Small Wars Journal

In White House’s Iraq Debate, Military Brass Pushed for Doing Less

In White House’s Iraq Debate, Military Brass Pushed for Doing Less by Greg Jaffe and Missy Ryan, Washington Post

As President Obama was weighing how to halt Islamic State advances in Iraq, some of the strongest resistance to boosting U.S. involvement came from a surprising place: a war-weary military that has grown increasingly skeptical that force can prevail in a conflict fueled by political and religious grievances.

Top military officials, who have typically argued for more combat power to overcome battlefield setbacks over the past decade, emerged in recent White House debates as consistent voices of caution in Iraq. Their shift reflects the paucity of good options and a reluctance to suffer more combat deaths in a war in which America’s political leaders are far from committed and Iraqis have shown limited will to fight…

Read on.

Comments

Our current policies bring up two violations of rational thought (citing Hastie and Dawes here)...

first, sunk costs should not be considered, but we sure do consider them. The current administration wishes to avoid the entangling actions engendered by Bush 43...Congressional Republicans (and presidential hopefuls) seek an aggressive policy to avenge our OIF/OND losses. Thus policies are more defined by "what they are not" than "what they are"

second, we "anchor and adjust," meaning we simply modify existing plans rather than put in the intellectual energy to develop wholly new ones which may be more effective.

Ways to fix and develop a coherent policy? Though tough, perhaps we take a hard look and really try to identify what the ends are. Apply potential whole of government ways and means and assess probabilities and consequences along the way. Also ensure our policy is adaptive within the constraints of those probabilities and consequences.

Bottom line, we really need to think this through.

thedrosophil

Wed, 06/17/2015 - 2:08pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

RCJ: A couple of quibbles, sir.

<BLOCKQUOTE>Our strategic failure is equally rooted in that aspect of American culture that led us to put a man on the moon, or to build the Panama Canal - the belief that if we just work hard enough, and apply enough resources, that we can overcome any problem.</BLOCKQUOTE>

The key difference that I believe you've omitted is that accomplishments such as putting a man on the moon and building the Panama Canal required both hard work <I>and</I> critical thinking. The latter seems to be in increasingly short supply.

<BLOCKQUOTE>The combination of these two American traits has led us to adopting a strategic approach to intruding on the internal political challenges of others in a manner that is doomed to fail by design; and no amount of good intentions, good tactics, can overcome that fact. At least not in any durable, meaningful way.</BLOCKQUOTE>

I agree with your overall point, but not with your phrasing. There is no "strategic approach". A "strategic approach", by definition, requires 1) proactivity, 2) planning, and 3) a focus upon the achievement of a defined political end state. None of those traits have been apparent in the international response to ISIS/DAESH, which have been 1) reactive, 2) ad hoc, and 3) focused upon defeating ISIS/DAESH militarily, not politically.

Robert C. Jones

Tue, 06/16/2015 - 8:24am

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill C.

Yes, we failed to indoctrinate, but that is a tactical failure, not our strategic failing.

Our strategic failing is rooted in our believe that what we bring to other people is so much better than what they currently possess, that we will somehow be exempt to the laws of nature that drive humans to naturally resist such illegitimate intrusions. This is true when police enter a home to break up domestic violence and soon find themselves under attack by a long suffering spouse and children; and it is equally true when the US invades a nation to save a long-suffering population from an abusive government. It is human nature. The character of our actions can mitigate that natural response, but not eliminate it.

Our strategic failure is equally rooted in that aspect of American culture that led us to put a man on the moon, or to build the Panama Canal - the belief that if we just work hard enough, and apply enough resources, that we can overcome any problem.

The combination of these two American traits has led us to adopting a strategic approach to intruding on the internal political challenges of others in a manner that is doomed to fail by design; and no amount of good intentions, good tactics, can overcome that fact. At least not in any durable, meaningful way.

What we seem to have -- whether re: the Middle East, Russia and/or China -- is a failure of indoctrination.

"indoctrinate:

to teach (someone) to fully accept the ideas, opinions, and beliefs of a particular group and to not consider other ideas, opinions, and beliefs."

Thus, a failure to have the people of the Middle East, Russia and/or China:

a. Fully accept our "new" ideas, opinions and beliefs. And a failure to cause these populations to:

b. Let go of their "old" ideas, opinions and beliefs.

What can our military do about this -- somewhat worldwide -- "failure of indoctrination" situation?

One would suggest: Not much.

Robert C. Jones

Sun, 06/14/2015 - 10:58pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

The current mission is indeed impossible. So long as we cling to trying to make our initial "impossible" political solution for Iraq work, and refuse to offer I viable political alternative to the Sunni Arab people of that region, every effort is equally doomed. That is true with hundreds of thousands of boots on the ground, or none at all. All COAs are equally infeasible.

The US needs to learn that king making is obsolete, and learn to accept more risk in allowing societies to self-determine governance they believe best for themselves. No amount of security force capacity is adequate to preserve a government perceived as illegitimate against forces who perceive their cause as legitimate.

The President has the right idea, but is not armed with strategic rationale that is sufficient to silence the critics that demand we must do something because of the human tragedies associated with a society trying to throw off what we put upon them (in Iraq, Syria is the same dynamic, but not our hand there).

We need to move forward from the logic of our Colonial efforts, Vietnam and Afghanistan and Iraq. Adopting or creating governance we deem best for us is de facto illegitimate; and our "destroy the village to save the village" US way of war has never produced the ends we imagined. It is time to draw strategic lessons, not just tactical ones, and find new approaches for securing interests in the lands and among the people of others.

Dave Maxwell

Sun, 06/14/2015 - 7:51pm

In addition to being weary from 14 years of war and the traditional reluctance of general officers to use military force unless it is the last resort while for the past 14 years the political leadership has been all too willing to use selected military capabilities as a first resort, I think the senior military leadership was given a mission that could be not be accomplished because of the political leadership. How would you expect the generals to react when told that you have to degrade and destroy ISIL but it rests on the foundational administration policies of "no boots on the ground," no nation building(not that I am advocating nation building at all - I believe the can be used for stability operations but only the people of a nation can build a nation and its state - we cannot do it for them) , do nothing that can be associated with Bush 43, have no mission creep (which is really problematic for anyone who knows that strategy needs to be adaptive and iterative but any change to the strategy based on assessment and understanding of actual conditions, military and political, is automatically deemed mission creep and this means that strategists have to come up with the perfect strategy the first time and from then on it cannot be adapted) and worst of all you are told to destroy ISIL but you have to outsource the fight to ineffective proxy forces whose interests are not aligned with the US and requiring political solutions to achieve success that the US cannot forced upon the partner governments and organizations. The name of the mission in Iraq and Syria should be Mission Impossible and the Task Force should be called the Impossible Mission Task Force. I am sure that military leaders are frustrated because their best military advice is not heeded. And the final source of reluctance is the knowledge that the US military will be blamed by this administration for the failure of the impossible mission they were given.