Small Wars Journal

Bringing the Hurricane: The American Way of War

Sun, 05/22/2011 - 11:32am
Bringing the Hurricane: The American Way of War

by David S. Pierson

Download the Full Article: Bringing the Hurricane: The American Way of War

Over five years have passed since Hurricane Katrina came ashore in the Gulf Coast region and the United States is still recovering from the effects of that storm. In a matter of hours Katrina knocked out power and phone systems, destroyed levees, flooded vast areas of land, destroyed almost 300,000 homes, killed over 1500 people and even changed the political landscape of the United States. For every 20 minutes that Katrina pounded the Gulf States, it produced energy equivalent to a 10-megaton nuclear bomb exploding. Imagine if a nation had the ability to drop a storm of such destructive power on its enemies -- not a nuclear storm, but a storm of enormous magnitude. Could that nation influence their enemies' actions and behavior by using such power or even just threatening to use it? While we can't control the weather, the United States easily possesses the ability to produce similar effects of such a storm. The effects of a storm are widespread, sometimes arbitrary, and not at all surgical in their focus. Such effects run counter to the restrained and measured operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. We currently wage war with the precision of a golf course sprinkler system as opposed to potential deluge of armaments that could bring the perfect storm.

Download the Full Article: Bringing the Hurricane: The American Way of War

David S. Pierson is a retired Army Lieutenant-Colonel and currently an instructor at the US Army Command and General Staff College where he has taught operational art and tactics for the past seven years. He served in both infantry and military intelligence assignments from the platoon to Unified Command levels with service in Desert Storm and two tours in Kosovo.

About the Author(s)


Posted by Raymond F

"Can't say I agree that Afghanistan is a base for operations against its neighbours. Its land-locked, with essentially no infrastructure."

Threats and influence do not necessarily require the ability to launch a major conventional operation. Pakistan and India have fought for influence for many years, and China was nervous when the USSR occupied it. By maintaining forces/influence we shape its economic policies and the populations (to some degree). Threats is not intended strictly in the military sense, but more a competition sense, but by all means we do have the ability to conduct limited operations into any bordering country if we choose. I hope we will think twice about conducting a major occupation operation again. If we need to, then by all means, but to simply do it because we think we can is hubris that will further undermine our national interests.

Bill C., we will repel nations from us if we try to force them to integrate with military force. England, France, the USSR, etc. tried that approach, and history indicates forced integration will become unintegrated once again when the opportunity presents itself.

Bill C. (not verified)

Mon, 05/30/2011 - 1:01pm

In Afghanistan and elsewhere, can "Bringing the Hurricane" ("strategic raiding;" "dropping a Katrina in their lap and letting them deal with the consequences") achieve -- better than some other method -- our objective of (1) transforming these states and societies and (2) incorporating them into the world system ran by the United States?

This, so that these states, societies and regions might (a) dramatically benefit from these changes, (b) become less of a burden on/problem for the rest of the world and (c) be put to more productive use for it (the rest of the world).

Can "non-intervention" achieve these goals?

Raymond F (not verified)

Sun, 05/29/2011 - 9:40am

Can't say I agree that Afghanistan is a base for operations against its neighbours. Its land-locked, with essentially no infrastructure.

I suppose airbases there might have some value, but you are not going to launching any invasions of neighbouring states from there. Since you would have to supply through airheads, you would be incapable of sustaining, let alone moving any force of military significance.

Furthermore, the neighbouring countries you have described all have large populations, and with the partial exception of Iran, the terrain massively favours a defender. There is simply no way that an army in Afghanistan can threaten anyone except maybe Iran, a bit.

I don't know Raymond, forces in Afghanistan geographically can threaten/influence China, India, Pakistan, Iran and Russia. So while Afghanistan as a state may not be that important (it isn't a threat, and economically it produces nothing), I don't think you argue its geostrategic value. Many experts thought we could have saved thousands of lives in Rwanda simply by shutting down the radio station and establishing a few safehavens within the country. Long term outcome of such an effort, who knows?

Most Americans are not opposed to helping those less fortunate, and that is why we donate to charity and support various NGOs. However, beyond being idealistic, we are also pragmatic, and want to see a return on our investment. We seldom see this when the U.S. Government executes these interventions (beyond security). Our development money in both Pakistan and Afghanistan (and elsewhere in the world) has reinforced and enhanced corruption, strengthed the institutions we hoped to weaken, and quite simply has failed. Of course our answer to throw more money at the problem, as though that will magically fix it. If you get the military and other non AID agencies out of development, then maybe we can make some progress.

Another point on the so called CNN effect. It is natural to assume that most conflicts we will get involved in will be in the media, but that is not the reason we are get involved. The CNN effect isn't working for Syria, but if we decide it is in our interests to intervene beyond the current diplomatic efforts we will. I am sure someone will call the CNN effect, but that isn't how decisions are made. We are a little more pragmatic than that.

We clearly do not need to provide a FEMA like response to clean up a mess we made if we left a functional government in place. I guess some of the young turk majors who are self professed experts on international law assume that they raid equates to a regime change. If we oust a government then we do have certain legal and moral obligations. The goal of a raid is to shape the government's behavior, not remove it. We not only didn't provide aid after Operation DESERT FOX, we continued to maintain sanctions. Neither History nor law supports the arguments presented above, rather the arguments are based on the false assumption that all military adventures will look like OEF-A and OIF.

Raymond F (not verified)

Fri, 05/27/2011 - 10:23pm

Its probable that the US had at least some interest in most of the wars which has fought since 1953. But the question is whether that interest was best served by intervention, and whether the cost of that intervention justified the perceived interest.

Others have used the example of conflicts where there was felt to be a moral or humanitarian obligation to intervene, and I like that example. There is no question that intervening in Rwanda, for example, would have saved innocent lives - at least initially. That is a good thing and noble. And if we could say with some certainty that such a benefit would have been lasting and widespread, then perhaps there would have been sufficient justification to expend some national treasure. We give money to help the less fortunate, after all, and we do not consider it wasted.

But cruel armies are still slaughtering civilians in central africa today. The Rwandan war has never really stopped. It has claimed many millions. I suspect that western troops, even in numbers, would have made barely a dent in the horrors there. And in the worst case, perhaps have unwittingly exacerbated it.

The law of unintended consequences applies especially in Afghanistan, I think. The west's only interest in that country was in disrupting AQ bases - something acheived quickly and easily in the first weeks of the war.

But the west does indeed have a vital interest in the region - it is the stability of nuclear-armed Pakistan. We really dont even care whether Pakistan is aligned with China or us or with Equador for that matter. All we really care about is that it does not become a militant Jihadist state.

I fear that our intervention in strategically unimportant Afghanistan has actually made a disasterous Pakistani outcome more likely. First by destabilizing and discrediting the regime, and secondly by fostering anti-western sentiment, we have created an opening for our real enemies to gain power in a nuclear-armed state. And we have paid in blood and treasure to do this to ourselves.

All that to say that there are interests, and then there are vital interests. To paraphrase a Canadian Prime Minister: "war when necessary, but not necessarily war"

Raymond F., you sound like a Paul Kennedy fan of national security (as am I). We will destroy ourselves if we continue excessive non-productive defense spending. We need to invest in our own country first and foremost, and stop buying into poorly framed arguments that all these engagements are somehow in our national interest. The reality is money is bleeding out, and very little is coming back in return and our debt keeps growing. Some of the engagements are in our interests, while others aren't, and of course it is all much clearer in hindsight which ones were important and which ones weren't.

Slapout, I don't think the purpose of Grand Strategy is to avoid war as much as it is to determine when we need to go to war. I don't buy the argument about the CNN effect, there are several humanitarian crises around the world we didn't respond to despite the media's best efforts of dramatizing it. That is naive thinking that has little correlation with reality.

Raiding strategies are cost effective and we already have the force to do it, and even with the anticipated downsizing we will still have the force to do it in the future if we choose to. It is a tool in the tool box, and no we do not have to clean up our mess. Ideally in a raid the damage is relatively limited to begin with, but still painful enough to encourage behavior change, as our bombing raids on both Libya and Syria demonstrate, or dropping the cruise missiles into Sudan (convincing them to stop supporting AQ). CNN or Fox will not determine when we go to war, they will only influence the voters to a small degree. I think Somalia started the CNN effect myth. Bush senior tried to help in Somalia for the right reasons, but the mission went astray. Everyone assumed we went in because of the CNN pull effect (although it didn't pull us into Rwanda), but I suspect it was due to the lack of a grand strategy at the end of the Cold War and the President genuinely wanting to help a needy African country.

The Grand Strategy during the Cold War was to keep Germany/Central Europe, UK, and Japan in our camp and to help them develop economically, so if we ever did have to fight the Soviets we had the force and economic advantage. We didn't provide aid just to provide aid, it was part of larger strategy. Something we appear to be missing today. We are not competing with AQ economically like we were the USSR, but you would think we were with the way we're throwing money around. While we made several mistakes during the Cold War, just as the Soviets did, overall our grand strategists got it right.

Take the raid strategy-option for what it worth, we have used it in the past effectively and I suspect we will use it in the future. We will also most likely be engaged in a major conflict again in the future, and just as in the past we will continue to be involved in irregular conflicts. Which ones we get involved in will hopefully be determined by something that looks like a grand strategy, although it can't be as black and white as it was during the Cold War.

Michael C. Sevcik (not verified)

Fri, 05/27/2011 - 3:08pm

Peter and all,
"It pains me to think that this is the sort of thought being pushed at CGSC." I wouldnt be too concerned about what is pushed at CGSC. My experience, a lot on independent thinking here, most students drink only the Kool-Aid they prefer. Strategic hurricanes, design theory and especially our Army doctrine all have lots of skeptics at Leavenworth.

Still, the authors conclusion: "Bring on the hurricane and let our adversaries enjoy the clean-up they have earned" strikes me as rather naïve. War is not just a battle of resources--it is a battle of political will. Geneva Conventions, Laws of Land Warfare, DOD Directive 3000.05 and FM 3-0 all emphasize our legal and moral obligations to ensure the safety, security and well-being of civil populations worldwide. And not just because when you break it, you fix it--is the moral and ethical thing to do. Politically it would be disastrous to crush an adversary and walk away. It worked with Rome 2000 years ago but who thinks the Roman way of war is going to cut it in 2011. Just how long do you think it would take for Christiane Amanpour to find the eye of the "hurricane" and start sending live photos of the suffering.

Political disaster!

slapout9 (not verified)

Fri, 05/27/2011 - 3:06pm

Raymond F, you are a wise man. I don't know what the purpose is now, but I was taught that the true purpose of Grand Strategy was to avoid War unless there was no other option.

Raymond F (not verified)

Fri, 05/27/2011 - 2:00pm

The thing that strikes me about the examples 'raids' used is that none of them were necessary. It seems to me that the last war in which the USA had a true vital interest was the first Gulf War. The one before that was probably Korea. And the last time the USA faced an existential threat (other than the threat of nuclear destruction) was probably 1861.

I agree that the USA (and Canada) are in the fortunate position of being strategic islands, isolated from most military threats. The conclusion I draw from that, however, is that the USA can afford minimal defences.

I am not a pacifist. I am a career soldier who has served in Afghanistan and the balkans. But I believe that in the long run, military power is a function of the size, wealth and technical base of a nation. The corollory is that dollars spent on defence in times of weak or inchoate threats are poorly spent. The opportunity cost is lost investment in the economy and the population that will be needed for the next war of necessity.

The USA needs a strategic deterent. There is also a peacetime requirement for the USA to be able to exert force in support of its interests around the world. And there is a need to be able to re-arm for WW III or similar should such a conflict become probable.

I believe that as in the 1920s and 1930s, such requirements could be met with much smaller and even somewhat less sophisticated forces than the USA presently fields. Given the long lead times for capital construction, it makes sense to have a larger standing navy, relative to more easily re-built land and air forces, but the navy too could be much, much smaller than it is today.

The USA would of course have to refrain from intervening in places like Vietnam, Panama, Iraq or Afghanistan. But I think a serious strategist, objectively looking at such wars, would have to conclude that win or lose, the strategic picture for the USA has remained fundamentally unchanged.

The best part is that the money and blood saved would be invested in the nation's long term health and vigour, preserving the dominant, even unchallengable war-fighting potential it possessed in 1939.

Vitesse et Puissance

Thu, 05/26/2011 - 1:54pm

Colonel Pierson displays a firm grasp of the obvious in this piece. In addition to the criticisms levied above, the issue that this article avoids is the force balance between Active and Reserve components in the Total Army (or whatever one chooses to name it). Set the active force at whatever threshhold one likes, organize the Regular Army however one wishes - the simple fact is that if the contingency is large enough and requires sustained effort, recourse to mobilization of the reserves (of course including the National Guard) is necessary. Sustained force generation is the undeniable reality and the ultimate problem faced by the Army of the United States. Once the well of trained and ready officers and enlisted personnel has run dry, we are in a "world war" situation where the force must be generated from scratch. This is the recurring lesson of history, in all of America's wars up until Korea. Reaffirmation of the Weinberger/Powell Doctrine with its contrived exit strategies will not defer the eventual crisis in which the United States finds itself compelled to put all its chips on the table, risking all simply because it is left with no other viable choice. This is, in fact, the situation the British faced in the world wars, and how that explicitly maritime power with its explicitly maritime strategy was compelled to generate a ground force of 67 divisions. A strategic error ? No, a strategic necessity. The British really had no difficulty defeating the Kriegsmarine, but victory required their empire to win on the land as well. The Roman empire was brought up as an example - but Roman had to win on both land and sea to gain its empire in the first place. and while seapower was a considerable advantage to the Byzantine successor state, it was by land that the borders of the empire were penetrated and the Roman state subdued. Likewise with the "peacetime" British empire. This site reports the following numbers for the British Army at the outset of WWI:…

Regular Army
British Isles: 125,000
India and Burma:75,000
Other overseas postings: 33,000
Total active army: 233,000

Army Reserve: 145,000
Militia (Special Reserve): 64,000
Territoral Force: 272,000
Total reserves: 381,000

Total Force (excluding colonial troops: 614,000

Irrespective of the excellence of the Old Contemptibles, or the lessons learned from the Boer War, the Eurasian continent is no place to learn the art of war in an on-the-job training program. And while end strength of the Army of the US is nowhere as lean as these, and the advantages of jointness and superior technology undeniable, one cannot expunge the danger and risks imposed by a conscious resort to an expeditionary strategy. At some point, the enemy to your front will outnumber you and the sea is at your back.

JP (not verified)

Thu, 05/26/2011 - 12:28pm

He had me until he started talking about the post-raid FEMA on page 8. If you knock over a state, then by definition the security required to make "rebuilding" succeed is not there. (Not to mention that the likely targets of many raids will not have effective governments able to ensure security in the first place.)

Bringing in humanitarian supplies and infrastructure repair materials will only lead to large-scale theft and brutality if US security forces are not present to ensure these supplies are equitably distributed (case in point, aid to Somalia in 1991 before US troops arrived). If we don't provide the security ourselves, then the humanitarian effort will fail. If we do provide the security ourselves, then we have been drawn into the expensive occupation that the author wants to avoid.

Major Dave Bauder (not verified)

Tue, 05/24/2011 - 10:06pm

"The views expressed in the previous blog are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government."

Major Dave Bauder (not verified)

Tue, 05/24/2011 - 9:53pm

Its interesting that the author would paint this concept of warfare "strategic raid" moving forward. At the micro and macro level strategic raids have always been part of warfare. However, this doesnt represent a comprehensive national strategy for meeting future conflicts.

Focusing conflicts on cost effectiveness is doomed to fail. History has painted this picture very clearly - the one with the most gold or credit cards win. Sun Tzu had this figured out thousands of years ago.

If any long term goals for military action include regional stability long term occupation must be considered and required. Our military and doctrine need to focus on a well balanced concept of conventional and irregular "hybrid" forces. This will allow our defense system to respond to a wide range of possible threats.

One of the major strength of the U.S. Military is the sustainment and logistical elements. This is one main factor that separate us from the rest of the world. Would this concept "strategic raid" down sizes our forces functioning within logistics? This is a key element that separates us from the rest of the world but would likely not be needed under the suggested concept.

The author espouses some of the tenets of a classic maritime strategy. A maritime strategy is not a naval strategy, but utilizes the entire panoply of capabilities (land, air, sea, space, cyber, etc.) and leverages geographic advantages. As the author relates, it makes sense for us to build those capabilities that enable us to control, or deny to the adversary, the global commons (sea, air, etc.). Based on our geography, these are our routes to and from the rest of the world.

However, he has taken the broad advantages of such an approach and narrowly used them to support a concept of "strategic raiding." Above all, the ability to control the sea and air, when necessary (its certainly not something we can control everywhere, all of the time) provides that greatest strategic asset: options. We can choose to stand off, or if we see fit to become involved, we can set the general time and place. Traditionally, a maritime power has focused its assets in sea (and air) power, as he recounts. Especially in light of the resource trade-offs implicit in building these capabilities instead of a large land force. However, this doesnt mean that we dont consider major land campaigns. Its just that we seek to leverage others (allies, "host nation") to provide the large land power. Our land contribution is economic assistance, train and advise, and if necessary, power projection with an adequate force at key points.

This isnt to say that we wont find ourselves in long land campaigns, or that we wont on occasion need larger land forces. However, over the long term, a strategy that seeks to leverage control of the commons as its foundation, provides the most strategic flexibility.


Tue, 05/24/2011 - 12:40pm

Bill M.,
I agree with what you're saying about strategic raids above, in very specific and limited circumstances matched to the strategic ends desired. However, the author is arguing for a much more broad adoption of the strategic raid paradigm for how we should conduct operations.

This essay argues that a tactic should drive strategy and is therefore highly flawed and disturbing to be coming out of CGSC. A more useful piece would have laid out what strategic ends could be attained by these ways and means, what cannot be attained, and what this means for policy. Finally, any "strategic option on the cheap" should ring alarm bells in the minds of prudent policy-makers and their advisors. Sure, use it if you're OK with it not working and walking away (but then why not just leave it alone in the first place), but beware what it might draw you into.

Matt, while I understand where you are coming from, I think your arguments are mostly incorrect and based on idealistic views instead of reality. You support all your arguments with the false claim that if we have the capability to conduct strategic raids, then that means we can't do anything else. That is simply false, we can do strategic raids now, and we are still capable of conducting irregular warfare. Counter points below.

First, I don't think the author argued that one size fits all, but that is an option that the military should be able to provide to our policy makers. S

econd, this is hardly the first time this strategy has been advocated or practiced. You may recall that we conducted a punative raid on Libya in response to Disco bombing. A punative raid on Syria when we were in Lebanon. Both Israel and the U.S. have conducted punative raids on Iraq. I'm sure that there are many other examples. All of these were short of war, so we had no moral obligation to rebuild what we destroyed.

I think you framed the argument as an extreme versus simply maintaining the option (and of course investing in the right technology to do it more effectively). Why wouldn't we maintain this viable option? Our air and naval superiority is still the key to our national defense (and I'm a long time and proud grunt, and of course believe the Army will always have a critical role to play in our national security) I really don't understand why you think the Army will lose its capability to conduct irregular warfare if we further enhance our naval and air forces? Why would CGSC quit teaching low intensity conflict-irregular warfare as part of the spectrum of military operations we are likely to be engaged in? Maintaining a strike capability clearly does not equate to leaving our military dangerously unprepared for other contingencies, and I simply find that to be a false argument, but remain open to be convinced otherwise.

You even said it yourself when you wrote, "" Grenada, Panama, and Desert Storm all have one thing in common--they were military actions undertaken with very limited strategic goals. In Panama and Grenada, our political objectives were to overthrow an unfriendly regime and reinstall a friendly one--operations far short of societal transformations.""

Not sure what your point is, unless you think we will never deploy the military to achieve limited objectives again? Note all those operations were successful. It is a myth that any change we implement will endure the test of time, so if we achieved desired effects for a few years on the cheap, then we were effective.

Then you wrote, ""By advocating the "strategic raid" as the principal method of war, the military would not be postured to conduct two of the types of operations he states we are likely to face: disaster response and stability/security force assistance missions.""

How does maintaining the capability to conduct strategic raids mean we will not be postured for other options? What is the logic in this argument?

Addressing your assumption we have a "moral obligation" to achieve a better peace, that is idealistic, and it doesn't pertain to actions short of war like strategic raids. Sometimes a better peace is simply not achievable by military action, and getting involved in what I believe you are proposing could lead to years of suffering for all concerned, as it has in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The BLUF is if we conduct a strategic raid that doesn't make us the victors in a war.

You wrote, ""The introduction of military might into sovereign countries carries with it a host of unintended consequences that the author does not address.""

Actually I think he did address this indirectly, because by not introducing long term dwell forces into a country we are less likely to see the backlash that we see where we do. Executing a punative raid is quite different than invading and becoming an occupying force. Both have consequences, but one is much greater than the other.

You speculated when you wrote, ""the defensive posture he proposes, as others have mentioned, is not suitable for even the majority of likely conflicts.""

That depends upon our foreign policy, and I suspect we will be less likely to repeat the hubris we committed to in Iraq and Afghanistan in the near future. Instead our stability operations and FID operations will hopefully be much smaller in scale and rely much more on the host nation to provide the security. It will take time, but we can sustain the effort if we right size instead of surging in combat troops. One would hope they are encouraging you to learn and devise more effective ways to conduct stability operations than surging in massive U.S. forces. I agree with you that these missions will most likely continue to be the norm, as they were prior to 9-11. Hopefully we will do them smarter in the future instead of simply templating the surge for every contingency.

In my view and many others, using strategic raids is very much a strategic option on the cheap, and if you have limited objectives it may be the appropriate option, which is quite different than your claim it would undermine U.S. interests. How would it undermine U.S. interests?

Lee Robinson (not verified)

Mon, 05/23/2011 - 11:16pm

I applaud the author for providing this perspective, but disagree with his "one-size-fits-most" strategy. As an active duty Army Major and current CGSC student, I can say that this is the first time I have heard of this radical of a concept for a future way of war. While I will comment on the two major flaws I see in his argument, I do think that the contribution of this paper is that it sets a limit on one extreme of the spectrum for what kind of military we want to pay for in the decade to come--which is a discussion we should have in our educational curriculum. However, the military posture he advocates would leave the US dangerously unprepared for the types of mission we are likely to perform.

The first major flaw in the authors argument is his use of historical examples to champion his "hurricane" approach. Grenada, Panama, and Desert Storm all have one thing in common--they were military actions undertaken with very limited strategic goals. In Panama and Grenada, our political objectives were to overthrow an unfriendly regime and reinstall a friendly one--operations far short of societal transformations. Of course regime change was not an objective in Desert Storm, but rather the liberation of Kuwait. By advocating the "strategic raid" as the principal method of war, the military would not be postured to conduct two of the types of operations he states we are likely to face: disaster response and stability/security force assistance missions.

Second, the use of strategic raids ignores the moral obligation that the US undertakes when it chooses to go to war--the goal of establishing a just and lasting peace that was hopefully the desired endstate of the undertaking in the first place. The Fourth Geneva Convention and the Hague Convention both embody the moral obligations of victors in war to undertake post bellum activities to secure a lasting peace. While the author would likely argue that strategic raids are actions short of war, the "coercion" of other states that he seeks could also be accomplished by other elements of national power that do not involve lethal effects such as diplomatic, economic, and informational power. A policy of strategic raids followed by "FEMA" relief leaves far more questions and problems than answers. How will security be established for NGOs coordinating relief work? How will we ensure that supplies go to our desired recipients? Should these strategic raids be sanctioned by international bodies? How much force is applied before you are actually "at war?" The introduction of military might into sovereign countries carries with it a host of unintended consequences that the author does not address.

It seems like overall the author wishes to steer the US military away from nation-building in future conflicts, but the defensive posture he proposes, as others have mentioned, is not suitable for even the majority of likely conflicts. He is right to alert us to the costly effects of nation-building, but trying to influence countries "on the cheap" with strategic raids would undermine US interests.

slapout9 (not verified)

Mon, 05/23/2011 - 12:26pm

"OEF was certainly not a strategic raid. It turned out to be much faster-moving operation than anyone thought, and moved about as fast as it took tribes and villages to switch sides so they wouldn't get bombed into the Pliocene age" Maybe there is a lesson to be learned there.

From my perspective, this piece seems to have two points: 1) that conventional land warfare ought to be subordinated to our Sea and Air Forces, as dictated by geography; and 2) that we ought to engage in land warfare only in short-term policies. These points appear to be derived from the idea that we ought to engage only in defensive warfare, and that we are incapable of effective irregular warfare.

On these points, I tend to agree with the author, though my Army background shudders at the thought of the first idea. However, I believe that the advantages to this policy are particular to peacetime competition only. There is a world of difference when the National Command Authority decides that Americas interests require defending on a different continent -- reactively or preemptively. Substantive change in the threat landscape comes only through long-duration economic and diplomatic competition (the Cold War and many of the Rothschild-financed continental wars) and full-tilt commitment to overwhelming land force conquest. When conventional warfare is the choice, core values and decisions are not shaped by "shaping operations" like naval blockade and aerial bombardment, no matter how devastating. The Core Values and Core Decisions (courses of action chosen that employ critical capabilities to protect and enforce core values) are only changed by direct assault -- in both the conceptual and the physical world. To move a threat state from an ideal that threatens us, to a posture of timidity and internal interests only requires overwhelming force that destroys combat capability and war-making capacity. As for non-state actors, they are operating on a completely different plane altogether and this whole discussion does not apply.

A fear of mine if we do decide to engage only in strategic raids, is that -- yes, countries will indeed learn to keep their affairs such that they do not perturb the sleeping giant -- but the danger in that is then those same countries will choose to use ways and means that are outside our perception and attention level and threats will manifest in ways we do not recognize until too late. See, our strategic early warning indicators tend to be self-reflective and if we force foreign threats to play a different game, then we risk not even seeing the game (with its threat and risk) until it is too late to do anything but invade. If you do not include meaningful political-strategic change in your campaign, then you stand an excellent chance of ending up with something worse than whence you started, and the new regime will have learned the lesson described above and may turn out to be a greater actual threat to America than the previous.

A couple flaws in the paper are the ever-fateful discussion of troop-ratios for COIN and characterization of OEF circa 2001 as a raid. As for the discussion of troop-ratios, they are always all wrong. For theoretical reasoning, read any paper on Wicked Problems and you can apply it concerning COIN, Stability or other equally complex operations.

OEF was certainly not a strategic raid. It turned out to be much faster-moving operation than anyone thought, and moved about as fast as it took tribes and villages to switch sides so they wouldn't get bombed into the Pliocene age. The fact that the Taliban had such a weak grip on the Afghan societies was more a lucky break than a device of our planning or shaping, and it certainly had no bearing on our decision-making until November, 2001. On the ground and in Uzbek, we had no idea what to do other than to prepare for a long-duration Unconventional Warfare campaign. UW does not go with "raid." Just like Iraq, we went into Afghan blind. The major difference was that, in Oct-Dec 2001 in OEF, we listened to what the core problems were and quickly turned the corner, but then we punted in June 02 for the sake of another blind adventure.

We are pretty much in agreement. First, I think Effects based operations is one of the dumbest concepts the military ever came up with (we can't achieve precision effects), and this is from a former advocate who initially thought the process made sense from a logical point of view.

The so called "decisive" operation is a rarity in history, and is probably a term best removed from our lexicon, along with the concept of center of gravity. Victories, losses, stale mates are the results of numerous operations and non military factors (politics, economics, etc.) all interacting in unpredictable ways. However, in my opinion the ability to bomb Germany demonstrated to the German people that their government could no longer defend them, and combined with the massive battlefield losses you mentioned, their economic ruin, all contributed to the defeat of their military and people (and defeating both in this case was important). My point on punative raids is that they're not war, but rather "limited" combat operations and they probably only have a limited effect on behavior and duration, but sometimes that is all we can realistically expect to achieve. Hopefully we are learning the right lessons about the limits of our ability to transform societies using the military.

We had Iraq contained with our no fly zones, we had a presence in the Middle East (militarily to support the no fly zones) that was a visible deterent to others, etc. that in hindsight was cheaper to maintain than the force we had to maintain in Iraq after our adventure there, which arguably degraded our credibility in the region and gave Iran increased influence in the region. One could also argue that the writing was on the wall, but the neo-cons chose to ignore it and pursue with blind faith that Iraqis (and then subsequently the whole Middle East) would simply embrace democracy. Part of the reason they were so sure of themselves was our superior technology (as Bush said, we have transformed the nature of war). Punative raids worked with Iraq. Saddam continued to talk tough for the reasons you mentioned (and we knew that), but he didn't act tough because he knew better.

In short punative raids are an option that sometimes are the best option. They are not the answer to all or even most of our security challenges.


Sun, 05/22/2011 - 5:26pm

Bill M.,
First, I agree that the important issue in Germany was the defeat and exhaustion of the nation. However, while the strategic bombing campaign was an important part of this, it was not decisive. In fact, the Allies were torn between the aims of exhausting Germans' will and destroying their transportation and industrial nodes. In the end, they had effects on both accounts, but not single-handedly decisive ones. The point is, airpower alone was not decisive and it rarely, if ever, has been. Germany's will was surely crushed, but I'd argue that this stemmed first from the barbaric losses inflicted upon the nation in the Eastern front and the Soviet's rapacious advance into their territory, then the losses on the Western front, then the contribution of the air war, which made the first two easier and also made their effects harder to absorb.

Second, the calculus of punitive raids is often flawed on our part because our vision of rationality and the data to be analyzed in a "rational" decision do not match with the rationality and calculus of the intended audience. For example, Saddam Hussein's primary concern was maintaining appearances for his domestic audience who, he believed, would have torn him to shreds if he showed weakness. So even as we turned up the punitive cost to him, in his calculus it was worth bearing because, even though he didn't have WMD, it would cost more to appear weak than it would to let the punitive strikes and sanctions continue.

Finally, I agree that the neo-cons had a hand in Iraq and Afghanistan, but there were a lot of people outside the neo-con circle that bought in to the military concepts that supported their ideas. The precision weapon and advanced C3I2 mentality about air power and erasing the fog of war, along with a host of other flashy concepts, were a siren call for people who should not have been in the positions they were without knowing better. I would put this essay in that category. Flashy concepts that make it seem like military force can be used as a much more precise tool than it really is. I opened my book with 3 quotes about this. Part of two of them: "Let us never be elated by the fatal hope of the war being quickly ended by the devastation of their lands." -Archidamus "Kind-hearted people might of course think there was some ingenious way to disarm or defeat an enemy without too much bloodshed, and might imagine this is the true goal of the art of war. Pleasant as it sounds, it is a fallacy." - Carl von Clausewitz

I was with him until page 7 or so when he started writing about statistical correlations on force requirements, which is a guess at best, and most likely wrong. Then he starting writing about the requirement to have a FEMA force to clean up the mess we made? Conducting punative raid is a viable option in many cases, and should be considered. We conduct them to change-shape behavior, without commiting to a long term fight. We also conduct them to maximize our asymmetrical advantages without foolishing attempting to fight the enemy his way. What we should not be in the habit of doing is cleaning up our mess. A punative raid is punative raid, not a welfare mission. Let the nation suffer the pain of the wound, and let it stand as an example to other actors that desire to pose a threat our nation or interests.

I read the same study that our bombing was not decisive in defeating Germany, but it was flawed. It looked at the effects of the bombing from the impact on industrial output, but the effect that we can't measure is the effect on the German people. The fact that the German people didn't offer much resistance to our occupation meant that both the State and the Nation were defeated. Yes there was a minor resistance element after the allies occupied that resulted in roughly 100 ally deaths, but it was quickly suppressed. In contrast, we defeated the State in Iraq, but not the nation and they had considerable will to resist the occupation. It may not be politically correct, but if you are fighting the nation, then you have defeat the nation's will to resist. On the other hand if you only want to influence their behavior (more of realist approach), then you can conduct a punative raid to show the cost of their behavior. If it fails, other options are available.

Both the conduct of our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan were the result of neo-conservatives and their ideology, it was not pragmatic and hopefully does not represent what our future wars will look like.


Sun, 05/22/2011 - 12:15pm

It pains me to think that this is the sort of thought being pushed at CGSC. It is an ahistorical perspective. The focus on naval and air power was certainly a key factor in the Pacific in WW2, but that is a very unique theater. In the European theater, many studies have shown that strategic bombing was not nearly as effective as was hoped or intended. In both cases, control of land was required to attain the ends desired. In other cases, bombing or naval bombardment, even in cases of significant asymmetry of capabilities, have been insufficient to turn up the pain to a level that modifies behavior. Witness Desert Storm or Libya. And as far as the concept of making a mess, offering a "FEMA" like help in the clean-up, and getting out, that was the plan in OIF. The strategic policy-makers expected to be out in months. The fear was that if we did that, something worse would take Saddam's place. None of these issues are addressed here.

So how would the author suggest we bring the hurricane? He never states it, but is he suggesting the use of nuclear weapons? If not, the bombardment in Desert Storm was one of the most massive and effective in history, but it did not do the job of itself. What is he suggesting?

The author's focus on cost and cost effectiveness is well-founded. The amount of strategic power we've bled in our two latest campaigns is completely out of proportion with the ends we've achieved. The answer, however, is not to imagine that we could achieve the desired ends more easily or cheaply. Proper strategy, and the operational art that serves it, would realize what ends can reasonably be attained with the desired level of exertion based on the degree of national interest involved, then find a way to operationally attain those ends. This essay ignores that calculus, making a banal argument that we can just bombard our way to success and let someone else worry about the post-conflict mess. History does not bear this assertion out. If stability or a certain governmental outcome is required (i.e. Iraq, Germany, Japan) then the plan must account for a lengthy stability operation. If this is too costly, then the aims must be modified.