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Resist the Hype: Prevent SOF From Being the Next Victim of Too Much Attention

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Resist the Hype: Prevent SOF From Being the Next Victim of Too Much Attention

Stephen Okin

Politicians, like the general public, are not immune to fads.  Whether it be wearing American flag lapel pins and bashing the French, or enthusiastically embracing guided munitions and signals intelligence, U.S. policymakers have repeatedly shown themselves vulnerable to the latest trends in foreign policy and military operations.  Such trends usually develop in response to recent shocks or successes.  For example, the proliferation of flag pins was a gut reaction to the desire to show patriotism and unity following the attacks of September 11th.  Yet, while always well intentioned, these fixations oversimplify the issues they seek to address.  The very flag pins that were meant to be symbols of unity quickly turned into targets for mockery and protest, as many Americans rejected the narrow and partisan version of patriotism their wearers demanded.  The trends, therefore, correctly recognize that an important shift has taken place but too often fail to accurately understand its true meaning, to great detriment.  Today, the latest iteration of this process is occurring with special operations.  For a variety of reasons, policymakers are increasingly enamored with special operations forces (SOF) and risk damaging not only the future credibility of the forces but also the national security of the United States as well.

Policymakers’ growing preference for SOF is reflected in recent U.S. military strategy and force planning.  Motivated by the withdrawal from Iraq and the drawdown in Afghanistan, starting in 2011 the military began planning for a future where the United States was not fighting two ground wars in Asia.  According to the Pentagon, this future would require a smaller, more agile, and more joint force.  Writing at the beginning of the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance, then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta declared, “This country is at a strategic turning point after a decade of war and, therefore, we are shaping a Joint Force for the future that will be smaller and leaner, but will be agile, flexible, ready, and technologically advanced.” Such a force would be able to do more with less in part by adopting many of the characteristics previously unique to SOF.[i]  This guidance became the basis for future Pentagon budgets and the 2014 Defense Quadrennial Review, all of which seek to take this vision and turn it into reality. Most notably, the Pentagon has outlined plans to drastically shrink the size of the Army and Marine Corps while growing the size of SOF.[ii]  Taken together, these actions represent efforts to not only expand the role of SOF but to make the entire military more SOF-like.

The recent infatuation with SOF is the outcome of several intersecting developments.  The first is the impressive performance put in by SOF during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In both theaters, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) elevated the state of the art in surgical strike capabilities.  Under General Stanley McChrystal, the pace of raids in Iraq reached a frenzied pace.  As Gayle Tzemach Lemmon notes, “Raids on terrorist homes, weapons depots, and safe houses that had taken days to plan in 2003 required, by 2010, mere minutes.  In August 2004, JSOC had overseen 18 night raids in Iraq over the course of a single month.  By August 2006, it was 300.”[iii]  McChrystal’s successor, Admiral William H. McRaven, continued this success and transferred it to Afghanistan.  By the time McChrystal’s counterinsurgency campaign hit its stride, JSOC’s “jackpot rate” in Afghanistan (the percent of raids that got their intended target) had climbed from 35 percent to 80 percent.[iv]  When combined with more public successes, such as the May 2011 killing of Bin Laden, SOF cemented its reputation as a key contributor to the operational and strategic goals of the United States.

The second development propelling interest in SOF is the nature of the continued threat facing the United States.  While President Obama has rejected the language of the Global War on Terror, he has largely continued the policies and legal arguments put forward by his predecessor.[v]  Both political parties have recognized that the fight against violent extremism represents, in the words of Michael Morell, “the great war of our time.”[vi]  Given the global, secretive, and diverse nature of the threat, SOF are uniquely suited for taking the lead in the fight.  Whether it be assisting allies through Foreign Internal Defense or conducting surgical strikes in denied environments, SOF possess the skills, resources, and relationships to get the job done. Moreover, many prominent scholars believe that the struggle against terrorism represents the future of conflict in general.[vii]  Traditional interstate conflict is a relic of the past, and as such, policymakers would be wise to invest in unconventional capabilities.[viii]  One defining feature of unconventional conflicts is that they typically demand action be taken covertly due to domestic and international political sensibilities – another requirement that favors the employment of SOF.

Last, fiscal constraints in the United States have pushed policymakers to opt for more cost effective solutions to foreign policy problems.  This has further increased the appeal of SOF.  As Phillip Lohaus writes, “Because they are viewed as ‘force multipliers,’ it is tempting to regard SOF as an inexpensive solution to national security problems.” The allure of SOF as a cost effective solution is helped by the opacity of its budget.  SOCOM leaders typically brandish SOF’s relatively small share of DoD’s overall budget as proof of their return on investment. While this number typically excludes money spent on Overseas Contingency Operations and the support granted to SOCOM by the services, it nonetheless becomes a figure frequently reported in the popular press and quoted on Capitol Hill.  The result is that SOF’s true cost is poorly understood, making its use appear even more palatable.

In sum, for the reasons mentioned above, SOF are enjoying a moment in the sun.  While some of the attention and praise is certainly warranted, policymakers risk embracing SOF too fervently and to great detriment.  We’ve seen such mistakes before.  After the interventions of the 1990s, many policymakers and military leaders believed the era of large-scale ground combat was over.  In his book The Accidental Guerilla, David Kilcullen recounts a lecture he received in early 2001 as a student at the Australian Defense College from a retired American general.  The general spent two hours explaining how the air campaigns in Bosnia and Kosovo, the stabilization missions in East Timor and Sierra Leon, and the humanitarian mission in Somalia had proven the obsolescence of ground warfare.  He urged the students to focus on the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), promising them that technological advancement was the key to future success.[ix]  This prediction, of course, proved disastrously wrong.  The RMA-inspired offensive in Afghanistan just a few months later proved capable of ousting the Taliban, but was ultimately unable to bring lasting peace to the country or strategic victory for the United States.  Likewise, the war in Iraq demonstrated the continued necessity of ground forces in 21st century combat.  Having bet heavily on one vision of the future, the United States paid a high cost when events turned out otherwise.

Today, the United States risks making a similar mistake by overemphasizing SOF.  Investing too much in SOF, transitioning conventional forces to SOF-lite, and using SOF when other methods would be more appropriate all threaten to atrophy other skillsets within the armed forces, produce suboptimal results for U.S. goals, and eventually undermine the reputation of SOF itself, as they will inevitably fail to meet the unrealistic expectations others have set for them.  Again, the disappointment of previous trends is illustrative.  Following the failure of the RMA-inspired military in Iraq and Afghanistan, many leaders went from praising high-tech weapons such as the F-22 to criticizing them for failing to contribute to the nation’s two ground wars.  In an era of cost cutting, the F-22 then became an easy target despite its future relevance in deterring potential peer competitors.  In other words, overemphasizing one capability means that when a correction comes it can be equally hasty, overzealous, and unwise, producing outcomes that leave lasting legacies. There is no reason to believe SOF would be immune from such an end result.  But even more important, the instinct to immediately reach for SOF in times of crisis will eventually distort how policymakers prioritize and view threats, with potentially disastrous consequences.[x]  It is imperative, therefore, that the current trend of focusing on SOF be tempered by a cautious understanding of its risks and greater restraint. 

This is easier said than done.  To begin with, it’s the job of policymakers and military leaders to plan for the future – a task that by necessity means making hard choices, some of which will certainly be wrong.  Second, policymakers lack a coherent understanding of SOF and what they can and cannot do.  In particular, the past decade of counterterrorism raids has resulted in too much emphasis being placed on the surgical strike capabilities of SOF at the expense of their equally important special warfare skills.  Likewise, as indicated by the debate over how to combat the Islamic State, there is a growing belief that all that’s needed to solve pressing foreign policy problems are a few of America’s elite special warriors.[xi]  Last, the lack of a comprehensive theory of Special Operations means there’s no agreed-upon vision for how SOF should be used to achieve the nation’s objectives.  This fact reflects the wide-ranging nature of SOF activities and the need for ingenuity in executing special operations.  However, the downside to this flexibility is that SOF are vulnerable to the hopes, plans, and designs of leaders whose ambitions outpace their abilities.      

Given these limitations, and the developments discussed above, it’s no surprise that American policymakers have become infatuated with SOF.  Policymakers’ fascination with SOF is the result of not only their susceptibility to the latest fashion in foreign policy but also the overall strengths and weaknesses of SOF and the current domestic and international political environment for the United States.  To balance these forces, policymakers need to be better informed about what SOF can and cannot accomplish as well as educated about the checkered history of past efforts at predicting the future of warfare.  In addition, greater effort should be made to develop a comprehensive theory of special operations.  There are already a few great minds working on this, such as Joe Celeski, and the potential inclusion of a directive to the Department of Defense to develop a strategy for countering unconventional warfare in the FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act is a good step in the right direction.  However, absent a broader understanding of SOF’s place in American military strategy and foreign policy, it will be difficult to resist overusing or underusing special forces in line with whatever future trends demand.  Which is why the most important action policymakers can take to avoid the pitfalls and risks of becoming infatuated with SOF is to remember the basics of strategic decision-making. According to Colin Gray, “for strategy…the equivalent of E=mc2, is ends, ways, means, and (with caveats) assumptions.  If a strategist’s narrative performs well on this formula, he has indeed cracked the code that enables – though it cannot guarantee – strategic success.”[xii]  Much of the risk associated with developing and using the nation’s special operations capabilities can be avoided as long as policymakers remember that ends, ways, and means only achieve their significance together.  SOF have no intrinsic value unto themselves; their ability to kill terrorist leaders, help protect allied states from subversion, and engage in support to political warfare only matters as far as those actions are in the overall interest of the United States.  

End Notes

[i] For example, in the 2011 National Military Strategy, the future Joint Force is describe as being able to: “improve their ability to surge on short notice, deploy agile command and control systems, and be increasingly interoperable with other U.S. government agencies. Forces will operate with an aptitude for precise and discriminate action and increasingly possess security force assistance expertise. Joint Forces must become more expeditionary in nature and will require a smaller logistical footprint in part by reducing large fuel and energy demands. Additionally, Joint Forces must train and exercise in degraded air, sea, cyber, and space environments. The Joint Force must ensure access, freedom of maneuver, and the ability to project power globally through all domains.”  Likewise, in his Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Preview, then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel declared: “Our recommendations favor a smaller and more capable force – putting a premium on rapidly deployable, self-sustaining platforms that can defeat more technologically advanced adversaries...Our recommendations seek to protect capabilities uniquely suited to the most likely missions of the future, most notably special operations forces used for counterterrorism and crisis response.” U.S. Department of Defense, “The National Military Strategy of the United States of America,” February 8, 2011, accessed June 26, 2015, http://www.defense.gov/pubs/2011-National-Military-Strategy.pdf; Chuck Hagel, “FY15 Budget Preview,” February 24, 2014, accessed June 26, 2015, http://www.defense.gov/Speeches/Speech.aspx?SpeechID=1831

[ii] The Army and Marine Corps are to shrink from 520,000 and 190,000 troops to 440,000 and 182,000 troops respectively, while SOF is to grow by nearly 4,000 personnel to a total of approximately 70,000, more than double its size pre-9/11.

[iii] Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Ashley’s War (New York: Harper, 2015), 15.

[iv] Bob Woodward, Obama’s Wars (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010), 315.

[v] A few days after 9/11, President Bush declared a national emergency, which helped establish the legal basis for much of the War on Terror.  Bush renewed this declaration every year he was in office, a practice Obama has continued.  Likewise, the Obama administration is arguing for the continued indefinite detention of detainees from Afghanistan at Guantanamo Bay, despite having declared in late 2014 that the American “combat mission in Afghanistan is ending.”  This argument relies on the notion of the war in Afghanistan being just one part of the broader War on Terror, which is far from over.  Gregory Korte, “Special report: America’s perpetual state of emergency,” USA Today, October 23, 2014, accessed June 27, 2015, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2014/10/22/president-obama-states-of-emergency/16851775/; Eric Tucker, “Afghan war over? Then set us free, Guantanamo detainees say,” Yahoo News, June 17, 2015, accessed June 27, 2015, http://news.yahoo.com/obamas-remarks-afghanistan-prompt-guantanamo-challenges-155738373--politics.html

[vi] See Morell’s book by the same name: http://thegreatwarofourtime.com/

[vii] Some examples: Rupert Smith, The Utility of Force (New York: Vintage Books, 2008); David Kilcullen, Out of the Mountains (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013); Shannon D. Beebe and Mary Kaldor, The Ultimate Weapon in No Weapon (New York: PublicAffairs, 2010).

[viii] Lotta Themnér and Peter Wallensteen, "Armed Conflict, 1946-2013." Journal of Peace Research 51, no.4 (2014).  This source is better known as the Uppsala Conflict Database, whose charts and data can be found here: http://www.pcr.uu.se/research/ucdp/charts_and_graphs/

[ix] David Kilcullen, The Accidental Guerrilla (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 1-5. 

[x] To continue with the example of the 1990’s RMA, writing in the winter of 2001, Josef Joffe criticized the Clinton administration for letting the allure of precision munitions dictate strategic ends.  In particular Joffe argues that the administration’s obsession with limiting casualties to both U.S. forces and noncombatants on the ground resulted in a flawed foreign policy, what he calls “hegemony on the cheap.”  The overarching problem with this foreign policy was that “means were not tailored to the end; the end was tailored to the means,” with precision munitions playing a central role in this strategic calculus.  Josef Joffe, “Clinton’s World: Purpose, Policy, and Weltanschauung,” The Washington Quarterly 24, no. 1(Winter 2001): 141-154. Michael Noonan, “The Seductiveness of Special Ops?” War on the Rocks, March 3, 2015, accessed June 28, 2015, http://warontherocks.com/2015/03/the-seductiveness-of-special-ops/?singlepage=1

[xi] For example, Senator Johnny Isakson remarked in September 2014: “Special Forces are how we took out Osama bin Laden. I would not be reluctant to use them.” Robert Costa and Ed O’Keefe, “GOP senators call for Special Forces in Iraq and Syria, as Obama officials plan Hill briefings,” Washington Post, September 8, 2014, accessed June 28, 2015, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2014/09/08/gop-senators-call-for-u-s-special-forces-in-iraq-and-syria/

[xii] Colin S. Gray, “Concept Failure?: COIN, Counterinsurgency, and Strategic Theory,” Prism 3, no. 3 (June 2012): 20.

 

About the Author(s)

Stephen Okin  is currently a student in Professor David Maxwell's class on special operations and unconventional warfare at Georgetown University's Security Studies Program.  This essay was originally written as an assignment for Professor Maxwell's class.

Comments

Outlaw 09

Mon, 07/13/2015 - 2:26pm

Just a side comment and off the topic---for those contractors and or DAC types working for SOF or for that matter anywhere in DoD.

Do pay very close attention to the hack of the OPM security clearance files--a complete and thorough hack that took all data from all clearances and the BIs ever done back to 2000.

Then this came up today and adds fuel to the fire.

Navy Warns that Fingerprint Records were Compromised in OPM Breach http://buff.ly/1O7bl9d

For those that have ever worked the dark side in Europe or the ME up 2000--do pay close attention.

Bill C.

Tue, 07/14/2015 - 12:47pm

In reply to by Move Forward

Move Forward:

Re: My 1975 link (this time see Page 184), the following insight seems to fit and explain our situation/dilemma/requirement today -- no less than it did back then:

"It is my contention that the process of political attrition -- of the metropolitan powers's capacity to wage war -- IS NOT the consequence of errors in generalship, although these may occur. Rather, it is a function of the STRUCTURE of the conflict, of the nature of the conflict relationship between the belligerents. Where the war is perceived as limited -- because the opponent is weak and can pose not direct threat -- the persecution of the war does not take automatic priority over other goals pursued by factions within the government, or bureaucracies or other groups pursuing interests which compete for state resources."

This reality suggesting that:

a. Should the metropolitan powers feel the need to participate in and/or continue these "limited wars" -- yesterday or today -- along, as Admiral McRaven suggests, "generational/persistent engagement" lines,

b. Then these metropolitan powers -- yesterday and today -- needed/will need to find a way to do this which will allow them to sustain the public's support for such open-ended wars.

It is in responding to this reality/requirement, I suggest -- which applies no less to our such wars back then as it does to our such wars today -- that we find our national leaders now looking more to the use of our special operations and air forces.

Thus, due to our similar circumstances, then as now ("limited wars"), the continuing relevance -- and the continuing good insight and guidance -- provided by this 1975 article?

Move Forward

Tue, 07/14/2015 - 6:56am

In reply to by Bill C.

<blockquote>If we take just these two items (generational conflict; an era of persistent engagement) -- and simply add to them the asymmetric approach by which our enemies (not only the terrorists but also such nations as Russia) are expected to engage us -- then do these three matters, standing alone and by themselves, not:

a. Argue successfully for a greater, more long-term application of our special operations and air forces? And

b. Argue against a greater application of large elements of our conventional ground forces. This because

c. Such greater application of our conventional ground forces is seen to be playing directly into the hands of our enemies ("Strategically, the insurgents' aim must be to provoke the external power into escalating its forces on the ground." See Page 185 of my link directly below.)</blockquote>
Bill C, your post was good in pointing out how easy it is to seek the easy solution based on a false or forgotten history replete with counterfactuals that could have made events turn out differently.

For starters, the link mentioned in paragraph c. in your quote above was circa <strong>1975</strong> at Vietnam's conclusion in a far different world with its own unique political and economic calamity that included gas lines, high unemployment, and two recent major Arab-Israeli conflicts in '67 and '73, as the Cold War continued with the USSR, President Nixon had resigned, yet openings had been made by him with China. This reminds us of several things beyond Asymmetric, Political, and Unconventional warfare:

* The threat of nuclear war had kept us from bombing harbors and Hanoi for most of the war. Yet somehow we believe today's USAF would be allowed to penetrate Russia or China with LRS-B and exquisite UAS seeking nuclear or conventionally-capable TELs? Nothing risky there.

* The same Russian threat evident in the USSR then and via Putin now is massive armor and nuclear capability that special ops and airpower alone are poorly suited to deter without massive corresponding conventional armor and attack helicopters for deterrence. Nothing risky about inserting SF deep into China or Russia, right? Somehow, one suspects that a beard, civvies, and poor language proficiency won't help SF infiltrate deep into those theaters with risk-averse Presidents, SEAL subs far from those inlands, and C-130s that can't jam or fly high enough for HALO against modern air defenses.

* The Vietnam war could have turned out differently had we bombed the conventional North Vietnamese invasion as we did during the Easter offensive of 1972. This points out that while deep penetration may be dangerously escalatory, attack of close combat targets be it in NATO countries or crossing the Straits of Taiwan is a less strategic target with fewer strategic risks.

* Gas prices and supply had been affected by Arab-Israeli wars just as our 2003 efforts eventually freed Iraqi oil supplies making sanctions on Iran economically possible leading to the current nuclear deal with Iran that already is sparking talks of $40 a barrel oil that will greatly improve the world economy.

* As successful as SF may have been in Vietnam, it could not have defeated the Viet Cong or North Vietnamese conventional forces without the presence and stability of large ground forces. Airpower with such ground forces directing it, could have been far more successful with today's precision direct attack weapons launched from both tactical fighters and attack helicopters, not to mention systems like GPS MLRS and Excalibur 155mm rounds.

* Stability in Iraq had largely been achieved by the end of 2008 due to large ground forces and demonstrated commitment to the Sunnis. The subsequent and current ISIL chaos and failures in Libya and Yemen were directly related to the opposite approach of nothing but SF and airpower which has led to only 60 vetted Sunni fighters to fight in Syria.

* The instability in Afghanistan could have been far worse had the Taliban returned before large ANSF forces were trained and stability maintained by large ISAF ground forces able to secure much of the country that is not Pashtun. SF-manned ANSF/VSO had successes but nothing overwhelmingly supportive of the central goals of a peaceful GiROA under one government.

* While we will need to wait and see if the nuclear deal with Iran proves beneficial other than in lower gas prices, let's not forget that this and other peace agreements easily could dissolve given Israeli attacks on Iran, attacks of Israel by an emboldened and better-financed Iran, or major terror attacks on the U.S. and Europe. The unforeseeable often causes war that SF and airpower alone are poorly suited to stop.

The allure of SF and airpower is the deception that it costs less in blood and treasure. Yet, little current or past evidence exists that it alone makes our world a safer and more stable place. We think we are safe because threats are far away and only a few are fighting/advising. Yet Pearl Harbor, Task Force Smith, Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, and 9/11 illustrate that while we may not be interested in war, war is interested in us.

The smaller, degraded active U.S. Army and Marine Corps that followed the past seven major conflicts as we sought a "peace dividend," historically guarantees greater costs in blood and treasure as we jump through hoops to respond to future conflicts. Just as you finance your car and home over many years, failure to finance your ground military via steady yearly upgrades and maintenance of a trained large force leads to greater short term expenses as we try to upgrade all at once to fix the Army we have at the start of the next war.

What is the context within which Admiral McRaven, as recently as March 11, 2014, and in his testimony before the Senate Armed Service Committee, saw the greater application of our special operations forces -- today and in the foreseeable future?

POSTURE STATEMENT OF ADMIRAL WILLIAM H. McRAVEN, USN, COMMANDER, UNITED STATES SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND, BEFORE THE 113th CONGRESS SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE EMERGING THREATS AND CAPABILITIES SUBCOMMITTEE:

" ... Under Title 10 U.S. Code Sections 164 and 167, it is my legal responsibility, as USSOCOM Commander, to organize, train and equip my force. This includes building a strategy that supports the goals and objectives of the Defense Strategic Guidance and providing combat ready forces to the President and the Secretary of Defense ... "

" ... GENERATIONAL CONFLICT: Our Nation and its allies are engaged in a generational conflict. Our most extreme adversaries largely consist of individuals and organizations that are irreconcilable to a non-violent ideology. Terrorism and extremism are problems that we will have to deal with for some time to come. We face unprecedented challenges from an increasingly complex operating environment filled with agile, rapidly adapting belligerents — adversaries that we expect to be even more innovative and asymmetric in their approach to conflict in the years ahead ... "

" ... PERSISTENT ENGAGEMENT: Active, forward engagement is the foundation of this global Special Operations approach, and represents the comprehensive, layered defense required to isolate violent extremist networks and prevent adversaries from conducting successful operations against the homeland, U.S. interests, and our allies ... "

http://fas.org/irp/congress/2014_hr/031114mcraven.pdf

If we take just these two items (generational conflict; an era of persistent engagement) -- and simply add to them the asymmetric approach by which our enemies (not only the terrorists but also such nations as Russia) are expected to engage us -- then do these three matters, standing alone and by themselves, not:

a. Argue successfully for a greater, more long-term application of our special operations and air forces? And

b. Argue against a greater application of large elements of our conventional ground forces. This because

c. Such greater application of our conventional ground forces is seen to be playing directly into the hands of our enemies ("Strategically, the insurgents' aim must be to provoke the external power into escalating its forces on the ground." See Page 185 of my link directly below.)

http://web.stanford.edu/class/polisci211z/2.2/Mack%20WP%201975%20Asymm%…

Herein, the key to winning these long, generational, asymmetric, "political attrition" wars is seen to be (1) maintaining public support in one's own country for (2) continuing engagement, of one's country, in such wars.

This, it would seem, we:

a. May be able to do -- using our special operations and air forces. And

b. Would not be able to do if, as in the recent past, we engaged our enemies -- and their surrounding populations -- via the application of our large conventional ground forces.

Thus to see the greater application of our special operations and air forces:

a. Not as the "flavor of the month/moment." But, more,

b. As the specific recipe that is thought to be right (see Admiral McRaven above) for the "generational," "asymmetric," "persistent engagement" and "political attrition" nature of the wars before us?"

SgtDaVinci

Fri, 07/10/2015 - 2:41pm

The Chief of Staff of the Army asked his Sergeant Major, who was both Ranger and Special Forces qualified, which organization he would recommend to form a new anti-terrorist unit. The Sergeant Major responded to the General's question with this parable: If there were a hijacked Boeing 747 being held by terrorists along with its passengers and crew and an anti-terrorist unit formed either by the Rangers or the Special Forces was given a Rescue/Recovery Mission; what would you expect to happen?

Ranger Option

Forces/Equipment Committed: If the Rangers went in, they would send a Ranger company of 120 men with standard army issue equipment.

Mission Preparation: The Ranger Company First Sergeant would conduct a Hair Cut and Boots Inspection, while the officers consulted SOPs and held sand table exercises.

Infiltration Technique: They would insist on double timing, in company formation, wearing their combat equipment, and singing cadence all the way to the site of the hijacked aircraft.

Actions in the Objective Area: Once they arrived, the Ranger company would establish their ORP, put out security elements, conduct a leaders recon, reapply their camouflage, and conduct final preparations for Actions on the OBJ.

Results of Operation: The Rescue/Recovery Operation would be completed within one hour; all of the terrorists and most of the passengers would have been killed, the Rangers would have sustained light casualties and the 747 would be worthless to anyone except a scrap dealer.

Special Forces Option

Forces/Equipment Committed: If Special Forces went in, they would send only a 12 man team (all SF units are divisible by 12 for some arcane historical reason) however, due to the exotic nature of their equipment the SF Team would cost the same amount to deploy as the Ranger Company.

Mission Preparation: The SF Team Sergeant would request relaxed grooming standards for the team. All members of the team would spend a grueling afternoon at a quality spa ensuring physical abilities would be honed to perfection.

Infiltration Technique: The team would insist on separate travel orders with Max Per Diem, and each would get to the site of the hijacking by his own means. At least one third of the team would insist on jumping in HALO.

Actions in the Objective Area: Once they arrived , the SF Team would cache their military uniforms, establish a Team Room at the best hotel in the area, use their illegal Team Fund to stock the unauthorized Team Room Bar, check out the situation by talking to the locals, and have a Team Meeting to discuss the merits of the terrorists' cause.

Results of Operation: The Rescue/Recovery Operation would take two weeks to complete and by that time all of the terrorists would have been killed, (and would have left signed confessions); the passengers would be ruined psychologically for the remainder of their lives; and all of the women passengers would be pregnant. The 747 would be essentially unharmed, the team would have taken no casualties but would have used up, lost, or stolen all the "high speed" equipment issued to them.

http://www.strategypage.com/humor/default.asp

If, in asymmetric/generational war, the goal of one's opponent is to simply (1) not lose and to, thereby, (2) attrite the opposing nation's political capacity to wage war,

Then does this help explain why our nation would come to use our special operations and air forces as the primary means to achieve its objectives?

This, given the fact that:

a. The (sometimes) highly visible success of our special operations and air forces tend to gain favor with our public and, thereby, tend to provide popular support for the continuation of our wars.

b. The lesser cost of operating our special operations and air forces, likewise, enables our nation to garner -- but more importantly retain -- popular support for the continuation of our wars. Lastly,

c. The, generally speaking, low visibility, and "surgical" nature, of the activities of our special operations and air forces is less likely to cause "collateral damage;" which, in turn, makes it less likely that we might inflame the native populations to expand upon and continue indefinitely their resistance to our state and societal transformation designs.

Thus, from the perspective of winning our (1) "generational" and (2) asymmetric wars -- which requires that the "metropolitan" nations be able to continue the fight indefinitely, or at least for a very long time -- does not the application of our special operations and air forces make very good (political: the name of the game) sense?

This, given the "type of war" (asymmetric; political; generational) that we are embarked upon?

http://web.stanford.edu/class/polisci211z/2.2/Mack%20WP%201975%20Asymm%…

thedrosophil

Tue, 07/14/2015 - 3:38pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

RCJ: An interesting corollary, given the public anxiety over the "militarization of police", not to mention the propensity of veterans to seek out careers in law enforcement. (Having worked on the MRAP program, I'm frustrated on several levels that American police are receiving MRAPs, but that's another discussion entirely.) I'm reminded of a recent celebration I attended for a friend who's an ANG UAV operator with tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, and who just got hired by the local police department. He was very eager to discuss methods he'd been taught in his police training on how to "get them to submit", and which service weapon he'd be carrying. Not once did he talk about protecting and serving, or providing security and stability to the local populace. (He did mention working overtime at university sporting events, but I attended the rival school, so I'll still count that as a negative!) To paraphrase your catchy observation, it would seem that instead of Cleveland and Kandahar getting the "beat cops" that could make a real difference, both are getting infantry.

Robert C. Jones

Tue, 07/14/2015 - 11:43am

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

Concur with this position, but it did stimulate a supporting thought.

Would the rules of land warfare be appropriate for bringing stability to Ferguson, MO, or Baltimore, MD?? Probably not. Increasingly as we work to advance US interests in "the new normal" of an environment where power is shifting both between and within states, we must recognize that "war" and "warfare" are often not going to provide the most appropriate framework for thinking about how we help some ally or partner deal with internal instability.

Or in a catchy way, "If we wouldn't do it in Cleveland, we probably shouldn't do it in Kandahar."

Bill M.

Mon, 07/13/2015 - 12:46am

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

This gets to my point of not getting involved unless we're seriously committed to achieved said objective. For the most part I thought the ROE was appropriate also, but I pointed out one example where I think it was flawed and could list a couple of others. When you have more rules in combat than you do when playing chess it may be time to reconsider how we do business. To further add insult, if the lawyer becomes more important to the commander than his S/G/ or J2 and J3 we have serious problems.

We need to focus more on the commander's intent, and reinforce ethical education in the force. You can't generate ethical behavior with excessive rules when no one is looking. Leadership training at all levels, to include junior enlisted leaders needs to emphasize this.

Dave Maxwell

Sun, 07/12/2015 - 7:01pm

In reply to by thedrosophil

thedrosophil
RE: "I would also point to a recent SWJ article (I think by Colonel Maxwell?) advocating that ROEs be relaxed significantly."

I do not think I advocated relaxing the ROE. In my recent article I advocated allowing the force to do their jobs allowing them to go where they need to go and do what they need to do to accomplish the mission and the use of the right forces for the right missions. I advocated "relaxing" the operational restrictions and constraints we have self-imposed on the force due to our own risk averseness. That is not the same as relaxing the ROE. For the record, I believe we have to have the right ROE for the conditions and the mission but it has to always be in accordance with the law of land warfare regardless of how our enemies act.

Bill M.

Wed, 07/15/2015 - 4:21am

In reply to by thedrosophil

You and I could offer a more informed opinion if we each attended both DOD and civilian university graduate programs. I only attended one so far, but even if I attended both it wouldn't improve the quality of my assessment that much. I would still only be able to compare one DOD school against one civilian school during a particular time frame based on my subjective opinion. That's good enough analysis for discussion over a beer, but far from good enough analysis to drive policy change.

I think we need to continue send our officers to both military and civilian schools. You know, its the variety is the spice of life thing. I have worked with both exceptional people and fools from both educational paths. This sort of indicates to me that an individual's character, intelligence, degree of curiosity, and other factors will determine one's capacity to produce strategy more so than the school they attended. If they're receptive to learning and dedicated to their profession they'll continue to improve. Throughout history many great leaders were self educated, and fortunately they didn't engage in penis measuring contests to see who had superior education credentials. The folks who tend to do that are normally insecure, ineffective, and confuse their degree as a measure of success, instead of their ability to apply their learning.

I find egos to the most disruptive force in producing viable strategies. We have too many who self-identify as great strategists, and in almost every case they are far from it. The great ones appreciate the influence of complexity, and that alone results in humility. They realize that their strategy's success depends as much on chance as any other factor. Strategy is a lot of things, but its theory should serve as a heuristic that is applied, assessed, and modified based on continuous learning. Viewing strategy too simplistically results in simple approaches ranging from a kill'em all approach to pushing a flawed political legitimacy approach. If it was really that simple, than the millions who went before us would have figured it out.

It seems good strategists are a bit on humble side because they realize there are multiple factors beyond their theory that influences the shape and outcome of their strategy. While overstated, they accept that they and everyone else have limited intellectual capacity (this includes the critics on the side lines). Strategy is about choices, and the outcome of those choices are rarely guaranteed. Other actors, to include our opponents, are making choices also, and the interaction is quite messy.

In short, education is important. I'm more inclined to think the student's desire to learn is more important than the institution he or she attends. No doubt military education is flawed, but so are most civilian universities. I still offer that many U.S. leaders in DOD, State, CIA, and the NSS in recent decades have attended the schools you seem to think will produce great strategists, and yet it is these graduates who have generated the failed theories on RMA and promoted the false assumptions about the end of history. I think the underlying issue you're concerned with lies outside of our education system.

thedrosophil

Mon, 07/13/2015 - 1:50pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill: A few further thoughts.

<BLOCKQUOTE>Much like our COIN doctrine, the strategic bombing concept failed to deliver the anticipated results.</BLOCKQUOTE>

I would make a distinction here between accepted COIN doctrine, and the FrankenCOIN that was codified in FM 3-24, but aside from that caveat, I'd agree with this.

<BLOCKQUOTE>I’m not that familiar with LTG Bolger (I haven’t read his book), other than reading a couple of interviews he gave. I didn’t get the perception he was advocating for a repeat of DESERT STORM, but instead argued that the type of war that the army trained for.</BLOCKQUOTE>

I came to the conclusion fairly early that LTG Bolger's book was not worth my time or money. I heard an interview with him, and have read a number of comments and reviews of his book. He seems to believe that pre-9/11 DoD/Army training was correct, and that American forces should have been employed in accordance with that training. He claims, erroneously, that by the time FM 3-24 was released, that COIN had already been attempted and failed in Iraq. He advocates for a return to short, focused, punitive campaigns on the Desert Storm model. There seems to have been no reflection on his part that the Army may have learned the wrong lessons from Desert Storm, or that the DoD/Army may have prepared in error to repeat Desert Storm and been grossly unprepared for the fight in which they found themselves. (Ironically, the tagline for his "strategy research project" from the Army War College, which focused on the operational implications of a tactical development and is available to read online, was "learning the wrong lesson".)

<BLOCKQUOTE>As for relaxing ROE, I think some of the ROE were overly restrictive.</BLOCKQUOTE>

I agree. My thoughts, addressed directly to Colonel Maxwell's, can be read <A HREF="http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/the-only-thing-worse-than-misusing…; (do a CTRL+F for "June 18, 2015 - 8:47am"). (If Colonel Maxwell is reading this, I reread what you wrote, and it still strikes me as discussing ROE's, though not necessarily just ground level ROE's; if you'd care to clarify, I'd appreciate it.) I'm all for refining both ROE's and curbing operational micromanagement, but those adjustments must be couched in better training so that company grade officers and NCOs, if not privates and lance corporals, understand what does and doesn't contribute to long-term mission success. At present, I'm not confident that even general officers understand those distinctions.

Perhaps we can agree that while the Gulf War was decisive in its original priorities of liberating Kuwait and protecting Saudi Arabia, postwar conditions were poorly managed, leading to continued regional instability and, ultimately, continued strategic risk?

<BLOCKQUOTE>Regarding PSYOPS (now girly MISO), they are legitimately SOF.</BLOCKQUOTE>

I'll concede on PSYOPS/MISO being within the SOF pantheon, but I hope you'd acknowledge my wider point that SOF tends to inherit missions that don't fall neatly into the conventional basket. Counter-proliferation is a good example of this: aside from using DA to interdict the movement of a warhead or fissile material, are SOF personnel really WMD experts?

We may just have to agree to disagree about the DoD's postgraduate training enterprise; and if so, that's okay.

Bill M.

Mon, 07/13/2015 - 12:39am

In reply to by thedrosophil

First off, thanks for replying on Sunday morning so I have a little time to think about your response. Concur with many of your points, so I’ll focus on where my opinion differs a little or considerably.

I don’t fault Ike for drinking the strategic bombing Kool-Aid. It was an operational/strategic concept that promised to be decisive and prevent a repeat of bloody WWI trench warfare. Much like our COIN doctrine, the strategic bombing concept failed to deliver the anticipated results. In both cases the ethical issues seemed to emerge in hindsight. Strategic bombing of cities was nothing less than state terrorism, where the targets were not only military, but the civilian population. Our approach to COIN/stability operations focused on social and political reengineering of foreign cultures using guns and development with evangelist zeal to imposing democracy and free markets. Tens of thousands died, and will continue to die in these efforts. A more pragmatic approach may in order.

I’m not that familiar with LTG Bolger (I haven’t read his book), other than reading a couple of interviews he gave. I didn’t get the perception he was advocating for a repeat of DESERT STORM, but instead argued that the type of war that the army trained for. We did take the gloves off for the initial phases of OIF and OEF-A, and these phases were arguably successful. However, as demonstrated throughout history initial tactical and operational success does not guarantee a strategic victory. Both Germany and Japan are examples, since both conducted seemingly brilliant opening moves, then each failed strategically.

I agree with you that the military messed up, and not in a minor way. I also think the evolving goals of our civilian leadership created a situation where even the greatest military leaders would have failed to achieve their goals. In short, I think we failed to understand the strategic context of the operational environment.

As for relaxing ROE, I think some of the ROE were overly restrictive. An example would be calling back through multiple layers of command to gain permission (or not) to return fire if someone was shooting at you from a mosque. On the other hand, we needed ROE designed to protect innocent civilians. It’s tough, but we back paddled when we carelessly killed innocent civilians. It takes good judgment to both aggressively pursue and kill our armed adversaries, while avoiding to the extent possible innocent people becoming casualties of war. On one hand, many of our ground troops failed at times to implement that judgment. On the other hand, many did a superb job of using judgment under stress. Guess which events the media reported on ad nauseam? This resulted in excessively dumb ROE in some cases. That resulted in rules that overly hindered soldiers on the ground. This would have been better expressed as commander's intent to avoid unnecessary casualties, instead of excessively regulated.

No doubt the results of the first Gulf War come more into focus when we look at the rearview mirror. I offer we didn’t want to weaken Iraq to the point that it wasn’t a counter balance to Iran. Regarding al-Qaeda, yes they used our presence to justify many of their actions, but Islamic radicalization existed long before the Gulf War and our military presence there. Clearly some things were not knowable, or simply underappreciated like the power of non-state actors at the time. However, claiming the Gulf War was not decisive is similar to arguing we failed in WWII because the post war conditions led to the Cold War. History keeps on unfolding in both predictable and unpredictable ways, so yes I think the Gulf War was decisive at that point in time (liberating Kuwait). It seems clear we knew we would continue to have problems with Iraq, which is why we stayed in the region. Did it lead to further problems? Yes, but so have other wars.

Regarding PSYOPS (now girly MISO), they are legitimately SOF. In fact, we called the initial Special Forces course in the early 50s the PSYWAR School. Using current speak, the communists exploited what we now call the human domain to achieve their strategic ends. Some insightful leaders realized we needed to do the same, thus the concepts of psychological warfare and special warfare. I think modern PSYOP, relabeled as MISO, has in many respects lost their way. The renaming is just a small part of it, it is the way they attempt to operate in isolated stove piped manner that undermines their potential. More on that topic later, perhaps in the forum?

I understand your critique of military graduate level education, but my experience (very recent) is that the instruction is not that myopic. Admittedly, the Air Force may be an exception. I don't know why it so hard for them to realize Warden's approach to war is a failed theory. My view of strategy blends everything, you can’t separate the politics from the military, but our system as much as our education tends to promote that idea. While I think we in the military still cling to some deeply flawed ideas/concepts, we are not alone, because from my seat the civilians with their degrees from Harvard and Yale are just as guilty of pushing illogical and strategically unsound concepts as military officers, RMA, EBO only being two of many.

thedrosophil

Sun, 07/12/2015 - 11:51am

In reply to by Bill M.

<BLOCKQUOTE>Once the military overcame Cheney's and Rumfield’s denial that they were facing a robust insurgency instead of a few dead enders from Saddam's regime the military adapted relatively quickly in many ways. Of course we could have done better, but it incorrect to state the military didn't adapt.</BLOCKQUOTE>

To clarify, I didn't say that the military didn't adapt, I disagreed with your statement that the DoD, and particularly the Army, "adapt(ed) relatively well". Rapidly? Yes. Effectively? No.

<BLOCKQUOTE>I wish you would provide examples of senior officers advocating styles of warfare that are more reminiscent of Genghis Khan than of Dwight Eisenhower? Furthermore, it seems Ike’s total war approach towards Germany came closer to Khan than anything any U.S. military officer has suggested since Vietnam. I think an argument could be made that we shifted too far in the other direction, and fail to use military force decisively. That doesn't mean destroy a village to save it, but it does mean targeting the armed adversaries more aggressively to compel them to come to the table to talk about how to the bring the conflict to an end.</BLOCKQUOTE>

First, I think it's important to note that Eisenhower supported "strategic" bombing of Germany because history had not cast the shadow on such practices as it now has. The best example I know of a senior officer advocating for styles of warfare that are more reminiscent of Genghis Khan than Dwight Eisenhower would be LTG Bolger, whom I've criticized here fairly often. I would also point to a recent SWJ article (I think by Colonel Maxwell?) advocating that ROEs be relaxed significantly. This seems to be a constant among those with whom I interact: "If they just 'took the gloves off', we'd win instantly." Many have become fond of quoting General LeMay, that "If you kill enough of them, eventually they stop fighting" - hogwash. Eisenhower was probably a bad example, but I had a tough time coming up with a perfect historical example.

<BLOCKQUOTE>Civilian leadership's role? Of course there is a popular belief and frustration among veterans with civilian leadership, but many veterans also have frustrations with their military leaders. In what war hasn’t that been the case?. The military got a lot wrong, and I think the Army and Marines have reflected quite deeply on it. I don’t necessarily agree with their conclusions, but I think you’re mistaken that they haven’t reflected deeply upon it.</BLOCKQUOTE>

It's the depth of that "reflection" that I question. I've heard far too many calls for a return to Gulf War style warfighting, devoid of historical context, to take the overarching "reflection" very seriously. I also continue to hear far too many comparisons of America's recent campaigns to the Second World War, which is painfully reminiscent of those who planned the conduct of the First World war around Napoleonic era tactics.

<BLOCKQUOTE>I think you're attempting to rewrite history regarding the Gulf War. The military operations were certainly decisive in achieving the political objective of liberating Kuwait and safe guarding Saudi. Wow, an actual strategy based on limited, yet important strategic objectives.</BLOCKQUOTE>

The primary objectives of liberating Kuwait and safeguarding Saudi Arabia were achieved at the cost of a prolonged American/coalition presence in the Gulf. I don't consider that particularly "decisive". That sustained "kafir"/"infidel" presence in the Land of the Two Holy Mosques was al Qaeda's best recruiting tool, and it was predicated upon the need to provide sustained protection to the Kingdom and to Kuwait because the Iraqi Baath regime had not, in Clausewitzian terms, been sufficiently disarmed so as to render it harmless. Unlike some veterans with whom I've spoken, I recognize that there were bigger factors at play that precluded the coalition from pushing all the way to Baghdad, but that's another conversation.

<BLOCKQUOTE>If you're argument is we had to go back into Iraq in 2003 I would offer three counterpoints. First off we didn't have to go back in 2003. Second, our second Gulf War shifted the regional power balance to Iran's favor. Third, CvC stated that the results of war are never final. Our desire to reach a final solution that endures forever too often causes us to over reach in my opinion.</BLOCKQUOTE>

1) Of course the 2003 Iraq War was elective, but so was every other engagement the United States has fought since 1783. When one considers the larger context of al Qaeda basing its recruiting and operational efforts upon the sustained American presence in Saudi Arabia and the wider Gulf region, and the post-1991 reasons for that sustained American presence, it strikes me that the sense of urgency to settle the Iraq issue in 2003 was more justified than is widely acknowledged in the "WMD/no WMD" discussion.

2) I agree that the Iraq War shifted the regional power balance in Iran's favor. However, that's a question of execution, not of justification.

3) I agree with Clausewitz, and with that particular citation; but hopefully you will also agree with my earlier observation, citing Clausewitz, that this is all a demonstration that the 1991 Gulf War was not, in fact, "decisive".

<BLOCKQUOTE>We already have those theories, ADM McRaven wrote an outstanding theory on direct action. Many have written theories on UW, COIN, FID and so forth. Special Warfare is a theory that somewhat combines FID/UW. The debate is over we can have an overarching theory for all of SOF. I think we’re too diverse, and so far the so-called comprehensive theories have failed to address the entire spectrum of SOF. Intuitively I don't think your point about anything that doesn’t fit into the conventional units norm automatically defaults to SOF. I need to think about that one more to provide counterpoints.</BLOCKQUOTE>

Perhaps my statement about everything that's not conventional being handed to SOF is a bit broad, but I think there's some degree of truth to it. I knew a guy who claimed to have been PsyOps (we subsequently figured out that he was the PsyOps guys' IT guy, but that's another story), and he was fond of spouting off that he "was in special ops". Is PsyOps really an inherent SOF function? Civil Affairs? WMD counter-proliferation? PSD for VIPs? I've always thought those were a stretch. America seems to prevail upon SOF's elite status and willingness to adapt, and in so doing, assign them a number of missions that don't fall neatly into other lanes.

<BLOCKQUOTE>Some of us were arguing we need to remain prepared for conventional war, but many COINdistas in various SWJ comments argued we would never see a state on state war again, COIN is the way of the future. Bla, bla, bla . . . . Gian was ostracized for his comments. I agree IW will remain the norm, and we will continue to wage it (as we have throughout our history). I’m also convinced that the SWJ eds are correct that if we’re not vigilant conventional military leaders will purge our IW lessons learned over time to get back to their comfort zone. It is a tension we just have to deal with. The key to success will be civilian leaders selecting the right military leaders to lead the force.</BLOCKQUOTE>

We might agree by stating it this way: (1) some thought (and think) that conventional war was over and irregular war was the wave of the future, (2) some thought (and think) that irregular war was a blip and the DoD needed to remain focused entirely on conventional war, (3) and some thought the DoD required both capabilities. Colonel Gentile never struck me as the #3 camp, he struck me as the #2 camp. He seemed to suggest, fairly consistently, that maintaining any irregular warfare capability hamstrung the Army's capacity to remain prepared for combined arms maneuver.

<BLOCKQUOTE>Yes you have always been critical of DoD’s postgrad institutions, and some of that criticism is certainly valid. However, I have also seen many failures from non-DoD schools, so isn’t the issue really the individual?</BLOCKQUOTE>

I think something must be said for institutional culture. Every program will have its share of folks who never really engage with the prevailing concepts (e.g., strategy is about politics, not campaign planning); I know that my program had a few folks like this (or, in some of those cases, folks who were really only there to stave off entry into the workforce). I may have recommended it before, but if you can invest the time, you ought to read Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force by Robert M. Farley. Regardless of one's view on the independent U.S. Air Force, Farley makes a fairly convincing argument (which I'd come to the same conclusion about from reading other sources) that the Air Force, which has consistently downplayed Clausewitz because he runs contrary to the deeply flawed theories of Douhet and Mitchell, has (for lack of a better term) infected the culture of the wider DoD enterprise. Since the Second World War, we've seen a consistent focus on air power and combined arms maneuver (essentially, a modernization of "Blitzkrieg", though no one seems to acknowledge that) as a sort of panacea for all of America's strategic ills, predicated upon the availability of massive amounts of intelligence data and the computing power to process it. (RDA, EBO... ) The Navy and Marine Corps, particularly the Marine Corps, have tended to insulate themselves from these concepts, but the Army and Air Force, which seem to enjoy disproportionate influence, seem to have bought such arguments hook, line, and sinker despite overwhelming historical evidence to the contrary. These are the concepts that are being proliferated in the various postgrad institutions. (Even the Naval War College spends only a single week of its curriculum on Clausewitz.) One can only place the onus on the individual if the curriculum they're handed is accurate, and I'm not confident that that's the case in the DoD's postgraduate training enterprise.

Bill M.

Sat, 07/11/2015 - 8:30pm

In reply to by thedrosophil

Regarding your first comment, we may just have to agree to disagree. Once the military overcame Cheney's and Rumfield’s denial that they were facing a robust insurgency instead of a few dead enders from Saddam's regime the military adapted relatively quickly in many ways. Of course we could have done better, but it incorrect to state the military didn't adapt. I believe many of those adaptions were deeply flawed based on a misreading of history. For example, our emphasis on development efforts and our narrative in lieu of actually fighting the armed enemy would somehow convince our adversaries to turn their weapons into plows. It was a misdirected effort that allowed the armed adversary relative freedom of movement. Clearly development, the narrative, and other non-fighting approaches play important roles, but they do not defeat armed foes who believe in their cause. We failed to recognize they didn't want to be like us, and they had a different agenda for their country than we did. We also failed to address the safe havens across the border, which historically has resulted in a protected conflict where the insurgents eventually triumphed. I could make an argument that the MRAP was another mistake, but I'll save that for another day.

I wish you would provide examples of senior officers advocating styles of warfare that are more reminiscent of Genghis Khan than of Dwight Eisenhower? Furthermore, it seems Ike’s total war approach towards Germany came closer to Khan than anything any U.S. military officer has suggested since Vietnam. I think an argument could be made that we shifted too far in the other direction, and fail to use military force decisively. That doesn't mean destroy a village to save it, but it does mean targeting the armed adversaries more aggressively to compel them to come to the table to talk about how to the bring the conflict to an end.

Civilian leadership's role? Of course there is a popular belief and frustration among veterans with civilian leadership, but many veterans also have frustrations with their military leaders. In what war hasn’t that been the case?. The military got a lot wrong, and I think the Army and Marines have reflected quite deeply on it. I don’t necessarily agree with their conclusions, but I think you’re mistaken that they haven’t reflected deeply upon it.

I think you're attempting to rewrite history regarding the Gulf War. The military operations were certainly decisive in achieving the political objective of liberating Kuwait and safe guarding Saudi. Wow, an actual strategy based on limited, yet important strategic objectives. If you're argument is we had to go back into Iraq in 2003 I would offer three counterpoints. First off we didn't have to go back in 2003. Second, our second Gulf War shifted the regional power balance to Iran's favor. Third, CvC stated that the results of war are never final. Our desire to reach a final solution that endures forever too often causes us to over reach in my opinion.

You wrote, “Might it make sense to develop theories on a smaller scale under the wider "SOF" umbrella? For example, DA theory will be different (maybe contradictory) to FID theory, but both have their place. To some degree, the failure to establish a comprehensive theory of special operations may be an artifact of the tendency to pile anything that doesn't fit into conventional units into SOF's proverbial big tent. Thoughts?”

We already have those theories, ADM McRaven wrote an outstanding theory on direct action. Many have written theories on UW, COIN, FID and so forth. Special Warfare is a theory that somewhat combines FID/UW. The debate is over we can have an overarching theory for all of SOF. I think we’re too diverse, and so far the so-called comprehensive theories have failed to address the entire spectrum of SOF. Intuitively I don't think your point about anything that doesn’t fit into the conventional units norm automatically defaults to SOF. I need to think about that one more to provide counterpoints.

Some of us were arguing we need to remain prepared for conventional war, but many COINdistas in various SWJ comments argued we would never see a state on state war again, COIN is the way of the future. Bla, bla, bla . . . . Gian was ostracized for his comments. I agree IW will remain the norm, and we will continue to wage it (as we have throughout our history). I’m also convinced that the SWJ eds are correct that if we’re not vigilant conventional military leaders will purge our IW lessons learned over time to get back to their comfort zone. It is a tension we just have to deal with. The key to success will be civilian leaders selecting the right military leaders to lead the force.

Yes you have always been critical of DoD’s postgrad institutions, and some of that criticism is certainly valid. However, I have also seen many failures from non-DoD schools, so isn’t the issue really the individual? Do you think Harvard or Yale graduates are better suited for employing the military to achieve strategic objectives? If so, why? Wasn't GEN Westmoreland a Harvard graduate?

thedrosophil

Fri, 07/10/2015 - 11:14am

Overall, I quite enjoyed the article and think it demonstrates a strong grasp on the issue. (Of course, many would say, "Ohhh, but SOF <I>plus</I> air power is a winning combination!" Sorry, no.) A couple of thoughts, and in the interests of brevity, I'm going to address comments to both the author and Bill M. in the same post.

Mr. Okin:

<BLOCKQUOTE>When combined with more public successes, such as the May 2011 killing of Bin Laden, SOF cemented its reputation as a key contributor to the operational and strategic goals of the United States.</BLOCKQUOTE>

Operational, yes. Something I harp on constantly here at SWJ is the overarching strategic illiteracy that pervades the ranks of both civilian and military policy-makers alike. Given that America has, thus far, failed to achieve its strategic goals in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the operational success of SOF raids does not serve as an effective argument for SOF's capacity to produce strategic results. (Some of us predicted before May 2011 that the capture or death of Osama bin Laden would fail to produce strategic results, and I think those predictions were prophetic.) That's not an indictment against the utility of SOF capabilities, merely a recognition that America's policy-makers seem to suffer from an endemic cognitive disconnect between how to engineer operational success on the one hand, and translate that success into strategic victory on the other.

<BLOCKQUOTE>Traditional interstate conflict is a relic of the past, and as such, policymakers would be wise to invest in unconventional capabilities.</BLOCKQUOTE>

I found this line interesting, particularly considering the citation of Colin Gray in your final paragraph. In Another Bloody Century: Future Warfare (2005), he discusses the likelihood of traditional interstate war reemerging in the foreseeable future. In Modern Strategy (1999), he makes an extremely cogent argument (which I believe I've cited here at SWJ before) that irregular warfare represents a skill set which armies must take seriously in addition to force-on-force conventional warfare. History, and particularly recent history, provide incontrovertible evidence that America and its allies must maintain competence in both.

Bill:

<BLOCKQUOTE>SOF and conventional forces adapt to the flavor of the day with technology, organizational change, management, etc. to adapt to whatever the challenge may be.</BLOCKQUOTE>

I think that's a matter of opinion. I have yet to see evidence of sufficient adaptation to conditions in Afghanistan or Iraq, and the DoD (particularly the Army and Air Force) seem to be making every effort to reverse those adaptations. There was a (historically speaking) brief period of time when the COINdinistas enjoyed some influence, and that has largely fallen by the wayside. I've heard far too many senior officers who should know better advocating for styles of warfare that are more reminiscent of Genghis Khan than of Dwight Eisenhower. There seems to be a popular effort in the active and veteran communities to blame the White House and absolve the DoD enterprise of any obligation for serious introspection into why the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq were so problematic - lots of historical myopia the de-contextualization of what actually happened in the Gulf in 1991, too. Much talk of "decisive action", as if that's what Desert Storm actually produced.

<BLOCKQUOTE>I'm somewhat leery of developing a theory for special operations because it limits our ability to adapt and innovate. A lot of smart of people have tried to come up with a theory for Special Operations, but all the theories fell well short of being comprehensive.</BLOCKQUOTE>

Might it make sense to develop theories on a smaller scale under the wider "SOF" umbrella? For example, DA theory will be different (maybe contradictory) to FID theory, but both have their place. To some degree, the failure to establish a comprehensive theory of special operations may be an artifact of the tendency to pile anything that doesn't fit into conventional units into SOF's proverbial big tent. Thoughts?

<BLOCKQUOTE>I think even the most die hard COINdistas now realize that the possibility of a state on state conflict is a very real possibility.</BLOCKQUOTE>

Some of us were saying it all along! I do tend to think that irregular warfare will continue to be the prevailing expression of political conflict for the time being, but as I mentioned above, Colin Gray makes a very convincing case for a resurgence of interstate conventional warfare in Another Bloody Century.

<BLOCKQUOTE>Civilian leaders who make decisions regarding military funding and strategy do not have to have military experience, but they should at least be educated in the nature of war and have a decent grasp of history so they can make informed decisions based on the real world instead of fantasy world.</BLOCKQUOTE>

This is part of the reason why I'm so openly critical of the DoD's postgraduate institutions, and particularly the Army War College and Command and General Staff College. Civilian policy-makers, especially those who are elected and not appointed, are not going to get educated on these issues, which means that they need proper advisors who understand these issues, e.g., strategy. At present, the AWC and CGSC (among others) appear to teach field grade officers campaign planning and high level operations, but call it strategy. Too many military advisors appear to be countering civilian leaders' fantasy worlds with their own fantasy world, and it needs to stop.

Bill M.

Thu, 07/09/2015 - 10:49pm

Good article and your points are well argued. As a minor counterpoint, if you look at our military's history, our military tends to adapt relatively well and quickly (compared to other nations) despite our self-criticism to the character of the war we're in. SOF and conventional forces adapt to the flavor of the day with technology, organizational change, management, etc. to adapt to whatever the challenge may be. The point being is there is always a flavor of the day, and the flavor always has an hour-glass next to it, when it runs out we form a new flavor.

I'm somewhat leery of developing a theory for special operations because it limits our ability to adapt and innovate. A lot of smart of people have tried to come up with a theory for Special Operations, but all the theories fell well short of being comprehensive. In attempts to make their theory comprehensive, they often try to dismiss the special operations units and missions that don't fit in it as not being "true" special operations. All the SOF tribes tend to do this, but the reality is all of our SOF units and their various capabilities give our nation a wide range of options to achieve various objectives from the tactical to the strategic level. Maybe each SOF tribe should have a theory to help guide how it is employed, and USASOC has certainly promoted some good ideas regarding special warfare.

Your points about civilian leaders being overly enamored with SOF and RMA are spot on. It is difficult to come to grips with the logic of downsizing our conventional ground forces, when our various national strategy documents clearly state we're living in very dangerous and unpredictable times. I think even the most die hard COINdistas now realize that the possibility of a state on state conflict is a very real possibility. Civilian leaders who make decisions regarding military funding and strategy do not have to have military experience, but they should at least be educated in the nature of war and have a decent grasp of history so they can make informed decisions based on the real world instead of fantasy world.