Small Wars Journal

Rethinking Our Strategy in Iraq and Syria

Mon, 12/22/2014 - 2:11pm

Rethinking Our Strategy in Iraq and Syria

Gary Anderson

The war against the self-styled Islamic State is beginning to look more and more like the late, unlamented war in Vietnam. The Obama administration has placed self-imposed limitations on the use of ground forces, thereby creating the kind of sanctuary that North Viet Nam represented from 1963-75. Like President Johnson, Barak Obama had pledged no ground troops, but eventually sent in “advisors” and “defensive forces” to protect the advisors bases as well as the aircraft that were supporting the host nation government’s forces who were supposed to be doing the actual fighting; albeit poorly. This looks exactly like the Vietnam War in 1964-65 that I remember watching on TV and reading about in high school.

Since the Ivy League schools that produced the Obama Administration’s brain trust no longer require the serious study of history, the people who are planning the war effort don’t see the irony. It will take local political solutions to stabilize Syria and Iraq, but those political solutions will not happen until the conventional military power of the Islamic State is destroyed; that can be done in 3-4 months if we apply US-led western military forces in an overwhelming punitive campaign, to include ground forces, to crush the Islamic State’s army.

There are also two unexamined assumptions driving the current strategy. Both of these are rooted in Vietnam, a war that few in the administration seem to have seriously studied. The first is that there are no military solutions. The reality is that the Vietnam War ended with a tank-led conventional invasion of South Vietnam by the North Vietnamese.  The end in Vietnam was a purely military solution; it was not a guerilla triumph. The unification of Vietnam under Communist rule was a strategy that Ho Chi Minh pursued relentlessly from 1945 to 1975; he vowed to use both military and political means, and he did so brilliantly. The romantic guerilla myth was perpetuated by aging American liberals, most of whom worked hard in their youth to stay as far away from Vietnam as possible; most of these arm chair revolutionaries learned to worship Ho Chi Minh, Che Guevara , and Chairman Mao in college as somehow being morally superior to the American military as they saw it.

The second myth is that foreign ground intervention is always bad. In Vietnam, American intervention stymied North Vietnamese ambitions for a decade and built a South Vietnamese counterinsurgency capability that virtually annihilated the Viet Cong. By the early seventies, the only Viet Cong fighting formations were those that were effectively manned by North Vietnamese regulars who traded their uniforms for Viet Cong black pajamas. The North Vietnamese felt comfortable with a conventional invasion in 1975 because they knew that the 1974 class of Democrats, who dominated the Congress, would not allow the United States to intervene; the war in Vietnam was settled by the use of naked conventional force made possible by the withdrawal of foreign forces.

If we strip away those myths regarding intervention and the utility of military force, we can develop a strategy that will destroy the Islamic State’s occupation of the lands that it currently controls. This would allow room for political solutions to be devised by Iraqis and Syrians. A political solution is not possible if jihadist foreign fighters remain embedded in either country. It will take a temporary western foreign intervention to eliminate the malignant influence of the equally foreign jihadist infestation.

End State. A strategic end state is what we want the world to look like after the fighting stops. It almost always gets neglected in the rush to “do something” in the midst of a crisis. It generally requires a compromise between an ideal outcome and the art of the possible. To date, no-one has offered a coherent vision of what we want Iraq and Syria to look like under the present strategy. What we have now is a series of hastily cobbled together crisis response measures bundled under the rubric of strategy. If you don’t have a clear end-state vision, you don’t have a strategy.

In the best of all possible worlds, an Ideal end state would be a democratic Syria and Iraq free of Assad and the Jihadist factions, but particularly the Islamic State. That may happen someday; but probably not in the lifetime of anyone reading this piece given our current strategic approach. The administration is kicking the can down the road to 2016 in the hopes that Mr. Obama does not become remembered as the president who lost the Middle East. That is not an end state, it is a political platform plank.

A tolerable and achievable end state would be threefold:

(1)    The destruction of the conventional combat power of the self-styled Islamic State and related jihadist groups which would render them back to the status of fugitive terrorists.

(2)    A compromise to the Iraqi constitution that would allow some kind of power sharing agreement that would protect the rights of the Sunni and Kurdish populations but still maintain a nation called Iraq.

(3)    Some form of negotiated settlement that would allow the Alawite Baathists a role in Syrian government, but prevent the kind of total chaotic regime change that has caused so many problems in violent regime change in Iraq and Syria; the massacre of Christians and other minorities at the hand of vengeful Sunnis is not an acceptable end state. It will be years before the moderate rebels can achieve such change alone, but with American military pressure, we might be able to force a negotiated settlement.

These goals are achievable in the relatively short run, but not without the temporary but decisive intervention of massive American force to include ground combat units and very close diplomatic engagement on the part of the United States.

Strategic Design. Once we have an end state, we can then craft a strategy to implement it. This strategy would comprise of three phases that would combine decisive military force with political-diplomatic-military suasion to achieve and acceptable end-state:

Phase I; the Destruction of al Baghdadi’s Army. Without a US/western corps sized intervention that will destroy the jihadist army in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State will dominate the political scene in Iraq and Syria for years to come while the west struggles to create a regional home grown force capable of confronting it. This is where the concept of a punitive expedition is useful. The British and Americans have long used punitive expeditions to solve oversees problems. When they work they can be very useful tools because they are, by nature, temporary; they are designed to get the job done and be gone. The second line of the Marine Corps Hymn; “to the Shores of Tripoli” refers to a punitive expedition during the wars with the Barbary Pirates. The British became masters at such expeditions to quickly extinguish 19th Century colonial uprisings before they got out of hand. A large-scale punitive expedition would save face for the administration in that it would not mean a long term reintroduction of American fighting forces. Almost everyone wants to avoid that.

A punitive expedition against the Islamic State would need to strike it and its allies in Syria and Iraq near- simultaneously. The current Obama Administration’s strategy of Iraq first can be likened to a half filled water balloon. If you squeeze the balloon where the water is, it will flow to the other half. The only way to get rid of the water is to burst the balloon. The Germany first strategy of World War II worked because Germany and Japan were separated by thousands of miles and could not mutually support each other; the Islamic State does not recognize the border between Syria and Iraq and treats it as permeable. Thus, the jihadists of the Islamic State would be denied sanctuary, their captured heavy equipment, and urban financial bases. If we can destroy the Islamic State’s army occupying the cities that they currently hold and exterminate the jihadist foreign fighters, the jihadists revert back to ISIL becoming just another terrorist group on the run. This would open the way for local political solutions, no matter how imperfect. The Iraqi Army, Kurdish forces, and the Syrian resistance may be very flawed mechanisms, but they should at least be capable of policing the liberated area once our forces redeploy.

Phase II (Iraqi) stabilization. This should probably be simultaneous with the third Phase in Syria, but it should not require continued long-term US military involvement in Iraq. This should be primarily a diplomatic-political effort. The Iraqis need to re-forge a constitution that gives more local say and amore even distribution of oil and mineral assets to the Kurds and Sunnis.  Whether this means more federalism or a confederation is less important than eliminating the grievances that allowed for the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq.

Phase III Stabilizing Syria. The third phase would be the most delicate, and the one requiring the most skillful combination of military suasion and diplomacy. It would be designed not to decapitate the Syrian regime, but to force it into a negotiated power sharing agreement with the rebels. Violent regime changes in that region have resulted in debacles. Iraq became a mess and Libya is going very badly. This is one of those times when pure use of airpower can have real efficacy. If we use American airpower to degrade the Assad government’s forces to a point where it is willing to talk, we steal a march on the Iranians, who are trying to become the regional power brokers. It may be harder to get the rebels to the table than the Syrian government given government atrocities; the rebels will be bloody minded, and this is where tough love American diplomacy can really help. Neither the Russians nor the Iranians will like that. Too bad; neither country has earned its spurs in the region. We earned influence with blood and treasure, President Obama tried to piddle it away; we need to reassert ourselves while there is still time.

For better or worse, the Assad regime is seen by religious minorities in Syria as their protectors; this is true especially for Assad’s Alawite (a Shiite offshoot) kinsmen. Massacres by Sunni Jihadists in Iraq, make these minorities very fearful. A power sharing agreement, no matter how distasteful for the largely Sunni rebels, is infinitely superior to ethnic cleansing of Alawites, Shiites, Christians, and other religious minorities. American politicians who demand that Assad must go have no idea what a sudden power vacuum in the country would mean, nor has the Obama Administration outlined a plan for rebuilding governance in Syria that is any better than the non-plan that led to the present messes in Libya and Iraq; we Americans are apparently slow learners in the world of regime change. We need to determine if we want peace and stability more than revenge.

A Second Chance for the Region. The proposed strategy outlined above will not destroy ISIL as a movement, but it will destroy the Islamic State as a regional player and buy some time for the Iraqis and Syrians to try to salvage something from the current mess in the region. Just as importantly, it will go a long way to restore the damaged prestige of the United States in a region where, since 2009, we have managed to grasp defeat from the jaws of victory.

About the Author(s)

Gary Anderson is a retired Marine Corps Colonel who has been a civilian advisor in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is an adjunct professor at the George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs.


I read your article and I am dismayed by the fact that you use the Vietnam Experience as an example of how to not conduct an armed intervention, and then turn right around and advocate the same strategy, in affect, to describe the correct approach to our uninvited armed intervention in Syria! A country that has NOT requested our assistance and would not. In addition, you completely do not mention the Russina influence and relationship with Syria, which will not be altered, because Putin will not give up Assad. Further, you seem to totally not understand the relationship and the linkage between these two countries, particularly, given the recent successes that Russia and the Syrian State have made aganist ISIL. Moreover, you obviously have not paid little if any attention to what other countries are saying about US intervention in Syria, as well as the Middle East in general, and how they feel about US involvement. Based on my limited discussions with those same people, the continued presence of US "advisors" and support of the so called rebellion has done nothing to rectify the situation in light of an astonishing lack of an organized effort against ISIL that should have been initiated in the first place. The only thing the Current administration, with your blessing it would appear, has managed to do is get more of our guys killed in both Iraq and Syria, largely as a result of the current token force associated with an incompetent foreign policy that has NO logical end-game. Minimumly what we should be doing is getting the hell out of Syria and let The Syrian government solve its own problems along with invited allies, AND working cooperatively with Russia to get rid of ISIL. But NO we keep fiddle-farting around with NATO in the Black Sea wasting money and risking a further screwup with Russia. And you also never mention China. For example, what is your end game if China were to throw in with Syria and Russia in resolving the ISIL issue in Syria - an overdue possibility. Additionally, your Phase III is not only unrealistic but naive. The recent comments by the Military (Army) and the Secretary of State only server to reiterate the idiotic policy that this administration is following in its inefficient, ineffective, logically unsound, dangerous, and naive foregoing policy, for which the military brass, or at least what is left of them, has totally gone along with. Your statement "Earned their Spurs in the region" (are you kidding me!) is about as arrogant a statement as I have read in a longtime, and not respectful of the rank you earned or the soldiers you led.

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 01/04/2015 - 9:40am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

This quote if from another article written by the author at SWJ:

<blockquote>The problem in dealing with mercenaries is that you have to ensure that they stay bought, and side changing is a well-honed Afghan art as Churchill and the Brits well knew. The Haqqani Network won’t come cheap, and Al Qaeda’s Arab oil-rich backers have money as well, but the United States and its NATO allies will save billions if the Afghans government kicks us out. A Haqqani alliance might well prove to be a bargain.</blockquote>

Easy peasy, we'll just hire the Haqqanis and make sure they stay bought, we'll bomb Assad to ensure the destruction of ISIL....

Well, that's it for me. Good bye for now.

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 01/04/2015 - 9:31am

<blockquote>If we use American airpower to degrade the Assad government’s forces to a point where it is willing to talk, we steal a march on the Iranians, who are trying to become the regional power brokers. It may be harder to get the rebels to the table than the Syrian government given government atrocities; the rebels will be bloody minded, and this is where tough love American diplomacy can really help.</blockquote>

Assad isn't going to go without a fight and that fight--a civil war--has contributed to the disorder in Iraq which is in a historical generational shift due to many factors, intrinsic and extrinsic.

Fighting Assad to fight ISIL just sounds like an excuse to continue funding proxies in Syria.

This is exactly backward but it will ensure increased budgets for the American Army and its contractors, tie us to our "sunni allies" in their continued conflict with Iran, and pretty much do the opposite of improving the American position or helping local peoples.

Positions are too hardened by violence now, and we have contributed to that process.

At one point, attempting limited ceasefires by engaging different partners might have worked to help dampen some of the larger regional conflict, but that point is probably gone now.

Much to the joy of the many parties in Washington that want to increase the American presence. Is there anything the maximalists haven't gotten wrong since, like Korea? Every single time.

Outlaw 09

Sat, 01/03/2015 - 12:48pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

AND this is the supposedly "Russian strategy":…

With strategies like this no wonder the EU/NATO and the Ukraine is not exactly sure what the US really wants--and again all because of the belief that "soft power" will work.

Also explains the WH's reluctance on implementing the recent Ukrainian aid law that was signed but not implemented.

Also explains the US foot dragging on the Ukraine.

Outlaw 09

Sat, 01/03/2015 - 11:28am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Finally found the current Obama IS strategy:--Seems it is building back up the earnings of defense contractors again after the last few lean earnings years.

No "Boots on the Ground," but Hundreds of Tanks and Trucks Head to Iraq

By Rich Smith | More Articles
January 3, 2015 | Comments (6)

On May 1, 2003, President George W. Bush stepped onto the deck of an American aircraft carrier and proudly declared that "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended."

Seven years later, President Barack Obama made much the same boast, declaring "the American combat mission in Iraq has ended."

Fast-forward four more years, and while dozens of American combat jets are still bombing targets in Iraq, it is true that we no longer have "boots on the ground" (aside from 3,000 or so "advisors"). But pretty soon, we'll have something else on the ground: tanks.

And armored cars, too. Hundreds of them.

Back in the I.R.A.Q.
Just before the start of the holidays last month, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (the DSCA -- the Pentagon office responsible for coordinating military arms sales between U.S. defense contractors and foreign buyers) notified Congress of two planned arms deals aimed at bolstering Iraq's ability to fight the ISIS insurgency.

Combined, the two deals call for selling to Iraq:
•1,000 M1151A1 up-armored Humvees, outfitted with M2 .50-caliber machine guns and MK-19 40 mm grenade launchers
•175 M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks
•15 M88A2 Hercules tank recovery vehicles (used to salvage damaged tanks)
•55,000 rounds of 120 mm ammunition for the tanks

The total cost of the two arms deals should come to just under $3 billion. Granted, congressional approval is necessary before either sale can be finalized. But Congress has never rejected an arms deal proposed by DCSA.

These arms deals would provide a nice revenue boost to the defense contractors that build these weapons -- General Dynamics (NYSE: GD ) for the Abrams, Britain's BAE Systems for the Hercules, and Indiana-based AM General for the Humvees. (In General Dynamics' case, the estimated $1.4 billion cost of building 175 main battle tanks would be equivalent to about 23% of annual revenue at the company's combat systems business, according to data from S&P Capital IQ.)

These deals would also continue a trend we saw all throughout 2014, in which DSCA-sponsored arms sales to Iraq included:
•500 Hellfire missiles, worth $82 million to Lockheed Martin
•12 Bell 412 EP helicopters, worth $300 million to Textron
•50 of BAE's M1135 Stryker armored reconnaissance vehicles (a $900 million deal)
•24 AH-64E Apache Longbow attack helicopters, plus hundreds more Hellfires -- altogether worth an estimated $6.2 billion to Boeing

What it means to investors
Here at The Motley Fool, we're as interested in keeping up with the situation in Iraq as anyone else -- but our real challenge is in figuring out how events over there affect investors' portfolios over here. In that regard, Iraq's purchase of General Dynamics' M1A1 battle tanks takes on special importance.

This is about more than just immediate sales and profits for General Dynamics, you see. Currently, the U.S. Army has all the M1A1 tanks it needs. (Maybe more than it needs. Just few years back, the U.S. government sealed a deal to give away 400 older M1A1s to Greece -- gratis). But if the Army doesn't need new tanks, and if General Dynamics can't find other customers, then the company might have to halt tank production.

Weak demand has already resulted in the layoff of hundreds of workers at the company's Abrams tank factory in Lima, Ohio. Last year, General Dynamics successfully lobbied Congress to provide $120 million for upgrading Abrams tanks, just to ensure the factory remains at least partially open (and avoid having to pay the expense of restarting production from zero at a later date). In 2012, similar logic caused Congress to spend about $180 million on the tanks, despite Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno telling lawmakers at the time: "Our tank fleet is two and a half years old on average now. We're in good shape, and these are additional tanks that we don't need."

Luckily for General Dynamics, though, Iraq does need tanks. And at the Lima plant's recent production rate of 10 tanks per month, the Iraq order should keep General Dynamics' tank business running well into 2016.

Outlaw 09

Sat, 12/27/2014 - 9:29am

There can only be a Shia political solution to IS but instead of a compromise we get the following--so have the Shia reached the level of an altered state of reality?

Supplying 100,000 Sunni's with arms--and they will not be turned on the Shia--and why should the US arm them?--Iraq has oil and can afford it themselves---but wait was it not Bush 2 that stated we would be repaid for our efforts with Iraqi oil?

Iraq calls on US to arm 100,000 Sunni tribes against IS

Outlaw 09

Mon, 12/29/2014 - 9:28am

In reply to by CBCalif

CBCalif--correct as to what we are seeing---thus again as long as the Shia do not proceed to power share and equally power share one will not get the Sunni tribes onboard and IS will actually in 3 yrs have consolidated their hold and there is nothing the ISF at that point other than to accept the de facto Sunni state.

Question is will we the US accept IS?

Actually the KSA is forcing the issue along with their oil pricing aimed at 20 per barrel which will curtail Ian's involvement in both Iraq and Syria and force the ISF to compromise along the way--also Iran, Assad and Iraq be having fewer Russian weapons shipments as they will not be able to pay for them.


Sun, 12/28/2014 - 1:55pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Many interesting facts and observations, and of course other than what is published we are not privy to the current administration’s plans or thoughts or to the content of papers from the NSC – as much one would like to have that access. Presuming they exist (they have to be producing something), they will be interesting to read one day.

I find it surprising and (somewhat) amusing when an administration publicly details the strategy it is going to employ in a given arena – which one would believe simply forewarns one’s opponent what to expect and allows them time to appropriately respond. I am also surprised as to how much operational information the military itself (in this day and age) makes available to the public.

In that vein, recently, dated 12/18, Politico Defense published comments from “Lt. Gen. James Terry, the head of the Combined Joint Task Force Operation-Inherent Resolve” (titles get longer and longer). I couldn't recall where I had read a description of the Generals comments and just found them.
Reportedly, he stated words to the effect that:

The U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIL has made ‘significant progress’ in halting its forward progress [and] now Iraqi troops need time before they can take the offense themselves against … Da’esh. …. “I think what we must do, especially inside of Iraq, is to continue to build those capabilities,” ... “I think you are least talking a minimum of three years. That doesn't mean we haven’t started turning Da’esh in a certain direction.”

Politico then noted that Terry refused to provide a time estimate as to when the Iraqis (meaning presumably the Shiites) could start to turn the tide. He is then referenced as stating that “American and international aircraft have carried out more than 1,300 air strikes (sorties?) in Iraq and Syria” and quoted as stating they “were having a ‘significant effect’ on ISIL’s communications, coordination and ability to resupply itself … but the crisis has not reached the point of stalemate” and “to expect counterattacks from ISIL ….”

General Terry is also referenced as stating that as a result of Iraqi Shiite concerns plans for (apparently) arming Sunni tribal fighters have been dialed back, but are not on hold and proceeding slowly.

He is not only advising that we are conducting (primarily) defensive operations, or acting ins support of defensive measure carried out by the Iraqi’s – he is informing ISIL that they effectively have three years to secure their position / their territorial gains in Iraq, and the only operational interference they will endure from (at least) American Air Attacks is against their “communications, coordination and ability to resupply” themselves. He is also advising ISIL that any future ground war efforts will be between them and Iraqi troops.

General Terry is simply noting somewhat more directly what President Obama has also publicly noted – with some level of detail or specificity being added. Thus, the question is how will ISIL respond during the forthcoming time period. Will they be smart enough to prepare defensively in Iraq, improve their weaponry by obtaining e.g. shoulder fired / surface to air missiles, be wise enough not to display that capability against the U.S. and Iraqi Air Assets until needed to stop the someday forthcoming Iraqi offensive, act offensively primarily against the Syrians to solidify their situation in that part of their arena, or ….?

Sort of repeating my previous thoughts, but this time from one of the sources I mentally used. Also, the General's comments to Politico amount to a statement of the Military Strategy the U.S. is employing against ISIL in Iraq and de facto notes the rather limited scope of our objectives. Objectives where appear to allow the ISIL Sunni's and Iraqi Shiites to determine the outcome the Middle Eastern National Map with limited support from outside powers.

I would presume that means that regardless of any comments sounding otherwise from President Obama, he recognizes that the locals in that region are going to replace the British-French post-World War I countries and borders with those of their own. A change that has been a long time coming.

Outlaw 09

Sat, 12/27/2014 - 5:34am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

I would add two further points;

1. the IS definitely has a strategy and it has even announced it publicly and with great fanfare and yet we the US derided it--the Caliphate.
(So where is publicly our stated strategy other than killing them and bombing them which are tactics not a strategy?)

2. this might sound strange but both the IS and the Russian strategies are built upon the foundation of UW and there are some surprisingly strong similarities between what we are seeing in the Ukraine and in Iraq/Syria.

Remember and this is what Robert and Bill M will say---guerrilla warfare is as old as the earth is and not much is actually "new" only the battlefield tactics change to fit the environment and populations be fought over. The IS is using an much practiced (2006-2010) swarming technique gained in Iraq and the Russians are using combined SF/CF together with their GRU recon/sabotage teams and criminal gangs.

Taken from a previous comment and it fits nicely at this point---this is how Russia defines "warfare" in the 21st century.

Russian military doctrine has helpful definition of modern warfare: "Complex application of military, political, economic, information …… and other non-military means, realized using the protest potential of populations and the power of special operations" "… applying indirect and asymmetric means of action … "

Notice how is nicely fits the current strategy of the IS--have we now seen a merging of a common UW strategy across different environments and in different countries? It is a great concept in negating US power as we have been locked into COIN for over 14 years.

But we need to inherently relook the two elements which the Russians and the IS are both great at;

1. weaponization of information and,
2. weaponization of code

So I go again back to the original question--just what is the Obama strategy for Syria and or Iraq outside of bombing and boots on the ground in the face of below.

#ASSAD's crimes yesterday.
More than 100 civilians were killed on the 26th of December by the regime's raids.

Regime raids---means air strikes.

Outlaw 09

Sat, 12/27/2014 - 3:32am

In reply to by CBCalif

Like your comments but and there is always a but---again just what is the plan, strategy and or what ever we want to call it?

While you are assuming Obmama has one I am not because you cannot see one--most superpowers will let you know that plan but when it is in the silence form then there is one and it is "smoke and mirrors and tap dancing".

This administration if not capable of dancing on two weddings--the core of the US military response capabilities since WW2 that got diluted to 1.5 under Bush 2 and now diluted even further to 1 under Obama.

I push the core issue here hard--while we are literally tied in knots by IS even in our own media Russia is the far deeper threat.

Why--they released in 2013 their new military doctrine New Generation Warfare which is in fact a solid UW strategic strategy for winning a war with minimum fighting which they have been building since 2008 THEN yesterday they released what some of us from the world of pre-deployment training would call "the road to war" that yes even we go through.

You have now a peer competitor who has declared his own "road to war" and has a plan for implementing his "road to war" and he is in fact implementing it right now in the Donbas Ukraine and yet we assume that we can effectively reign him in via sanctions and how has that worked--troops and heavy weapons are still flowing in ---some reigning in.

The Russian have a term called "masking--it is a form of camouflage" in their actions but one thing is definitive--they cannot nor will they ever "mask" their doctrine as they drive on that doctrine as a former Communist military system. So one must "watch" that doctrine in order understand their next moves.

Historically the superpowers have always signaled their intentions via their publicized doctrine--Putin changed the game rules in 2008.

The Israeli's whom we tend to ignore for some reason who have had a long history in this region recently stated in the Haartz newspaper---actually a reasonable one for Israeli standards---"the only thing that will hinder the IS is the IS themselves".

And you honesty think we are defensive in nature as the recent bombing strikes in the Kobane area were offensive in nature---actually bombing in support of attacking Kurds---kills the concept of defensive does it not?

One of the key points of having a strategy is that you need to make it "credible"--so what is the messaging to the entire ME when we "bomb" IS defensively but at the exact same time Assad is dropping barrel bombs on the Syrian civilian population killing even more children and women--remember much fo theme functions on "perception".

Second problem with your "defensive"---the US led air strikes have dropped far less in sheer numbers as has the Assad AF--Assad has dropped in the exact same month as we did in November SIX times our numbers---so an interesting question to you---why is there a need at all for US bombing in Syria--for that matter why not let Assad bomb IS in Iraq as he seems to have the capability to do it.

Thirdly---we are not addressing the core reason for the Sunni uprising and it is a Sunni uprising---if you checked a recent link I posted here Obama is not even engaging into the Sunni tribes which is the core to resolving a lot of this mess in the first---ever ask the question --why is that?

Fourthly--have you heard of the "green crescent" doctrine as preached by Khomeini in 1979 which was the starting point for revolutionary Shiaism in the region as practiced by the IRGC from Lebanon to AFG?

This whole mess is in fact over the Sunni Shia divide and yet we have no plan/strategy or anything or have you heard this administration even utter that thought? No straight to bombing was the response.

I posted on the Iraq thread a list of just how many islamist groups in Syria are now firing US TOWs---and yet we argue we cannot provide "defensive lethal aid" to the Ukraine where they ware being over run by Russian tanks--you call that what a strategy?

Reference the "green crescent"---we are seeing in Syria Shia from across the entire "green crescent":

#Aleppo Update : Captured "Afghans"; we re Recruited 2 Fight 4
#Damascus Shrine(ideological)/#Latakia Mountains(Skill), Not
Plain/Urban Area

Reference TOWs-- for me the greatest tank equalizer--with over 256 T64/72/80/90s sent to the Ukraine by Russia one would in the White House think that it might be apparent the Ukrainians need some help to even exist---by the way the right to exist as a nation was what we supposedly signed in 1994 in Budapest and publicly stated we would support and now in 2014 we do what again? By the way "commitment" is key in a strategy---notice that anywhere lately in WH statements?

Tanks in Europe
Russia sent 256 to #Donbas
#Italy 197
#France 200
#Germany 225
#UK 267
#Spain 327
#Poland 425
#Greece 854
#Russia still 4500

Reference tanks in Syria which are slowly being decimated by US TOWs---it seems again and I hate to say it---it is all about fuel supplies and yet we wonder why the KSA has pulled the trigger on an oil war with Iran and Russia---it seems the KSA has a far better strategy than we currently have if we have one AND this is critical they are actually implementing it and did not care what the world thinks.

By the way have you thought that in order to create a new Sunni nation it has to be economically viable--in the ME hat means oil and that is what IS has focused themselves on in securing it both in Iraq and Syria.

Human Wav#Aleppo Update : For 1 month Regime Tanks are Immobile due to Fuel Shortages, Alternate : Artillery & human wave


Fri, 12/26/2014 - 8:43pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Perhaps the questions to be asked by our nation’s leaders before militarily intervening in a given area should revolve around identifying the strategic interests at risks in that area and determining if securing those interests are worth the costs of that effort. If the potential loss of that strategic interest warrants an attempt to secure it, the next question could be how to secure it at the least cost possible – from this nation’s perspective.

ISIL certainly appears (at least to those of us in the West and to the Shiites and others) to be a rather despicable lot. How much more so than their radical counterparts in the Shiite arena (at least) I am not certain. Regardless, there appears to be no identifiable strategic level benefit that would accrue to this country from our acting with the force level sufficient to militarily destroy that entity. Instead, regardless of words seemingly stating otherwise, it appears clear from America’s actions that the President elected to intervene (in some manner) only when the ISIL forces advance began to threaten the oil resource areas of Kurdistan and their advance against the Iraqi Shiites had (at least) the potential of placing their oil producing areas at risk.

America’s response was and accordingly remains defensive in nature. Bombing was used to stop the advance of the ISIL forces, while military advisers, arms and equipment, and Air Support are being provided to the Kurdish and Iraqi Shiite Forces in order for them to be able to keep the ISIL forces from advancing into their respective areas. Again, a defensive approach effectively aimed at containing ISIL forces by limiting their being able to operate and fight within a geographical area other than that in which the oil resources purchased by Western (and other) Nations originate.

As President Obama noted, if the Iraqis are going to again restore their Nation’s control over the Sunni areas of that country now controlled by ISIL forces, that will require an effort by their ground forces, not those of the U.S. Whether the Iraqi Shiites can or cannot defeat the ISIL Sunni forces and drive them from that part (of what was perhaps once part of) Iraq is strategically meaningless to this country. It is not worth a dime of investment on America’s part to see that result occur. Let the sides fight against each other and sell one side or the other arms, but not too many. That war will eventually drain the resources of Iran and Hezbollah and possibly lead to some territorial changes in the area under conflict – without affecting this country’s strategic position in the world, so long as we do not commit to any significant military effort in an attempt to guide its outcome.

America’s strategy appears to be one of insuring through (to us) low cost efforts that the oil producing areas remain outside of ISIL’s control and that the ISIL-Shiite Civil War remains contained within a given geographical area

That is a strategic approach, albeit not one predicated on battlefield victory and not one that precludes either ISIL or the Shiite forces from advancing, but a strategic approach, nevertheless, that is aimed at securing American (Western) strategic interests in the area (i.e. access to oil) and one that does not require the costly presence of American Ground Forces in the area – absent advisers. The war between the ISIL and Shiite (or Kurdish) forces is essentially of a conventional nature. The ISIL forces cannot advance into the geographical areas de facto being defended by U.S. Air Power without their operating in the open and thus becoming targets for bombing.

Before incurring the costs to secure some tactical victory or result, one should determine whether that effort, from a strategic perspective, is worth the cost. For the 70 years since World War II, this country has conducted one costly military effort after another aimed at achieving some positive tactical result that have been without (truly meaningful) strategic value to this nation. The current President appears to be considering whether the strategic benefit to the nation of some form of military intervention is worth the cost and not concentrating first (or foremost on) the tactical result.

At least that is my view of what is strategically occurring in Iraq. Whether I am right or wrong time will tell.

Outlaw 09

Fri, 12/26/2014 - 4:40pm

In reply to by CBCalif

Simple comment---we "won" in the first Iraq won from 2003 to 2010 right? Because if we had "won" then why are we back again?

And we are well on the way to another "win" this time around in 2014 right?

And yet the IS is growing both in manpower and grabbing even more territory --and the Syria civilian population is still being killed in large numbers with barrel bombs and starvation and Assad is still in power---and that is again what a "win"?

Back to the original comment--just exactly what is the strategy you indicate Obama is doing well with? I have read several different open source WH comments that do not reflect a clear strategy unless hope is a strategy which I guess could be a strategy.

I would agree that before this country's leadership ever decides to again engage in an extended land campaign on the continent of Asia (which includes the Middle East) it truly understood why this country was defeated in Vietnam -- else we are again bound to suffer another strategic failure on that continent.

One of the most strenuous intellectual exercises, and perhaps most emotionally difficult, is to admit one's country and military not only lost a war, politically they were on the wrong side of history. That failing to admit such truths often leads to the time honored assertion by the losers that although they were tactically successful, the nation lost due to a failure of its leaders or people’s political will to sustain the situation through to its deserved victory.

In essence, that is the argument so many continue to make concerning this country's defeat in Vietnam. An unfortunate flawed vision that precludes it's adherents from realizing that this nation’s opponent in that conflict, the North Vietnamese, successfully conducted a war on a totally different cultural and strategic plain aimed at defeating the far stronger foreign military forces occupying their land. A cultural and strategic approach to conflict which (as intended) over time (in Vietnam) rendered null the effectiveness of the vastly superior fire power employed by U.S. military forces and the efforts of the (lesser equipped) ARVN units operating alongside them.

North Vietnam’s political and military leaders understood they had little probability of winning battlefield victories against the vastly stronger fire power of the far more mobile American military forces in "their" land. Their strategic goal was to cause the American military forces to depart from Vietnam, not to merely defeat them in battle, and they were willing to pay the human and economic price needed to achieve that result. Accordingly, the North Vietnamese opted to conduct a war of attrition and aimed their efforts not at (the almost impossible) defeating of U.S. forces on the battlefield, but instead on steadily driving up the human, material, and financial costs being incurred by this country in its attempt to sustain South Vietnam as an independent country -- accurately believing that at some point in time those costs would prove to politically burdensome for this country's government, after which point they would find a way to withdraw American forces from Vietnam to cease the hemorrhaging.

North Vietnam's leaders correctly matched the costs their nation’s people could carry with a military strategy that could under the circumstances of that time bring them political success -- and that is the reason for a nation engaging in a war.

This country on the other hand did not match it's military approach with either the costs it could politically endure to sustain the lifespan of a morally weaker and less capable South Vietnamese government and military. In fact, given their costs and the fact that the U.S. Army's tactical victories in Vietnam failed to provide a path to strategic success for this country, they were simply a liability to this country and helped further North Vietnam's achievement of its war aims. A strategic assessment too many fail to grasp.

General Westmoreland, when he commanded MACV in South Vietnam, decided to implement a strategy of attrition believing that the superior mobility and firepower of his forces would enable them to kill sufficient numbers of lighter armed North Vietnamese and Viet Cong such that those loss levels would politically force them to withdraw their forces from South Vietnam. The foolishness of believing that a Western Army could kill enough Asians in their homeland was culturally absurd beyond belief and simply indicates that neither Westmoreland nor any other American military or political leader supporting his approach had bothered to study the Viet Minh’s sinning campaign against the French.

General Creighton Abrams approach of systematically pacifying South Vietnam using both American and South Vietnamese forces was similarly bound to fail in the long run. The VC and the NVA simply withdrew their forces knowing that after the Americans withdrew their forces could return and overrun and defeat the remaining ARVN units operating without U.S. support. It was simply part of the the NVA strategy not to engage the U.S. forces in open battle – and this country had already made it clear that American forces were going to be withdrawn from South Vietnam. Add to that the obvious fact that by scattering their forces across their land, the ARVN was not positioned to successfully combat a Northern invasion of their land – which they should have known was forthcoming.

Whether one likes the political philosophies of the North Vietnamese government or not, theirs was a post-World War II anti-colonialist / anti-imperialist struggle. The government that the U.S., through the political machinations of its Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, brought to power in South Vietnam was led by men most of whom had either fought for or supported the previous (hated and defeated) French colonial rulers of that land or was led by men who had avoided the anti-French struggle. It survived in power only because Dulles and the South Vietnamese government officials refused to hold the nationwide elections scheduled for 1955 in which the people of South Vietnam were to decide whether or not to unify themselves with the North. The only reason for preventing that election being held was because Dulles and other State Department Officials and the South Vietnamese political leadership knew that the majority of people in South Vietnam would have voted to unify their portion of Indochina with North Vietnam.

The above is the reason the U.S. lost in Vietnam. In sum, it had created and supported an inept government it had played a major role in installing in the South of that Country, and thus insuring its independence would have required the U.S. expanding the costs associated with a permanent presence in that land of American forces continually engaged in combat and suffering non-stop casualties. The American public simply would not have stood for the costs of that type of effort.

President Obama's strategy in Iraq is the correct one. He appears to understand that the battle between the Sunni and Shiite components of that region is between those parties and that its outcome will have little or no impact on the future of this nation. It is simply fallacious to believe they are coming here next.

Clearly, despite any interpretation of his rhetoric otherwise, the President has committed sufficient U.S. military power to insure that the areas with large oil reserves are secure from ISIS / ISIL forces. That is the only areas in which this country and Western Europe have a strategic interest in preventing ISIL from controlling. That is a defensive goal and can (in that topographical environment) be secured by the presence of U.S. air power aiding Kurdish or Iraqi Shiite forces. Beyond that effort -- the contest between the various groups -- perhaps called pro-ISIL, anti-ISIL, and Shiites are their business. Let them kill each other off and keep that conflict going. It is not this country's concern.

As President Obama has wisely noted, given this country's long term record of strategic defeats in Asia and our consistent failure to politically shape the environment in that region, we 1) need a new definition of victory, 2) the era of large foot print occupations of foreign lands is over, and 3) while the struggle against ISIL will be a long one, its costs will be borne by Arab ground forces and not those of this country.

In my humble opinion, President Obama is strategically wiser than many of the Generals in the U.S. military advocating for the insertion of U.S. ground troops into that conflict. He clearly has learned the lessons of America's history of failed interventions in that region of the world.

For those who believe that an insertion of U.S. ground forces combat units into that conflict could defeat the ISIL forces in four or six months or so -- those of us who were military officers in the 1960's remember General Westmoreland having made the same claim about defeating the poorly armed VC / NVA. That is a lesson from America's involvement in Vietnam worth remembering.

Outlaw 09

Fri, 12/26/2014 - 1:41pm

For those that like "war definitions" --concerning the Russian UW strategy ie hybrid warfare.

This came out of the newly released new Russian military doctrine from today that should nudge right in behind their UW strategy doctrine.

Russian military doctrine has helpful definition of modern warfare: "Complex application of military, political, economic, information …… and other non-military means, realised using the protest potential of populations and the power of special operations" "… applying indirect and asymmetric means of action … "

Notice how is nicely fits the current strategy of the IS--have we seen a merging of a common UW strategy across different environments.

Outlaw 09

Fri, 12/26/2014 - 12:45pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill--one of the most serious failures in both Iraq and AFG was and is the overall failure of the American intelligence community and it both deep and wide to understand anything going on in both countries.

During Iraq and AFG I learned in the IC two terms--OPM and OOPM
Other Peoples Money and Other Other Peoples Money AND the big one OCO--Overseas Contingency Operations---the war funds approved by Congress in the hundreds of billions of dollars that paid for everything under the sun and for some things there not even war related if one could stretch the definition far enough.

This organization mentioned in the article link JIEDDO is one of the most perfect examples of this total failure---over 1200 employers and most defense contractors and salaries ranging in the six digits and the US taxpayer invested 22B starting in 2006 and yet they are still running around with a group of other programs supporting them and yet Congress ordered DoD to finally eliminate them but it was ignored.

An IEDs are still flying around our ears and we keep losing troops.

JIEDDO was a malignant mess from Day 1: This @attackerman story didn't get attention it deserved.

I worked with this organization and often clashed with them as they would hire analysts and field trainers that had absolutely no idea what the heck they were doing---it was all about the salaries nothing more nothing less.

Outlaw 09

Fri, 12/26/2014 - 11:42am

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill--the US foreign policy is dancing right now on the top of three volcanoes 1) IS, 2) the Ukraine/Russia and the coming third one below and we have no plan or strategy for any of them.

Russia is in a slow but steady re-annexation of all countries bordering the former Soviet Union and yet we are unwilling to simply in words state that fact--that re-annexation stated in 2008 and the Estonian President was right when he stated the West allowed this whole mess to be created by the then Bush 2---just as Bush 2 is responsible for the IS.

1st #Russia annexed Crimea illegally.
Now Russia will annex S. Ossetia under guise of 'integration'

no border,no customs control + South Ossetian forces and military bases There will be Part of Russian ARMY.

If one follows the dots meaning areas taken under control of Russia since 2008, the Crimea and the eventual build out of New Russia tied to a land corridor from Crimea to Odessa--Russia is in fact close to that complete re-annexation of former areas and complete control of the Black Sea and yet we verbally say nothing.

Volcanoes 2 and 3 are starting to look like events just prior to 1914 as Russia is getting into an automatic reaction mode that is sly north of losing touch to reality as they have believed their own propaganda.

They have felt that they sit on all the buttons and the Ukraine is on the losing end but then the Ukraine does and did use they power they have---they are cutting off the Crimea and Russia cannot support the 2.4M Russians they stated they were protecting.

So either the Russians must either ease out of the Ukraine or go to war-there have been some analysts saying for the last several months the only the Ukrainian President can force Putin to cave--the question was he willing to go that path.

Amid collapsing peace talks, Ukraine cuts power to Russia-annexed Crimea w/ 2.4 mln population, cancels all train/bus routes.
Game on!

NOTE: this does not include the already limited water supplies from the Ukraine and a medium supply of gas--by the way Russia has not paid a penny for all energy supplies to the Crimea by the Ukraine in over six months as yet they demand money from them for the winter--the same for the occupied eastern Ukraine which is costing the Ukraine 200M per month to supply energy to them as well.

Decolonization. Israeli analyst makes a solid case for Moscow not being able to keep the North Caucasus much longer.…

Bill C.

Fri, 12/26/2014 - 10:31am

Outlaw, below and elsewhere, helps us understand something that we may not, as yet, have fully realized.

This being that the conflicts in Iraq/Syria -- and the conflicts in the Ukraine and elsewhere -- these are all intimately related; this, because they can all be seen, essentially, as parts of the same great war.

This great war being: The West against all the Rest.


a. The West's "project" to transform outlying states and societies more along modern western political, economic and social lines.

b. This is met by other states, societies and civilizations standing up on their hind legs and saying: "Not only no but hell no." And: "Just where do you get off telling us how we must think, believe and live our lives?" (This, link courtesy of Outlaw below.)

And in this battle, much as in the Vietnam War that Outlaw portrays:

a. "They" seem to be willing to give much more to retain their autonomy, their honor, their self-esteem and their way of life.

b. Than "we" are willing to give to take and replace same.

Thus, the strategy, plan, etc., that Outlaw calls for below?

This would seem to need to (1) embrace the idea of a single great war (the West against the Rest), (2) formally throw out the recent ideas of "universal values," etc., and, in the place of these, (3) embrace the stark realities outlined at my "a" and "b" above.

This, unless we are to forget, for example, what "Vietnam is for the Vietnamese" actually meant to those Vietnamese who stood against China, Japan, and the West in earlier times.

Outlaw 09

Fri, 12/26/2014 - 9:06am

Can it get any worse with our current civilian leadership in the IS question?

Well worth the reading and why some still think we have a strategy for the IS s beyond me---maybe it is in fact time to talk to the Is directly?…?

From my previous comment to RC.

RC---this sums up why the US has been and is now failing in both the IS and the Ukrainian issues--and the military is not responsible for them---it is clearly and solely the responsibility of the civilian leadership to design and implement the six points--only then and only then can the military truly engage.

1. Clear objectives
2. Workable strategy
3. Engaged allies
4. A plan
5. Credibility
6. Commitment

And believe me even Europe is not sure just what the US views are towards the six points as we have wondered all over the place since 2008.

Outlaw 09

Fri, 12/26/2014 - 4:00am

Just a side comment on the VN war from one that faced the VC and NVA daily out of a US SF camp on the Cambodian border camp and via MACV SOG for over 18 months from 1969 into 1970.

By late 1969, the VC mainline guerrilla units had been virtually decimated via TET, the Phoenix Program and more importantly the Choi Hoi line crosser program--- the fight had become a really full blown conventional fight starting early 1969 inside the South. By the way we often under estimate the overall effect on the NVA in early 1970 by the line crosser program--NVA Commander field reports that have now been declassed by VN often reflected that they were just hanging on.

In that conventional fight ground unit by the way and many will not want to hear this--many of the infantry line units from all the major divisions were way way undermanned---the famous 7th Cav of the 1st Cav had line companies running at the 60-70 men per line company where 125 was suppose to be the end strength.

In every major fight if the US had not the overwhelming fire power via jets, gunships, copters, and artillery many of those units would have been overrun---why---regardless of what we think most of the NVA units were running at full strength--they were able to sustain the constant losses---when I got to VN the average age of a NVA soldier was running 21/22 when I left is was at 19/20---we had shot our way through two complete Northern generations and yet they were still in the field and fighting. And again many will not like to hear it---they fought extremely well and were well led. We on the US SF side had a deep respect for their ability to fight and live on virtually next to nothing if compared to the US Army.

Yes we can and should state we won most of the ground fighting and hurt the NVA repeatedly BUT we tend to forget the North's long term strategy---who is standing at the end is the winner regardless of losses and the North had losses we would ourselves would have never accepted as a country--if one thinks 57K KIA is really bad think what 2.3M would have looked like.

Yes we built a capable SVN Army-- but we the US need to fully understand that once out of VN the civilian political decision makers of the US and our Congress simply stopped all military aid to the SVN.

So as a former VN veteran--the military in the end did what we could but it was the civilian political decision makers that "lost" the war using the standard terms win and or lost.

Carry the thinking forward---the military did what it could in both Iraq and AFG---but limitations and serious mistakes were made again by the civilian political decision makers of both parties and Congress.

The serious mistake made then 2003 and is being made now 2014--the total lack of some form of a strategic strategy that makes sense for the populations of the ME---not what we think we need for ourselves.

We are at a point that it seems the US civilian decision makers think that the military can bale them out again and again ---but it cannot--and the civilian decision makers are repeating again virtually the same mistakes made by Bush 2 when he entered Iraq and triggered the creation of the now IS.

Notice the US media is not willing to go down that rabbit hole---was/is in fact Bush 2 responsible for IS?

Ever wonder why and that is my question as one who was also in Iraq.

Why do I ask that question--as one who fought in VN, then on to Son Tay, then on to Jordan September 1970, then on to Beirut getting shot at by all sides, then on to engaging the German RAF all across Germany-some of whom I had studied with at the Berlin Free University, then the PKK/Turkish war in the streets of Germany and Berlin, then on to the bombing of the La Belle here in Berlin by Gadhafi, then dealing along the way with the KGB/MfS games, then onto losing two really great SF officer friends (should have been on that plane but I took a later flight) on Dec 21 1989 which by the way got no recent mention in the US press, then onto Desert Storm, then onto Iraq and now having a really great Ukrainian SF officer friend who is deep in a guerrilla war that we have decided to call "an incursion" ---AND along the way having to deny ever being a member of an elite SF unit even to my son in Berlin until it finally was 30 years later declassified on Jan 2014 and still we cannot mention much of that period as that is still classified and that some 40 years after I left the unit.

I am so tired-- really tired of seeing virtually the same mistakes made by US civilian decision makers over and over and over since 1964.

Ever wonder why we Americans seem to be unable to learn from history---we really do have a distinct lack of honesty with ourselves or at least at the civilian decision maker levels.

The inability to "see" and then to "understand" is killing us as a nation.

Outlaw 09

Fri, 12/26/2014 - 8:47am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

RC---this sums up why the US has been and is now failing in both the IS and the Ukrainian issues--and the military is not responsible for them---it is clearly and solely the responsibility of the civilian leadership to design and implement the six points--only then and only then can the military truly engage.

1. Clear objectives
2. Workable strategy
3. Engaged allies
4. A plan
5. Credibility
6. Commitment

And believe me even Europe is not sure just what the US views are towards the six points as we have wondered all over the place since 2008.

Outlaw 09

Fri, 12/26/2014 - 7:55am

In reply to by RantCorp

RC--will give you an example of the SF I was fighting with in 69/70--we were young, unmarried and seemed invincible and on the battlefield we sometimes won, we sometimes lost and we had some draws but we never did talk once about politics as the name of the game was to survive the next mission and at sometime go home.

AND when compared to this current Army salaries vastly underpaid--325 per month with combat pay and jump pay as a SGT for 365X7 X 24 hrs a day of sometimes constant combat.

I used to be amused when this current Army in Iraq would run to bunkers when three 122mm rockets came flying in and hit really nothing--there were days my camp took over 1000 rds and we stopped counting---it felt like the Alamo must have felt and we had no protective gear when we ran the trenches.

Those of us at the camp levels and or with MACV SOG or the other alphabet projects had a number of ways to get around VN on the weekends and many would head to the various Company HDQs, or to the CLD Saigon for their famous poker games in greenbacks or to the old French hotel in Saigon which was totally SF "owned" where we could party and reattach to others we had trained with or personally knew from Bragg and wind down.

At the height of the war there were never more than 3K SF in all of VN and that included the various classified alphabet Projects and our causality rates were running well into the 50% range especially after 68.

If there was a band present one song always got the attention of everyone---it was from the Animals singing "we have to get out of this place if it is the last thing we ever do"---and surprisingly most in the clubs would raise their right hand in the black power fist. Telling even today for SF.

We even survived our Commander in 69 getting politically arrested for killing a triple agent that had caused the complete elimination of three SOG teams-- basically doing his job regardless of what the regular Army thought.

Here though is the catch--we inherently knew the NVA were making headway because they were willing to truly die for reunification--we were not that willing.

In one engagement I beat up on two NVA BNs with my Cambodian recon company together with the help of an 11th Cav M113 company and counted over 400 bodies when we stacked them and yet they were still fighting over the next three days in the area of the contact.

Second example--at the SF hotel in Saigon --on the top of the hotel was a restaurant where you could get a great meal especially steaks--you would be eating a great steak and at night you would see the fighting along the Saigon river with tracers flying all over the place and Spooky firing down with the VC mainliners firing back up and flares drifting and artillery striking all over the place and yet you continued to eat your steak-it was at times literally surreal.

We did what we had to do as a military but militarily winning was not in the cards by 1970---the turning over to the SVN Army was the correct way to go and then continuing to support with lethal aid and funding was the answer.

But to train them and get them to the point of self defense AND then cutting them off from any further lethal aid/funds--THAT was the failure of the civilian leadership.

That was the much "fabled loss".

The problem over the years is that the political life in the US attempts to run from that single fact--the withdrawal of lethal aid support by Congress is what "lost" the war for the SVN and thus the countless stream of attempted rewrites of history.

There was no way an undermanned field Army was going to "win"-remember at the height of say 500K troops the actual number of combat troops never broke higher than 100K and yet we were dueling with a NVA of over 400K in the South and their "tail" fought along side the infantry.

We only had a "victory" in Cambodia because they pulled totally out before we arrived---look what happened to an extremely large SVN force that moved into Laos near the DMZ---that should have been the wakeup call for the politicians and maybe it was and ,maybe that was the reason for cutting off all aid to the SVN government.

By the way 90% of all hard tactical field intelligence being provided to the regular Army came via SF camps and MACV SOG.

I would get on Saturdays a printout of the intel reporting for my zone that when rolled out must have been 15 feet long--never told us anything and you soon learned to ignore it. BUT if my own SF analysts provided me something then you sat up and paid attention as you knew it have been vetted.

You to not want to know how many times when I called in asking just what the heck this or that NVA Regt was doing in my zone I would be told --they are not there by the IC and that out of Saigon---then when I stated--have POWs and documents stating just the exact opposite---then it would get extremely quiet.

Again we did our jobs--but "militarily winning" was not in the cards just as it was not in the cards for Iraq and AFG for almost the exact same reasons today.

Bill and Robert have often stated it here---the military can do wonders but not everything and certainly not winning if the civilian decision makers are not getting it right from the beginning.


Fri, 12/26/2014 - 4:55am

In reply to by Outlaw 09


From your posts I gather you are as perplexed as I am by the apparent lack of facility we have to simply observe what is happening on the ground. When by chance some Mark One Eyeball Intel does make it to a IC desk the unfamiliar nature of the source conspires to wrap this MOE Intel in a cloak of ‘wickedness’ or ‘complexity’ that destines it to the ubiquitous ‘too hard’ file.

Needless to say many folks recognize our desire to be blinded by the obvious but my question to you regards the past. Is it possible that this digitized lens (as opposed the MOE lens) is causing the IC community to revise Vietnam in a manner that contradicts so much historical fact?

Folks talk about the lack of political will to build on the ‘victory’ after the Easter Offensive in March –October 1972. To me 58K US KIA, 300K ARVN KIA and counting, 7 million sorties and counting etc. contradicts that argument but from my observation it was our military – or more precisely the infantry – who had had enough.

The suggestion that military was in any state to roll across the DMZ and take on the NVA and the PLA does not fit with what all the men I knew at the time were willing to do.

All the men I knew were SF and had seen a great deal of close combat and as such perhaps my observations were not an accurate representation of the mood of the military as a whole. I would suggest that apprehension was the prevailing sentiment after 1968 but 1972 will suffice.

What was you and your buddies’ impression at this time?

The argument I am exploring is that the digitization of our intelligence gathering is having a negative effect on our current efforts to gain a battlefield advantage. I’m attempting to bolster my argument by highlighting that digitization has such an insidious effect on analysis per se that even the historical past is being distorted to a degree that contradicts the simple observations and experiences of the men who were there.


Outlaw 09

Fri, 12/26/2014 - 2:45am

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill--while we in the US media tend to talk about the IS in terms of "terrorists"---the Israeli's next door tend to take another perspective.

Yesterday in the Haaretz online newspaper stated the following;

"only the IS can derail the IS"---it appears the Israeli's weighing the Syrian events tend to see the IS in a different light than we do---do they know something we do not?

Secondly---Robert and I have often said here the IS is in the process of building a Sunni nation and we would be wise to recognize that simple fact.

Again yesterday the IS via a large number of their online sites and via their bloggers released a general call for doctors, lawyers, business people, accountants and their complete families to come to the "Caliphate" and assist in the building of the Caliphate.

If one takes the indicators we are "seeing" 1) still a massive inflow of new fighters which seems to have totally caught even the US IC flat footed, 2) look at the Caliphate map I posted the link to, and 3) now calling for the technocrats that are needed to build a nation------

Sounds like nation building to me.

VS say the following comment concerning Russia

So which is the greater strategic threat to the US in the short and medium terms?

"Is there anything more dangerous than a (nuclear) regime based on "myths and blind faith"? We are about to find out..."

COL Anderson said:

"It will take local political solutions to stabilize Syria and Iraq, but those political solutions will not happen until the conventional military power of the Islamic State is destroyed; that can be done in 3-4 months if we apply US-led western military forces in an overwhelming punitive campaign, to include ground forces, to crush the Islamic State’s army."

What we must come to understand today is that "stabilization" -- of Syria, Iraq, etc. -- is not our "desired strategic end state." (If such were the case, then we would, one might suggest, have stood with Saddam and Assad.)

Rather, our desired strategic end state -- for these states and societies and others today -- is to see them transformed more along modern western political, economic and social lines. (In these circumstances, to understand why Saddam had to then -- and Assad now must -- "go.")

Given that not "stability" but, rather, "transformation" is our desired strategic end state, then the proper questions seem to be:

a. Will "local political solutions" cause Syria and Iraq to become transformed more along modern western political, economic and social lines? And

b. Will the destruction of the conventional military power of the Islamic State (via the application of US-led military forces as per COL Andersons suggestion above) cause Syria and Iraq to become transformed more along modern western political, economic and social lines?

If the answers to questions "a" and "b" above are "no,"

Then does this not suggest that we must look to other ways and other means to achieve our desired strategic end state (to wit: the transformation of Iraq and Syria, etc., etc., etc., more along modern western lines)?


a. Understand President Obama's decisions re: the limited use of US-led military force in Iraq, Syria, etc.? And, possibly, to

b. Understand President Johnson's decision re: the limited use of US-led military force in Vietnam?

(In both instance, the greater application of US-led military force being seen as not a viable means/method to achieve their common desired strategic end state, to wit: the transformation of Iraq, Syria [and Vietnam] more along modern western political, economic and social lines.)

Mike in Hilo

Thu, 12/25/2014 - 5:31pm

Col. Anderson:

Concur; and thanks for a thought-provoking article.

Re: the Vietnam analogy: As you are no doubt aware (though some readers may not be), Lt. Gen. McMaster wrote a widely acclaimed, meticulously researched book, Dereliction of Duty, in which he scathingly indicts President Johnson for refusing the level of commitment to the VN enterprise deemed necessary to achieve the stated goals...Reason, according to McMaster: He feared a more robust commitment would derail his ambitious domestic agenda (Great Society). While the scale then deemed "necessary" far exceeded today's requirements, conceptually the analogy certainly rings a bell...

Cheers, and Merry Christmas to all,

Outlaw 09

Thu, 12/25/2014 - 1:53pm

In reply to by Bill C.

While some of your comments are valid--I would inject something I have written here often--the Russian decision making process is like a four legged stool composed of 1)the state security, 2) the military, 3) the oligarchs and 4) the Russian mob with Putin as the moderator of all four---and here is the ideological cover for all four and it is not so apparent to the current US civilian leadership who assumes it was all about "democracy vs communism".

The Russian Orthodox church covers the stool like a blanket and to a degree Putin has become more and more in his recent statements "religious".

This blog comment today hits it on the head---and believe me the current US decision makers need urgently to understand this new form of "religious ideology"--as it also drives the IS in their vision of the world order.

This article in critical in starting that understanding.

Remember when Obama said our struggle with Russia has no ideological component? The enemy, alas, gets a vote.

Church Spokesman: Russia Has Messianic Mission to Stop 'American Project'

Taken from the article:
"Russia is the center, and maybe the only center, of the world … [Russia] has more grounds to be such a center than any European capital or the United States," he was quoted by Interfax as saying. "

His remarks echoed recent comments by President Vladimir Putin, who told his country in a speech last month that Russians are morally superior in their standoff with the West.

OR this:
Nobody in West paid attention, but Putin's line few yrs ago "Russia's spiritual shield is as important as her nuclear shield"

Putin & ROC have been talking openly about "spiritual security" - fusion of special services & Orthodoxy - for over 10 years,

Referencing the IS---something as well is driving people to join them and to ignore the IS "religious ideology" factor is a fatal mistake we are currently making.

U.S. intelligence officials: 18k+ foreign fighters in Syria, Iraq - up from 16k in November. Westerners up to 3k…

The most dangerous though of these two forms of "religious ideology" is in fact Russia regardless of what many say here--WHY because a major spokesperson today for the ROC stated they and Putin are on a "messianic mission to destroy the American Project" --the IS has never openly stated that so clearly.

Does this indicate to anyone a "willingness" to compromise in the Ukraine or with the West in general or the attempt to stop "the American Project"?

#Russia supplied #Donbas terrorists w/ 402 vehicles, 256 tanks,138 Grads,5 Buks,4 Tochka-U in past 45 days alone!

That's more tanks than Italy, more APC's than #France, more missile launchers than #Germany+#UK+#Italy combined

I am more worried when countries like Russia start using the term "messianic mission".

Bill C.

Thu, 12/25/2014 - 11:05am

Consider this observation from Hans Morgenthau during the Cold War:

"The United States and the Soviet Union face each other not only as two great powers which in the traditional ways compete for advantage. They also face each other as the fountainheads of two hostile and incompatible ideologies, systems of government and ways of life, each trying to expand the reach of its respective political values and institutions and to prevent the expansion of the other. ... Here is the dynamic force which has led the two superpowers to intervene all over the globe, sometimes surreptitiously, sometimes openly, sometimes with the accepted methods of diplomatic pressure and propaganda, sometimes with the frowned-upon instruments of covert subversion and open force."

Today Islamism seems to have replaced communism as the "hostile and incompatible ideology, system of government and way of life" that the United States/the West seeks to prevent/overcome.

This, as the United States/the West strives, post-the Cold War, to further "expand the reach of its political values and institutions."

Look no further than the explanation provided above to understand our -- and our enemies -- "desired strategic end states;" this, whether:

a. Pursued by the United States/the West -- and the Soviet Union/China -- during the Cold War (in such places as Vietnam).

b. Or pursued by the United States/the West -- and the Islamists et al -- presently (in such places as Iraq and Syria).


Q: What did/do we and our enemies (then as now) "want the world to look like" after all our/their efforts (to include "fighting") had been brought forward?


a. A world in which the enemies' incompatible ideology, system of government and way of life has largely been eliminated.

b. And a world in which one's own political values, institutions, way of life and way of governance have largely achieved universal acceptance.

Now, with this essential "what we -- and they -- want the world to look like" information standing tall before us, now to consider such things as our strategy, re: Iraq, Syria, etc.

Bill C.

Wed, 12/24/2014 - 9:08pm

In reply to by Kuch

The breaking up of states such as Iraq and Syria is not considered to be in the United States' best interests -- for a number of reasons -- one of these being that such a separation does not address the central underlying problem that we seek to resolve. This being, that these states and societies (and many like them) are not adequately ordered, organized and oriented more along modern western political, economic and social lines.

In this regard, consider, for example, America's Civil War.

Here, for a number of reasons, the separation of the South from the North was not considered to be in the United States's best interests. One of these reasons being that such a separation would not address the central underlying problem that the United States sought to resolve, to wit: that the South was not ordered, organized and oriented more along the "modern" lines of the North.

Thus, and for the similar reasons I have suggested above:

a. "Separation"/"balkanization," cir. 1860, was not considered a reasonable or intelligent approach for "modernizing" the American South and its "outdated" way of life and ideas re: governance.

b. Likewise today, "separation"/"balkanization" of Syria and Iraq (et al) is not considered a viable approach for "modernizing" such contemporary "outlying" states and their, in our view, "outdated" ways of life and/or governance.

Hope we have a follow up article discussing the need to break up these 2 failed states. The creations of WWI French and British Diplomats need to end with a breakup of both of these countries. Otherwise grand kids will be talking about this in the next 100 years.

Sidewinder EN

Wed, 12/24/2014 - 12:08pm

I'm not a big fan of the term "end state". It's not really an end, it's a change in the discourse. I wonder if taking the approach of "what type of political situation would be acceptable"? I think the answer may be more than one situation, and that would provide both military and political leaders with a range of options, or if we want to be fancy, a spectrum of success (if I see that phrase in a PowerPoint I will know I have succeeded). I think it is an important point to note that the political affairs occurring in these countries probably don't directly threaten the interests of the U.S.bor many of its allies. So, as Uncle Carl notes, the objectives must be tempered. If spontaneous freedom and democracy broke out across the Levant, that is an acceptable outcome. But so would a power sharing deal where minorities aren't massacred. Whatever the "end state" is, it should also be seen as Phase Zero.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 12/24/2014 - 9:38am

And the US Plan B is again what?

The Iranians need badly a barrel price at the 105-110 range and they fully understand the KSA has pointed the price to 20-60 and it is directed against Iran and Russia. At roughly 2 USD for a production cost the Sunni producers can hold out for a long while--the Shia producer cannot.

Iran just as Russia cannot afford to maintain a war outside their national boundaries if their economy is crashing around them nor in the case of Assad keep supporting him. Russia was warned many times by the KSA to not deliver weapons to Assad--the US could not stop it but the KSA has. Example current estimates of Russia's war costs in the Ukraine are running at 20M USD per day.

#BreakingNews #IRGC threatens to attack KSA and topple al-Saud regime in reaction to its oil war against Iran

Now we see the Sunni Shia divide exploding and it was the US that triggered it.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 12/24/2014 - 6:59am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

I mentioned we do not know how to listen and or talk to the IS.

Today when the Jordanian F16 was shot down the European blogging side carried on a conversation on how was it possible that the IS downed the F16--then this drifted in from the IS side and guess what it was accepted and no negative comments sent back.

IS watches what is being said by the other side and seems to want to reach out but we keep rejecting---why is that?

Muhammed al Turkei @devletislamiye

not low altitude we use guided missile @macroarch @ArtWendeley

The photo he sent shows the SAM smoke trail.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 12/24/2014 - 3:34am

Two comments before heading off to pre Xmas eve dinner with German friends here in Berlin.

1. We were in such a hurry when we were after AQ in AFG and did not take the time to really listen to the Taliban statements in response to the G. Bush demands being placed on them--we were asking them to ditch their own value system for ours and we wanted immediate answers from them.

Their Taliban Foreign Minister at the time kept alluding to a compromise and yet we did not take the time to "listen". If one really takes the time--go back and reread all of his statements made to the press at that period--years later they did really make sense.

2. The IS has reached out to the West in particular the US twice in the last two weeks and yet do we "hear" any pundit responses or governmental responses--no. Why because they are brutal and crazy fundamentalists in our eyes ie "terrorists" and as "terrorists" they cannot possibly have some sort of solution.

We have utterly no patience with the concept of "time"---we are always in a hurry---to paraphrase the Taliban leader--"you Americans look at your watches all the time --we have the gains of sand of time on our side and will be here long after you have left".

IS will be there as well long after we have finally figured it out--that it is not our fight nor was it ever our fight as Saddam was never "our enemy".

Regardless of what many think---Saddam did manage for a long time to balance the Sunni Shia divide-- when we eliminated him that "divide" then hit us full in the face and that is a fact no one seems to want to remember.

Let's remember one thing in this discussion and as bad as it sounds--IS is our own creation and no one else's--

I never seem to hear that in discussions on Iraq and Syria.

We need as a country to finally look at the world through the lens of those that physically live in areas that we are interested in- not through the lens of what we perceive what we want it to look like--"seeing and understanding" is a complex problem that we have not yet mastered and probably never will in my lifetime.

I can count on one hand the number of military and or civilian leaders that were able to "see and understand" in the last 40 years.

Have a great and safe Xmas---

Bill M.

Wed, 12/24/2014 - 6:40pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill C.

Bush Jr and Clinton pursued liberalist ideas you constantly speak of, but I think you would have a hard time making a case that President Obama does. Furthermore, I think that if the State Department encouraged the Arab Spring as some countries suggest, it demonstrates a great deal of naivety on their part. As noted by many historians who study the American Revolutionary War, the actual revolution in ideas happened gradually and many years before the actual war. We reached a point in our social and political evolution we were ready to break with England. The war was simply the final step.

Pushing a bunch of kids to revolt in various squares without a clue of where they wanted to go politically, other than they wanted something different was recipe for failure. The conditions for democracy were not in place, and those who were better organized politically like the Muslim Brotherhood, the military, or the existing government more often than not triumphed. The theory of competitive control addresses this, in the midst of chaos, people want those who can impose some degree of order, a set of rules they can play by.

I'm optimistic we can learn from our mistakes at the department level (State, Defense), but I have little optimism when it comes to our politicians. We'll continue to go through mindless cycles of engagement and isolationism based on their individual philosophies like a ship drifting aimlessly at sea.

Bill C.

Wed, 12/24/2014 - 5:09pm

In reply to by G Martin

G Martin said:

" ... we don't see a clear U.S. interest and thus will not deploy troops to engage in combat."

I believe the thoughts and calcuations may go more like this:

a. We do see a clear U.S. interest -- in transforming outlying states and states and societies -- in the Middle East and elsewhere -- more along modern western lines. (Has the clear potential to cause these states and societites to become less of a problem for/burden on, and more of an asset to, the global economy/international community.) However,

b. We are no longer believe that the application of military force, at this time, to achieve these ends, is the appropriate course of action.

c. After the Cold War -- and because of ideas such as universal values and the end of history -- the application of military force seemed to make sense. This, because we believed that we only needed to liberate the populations from their oppressive regimes, and deal with a very few "dead enders," to see our state and societal transformation objectives achieved.

d. Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, etc., however, showed us that we were dead (literally) wrong here. These populations, liberated from their oppressive regimes, had all kinds of different and contrary ideas as to how they wished to order, organize and orient their lives.

e. This slap-in-the-face understanding caused us to go back to "square one," and realize that "job one" was to spend much more time and effort on convincing these general populations that the adoption of our way of life, our way of goverance and our underlying values, attitudes and beliefs were in their best interests.

f. Lacking this, then the application of military force, to achieve our desired end state (states and societies transformed more along modern western lines); this would cost much more -- in blood, money, politial capital and other "treasure" -- than we are willing to spend re: (1) this goal, (2) these states and (3) these populations.

Bottom Line:

Because we initially read this area of the world wrong, we got the cart (use of military force to achieve regime change) before the horse (the winning over of the populations to our way of life, our way of governance, etc.)

Thus, before we consider again such things as the use of military force -- to achieve our desired ends in this or other areas of the world -- we realize that we must get this non-military task (winning the support of the population for this transition) done (1) right and (2) first.

In the interim, military force is likely to be used, in this area of the world and others, only as something of a "stop-gap" measure.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 12/25/2014 - 6:20am

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill---would argue that putting Humpty back together is actually the core problem--when populations decide living together in this case the Sunni/Shia will not work simply because politically a majority is not willing to share--then we must learn to respect that and attempt to moderate the results of what is happening---much of the exact same thing Robert has been saying a number of times.

Look how the Yugo model broke apart---all "knew in the Cold War days" that it was the heavy fist of Tito that kept the country together--he dies then the hundreds of years of negative discourse between the populations ie over the "religious question" much like we are actually seeing in Iraq/Syria broke out into the open with the resulting high loss of civilian lives to settle it and it is not really settled yet as the visit of Putin to Serbia indicates and the Russian relooking the Balkans from a "Slavic" perspective.

AND if one looks at the Bosnian model of "federalization"---the exact same thing that Russia wanted/wants for eastern Ukraine--it only delayed the final outcome--it did not solve the problem--and more importantly we see virtually slow to no development economically.

There is one national European breakup that disproves the theory that all ends badly, and it was done peacefully --Czechoslovakia-- and it went through a well thought through breakup supported and this is key-- supported by both ethnic populations. Today both are developing while slowly---but nicely--- and both are in the EU and NATO AND Russia did not complain.

Reference the Kurdish issue--why do the other countries do not want it to happen --they would have to give up territory plain and simple.

Secondly--at the heart of the Putin Doctrine is exactly what we are talking about---the changing of national borders based on ethnicity and or language---in this case the Russian language---YET this key we seem to not be pushing back as hard as we do on the Kurdish issue---why?

Bill M.

Wed, 12/24/2014 - 6:48pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09


You wrote, "Example --we are investing time, money and troops back into Iraq to achieve exactly what? While at the same time Iran is working the back channels to keep us out of Iraq wherever possible."

I would offer we only know how to engage states, and we seem to believe that states must continue to exist in their present form (borders) for the world to remain stable. It seems there is a larger issue at foot than maintaining the integrity of Iraq as a state. Why shouldn't the Kurds have their own state? Because Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Iraq doesn't want it to happen? Why can't the Shia and Sunni have separate states in Iraq? There may be good answers, but I think there are more options than keep Iraq's current borders sovereign.

Sometimes I think we're all the King's men trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 12/24/2014 - 2:18pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill--one of the chief problems we are having is that while we struggle to even formulate a strategy, policy, ideas, or basically just anything right now the hegemon struggle between the Iran and KSA continues in the background that runs totally counter many times to what we say we want to achieve either in Iraq or Syria. The longer we are in Iraq the longer the perception of the US siding with the Shia against the Sunni becomes the main picture--when we are suppose to be trying to get the Iraqi government to become inclusive--at the same time it is Shia militias who are burning down Sunni villages and towns--even today.

Example --we are investing time, money and troops back into Iraq to achieve exactly what? While at the same time Iran is working the back channels to keep us out of Iraq wherever possible. The same goes for Syria--whatever we think we need to do gets immediately countered by Iran.

So in the end--exactly what are we to achieve?---even with a minimalistic approach--what is it?

Taken from:…

Meanwhile, the foreign arm of the IRGC has been running the Assad regime's campaign against secular and Islamist rebels in Syria. The Iran-backed government in Damascus continues to rain barrel bombs on civilian areas while Al Qaeda's Syrian affiliate routs US-backed rebels, ISIS runs a self-declared caliphate, and Tehran sends fighters from multiple countries to bolster Assad.

The IRGC has also co-opted the government in neighboring Iraq, where Shia militias — some of them backed by Iran — are using the fight against the Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL) to burn Sunni communities to the ground. Iran is also running Baghdad's air war.

"The United States is not the first player in Iraq. Iran is the first player in Iraq. They think Sunni fighters will be like militias for the Sunnis," Najim al Jabouri, a retired Iraqi army general who is now a fellow at the National Defense University in Washington, told Jonathan Landay of McClatchy last month. "I think Iran is working very hard to stop the United States' strategy in Iraq."

Bill M.

Wed, 12/24/2014 - 1:48pm

In reply to by G Martin

I agree it is naïve to the extreme to expect a clear end state along with defined means and ways. You can have that at the operational and tactical level, but at the strategic level it is much more squishy. We can fool ourselves by defining a clear end, ways, and means, but it will limit our ability to respond to changes in the environment, whether challenges or opportunities. It is well past time we put to bed the myth that strategy must consist of clear ends, means (tangible and intangible), and ways, and appreciate it is a dynamic process that constantly unfolds in ways that are often unpredictable.

It is not a myth that the military can achieve political objectives. The military is still a useful tool to achieve policy objectives, but a country must have the will to "employ" the military in way that will achieve those objectives. Policy goals must be nested with the real world and human nature if the military can have the possibility of achieving them, but that frequently is out of the hands of the military to control.

I find the concept of war and MOOTW increasingly interesting. Carl defines war as the use of force impose our will on others to achieve political ends. JP 1 defines it as socially sanctioned violence between two or more groups where one attempts to impose its will upon another. Using these definitions, there can be a war against Al-Qaeda, there can be a war against narcoterrorists, etc., so where do we draw the line between what is war and MOOTW?

G Martin

Tue, 12/23/2014 - 10:15pm

I think the myth here is that the military's necessities (clear objectives, strategic guidance, etc) should trump domestic politics. The military exists for political purposes- if domestic politics trump clear objectives and strategic guidance- then we won't get them. We have to be honest with ourselves and we have to be honest with our political masters. Of course- with the intertwining of resource advocation and military advice, we are caught in a web of our own doing: we say we can do things that are opposite of our nature- and then we attempt to gather metrics that justify more resources.

Another myth is that military action can lead to political objectives. It might- but many times it won't- especially in these actions that are best described as "military operations other than war"- an old term, but something that clearly delineates between "war" - and other things. When we are involved in war there is a mandate to win and a clear link between military action and explicit political objectives. When we are involved in other things- then things aren't so clear. So- "good strategy" is both impossible and not going to happen.

The constant call for a "clear endstate" is hilarious- it presupposes that we can take a deterministic stance towards something that is anything but "war"- our own stance is that we don't see a clear U.S. interest and thus will not deploy troops to engage in combat. When things seem bad- but less than an existential threat- then we will continue to lack a clear "endstate" and military action will lead to ... not much. And that is by design...


Tue, 12/23/2014 - 8:36pm

George Kennan was convinced that the US government was “woefully deficient at grand strategy, if by that term one meant the ability to coordinate all available means with fundamental policy ends." (John Lewis Gaddis "George F. Kennan: An American Life" p. 169)

This was true then and remains true today. We don't even know what our fundamental policy ends are. Again the question is What is our place and role in a multi-polar world?


Tue, 12/23/2014 - 8:25pm

I think a more pertinent question to ask is WTF are we doing there in the first place? In order to answer this question, we must ask: What is our place / role in a multi-polar world?

The fact is that regardless of the nobility of our motives, or of ghastly pictures shown each night on television, we must be extremely wary of becoming involved militarily in conflicts where the hatreds run deep, in societies where, traditionally, political accommodation is non-existent. This is not to say that we should ignore conflict, but we must be prepared to use the other instruments of national power, i.e., the political, economic, and diplomatic to help to terminate it. However we should keep in mind what the eminent political philosopher, Hans Morgenthau, has observed:

Good motives give assurance against deliberately bad policies;
they do not guarantee the moral goodness and political success
of the policies they inspire. What is important to know, is not
the motives of the statesman, but his intellectual ability to
comprehend the essentials of foreign policy, as well as his po-
litical ability to translate what he has comprehended into suc-
cessful political action.[i]

Clausewitz observes: Since war is not an act of senseless passion but is controlled by its political object, the value of this object must determine the sacrifices to be made of it in magnitude and also in duration. Once the expenditure of effort exceeds the value of the political object, the object must be renounced and peace must follow. (Book One, Chapter Two, p. 92).

BOTTOM LINE: What is our role in a multi-polar world?


Tue, 12/23/2014 - 6:51pm

Most Americans don't know we are doing anything in Iraq or Syria. We could continue our current level of effort indefinitely without any concern for domestic politics. You could properly do something larger, as long as the timeframe was short and one should sell the results (kill high level people, free westerners, etc) to the public.


Tue, 12/23/2014 - 8:30pm

In reply to by SNusbaumer

Arthur Schlesinger in "Robert Kennedy and his Times":

Action diplomacy, carried too far, entangled the United States in the fortunes of nations beyond the area of American interest or understanding. It encouraged the illusion that an internal crisis in a remote land might affect the peace of the world. It led American diplomats to try to do things in foreign countries that the people of the country ought to have done for themselves. It nourished the faith that American ‘know-how’ (odious word) could master anything; the ‘when in doubt, do something’ approach to an intractable world; the officious solicitude that degenerated into cynical manipulation and finally into bloody slaughter. (Schlesinger, Jr., p. 475)


Tue, 12/23/2014 - 3:52pm

"I personally think Americans have a great deal of strategic patience."

This is crucial. I personally disagree. Americans set the clock running and if it runs too long like in Vietnam they will begin to rebel against the war. The Pentagon knows this. Time, then, is not on our side, but our opponents side. The battlefield is where they live and American clocks run faster. If US troops start dying in Iraq, there will be serious problems with the current strategy which will take at least many years.

COL Anderson said:

"A strategic end state is what we want the world to look like AFTER THE FIGHTING STOPS." (Emphasis added.)

This would seem to be incorrect.

A strategic end state is what we want the world to look like (or, on a smaller scale, what we want Syria and Iraq to look like) AFTER OUR OBJECTIVE HAS BEEN ACHIEVED -- via fighting and/or via some other method.


a. Much as with the Cold War and our problems with certain states and societies then,

b. Likewise with the current period and our problems with certain states and societies today,

c. The strategic end state that we strive for is to see such problem states and societies (1) transformed more along modern western political, economic and social lines and (2) better incorporated into the global economy and international community.

This strategic end state to be realized -- then in the Cold War and now presently -- when the "rulers" of these problem states and societies (whether the current rulers, subsequent rulers and/or the general population):

1. Decide that such a transformation and incorporation -- as we desire -- is the necessary and proper course of action. AND

2. When such successful transformation and integration has been -- actually and enduringly -- achieved.

This approach to defining the strategic end state causing us to understand that:

a. Fighting, at any given time, may or may not be a/the proper course of action -- to help achieve our desired strategic end state (described at my item "c" above). And that

b. If fighting is considered appropriate, then when, where and how it might be applied -- to help achieve this strategic end state.

Thus, the problems presented by ISIS -- and, indeed, by Africa, Russia, China, etc., etc., etc. -- to be viewed, considered and addressed in this "what we want the world to look like" light.

The application of our instruments of power and persuasion -- if, when, where and how -- to be applied accordingly.

Bill M.

Tue, 12/23/2014 - 2:13pm

In reply to by captcouv

Your comment implies we won in Vietnam, and then lost the hard earned peace. A point of view I agree with. That victory came at great cost in treasure, and resulted in significant civil strife within our nation. It was the civil strife that created the political risk, that in turn resulted in our failure to support the RVN. I personally think Americans have a great deal of strategic patience. How many other countries would have fought in Vietnam for 10 plus years, and more than that in Iraq and Afghanistan? A few, but not many. Our weakness is the same as our strength, it is a democratic government. Political opponents use wars as leverage to attack their opponents and create perceptions that our helpful to them from a political perspective, but not to the nation from a strategic perspective.

The strategic context is very different in Iraq, so the usefulness of this historical analogy is somewhat limited, but our political divide within America is as strong as ever. Each side is fighting to present a dominate narrative.