Small Wars Journal

The Only Thing Worse than Misusing SOF is Policy Makers Misusing SOF Operational Methods as a Strategy

Wed, 06/17/2015 - 9:27am

The Only Thing Worse than Misusing SOF is Policy Makers Misusing SOF Operational Methods as a Strategy

David S. Maxwell

Special operations forces are a national grand-strategic asset: they are a tool of statecraft that can be employed quite surgically in support of diplomacy, of foreign assistance (of several kinds), as vital adjunct to regular military forces, or as an independent weapon.  Colin S. Gray

For decades now Special Operations Forces have made numerous important contributions to the military services from equipment to tactics to actual operations.  From pioneering night vision flying to development of advanced weapons, body armor, personal equipment and advanced communications, much of the military equipment that is now service common was once SOF unique.  The room and building clearing techniques that are used by every Army and Marine squad and platoon were once classified tactics used by special mission units.

“Through, by and with,” was developed by Colonel Mark Boyatt to describe operations by Special Forces working with indigenous elements in Haiti was adopted by GEN Odierno in Iraq in his guidance to the force when the Iraqi military was to take the lead in operations.

USSOCOM has partnered with the Army and Marine Corps to ensure there is sufficient emphasis on the human domain in the full spectrum of war fighting.  The Army established the Asymmetric Warfare Group (AWG) that drew heavily from the active duty and retired SOF community and often shares SOF tactics, techniques and procedures with the Army and joint forces.

While the public is enamored with Special Operations conducted to capture or kill bin Laden in Pakistan and Abu Sayyef in Syria or rescue Captain Phillips in waters off the Horn of Africa policy makers have also become enamored with the possibility of using Special Operations methodologies on a larger scale and have more a larger amount of non-SOF forces conduct operations using SOF methods. Without specifically saying so US national leadership seems to have based the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance on an operational methodology and techniques that are heavily influenced by SOF.  We should consider this paragraph from the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance:

“…, we will develop innovative, low-cost, and small-footprint approaches to achieve our security objectives, relying on exercises, rotational presence, and advisory capabilities.”

This is a description of some of the traditional SOF operational methods and seems like a sound way to operate in a fiscally constrained environment in which the President bases his strategy on not committing ground troops to overseas conflicts.  This is the essence of our strategic problem today:  we have an “ends – ways” mismatch between what we say and what we will order our military to do.  We have said our end is to degrade and destroy ISIL yet we have constrained our ways and instead are trying to employ a low-cost, low-risk course of action based on SOF methods that can be very effective when properly employed in support of an overall strategy but in the wrong situation can be counterproductive and even lead to mission failure.

However, the above quote is missing two very important words:  “whenever possible.”  I deliberately left them off because we seem to have forgotten them and now default to using these techniques and methods without consideration of what is feasible, acceptable, and suitable.  The problem is that we really do not think strategically and when it comes to SOF we do not appreciate how it can support policy and strategy with the operative word being support.  SOF does not win wars by itself.  Conducting operations “through, by, and with indigenous forces,” using a small footprint, advising and assisting and building partner capacity support strategy but cannot be the sole ways and means of strategy especially when trying to achieve an end such as the destruction of ISIL.  Despite success host nation forces in places such as Colombia, The Philippines, and Africa with SOF support through discreet operations by advising and assisting friends, partners, and allies in support of US strategy, employment of SOF and SOF methods alone is not a substitute for strategy.

We have built a strategy of words saying we will 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 military 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.  It also means that we can have no mission creep.  As an aside, this 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, both military and political, is automatically deemed mission creep.  This means that strategists have to come up with the perfect strategy the first time and from then on it cannot be adapted. Use of air power is controlled from inside the Beltway and airmen are not allowed to use the full extent of their capabilities to maximize effectiveness (although administration officials and policy makers remain enamored with the Air Power and SOF lash up they observed in Afghanistan in 2001 – yet they will not allow it to be effectively employed).   Worst of all the military is told to destroy ISIL but it will only be able to outsource the fight to ineffective proxy forces in Iraq and Syria whose interests are not aligned with the US.  The situation in the Middle East also requires political solutions to achieve success but the US cannot force the necessary solutions upon the partner governments and organizations.  Perhaps 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. 

We really have to get our  "WMD" right - word, message, and deed or as I like to think:  word, mind, and deed  -the words mean nothing to the mind of the target audience unless they are connected to the right deeds that back up the words.  The problem we have with ISIL is our ends-ways disconnect - degrade and destroy ISIL does not compute in the minds of ISIL, Syrian "moderate" resistance, Iraqi government and people, the international community, and the American public when it is not backed with the appropriate deeds.  The "deed" that is not appropriate, to reiterate, is contracting out the ways to inept proxy indigenous and host nation forces whose interests are not aligned with ours so that they will not be able to achieve our ends.

One  of our strategic weaknesses is that we labor under the assumption that we can get people to like us (and even worse that we should try to make them like us).  We should consider Machiavelli who said it is better to be feared (or better said perhaps, respected) than loved.  We need to be able to act decisively in our interests and not apologize for trying to protect those interests as well as our values.  In fact we should consider focusing on protecting our values rather than projecting them.

Which brings us to the most important point.  We have been trying to define the nature of the conflicts we are experiencing around the world.  While we still see the full spectrum from peace to war what we are observing most are conflicts in the space between peace and war or between diplomacy and war where effective use of all the instruments of power to include some forms of military engagement and at times fighting are required.  While we can debate various names, i.e., "gray zone", "hybrid threats," "the missing middle," "asymmetric warfare,"  and more, what I fear our strategy is called is “politically correct warfare,” which is based on our fundamental strategic weakness above, namely our desire to be liked.  It also leads to another strategic weakness: risk averseness (risk to the forces, risk to the mission, and most of all risks to the political leadership) that constrains us from effectively using all the instruments of national power and again drives us toward the words from the 2012 Defense Strategic guidance:

“…, we will develop innovative, low-cost, and small-footprint approaches to achieve our security objectives, relying on exercises, rotational presence, and advisory capabilities.”

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recognizes that the troops on the ground do not have the latitude necessary to accomplish the mission.  If you want the troops on the ground to be effective then you have to let them do their jobs.  The more constraints we place on them in the misguided belief that by doing so and by micromanaging them from inside the beltway that this will somehow prevent things from going wrong, the more we hinder mission accomplishment and the more we put the troops at risk.

In our risk (averse) analysis,  as previously stated, we have three risks: risk to mission, risk to force (people) and risk to political leadership.  Based on not giving the troops sufficient latitude to do their job we demonstrate that our risk analysis is only focused on one of the three risks.

We were of course “surprised” by the rise of ISIL, so much so that Brett McGurk now says we must get a handle on this on this and the CIA has had to reorganize to fight ISIL.  But our politically correct warfare has blinded us to the reality of the threats and we have spent the past 14 years trying to counter narratives and make people like us rather than protecting our interests and achieving the correct policy and strategic ends.

While all forces from both the conventional force and special operations must have advisory capabilities we are now developing these capabilities on an “industrial scale” which of course will conflict with both low cost and small footprint approaches.  Despite General Dempsey recognizing that operations are going to be long duration and we must have patience it appears that the view among some policy makers is if we can send more advisors and supporting forces of up to some 20,000 to 30,000 as John Nagl advocates then we can achieve results faster.  However, the 450 troops recently announced is a far cry from what Dr. Nagl and other analysts recommend.  As the old adage goes: “Cheap, fast, or good, pick two because you cannot have three.”  It appears we are going for cheap and fast vice good.

This is a problem caused by replacing strategy with special operations tactics, concepts, and operational methodology.  This choice should be understood by policy makers and strategists:  if you want a rapid and decisive victory employ conventional forces along with SOF and all the elements of national power in support of a strategy that can maximize the effectiveness of all elements.  If you want to constrain the footprint and restrain cost and only work through and with indigenous forces then employ SOF.  However, to do the latter you still must have a strategy that employs and orchestrates all the elements of national power with SOF in support and you must accept that it will take time and require patience to achieve the desired effect.  The strategy also cannot simply be based on training and equipping but must include effective advice and assistance on operations as well as the effective diplomatic efforts to influence the host nation government and other partners (i.e. resistance forces).  But we must be prepared to explain the reason for a long duration sustained effort and seek the support from the American public for a long term commitment using the U.S. military in a purely secondary and supporting role.

Continuing to add larger numbers of advisors, particularly from the conventional force will likely dis-incentivize host nation forces from fighting effectively.  It will also undercut our diplomacy to influence the host nation government to make the necessary domestic political changes to undercut the legitimacy of the enemy. 

But perhaps the grossest misunderstanding of SOF methodology was demonstrated in Brett McGurk’s other comments this weekend.  He stated what every SOF advisor has known from long experience.  Indigenous forces always perform better when US advisors accompany them on operations.  That is logical and borne out by history. But the problem becomes when the number of advisors becomes too large you create a dependent relationship and while their performance improves in the short run it may not be sustainable over time and after the departure of advisors which is perhaps a lesson we should learn from the eight years Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2003 to 2011.

Special operations and specifically special warfare, from which the expertise of advising and assisting is derived, is by nature long duration, requiring presence, patience, and persistence.  SOF in today’s Iraq mission cannot be the main effort or at the forefront of policy and in the public eye where immediate short-term results are demanded by the 24 hour news cycle.  They are by nature low visibility often discreet operations but of course this no longer the case with ISIL.  And conducting advisory operations on an industrial scale the way the U.S. military does it is not a small footprint or low cost especially with all the logistics support required.  And worse, the larger our advisory effort the more we take over operations and strategy and put the host nation in the back seat and as has been said, dis-incentivizing the host nation military forces because they know that U.S. forces will pick up all the slack.

Rather than conducting “politically correct warfare” perhaps we should consider a political warfare approach though it may well be too late to make this the foundation of an approach in Iraq.  In this case the US Army Special Operations Command SOF Support to Political Warfare White Paper published in March 2015 is instructive.


“Political Warfare emerges from the premise that rather than a binary opposition between “war” and “peace,” the conduct of international relations is characterized by continuously evolving combinations of collaboration, conciliation, confrontation, and conflict.  As such, during times of interstate “peace,” the U.S. government must still confront adversaries aggressively and conclusively through all means of national power.  When those adversaries practice a form of Hybrid Warfare employing political, military, economic, and criminal tools below the threshold of conventional warfare, the U.S. must overmatch adversary efforts—though without large-scale, extended military operations that may be fiscally unsustainable and diplomatically costly.  Hence, the U.S. must embrace a form of sustainable “warfare” rather than “war,” through a strategy that closely integrates targeted political, economic, informational, and military initiatives in close collaboration with international partners.  Serving the goals of international stability and interstate peace, this strategy amounts to “Political Warfare.”  (Page 1)

The question we should be asking is whether ISIL has crossed the threshold of conventional war.  If not we may be able to develop an effective political warfare strategy.   And note these important caveats.  Political warfare is not a SOF strategy but instead plays an important roll in supporting it as is described in the USASOC White paper.  But if ISIL has crossed the threshold of conventional war then we really must re-evaluate our “end-ways” mismatch and determine the appropriate elements of the military instrument to employ, assuming we believe their conventional war fighting capabilities poses a threat to the US.  However, even if a larger US military force is required political warfare will still be able to play an important supporting role.

In summary, if you want to make SOF (or SOF methodologies) the lead (which I do not recommend) then look hard at a strategy based on political warfare and the orchestration all the instruments of national to achieve the ends.  But if immediate or near term (even 2-4 years) destruction of ISIL is the end state then you might have to consider a strategy that does not rely solely on proxies.  We cannot contract out the defense of our interests.  We can help friends; partners, or allies defend themselves against their threats but if the threat includes the U.S. then contracting out operations with proxies may not be the best course of action for the U.S.

This is the fundamental analysis we must conduct. If the threat is limited and not a direct threat to the U.S. then indirect means using a low cost, small footprint advisory approach (SOF methodologies) may be enough to achieve our objectives by following George Kennan’s definition of political warfare: “In broadest definition, …the employment of all the means at a nation's command, short of war, to achieve its national objectives.”  But if we determine the threat is a significant one to the U.S. then we must consider the use of all means necessary to protect the nation, to include conventional military forces in a decisive manner.  The bottom line is if we are at war then we need to go to war.

David S. Maxwell is the Associate Director of the Center for Security Studies in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service of Georgetown University.  He is a retired US Army Special Forces Colonel with command and staff assignments in Korea, Japan, Germany, the Philippines, and CONUS, and served as a member of the military faculty teaching national security at the National War College.  He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, the Command and General Staff College, the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth and the National War College, National Defense University.

About the Author(s)

David S. Maxwell is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Previously he was the Associate Director of the Center for Security Studies in the School of Foreign Service of Georgetown University.  He is a retired US Army Special Forces Colonel with command and staff assignments in Korea, Japan, Germany, the Philippines, and CONUS, and served as a member of the military faculty teaching national security at the National War College.  He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, the Command and General Staff College, the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth and the National War College, National Defense University.


"Strategically, the insurgents' aim must be to provoke the external power into escalating its forces on the ground."… (Page 185)

This being the case, then does it follow that -- strategically -- the external power must look to achieving its objectives via other ways and other means, to wit: via ways and means other than escalating its forces on the ground?

Thus, for example, by the external power escalating the use of its special operations and air forces -- in conjunction with its other whole-of-government attributes and capabilities -- to achieve its objective?

In this light to see the use of our special operations and air forces:

a. Not as a strategy, per se, but

b. As (given the context) a proper and intelligent "ways and means" to achieve our strategic objective?

c. One that does not (as would the greater application of our conventional forces?) play into the hands of our enemies?

(Thought: Given our winning of the Cold War -- and the mandate to transform outlying states and societies more along modern western lines that we believe that we, thereby, earned -- then might we say that "insurgents/insurgencies" today are viewed, by the United States/the West, as being, not only those individuals and groups, but also those states and societies, that [1] actively resist such transformation and/or [2] "backslide," as in, for example, the case of Russia? This more-universal/post-Cold War definition and understanding of "insurgents/insurgencies" helping us comprehend why a more-universal application of our special operations and air forces today might be forthcoming. Herein, to understand that this application of special operations and air forces might best be viewed -- not as a strategy per se -- but only as "ways and means" applicable to the "global insurgency" context; as the United States/the West, re: its Cold War victory, and post-Cold War "mandate," understands it.)

(Note: I attempt to address the "asymmetric/political/generational" nature of these conflicts more at the "Resist the Hype: Prevent SOF From Being the Next Victim of Too Much Attention" thread.)


Tue, 06/30/2015 - 12:30pm

In reply to by ODA162

A couple of thoughts.

First, it's important to keep in mind that with very few exceptions, SOF are not "war-winners". Elite troops capable of completing SOF training are by definition a finite resource, and will typically fall into either the "ounce of prevention category", or will otherwise serve as an adjunct to conventional forces in the event of larger scale operations. I personally think that there's a legitimate case to be made for reevaluating which traditional SOF missions require elite troops, and which could be appropriately reassigned to conventional troops or even civil service or contract personnel. This was done on an ad hoc basis in Afghanistan and Iraq, with varied results, but it's no substitute for formally reevaluating doctrine and task organization. Then again, I'm also a master of expectation management, so I don't suspect that such a revisitation of SOF entry requirements and mission sets will actually take place.

Second, with respect to the desire to "get the contractors out of theater", this is pure and simple hocum (and I'm not sure how it relates to the misuse of SOF?). The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been hamstrung by incompetent leaders, not contractors. The post-Cold War drawdown has literally forced the DoD to rely upon contractors to provide surge capacity that would have once been provided by a million man standing army. Unless the electorate can be convinced to suffer such a sustained force, the only way to execute large scale operations will be for contractors to provide support in theater. This also has a strategic (in the truest sense of the word) function because contractors are somehow seen as working in a more voluntary capacity than does the all-volunteer force, so they will tend to provide services that were formerly provided by uniformed personnel, but at a much lesser political cost in the event that they are injured or killed in a combat zone. They're an easy target because they're ubiquitous and can't/won't defend themselves from criticism for fear of losing future contracts. The real issue (and this should surprise no one) is an understaffed, inadequately trained, and ultimately overwhelmed cadre of federal contract oversight personnel. Contractors are humans, which makes them essentially like troops (which many of them were in a former life): there are good ones, and there are bad ones, and the bad ones do the most damage (and the good ones check out) in a vacuum of leadership.

Bill M.

Sun, 06/28/2015 - 8:24am

In reply to by ODA162

Perhaps because we are combat troops, not non-combatant trainers. Starting with the Jedburgbs to the numerous special task forces in Vietnam. I don't recall when this myth started that SF were only trainers, while other SOF units were combat forces. That has never been true when US forces were engaged in combat. Admittedly, most FID missions were very restrictive regarding our advisory role in combat, but Iraq and Afghanistan didn't fall into that category. We have historically led or advised indigenous forces in combat, so the argument we shouldn't do direct action is incorrect. If we ever side step our combat role we will become irrelevant.

Dave: You nailed it. During my trips to the sandbox, I kept wondering why ODAs were kicking in doors, and the ADA/Arty troops were training the indig in security operations. So many time I was told, "it was above my pay grade" Now, we see how well it works...........again. I just wish they would employ the ODAs, support them with resources, and get the contractors out of theater.

Move Forward

Fri, 06/26/2015 - 8:12am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

<blockquote>Actually, one criticism of what Barry Posen is suggesting is that it is too difficult. If you look at what he specifically suggests in his containment piece, it is in many ways more muscular than a Surge 2.0 because it requires embedding certain military actions within a tough long term diplomatic course and setting priorities.</blockquote>

Assuming you are talking about Posen’s <I>Foreign Policy</I> piece from mid-June, he envisions a non-feasible Sunni-Shiite-Kurd reconciliation and an Iranian hands-off (or at least minimized) approach within a single Iraq. Syria is intertwined in this problem as the elephant in the room that President Obama will not address. We certainly are not containing ISIL given its repeated world expansion and beheading attacks (just occurred Grenoble, France and Tunisia beach killings that will spawn others like U.K., Paris, Belgium, Canada, Australia, Oklahoma/Texas, etc.). If we can’t contain ISIL, we hardly can overthrow Assad with containment let alone contain Iran and halt the corresponding Syrian-Lebanon-Israel-Gaza-Yemen problem that Iran promulgates.

<blockquote>Troops surges means that no one has to make a decision, no prioritization is to be had, and politicians can make promises to everyone.
I am surprised given the age of most of the commenters here that the concept of containment as incredibly tough is not understood. Our surge in AfPak was soft diplomatically and looked the other way in terms of many regional troubles. This is not so-called toughness. It is a sign of a foreign policy apparatus that doesn't want to do anything that might require making any donor unhappy.</blockquote>

If a Nazi analogy makes limited sense relative to ISIL and even Iran, certainly there is little similarity between today’s situation and post WWII NATO containment and deterrence. Europe had set boundaries and Yalta Conference agreements backed by nuclear weapons on both sides unlike the current ISIL-Syria-Iraq-Iran fiasco. Unlike in Europe, no walls and minefields overwatched by guard towers exist in Mesopotamia with credible coalition armies backing them up. National boundaries are irrelevant to ISIL. The Sunni and Kurd right to moderate self-rule in Syria and Iraq is not even being suggested by our government as a necessary corollary to any Surge attempt.

<blockquote>Surging troops has become DC's default option because, paradoxically and given the nature of our all-volunteer military, it is the easier option. Most Americans are leery but do not prioritize foreign policy so that DC can easily vote to send weapons or troops without worrying about whether any of it really accomplishes any goals.</blockquote>

Rant Corp and others here have noted the need for a more Machiavellian response than the current administration appears likely to adapt. Any successful Surge would need to address both Iraq and Syria with plans to establish a new Kurdistan along the North of both the former Syria and Iraq (regardless of Turkey’s unhappiness), and a similar new Sunni-country that includes territory from both former nations.

Such a new "Malta-Summit" would go far to reducing the stability operations problem. It would provide an incentive for regional players to perform most of the urban operations and if necessary the surrounding of cities to starve ISIL out if required, assuming that most civilians would flee on their own. IEDs would be less of a problem with a river-paralleling approach that avoids roads. As in early OIF, one must suspect that casualties in the actual seizure of those river areas would be minimal with the urban seizures taking a longer siege.

<blockquote>In this piece, it is assumed that if a threat is non-existential, than the only response is a particular kind of "through, with and by" or whatever the SOF phrase. But that is not the case; the military, as Douglas Macgregor has often written, should be in the business of thinking of options. Military aid and coordination with those fighting ISIS is containment, or, quarantine if you prefer to dazzle me with medical words ;)</blockquote>

I specifically used the medical analogy for several reasons:

1) It illustrates the hypocrisy of this administration in sending large ground resources to Africa to address a humanitarian health problem while ignoring a far larger problem of refugees and purposely-caused deaths in Syria and Iraq.

2) The medical analogy illustrates that NGOs and a civil whole-of-government approach can only work in areas that can be secured. They do not work in areas like South Sudan, Afghanistan, and Syria-Iraq where insurgents threaten, kidnap, and kill the aid workers and ignore the diplomats.

3) Just as ground elements are required for humanitarian tragedies, substantial ground forces are the sole asset that can end the ISIL tragedy and consolidate earlier OIF gains in a timely manner by removing Assad, and creating new boundaries for self-rule, with new sectarian forces to stabilize. Few Sunnis will volunteer without self-rule and the Kurds already shown signs of taking matters into their own hands to create a Kurdistan.

4) Perhaps there was a subtle suggestion that just as my medical knowledge is lacking, your own and my comprehension of military and diplomatic matters is similarly limited.

Instead of dwelling on conspiracy theories and criticism (as in the last two paragraphs of your post above and other posts), we and this administration should consider adaptation as a response to fixing this complex problem. Reinforce success (evidenced by the former Surge) and modify failed policies.

When five key former senior advisors warn this President about his pending Iran nuclear agreement, he and his NSC should listen instead of focusing on a flawed legacy that will lead to proliferation and expansion of Iranian influence. When military leaders say that tens of daily airstrikes are insufficient, perhaps they have a point, and perhaps Assad’s weakened military should be one of the targets. When SF/SOF ask to go outside the wire and Apaches, CAS stacks, unmanned surveillance, MEDEVAC, and CSAR could support them, give it a try and be prepared to go beyond special operations. When elements in Syria and Iraq (and for that matter Ukraine) ask for arms directly, give them up. Finally, while we both may not understand diplomat-think, perhaps a more Machiavellian form thereof is appropriate in this region to alter WWI Sykes-Picot boundaries.

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 06/25/2015 - 11:30am

@ MF:

Actually, one criticism of what Barry Posen is suggesting is that it is too difficult. If you look at what he specifically suggests in his containment piece, it is in many ways more muscular than a Surge 2.0 because it requires embedding certain military actions within a tough long term diplomatic course and setting priorities.

Troops surges means that no one has to make a decision, no prioritization is to be had, and politicians can make promises to everyone.

I am surprised given the age of most of the commenters here that the concept of containment as incredibly tough is not understood. Our surge in AfPak was soft diplomatically and looked the other way in terms of many regional troubles. This is not so-called toughness. It is a sign of a foreign policy apparatus that doesn't want to do anything that might require making any donor unhappy.

Surging troops has become DC's default option because, paradoxically and given the nature of our all-volunteer military, it is the easier option. Most Americans are leery but do not prioritize foreign policy so that DC can easily vote to send weapons or troops without worrying about whether any of it really accomplishes any goals.

In this piece, it is assumed that if a threat is non-existential, than the only response is a particular kind of "through, with and by" or whatever the SOF phrase. But that is not the case; the military, as Douglas Macgregor has often written, should be in the business of thinking of options. Military aid and coordination with those fighting ISIS is containment, or, quarantine if you prefer to dazzle me with medical words ;)

There are other agendas afoot, MF. Not everyone cares so much about ISIS that writes about this subject. The McCain ? Sedona Institute had a meeting some time back and it was filled with business leaders, especially those representing arms sellers, retired Generals, even Tony Blair.

Hybrid war hasn't sold well and the Kagans are back to the Nazi analogy. These things seem to move in waves, intellectually speaking.

Outlaw 09

Fri, 06/26/2015 - 1:18am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Just a side comment on Surkov--he was recently thrown out of Bulgaria after having lied on the reasons he was there to begin with and then placed on a EU wide life time travel ban to anywhere in the EU.

Actually that is for EU standards a rather drastic measure so was he "politically there for a reason and who did he met with" in order that he agitated the Bulgarians so much?

Secondly, he is Putin's personal go to man for the Ukraine and has direct contact with the mercenaries there since the very beginning and was there for a major meeting before this latest round of serious fighting broke out.

Therefore reading anything he writes especially a given "secret" presentation is critical in understanding Putin's mindset.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 06/25/2015 - 7:47am

In order to fully understand the current Russian mindset one needs to read what some of their officials have written over the last ten years--this article should be fully read to the end and then one gets a feeling for what we are now experiencing with Putin.

Vladislav Surkov’s Secret Speech: How Russia Should Fight International Conspiracies

November 29 2006 at 10:46 AM

Sometimes it bodes us well to fully understand the political system and their players that has grown to view us as their natural enemy again after 25 years of peace.

Bill C.

Wed, 06/24/2015 - 11:37am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

A potential problem for "political warfare" advocates:

Legitimacy is said to be central to the idea of "soft power," to wit: the ability to attract people over to one's own side without coercion.

This being the case, then does "political warfare" -- as an aspect of "hard power" -- not harm/destroy one's claim of legitimacy; this, because coercion has become necessary/required to achieve one's aims and goals?

If the above statement is accurate, then do we want to go down the same road (coercion) as our opponents; herein, to suggest that we are as illegitimate as they are?

Help me out with this "legitimacy" -- as relates to coercion and "political warfare" -- issue/matter.


Thu, 06/25/2015 - 11:47am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

One thought I've recently had on why we are so reluctant to develop a strategy worthy of the name has led me in an interesting direction. Perhaps we do have a strategy...and perhaps it is hidden in the word "stability" aka status quo. If our strategy is the preservation of the existing order of things, then the implications are rather interesting.

1. Preservation of the status quo is defense by another name. Defensive strategies can be successful in the long run, but they are expensive.

2. We have an inherent assumption that the status quo can be preserved. This can lead to self-delusion in the belief that the status quo hasn't already changed, but may change in the future. Our discussions on IW/UW even on SWJ trend in the future tense...meaning, we say our opponents are becoming IW/hybrid/whatever, not that they are.

3. Defense does not require leadership, just management. A leader has a vision of a future that differs from the status quo, allowing him to formulate a goal in the first place and then lead people to it. Strategic defense assumes everyone is already on the same page and just needs to agree on how they will coordinate, a much simpler task. Ironically, if they are not on the same page...then the defense leader has the crappy task of convincing everyone that they should return to what they abandoned.

4. Our use of the word stability is in and of itself a mental handicap. A strategy seeking any change would necessitate the creation of instability. Cognitive dissonance much? We can't commit to formulating shaping strategies because they require a vision of the world that is not already old. In other words, our strategy is a conservative gambit that we can prevent change, especially change we see as upsetting the "old order".

In any case, having a strategy is contingent on a desired effect. What effect does the US desire? More and more it seems like the effect is no change with us at the top. Alas, the environment is changing, making the strategy to keeping us on top anachronistic...which is what I think we are actually witnessing.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 06/25/2015 - 1:49am

In reply to by Sparapet

Sparapet---actually MC is one of the answers to the Russsian, Iranian, Chinese and IS UW strategies.

BUT here has been my complaint--Dave in this article is totally correct and there is a BUT--right now there is absolutely no and I repeat no national strategic strategy, thoughts, visions, ideas coming out of the National Command Authority and the NSC.

Obama has only one single guiding light right now---do not upset the apple cart before I leave office and he is totally concentrated on his legacy.

The sad thing about this is that all of the major UW players mentioned above fully understand that and it is part and parcel of their UW strategies--we only need to see the comments coming out of Iran over the last week--they are virtually repeating publicly what I just said--"you need us for your legacy".

Heck even social media sees it--three perfect examples of our total failure on the national strategic strategy level. … As Putin slices & dices Ukraine, ISIS has designs on #Russia. Via @ukrainik @SBandera2014

Iraq's Sunni tribes face lonely battle against Islamic State

Look at all these warmongers Obama employed. Ex-Advisers Warn Obama That Iran Nuke Deal ‘May Fall Short’ of Standards

What amazes me is the answers are staring this President literally in his face and yet he does nothing--how strange is that?

So much for a Harvard education.


Wed, 06/24/2015 - 10:06am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Outlaw...unfortunately, Goldwater-Nichols explicitly forbids the creation of a General Staff. What it did do is create 9 General Staff-lites in the Unified Commands and 5 General Staff-lites in the Joint Staff and Service Staffs. There is perhaps a wisdom in segregating the operations of the military from the institutional interests of the military in our society writ-large. But it does create the problem you describe where we can never match the decision cycle speed of an opponent who can organize, train, equip, and employ from a unified center.

Interestingly, our solution has been to further decentralize and complicate matters with our efforts to tie all of our operations to "partners" outside of those 14 staff chains. By this I don't mean to critique the decentralization inherent in Mission Command, which I like muy mucho.

Personally, I believe that our framework is a losing one in the long run. We can get out of most messes that framework creates by an overabundance of resources. As soon as that asymmetric advantage is neutralized, we'll face an existential crisis where we will have to re-frame all we understand about how we conduct warfare.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 06/24/2015 - 5:24am

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill--interesting point--if one thinks about it the Russian General Staff is far more innovative and far better at adapting than all of our combined military officer training centers---a single Russian General and his Staff sits down and analyzes the US military actions starting even from VN and then pulls in the various "colored events" and the "Arab Springs" and then formulates his doctrine that the government then implements.

So Russian military strategy became the major supporter of the Russian political strategy--something we simply cannot match.

The same thing can be said for the Russian whole of government approach vs ours--we have virtually none--yes in name but that is about it as ours always fight's turf wars and can never seem to get a coherent integrated concept--Russian has one and it moves with singular purpose as it is a reflection of their governmental system--ie a singular leader-- same goes for China, Iran and yes even IS.

So one might say we have two strikes going against us even before we try to get into the game.

Couple our concepts with a serious portion of risk aversion and we have now what we have.

That is why we are still discussing even the need for political warfare and UW and Russia, China, Iran and IS are exercising theirs daily.

Bill M.

Tue, 06/23/2015 - 6:14pm

In reply to by Sparapet

Very well said, and I think we do a very poor job assessing risk. Good strategy requires an evolving understanding of multiple factors. Identifying what threatens us, especially when that risk isn't immediately tangible, is something we do pooly. We are decent at responding tactically to immediate threats, but we do so without context. The other issue regarding army strategists isn't completely irrelevant, but uniformed personnel seem to play a small role in strategy development. If we don't do it, then army strategists exist in name only. It is similar to a medical doctor relegated to emptying bed pans. We have systemic problems that start at the very top of our system.

Outlaw 09

Tue, 06/23/2015 - 1:11pm

In reply to by Sparapet

BUT what if the strategy is "let's only do enough so it does appears that we did not intend to lose".

OR better yet "let's do engough so I do not lose before I leave office".

When a strategy is driven by one's legacy thoughts we are in serious trouble.

That is where we are in Iraq, Syris, Iran and to a major degree the Ukraine.

"Legacy" is not a strategy.

A spade is a spade so why not call it for what it is??

Dave Maxwell

Tue, 06/23/2015 - 5:10am

In reply to by Sparapet

Thanks Sparapet. I used your comment in my class last evening on UW and SOF for policy makers and strategists. It was very well received by my students (and me as well!). Thanks again.


Mon, 06/22/2015 - 2:31pm

In reply to by thedrosophil

Excellent!!! This is being shared with some of my 59A buddies, time now. In all my time in the Pentagon or even State, I have never....I say again...never, seen a strategy discussion go beyond some aspirational musings. The AO's always killed the mood by worrying about their inboxes and what the boss "really" wants.


Mon, 06/22/2015 - 12:50pm

Agreed through and through. We have a ton of mantras like by-with-through, low cost-small footprint-sustainable, new normal, innovative, etc. None of which add up to a single coherent idea, which I would argue is the prerequisite to having a strategy. We stuff.

Of late I have started to think that we are converting our land warfare operating model from production to consulting services. Here's the thing about consulting services, they are agnostic to outcomes...they have to be, because they don't control the operations of the client. All they can do is offer the best that the client wishes to buy. While consulting is certainly prestigious (I should know, 5 yrs wearing that hat), in terms of economic activity it is a completely second-tier economic activity that is completely and utterly dependent on the primary activity, the producers of stuff.

So...we tie our entire strategy to the operations of others. Which is fine, if our strategy was for some marginal gain to be had at low cost. Kinda like saying "hey, I heard you are going downtown, when you get a chance, can you grab me a gellato from that one place i love? Here's 2 bucks". Sure I paid you some resources, but I have saved my self the time and gas, the things I actually valued that day. But say on the way there, you got tied up, and didn't get my gellato. And say you decided that you don't have the $2 cash next time I see you, and promise to pay me back, eventually, maybe. So I lost $2 and the gellato. But the gellato was just a marginal gain in my day, at a low cost, so the risk of not going myself was acceptable. But if I give you $300 to pick up my heart-arrhythmia medicine, and you get sidelined and forget to return the cash, I just got hurt...bad...because I took a grave risk by being lazy.

So with our strategy. Advise, assist, low footprint, innovative thingies are all well and good when the risk of failure, while inconvenient, isn't actually much more than a loss of opportunity for a marginal gain. However, setting a "degrade and destroy" endstate with the same ways/means is saying either: the Administration is being flippant with words and really means to say that while ISIS failing is of general interest, the failure to stop them is more a lost opportunity rather than a significant risk to our interests...or...the Administration is being lazy about the commitment, and as all lazy people do, is unwilling to suffer near certain immediate inconvenience for a substantial decrease to the risk of failure. I suspect it is the latter.


Mon, 06/22/2015 - 12:06pm

I've frequently found myself shaking my head whenever I check out the CENCTOM homepage and see combat camera pictures of U.S. GPF troops "training and advising" Iraqi forces.

I think it's a sham when I see sloppily-executed Battle Drill Six training, or square range live fire training with an Iraqi jundi (wearing a ridiculous 3 pairs of elbow and knee pads) engaging static paper targets at 10-15 meters, and other "skills" training that seems to ignore the fact that the ISF are never going to fight like that. I know I'm talking about a fairly minor, tactical angle to the current goings-on in Iraq, but it factors into the larger topic of this article.

When we have GPF troops training the ISF aboard safe haven FOBs, but not embedded in with units similar to the old MTTs that pushed the ISF into the fight and provided critical links to other support, I think we are merely reinforcing failure.

Once again COL, you've hit the nail on the head, but unfortunately decision-makers can't see the disaster we are headed for if we continue to follow the current approach.

***Someone needs to develop a widget that allows for the comments sections of blog and journal posts to be printed off more easily (e.g. converted into a .pdf along with the post itself) than the current cut and past hack job I am forced to do. The comments section is always a great area of rich information.

Outlaw 09

Sun, 06/21/2015 - 5:08am

Getting back to Dave's article-----

IMHO—this is the core reason why we need to have a fully functioning strategic political warfare concept at the national command authority level so that all other players in a “whole of government” can adjust and adapt their pieces to it.

Without a coherent strategic level political warfare strategy at the national level all efforts by DoD will in the end fail.

I am afraid though this current administration is not up for it as evidenced by their current ongoing foreign policy actions--am personally not sure they even recognize the urgency for one.


Military-Industrial Kurier, February 27, 2013


General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Federation

Of course, it would be easiest of all to say that the events of the “Arab Spring” are not war and so there are no lessons for us — military men — to learn. But maybe the opposite is true — that precisely these events are typical of warfare in the 21st century.

In terms of the scale of the casualties and destruction, the catastrophic social, economic, and political consequences, such new-type conflicts are comparable with the consequences of any real war.

The very “rules of war” have changed. The role of nonmilitary means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown, and, in many cases, they have exceeded the power of force of weapons in their effectiveness.

Comment from the author of the linked article.

For me, this is probably the most important line in the whole piece, so allow me to repeat it: The role of nonmilitary means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown, and, in many cases, they have exceeded the power of force of weapons in their effectiveness. In other words, this is an explicit recognition not only that all conflicts are actually means to political ends–the actual forces used are irrelevant–but that in the modern realities, Russia must look to non-military instruments increasingly.

Move Forward

Sun, 06/21/2015 - 6:27pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Imagine a highly communicable disease that is rare but spreading in a particular part of the world. Due to worldwide travel and visitation by family members and workers from that area, the disease may spread and increase numbers of infected patients to other Western areas.

In addition, although the disease can kill medical personnel who deploy to that part of the world to combat the disease, such a forward Surge strategy is the sole realistic means of containing that disease rapidly. But the President doesn’t see things that way. He is certain that local medical personnel can handle the problem even though evidence exists that those with some religious beliefs do not want to treat those with other beliefs seen as foreign to them. Nevertheless, the President and his National Security Council opt instead to airdrop medicine in a few daily sorties to the affected area. He does allow a few specialist medical personnel to deploy to the area but only to advise local medical personnel, not travel into the field where they could be hurt by the disease.

The President cites cost in blood and treasure as his rationale. After all, the disease is primarily a regional problem and only afflicts a few in the West. The nation is tired of fixing other people’s problems after all. If airdrops of medicine can contain if not shorten the local problem, despite the number of regional refugees and deaths it is costing, then the West won’t have to foot the bill, so the logic goes. But unbeknownst to the President, many of those refugees start bringing the disease to the West in Europe and America. The internet solicits travel from the West to affected areas seeking to help. Survivors subsequently return stateside with the disease.

After several years of half-hearted efforts, the fatal disease is now affecting the West in unimaginable ways that should have been foreseeable and that now will cost substantially more than an upfront Surge would have fixed. Worse, the disease now evolves to an even more lethal variant that is difficult to detect through traveler quarantine. Mail and commerce traveling from that part of the world also begins to spread the pandemic. If only the West had worked directly alongside regional ethnic medical personnel to teach them what to do instead of relying on the colonial-boundary central government to spread proper care.

Madhu (not verified)

Sat, 06/20/2015 - 2:34pm

No amount of boots on the ground can resolve contradictory policy, IMO. The calls for a Surge 2.0 are unpersuasive but seem to be popular with some parties, especially those that might personally benefit.

Because the US cannot be honest about its relationship to the Saudis (or others in the Mid East and Europe/NATO) we are both fighting and supporting ISIS in complicated ways. Not only that, it is unclear what our main objective really is in the Middle East. It seems to be placating traditional so-called allies as we attempt to negotiate a deal with Iran while trying to quiet domestic critics.

Our alliance structure is unwieldy and contradictory. How can one move the Israelis, Turks, Saudis, Iraq, Jordan, etc., into one unified direction toward ISIS when many of our allies prioritize the removal of Assad and keeping the US as its proxy against Iran (whatever the nature of a deal?)

Does it strike anyone that the American people are in the mood for a Surge 2.0, even if polling shows a slight majority would like "something done?" as long as that something is easy, fast and cheap?

Not a novel observation, but the President's rhetoric does not match what he is willing to do. The threat is real but not existential, again, IMO.

Barry Posen has been talking for some time about containment as an option against ISIS which would likely be a better fit for certain types of SOF activities (denied areas requiring disruption of networks and sabotage among other activities) but this would require the US to stop half-heartted Syrian regime change along with other activities. In short, out of the many things we are trying to do--including placating far too many so-called allies--we would have to prioritize ISIS. This also means the crowds in DC that would like to prioritize other things in the Mid East would have to give up on their machinations.…

I know none of this is novel but it is basically a conundrum of a foreign policy apparatus that is out of control and exists in many ways for itself.

Outlaw 09

Sat, 06/20/2015 - 3:30pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

If this is true then in fact the US is committing a serious blunder and agitating another close ally again for exactly what????

All for a legacy?????? Or is the US being played exactly due to this so called need of a legacy????

Vladimir Putin ready to sit at the table with G7 leaders again, says Stephen Harper will just have to accept it

The Canadian Press | 06.19.2015​

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — Russia appears to be angling to make it the G-8 once again and President Vladimir Putin suggests it’s something Prime Minister Stephen Harper will just have to accept.

“I don’t want to offend anyone, but if the United States says Russia should be returned to the G8, the prime minister will change his opinion,” Putin told The Canadian Press during a meeting with the heads of world news agencies at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.

Russian officials dropped hints all day Friday that a deal might be the works for Putin to attend the next summit after missing two consecutive meetings.

Following the last gathering of leaders in Germany at the beginning of June, Harper made it clear he didn’t want Putin back at the table because he doesn’t share the values of the group.

“I came of the view, some time before the invasion of Ukraine, that his presence at the table of the G7 was not productive — in fact was inhibiting the kinds of discussions, the kinds of co-operation we could be having on a broad range of international issues,” Harper said at the conclusion of the summit in Schloss Elmau, Germany.

As late as a month ago, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov downplayed the importance of the Group of Eight economic powers as an “informal club.” However speaking at his signature economic forum on Friday, Putin went on at length about how respect on the international stage was important to Russia.

Washington’s position is unclear, but having Russia resume its seat would mark an important thaw in international relations after months of Cold War-like rhetoric over Ukraine.

It would also represent a small personal embarrassment for Harper, who has been among Putin’s most vocal critics.

It came at the same time as Putin moved to drive a wedge among European countries as he called on the West to lean on Ukraine to honour all of the internal political reforms in the peace accord signed in Minsk.

The economic wooing of Greece — significant for the solidarity of the European Union — became an open courtship with an appearance and speech by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras at the forum.

Putin’s remarks about Ukraine came against the backdrop of fresh fighting in eastern regions and the impending renewal of international sanctions, which have dealt a body blow to the Russian economy.

He brushed off the dismal economy, telling the economic forum that the situation for Russia has “stabilized,” but he later added that sanctions hit Europe as hard as Moscow and the loss of tens of billions in economic growth hurts the entire world economy.

Instead of publicly signalling conciliation, Putin demanded Washington and other western nations, including Canada, pressure the government in Kyiv to “fully implement” the accord signed last winter.

In particular, he wants to see the promised constitutional overhaul that would give rebellious regions more autonomy.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has made it clear there will be no reforms as long as Russia keeps troops in his country.

His comments were echoed in a telephone conversation with Harper on Friday.

“Both leaders agreed that the Putin regime’s aggression and ongoing violation of the Minsk agreements must be met with continued resolve, including through the application of economic sanctions,” said Stephen Lecce, a spokesman for Harper.

Canada, along with the U.S. and Britain, is preparing to deliver combat training to the Ukrainian army, but the western allies have stopped short of providing weapons to the embattled country.

It became clear that European solidarity — the key to maintaining sanctions — was showing signs of cracking under the weight of a possible Greek default.

Tsipras delivered a clear signal in front of the international business audience that his country is prepared to embrace Russia –something that will increase concern his financially-strapped country is laying the groundwork for an exit from the EU.

A renewal of European sanctions is expected in late June. In the past, Greece has described the sanctions policy “economic warfare.”

No single country is allowed to break the sanctions regime,

The remarks were made in advance of an emergency meeting called by the EU for next week, where attempts will be made to reach a bailout deal for Greece.

Russia has signalled over the last few days that it’s prepared to provide some form of financial support to Greece, Officials said Friday no such request was made when Putin met with Tsipras.

Outlaw 09

Sat, 06/20/2015 - 3:17pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

For those that after reading this Russian FM press release feel that the Russians truly want a settlement based on Minsk 2.

This is a video covering just eight days on the last 14 days of intense Russian shellings and ground attacks in full violation of Minsk 2 and what was the US response to this--working in a bilateral fashion????

New documentary by @nolanwpeterson provides a great look at the Ukrainan front lines around Pisky Ukraine.

Embedded with 93rd mech brigade in Pisky during 2nd week of June.

This Is What the Ukraine War Looks Like: 8 Days on the Eastern Front Line

Outlaw 09

Sat, 06/20/2015 - 1:46pm

A perfect example of just how badly this Administration blew the Ukrainian issue.

Initially Obama was in the first Normandy meeting and then for some strange reason the US no longer cared and was not involved deferring to the EU ie Merkel.

Now they are back in but at the bilateral level not directing involved with the negotiations where some in Europe have from the very beginning stated they should have been.

Notice though that the Russian elegantly keep the US out of the Normandy group even though they were at the first meeting.

Initially the US announced this bilateral level in a short press release.

NOW read the Russian version and then ask the question after reading it--do they see the US coming to them a "victory"--yes they do just as they viewed DoS Kerry coming to them at Sochi a "victory"..

Then using the Russian propaganda 4Ds --dismiss, distract, distort, dismay designed to create the 2Ds --distrust and doubt--- reread the press release and see if you can spot the propaganda.…

Kremlin: U.S., Russia to jointly coordinate Ukraine crisis settlement

20.06.2015 | 19:55

The Kremlin has announced that the United States and Russia have agreed to coordinate efforts on a bilateral basis to regulate the situation in Ukraine, without engaging Washington in the Normandy format.

"And, so as not to break everything up, we have agreed together that we will be coordinating our activities on Ukraine on a bilateral basis for the time being," Russian presidential chief of staff Sergei Ivanov said in an interview shown in a Saturday analytical program hosted by Sergei Brilyov on the Rossiya-1 TV Channel.

According to him, there was an agreement to set up a special U.S.-Russian bilateral format with the participation of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin, who had to coordinate U.S. and Russian efforts in settling the Ukraine crisis.

"In principle, we could do this – expand the Normandy format by including one more country, engaging the U.S. But the Normandy format is so fragile now that this step would simply be risky," Ivanov said.

In his words, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's visit has "demonstrated that the Americans are also starting to worry" that the situation in Ukraine might go out of control.

"As for the situation that is going out of control, as they often like to say. No matter how ironically this might sound, they should be quite accustomed to this. Hasn't it gone out of control in Iraq? Hasn't it gone out of control in Libya? Or hasn't it gone out of control in Syria? Now it's also gone out of control in Ukraine. Excuse me my language, but wherever they meddle, the situation goes out of control," Ivanov said.

"And most likely, they have started wishing to really settle that crisis," he added.

Ivanov stressed that Russia supports the existing Ukrainian borders, which include the Donbas territory seized by Russian-backed militants now.

"I believe we have exerted very serious influence, because the rebels have made a fundamental step – they've changed their position. They already voted for their independence last year, but now they say: 'We are ready to remain part of Ukraine if the Minsk agreements are implemented,'" he said.

Outlaw 09

Sat, 06/20/2015 - 9:18am

This is White House leadership???? What happen to that "special relationship" we hear every year about the D-Day time??

UK barely scraped Obama's most-called allies: behind Israel, Saudi, France, and special relationship with Germany.

Obama called Cameron x2 last year. He called Hollande x4 and Merkel x7.…

No wonder there is no foreign policy to speak of as there is no constant ongoing dialogue.

Let's see the Crimea and eastern Ukraine is going on towards 1.3 years and only seven calls to Merkel and none is recently being reported in the German media.

Outlaw 09

Sat, 06/20/2015 - 1:53am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Or does anyone see an Obama foreign policy that at least takes in these events on a daily basis??

Whether we think there is or is not a war in Central Europe--there is in fact a war ongoing and the terms being thrown around in the discussions ie rebels, separatists, civil war do not address it--when a person (mercenary, vacationer, volunteer, foreigner)is driving a Russian T72B3 only Russian Army issued tank inside the Ukraine across an internationally recognize legal border THEN he is Russian --it is as simple as that.

Debaltsevo 4:01AM
Rumble, it's not thunder

#Dzerzhynsk 3:54AM
Shooting, small arms, AGS, artillery. Sounds like battle towards #Mayorsk

Horlivka, #Dzerzhynsk
4:40 very loud
5:00 took a brake?

Since 40 minutes battle towards #Mayorsk, shooting, tanks, AGS

Shakhtarsk 7:20
BTR, 12 Urals w ruscists, command post vehicle, field kitchen, water tanker tow #Donetsk

Shakhtarsk 7:38
9x BMP and MT-LB towards #Donetsk

Sytin: Russia's regime wants to return to post-WW2 world order

@RFERL #Russia|'s become a nation of conspiracy theorists;the Kremlin is leading the charge

Outlaw 09

Sat, 06/20/2015 - 1:37am

The ongoing conversation still not deter from the assumptions in this link--right now IMHO I cannot even see a foreign policy when it comes to Putin, Russia and the Ukraine real or not real.

It is a paradox of modern times that, as America matures, its FP grows more ideologically naïve, even infantile."

One simple example and it is rather easy to see--two weeks of intense shellings and ground attacks with heavy Ukrainian loses in attempting to hold just the Minsk contact line and yet not a single word from Obama and or his NSC--challenge anyone here to find every a single word uttered by either.

The only one's calling a spade a spade is the UNSC Ambassador and General Breedlove. AND after Breedlove was so vocal weeks ago--even he is quiet as a mouse lately so he was reigned in as the Russians were complaining about his "overt and aggressive comments directed at them".

Next example--let's see exactly how the 300M aid package for the Ukraine goes--normally in the realm of diplomacy if I want to "signal clear intent" then I sign the DoD Funding Bill in order to have leverage during negotiations--IF though on the other hand I am wishy washy meaning I subtedly need Russian support in Iran and Syria I put up a smoke screen and say I am against it. That diplomatic signal says I need you and am attempting to block this so help me later when I need it.

BUT there is more at work--if you noticed my link to the "poor signaling" Obama has done with Russia--one individual mentioned there stands out like a red light and even the author stated so--as being basically anti NATO and coming out of the Harvard corner.

That dependence on Harvard and his background is interesting so I then went further back into his early Senate days and presto one sees that Obama was the junior Senator responsible for driving a bill funding the destruction of tons of Ukrainian weapons, AD missiles and 15,000 tons of munitions--much of which is in dire need now in the Ukraine and is not there ie artillery munitions and he had been in the Ukraine in the 2004/2005 timeframe.

If we now know how much emphasis he is placing on his legacy and that is being mentioned virtually all the time now in DC circles and we know that his "life experience in negotiations was a community activist" is what formed him, and we know he wants to be remembered for having "ended Iraq and AFG", and we know he has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize basically for a speech, and we know he was the driving force behind the disarmament of the Ukraine---WHY would be now be active in attempting to confront Putin and Russia by supplying defensive weapons ie ATM, night vision, drones and counter battery radar which actually are termed "defensive".

Sometimes one's own biases tend to get in the way of decisive thinking--it definitely does with Putin and it does not with Obama??

BTW--we also see the same biases at work with DoS Kerry and his recent statements in Sochi and afterwards and the rumors he has been sidelined--now we see far more of Nuland attempting to counterbalance previous mistakes he has made in his public statements.

So in effect do we or do we not have a coherent foreign policy-- realist or otherwise?.

Right now there is simply none and debating over terms is a waste of time until the National Command Authority wakes up and smells the coffee but I am afraid by then it is to late to repair previous damages.

The next NCA coming in 2017 will be facing a massive problem in creditability.

Bill M.

Fri, 06/19/2015 - 10:52pm

In reply to by thedrosophil

The other term for constructivism is idealism, in short a belief that international politics are shaped by collective values, ideas that are persuasive, culture, identity, and so forth.

In my opinion, a leader may have a dominant world view, but they seem to embrace aspects of multiple world views with realism, liberalism, and constructivism being the dominant ones.

Bill M.

Sat, 06/20/2015 - 10:43pm

In reply to by thedrosophil

Actually I think identifying yourself as a liberalist is much more popular in U.S. leadership circles than identifying yourself as a realist. Bill C. harps on liberalist worldview that Bill Clinton and George Bush, Jr. embraced. This worldview includes the democratic peace theory, which simply states democracies don't fight one another. Its implication is if we transform outlier countries into democracies we're investing in our long term security. There is some degree of evidence to support this theory, but I think it is overstated. A realist is all about relative power, so if one is a realist then he or she will pursue economic and military superiority over others, and feel threatened if they can't. They embrace the power transition theory and security paradox theory among others.

What is the so what of all this political science babble? I think most U.S. leaders tend to embrace aspects of multiple worldviews. People aren't as simplistic as social scientists would like them to be. Nonetheless, attempting to understand how our leaders and those we may fight view the world is important, because ultimately if we employ force we're attempting to sway him or her with our force. While not necessarily addressed in academics as a political worldview, Sharia in my opinion is a worldview, so is the belief in Biblical stories about the end of the world. If one truly believes that, it will certainly impact their decision calculus. If one embraces a realist world view, like I believe Putin does, then if you convince him that his relative power will decrease if he continues to pursue his current strategy we may convince him to change course. It is not that simple, but I'm sure you get the point.

I think Bill C.'s arguments are grossly overstated, but they have some merit. If we assume people want to be like us (a worldview in itself, maybe idealism?). I suspect most people do embrace self determination, but that doesn't mean they want to mirror our political system or culture. If we build a strategy on the assumption they do and it turns out they don't, then that strategy is invalid. I think we have seen recent examples of that. Getting it wrong is that big of deal if we have the cognitive ability to recognize that, then reframe and adjust the strategy based on our new understanding. I think we fail to do that, we cling to failed strategic approaches too long.

I'm not sure what Dave Maxwell meant when we want people to like us, and instead we should want people to fear us. I interpreted that through my worldview that our claim that the population is the center of gravity in irregular warfare is the center of gravity is deeply flawed. When we focus on PRTs and civil affairs as the supported effort, and fighting the insurgency as a secondary effort we're likely going to lose in most situations. If the government is willing to change the way it shares power that is another issue altogether from building roads and providing medical care. That doesn't mean PRTs, medical care, building schools, etc. is not important, they are critical, but you still have to defeat the insurgency which means fighting. Every situation is different, so the mixture of primary and secondary efforts will vary in time and space, but we accept it as a principle that if we win over the population through kind acts we'll somehow defeat the insurgents. If only it could be so simple.

At the strategic level, I think soft power is essential and we have/had more of it than our potential state adversaries Russia and China. However, soft power without a credible big stick tends to mean little. Most of us like the Dali Lama, but he is unlikely to sway countries threatened by China to follow his advice. On the other hand if a country decides it would prefer a world order dominated by U.S. values versus China values, then it may joint our coalition in the belief we have a big enough stick and the political will to protect them if their decision upsets China. Of course U.S. credibility is increasingly suspect under the current leadership. This begs the question, if we embrace Sun Tzu's teachings about knowing the enemy and knowing ourselves, and knowing we're divided politically at home and we have leadership in the executive office that has lost credibility on the global stage regarding red lines. Given that, what are the implications for a U.S. strategist? On one hand, we can't continue to develop strategies based on desired domestic political conditions if we want to be effective. On the other hand, we can't develop strategies that basically state our senior political leaders are weak kneed and aimless, because they don't see it and would reject the strategy. If Putin is a realist, then he must see us as a credible power or he will continue his aggression. ISIL will continue their aggression until they are destroyed, there is no acceptable political accommodation with them, but there must be a political solution for the Sunnis.


Sat, 06/20/2015 - 11:04am

In reply to by Bill C.

According to Wikipedia, the undisputed and infallible source of all knowledge, Richard Haass was one of the top advisors to Colin Powell, who was Secretary of State under President George W. Bush. Have a look at <A HREF="… chart</A>, and <A HREF="">this chart</A>, both of which outline the three leading IR theories. Under this rubric, Bush 41 and Bush 43 are pretty solidly Realists, and President Obama's rhetoric and policies have been, at most, a mixture between Constructivism and Liberalism.

Look, it's very popular to label oneself a Realist because there are certain positive ramifications to being considered a Realist, not least of which that those unfamiliar with the terminology will think that it means that you're pragmatic. There are also certain negative ramifications to being considered a Liberal, many of which are also tied into labels and unfamiliarity with IR terminology; same with Constructivism/Idealism, the former term being one that most people have never even heard of. I'm also reminded of occasions when President Obama has attempted, without much success, to compare himself with President Reagan - as tried and true a realist as one could cite, and one whose philosophy on foreign policy couldn't have been more diametrically opposed to that of the sitting C-in-C. The fact that one obscure diplomat claimed that President Obama was a Realist at a time when the President had nothing but campaign rhetoric to back such a claim up is no more compelling than one's ability to produce commentators who think that the Earth is flat, the universe was created six thousand years ago, or that O.J. Simpson was just returning a pair of spectacles.


Sat, 06/20/2015 - 11:10am

In reply to by Bill M.

Agree with your thoughts, Bill. I'd go a step further, though, and say that the policies that MF outlined make a good case for the policies of both Bush 41 and Bush 43 being more realistic <I>and</I> more indicative of Realist IR philosophy than those of President Obama, even if that may not have been MF's intent. Of course, I'm a conservative, so consider the source.

Bill M.

Fri, 06/19/2015 - 10:57pm

In reply to by Move Forward

Realism in political theory doesn't translate to the more common definition of realistic, though in the view of many it is a more realistic world view than liberalism. Realism focuses on states pursuing self interests to gain power and increase their security. Focuses on military power over ideas. Concur with your comments regarding how realistic our assumptions were, but that is different than realism.

Move Forward

Fri, 06/19/2015 - 7:58pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill C, did you note the date on your linked article? The talk and article were in May of 2009, not yesterday as implied. That was long before the Arab Spring and related problems, Egyptian rioting and Mubarak successor issues, Syrian Civil War, and Libya NATO attacks of 2011 to present instability, 2011 exit from Iraq, subsequent birth and invasions of ISIL, and last year Putin escapades in Crimea and Ukraine.

Most reasonable observers would cite that a realist would not leave Iraq with no U.S. troops after 2011 and expect all to go well as Sunni-Shiite troubles continued and al-Maliki was proving problematic. George Bush 43 on the other hand was realistic enough to approve a Surge to win OIF by 2008 when Obama took over and screwed everything up subsequently.

I wonder what Richard Haas would say about Obama today some 6 years later under entirely different circumstances? I will agree that George H.W. Bush and President Clinton both erred in thinking the No-Fly Zone over Iraq would fix things, and President Bush 41 also erred in thinking the Shiites would remove Hussein for us. Similarly, President Obama has erred in taking the example of Clinton's '99 Serbia air war with hundreds of strikes daily and believing that a mere tens of sorties daily and Iraqi Shiites would subdue both ISIL and fix the Syrian Civil War despite no precedent for such a belief and ample precedent that the Surge/Anbar Awakening combination worked in Iraq.

Is that realism? Is it realistic to expect Iran will not continue to gain influence in Iraq without our counterbalance and the ISIL threat will not expand? Is it realistic to think Iran won't cheat on any nuclear agreement and KSA will not buy a nuclear weapon from Pakistan despite claims otherwise? Is it realistic to believe arms will find there way to the Kurds and Sunnis through the Shiite government? Is it realistic to think the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds can form some sort of government that will placate all parties within current Iraq borders? Is it realistic to believe the Ukrainian Army can defeat Russian armor without anti-tank weapons? How are those MREs and body armor going to deal with tanks with reactive armor?

Bill C.

Fri, 06/19/2015 - 4:46pm

In reply to by thedrosophil

" ... when it comes to foreign policy, who knew Obama would emulate George Bush? No, not the son, but the kinder and gentler one: George H.W. Bush."

So argued Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, in a talk Thursday at the New America Foundation. As he discussed his memoir, "War of Necessity, War of Choice," Haass was asked why the "realist" approach he shared with Bush's national security adviser Brent Scowcroft had lost out to lofty visions of America's ability to transform the world. His answer suggests sober expectations for Obama -- and that the era of idealism in U.S. foreign policy is over."

"This is a pretty good time for us realists," Haass said. "Indeed, the foreign policy of the Obama administration resembles nothing so much as the foreign policy of Bush 41."

Haass pointed to Afghanistan, where Obama isn't offering grand democratic ambitions but is focusing on battling al-Qaeda and the Taliban. And in China, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made it clear "that we were not going to press the Chinese publicly on matters of human rights," Haass said.

"This is, to me, a rebirth of realism," he concluded, "and it's the natural reaction, I believe, to the overly interventionist and the attempts at a transformational foreign policy of the 43rd president."…


Fri, 06/19/2015 - 4:09pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Those labels are pretty big "ifs". I think most students of international relations would classify both Bush 41 and Bush 43 as fairly solid realists, Clinton as liberal, and Obama as idealist/constructivist. I just did a search for IR theories (I couldn't remember the alternate term for constructivism) and one of the results labeled Bill Clinton as liberal. Given that your suggestion is contingent upon those labels, I'm not sure it stands up.

Bill C.

Fri, 06/19/2015 - 1:19pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

If we label Presidents George H.W. Bush and Barack Obama as being more in the "realist" camp and, thus, as being presidents who seemed more concerned with maintaining stability and the status quo, and more concerned with achieving only slow, incremental political, economic and social change in other countries. (These folks often said to have a problem articulating and pursuing the "vision thing.") And

If we label Presidents William Clinton and George W. Bush as being more in the "idealist" camp, to wit: as being presidents who were prepared to sacrifice stability and up-end the status quo; this so as to advance more rapid and comprehensive political, economic and social change in other states and societies. (These folks, obviously, having no such problem articulating and pursing their "vision thing").

Then might these characterizations help explain our strategy and "whole of government" approaches today; which seems to look more like that of President George H.W. Bush (the realist) rather than that of the idealist (if we can call them that) post-Cold presidents?

Thus, in this realist light, to see President Obama's approach to ISIS (think coalition-building, etc., via retired General Allen) as being similar to that of fellow realist G.H.W. Bush re: Saddam in Kuwait?

In this realist light, to suggest that, at some point and re: President G.H.W. Bush, conventional forces (maybe not ours but someone's) may yet come more into play?

Outlaw 09

Fri, 06/19/2015 - 5:57am

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill M--your comments are so correct--right now the US FP is like a shark in a glass that jelly comes in and the shark does not know how to even turn left or right and does not even realize it is in a jelly jar.

If you read the article I linked to on the fact that the Obama messaging vs Russia is all over the map---in some aspects IMHO that is exactly the weakness that Putin is playing right now as he sees and understands our FP confusion and sees where he can play the weaknesses and he personally views Obama as being weak.

I have repeated it a number of times here--we have probably the weakest President and NSC in the last and I am now raising the number from 40--last 50 years.

Granted he pulled troops out of Iraq and AFG but we should have never been there anyway, Libya is and was his failure first by supporting it and then handing it off like a hot potato to NATO, the last four years of Syria is in fact his failure--including the supposedly red line and yet still chlorine bombs are being dropped and even 300% confirmed, the Russian adventure into Crimea and eastern Ukraine--outside of a lot of talking and sanctions that have not changed Russian thinking-- is his failure.

Due to his waffling he now has a Defense Spending Bill that funds DoD AND arms the Ukraine--if he veto's--he will be overridden--if his veto stands DoD has no funding--just how did he come to that fork in the road--he and his NSC must have seen it coming--but again it seems they did not.

He over pushed on the Israeli Palestinian negotiations and they were a failure and we are no where close to an actual truly effective reigning in of Iranian nuclear adventurism and he definitely ignores Iranian ballistic missile capabilities.

On to the ME in general---right now it is a tad in chaos also his failure as the old line US "friends" no longer are sure just where he is going.

And on to Europe where outside of his TTIP he has not shown much in the way of leadership.

So if the National Command Authority is waffling and unwilling to define a strategic vision for the way forward all the best thinking in DoD is a pure waste.

Right now the Russian, Iranian and Chinese and to a degree IS non linear warfare hinges on a strong whole of government approach which all of them have based on their leadership decision making models--which we simply cannot match.


Since 9/11, after participating in several CT/FID missions, I admit that I'm losing my FID religion. Perhaps I'm already a non-believer that continues to go to the FID church out of habit to be with my friends on Sunday. Despite the over hyped claims of great successes in the Philippines, Columbia, El Salvador, Yemen, Iraq, etc., the reality is we are spending finite national resources and depleting our national credibility with current efforts. We can no longer tell the difference between strategy and buzz phrases (like by, with, and through with an actual strategy, it takes a network to defeat a network, or the people are the center of gravity). I love SOF, but I am concerned with some of the thinking I see regarding special operations by our civilian leaders. They tend to view SOF as the answer to most of our strategic problems. A little SOF DA, UW, and FID will save the day. We confuse efficiency with effectiveness. This view is similar to discredited view that strategic bombing can win wars, that we don't need troops on the ground. Speaking of perfect storms, we now see a nexus of belief in some circles that SOF and air power combined are the strategic solution to all our strategic challenges that require military coercion. I think I have heard of that movie, "Dumb and Dumber."

To give FID its due, we should note it will be a means/way that will always play a key role in pursuing our national security interests. All the more reason we need to take a hard look to see why we're not has successful as we could be. In fact, I think we probably conduct FID more poorly now than at any time in our history. We need to ask why? I think if we're honest with ourselves we can agree that complexity (or in this case increased complications) does increase overtime. We're overburdened by a bureaucracy that has expanded over the past few decades. It has multiple pots of money for different programs that cannot be synched in time in purpose, we must appease hand wringing leadership in many of our embassies who refuse to act decisively, Leahy Amendment, Title 10 and 20 authorities designed for a different era, etc. Not all of our problems are external to the military, since another major shortfall in our approach to FID is that we often create partner nation dependency on U.S. capabilities (ISR, medical, logistical), and then we seem surprised that when we leave our partners can't continue to carry on at the same level of effectiveness. I suspect the key is avoiding that dependency in the first place, which would mean we would have to think about the desired end state first(that shouldn't be a novel concept). War and the so called space between war and peace is complex enough, yet through our own self imposed processes we have added additional complexity and friction that as Dave points out in his article simply results in missions that can be best characterized as mission impossible. War and actions less than war can still work to achieve strategic ends if we develop the right strategy and then empower those given the mission with authority to execute that strategy. If we're not serious about achieving those ends, then don't commit the forces.

I don't want to overstate the case, because I believe Moltke went to such an extreme that he was wrong, but at the same time we shouldn't completely disregard his thoughts on the roles of the military and politicians when our national leaders decide to use war as the means to achieve a strategic end. We're to the point now that the military more often than not is employed to achieve strategic ends, and then hamstrung to the extent that the strategic end can't be achieved via war (or actions short of war). This results in half hearted efforts where we continue to fight with both hands tied behind our back until we lose the political will to continue. At this point we enter into one of LTG McMaster's fallacies on war, which is we think we can just opt out of the fight as though our enemy doesn't have a say in the matter. We're currently bankrupt when it comes to strategic thinking, and that puts our nation at greater risk than may be evident at first glance.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 06/18/2015 - 3:18pm

This is off topic but not by far still well worth the read--especially from the Finnish perspective.

Finnish report on "Russia’s Hybrid War in Ukraine: Breaking the Enemy’s Ability to Resist"

Bill C.

Thu, 06/18/2015 - 12:53pm

George Kennan's suggestion -- of a political warfare approach -- was developed/derived from Kennan's understanding that the United States was in a "long twilight" (Kennedy) existential struggle with the former Soviet Union and communism.

So, the suggestion of political warfare comes as a time when the United States accepts that it is involved a long-term struggle to defend and preserve -- against the Soviet/communist threat -- our very existence and that of our way of life.

Thus, it is in this context (existential, long-term threat) that the United States felt the need to both develop and deploy its "political warfare" approach.

When the Cold War ended, we (1) no longer saw ourselves as being thus threatened, (2) believed that most everyone would now want to be like us and, accordingly, (3) came to believe that political warfare (a matter derived from a worldview of existential/long-term threat) was no longer necessary and, in fact, an anachronism/a contradictory idea.

Seen in this light, a return to political warfare would be an acknowledgement -- both to ourselves and, indeed, to the rest of the world -- that:

a. Our such post-Cold War ideas -- and worldview -- were wrong. And that, accordingly,

b. We were once again engaged in an long-term/existential threat situation -- re: our very existence and that of our way of life -- and, thus, engaged in a new Cold War. (Think not only ISIS and AQ here, but also Russia and China.)

For understandable reasons, (the cost to our prestige and the cost of a new Cold War being prominent among them) we are reluctant to suggest such reality and to make such a move.

Thus, the rock (what we hoped for and what we believed) -- and the hard place (what is, in fact, our reality) -- which cause our national security approaches to appear to be so disoriented, inconsistent and nonsensical?


Thu, 06/18/2015 - 9:47am

<BLOCKQUOTE>Use of air power is controlled from inside the Beltway and airmen are not allowed to use the full extent of their capabilities to maximize effectiveness (although administration officials and policy makers remain enamored with the Air Power and SOF lash up they observed in Afghanistan in 2001 – yet they will not allow it to be effectively employed).</BLOCKQUOTE>

The marriage of air power and SOF is not the panacea it's made out to be. Afghanistan is the perfect case in point: the approach was operationally effective and strategically ineffective. Last Autumn, President Obama heralded the effectiveness of this combination in Somalia and Yemen, neither of which are particularly promising case studies at present (nor were they then).

<BLOCKQUOTE>Worst of all the military is told to destroy ISIL but it will only be able to outsource the fight to ineffective proxy forces in Iraq and Syria whose interests are not aligned with the US. The situation in the Middle East also requires political solutions to achieve success but the US cannot force the necessary solutions upon the partner governments and organizations. Perhaps 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.</BLOCKQUOTE>

It's interesting that this elusive prospect of the perfect proxy force keeps coming up, often being framed as a novel approach to America's security commitments. In his 1981 BBC Reith Lecture series, Sir Laurence Martin <A HREF="">d…; (in terms similarly pessimistic to those of the author) the urge of American policy-makers to empower proxies, rather than committing American troops. "Vietnamization" was obviously a central aspect of American disengagement from Vietnam, and the Soviets and Chinese adopted similar methods in places like Angola and the Korean Peninsula. Proxies have been used to good strategic effect in a variety of conflicts, but typically with strict limitations. My favorite example, as usual, is Dhofar: the British SAS attempted to raise a militia from the ranks of PFLOAG defectors, but found that they were only reliable when employed as small groups of scouts assisting conventional units. I'm not convinced that the proxy forces in Iraq or Syria (or Afghanistan, for that matter) are completely ineffective, nor am I convinced that their interests are entirely contrary to those of the American electorate. I'm also underwhelmed by the overall picture of Western forces training indigenous forces in Afghanistan and Iraq: America trained these forces to operate under the same C4ISR/medevac/logistical framework as Western troops, and now everyone acts shocked when they can't operate with lethal effectiveness on an indefinite timeline when those elements are withdrawn. Even the deeply flawed FM 3-24 acknowledges these issues, but FM 3-24 was ignored in Afghanistan and Iraq, and yet we continue to blame those local proxies as "ineffective" and "not aligned with the US" when the political settlements America committed to safeguarding are allowed to crumble, taking those foreign military forces with them. The Kurds have fought against DAESH successfully, as have the Shiite militias supported by Iran. There is zero reason why the Iraqi security forces couldn't be helped to do the same, provided that the political reconciliation that undercut al Qaeda in Iraq/ISI by 2009 was supported and maintained by American policy-makers. It's that political settlement, and not the competence of Iraqi troops, that's actually in question.

<BLOCKQUOTE>Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recognizes that the troops on the ground do not have the latitude necessary to accomplish the mission. If you want the troops on the ground to be effective then you have to let them do their jobs. The more constraints we place on them in the misguided belief that by doing so and by micromanaging them from inside the beltway that this will somehow prevent things from going wrong, the more we hinder mission accomplishment and the more we put the troops at risk.</BLOCKQUOTE>

I agree in theory, but I'm concerned that the American mindset (and particularly that of American troops) typically ignores "shades of grey" and "happy media". I fear that a relaxation of rules of engagement would swing too far in the other direction. I've grown sick and tired of hearing troops, including field grade officers or higher who ought to know better, advocating for what amounts to de facto scorched earth approaches. Even with the restrictive rules of engagement employed in Afghanistan and Iraq - "courageous restraint", as the Brits term it - there have been far too many stories of excesses and/or outright atrocities perpetrated by troops who either thought they could get away with it or, even worse, thought such behavior was within their actual remit. The American electorate abhors such behavior because it is both immoral and, ultimately, ineffective; and yet, there are still experienced soldiers who think that America could win every war if they were simply allowed to obliterate every village with artillery and detain (or worse) every member of the host nation populace who scowled at them. Today, in 2015, in America, prominent veterans' groups have taken to quoting perhaps the least psychologically qualified general officer in recent American history, Curtis LeMay, who said that "If you kill enough of them, they stop fighting" - reprehensible, and historically baseless. As sympathetic as I am to the case for giving troops "the latitude necessary to accomplish the mission", that latitude must - <I>must</I> - be tempered with far better indoctrination into what does and doesn't contribute to strategic victory.

Aside from that, I'm sympathetic to what I believe the author's ultimate point is, though I must say that the essay seems to be a somewhat rambling lament of various military and political shortfalls, rather than a focused critique of the SOF-ization of what can only be loosely referred to as "strategy". SOF brings impressive capabilities to the overall joint force, often truly grand strategic in nature as Dr. Gray rightly notes. Unfortunately, in America's recent conflicts, SOF have been employed in roles (mainly direct action) for which elite conventional units may have been a better choice (<A HREF="…;, pp. 45); while conventional forces have performed tasks for which SOF are uniquely trained and qualified, and on an "industrial scale" as the author rightly notes. As Bill M. and I have discussed elsewhere at SWJ, recent conflicts have largely extricated SOF units from the FID and UW roles that were once their primary focus. Applying SOF methodology as a panacea, particularly when tied to precision air strikes, is a "strategic" solution only insofar as it convinces the electorate that "something is being done". A <A HREF="…; of SOF and conventional forces across the DoD enterprise to something resembling the Cold War model (e.g., SOF as an adjunct to conventional forces, performing occasional covert DA missions but with an emphasis on preventative FID, UW, and SR missions) would seem to make the most sense, but I fear that SOF will continue to be seen as an instrument of convenience for situations in which Washington lacks redundant capabilities across the DIME spectrum. And, of course, none of this is a substitute for actually formulating both grand and regional strategies, which Washington is either unwilling or incapable of doing.

Move Forward

Thu, 06/18/2015 - 9:59am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

After reading your posted Op-Ed in the Moscow Times, I researched Celeste Wallander and found this You Tube video and an earlier article about NATO in <I>Foreign Affairs</I> that don't make her appear as radical as the article suggests. Here is the video link:

It is interesting that she was talking to a Voice of America correspondent from Uzbekistan considering recent articles that ISIL is trying to make inroads into Afghanistan via primarily Uzbek insurgents. Given the other related problem of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and its relationship with the Taliban, you wonder if the IMU is seeking a new partner and wants closer relations with Iran since the Saudis seem to be anti-ISIL these days.

I also want to address Dr. Demarest's response elsewhere and compliment him in having the time and drive to get both a PhD and Law Degree while also retiring from the U.S. Army as an Ibero-America expert. The two subjects are related insofar as you find conspiracy theorists accusing him of dastardly deeds in some kind of mapping project he was involved in. The accusers even made a documentary film about it (that I could not find) and appear to be of the close the School of Americas movement.

To bring this all back to Dave Maxwell's fine article, the danger in too much UW with CIA and SF involvement, is that it provides fuel for those who criticize the U.S. meddling in other's affairs. We may be there at the current leader's invitation, but if that leader is corrupt or ineffective, he/she may get voted out and a socialist/leftist leader may replace him/her. It also gives someone like Putin with a KGB background more paranoia that the CIA and SF-types are plotting some grand undermining conspiracy.

In contrast, conventional Joint forces, prepositioning, missile defenses, and rotating training forces are blatantly overt and demonstrate a visual straightforward commitment to allies that is less likely to be misrepresented or misinterpreted.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 06/18/2015 - 8:12am

Hate to rain on a parade but we will never have a coherent "political warfare strategic strategy" with this National Command Authority that is virtually all over the map and only interested in his legacy.

The current President has been incapable of clearly defining his vision for over six years and the countless missteps and crossed red lines have only increased the uncertainly and confusion of his foreign policy other than "let's get out of every war and let everyone else lead to let's just not rock the boat until I am gone".…

Obama Is Sending Careless Signals to Putin (Op-Ed)
By Fredo Arias-King
Jun. 09 2015 18:47

In the world of diplomacy, “signals” and perceived nuances are vital indicators that governments use to interpret the intentions of other countries. Such signals are especially important when dealing with non-democratic regimes.

Dictatorships tend to see the world in a distorted light, which means that they are prone to misinterpreting the signals. Columbia scholar Jack Snyder has described this tendency as “mythmaking.” These misinterpretations begin wars, even wars the regimes are unlikely to win.

Russia's foreign policy makers combine their obsession with personalities with black and white Manichean thinking. Intelligence dossiers on U.S. scholars and officials provide the Kremlin with information on the personalities, biases, and apparent motivations of those in the U.S. administration dealing with Russian interests.

Russian leaders use these dossiers to decipher what an American president and his appointees intend to signal through their statements and actions, regardless of official policy pronouncements or even common sense.

U.S. President Barack Obama has sent some powerful signals to the Kremlin — whether intended or not. Moscow saw Obama’s appointment of Michael McFaul and Fiona Hill as his top Russia hands through the prism of their academic writings on democracy promotion in the post-Soviet space.

Putin broke diplomatic protocol during a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry by accusing McFaul of attempting to organize a color revolution in Russia. Significantly, Kerry did not admonish these unfounded attacks on his own ambassador — an unfortunate signal to Putin.

One can only speculate how the Kremlin interpreted the appointment of Celeste Wallander as the senior director for Russia and Eurasia on the National Security Council — in effect, Obama’s current most senior Russia hand together with Victoria Nuland at the State Department.

Wallander has a long record of criticizing not only NATO expansion, but NATO itself. As one of her graduate students at Harvard, I recall her becoming visibly agitated in class when students reflected opinions favorable to NATO’s role in European security. At a panel on NATO expansion in 1998, she blurted in a choked voice, as if about to cry, “How many times do we have to lie to the Russians?” referring to alleged U.S. assurances of not expanding NATO beyond East Germany. (Turns out this view of history is not entirely correct.)

Her tone clashed with that of fellow panelist Andrei Kortunov, a longtime insider of Russian policymaking. Kortunov treated the imminent acceptance of Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland into NATO with level-headedness.

Moscow pays careful attention to Harvard faculty whose influence in forming policy on Russia can be profound.

The Kremlin’s intelligence collection would surely have documented Wallander’s public and private anti-NATO proclivities, though her writings on the subject displayed more balance.

Obama's signals to Russia on personnel decisions appear to reinforce other actions.

One was Obama’s long apology to Putin, during a meeting near Moscow, for the policies of his predecessor, George W. Bush. Another was the botched attempt at “reset” following the Russian-Georgian war in 2008.

In a 2012 meeting with Russia’s then-President Dmitry Medvedev, Obama pleaded for Putin to give him more “space” on a range of issues, particularly on the thorny subject of missile defense in Europe. “This is my last election,” Obama said, apparently unaware that journalists were picking up his comments over an open microphone. “After my election I have more flexibility.”

After Putin granted him the requested “space,” Obama canceled a long-standing missile-defense project with Poland—precisely on the anniversary of the Soviet-Nazi invasion of that key ally.

What signals is Obama sending Putin now when he reverses U.S. sanctions on Iran and its nuclear weapons program, announced the intention to end the five-decade ban on Cuba without extracting any concessions from the regime and appointed an anti-NATO scholar to an important foreign policy position?

Obama’s careless signals have already been sent, as have Russian tanks into Ukraine.

Fredo Arias-King is founder of the Washington-based academic quarterly ''Demokratizatsiya: The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization.''

Outlaw 09

Wed, 06/17/2015 - 6:43pm

This picture just about sums up our current "soft power problem".

Until the US truly gets a whole of government approach that is more than just nice words in a Powerpoint then and only then will "political warfare" work.

The consideration of "political warfare" is very scary thought for some folks.

Why? Because:

a. It suggests that our post-Cold War worldview (everyone now wants to be like us and will work hard to become like us) was totally wrong. And because, accordingly,

b. It suggests that we MUST, whether we want to or not, return to a more Cold War-like worldview, status and strategy; one which accepts that certain (Chinese, Middle Eastern, Russian?) people have:

1. Different wants, needs and desires than we do,

2. Different values, attitudes and beliefs,

3. Different ways in which they wish to order, orient and organize their lives.

4. And that, much as in the Cold War, these folks are willing to fight and die to have things "their" -- rather than "our" -- way.

For those of us in the West, this is (a) an exceptionally sad and disappointing reality (to wit: that of a new Cold War); one with (b) dramatic strategic consequences and costs (we must now "gear up" accordingly).

But this such reality/realization (we are engaged in a new Cold War; once again against people with different ideas and goals) does seem to have at least one positive side.

This being, that it explains (better than anything else I have found so far) why (a) a return to "political warfare" appears to be necessary and why, accordingly, (b) a return of special operations support for same seems to make the most perfect sense.