Digging Our Own Grave? The Results of CT, COIN and Regime Change
War is being increasingly used as an instrument of foreign policy, which has been assisted been political level appreciation of the potential of the West’s superior tangible military strength. The short-term results have been predictable, Saddam Hussein was quickly defeated, Gaddafi was overthrown. Emphasis has been placed on short-term goals and objectives, seemingly without thought to the long-term consequences of these actions. The recent ISIS offensive in Iraq has re-focussed attention that these various wars are still all ongoing. What are the likely or possible results and consequences of failing to take into account the consequences and costs of these wars of choice?
This is intended as an opinion, and a reflection on the current state of affairs and possible future trends regarding the West’s involvement in numerous irregular wars and revolutions. War should be a final resort, and for good reasons, rather than the apparent policy tool it is now. This has been the experience of philosophers and theoreticians of war through the ages, war needs to be carefully considered and executed, otherwise the wielder of the sword may face dire consequences. War is not only an opportunity cost, in other words the country needs to give something else up. But it also bears a diminishing return, if wars are too long and costly (in terms of blood and finance) it will begin to erode not only the tangible assets of war (soldiers, military hardware and so forth), but also the intangible assets are affected negatively (belief in the political and military leadership, will to fight). Ultimately, if there is a lack of strategic vision in fighting wars, rather they have a tactical or operational character, the lack of consideration of side effects shall ultimately haunt the actor. The recent events in Iraq and Syria with ISIS and their battlefield success are just one hint and lesson in this regard. Such lessons may take some years to emerge, but given the opportunity they shall. As Sun Tzu once said “strategy without tactics is the slowest road to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
In the Western world (United States centric and led) there needs to be a fundamental reassessment of how and why we fight wars. Events and actions in the Global War On Terrorism (GWOT) and the Arab Spring have been causing contradictory results and have actually ensured an increase in insecurity through threats of radicalisation and terrorism in the Middle East and in Western countries with significant Muslim communities. There has been a tangible display of this form of insecurity through events such as the 7 July 2005 bombings in London, the murder of the soldier Rigby by radicals, Belgium citizens being tried for war crimes committed in Syria fighting for Jihadi forces and the recent suicide bombing carried out by an American citizen in Syria.
There is also the issue of what protracted conflict does to soldiers that have been fighting in Counter-Terrorism (CT) and Counter-Insurgency (COIN) operations for years and with only a vague end possibly in sight. The concerns caused by effects of psychological trauma was sufficient for the European Union within the framework of their FP7 research programme to have a specific call to study this problem. Crimes, violence and an inability to readjust to civilian life, together with a lack of support for these people have caused a dangerous situation. This situation is sufficient to raise the question, are we fighting the current wars and engaging in the various regime change exercises in tactics only, and lacking strategy?
It seems that there is somewhat of an obsession to try and not only learn basic lessons from the past from action in small wars, such as insurgency and terrorism, and then to create a ‘blueprint’ that can be used universally in a kind of cookie-cutter approach. However this ignores the basic dilemma, which is that best practice does not necessarily equate to best strategy. David Ucko evaluated the performance of COIN in Afghanistan very critically. “The lack of clear strategy behind the campaign resulted in the elevation of COIN from the operational to the strategic level. In parallel, the doctrinal best practices of COIN – population security, good governance, and legitimacy – were confused with strategic ends and pursued simultaneously. In practice, these were not adapted to specific problems and objectives and remained little more than slogans.”[i] Ucko likened COIN as being “armed politics” (this is in-line with Sun Tzu and von Clausewitz who both classified war as politics by another means) and warned that doctrine should never replace strategy.
Haroro Ingram stated that there are three lessons from the experience of recent small conflicts. “1) Counter-insurgency thinking and practice typically lags behind that of its insurgent foe; 2) insurgencies succeed or fail based on their ability to synchronise competitive systems of meaning with competitive systems of control and 3) the core assumptions of the dominant hearts and minds approach to COIN should be re-examined in light of recent insurgent successes.” He noted that between the years of 1775-1945 only about 20 per cent of insurgencies were successful, after 1945 this rate has doubled.[ii] The situation described above points to problematic issues in the way that wars are fought.
Analysts in the United States in the late 1980s and 1990s noted changes in the way that wars were organised and fought. One of these was the concept that was brought to light by William Lind and others in the Marine Corps Gazette in 1989, when they talked about the changing nature of war into what was termed as being fourth generation warfare (4GW). This was the decentralisation of warfare and the loss of the state monopoly on prosecuting armed conflict. A number of elements were associated with this kind of conflict: complex and long-term; terrorism, insurgency and guerrilla tactics; non-national/transnational base and highly decentralised; attack the enemy culture; use of psychological warfare and propaganda; political, social, economic and military pressures all used; low intensity conflict involving networks of actors; lack of hierarchy. Non-state actors are small in size and very agile in terms of their organisational structure and ability to make decisions (with long-term planning). The basic goals of this kind of warfare are for survival or to prevent the success of enemy decision-makers by demoralising them. There was another development in military strategy that is in some ways related, which followed 4GW.
In the 1990s, the US Department of Defence pioneered the theory of warfare that came to be called network-centric warfare. This involves taking advantage of the innovations taking place in information communication technology within the sphere of military operations. Publications, such as, Understanding Information Age Warfare by David Alberts and others (2001) outline the basic tenets of the theory, of which there are four. 1) Thoroughly networked force improves information sharing; 2) by sharing information, shared situational awareness and the quality of information is enhanced; the effects of shared situational awareness includes enabling collaboration and self-synchronisation, bettering sustainability and speed of command; which greatly improve mission effectiveness. This form of warfare creates a competitive advantage by linking and keeping well-informed, geographically dispersed forces and it allows for permitting new forms of organisational behaviour. This is especially useful when the nature of the armed conflict is in-line with the notions outlined by 4GW.
Although these forms of warfare theory have been developed in the West, they seem to have been co-opted by the radical Islamist insurgent and terrorist movements. The current style of prosecuting war seems to be more in line with third generation warfare principles, where information plays a supporting role to military operations. However, the opponent is certainly fighting the current conflict by 4GW means, and where military operations play a supporting role to information. It is asymmetric warfare that is being fought very different by the sides engaged in the conflict. The West plays a more tactical and short-term approach, which sometimes is at odds with goals and objectives. For instance, by engaging in regime change within the Arab Spring context (Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and currently Syria), it provides opportunities for their opponent to seize upon. The ‘victory’ in Libya with the toppling of Gaddafi has rapidly turned into a nightmare, which has spilled into Algeria, Mali and Syria. It has also provided an enemy that is very agile and networked the opportunity to regain a lot of strength and create new places to gain support and base their power. Social media certainly enables the Islamic insurgency to simultaneously wage a real and a virtual struggle against a currently stronger enemy. It enables networking, recruiting, planning, logistics, propaganda and many more such operations that are needed to sustain an insurgency. Narratives of radical Islamic groups are carried by social media to geographically dispersed socially displaced individuals in the West and elsewhere. It uses norms and values, especially around aspects of social justice and the defence of Islam to compete with the Western narrative of democracy and security. This is shown in the tangible results of the 13-year long GWOT.
Since 2010 there has been an increase of 60 per cent in the number of radical Islamic groups and a 300 per cent increase in the number of attacks committed by al Qaeda and affiliated groups according to a study conducted by RAND.[iii] One of the threats comes from the radicalisation of youth in Muslim communities in Western countries. American intelligence and CT officials estimate that some 70 Americans have travelled to Syria to join the fight against the Syrian government. There may be as many as 3000 Westerners having travelled to Syria. The British Home Office has stripped 20 Jihadis of their citizenship and in January-March 2014 British police have made some 40 “Syria-related arrests” (up from 25 for the whole of 2013).[iv] Of the estimated 11000 foreign fighters in Syria, at least 400-500 are from France (President Hollande estimated publicly 700 French residents). In Bosnia, someone convicted of trying to fight in a foreign war (i.e. Syria) can be given a 10-year prison sentence, in France the sentence is three-five years (on a charge of plotting terrorism).[v] Norway has also joined in arresting those wishing to travel to Syria to fight or in supporting radical Islamic groups.[vi] The concern is that the activities of these fighters may not be solely restricted to foreign acts of terrorism or supporting terrorist organisation. There is some substance to this reasoning, in 2012 Mohammed Merah returned to his home city of Toulouse where he killed three French soldiers, three Jewish children and a Rabbi. The murder of Lee Rigby (an off-duty soldier) in Woolwich, England in May 2013, when two Islamic converts ran him down in a car and then hacked him to death (the reason giving was for the killing of Muslims by British Armed Forces) serves as another reminder of the dangers.
Soldiers in Afghanistan were, at one stage, being killed more as a result of suicide than enemy action at one stage. On the home front in the US, some 22 veterans per day are committing suicide. There are long waiting times for access to mental health, some waiting at least two months for an appointment.[vii] The inability of returned personnel to cope with daily life has seen a surge in various forms of violence and crime as well as those that withdraw from mainstream society. The matter points to the situation where the intangible assets of the West are in decline and being degraded. At the same time, the insurgent foe’s intangible assets are gaining further strength, often as a result of what the West is doing and perceived to be doing within the contexts of GWOT and the Arab Spring.
There has been a refinement, amalgamation and harmonisation of 4GW and network-centric warfare, not by Western political and military circles, but by the diverse groups of the Islamic insurgency. They are a much more flexible and responsive organisation to their operating environment than their Western counterparts that seek to rely on procedure (doctrine) and short-term planning cycles. It is likely to be a matter of time, assuming the current trends continue their present path, the tangible elements of Western strength and power shall decline and become noticeable. The current military-centric approach to CT and COIN seems to ignore or at least underplay the important and decisive embedded political aspects to armed conflict.
[i] Ucko, D., Best Practice or Best Strategy: Can New COIN Doctrine Win Future Wars?, ISN, http://isn.ethz.ch/Digital-Library/Articles/Detail/?lng=en&id=180195, 27 May 2014 (accessed 31 May 2014)
[ii] Ingram, H., Three Lessons from the Modern Era of Small Wars, ISN, http://www.isn.ethz.ch/Digital-Library/Articles/Detail/?lng=en&id=180191, 26 May 2014 (accessed 31 May 2014)
[iii] Ernst, D., Al Qaeda Surge: Islamic Radical Groups Skyrocketed Since 2010, Study Says, The Washington Times, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/jun/4/al-qaeda-surge-number-islamic-radical-groups-skyro/, 4 June 2014 (accessed 5 June 2014)
[iv] De Freytas-Tamura, K., Foreign Jihadis Fighting in Syria Pose Risk in West, The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/30/world/middleeast/foreign-jihadis-fighting-in-syria-pose-risk-in-west.html?_r=0, 29 May 2014 (accessed 31 May 2014)
[v] Rubin, A. J., Fearing Converts to Terrorism, France Intercepts Citizens Bound for Syria, The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/03/world/europe/france-intercepts-jihadis-bound-for-syria.html, 2 June 2014 (accessed 3 June 2014)
[vi] Staff Writers, Norway Arrests Three Suspected of Supporting Syria Jihad, AFP in Space War, http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Norway_arrests_three_suspected_of_supporting_Syria_jihad_999.html, 27 May 2014 (accessed 31 May 2014)
[vii] McElhatton, J. & Klimas, J., Mental Health Delays at VA System Five Times Longer Than Reported, The Washington Times, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/jun/4/texas-va-probe-finds-more-waiting-list-problems/, 4 June 2014 (accessed 5 June 2014)
About the Author(s)
Final sentence in the author's concluding paragraph:
"The current military-centric approach to CT and COIN seems to ignore or at least underplay the important and decisive embedded political aspects to armed conflict."
Let us look at this statement to determine if it is, in fact, accurate and valid.
First, let us properly define "the problem" -- as seen historically by the United States and still today -- as other states and societies having different ways of life, different ways of governance and different foundational values, attitudes and beliefs; all of these tending to stand in the way of where the United States wants to go and how it wants to get there.
Next, let us properly define "the solution" to this problem -- as viewed from a historical perspective and still today -- as the United States' transformation of outlying states and societies more along modern western political, economic, social and justice lines; this, so as to better provide for our national security and prosperity.
With "the problem" and "the solution" properly articulated (and, thus, the "political aspects" properly accounted for?), now let us look at how a "military-centric" approach to achieving our political objective has been used in the past and still today.
In the American Indian Wars, the American Civil War, World War II, the Cold War, and our recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a "military-centric" approach was used extensively (although not exclusively) as a means to achieve a common political objective, to wit: national security and prosperity enhanced via the transformation of outlying states and their societies more along modern western political, economic, social and justice lines. (Some of these attempted "transformations" being -- then and now -- more fully-realized than others.)
Based on this knowledge, understanding and perspective, can we actually say that the author is right re: his assertion that "the current military-centric approach to CT and COIN ignores or at least underplays the important and decisively embedded political aspects of armed conflict?"
I think that we may not be able to agree with the author here; this, because, as we know, recent COIN/WOG initiatives fairly reeked of the "embedded political aspects of armed conflict," to wit: our determination to achieve state and societal transformations.
In his opening "abstract," the author suggests that (1) ... "war is being increasingly used as an instrument of foreign policy" ... (2) ... "emphasis has been placed on short-term goals and objectives" ... and (3) ... "these various wars are still ongoing ..."
Based on the information and perspective I have provided above, might we suggest that items (1) and (2) are clearly wrong.
Obviously "war" HAS been used extensively by the US -- not only today but also in the past -- as an instrument of our "foreign" policy. (Herein, both the American Indians and the American Southerners being viewed somewhat as foreigners; given their distinctly different ways of life, ideas of governance, etc.)
Likewise our emphasis HAS NOT been, then or now, on short-term goals such as regime-change but, rather, on the long-term objective of outlying state and societal transformations.
As to item (3) above, this would seem to be a correct representation of the facts when viewed -- not in the isolation provided by today's events -- but, instead, via the lens of overall American history.
<blockquote>The recent ISIS offensive in Iraq has re-focused attention that these various wars are still all ongoing. What are the likely or possible results and consequences of failing to take into account the consequences and costs of these wars of choice?</blockquote>
Was a stronger ISIS created primarily by a still ongoing OIF or was it Maliki’s failure to form a coalition government that included Sunnis and retained coalition force advisors a bit longer? Did Assad’s assault on Sunnis and Kurds in Syria without any meaningful response by the West exacerbate the problem? Was Assad assisted by Iranian and Hezbollah “wars of choice” in Syria? What happens when <strong>others</strong> choose war such as Russia in Chechnya, Georgia, Crimea, and using east Ukraine separatists?
<blockquote>This is intended as an opinion, and a reflection on the current state of affairs and possible future trends regarding the West’s involvement in numerous irregular wars and revolutions. War should be a final resort, and for good reasons, rather than the apparent policy tool it is now.</blockquote>
The trend of Russian aggression, Iranian assistance to Hezbollah and influence of Maliki and Assad, and Hamas rocket-shelling of Israel are opposing states of affair illustrating that while we may tire of war, war never tires of involving us. We can acquiesce to other’s choice of war as a policy tool continuing to appease them imagining a diplomatic solution exists. Alternately, we can directly and indirectly engage/deter such aggression through defense spending exceeding 2% in Europe, impose coalition sanctions, expand ground forward presence and prepositioning, and enforce red lines as Israel has demonstrated in Gaza and Lebanon and may continue to demonstrate through future attacks on the Iranian nuclear program.
Like it or not, existential threats and terror attacks against other nations (and our homeland) can force our military hand. If Islamic extremism exponentially expands because Israel takes action to survive or we respond to extremist terror attacks, missile attacks and terror from Iran and mining of the Straits of Hormuz are likely results for which the West must prepare. However, you note an eerie silence coming from Saudi Arabia and Egypt regarding Israel’s efforts in Gaza perhaps because both share a common Iranian enemy and the prospect of extremism affecting their governments and the commerce of Saudi oil and Egyptian tourism.
Inadequate military responses are ineffective in some cases or may embolden others given current events in Ukraine. Dr. Simons points out that Libyan air attacks alone solved nothing. Air attacks of Serbia were the climax of years of peacekeeping and enforcement. If you recall, Operations Northern and Southern Watch (no-fly zone) were our initial attempt at responding to Saddam Hussein after Desert Storm. A decade later, only combined air and ground attacks succeeded in removing Hussein. Similarly, Israel also has required air and ground attacks to finally achieve Gaza results in Cast Lead and its current Protective Edge.
“Give peace a chance” is a mantra facilitated by neighbors with good fences that mind their own business. Given recent evidence, greater stability could have existed in both Iraq and Afghanistan had we broken them up instead of imagining that a single nation with so many competing agendas could survive in peace.
Sure, some wars perhaps should never have been fought such as OIF. However, if we had not freed Iraq from oil sanctions by conquering Hussein, would we realistically have been able to impose sanctions on Iran? Since we are talking opportunity costs, what would gas cost now if we had neither Iraq nor Iranian oil?
<blockquote>Ultimately, if there is a lack of strategic vision in fighting wars, rather they have a tactical or operational character, the lack of consideration of side effects shall ultimately haunt the actor. The recent events in Iraq and Syria with ISIS and their battlefield success are just one hint and lesson in this regard. Such lessons may take some years to emerge, but given the opportunity they shall. </blockquote>
Lack of action also can haunt the actor and impose side effects. Did ISIS gain strength because of anything the West did or was it due to our failure to do anything to support moderate Sunni and Kurd insurgents in battling Assad? Didn’t ISIS move more aggressively into Iraq after failures against parts of Assad’s and Hezbollah’s stronger forces that motivated ISIS to seek easier areas? David Ignatius points this out in today’s Washington Post:
<blockquote>The Islamic State is dangerous because it operates strategically, forming useful alliances and carefully planning its operations. The group withdrew from vulnerable positions in northern Syria last year and consolidated in a haven in Raqqah. From there, it expanded its operations in Iraq, sweeping across Anbar Province this spring and blitzing through Mosul and Tikrit in June.</blockquote>
Returning to Dr. Simons's SWJ piece:
<blockquote>In the Western world (United States centric and led) there needs to be a fundamental reassessment of how and why we fight wars. Events and actions in the Global War On Terrorism (GWOT) and the Arab Spring have been causing contradictory results and have actually ensured an increase in insecurity through threats of radicalization and terrorism in the Middle East and in Western countries with significant Muslim communities. There has been a tangible display of this form of insecurity through events such as the 7 July 2005 bombings in London, the murder of the soldier Rigby by radicals, Belgium citizens being tried for war crimes committed in Syria fighting for Jihadi forces and the recent suicide bombing carried out by an American citizen in Syria.</blockquote>
<blockquote>One of the threats comes from the radicalization of youth in Muslim communities in Western countries. American intelligence and CT officials estimate that some 70 Americans have travelled to Syria to join the fight against the Syrian government. There may be as many as 3000 Westerners having travelled to Syria.</blockquote>
<blockquote>Of the estimated 11000 foreign fighters in Syria, at least 400-500 are from France (President Hollande estimated publicly 700 French residents).</blockquote>
Why only 70 American foreign fighters versus 400-700 French? France has 4.7 million Muslims while the U.S. has 2.6 million or more than half of France’s quantity without half the foreign fighters. The disparity might be explained by relative proximity. It also could be explained by where the French Muslims come from and that they are 7.5% of the French population while U.S. Muslims are only .8%. Similarly, the U.K. has nearly the same number of Muslims as the U.S. at 2.9 million but that represents 4.6% of the British population.
It also could be because U.S. Muslims generally are wealthier than the U.S. population while European Muslims are poorer. Finally, many U.S. Arab-Americans are Christians whose origins are Syria and Lebanon, particularly in Michigan. If Islamic Jihad was not a motivating factor in fighting in Syria, you would think more U.S. Christian Arabs would be going to fight in Syria, perhaps <strong>with</strong> Assad and the Alawites against ISIS genocide of Christians and ancestral countrymen. It also could be that Arabs of any religion that experience the U.S. quickly realize we are not the Great Satan.
Continuing with a quote from David Ignatius in his August 1st Washington Post article (Islamic State’s Challenge to the U.S.) posted on the SWJ blog:
<blockquote>In all these ways, Baghdadi is a formidable foe. He rebuilt a network that had been reduced from its 2006 level of 10,000 fighters to perhaps 1,500 a year or so ago. What’s scary is its outreach: Roughly half of the Islamic State’s 10,000-plus fighters today are neither Syrian nor Iraqi but foreigners drawn from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Europe and even America. The Islamic State has also begun drawing recruits from the most toxic al-Qaeda affiliates and gained their expertise in making undetectable non-metallic bombs.</blockquote>
Is our failure to support Sunnis in both Syria and Iraq the driving motivation for many Sunni foreign fighters?
<blockquote>Publications, such as, Understanding Information Age Warfare by David Alberts and others (2001) outline the basic tenets of the theory, of which there are four. 1) Thoroughly networked force improves information sharing; 2) by sharing information, shared situational awareness and the quality of information is enhanced; the effects of shared situational awareness includes enabling collaboration and self-synchronization, bettering sustainability and speed of command; which greatly improve mission effectiveness. This form of warfare creates a competitive advantage by linking and keeping well-informed, geographically dispersed forces and it allows for permitting new forms of organizational behavior.</blockquote>
I count two basic tenets. What are the other two? It also is unconvincing that a 2001 publication predicted successes of Information Age Warfare prior to actual events that proved otherwise both in Israel and OEF/OIF. Many errantly may believe that information and a so-called Revolution of Military Affairs alone wins current wars. No evidence exists that the Taliban returned and Sunnis and Shiites continued to fight because we inadequately explained our goals, nor were they particularly shocked and awed at our abilities to target them.
You also could point to successful employment of Blue Force Tracker and the common operational picture, overhead surveillance and other intelligence fed into TOCs and MI centers, and a variety of other advances to achieving situational understanding that failed to achieve decisive outcomes.
Information dominance alone is utterly meaningless when attempts to maintain unified colonial boundaries are the diplomatic strategy of choice. Instead of redrawing borders and segregating ethnicities and religious groups per their natural affinity, premature elections picked leaders from just one faction. Fraudulent elections did not help both during vote-counting in later Afghanistan votes or during formation of a coalition government as in Maliki’s case. These diplomatic failings had nothing to do with failed military strategy and everything to do with poor state-building choices at achieving government legitimacy.
<blockquote>For instance, by engaging in regime change within the Arab Spring context (Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and currently Syria), it provides opportunities for their opponent to seize upon.</blockquote>
How did our military affect Arab Spring events <strong>initially and subsequently</strong> in Egypt, Tunisia, and Syria? Not much other than our traditional support of the Egyptian military which showed extraordinary initial restraint.
<blockquote>On the home front in the US, some 22 veterans per day are committing suicide.</blockquote>
And 69% of that tragic number of former warriors are over age 50 who fought in earlier wars. However, I would be interested to see if the majority of suicides are Soldiers who had to endure longer tours than their other Joint brethren due to inadequate Army force structure. If we had surged and trained host nation forces sooner, the repeat long tours would have been less necessary. If we had broken Iraq and Afghanistan up into smaller ethnic/religious states through federalism or new boundaries, the continuing conflict with our coalitions may never have occurred because separate Sunni/Shiite/Kurd and Pashtun/Northern Alliance security forces would have existed to maintain the local peace under local leaders.
<blockquote>It is likely to be a matter of time, assuming the current trends continue their present path, the tangible elements of Western strength and power shall decline and become noticeable. The current military-centric approach to CT and COIN seems to ignore or at least underplay the important and decisive embedded political aspects to armed conflict.</blockquote>
If there was any widespread evidence that civil elements were leaving the Green Zone or Kabul to venture into the countryside more regularly, your embedded USAID and NGO alternative might appear more viable. Instead we see SIGAR revelations of fraud and waste from organizations unable to verify the projects they are pushing. We see security forces that cost the U.S. $60 billion in Afghanistan because we tried to mix different ethnicities in a single Army rather than creating separate Pashtun and Northern Alliance forces under separate leadership within separate boundaries.
Nice try Dr. Simons. European lack of defense spending and unwillingness to implement forward ground deterrence and effective sanctions explains a more aggressive Putin. A more military-centric approach is the sole method he appears to understand. Israel similarly understands that no amount of appeasement of Islamic extremism will substitute for an effective military response or threat thereof. Fox News has only just now figured out that President Clinton had several earlier opportunities to take out Osama bin Laden. His failure to do so combined with these additional Presidential failures has led to much of our current dilemma:
* President Bush’s poor war of choice in Iraq and unwillingness to redraw colonial boundaries while we were still in control
* President Obama’s premature withdrawal from Iraq and announcement of dates certain for withdrawal
* President Obama’s unwillingness to enforce stated red lines and support moderate Sunnis and Kurds
* President Obama’s slow military response in reinforcing NATO eastern boundaries and supporting the Ukrainian military
Civil control of the military is a given. We can only hope that civil authorities of current and future administrations will make better decisions before others blame the military for their and State Department mistakes.
The part that (our belief in) our superior culture plays -- in our decisions to go to war -- is much the same as the part that (our belief in) our superior technology plays -- in our decisions to go to war.
Both promise fast, cheap victory.
(Herein, "victory," as I have outlined it in my comment below, being understood as the successful transformation of the subject states -- and their various societies -- more along modern western political, economic and social lines.)
Thus, to expand on McMaster's warning: America should be skeptical of concepts that divorce war from its political nature, particularly those concepts that promise fast, cheap "victory:"
a. Through (our superior) technology and/or
b. Through (our superior) culture.
Once one comes to understand (as, post-the Cold War, few in Western power did) that neither our superior technology -- nor our superior(?) culture -- could bring about fast, cheap "victory" (as defined by me above), then and only then did we come to realize that we must develop:
a. More realistic and achievable goals and, based on these,
b. More appropriate ways and means to achieve same.
Alternatively, and as Bill M. properly notes below, our goal and objective may still be -- and for good reasons -- the transformation of outlying states and societies more along modern western lines.
However, we are no longer under the illusion that such goals can -- either via our technology -- or via our culture -- be achieved quickly, easily and/or cheaply.
This suggesting that ways and means (which are not significantly based on superior technology and/or superior culture?) must be considered, adopted and utilized to achieve our goals.
Herein, the ways and means which are found under the heading of "ruthlessness" -- and/or "the long, slow, hard slog" -- come immediately to mind.
I'm not sure I'm totally following the thought here (Bill C.):
The US has never had a stated purpose for any war in our history to "change the culture or the way of life of a country based on our superior culture." This may have been a corollary, or serendipity, but not the original rationale.
Our rationale for war has always been framed, at least initially, in terms of the threat to our national security.
If we're indirectly referencing our most recent experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, both rationales were initially to dispose of a threat to the US. I will grant you that the serendipity was supposed to be a stable and democratic region, which seems unlikely to materialize now, but this was never the stated rationale for war to begin with. (even if we take away Rumsfeld's dumb comment about "either they will change us or we will change them")
Yet the question remains the same today. Once we leave, how do we prevent terrorists from forming again in these broken nation states from which to plan and execute future attacks on us?
Military force is not always the answer, but sometimes we may have to. Maybe the answer is we can't do anything about it....? Certainly it does not matter whether we are engaged in this region, or whether we leave it alone all together, the terrorists will continue with their drive to attack us.
We left Afghanistan alone for 21 years after the Soviets left, not trying to impose our "superior culture." But we also saw that movie visit us on 9/11.
So maybe I am not following as to how the connection to our superior culture rationale comes into play or has anything to do with why we go to war?
I don't disagree, but our civilian leadership owns the strategic ends that they direct the military to pursue. Our civilian leadership hails from a culture that promotes a liberal worldview, so you're right their options are constrained by the culture they hail from. If correct, the military will continue to be directed to use military means to compel foreign cultures to conform to our norms. There is one other potential option that you didn't mention, which is to figure out how to employ the military to achieve the ends we believe we'll directed to pursue. The implications of doing this are significant in many ways, but if we're going to crusade then we must reorganize and change our doctrine to be democratic crusaders, not just war winners.
(Edited and added to.)
To get our act together, what we need to do is factor one thing -- and one thing only -- into our equations, this being:
That the peoples and nations that we are likely to go to war against want nothing to do with our way of life and our way of governance.
Post-the Cold War (and because of "universal values"/"end of history" thinking), this is what has been lacking re: our foreign policy generally, and specifically re: our strategy, planning, training, tactics, etc..
Factor that back in (that the peoples and nations that we are likely to go to war against want nothing to do with our way of life and our way of governance), and I suggest that we will -- once again -- be good to go.
Thus, the "pipe-dream of easy war" taking its cue not from, as McMaster suggests, the idea of victory achieved via superior technology but, rather, from the erroneous idea of victory achieved via superior culture.
Herein, a clear understanding of what the term "victory" means -- to the United States/the Western world -- becomes important. It does not mean only defeating an opponent's military forces. Rather what "victory" means for the US and its allies is the transformation of the belligerent state and its societies more along modern western political, economic and social lines. Thus, foreign policy, strategy, tactics, planning, training, etc., having to accommodate this amazingly difficult (if not downright impossible in some instances) task and requirement.
This suggesting that we have a simple choice to make:
a. Step back from this amazingly difficult, if not downright impossible, task and requirement -- toward some more realistic and achievable goal. Or
b. Continue to look "defeat" -- rather than "victory" -- in the face.
The problem isn't just lack of support for the military and it's mission. This sounds like the old Vietnam blame the civilians game. It's not always about money or whole-of-government, although I'll give you the problems with NATO in Afghanistan and its disorganization. The problem is mostly bad ideas and bad thinking.
I have roots in South Asia so I pay more attention to Afghanistan, but I never thought the military really understood the basic regional dynamics because they relied on less than optimal South Asian and other analysts. Those analysts sold you a bill of goods nothing could overcome. You guys need better help and better analysis but it is all so politicized and much thinking in DC is dated, both military and civilian.
I would offer that the concept of Network Centric warfare has pretty much been debunked inside the US Army. It was a concept born out of our first Gulf War win, which led the US military to think it could overlook certain aspects of warfare because we were supposedly just that good.
The US Army got taught a lesson in Iraq version II in trying to out think an enemy who has the ability to adapt during the fight.
The challenge being that the political will to support military efforts through other agencies never quite received the same emphasis from leaders back home. The military tried it's best to coordinate efforts with State Dept, FBI, and others NGOs, but support from Congress and other nations never matched the military's level of effort.
Major General H.R. McMaster, in his July 21st, 2013 NY Times op-ed, “The Pipe Dream of Easy War,” noted that “America should be skeptical of concepts that divorce war from its political nature, particularly those that promise fast, cheap victory through technology.”
General McMaster also went out of his way to warn against those who advocate that only technology will suffice, or those who elevate one branch of the Armed Forces or strategy above the other as a substitution for sound military strategy: “We must not equate military capabilities with strategy. Achieving our aims in war will demand forces who can reassure allies and protect populations, as well as identify and defeat elusive enemies.
What we can afford least is to define the problem of future war as we would like it to be, and by doing so introduce into our defense vulnerabilities based on self-delusion.”
I found this quote from the article very appropriate to the reality we live in a Western military,
"They are a much more flexible and responsive organisation to their operating environment than their Western counterparts that seek to rely on procedure (doctrine) and short-term planning cycles."
Are we adapting? I see a lot of writing about the importance of gaining understanding, but very little attempt to sit back and actually gain a real understanding. Instead I see multiple think tanks and authors pushing individual models that are attempt to explain the world, and these are blindly accepted by the intellectually lazy with little analytical rigor, and this passes as understanding.
Our doctrine for COIN or war in general is not sufficiently challenged. It has in fact become procedure, and while not intended to restrict thinking it to often has that effect because our culture embraces procedure over intellectual rigor. Even our principle joint planning pub misleadingly states that in most irregular warfare situations the population is the objective. This view is accepted without thought, and becomes group think. Planners then default to developing lines of efforts related to providing essential services to promote legitimacy of the government as though either providing essential services or legitimacy of the government will have a decisive impact on the insurgency or terrorist movement. In most cases in modern insurgencies it will not, but in some cases it could. The point is the book shouldn't provide the answer, our understanding of the situation should.
We need more articles that challenge our assumptions to wake us from our sleep walking so we don't continue down the wrong path for another decade of war making limited to no progress, all the while hemorrhaging our national power.
I would have added "Strategy" to the title because more than CT, COIN and Regime Change it was the lack of or poor strategy (and policy) that has gotten us to where we are today. as the author does of course discuss.
And as an aside, I just went through the 13 chapters in Sun Tzu' Art of War and I again could not find this quote:
“strategy without tactics is the slowest road to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
He may have once said it but it is not written in his book. I think this is probably an interpretation of this quote in Chapter 4:
"Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory."
It may be an interpretive note in one of the many, many translations but I do not think it is in the basic text (even though many quotation sites on the internet says it is from the Art of War). But do not let that take away from an otherwise thought provoking essay.