Small Wars Journal

More from Lt. Gen. McMaster

More from Lt. Gen. McMaster by Thomas Ricks, Foreign Policy

General H.R. McMaster has been making the rounds lately, emphasizing the enduring difficulty of war and the fallacy of technological fixes.

I caught him on Friday at the Institute for the Study of War. He repeated some of the things he said earlier in the week, but tossed out some other ideas…

Read on.

Comments

Bill C.

Wed, 03/04/2015 - 6:56pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Added to:

An attempt at simplification -- and a/the possible "bottom line" distinction between the bygone era and today -- :

a. In the bygone era, the American people/the western world bought into such imperialistic ideas as "liberal internationalism."

b. Today? Not so much.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberal_internationalism

Thus, in this new world, where (as per Bill C.) the American people/the western world is not "into" imperialism -- and where, also, the objects of our imperialism (as per RCJ) will no longer tolerate it -- imperialism is no longer an option?

Robert C. Jones

Wed, 03/04/2015 - 1:23pm

Bill C - "don't complify, simplicate!"

In all three of the places you list, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq the US acted in pursuit of interests we believed vital to our national security and welfare; and acted in manner deemed reasonably likely to achieve our stated goals given how we understood the nature of the problem.

Yet each time it failed.

Each time we acted in a manner inconsistent with the principles the US was founded upon. We rationalized that allowing the people of those places the fundamental right of self-determination would be detrimental to our interests. So in each of those cases WE determined who we thought should win, how we thought they should govern, and who would lead those governments. We then dedicated our military to the task of protecting those US-determined systems of governance against all comers, foreign and domestic.

In short, we created impossible problems, and quite reasonably were unable to solve them. It is really that simple.

In a bygone era powerful states could secure their interests in this manner. Imposing their will onto others and then protecting those client governments tasked to advance the interests of their master over those of their own people. Those days have been pushed aside over the last hundred years or so by the forces of technology-driven globalization. The cost now exceeds the benefit. There is no putting that Genie back into the bottle.

We need a new approach designed for the world we live in today. Waging war to force a window of submission to jam our program of governance into is not a way that is likely to work anymore.

Bill C.

Wed, 03/04/2015 - 1:21pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Re: our problems relating to capitalizing on and consolidating military gains in such places as Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya; the perils of using proxies in such places; and our inability to gain more than temporary support from the American people for such projects.

Might these all be understood and explained from the standpoint of the American people simply not understanding -- or simply not agreeing with -- the idea that the United States, in order to be secure, must (1) engage in long-term and open-ended commitments to (2) transform (along modern western political, economic and social lines) such seemingly unimportant entities (as Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya)?

This suggesting that if the opposite were true, to wit: that the American people understood and agreed with the idea that such states and societies must, for national security reasons, be so transformed; then such projects might, indeed, by properly provided for, and be sustained over the long-term (think Germany and Japan during the 50 year Cold War)?

Thus, is it this disconnect -- between what our national leaders want -- and what the American people understand is actually necessary -- that explains why, ultimately, our national leaders, in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya:

a. Were unable to capitalize on and consolidate military gains?

b. Had to use unreliable/dangerous proxies? This,

c. Given the fact that our national leaders understood that, to pursue other than national security requirements, the American people would let their national leaders "off the (rational?) chain" for only so long?

This such understanding compromising these (unnecessary?) projects from their very conception and beyond?

Let us look at McMaster's issues from the standpoint of our enduring effort to expand the reach of (a) our way of life and (b) the unique values, attitudes and beliefs which underpin same.

For example, let us, re: the perspective offered above, consider McMaster's thoughts regarding:

a. Our inability to capitalize on and consolidate military gains in such places as Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

b. The perils associated with using "proxies" (1) in such places where we wish to expand and (2) for such expansionist purposes. And, finally,

c. Our inability to explain the value of pursuing such a political objective; this, in such a way as to gain more than temporary support from the American people.

More to follow tomorrow.