)- end-states don't help us much.

If, for example, we want to leave with "allies" in place- maybe we need to listen to the people- who overwhelmingly want our troops out of the region. I'm not necessarily agreeing with that "end-state", but pointing out that it is possible that what we want and what we are doing (and the conventional wisdom on what we should do) are in conflict with one another. This kind of paradox seems manifest in these more complex undertakings.

I used to joke with the Germans in Afghanistan that THEY won WWII- because here we were sitting in Afghanistan and their 25 year old police trainers were trusted enough to drink alcohol and our 47 year old colonels were not...


Thu, 11/01/2012 - 5:48pm

Yes I think that to say we lost two more (or one and about to on the other) is accurate. (Afghanstan IS salvagable.)

What is winning? (my stab at it): 1. Decisively defeating the enemy, rendering him unable to continue to advance his goals or agendas, by force or threat thereoff.2. Ending the conflict with an end-state favorable to us.

Does any one think we really did that in Iraq or are going to in Afghanistan? (the stan could be salvaged)

What is Losing? (my stab at it): 1. Failing to defeat the enemy, leaving him available to continue to advance his goals or agendas, by force or threat thereoff. 2. Ending the conflict before we have acheived an end-state favorable to us.

Both Iraq and Afghanistan are breeding grounds for terrorists... We did not destroy the networks etc, therefore they can and will continue to advance their goals and agendas. This at least will continue regional instability. If not provide the sites where the next large attack on us will be trained for and pland and possibly launched from. Are we safer? I don't know, but if I had to say no probably not. What did we get out of the deal? Not much in the way of economic gains, gaining a strong ally or anything of substance...

How and why does this keep happening? The lie. We continue to over estimate ourselves ie. "look at our new shiny planes and ships etc, etc" How could we lose? Leadership more interested in politics, than the winning wars.

I HATE losing... But I am afraid we have.

Is it really accurate to say that we've lost two wars? In Iraq, we deposed the Hussein government and, after a lengthy fight, replaced it with one that works with us through a security cooperation office located in our embassy in Baghdad; in Afghanistan, we're still fighting/ assisting/ mentoring and appear poised to establish an agreement to maintain a minimal military presence there to continue our assistance efforts post-2014 (though I admit there's still time for us to "lose").

A convincing argument can be made that we lost in Vietnam. After we left, we refused to help an ally when they were in need and then were kicked out of the country from the top of our own embassy. This has not happened in Iraq or A'stan. I contend that we have not lost either. Think positive.

I think that the initial article ( for anyone who might not have read it yet) is making an awfully strong initial claim by saying that the US "lost" its last two wars. I think it would be better to say that the US went into these wars not knowing how (or what it takes in order) to win them. The problem here is that opposing forces from nations the author mentions, especially WW2 Axis nations, had different kinds of antebellum periods than Afghanistan ca. 2001 and Iraq ca. 2003. As such, "victory" includes a very different set of goals than conflicts like WW2; obviously, "defeat the German Army" is going to be a very different goal than "defeat the Taliban," in terms of what each of these victories would cost, what kind of operations they would require to achieve, what they would look like, and how the country would look after the conflict.

One thing our military *has* gotten extremely good at is SF missions. Whether in the case of the ST6 marksmen rescuing the pirate-held captain in 2010, or more recently the ST6 raid that eliminated Bin Laden, our special forces are very good at set piece operations that rely on discipline, training, and our resources of intelligence and technology. Using a soccer (football) metaphor: these are more like well-executed corner kicks, while a COIN is more like an entire season of contests - or more (think of the dramatic decline in fighting, yet not total absence of politically important efforts, during the Afghan winter/fighting season cycle, as an off-season for the EPL or any other top-tier league). These SF missions are violent, high-risk, and short term.

Counterinsurgency campaigns, however, are long-term efforts - Operation Enduring Freedom has been called our longest war - that require widespread political action and changes to take place, including efforts engaging local populations, etc. This conflict is even changing the way we understand wars altogether; for example, David Kilcullen's _Counterinsurgency_ describes a historical and cultural setting that even defies our traditional understanding of a conflict between "good guys" and "bad guys." In some ways, the fact that a family may support the ISAF one month and shift allegiances to support the Taliban a couple of months later is totally re-writing the understanding of the classic "hearts and minds" approach to COIN; in other ways, it's so simple that it can't possibly be so easy to wrap our heads around: the native population just wants to be safe - they'll support whomever seems most able to keep them safe. Kilcullen calls this a "lethally uncertain environment."

So instead of saying that we "lost" these wars, I think it's more accurate to say that we learned a lot about how NOT to wage counterinsurgencies. There *is* a point to be made about what was actually taken away from Vietnam versus what should have been taken away from it; I think that the fact we're even having discussions like this one and the others on this site show that folks stateside aren't just talking about how hard it is to fight in the jungle, or how traditional military tactics need updating like they did after Vietnam - we're learning lessons and making sure our sacrifices will not have been in vain.


Mon, 11/05/2012 - 5:35am

In reply to by Bill C.

I'm not a fan of nation building and the Army fought getting involved in it tooth and nail starting back in the Clinton days but I'm always struck by the argument that we shouldn't apply western democracy to other nations.

What doesn't apply to those heathens? Life, liberty or happiness?

Again, I'm not for nation building but the logic that other nations aren't "ready" for democracy strikes me as condescending as those who promote exporting democracy as a national responsibility.


Tue, 10/30/2012 - 10:06pm

In reply to by Bill C.

I think you're right, Bill... Going in with Westernizing as a goal is condescending. What any successful counterinsurgent campaign should strive for is a stable gov't left when the counterinsurgent leaves. Why does it have to be Western in style? It shouldn't really matter what kind of Democracy/Republic/combination thereof the host nation ends up with - but it should be one that the people choose themselves, and it should be better than what they started with before intervention. I think part of the problem is that it is difficult to introduce democratic ideals where there is a history of their absence. I mean, even if democracy is the ideal, how good of an example are we? I don't know about you guys, but voter turnout in local politics is really quite poor where I'm from. Even the 2008 presidential election only saw 56.8% of voting-age citizens cast a vote, and this is a failing grade... It seems a little hypocritical to come in and say what a good thing it is to have a system where people vote, when in our biggest national contest, only slightly more than half of eligible people vote.

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Tue, 10/30/2012 - 11:41pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Like I said, one of the parts of the main point is blind boosterism makes it very hard to see the faults.

Bill C.

Tue, 10/30/2012 - 10:03pm

In reply to by carl

Herein I would disagree.

The US military is, indeed, magnificent.

I believe it is even rather good at doing counterinsurgency (done lite/done right: see my comment above).

What US military would not seem to be very good at yet is the really rather new and really rather odd ball thing of:

a. Using the opportunity presented by insurgency, terrorism, genocide, natural disaster, humanitarian crisis, killing of one's own people, etc., to

b. Attempt to transform outlier states and societies along modern western lines.

That's going to take some time (learning curve) and/or have to be re-thought.


Tue, 10/30/2012 - 8:50pm

In reply to by Bill C.

No, this is the primary point "the US military isn’t nearly so good as it is cracked up to be and blind boosterism gets in the way of seeing that and you can’t fix what you don’t see."

Bill C.

Tue, 10/30/2012 - 8:49pm

In reply to by carl

Primary point: The United States' inability to wage effective counterinsurgency?

I would suggest that the inability of the United States to wage effective counterinsurgency is based largely on the fact that the United States (imprudently and improperly) believes that its way of life and way of governance are the primary and principle weapons in its counterinsurgency arsenal.

The United States, only now, beginning to realize that its way of life and way of governance may not be such prime assets but may, indeed, be significant liabilities re: certain of these endeavors.

Eliminate the requirement to transform the subject state and society along modern western lines (COIN Lite/COIN done right) and let's see how effective at counterinsurgency we have been/might actually become.