Small Wars Journal

The Great COIN Debate: Time for a Change?

Herschel Smith has at it at The Captain's Journal...


Bill C. (not verified)

Fri, 01/29/2010 - 11:21pm

In our discussion, I believe we have done much to explain what shapes and determines American foreign policy in the early 21st Century:

The Background: At the end of the Cold War, a significant portion of the world was completely transformed, with the huge great powers of China, Russia and India all taking the plunge and staking their fate -- and the fate of their populations -- on capitalism, markets and international trade.

The Problem: How to make these new market/capitalist-economy states successful and; thereby, avoid the dangers associated with what might otherwise be the catastrophic failure of these nuclear-armed great powers.

The Proposed Solution: Have all great powers get together and transform the "rest of the world" (mostly what used to be called the Third World) such that it might adequately provide for the needs of these new (and the old) market-economy great powers. In this regard, the United States would take on the "hard cases."

The Difficulties: (1) There are many people in "the rest of the world" who do not want to be transformed and who would, rather than be transformed, seek to transform us -- or die trying. (2) The vast needs of these new market-oriented great powers is immediate and, therefore, a method must be devised which will get this transformation requirement done sooner rather than later. (3) However, this cannot be achieved through the use of massive military force ("Shermanesque" measures) as such an approach would likely be counterproductive if not totally disasterous (see "Cole" et. al. above).

The Suggestion: This leaves us with the approaches suggested by Mr. Jones and seconded by Mr. Moore; that we skip this time, blood and treasure-consuming "transforming" idea alltogether and, instead, learn to work better with the rest of the world -- "as it is" -- (tribal, etc), and, thereby, have a much better chance of completing the mission on time and on budget.


Tue, 01/26/2010 - 7:10am

Today's front page New York Times article (26 January)
reference COIN strategy in Afghanistan published Karl W. Eikenberry, the United States ambassador to Afghanistan and former commander in Afghanistan his daunting hesitation reference COIN strategy and the increase in troops in-country. (Google search "Eikenberry" if reading this post 26 January)

It is a must read for all those who have served in Afghanistan and reasonably understand the challenges there. But, that said the test of the cable to the State Department reads with the following highlights.

a. Karzai has no real understanding of the corruptive nature of his government;

b. That Karzai hopes the US will place even more troops in country to secure his position and to provide a "backup" for security against his neighbors north-south; east-west.

c. The ANA and Afgh Police are incapable of security the or potentially in the future.

d. Karzai is in name only with no real "power" outside Kabul.

e. There is "no end in sight" (my reference)and US forces could be in Afghanistan for years/decades to come.

But, the most revealing portion of the cable was his inference about Pakistan. That Pakistan has and perhaps always will be the refuge of the Taliban and the Quetta shura (Omar's AOR); and that Pakistan has done little to eliminate the Taliban leadership. In short, how can we really trust Pakistan when the country does not want a strong Afghanistan, but rather a country next door that they can "control".

And lastly, if Eikenberry and General McC are a different ends of the strategy decision matrix, how can we really move in a direction that all agree.

The issue of COIN strategy continues...

Bob's World

Sat, 01/23/2010 - 4:45am

Read the recent book on Crazy Horse and Custer. Just one small, but significant snapshot of our clash of cultures.

Far more interesting than the tactics or campaign plans applied, are the parallels to the overall strategy applied to the the Plains Indians and that applied to the Global War on Terror.

Essentially attempt to democratize the enemy, make them abandon their heathen ways to dress, pray, live just like us, but in controlled areas defined by us under leaders chosen by us that lacked legitimacy in the eyes of their populace. Then, label all who refuse to submit these conditions as "renegades" (terrorists), and conduct capture/kill operations against them.

But as Cole indicates above, such an approach is really neither feasible nor acceptable.

Bill C,

Was not being rude by not answering, but frankly did not know much about the Indian Wars (there weren't millions) or General Sheridan. Brief research last night left me uncertain how to respond.

Not sure I comprehend your transformation emphasis. The Marshall Plan and MacArthur's efforts in Japan were rebuilding (mainly due to airpower, which makes Stability Ops harder!) but not really transformation of either society. Nor was that the reason we went to war...or won the Cold War. Those enemies were clear and fought (or used surrogates or expansionist threats) openly whereas the Taliban hide in plain sight and in Pakistan.

Sheridan's tactics in the Indian Wars struck me as simultaneously brilliant and tragic to achieve pacification. Kill the buffalo to starve the Indians and take all their supplies and domestic animals in the midst of winter. As you point out, doing something similar to the Pashtuns because we are unsure which are Taliban would be disastrous, and word would spread throughout the Islamic world.

Sheridan may have gotten an inaccurate rap in being attributed to saying "the only good Indian is a dead one." But such an attitude toward Pashtuns or even the reconcilable Taliban would be equally stupid.

Also don't think we are trying to transform Afghanistan as a whole as much as transforming lots of communities so they tolerate the government, improve their own lives, and defend themselves against the Taliban and foreign fighters with ANA/ANP help.

Bill C. (not verified)

Thu, 01/21/2010 - 12:53pm

One could argue that "transforming entire societies" -- through the signficant use of military forces -- is what America does.

To the 19th Century examples I have offered, to wit:

a. The Civil War, re: the transformation of the South and

b. The Indian Wars, re: the transformation of the West

One would add the 20th Century examples of:

a. World War II: the transformation of Germany and Japan and

b. The Cold War: the ongoing transformation of China and Russia.

In each of these "transformation" missions, the employment of US military forces was a critical component of our "foreign policy" and, as such, played an important and decisive role in the successes achieved therein.

Today's mandate for "transforming entire societies" -- and using military forces to help achieve this -- stems from the need to provide for the demands of the new "international community" (Russia, China, India and others, now post-the Cold War, having joined with us as nations who significant stake their nations and their lives on the success of market economies and of the international marketplace).

Thus, the need for America's new "transformation" missions today (in places like Afghanistan), which are designed to take on and deal with the specific problems presented by this new, market-dependent, international order.

And, as "Cole" has explained, the use by the military of "Shermanesque"-type measures in Afghanistan, in pursuit of these new foreign policy objectives, could be -- not only counter-productive -- but potentially disasterous.

Bill C. (not verified)

Tue, 01/19/2010 - 11:11pm


I concede to your points and evidence re: the American Civil War.

Is there any merit to my position re: the American Indian Wars?

Bill C,

For your consideration:

Not counting the western states, the population of the U.S. in 1860 was virtually identical to that of Afghanistan today.

One difference: the north's population was around 20 million and it had far more industry, while the true south had around 5.5 million white and another 3.5 million slaves supporting an agricultural economy. Border states favoring both sides had around 2.8 million with 430K slaves so they were not going to help the south much.

In contrast, in Afghanistan, Pashtuns constitute 42% of that country and 10% of Pakistan for a grand total of around 30 million. Kill one, make 10 enemies on both sides of the border and risk inflaming 1.5 billion Muslims everywhere else in the world.

While much is made of shadow governments being in 33 of 34 provinces there, the Taliban would have great difficulty controlling any of the northernmost provinces were we to leave and the ANA failed. So the comparison to Vietnam also fails, as if we should compare the motivations of communist true-believers to Islamic fundamentalists.

In addition, around 620,000 Americans were killed in the Civil War and over 3 million fought. Methinks we are in no hurry to mass standing armies of that size today in Afghanistan or anywhere else...nor thankfully are we dumb enough to accept warfare where both sides stand out in the open across open fields and shoot each other.

What kind of Shermanesque transformation do you advocate? What fields would we burn other than poppies and how would that help people who proceed to starve?

Bill C. (not verified)

Tue, 01/19/2010 - 7:49pm

For consideration:

As our Civil War and our Indian Wars record, there are instances wherein Moses, indeed, does come down from the mountain, etc., and direct that "we must transform certain societies."

In these 19th Century examples, he (Moses) was accompanied by the archangels William Techmseh Sherman and Philip Sheridan, who made sure that they got the job done and got it done on time. (The technique of "One Tribe at a Time" either [a] not being employed or [b] not being employed in the manner that we talk about today.?)

What I am asking and suggesting is:

(1) If we continue to insist that Moses has, indeed, come down from the mountain once again, and has, once again, directed that we "transform certain societies" then

(2) Should we not expect that, ultimately, we will have to do this difficult "transformation" work in much the same way as did Sherman and Sheridan?

If the methods of Sherman and Sheridan need not be employed today, then I must ask (1) why not and (2) by what evidence can we make such a claim?

Bob's World

Tue, 01/19/2010 - 12:25am

(I found myself in complete agreement with "anonymous" and realized that is what happens when you forget to type in your name and email before hitting "post"). Please blame me for the comments above.

Anonymous (not verified)

Tue, 01/19/2010 - 12:22am

Thinking such as this is exactly to my point:

" The essence of my question being: Because we must transform these societies and because we must do this is a such a very short period of time, do these factors not limit our foreign policy options, and limit the methods that we can use to achieve them?"

When, exactly, did some modern day Moeses come down from the mountain with stone tablets carved by the hand of God directing that "we must transform these societies?"

We have no right, and certainly no duty, to transform anyone other than ourselves. Yet when our policies are met with friction we call upon the "right of might" that it is others that must transform; and employ our military to force them to do so.

Like a petulant child using his hammer to attempt to pound the square block plastic through the round hole on the wooden frame of his Playscool toy.

I suggest that the global environment has changed significantly in the past 20 years; primarily fueld by the new information age, though marked by the collapse of the Soviet Union, the rise of China and India, and the growing popular unrest across the Middle East. For the US to presume that it does not need to totally revamp its policy Ways and Means to remain valid is aruably insane. Not just in minor ways, but in a shift from policies designed to control others in order to contain the Soviets to polices designed to enable rising populaces within states, and rising states within regions to do so in ways that are least likely to result in armed conflict, rather than to resort to armed conflict oursleves to some how constrain them.

We are in a new era of competition; and while we should be focused on technology and deveoping the education base to sustain a leading role in an emerging world that we can barely imagine; we instead expend ourselves attempting to sustain a world that has already passed. We just haven't noticed yet.

Bill C. (not verified)

Tue, 01/19/2010 - 12:17am


Apologies to both Mr. Jones and Mr. Moore (too many "Bills").

Bill C. (not verified)

Tue, 01/19/2010 - 12:08am

Sorry Mr. Jones.

Missed reading your last comment before posting mine (wherein, I could have just as easily said that: The international dilemma that we found ourselves in at the end of World War II forced, limited and determined our hand re: strategy, tactics, etc., then -- and, likewise today -- the unique and decidedly different international dilemma that we find ourselves in now also severely limits, determines and control our options presently.)

Roger on the cold ones. And thanks.

Bill C. signing off.

Bill C. (not verified)

Mon, 01/18/2010 - 11:32pm

Initially, in this recent version of this discussion, it was said that the United States looked to have a dysfunctional foreign policy, and that this was evidenced, at least in part, by the fact that we have had to rely too heavily on military intervention to achieve our foreign policy goals. (I hope I got that right.)

By my arguments, I am suggesting that that it may not be our foreign policy focus which is the basis for our problems today but, rather, the difficulties presented by the make-up and dynamics of the new international scene.

Could it be that, because of this international dilemma that we find ourselves in today (see my last comments above) that (a) our foreign policy goals and focus are indeed, if sadly, correct and that (b) the heavy (maybe much heavier) employment of military intervention is the only thing which will allow us to (1) achieve the necessary objectives in (2) the required and available time.

Unfortunately, it may be that there is no other foreign policy option and no other foreign policy tool(s) which can get the job done (in time).

(Except, of course, if we were to encourage [and they were to accept] such nations as China, Russia and India to -- with their own heavy involvement of military forces -- join in the fray?)

The essence of my question being: Because we must transform these societies and because we must do this is a such a very short period of time, do these factors not limit our foreign policy options, and limit the methods that we can use to achieve them?

Bob's World

Mon, 01/18/2010 - 9:31pm


This is a good coversation to have over a chest of cold beer out on my boat next time you come to Tampa. :-)

But yes, I do think that the information age empowering of populaces to overcome the controlling effects of external governance is a common factor in Eastern Europe and the Russians and the Middle East and the Americans. Obviously the nature of the approaches to controls are very different.

Did the majority of Poles march in Warsaw? No, a few activist, many moral supporters, a whole lot of fence sitters, and those who wanted to maintain the status quo because they were part of the foreign imposed system. The ratios may actually be quite similar in many Muslim countries.

Iran is a great example though. The populace there rallied early and through off US influence and control during the Cold War. Today the populace there is very pro American, and the government anti-American (though much of that we have to shoulder, as US policy is very anti-Iran as well). Bottom line is that when young Muslim men line up to become foreign fighters to break the will of the US to support governments in the Middle East, they do not come from Iran.

No, the US is attacked by the populaces of our allies; the checks written to support these movements also come from the populaces; and paradoxically, the governments, of our allies as well. I think some of these governments are wistling past the cemetary in their unofficial support to organizations like AQ.

My concern is that in the name of "GWOT" we have granted a writ to oppressive regimes like the Saudis, Egyptians, and Lybians, to name but three to suppress those segments of their society who dare to challenge the despotism there, all in the name of "counter-terrorism." One can hardly blame a Saudi or Lybian insurgent for buying into the AQ message that before he can have success at home, he must first take his fight on the road and go to where ever the Americans are and attack us there to break our will to sustain our current support to the regimes of the region.

I believe that once senior leaders are able to step back from focusing so heavily on the symptom of terrorism, and take a pragmatic, unbiased look at WHY there is "terrorism" (beyond the motivational factors of islamist ideologies, and dynamic leaders and their organizations like bin Laden and AQ - also symptoms)to the true root, causational factors, they will see that adjusting our Ways and Means to engaging the governments and populaces of the Middle East in a manner more consistent with our populace empowering principles as a nation will be far more effective in ending terrorist attacks on the US than any program rooted in counter-terrorism and COINish nation building.

Bill Moore (not verified)

Mon, 01/18/2010 - 1:10pm

Maybe the U.S. didn't win the Cold War, maybe we were the just the last ones standing, but that sure as hell beats losing.

Islamists have been trying to overthrow secular governments long before the information age, and I'm left scratching my head when I try to find a "popular uprising" in the Middle East. Last popular uprising ousted the Shaw in Iran, and we may be seeing the beginning of another popular upraising in Iran. I think we have to be careful not to confuse images of a few thousand protesters and / or insurgents with the notion that it is a popular uprising. In our life times we have see only a handful of popular movements such as Poland and the Philippines.

Do you really think that those who want to overthrow their corrupt and secular governments and install their version of real sharia are supported by the majority?

You wrote,
"The U.S., on the other hand, IS resisting the changes being pushed for by popular movements across the populaces of many nations where we have shaped and supported governance over the past 60-odd years".

During the Cold War and even in some cases where we have business interests we have supported largely unpopular governments, I believe the catch all term for that was realpolitc. However, please show us some examples of where we're resisting "popular movements" by supporting a failing government. Popular should indicate that at least a certain percentage of the populace "willingly" support this movement.

Bob's World

Mon, 01/18/2010 - 11:45am

(Actually, I don't think the U.S. "won" the Cold War; I think the U.S. successfully prevented a hot war, and set conditions that allowed the populaces of Eastern Europe, empowered by the same information age that is empowering the populaces of the Middle East today; to successfully stand up to and chanllenge the illigitimate governments placed over them by the Soviets. Thank God the Soviets let it go and did not resist that empowered popular movement.)

The U.S., on the other hand, IS resisting the changes being pushed for by popular movements across the populaces of many nations where we have shaped and supported governance over the past 60-odd years.

Perhaps there is a lessen in the Soviet experience other than the one we are taught in all of our text books...

Bill C. (not verified)

Mon, 01/18/2010 - 10:19am

To sum up:

Part I of The Winning of the Cold War has been achieved (to wit: the great powers/great nations of Russia, China, India, et. al., have been "transformed," such that they are all now significantly dependent upon market economies and international trade for their success and survival; with "true democracy," hopefully, being just around the corner).

However, the gains made in The Winning of the Cold War Part I cannot be sustained -- and, thus, remain in constant jeopardy -- unless and until Part II of The Winning of the Cold War can be achieved.

Part II of The Winning of the Cold War requires that significant other areas of the world be "transformed," such that they might be made to more adequately service the needs of this now -- vastly expanded -- market-oriented international order.

Lacking this, then the Cold War could still be lost, with the result being that Russia, China, etc., could catastrophically fail in their capitalist/market experiments and, thereby, revert back to pre-capitalist communism (or something worse).

In achieving The Winning of the Cold War Part I, time, patience and example were on our side and, thus, could be used as weapons to overcome the ideas and other obsticles presented by our opponents.

In the campaign for The Winning of the Cold War Part II, however, time may be our enemy (billions of new capitalists and hundreds of millions of new middle class consummers must be provided for now) and, therefore, strategies, tactics, forces and approaches -- which do not rely on time, patience and example -- may need to be employed.

Bill C. (not verified)

Sun, 01/17/2010 - 11:31am

The primary purpose of nation or state-building and democratization today -- as in the past -- is not so much to cure present insurgencies and to make these areas more peaceful.

Rather, the primary and essential objective today, like yesterday, is to re-design and re-orient the way these people live and work (i.e., to "transform" them) -- such that they might better service and provide for the needs of our version of international order.

Even in this latter regard, however, I believe that your suggestion is excellent. If we look to what has recently occured in Russia and China, for example (they were successfully transformed), this was achieved significantly through the more moderate approach of containment/good example, etc.

Two problems with today's world, however, make this more moderate strategic approach less likely to be used today:

(1) Unlike during the Cold War, today there are no great power challengers/champions who would stand against the United States, et. al., and force a more moderate, more peaceful and more patient approach. Rather, today, all the great powers are alligned against the few, the smaller and the significantly weaker societies who are "different" and who wish to remain so.

(2) Because all great powers have now, post-the Cold War, become dependent upon markets for their success and survival, time and patience are no longer viable options. The needs of billions of new capitalists and hundreds of millions of new middle class consumers (in China, Russia, India, etc.) must be met today.

Stated another way. In order for the Cold War to really and truly be "won," Part II of the process must be undertaken and be successfully achieved, to wit: the remaining portions of the world must be transformed such that they might better meet and accommodate the needs of the new market players. Lacking this, then all that has come before this (i.e. 11/9: the winning of the Cold War) will have been for naught.

Thus, the compelling reason and significant determination to "transform" these remaining societies much sooner rather than much later.

P.S. In the current environment (a market-oriented world) the market-dependent great powers are likely to compete for the human and natural resources that they need. This, also, is likely to hinder any real consideration of a "go slow" approach.

Bob's World

Sat, 01/16/2010 - 10:15pm


Come on brother! Don't kidnap my analogy and throw it on the crzy train. :-)

"Nation Building" as a policy derives from the belief that effectiveness of governance is the cure to insurgency. I can't find much basis to support this theory.

"Democratizing" as a policy derives from the belief that states that have democratic governments don't fight each other. A cure for conventional warfare. I have a hard time buying into that theory as well.

The US did very well with the principle of self-determination and moderate meddling in the business of others. Cold War containment policies, coupled with being one of big kids on the block led to a slow morphing of sound, "good neighbor" policies to the much more intrusive policies on top.

I just think we need to crank it back a couple of notches and get back to our roots. Back to our principles as a nation, and then from that startpoint, look at the world as it exists today, and design a new construct of foreign policy.

Thanks to Mark, Gian, Ken, Rob and the SWJ Editors for learned and interesting responses. I have taken the time to study fully the comments at AM by "Looking Glass" and Gian. I would like some feedback concerning this exchange. With respect but frankly, it doesn't impress me as particularly useful. To keep reiterating the belief that such-and-such an organization "just doesn't get it" is no replacement for specifics.

It appears to me that Gian's points at AM are more to the point. His gripes, whether from perceived or real inadequacies, seem like they should be more directed at a particular chain of command rather than the entire organization. Some in the Army surely must "get it."

I cannot speak with knowledge on these issues, as readers know. But I am aware of many things that occurred in support of operations in Fallujah in 2007. I am amazed at the extent of latitude and the degree of empowerment that obtained in order to be successful with operations from April to October, and this, all the way down to the infantry boots on the ground, from Lance Corporal to Gunny.

More helpful that constantly repeating the mantra that some people "just don't get it," the better and more effective option would seem to be to propose concrete remedies and means of institutionalizing the lessons learned - and hence, my original article which Dave kindly linked (leading to very much undeserved attention on me, but not so for the issue).

I am not so sanguine as Mark that we are achieving a balance in our perspective. I wish it was so, but very much doubt it. I agree with Gian that balance can mean just about anything depending on the wishes and biases of the hearer. I agree with balance too, and the link that Ken gave us concerning the reasons for wanting more F-22s makes me sick to my stomach. But the fact remains that it outperforms the F-35 at every point. Secretary Gates had that right balance, sticking to his guns that production is to be halted after 183. The Air Force can get my with less than they want. Gates also has the right balance concerning the need to plan and train for a full range of exigencies. We were all happy with the renewal of his charge under the new administration.

But where is all of this going? We want to avoid the notion of Gnostic secrecy an reading tea leaves, but some things have been made clear. Admiral Mullen has fairly directly said that <a href="…; target="_blank">more money should go to State</a> (diverted from the military, of course) for the conduct of the softer side of COIN and nation building in lieu of the military pulling this duty. The new administration has also made no secret of its support of the notion of the civilian national security force, and State Department employees deployed abroad in support of our international efforts. How this might come to pass is an enigma at this point, since the recent threat by Condi Rice to do the same thing lead just about to riots in the streets.

Now for the really important question. When is the last time you heard any branch of the U.S. military say that they could do with less money? My initial post was more a call to jettison the theory and pick up the red pen. Prepare to find the programs that you wish to cut - military programs, that is. Money simply doesn't exist to fund a civilian national security force, send State employees abroad, pump more money into our reconstruction efforts, and yet fund the Army future combat system (which is in <a href="; target="_blank">danger</a>), the Marine Corps expeditionary fighting vehicle, the Navy littoral combat program, and so on the list goes.

Organization, titles, promotion boards and such, are all interesting topics for professional military to engage. But I feel that soon, very soon, the discussions will become much more pragmatic. The conversations must get very particular, focused on the nuts and bolts of things rather than the theory.

Dr. Nagl's (who sent links to some of his work on the subject) discussions about attendance at town council meetings and other approaches to community involvement are interesting and insightful, but the evolution and adaptation has occurred, at least in the Marines. By 2007 the <a href="…; target="_blank">tactics had evolved</a> to direct involvement by officers (rather than mere attendance) at council meetings, gated communities, biometrics, payment to the SOI, combined COP/IP precincts, and so the list goes. The evolution was rapid, and COPs was used in Ramadi and throughout Anbar prior to implementation in the balance of Iraq anyway.

In a time of scarcity of funding and even Admiral Mullen saying that he supports the redirection of funds to State, the question of how to institutionalize lessons and yet prepare for future exigencies is a "getting your hands dirty" question. What programs do we wish to cut? What programs do we promulgate? What courses should be offered, which ones cut? What focus does the war college pursue in the next few years? What weapons systems are cut? Which ones promulgated? Does the Navy pursue the big ship focus, or do we allow them to go off on their own mission of littoral combat (perhaps in support of failed states as the COIN proponents would like)? And if we allow the Navy to go off and do their own thing, what happens when China crosses the Taiwan strait?

If we kill the F-22 program, are we prepared to invest half of what we would have in the refurbishment of the existing fighters to repair the stress corrosion cracking and fatigue wearing? Down in the trenches, it's fairly easy to say that we should be good at raids and room clearing, but further, do we focus on squad rushes or language training? I might say some of both, but the difficulty is that the existing language training is awful. It's a compilation of simplistic phonetics with grunts, sounds and noises (focused on sentences such as "where is the man of the house?"). It would be better if we did nothing if we cannot do it right.

I will not go on, but hopefully you get the picture. I am not advocating that the military set policy. But if internecine warfare continues between the branches, and even within the branches, and the new administration cannot be presented with a coherent, practical and affordable vision for the future, you'd better believe that it will be done by someone else.

Ken White has said that "Either the Armed Forces present a viable proposition to the new administration or the politicians will provide their own proposition." Just so. You should listen to him, and the need to get pragmatic very soon is upon the professional military community. Even beginning to build a consensus means turning aside from the theory and embracing the fact that time has run out, and that the details of the vision are needed tomorrow.


Tue, 01/20/2009 - 12:22pm

Via Entropy at the <a href="">Council</a&gt;:

<i>I'm sure a lot of people here are regular readers at Abu Muqawama's site - I know I am. I found <a href="… exchange</a> between Col. Gentile and an anonymous (but well-informed) poster very fascinating and informative. Scroll down and look for the exchange between "Looking Glass" and Col. Gentile. Great stuff...</i>

Rob Thornton

Tue, 01/20/2009 - 8:44am


I think by putting this one:

"1. Adaptable and flexible strategy, operations, tactics, logistics, and forces. Future wars and warfare will occur all along the spectrum of regularity-irregularity. Asymmetry will be the norm, not the exception, even in regular conventional hostilities ADDED and should always be the American operational goal."

first with the added caveat you established the priority from which all others should flow. I think more than a set organizational structure from which our balance should flow, it is instead this "idea" ("Adaptable and flexible strategy, operations, tactics, logistics, and forces") that Gray puts in his first sentence of your first bullet.

We consume endless hours trying to define a set/permanent organizational solution for problems and conditions that by their nature do not lend themselves to it. Instead I think our best chance of getting it "more right" is our ability to adapt at all levels to the changes in conditions and objectives. This implies we must reasonably understand where we are trying to go, where we are at, and where we have been.

The BCT for example is a fine organization for getting a reasonable, self sustaining package from one environment to another until you can either get more stuff forward to support it, or make a decision to do something else with it. It is one of a number of building blocks. It is also a composite itself, and need not be considered sacred, that is a perception we've imposed on ourselves - maybe we can't help it, it is what we do. We constrain ourselves more often than being constrained by the environment.

Occasionally though conditions require something different. Bob Killebrew was getting at this in his "Transition in Iraq" piece on the blog over the weekend. As we transition toward the 2011 mark of no combat forces in Iraq, that does not mean that both the GoI and the USG do not have objectives they are still trying to achieve, or that somehow there is no longer a military component to those objectives, just that the nature of the relationship is different, and now there are some environmental constraints - and we require something different.

Ken's #1 of Gray's list is the key to getting this more right and mitigating risk to the objective. It means that the environment has provided enough constraints and that just because the conditions do not conform to our self stratification, our ability to adapt and generate capabilities to meet the operational requirements should not be limited to self imposed organizational definitions.

It is a strange paradox that we pride ourselves on our ability to adapt and overcome, but when we place something in a handsome box we like, a box that has meaning and provides comfort, we don't want to take it out and see what else we might do with it. Ken's last comment about "being able to do far more with our military than our leaders are willing to ask" is true in a number of areas. We may be assuming that certain things may not be able to operate outside of a BCT not because they can't given the conditions, but because if they can that challenges other things. The evidence over the last 6-8 years would reinforce Ken's observation, but the way we choose to interpret that evidence keeps us from seeing it - scales on our eyes and all that.

We've even added layers to those scales by our allegiance to our various force generation choices. We say for example that "we must produce a BCT "capability" whole based on ARFORGEN - but that assumes that we require a BCT capability at the time. While this was true at one time, and may be true again in the future, or may be true now with respect to another operating environment - does this mean that our only ability is to generate BCTs whole? Or is this just a preference? If so, we need to ask why it is a preference.

Again, the evidence is that we can generate capabilities to meet other requirements to meet the operational objectives and conditions. The issue here is how well we choose to do it, and how can we best do it while mitigating risk in other areas. If the environment (objectives and conditions) is such that a BCT is not the best fit at the time, why can't we produce/generate a better capability to meet those requirements through better personnel and force generation practices? If a BCT is broken up in order to source GCC operational requirements, does that mean that that those pieces/components/units/individuals that were not used immediately no longer have value? Or could they be employed elsewhere to meet other needs? My take is that right down to the individual they have value, and can be used effectively elsewhere - we just need to do a better job of identifying and articulating our requirements. - and we need to eschew the practice of see a hole fill a hole - which may be tied to the belief that all people and units are relatively equal - they are not.

I'll finish by saying that the BCT (or some like structure) provides a good solid way to package capabilities required for full spectrum operations. It puts leadership and the rest of the DOTMLPF in a structure that provides great flexibility and also serves as a point to adapt from (should we choose to). The key here is to choose, and to see ourselves as capable of doing more with not only the whole, but the capabilities (right down to individuals) that are contained therein. It is ironic that our current practices bear this out, but our minds are unwilling in many cases to accept it. To echo my friend Old Eagle,, "we can do better if only we are willing to try".

Best Regards all, Rob

Gian P Gentile

Tue, 01/20/2009 - 7:31am


Agree with what you say in general and in principle with some clarification on my part and some slight disagreements with you too.

First I used the idea of two equally strong forces in the army of one conventional and one coin more as a hypothetical to demonstrate an extreme that we could never realistically get to. However, in the real world of today's debate there are folks who are calling for bifurcation of the American Army. Andy Krepinevich's recent call for an Army built around brigades built and trained for heavy combat while another set of brigades built for nation-building and coin (cant remember the breakdown off the top of my head, though). And John Nagl's call for a 30,000man advisory corps (acknowledging that this corps would be for long term use in Afghanistan and Iraq and in that sense somewhat temporary) while not as far as K's recommendation does still bifurcate the army along functional lines and both these concepts will affect organization. I have also seen recommendations for transforming parts of the Marine Corps into formations that are decentralized and organized around squads, platoons, and companies for sorties out of the littorals and into the world's troubled spots. So the point, here, Ken is that bifurcation is in fact taken seriously and put forward stridently by folks within the defense community. I agree with you that we should not be bifurcating, but there is a move to do so nonetheless.

And I agree about the necessity of being able to do full-spectrum operations. Moreover, well trained combat formations can step in different directions when told to do so depending on missions assigned. My point all along is that those well trained formations will not come about if we build an army that is primarily trained and organized around the principle of nationbuilding, irregular war, coin etc.

And in this regard I disagree with you on Gray's piece. I used the word "tack" intentionally as a metaphor to show that if there is an end point and an angle involved to get there that angle should be in the direction of conventional capabilities. It doesnt mean not being able to do other things, but the thrust, the direction, the angle should be on grounding ourselves in the capacity to fight at the higher end of the conflict spectrum. I dont see how one can read Gray otherwise.


Right, good definition of "balance." But it still leaves us in the realm of theory which is where Herschel doesnt like to be. By that I mean and to build on your metaphor of "fulcrum point" or "pivot" please describe and explain in terms of organizational structures what that point or pivot looks like. That is where the rub rests, what does that pivot look like? Is it an army built around the concept of deployable brigade sized battle groups that can do a wide range of functions or is it an army that is built around Krepinevich's model that bifurcates the force into coin and higher end capable organizations, or is it a force that is restructured primarily as a light infantry based constubulary outfit to police the world's troubled spots and operate in dismounted fashion amongst the people. I am following Herschel's call for meat-on-the-bones here so I would like to hear your thoughts.

So when the answer to these questions state that "well we have to do everything and that we need balance" and then left there, well that is in my mind superficial and does not really move the debate forward in terms of policy and strategy.

Thanks to you and Ken and others of the SWC for the dialogue.


Mark O'Neill

Mon, 01/19/2009 - 10:30pm


The point about the concept of balance is that it is referent to a fulcrum or a pivot. This prevents it being 'all things to everyone', as if the referent point is ignored, moved or somehow tampered with the system goes 'out of balance'.

The fulcrum in this case is agreed, declaratory policy that details the desired outcomes of national security efforts and expenditures. (I despair about the ability of contemporary western democratic nations to fashion strategy in the face of the electoral cycles).

I think this takes us back to where Ken was a few posts ago.... if leaders (in the case of the USA I guess that I mean the executive and the congress) adequately describe the ends, determining balance becomes both less subjective and less of a guessing game.



Ken White

Mon, 01/19/2009 - 10:23pm


Can you please tell me who, if anyone, is advocating the US Army build two equally strong forces: one COIN and the other conventional?

No one with any credibility has advocated that to my knowledge. Some seem to be trying to rebuild a wheel that was built 50 years ago.

You say:<blockquote>"Me, I say the Army must tack toward the conventional capabilities side (as does Colin Gray); Many of the Coin advocates recommend the opposite. At some point choices have to be made. Perhaps that is why the debate becomes so strident at times, because of what is at stake."</blockquote>Dr. Gray can clarify but I do not see his thesis as advocating quite as strong a tack as you seem to. I submit the stridency of the debate has less to do with actual choices than it does with defending to the death positions espoused.

Anyone who's spent more than five years in the Army should know that there is <u>not</u> going to be a dedicated advisory organization and there should not be; The Army is <u>not</u> going to be all heavy divisions oriented to major war. Reality will allow neither and both sides should realize that.

We do not need two Armies; two forces or this foolish division, an argument that leads nowhere but to added confusion.

In the early 1960s, XVII Abn Corps trained heavily for stability operations AND for conventional warfare to include forced entry -- and was capable of doing both due to a training ratio of about 70:30. Both divisions had reasonably good capability in either mode.

At the same time III Corps and the heavy divisions trained for MCO and for stability ops on a 75:25 or thereabouts ratio. Those in Europe trained 100% for MCO. Didn't do heavy stuff then but on the outside looking in they seemed capable.

Required today is an Army that, as an entity, is capable of covering the full spectrum. We have done that before and it can be more easily be done today because of quality improvements in many areas.

It's not that difficult to tailor training for primary, secondary and alternate missions. Training can be improved; it's better now than it's ever been but it can still be better. We need to lose the WW II fixations and the archaic Task, Condition and Standards foolishness which is good for a mobilizing Army but not for today's force.

Also helpful would be a realization that we have a professional Army that is capable of doing more then its leadership seems prepared to ask of it...

Gian P Gentile

Mon, 01/19/2009 - 9:24pm

Except Mark "balance" can end up meaning everything for everybody. I agree that we need balance as I am sure any of the Coin advocates do. To be clear, John Nagl has always maintained that the United States needs to ensure it has a conventional fighting capability just like I have repeatedly said that the United States Army must maintain its Coin credentials.

But the devil is in the details here, and balance can not mean an unlimited defense budget for the army where it can build two equally strong forces: one coin and the other conventional.

Me, I say the Army must tack toward the conventional capabilities side (as does Colin Gray); Many of the Coin advocates recommend the opposite. At some point choices have to be made. Perhaps that is why the debate becomes so strident at times, because of what is at stake.


Mark O'Neill

Mon, 01/19/2009 - 7:04pm

Herschel, Gian, (Ken) et al

It seems to me that there is starting to be a modicum of consensus developing .. around the theme of 'balance'. I had hoped that this is where the debate would have eventually headed, progress will only be made with appropriate compromises - a zero sum game is truly self defeating.

Ultimately, I am not convinced that any 'big' idea is required - an appropriate series of rational, well considered and implemented incremental ones will get us there without creating reactionary effects on either 'side'.

Continuing the theme of citing Colin Gray, I will conclude with one of his maxims:
"The strategic 'concept du jour' will be tomorrows' stale left-over, until it is rediscovered, re-cycled, and revealed as a new truth'. To my mind the aim should be to avoid this boom and bust cycle with all the associated winners, losers and costs and proceed in a balanced fashion.



Ken White

Mon, 01/19/2009 - 3:00pm

It must be Monday...
Herschel has an excellent point -- we are approaching decision time. Unfortunately, the recurring (every four years and that's important -- don't forget it) drama of a Presidential inauguration and the settling in of the new crowd mean that little will be done for at least a year or so. The other recurring drama that is American intransigence and politics mean that we will try every conceivable alternative before getting it nearly right (with apologies to W. Churchill). I say nearly right because for this discussion, there is no right -- there can only be a possibly acceptable conclusion.

I agree with Gian that Macgregor has some good ideas -- not totally in agreement but he's closer than anyone else. I believe Krepinevich and Nagl lean to far into the "COIN community" and that they and Barnett put far more emphasis on 'failed states' and such than is merited.

Such states do require help and we should proffer it if in our interests -- but a military solution will usually not be the best answer and both a dedicated Advisory element and a 'SysAdmin' element are too unwieldy, impractical and costly.

That brings us to Colin Gray's excellent prescription for what should be done. With all respect to the learned Doctor and learned Gian, I'd offer some thoughts on the list Gian provides. We need to do some re-numbering. I suggest, in priority order and with three critical additions and a couple of subtractions:

1. Adaptable and flexible strategy, operations, tactics, logistics, and forces. Future wars and warfare will occur all along the spectrum of regularity-irregularity. Asymmetry will be the norm, not the exception, even in regular conventional hostilities <u>ADDED</u> and should always be the American operational goal.

2. Control of the global commons (sea, air, space, cyberspace), when and where it is strategically essential.

3. The ability to dissuade, deter, defeat, or at least largely neutralize any state, coalition of states, or nonstate political actor, that threatens regional or global order.

4. Excellence in raiding, thus exploiting the leverage of Americas global reach.<u>ADDED</u>: with purpose designed and specialized equipment for insertion and extraction.

5. Continuing supremacy in regular conventional combat. Prediction of a strategic future that will be wholly irregular is almost certainly a considerable exaggeration.

6. Competence in counterinsurgency (COIN) and counterterror (CT). These activities should not dominate American defense preparation and action, but they comprise necessary military, inter alia, core competencies.

7. Policy choices and tactical military habits that do not offend American culture <u>ADDED</u>:, adapt to that cultures collective inclinations and to American political reality and schedules.

8. First-rate strategic theory and strategic and military doctrine. Ideas are more important than machines, up to a point at least.

Those are in my priority order.

The additions are important if seemingly innocuous. We have every right to be as 'asymmetric' as anyone and such thinking should always drive our doctrine, training, strategic, operational and tactical efforts; we have becaome to centralized and too dogmatic.

We have known since 1979 that we need better distant raid capability -- and equipment -- but we have done little to provide or improve that capability simply due to excessive caution -- that needs to change.

Any strategic or operational plan that does not account for the fact that barring existential war, not all Americans will be supportive, ever -- and the we are an impatient society; we want quick results for expenditures and the greater the expenditure the quicker we want results. That is reality. Ten year campaigns will not sit well and risk loss of popular (not a major problem) and political (that is a major problem) support.

Note that two items from Gian's list are missing:

9. A national security, or grand, strategy worthy of the name, in which military strategy can be suitably 'nested.'

10. A fully functioning 'strategy bridge' that binds together the realms of policy and military behavior."

I did not include those because it is my belief that the US political system is incapable of doing either of those highly desirable things. While both are certainly desirable, if the previous eight can be accomplished reasonably well, the last two become less consequential. There is a myth that the US 'strategy during the Cold War remained coherent throughout a 43 year period. In broad strokes, that is true, however anyone who lived through it will recall that each change of administration brought significant changes in detail, in programs and in general concept.

I see no reason to believe that the future will offer much chance for great continuity in the strategic realm - quite the contrary, in fact.
Thus I believe it critical that the Armed Forces plan, equip and train for the full spectrum of conflict possibilities. I know that can be done; I believe it needs to be done and I think the debate over COIN or conventional focus is obscuring reality. Either the Armed Forces present a viable proposition to the new administration or the politicians will provide their own proposition - and that is highly likely to be very self serving. For an example, check this <a href=…; LINK</a> and note the third paragraph.

Like Herschel, I believe we may need a few more F-22s - but that link shows one can do the right thing for the wrong reason. Their next big idea may not be the right thing...

David Ucko (not verified)

Mon, 01/19/2009 - 2:19pm

"Next, if Nagl is as tired of the theory as I am (oh God I hope so), lets hear some specific recommendations on what changes he considers most important to maintain the ability to engage near-failed states."

Erm, what about his proposals for a permanent advisory corps? Truth is there are many concrete recommendations for how the Army, Marine Corps, military, should change so as to "improve its ability to engage in near-failed states" (particulalry if we allow for a somewhat pragmatic conflation of stability operations and COIN). In this particular cycle of learning, the first version may have been Hans Binnendijk's edited volume of 2004 on "Transforming the Military for Stability Operations". Since then a multitude of other proposals have been made, whether in individual articles in Military Review or JFQ, in major documents on defence policy produced at CSBA, CNAS, or elsewhere and, even, from within DOD itself: OSD has its directive for how to institutionalise a stability operations capability and a forthcoming 'instruction paper' on the same topic, while the Army has its Army Action Plan for Stability Operations of 2007 as well as a bunch of other gap-analyses of where it needs to change, all with the required implementation clauses hardwired into the framework.

So... before we 'graduate' the COIN or not discussion and move on to recommendations (which is certainly no bad idea), consider for a moment the fate of all of the recommendations, guidelines and directives to have appeared (and disappeared) already. Maybe the problem isn't so much a lack of recommendations but a lack of will to see them through? And that, of course, is where we return to the original debate.

Gian P Gentile

Mon, 01/19/2009 - 10:59am

Dear Herschel:

Thanks for the post and your important points and call for moving the debate forward with some meat-on-the-bones so to speak.

Simply put, I think Colin Gray in his recent SSI essay, "After Iraq: A Search for Sustainable National Strategy" has it right in terms of what US Strategy should be and the components of it, namely how to structure the American military for the future around a set of imperatives.

So permit me to cite Gray shamelessly since my thinking (humbly admitted) is in line with his on these matters.

"1. Control of the global commons (sea, air, space, cyberspace), when and where it is strategically essential.

2. The ability to dissuade, deter, defeat, or at least largely neutralize any state, coalition of states, or nonstate political actor, that threatens regional or global order.

3. Adaptable and flexible strategy, operations, tactics, logistics, and forces. Future wars and warfare will occur all along the spectrum of regularity-irregularity. Asymmetry will be the norm, not the exception, even in regular conventional hostilities.

4. Continuing supremacy in regular conventional combat. Prediction of a strategic future that will be wholly irregular is almost certainly a considerable exaggeration.

5. Competence in counterinsurgency (COIN) and counterterror (CT). These activities should not dominate American defense preparation and action, but they comprise necessary military, inter alia, core competencies.

6. Excellence in raiding, thus exploiting the leverage of Americas global reach.

7. First-rate strategic theory and strategic and military doctrine. Ideas are more important than machines, up to a point at least.

8. A national security, or grand, strategy worthy of the name, in which military strategy can be suitably 'nested.'

9. Policy choices and tactical military habits that do not offend American culture.

10. A fully functioning 'strategy bridge' that binds together, adaptably, the realms of policy and military behavior."

Grays excellent essay is available online at the SSI home page and to see how he develops these imperatives further recommend it be read in its entirety.

My own thoughts as far as specifics in terms of possible organizational change for the US Army I believe that the best model available is still Macgregors which is centered around a ground force of marines and army that has strategic, operational, and tactical mobility along with firepower and protection that can draw on its own and joint fires in a distributed fashion. Such a force also has a robust infantry capability as well. It certainly wont satisfy those who essentially want a light-infantry based force to conduct more nation-buildings and irregular wars of the future. But such a force like Macgregors that is built around the maneuver element of brigade sized battle groups can fight in the modern security environment. And if it can fight, it can do other missions called upon to do. It is not to say that in the future the American Army might have to do more nation-building missions, counterinsurgency etc. I fully accept that possibility. The question is how to organize the American army for a very uncertain future. It might be smallwars of nationbuilding and counterinsurgency but it might be more than that so we better have an American Army that can fight and win all of the wars assigned to us, not just a niche vision of the future.


Sorry I took direct aim at the COIN debate at the expense of your comment (one too many beers late at night). The post was made a bit tongue-in-cheek to emphasize the point that it's precisely because people like me are completely unable to engage the debate at this level that professional military needs to.

Ken White has weighed in before (and I agree completely) that the Leviathan - Sysadmin organization advocated by Barnett is a profoundly bad idea. Again, I agree. Ken seems to be willing to debate the details.

Andrew Exum has weighed in with killing the F-22 program completely. I disagree, but at least there is detail to his proposals. Finally, the Navy has weighed in with detail concerning their (ill-advised, I believe) littoral combat program (ill-advised because we are giving up control of the seas for the support of near-failed states).

One final example to support my thesis. Officer selection and promotion boards. Now, there's where the rubber meets the road. Have you seen any debates more intense and application-oriented than that? But is it true that the only way to institutionalize lessons learned is to promote the right people to Colonel? Really?

Other than a few examples I have given, the real debate needs to graduate to the next level. What weapons systems does the advocate wish to be cancelled? What systems promulgated? What training stopped? What training started? What new certifications and qualifications implemented?

Until we get into the details, the debate remains less than as interesting and important as it could be. Again, I am certainly not the chief zeitgeist monitor for anything (ask anyone at the SWC who will be happy to tell you how many times I am wrong). Just advocating more detail to the debate. On this, I cannot see any down side to the proposal.

Mark O'Neill

Mon, 01/19/2009 - 7:01am

Ok Team , in future I must take that extra 30 seconds for the spelling and grammar check. It did look kind of shoddy. Two (sics) in one post is enough for anyone...

On another note, I am curious about the 'entire COIN' community that Herschel is apparently the chief zeitgeist monitor for. Who knew? Was there a vote? Who is in 'it' ?

Obviously I am more 'out of it' downunder than I appreciated.....

Bob's World

Thu, 01/14/2010 - 4:44am

Two men are standing waist deep in water in a flooded basement. One, we'll call him Mr. G, argues strongly that we need to form a bucket brigade and bail the water out. It's what's always worked in the past and it's what will work in the future. The other, we'll call him Mr. N, argues equally strenuously that this is a new type of flooding and it requires new approaches and that what is really need is a pump that can pump the water out. Meanwhile, the owner of the home, we'll call him Mr. P, stands next to the broken water main that continues to deliver an endless flow of water into the basement demanding that he doesn't care if they bail or pump, but just make this water go away as cheaply as possible so that he can get back doing what he has always done in the ways he's always done it.

Now, I'm not saying that Mr. P represents our civil leadership that is wed to a family of foreign policy designed for distinct era in time that ran from about 1946-1989; Nor am I saying that Mr. G and Mr. N represent two sides of the largely irrelevant debate at DoD that Gian Gentile and John Nagl have become poster children for. I'm just saying that someone needs to turn of the damn water.

When one has to lean too heavily on their military in order to make their foreign policy function, I believe you most likely have a dysfunctional foreign policy; and that is what needs fixed. To compromise the military to turn it into the perfect force for propping up a failed policy is to commit a second major blunder in order to compensate for one's initial major blunder.

We do not need a military designed to address the symptoms of the ever widening resistance to the U.S.'s control-based policies designed to contain the Soviets; nor do we need to become more effective at helping despotic regimes suppress the rebelling segments of their populace, regardless of how long we have considered those despots "allies."

It is time to move forward. Colin Gray raises excellent points. Sadly they are points that get readily twisted by those who wish to use them to support their own agendas. For example, he says: "Control of the global commons (sea, air, space, cyberspace), when and where it is strategically essential."

The critical part of this statement is the LAST part, not the first. To focus on the last part is to adopt policies that can do nothing but threaten and piss off emerging powers around the globe, and bankrupt our nation in efforts to build the capabilities and capacities to be dominant everywhere, all the time. To focus on the second part is to realize that we don't have to break ourselves in order to secure ourselves.

It is in fact time for a change; but before we go crazy arguing about the virtues of Pumping vs. Bailing; I suggest we turn off the water first.

Bill C. (not verified)

Fri, 01/15/2010 - 8:46pm

Stated another way:

The world, post-the Cold War (now with the huge populations in Russia, China, India, etc., joining the market world), has become an insatiable producing, consuming, polluting, destroying and building monster.

(Nothing in history has ever been seen like this -- and only the Industrial Revolution gives one a glimpse [on a much smaller scale] of what may transpire.)

In order for this monster to survive, every presently underutilized and/or inadequately configured natural and human resource (to include the human resource of governance) must be optimally made and/or re-made so as to adequately meet this monster's incalcuable needs.

In this regard, outdated, aberrant and totally mal-configured (for today's world) entities such as tribes and failed and weak states are the primary problem. And, as such, working with these entities has no chance of producing the desired result.

Rather, these entities must be made to conform to the needs of the monster.

And the problems inherent to this transformational process and requirement must be understood, acknowledged and provided for.

(It would, however, be so much nicer if there was only some other way ! )

Bill Moore (not verified)

Fri, 01/15/2010 - 11:18pm

If Bill C. is correct that may imply we need to pursue our objectives through the practice of realpolitic instead of blindly pursuing ideological goals (Modern Democractic State model). While I think Bill C.'s argument has merit, I'm not sure I agree that means traditional and modern governing systems can't be co-exist.

Getting back to the original debate, I peronally think the debate is foolish to begin with. It is a debate over doctrine, which means we're trying to identify a one size fits all approach with our doctrinal template. I think it is time to seriously challenge our doctrinal development process and what doctrine should really be. Smart books are helpful and doctrine has its place. However, since we're talking about is the future of our military ultimately I will argue that both Nagel and Gian's arguments are incorrect, and if we redesign the military to support either argument we will not be prepared to deal the current and emerging threats to our nation. Nagel's argument "assumes" that our nation building strategy is the correct approach, and furthermore that it will be supported by the international community and those we are pushing it upon. Gian's argument's assume that irregular threats aren't real threats to our national interests. In all fairness I have exagerated both of their arguments to highlight the gap in views, but actually believe both men to be highly intelligent and rational, but still, what are we arguing about? I encourage you to read the following article to provide an alternative way of thinking about problems. It isn't an easy way, and it sure makes hard to design a force and training programs, but many of our enemies will be adaptive and demonstrate this agility while we cling to our doctrine to the bitter end.

Weiqi: A symbol of the Chinese experience
By David Gosse

"The Classic mentions a third dimension: "Do not necessarily stick to a plan, change it according to the moment." [12] The axiom of change commands the player to adjust to the situation and to beware of blind adherence to a preconceived system, doctrine or ideology. Deng Xiaoping's emphasis on the necessity to "seek the truth from the facts" profoundly continues this pattern of Chinese strategic thinking. At the diplomatic level, Mao's unexpected rapprochement with Washington in the 1970s was in the spirit of the third postulate."

Bill C. (not verified)

Thu, 01/14/2010 - 8:33pm

Let me just throw out a few things to see if anyone thinks these are correct, relevant and important enough to be considered in this new discussion.

a. Today, there is no great power rivalry similar to that which took place during the Cold War.

b. No similar great power rivalry is expected in the near or mid-term future.

c. Today there is no great power supporting any of the current insurgencies.

d. No great power is expected to support any of these insurgencies in the near or mid-term future.

e. In fact, the great powers today work together to fight against these insurgencies -- and would be expected to work together to fight against these insurgencies in the future.

f. Indeed, the architecture of the international scene, today and for the immediate future, seems to be more about the great powers providing for each others needs.

g. In truth, the great powers today seem to have become, in many ways, significantly dependent upon each other for success and for survival.

If we wanted to "turn off the water," would this (no great power conflict -- rather great power cooperation) be a reasonable and important place to start?

Bob's World

Fri, 01/15/2010 - 1:06am

Well, I would say "coorperate but validate," becuase while we may not have a lot of state "enemies," we are fools to not recognize every other state as a "competitor."

I think the important factors that need to be more effectively accounted for are:

1. Why the US is attacked far more by the populaces of our allies than by the populaces of our "enemies."

2. How to transition cold war imperatives into perspectives that are far more relevant to the world we live in today.

3. How to repair the relationship between the US and the most pro-American populace in the Middle East - Iran.

4. How to more effectively work with populaces and the non-standard governances that are emerging Westphalian systems of governance imposed through colonialism are being rejected by cultures where such european constructs make little sense. To simply label a state "failed" because it regects Western constructs of "stateness" is arrogant, ignorant, and damn near racist.

5. How to upgrade relationships with the many governments and populaces where the US shaped much of what exists today through Cold War policies rationalized under the strategy of Containment. To simply become a protector of Despots in the face of growing insurgency and terrorist attacks against the US is a failure of foreign policy (root causes) that far exceeds any failures of intelligence (symptoms).

Bottom line we must evolve, and to simply debate how DOD should evolve to overcome increasing friction to outdated policies as to how we approach and engage the world is an important, but secondary debate as to how State needs to evolve to be better at POLICY. (I don't need a State that's good at CT or FID, or UW or COIN...)

Bill C. (not verified)

Fri, 01/15/2010 - 12:34pm

Prior to "evolving," however, one must look to the desired end game. And, this (understanding the desired end game) reveals the key to the problem.

The United States, through its current foreign policy focus and initiatives, seeks to "transform" certain societies and areas of the world.

This, so that these societies and areas might better and more adequately accommodate the needs of the new international order (Russia, China, India, Brazil, et. al., all have become, like us, dependent upon capitalism/markets for their success and survival).

The United States feels that this vital requirement (identified immediately above) cannot be accomplished by working with and through the many, varied, disparate and totally unrealiable governing/producing models (tribes, etc) currently found in "failed and weak states."

Thus, the impudice behind a foreign policy designed to "transform" these societies and governments such they CAN meet our needs.

With such a foreign policy focus, having to deal effectively with insurgencies and other such conflicts (i.e., flooding in the basement) is (or should be) baked into the cake.

An alternative foreign policy focus? Let the various regional great powers "transform" the "weak and failed states" in their own areas (spheres of influence) and adopt (re-adopt) an "open door" policy to accommodate all capitalist/market nations and players?

Bill Moore (not verified)

Fri, 01/15/2010 - 3:55am


I like your last two points.

"4. How to more effectively work with populaces and the non-standard governances that are emerging Westphalian systems of governance imposed through colonialism are being rejected by cultures where such european constructs make little sense. To simply label a state "failed" because it regects Western constructs of "stateness" is arrogant, ignorant, and damn near racist."

Our continued efforts to establish States within the accepted Westphalian order tends to be met with rejection versus acceptance by the populace in many locations (Afghanistan for one). The government structure we are pushing on them is often frightening and considered a threat to these societies and their established norms. Our stated strategy is to extend governance (read control) over the entire country, which in our view means to extend central governance within Western norm. You're right, this is almost racist in outlook (reminds of the White man's burden comment).

"5. How to upgrade relationships with the many governments and populaces where the US shaped much of what exists today through Cold War policies rationalized under the strategy of Containment. To simply become a protector of Despots in the face of growing insurgency and terrorist attacks against the US is a failure of foreign policy (root causes) that far exceeds any failures of intelligence (symptoms).

Bottom line we must evolve, and to simply debate how DOD should evolve to overcome increasing friction to outdated policies as to how we approach and engage the world is an important, but secondary debate as to how State needs to evolve to be better at POLICY. (I don't need a State that's good at CT or FID, or UW or COIN...)"

While I have a lot of respect for State, at the same time I think State is the U.S. government department that needs to evolve the most and the quickest to effectively work with different political structures (tribes, etc.) that are emerging as key players where our version of State control has failed. We're back to the future, and our diplomats must be prepared to conduct diplomacy effectively with the equivalent of our Indian Chiefs of the old west. These tribal and other entities have political and economic systems even if they don't parallel ours, and we can learn to work with them. Instead if we insist on "imposing" our will on them to conform to our Western norms, then we need a tougher strategy that employs more coercion, and I don't think we want to go there.

Bill C. (not verified)

Sat, 01/16/2010 - 11:17am

Is it possible that Nagl and Gentile both see nation-building as a critical 21st Century imperative (which requires the transformation of tribes and weak and failed states -- and other such structures which are ill-configured to optimally meet the needs of the new international order)?

In the case of Gentile, however, he believes that this wrenching activity is likely to also (or primarily) require the use of heavy forces and harsh tactics -- as has often been required when such tasks as these were undertaken in the past.

In this, might one agree? Both capabilities (regular and irregular -- conventional and unconventional) are likely to be needed to "turn off the water," which flows from the spigot of this exceptionally disruptive transformational process and requirement.