Small Wars Journal

Rumors of Central Command’s Decline are Wishful Thinking

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Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author alone and do not reflect the policy or position of the U.S. government, the Department of Defense, the National Defense University, or Central Command.

Central Command’s Marine four-star combatant commander James Mattis passed the command flag to Army four-star General Lloyd Austin in Tampa, Florida on 22 March.  Mattis was widely known for his battlefield tenacity in the 2003 Iraq invasion and Austin is known for ably ending in 2011 American combat operations in Iraq leaving some wondering if Central Command’s time in the American national security limelight after the drawdown in Afghanistan in 2014 will be at its end.  And the hearing of sharpening of sequester budgetary knives up in Washington on Capitol Hill, in the White House, and across the Potomac River in the Pentagon aren’t calming any rumors of Central Command’s decline. 

The sharpening is reminiscent of that heard in the early 1990s during the Clinton administration.  International relations optimists wanted to reap huge “peace dividends” by slashing the defense budget because a  “democratic peace” was going to characterize the post-Cold War world.  The subsequent decades of international conflict should have sobered the democratic peace enthusiasts, but they are at it again.  Today, they are arguing that the drawdowns of American forces in Iraq and soon in Afghanistan are now offering a window of opportunity to reap significant defense budget savings by slashing the armed forces and the U.S. Central Command in charge of military operations in the Middle East and South Asia.  These policymakers and lawmakers ought to think again to avoid being “penny wise and pound foolish.”

A bit of military history is in order for a wiser perspective on current and future defense strategy challenges.  Central Command has come a long way since its humble beginnings and has had to mount a wide range of military interventions in the Middle East and South Asia over the last three decades.  It grew from a rapid reaction force into a command during the Cold War to deter the Soviet Union from a feared military drive through Iran to the warm water ports of the Arabian Gulf for the projection of Soviet naval power.  As the Cold War wound down, it shifted attention from keeping the Soviets out of the Gulf to balancing the Arab Gulf states against Iran, which threatened off and on to defeat Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war from 1980-1988.  The simmering naval war with Iranian forces in the Gulf had not halted for two years before Central Command had to take the lead for a military campaign to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi forces.  Central Command had to again jump from the pan into the fire after the tragic 11 September 2001 attacks which necessitated waging war against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan and, by subsequent turn of events, marching on to Baghdad. Subsequently the command worked to provide stable security environments in both Afghanistan and Iraq for transitions to polities that looked more like democracy. 

American policy makers, military men and women, and the American public writ large have been exhausted by the last decade of war in Central Command’s area-of-responsibility.  Many commentators clamor for the complete withdraw of American troops from Afghanistan after 2014 much like has been done in Iraq in 2011.  President Obama himself appears ready to “wash his hands” of the region and his administration has been making great noises about shifting or pivoting America’s strategic attention to Asia.  If the Middle East and South Asia in Central Command’s purview is seen by many as the lands of death, destruction, and misery, the lands of Asia under Pacific Command’s watch, in the minds of many, are the lands of plenty, opportunity, and optimism. 

But the reports of Central Command’s decline and demise are grossly exaggerated.  No matter how much Americans would like to turn our backs on problems and conflicts of the Middle East and South Asia, the more we do the more will we be stabbed in our backs.  The grim reality is that Middle East and South Asia will a the cross roads of many of the world’s ills at odds with American strategic interests to regrettably give Central Command more than its fair share of security burdens year--and even decades--after our 2014 drawdown in Afghanistan. 

The Command’s Pick-Up Warfare Game Past

Most people have long since forgotten, but the rationale for an American military command for the Middle East and South Asia stemmed from the Cold War rivalry with the Soviet Union.  The Carter administration was especially alarmed by the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  It worried that the Soviets, if left undeterred, could take a similar gamble and invade Iran to gain access for the Soviet Navy to the warm water ports of the Arabian Gulf.  The Carter administration also was gravely concerned that the Iranian revolution had deprived American security policy of one of its great nation-state regional security pillars, making the Gulf all the more vulnerable to Soviet aggression.

The Carter administration undertook two important steps to deter the Soviets from Iran and the Gulf.  It announced what came to be known as the Carter Doctrine, stating that, “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”  The doctrine mentioned by all means necessary, which seemed to include the threat of American nuclear weapons.  The Carter administration complemented the nuclear threat with conventional force projection capabilities with the establishment in 1980 of the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force.[1]  After the hostage rescue debacle in Iran, the United States turned in earnest to bolster both special operations and traditional military and force projection capabilities into the Middle East and Southwest Asia with the creation of the Central Command.[2]

The American military’s sluggish bureaucratic inertia kept Central Command as “an odd man out” even though the command was waging low intensity conflict throughout the 1980s.  All the honor, prestige, and promotions seemed to go to American general and flag officers assigned to European Command and NATO, even though a cold peace prevailed in Europe while their peers were in command of shooting conflicts with Iranian forces in the Middle East.  Iran was aiding and abetting Hezbollah surrogate bombings and hostage taking of Americans in Lebanon with impunity while mounting naval guerrilla warfare against oil tankers in the Arabian Gulf being escorted by American and allied ships during the Iran-Iraq war.  The Iranians harassed international oil shipping and American and coalition forces by laying mine fields and mounting hit-and-run attacks with Revolutionary Guard naval forces.    

The American military built and deployed in the European theater to deter and fight the Soviet and Warsaw Pact militaries came in handy for Central Command in 1990 when Saddam Hussein ordered Iraq military forces to invade Kuwait.  The forces and doctrine developed for waging war in temperate European theater proved applicable for fighting in the deserts in and around Kuwait.  The Americans surged more than 500,000 troops to Saudi Arabia as the jumping off point for liberating Kuwait.  The qualitatively better-trained and equipped American military outclassed the numerically superior and largely Soviet-supplied Iraqi military. 

The American-led coalition’s decisive battlefield besting of the Iraqi military gave birth to heralds of a “revolution in military affairs.”  They praised battlefield performances dominated by air power and informed by computers, communications, and intelligence.  That enthusiasm dwindled in the years after the war after the awakening of ethnic conflict in the Balkans in the 1990s.  Many downgraded expectations for battlefield technology and spoke of the “evolution in military affairs.”  Central Command spent the 1990s broadening and deepening its military support nodes in the Gulf beyond Saudi Arabia and Bahrain as it policed Saddam’s Iraq and its largely non-compliance with the terms of the 1991 ceasefire and through Saddam’s ejection of United Nations weapons inspectors from his country in 1998.

From Simmering to Hot Wars

Central Command was back front and center in American defense policy strategy in the wake of the 11 September 2001 al Qaeda attacks on the U.S. homeland that killed more than 3,000 people.  If anyone had predicted anytime before that fateful year that the United States would one day dispatch up to 160,000 troops to Afghanistan, they would have been declared insane.  But that is where American soldiers found themselves overthrowing the Taliban regime, destroying al Qaeda’s leadership and infrastructure, and struggling to put into place a security environment conducive to the nurturing of a democratic government in Kabul. 

The American military struggled for years, grappling with Afghanistan’s security landscape.  The military has imprudently turned-over the generals leading the war effort too rapidly, averaging about one per year.  Commanding generals barely had enough time to get their bearings before they were dispatched to their next assignment.  The American war effort in Afghanistan too was a struggle within the army between the “big army” advocates who focused on using “kinetics” to kill enemies and the “small army” adherents struggling to nudge an institution indoctrinated for fighting similarly organized and equipped militaries to mount a counter-insurgency campaign.  The latter focused less on kinetics and more on providing security for the Afghan civilian population.

The struggle for the “hearts and minds” of the Afghan people--as well as for the American army’s leadership--played out too in the parallel war in Iraq launched in 2003.  President George W. Bush harnessed the political capital he gained in a politically unified United States in the ruins of the 9/11 attacks to order Central Command to oust Saddam Hussein’s regime in Baghdad.  Bush was shocked, as was the American public, that despite the pre-war American intelligence warnings about Iraq’s reconstitution of its biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons programs, all of them were subsequently discovered to have remained in a shambles since the 1991 war.  If the United States had launched the war guided by abysmal intelligence, at least the United States and the United Kingdom which bore the brunt of ground combat had given the Iraqi people a window of opportunity to seek a better future for themselves than they had had under Saddam’s heinous reign. 

Talk of the Command’s Future Decline Grossly Exaggerated

More than a decade of war in Central Command’s strategic neighborhood has taken its toll on the United States.  The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have lasted longer than the American involvement in the World Wars, Korea, or Vietnam.  We tragically have lost more than six thousand men and women in uniform, and thousands have been wounded.  The men and women remaining in service are suffering as evident by broken military families burdened by seemingly endless combat tours and alarming suicide rates.  We have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on the wars and have worn out our military hardware, to include tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, trucks, fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, ships, and the like.  The United States, its leadership and people, are looking to Central Command’s area-of-responsibility and are collectively sighing: “Enough.”

President Obama does not say it in public, but one certainly could read it “between the lines” when his administration announces its determination to strategically pivot to Asia.  The United States is weary from the chronic problems and pessimism of the Middle East and South Asia and wants to geographically turn around to face and embrace the seemingly endless economic opportunities and optimism offered by the “Asian Tigers” and rising China.  This worldview focus on Asia will come into sharper focus as the United States in years ahead starts making some dramatic and drastic strategic and military tradeoffs in order to make budgetary ends and means match in the Pentagon.

Nevertheless, the idea that the United States could simply walk away from the Middle East and South Asia for the sake of interests in Asia is simply an illusion.  The United States is going to have to be prepared to wage the full spectrum of war in Central Command’s area-of-responsibility whether it likes it or not.  Central Command has had to militarily intervene in the Middle East and South Asia over the course of decades with direct action special operations, counter-terrorist operations, naval escort and mine clearing, surface-to-surface naval combat, air reconnaissance and policing no-fly zones, retaliatory and punitive aircraft and cruise missile strikes, hostage rescue missions, establishing sanctuary and safe haven for humanitarian assistance delivery, and for waging high intensity state-to-state warfare. 

Central Command has performed these broad ranging and diversified types of operations in the past and undoubtedly, and regrettably, will have to dip into the full spectrum of warfare toolkit in the future.  It cannot be stressed enough, however, that a consistent trend has emerged throughout our three decades of conflict in the Middle East and South Asia.  We have never have been able to predict what kind of fight the next one will be.  Consequently, Central Command will have to plan and prepare contingency plans for the full spectrum of military intervention and war.

Far too much of the world’s energy wealth—and power derived from it—are married to the most acute security problems on the globe in Central Command’s region.  These threats stem from Islamic militancy exercised by terrorist and insurgent groups the likes of al Qaeda and the Taliban, as well as by the leaderships emerging in the post-Arab spring regimes—influenced or controlled by Salafists, Hamas, Hezbollah, or the Muslim Brotherhood.  Other threats will stem from ethnic and religious conflict, and the proliferation of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.  If the United States and its Central Command will continue to be embattled by these threats, Israel increasingly will find itself under outright siege.  All of these problems, moreover, are growing in scope and magnitude at a time when the world is seemingly getting smaller with globalization and the revolutions in global travel, computers, and communications.  To put it bluntly, what happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas.  But what happens in the Middle East and South Asia spreads to the world.  

[1]  Lawrence Freedman, A Choice of Enemies: America Confronts the Middle East (New York: PublicAffairs, 2008), 103-104.

[2] For an excellent scholar-practitioner’s account of the creation of Central Command, see William E. Odom, “The Cold War Origins of the U.S. Central Command,” Journal of Cold War Studies, Vol. 8, No. 2 (Spring 2006).


About the Author(s)

Richard L. Russell is Professor of National Security Affairs at the National Defense University’s Near East and South Asia Center for Strategic Studies. He also serves as Special Advisor to the U.S. Central Command, the U.S. Special Operations Command, and the Joint Special Operations University located in Tampa, Florida.


Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 04/14/2013 - 2:24pm

<blockquote>Yet, there is an irony. While the US is looking more towards the Pacific, China’s needs are driving it more towards the Middle East. To fuel and sustain economic growth, China is heavily reliant on Middle Eastern oil. The resource rich and volatile Middle East is a critical center of gravity for the Asia-Pacific and the key for China’s continued economic prosperity.

Therefore, despite the rebalancing of U.S. efforts away from the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific, the Middle East today is fast becoming an arena for another “Great Game,” one that may inevitably pit the U.S. against China in a regional competition for influence and power. China, through its economic ties to the region, has already achieved influence parity with the U.S. Now it could very well leverage this growing influence to gain further concessions and achieve a future positional advantage to counter U.S. regional hegemony and naval supremacy in both the Middle East and within the Asia-Pacific region— all the way from the source of its energy supplies through its long and vulnerable sea lines of communications (SLOCs) and to home ports in China.</blockquote>…

Another "data" point to my suggestions below that the US and its allies had inadvertently contributed to the "East to West" trajectory of West Asia by using the old 1950's Truman military planner thinking about South Asia, especially Afghanistan, etc. We all contributed to the movement westward when I'm guessing you wanted to 'block' some of it. I'm not sure it was so explicit, my bet is that it remains an under examined institutional assumption. That's MY under examined assumption at any rate. Would love to see studies on this.

I guess Centcom will have to decide between what is ABSOLUTELY necessary at a minimum, differentiate it from what you'd "like" to have, and the traditional way that the US and its allies have viewed effecting American interests in the Mid East. Easier said than done.

A suggestion that won't go over too well around here: what if it's too interconnected a world to think in terms of a sort of traditional land power "let's hold onto this bit of land or landed ally as a strategic asset" as the main strategy for the region? I sometimes refer to this in comments as the "ticky tacky 'Nixinger' NATOization of American thought". In varying combinations....

I may be way off the mark here and on the way to borderline offensive. I don't mean to be offensive to anybody. I really liked this article a lot. I'm just asking the question. I could be totally wrong. Wouldn't be the first time around here.

PS: I just read all of my previous comments on this thread. Just what do you suppose is WRONG with me? I read too much on the subjects and no one else I know is interested in this stuff so I am stuck harassing you all, I guess.

I know people reading don't need me to tell you this, but it's an abomination to prioritize grand regional strategies and influence over the lives of your own men and citizens when we don't face any real peer competitor existential threats, as during the Cold War era.

Energy is vital, understood. But this is how it happened, isn't it? This is how we accepted paying for the demise of some of our own; we forgot the Great Game is not the be all and end all. It serves the people, first and foremost. Maximalist military approaches are part of the same phenomenon.

Being a realist doesn't mean literally copying the old school Cold War realists, it means thinking about our needs today.

I am so bitter about this.

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 04/04/2013 - 11:59am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

This is what I mean by a middle-eastern centric view of CENTCOM, from the Afghanistan buffer of the British Raj to the American Cold War SEATO and CENTO business, it's always about sweeping up South Asia into the Middle Eastern or westward "bin". But what if our usual way of doing things is exactly wrong and we don't want to sweep it up westward into our usual military commands and bins and want to see things anew?

And this part, "for all practical purposes, war fighting was over"?

How to think about that statement in retrospect? In medicine, some of us have this saying, that "the 'retrospectoscope' is one hundred percent accurate," meaning, of course, that in hindsight it's all so easy. So I empathize with people that are put in charge of DOING something, because doing is different than talking and some people that write and think for a living have no conception of the mental effort it takes in the midst of confusion. That's why some decision makers and advisors and politicos and decision makers and think tankers come up with such strange plans for the world, it's all as easy as thinking it up, right?

But I'm not a pushover because of that empathy, I still have to question.

<blockquote>[After 9/11, is it clear] that it is Al Qaeda?

No. When we had a video teleconference, Gen. Franks and I, we were having a video teleconference with the chairman, the vice chairman, the secretary, the president, Vice President [Dick Cheney], [Chief of Staff Andy] Card, [then-National Security Adviser] Condi Rice, [then-Secretary of State] Colin Powell, Tenet. Everybody is there.

... We're discussing back and forth, and Secretary Rumsfeld said, "Sure it's not Iraq?" And George Tenet said, "I'm sure it's not Iraq; it's Al Qaeda." Then something came out, which at least we had not known before because we didn't focus on the United States, that they had had some information from the FBI ... that these were Al Qaeda operatives and that where it had come from [was] Afghanistan. That was questioned again by Secretary Rumsfeld, and that's when Colin Powell said: "Hey, if it's only going to be there, that's where we're going. We're going after Afghanistan."</blockquote>

Our orientation is what we see. If something is in our peripheral vision, it is never entirely clear, it blurs.

Sigh. I'm getting it all mixed up again. I have a million quotes for this thread and for a few others. I hope I have a chance to work this out in the comments section.

On Tora Bora, so many claims back and forth. How could I possibly know? But I am uneasy with the claims and counterclaims. Don't know what to make of it.

<blockquote>One of them was Brig. Gen. James N. Mattis, the commander of some 4,000 marines who had arrived in the Afghan theater by now. Mattis, along with another officer with whom I spoke, was convinced that with these numbers he could have surrounded and sealed off bin Laden's lair, as well as deployed troops to the most sensitive portions of the largely unpatrolled border with Pakistan. He argued strongly that he should be permitted to proceed to the Tora Bora caves. The general was turned down. An American intelligence official told me that the Bush administration later concluded that the refusal of Centcom to dispatch the marines - along with their failure to commit U.S. ground forces to Afghanistan generally - was the gravest error of the war.</blockquote>…

Well, it's impossible not to make errors in war so I am never about the gotcha around here. But what if we doubled down on the original error, we and NATO turned to a peace keeping mission while the US and allies turned to Iraq? This explains the violence in another paper around here, we thought we were done, we were building peace, and even if we could have had that jirga Bob Jones is always talking about, the world still turns and our ability to fundamentally change ground realities in terms of national will is limited.

We should admit this to ourselves, this is not weakness, it's the stuff of husbanding (and expanding too) great power. Certain Cold Warriors understood this, they kept a focus on Europe no matter the other missteps on the periphery, they always came back to that.

PS: One more thing, our military sales, the nature of our debt and treasury, and the need for oil make it difficult for our system to be strong against sponsors of terrorism or other disorder. This can only happen with a sense of character and purpose in the people at the top, which we the people elect or appoint anyway. The world is porous and interconnected, and, let's be honest, a lot of people in our system are greedy SOB's or just plain weird.

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 04/04/2013 - 11:45am

In reply to by major.rod

I am not a nation builder and I don't mean that we should have done COIN in Afghanistan earlier. I am making some of the same points you are, that our mental focus was not so much misplaced as confused. We thought we did handle terrorism from the region appropriately because we didn't understand the place.

We still don't and use all sorts of canards about regional motivations: if only we assuaged fears with military sales or big envoy peace deals we could stop people from a regional monetary and resource competition! Please. The real history of the region doesn't show that, only the fake history used to placate the Washington Consensus shows that. Our deals tend to egg on people or they send our envoys home promptly. We have no leverage on some issues.

Another puzzle piece in the picture that I am attempting to assemble, but the picture never comes into focus: <em>From 2000-2003 Michael DeLong was deputy commander to Gen. Tommy Franks at Central Command (CENTCOM), where they oversaw U.S. operations in the war in Afghanistan and then the invasion of Iraq.</em>

<blockquote>It went extremely well on purpose, because [of] the amount of homework that we did. We went back to Hannibal, to Genghis Kahn and the Khyber Rifles, the Brits, the Russians, [asking] who had been successful in Afghanistan. And if they were, how were they successful?

The only ones that had ever been successful in Afghanistan were the ones who had used the Afghan people, and then when the war was over, the Afghan people got to govern themselves. And we figured, well, that's the way to go. The Russian way didn't work at all because they lost 50,000 people, hundreds of airplanes and helicopters. The Brits got almost a brigade destroyed there in the Khyber Pass. And so how are we going to do this? We bring in Russian platoon commanders, company commanders that were now generals back in '79, and they walk us through what they did, the problems they had, the issues they had.
We had to provide [for] how do we get the Northern Alliance army that's about the fifth the size of the Taliban army -- how do we make them successful? Well, we thought we could do it with firepower, which meant injecting special forces teams that had access to air to drop bombs, precision weapons where we wanted it, and CIA intelligence teams together with them so they had the best intelligence in the world and the best weapons in the world. The terrain was so rough, you couldn't use artillery; you had to use air. So that was our plan, to feed the Afghan people to make the Northern Alliance successful, and at the end, allow them to elect their own leaders. From one month after we went in, [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai was elected as the temporary head, one month [after] the entire war. For all practical purposes, war fighting was over</blockquote>

So, they thought about, they asked around, they worried about what had happened to the Russians and didn't want to go there with huge numbers, and it was all sort of a West to East thing, but the map goes East to West and North to South too.

We pushed a bunch of stuff eastward and it was only time before it all came back westward because that is the nature of the regional dynamics. And, yet, we encouraged a certain "continue westward" dynamics because of CENTCOM's historical relationships.

....cont in comment the next comment, this is too long to read properly.


Mon, 04/01/2013 - 4:49pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

M - Not sure about what your key points are but I do have issues with the examples you use to support your argument.

No doubt the nation changed focus from Afghanistan to Iraq but I don't buy the premise that continued focus would have fixed the problem that is Afghanistan. Bush and Obama refused to address Pakistan, the father of the Taliban and the sanctuary it, AQ and Bin Laden himself have had for the last decade.

Tora Bora happened because we went in very light. Arguing for a heavier footprint to seal Tora Bora ignores that Tora Bora may have never happened had we gone in as light as we did with Unconventional Warfare taking point.

Madhu (not verified)

Fri, 03/29/2013 - 10:20am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Am I the only person who replies to her own comments around here? The voices in my head....

It turns out that I won't have time to flesh out my comments so I'll have to do this in a rough-and-ready way:

A Strachan YouTube lecture I listened to covered the topic of the "securitization" of war (I hope I'm getting this right, I listen to so many things that I may be mixing everything up). Basically, security and threats and war are not all the same thing but the security studies and peace studies and military intellectual crew and political scientists or whatever mix them up. I sure hope that is correct and I'm not making it all up.

Is this right? Meaning that some threats need diplomacy, police work, etc., but war is war, organized violence to achieve a certain end, and we hurt ourselves by confusing everything.

Hey, I read this stuff over, like, my lunch break. I don't do this for a living, so don't get mad, I'm trying.

At any rate, we will still need boots on the ground, we will always need them, I mean, look at Tora Bora!!!! Even if you understand the world as networks and 4GW and razzle-dazzle and want to use super-duper never wrong advanced technology, actual physicial force matters and the messy nature of the world will sometimes require a man on the ground to ensure that very force.

You know. Until the robots take over....

So, I kinda tracked with the following McMaster's talk, sorta-kinda, in a way:…

Eh, not all of it (but what do I know?), but it's nice to have enough people sometimes, right? Back up is always a better plan then having no back up.

But boots on the ground back up don't pay the same in districts as contracts for manufacturing technological razzle-dazzle. Security side effect of moving manufacturing off-shore....quit confusing economic matters with military matters, people at the top. They don't always track.

Am I getting better at understanding why you sort of have to pay attention to this institutional funding stuff even if it's just icky?

Madhu (not verified)

Fri, 03/29/2013 - 9:37am

CENTCOM may include some Asian nations but it always forgets they are Asian, it is so middle eastern centric in its basic thinking, I bet.

The history and development--especially the intellectual history--of CENTCOM really interests me.

Thanks so much for this paper.

Even before oil, and because the Mid East was in the European sphere of influence, the United States was concerned with the Mid East region in a small way because of how we defined our own security in relation to Europe. Unfortunately, the US and its institutions then viewed South or Western Asian nations through the lens of the Mid East instead of viewing them as Asian, or simply, unique, each with its own particular histories and driving forces.

Cold War collecting of clients as security states and the need to protect oil supplies left the American military with an intellectual "language" unable to process threats properly from the very security states that we had attempted to collect, on and off, over the years. We were in 1983 in 1993 and in 2003, mentally, in the CENTCOM world, I wager....

A proposal. Don't know if that's true.

So as we, meaning the Bush administration, turned to deal with Saddam in the immediate aftermath of 9-11, we in the US (military and civilian) used mental models that prevented us from thinking new thoughts, from seeing that the first "front" which had opened up and dealt a bloody blow on the homeland had to be dealt with properly and not ONLY as sideline when dealing with a different "front", in the Mid East. And, as it turned out, the threats in that second front came from both our traditional allies as well as our traditional foes.

I am not making the partisan argument either, that we ignored Afghanistan, because the same mental models animated the second crew, the Obama administration and its initial military advisors, just in a different way. But same mental model really, when broken down. Just dealt with in a slightly different way.

And here we are.

GEN. Dempsey says you need to be able to think two thoughts at the same time. Here's mine: threats can come from allies and allies can be threats and threats can be allies and it's all mixed up in our hyper-connected world, eh?

It's always been my contention (which could be totally wrong) that an initial twentieth century Europeanization of thought has lead the United States to view the world in ways that are sometimes counterproductive to our interests. Add to this the need to protect oil coming from the Mid East region and we have the problem we had after 2001: we couldn't hold two thoughts together in our collective heads at the same time.

What do I mean? What if the threats come out of the very security apparatus you have set up over the years to protect oil supplies first from the Soviet Union and then Saddam and then whoever else comes up because you are confusing the need for energy with its current geography of production? And, no, I'm not making the same old points about the Saudis or anyone else, I'm talking about the way in which we think only in terms of clients and blocs.

Oh, I'm rambling again because I'm in a rush but I am going to flesh this thread out with examples when I get a chance.

This matters for Syria (and the humanitarian cost is just terrible to witness) because just because someone else loses doesn't mean we--or the innocents caught up in it all--win. Two thoughts, particle and wave, at the same time.

My interest as an American citizen is not in CENTCOM's importance institutionally but in what you all can bring to the table mentally which then can be translated appropriately into the physical realm of defense.