Small Wars Journal

Want to Win Wars? Fund Soft Power, Trump’s Generals Say

Want to Win Wars? Fund Soft Power, Trump’s Generals Say by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Defense One

The president’s proposal to boost military spending at the expense of diplomacy and foreign aid won't lead to victory.

“We never win, and we don’t fight to win,” President Trump said this week, unveiling a budget that would boost defense spending by double-digits while cutting the State Department by 37 percent.

But those leading America’s military effort have never been more vocal about the need for development dollars and the indispensability of diplomatic efforts working in tandem with kinetic ones.

Take the new plan to to bring the fight to ISIS, delivered to the president this week. “This plan is a political-military plan; it is not a military plan,” said Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “In the development of the plan, we have been completely engaged at every level with the State Department…Not only will it be a whole-of-government approach,” Dunford said, it’s “about a trans-regional threat.”

“Winning” cannot be simply about the military campaign. It is also about the “and then what?” It is about a solid answer to the question of to whom the military should hand off its stability responsibilities once the fight ends. Right now, the military’s leaders seem to be alone in asking the crucial question of what comes next…

Read on.


So: Let me see if I can define both the problem -- and the proposed solution -- as relates to U.S./the West's dilemma, and mission, for the 21st Century:

a. The problem/the dilemma: States and societies that are not organized, ordered and oriented more along modern western political, economic, social and value lines; from these such improperly configured states and societies, all kinds of deadly ills emanate, to include, nationalism, terrorism, insurgency, genocide, disease, crime, etc., etc. etc. -- all of which tend to expand outward and into the international community as a whole and, indeed, into the global economy -- and all of which tend to bring significant negative effects to same.

b. The solution/the mission: Thus, is to (a) transform these "outlying" states and societies more along modern western political, economic and social lines and to, thus, (b) eliminate these negative effects.

The problem here, of course, is that -- in the pursuit of this mission -- the U.S./the West cannot resort to "total war;" as it did, for example, in World War II.

Thus, the "transform" (more along modern western lines) and "assimilate" (more into the global economy) mission must be achieved -- in all our cases today -- via other ways and other means (to wit: by ways and means other than "total war.")

And, herein as they say, lies the rub -- possibly best articulated here:


The fact that limited wars are fought with restraint and deliberately avoid exceptional violence means that attempts at transformative military occupations will fail because the enemy population will resist the imposition of new institutions and ideologies. It is evident that an occupying army cannot succeed in instrumenting drastic, substantive, and perdurable political reform while confronting indigenous military, political, and ideological resistance. From this, I conclude that a military occupation with dual targets, both punitive and transformative, cannot achieve the second objective (transformative change) unless the enemy population accepts the fact that it has experienced total defeat. Since the contemporary military doctrine of the United States precludes the achievement of total victory in limited wars, this class of conflicts should never include democratization by force among its final objectives.


(The above understanding -- re: successful "resistance" to the imposition of new institutions and ideologies minus "total war" -- this such understanding helping us to comprehend the success achieved by "resisting" both great nations [think China, Russia, Iran] and small, and the success achieved also by "resisting" both state and non-state actors [in this latter regard, think AQ, ISIS, etc.]?)

This seems to tell us, thus, that the "transform and assimilate" mission -- re: the "outlying" states and societies of the world -- that this such mission does not belong to U.S./Western militaries -- who, as our author immediately above indicates, (a) realistically cannot achieve such "transform and assimilate" goals (b) minus "total war?"

Thus, in truth, this "transform and assimilate" mission belongs -- not to U.S./Western militaries -- but to some other agency/agencies of U.S./Western government? (Who need to get off of their respective butts and start getting their respective acts together?)

Bill C.

Fri, 03/10/2017 - 12:19pm

Are Trump's generals saying that the only way to "win" in the Greater Middle East is to transform the states and societies of the region more along modern western political, economic, social and value lines?