Sunday, December 20, 2009

Gian Gentile's Strategy of Tactics and the Ghost of Reinhold Niebuhr

A matter of semantics has to be cleared up before preceeding further. It is unwise to concede to Mao Tse-tung that the revolutionary's opponent is a "counterrevolutionary", for this word has come to be synonymous with "reactionary", which has not always been, nor will it always be, the case. Therefore, one side will be called the "insurgent" and his action the "insurgency", on the opposite side, we will find the "counterinsurgent" and the "counterinsurgency". Since insurgency and counterinsurgency are two different aspects of the same conflict, an expression is needed to cover the whole: "revolutionary war" will serve that purpose.

David Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare, xii

Colonel Gian Gentile has produced a thoughtful - and I would add given the political siutation in the US - heroic interpretation of the current state of not only the US Army, but the whole US way of war, or what it has become. Today the all encompassing concept is COIN or population-centric counterinsurgency, which for Gentile is the problem.

Let me start with an outline of Gentile's main points and his conclusion with my own comments at the end. Gentile's article has 10 main points:

1. "Population-centric Counterinsurgency" or COIN has become an all encompassing concept for the Army which precludes choice as to other methods and approaches.

2. The American "way of war" (counter to Russell Weigley) has historically been of "improvisation and practicality", not an "ideological attachment to seeking out the next Austerlitz". The American way of war is thus pragmatic . . . not ideological . . .

3. COIN is not a military strategy, but at best an operational doctrine and at worst a "strategy of tactics", or simply an "intellectual straightjacket", which blinds the practitioner to not only other options, but its inherent limitations.

4. This total focus on a single method leads to self-deception: "appearing to apply David Galula's principles (Galula provides the "historical how-to text") while at the same time ignorance of military strategy.

5. What lead us to this crisis point was first of all a false (and for the Army self-serving) reinterpretation of the Vietnam War. Abrams the good (using COIN) following Westmoreland the bad (the conventional approach), but the politicians and public losing "their will" when the Army could have won in the end.

6. The second cause, and the more recent, has been the victory narrative associated with the 2007 Surge in Iraq, which Gentile describes as "hubris run amuck". Here he repeats his well-known argument that the Surge was simply one of numerous causes for the decline of violence in Iraq. The Surge did contribute to the change, but was not the main cause of it. He then implies a broader argument that the Surge in fact was a tactical measure that compromised strategic success.

7. The US military is unable to think in a historical context. The term the Army uses - "counterinsurgency" - is "so loaded with historical context, assumptions, myths, and absurdities that it has become almost meaningless". This can also hide a whole range of political purposes which are rather left unsaid, since COIN can be "used to define and judge any small war, imperial war, or insurgency".

8. Since 2006 there has been a lack of debate as to the way forward for the Army. Compared to 1976-82, when 110 articles appeared in Military Review, following the publication of FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency, there have been only a series of articles "touting the triumph of the Surge, a narrative that has steamrolled the American Army into accepting this new way of war".

9. COIN is assummed by its supporters (who fancy themselves as the "Young Turks" of the Army) as being "more difficult than conventional warfare", "more demanding", even more "political", although COIN is executed at a much slower pace with much more reaction time for commanders. In COIN since one has E-5s interacting with local villiage elders, it is assummed that this approach is in fact more "political", but policy has always existed at the lowest tactical level, [as the Communists well understood with their emphasis on constant education for not only cadre, but potential supporters - lack of historical context once again]. This focus on the political in the tactical also promotes this total focus on tactics, making for a "strategy of tactics" with no consideration of the link between tactics and strategy as a means to a political purpose, let alone of considering strategic effect. Gentile approvingly quotes Clausewitz at this point.

10. With the total emphasis on COIN, the Army has lost track of its conventional skills, which is another of Gentile's old arguments. He sees this as an unacceptable risk which could lead to serious consequences should the Army be called upon to military action at the other end of the conflict spectrum.

In conclusion he says that the Army would be better off studying the history of the British Empire of the latter half of the 19th Century where, "if nothing else" they understood the essence of strategy, that being the link between resources and means and ends. The British then, unlike the COIN supporters of today, did not see military operations as ends in themselves. What COIN boils down to is a form of "total war", the remaking of societies through military means, a ceaseless series of "crusades" sold as "nation-building" but which actually require the remaking of political indentites by outside force. How this supports the nationl interest or is let alone achieveable, or what the long-term costs would be is lost in the maze of tactical considerations, COIN having in effect "buried strategy".

What to add?

I think Gentile's assessment very accurate from a Clausewitzian strategic theory perspective. I would howerver add a few points which make the COIN position even more dubious.

First, not only does the current Army way of war lack the historical context of counterinsurgency, it lacks the theoretical context, having in effect cut and pasted what they liked from David Galula to fit their purposes. A careful reading of Galula's classic Counterinsurgency Warfare, would indicate how precarious the US position in the actual "wars on terror" is. Referring to the Galula quote above, which exactly is the revolutionary side? Who is attempting to impose their view on the local population, the Taliban, or the US/NATO? Galula also assumes that the Counterinsurgency begins from a position of institutional strength, possessing all the elements of a state in being. Even a colonial power would have had a functioning state system, there is no place in his theory for the outside actor (posing as the "counterinsurgent") starting a new state from scratch and imposing it on the locals (even officials of the former state) who then are labelled as "insurgents". The point here is that certain strengths that Galula assumes belong to the counterinsurgency do not exist in the two (or three) conflicts where COIN is being applied today, ditto for the assumed weaknesses associated with the insurgency.

Also in line with Galula's view, the political context sets the stage for revolutionary war. Prior to 1938 (see page 22) there were no successful insurgencies against colonial regimes, rather it was the crisis that Western and Japanese imperialism underwent as a result of World War II that ushered in the era of successful insurgency. Without the actions of Japan, Galula argues, the Chinese Communists never would have succeeded against the Kuomintang. For this reason, a Western state, even the lone super power, invading and establishing a client state given the current political context would be an exercise in futility for Galula, something which simply is not going to happen, that is his theory, the basis of COIN today, would not allow for it.

Second, this crisis of American strategic thought goes back a ways. I've put the beginning point as 1991. I have also argued that the similar notion of 4GW was Ludendorff's concept of Total War stood on its head. That is that war from this perspective "absorbs politics" and becomes theoretically something autonomous.

Third, Rupert Smith in his book, The Utility of Force argues that the US way of war is frequently "less an art than a search for the technical solution and a process" (page 88). This being an industrial process, industrial warfare having been the US way of war since the Civil War with a few exceptions. I think this emphasis for a technological solution part of US strategic culture, but that would apply more to the practical view that Gentile argues than the ideological view he associates with COIN. Also is not this search for a technical solution also influenced by the understanding that war is a test of opposing wills, that is traditional strategic theory?

My last point concerns the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. Why? Rev. Neibuhr has been in the news of late with President Obama being described as "Niebuhrian" in his approach to morality, especially his comments on "evil" and even becoming "a war president". With all this name dropping going around (how many Americans even know who Niebuhr was or what his views were?) there must be something going on . . .

If one actually reads one of Niebuhr's classics, The Irony of American History, then one comes across a very intresting connection with Gian Gentile's view, showing us who is a "Niebuhrian" and who is not . . .

Long before the New Deal radically changed the climate of American political life the sovereign power of government had been used to enforce taxation laws which embodied social policy as well as revenue necessities; great concentrations of power in industry were broken up by law; necessary monopolies in utilities were brought under political regulation; social welfare, security and health and other values which proved to be outside the operations of the free market were secured by political policy. More recently, housing, medicine and social security have become matters of public and political policy. All this has been accomplished on a purely pragmatic basis, without the ideological baggage which European labor carried. The development of American democracy toward a welfare state has proceeded so rapidly partly because the ideological struggle was not unnecessarily sharpened.
page 100

Niebuhr found our emphasis of pragmatism over ideology as a great strength, perhaps our greatest strength and something which ensured the continued health of the American body politic which he saw as a Republic. This pragmatism was reflected in how we did things and how the country developed over time, how would Niebuhr see the changes that have shook this country since 1951? or more specifically in the points mentioned in the quote since the 1980s? That is a re-emphasis on ideology which in reality masks narrow political interest and an abandonment of one of our key American virtues.

This abandonment of our better pragmatic nature for the promise of superficial ideology has also inspired the current popularity of a new "way of war" which masks uncomfortable political realities. The current confusion in our strategic thinking reflects the larger confusion of our politics.


  1. Seydlitz, I am currently on the road (in Cambridge, MA, my daughter's new digs), getting ready to go out after about a foot of snow fell overnight. To exacerbate the situation, I've had no TV or internet service for the past several days (cable guy, anyone?). I've finally found an unsecured network so have been able to check email and my favorite site.

    Don't know how long the connection will last, so I'll be brief. IMO, you've done an outstanding job of analyzing Gentile's position. As readers Abu Whatever may recall, I've long been a defender of Gentile's work and share his skepticism regarding this COIN crap. I like your characterization of COIN: as I see it, it is a collection of tactics masquerading as a strategy. I do believe the Army has gotten seriously off the rails in its embrace of something it clearly does not understand as an institution.

    Good catch on Nierbuhr and pragmatism. That's the key. Galula and other thinkers would admit that there is no magical formula for these irregular war situations and that a sense of pragmatism has to be foremost. Unfortunately, the Army now seems to be the last place one might look for that.

    Best to all. I was going to make a separate post, but I think that's impossible for the next week or more. I'll keep trying to get back onto the site.

  2. Well written, as usual, seydlitz. But, of course, a couple of comments.

    1. I would question the degree to which the Army as a whole has lost its conventional warfighting ability in the long term. Certainly at the moment were we to be confronted with a conventional enemy there is a generation of officers who have no real experience planning and executing conventional war oplans above the battalion level.

    But where and when would this hypothetical conventional enemy appear? And what nation or non-national entity would be foolish enough as to attempt a conventional attack where an American maneuver force with aerial support was placed? Saddam taught the soldiers of the Second and Third World one thing if nothing else: the U.S. is the Last Man Standing in the conventional war cage match. To beat the Yankees you have to fight the War of the Flea.

    And if we DID have a conventional peer foe on the horizon, said foe would need considerable time to assemble the wherewithal to oppose us, giving us enough time to pull sufficient maneuver elements back and retrain them (I'm thinking particularly armor and artillery, the two branches that these silly colonial wars have defenstrated).

    So losing our conventional edge is one objection to the COIN religion that I don't share.

    2. My REAL problem with this is the failure to understand the implications of the very ideas the COINdinistas are arguing for. The only way you "win" a counterinsurgency is with local troops leading the way. Sure, you can lend your foreign fighters to give them a hand...but if the local government isn't truly in charge (which you point out) and - more important - if the local military and police aren't up to the job of defeating their political enemies, then whatever you built will be built on sand, and it will be washed away the moment your troops withdraw.

    And, shy of true colonialism, the notion that you will sit around in a foreign country fighting forever is...well, we all know what it is.

    3. I think it's important to remember that this country has ALWAYS had huge, often unbridgeable, ideological differences and ideological fixations. I'm not so sure whether "pragmatism" is a typical American attitude or just an artifact of the peculiar ideological harmony of the post-WW2-throu-1980 period. Let's look at the historical record for a Cliff's Notes version:

    1780's to 1820's: Afterbirth Period. Ideology isn't so important, as the nation is fairly united around the Founders and Framers, although with some pretty serious rifts between the federalizers/centralizers and the state's rights' types. We aren't even willing to build a Navy or keep an Army which results in our almost losing the War of 1812. Party ideology is still pretty much in the post-Big-Bang state of flux, tho.

    1820's to 1865: The Slavery or Not? Period SERIOUS rifts between proles and elites in the Jacksonian times (1820s-1830s), and between slavers and free-soilers throughout. Party positions have hardened - there are a LOT of ideological choices vs. pragmatic ones. In fact, ideology is critical, and a failure to resolve those ideological differences results in our Civil War, perhaps the ultimate failure of pragmatism.

    1865-1929: The Rich vs. Poor Period A host of ideological differences; pastoralist and farmer vs. industrialist and capitalist - the "Cross of Gold", Free Silver; trade union vs. factory owner, city vs. country, imperialist vs. nonimperialist, trusts vs. reformers - Christ, you couldn't swing a cat without hitting an Anarchist, socialist, muckraker, union activist, strikebreaker, was an unruly time and our politics reflected that. Not much pragmatism there.

    (continued downpage)

  3. (continued from above)

    1929-1980: The Malefactors of Great Wealth Period FDR choke-chains the rich to prevent a Red rebellion. The Republicans asthe party of the rich and the speculators are driven into the Wilderness for two generations. The weird breakdown of the parties, with the Southern Democrats on the "liberal" side and the Rockefeller Republicans on the "conservative" side produce a political parity seldom seen since the death of John Jay.

    There's "pragmatism", but as much as because the conservative ideologues were soundly beaten by the liberal ones and decide to play ball rather than become the Whigs of the 20th Century.

    1980-present: The Revenge of the Sith Period Led by the Reaganauts and profiting from a disgust with the Dems after Vietnam and Iran hostages and with labor after the Hoffa-Era excesses, the country begins to fracture again. Nixon's Southern Strategy pays off, leading the South back to their conservative Republican cohorts. The parties become less inclusive - especially the Republicans, who make things like abortion and taxation third rails, driving the moderates out of the party. Ideological strife returns with a shout.

    So, when you look at it, ideological polarization is really the natural state of the U.S. electorate. From 1865 until WW2 the U.S. Army, a small, professionally sequestered largely-domestic constabulary and Indian fighting force, was outside this brawl, largely because it had little fiscal or political stakes in the outcomes and neither party had an axe to grind with the military - even the imperial wars of the 1890s and WW1 were supported by moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats and opposed (if at all) by right-wing Republicans and hard-core Democratic left-wingers (who in Europe would probably have been open Socialists or Communists).

    Since the Reagan split, tho, the Army has been dragged in by its position to the right of the war/antiwar polarization and it's need for Congressional acquiescence to feeding the procurement beast. Hence the already-noted politicization of the officer corps.

    My opinion is that the GOP may well be in a Whig-like death spiral. It has already shed its moderates, now even the weak-willed conservatives are getting apalled. It will either recover its senses about the single-issue problem or may well implode as the Southern White Party of 2020. OR the Dems may seriously fuck up - they DO have a history...

    So the confusion of our politics isn't a bug, it's a feature. If we're relying on our political pundits to straighten our our military strategy, we may ba a loooooong time waiting.

    4. And the thing we should note carefully is the hole the British dug for their Army out in the colonies. They spent most of 1845-1914 bashing wogs. Became quite good at it, when all's said. But to a great extent their Army became an inward-navel-gazing imperial constabulary, and their failure to understand the lessons of our Civil War, the Austro- and Franco-Prussian Wars and their own battle against the Boers in South Africa cost them hard in France in WW1.

    IMO that's not a good place for us to go.

  4. Publius-

    Thanks for the kind words. Very much understand since our oldest is just back from her travels. Listening to her stories I keep thinking to myself: I must have done something right here ;-)> Also have had my experiences with snow and winter and we all know what that's like.

    I have followed some of your interactions with Gentile. I thought you would enjoy this.

    All the best to you and yours.


    Thanks for the kind words. Of course Nr 10 is the weakest interpretation from a Clausewitzian perspective. I follow you, but can't really comment. I would have to leave that to the author.

    But I will say that I know a little bit about artillery, since that was my first Marine Corps MOS - 0811. Attended Field Artillery Batteryman course, FST school in the mid 1970s as a Marine Corps Reservist. 105mm M101Al, a fine little field piece it was.

    I wouldn't attempt to comment on Arty or any combat arm as to current proficiency and future requirements.

    All the best to you and yours.

  5. FDChief-

    "I think it's important to remember that this country has ALWAYS had huge, often unbridgeable, ideological differences and ideological fixations. I'm not so sure whether "pragmatism" is a typical American attitude or just an artifact of the peculiar ideological harmony of the post-WW2-throu-1980 period."

    Well, ya, there's that part too. I suppose we could label "Niebuhr's pragmatism" as that which kept us from killing each other . . . but there's gotta be more to it than that . . . ;-)> How would one divide that up exactly? Good and evil? Community and Individual? Rebel and Patriot? Friend and Foe?

  6. FDChief-

    I see the period of 1820-65 different than you do. I think it was pragmatism which won out during the Civil War . . . the argument for instance that had the issue been slavery and not a state's right to seceed in 1861, then the Civil War might have run quite differently, especially with the possibility of the border states joining the Confederacy . . .

    Pragmatism again in the South's response after the Civil War . . .

  7. @Seydlitz (and commentators),

    Thanks for this post, the thoughtful analysis and superb commentary. All I can say is that I wish I could observe half within our national security bureaucracy the ferment these discussions generate. Sadly, I do not. Instead, all too often I watch the careerist, deadened and dopey outweigh and overcome any hesitation, questioning or discussion of where we are going, how we are going to get there, and most importantly, WHY does this objective (pick any one) satisfy our national security???

    So, again, my thanks.


  8. In re: my response to Gentile's #10, I did type that with some hesitation, seydlitz, since Gentile is much more tightly wired into the active Army than I am. If he says that the Army is losing some of its conventional skills his opionion has to be given some weight.

    However, I still think that it is the weakest of his arguments (and he himself probably knows that which is why he placed it last). We just don't have a peer foe at the moment. Any wars we are likely to fight are UNlikely to require exceptional conventional warfighting skill...

    As for the American Civil War...well, I'd say that the ACW is a terrific proof of Clausewitz's rule that wars take on their own political dynamic, warping and even subverting the original political goals of the parties. The initial rupture was a case of Southern intransigence at what they saw as Northern Republican hostility towards their "peculiar institution". The North, OTOH, found their "cause" in the preservation of the Union (less the abolitionists, whom we should not discount). Four years of war, however, managed to beat down a lot of the extremeist rhetoric on both sides, leaving the exhausted nation to reconcile to the extent they would in 1865. Grant's lienency towards Lee and his commanders was a factor. And perhaps even moreso was the reality that although the racists in both camps (let's not ignore the Copperheads and expressions of Northern liberalism like the NYC Draft Riots) lost the war, they "won the peace", being able to erect a national Jim Crow regime that persisted into the 1950s and still has some lingering effect today.

    The pragmatic element there, I think, merely reflects the original political division; the racist Southrons and Northerners wanted to keep the nigger down, and they did, although not as a commodity as their original intent...and most of the North wanted to preserve the Union and THEY did, tho at the cost of letting American citizans be treated as little better than human trash for almost 100 years.

    A loathesome sort of pragmatism. but, there...

    I think that the "pragmatic" aspect of the American Experiment is the notion of allowing the citizen as much ideological and intellectual freedom as the polity can tolerate, so long as everyone stays on the inside of the tent pissing out. So the only ones who get gated are the Southern slavery proponents in 1860 or the Anarchists, peaceniks and Wobblies in 1917, or the dirty fucking hippies in 1991. Rather than fall apart, as France did in 1879 and again in 1940, or any number of South and Central American nations do, or the artificial "nations" of Africa and the Middle East, when we are presented with a crisis we tend to close up around our "leadership" even if that leadership is disasterously wrong. So people like Mark Twain are reviled in 1899 and Howard Dean in 2002; the preagmatist aspect is that we as a nation often choose to be stupid and misguided but unified rather than fall apart when those who can see the stupidity point it out.

    Other nations pursue their ideological differences to the cannon's mouth rather than admit defeat; we choose to anoint our leaders and look the other way even as we walk into the ambush.

  9. Seydlitz,

    Greats post - I think this is your best effort so far. Like Publius, I'm largely in agreement with Gentile and your analysis, though I think Gentile does take things a bit too far, so I also agree with Chief's comments.

    Gentile's article has been heavily debated in the military forums I participate in and the main area of disagreement among Army soldiers I've read is that COIN isn't as pervasive in Army thinking as Col. Gentile makes it out to be. It's certainly loud and public, but there exists, these soldiers claim, a quiet majority of skeptics and resistors. However, I think the trend is clear, as we are creating a generation of soldiers who have done nothing but COIN and those officers are the Army's future leadership.


    For the most part I agree with your comments on conventional war-fighting capability. China seems to be the most likely peer competitor, but war with them doesn't seem likely in the near-medium term and any conflict would like be primarily an air and naval conflict.

  10. Andy: I think one of the things that inflates this "disagreement" is that I suspect that the biggest single element of COIN-centrism is in the Infantry branch (to include the SF), and the Infantry has an impact on Army thinking as a whole in excess of their actual impact on the battlefield. So I think that Gentile is looking at the number of COINdinistas in the Infantry and extrapolating it to the Army as a whole.

    I'll bet there are a significant number of COIN-skeptics at Ft. Sill and Ft. Knox - they're just not as vocal...

  11. SP & Andy-

    Thanks for the kind words.

    From Gentile's article one comes to the conclusion that there are a variety of different long-term trends which promote COIN as the "Army's new way of war".

    Lack of dissent is the first I'll mention, he writes, "Most worrisome for those concerned with the future of the American Army is that there has not been a wide-ranging debate over the efficacy and utility of this new way of war" (Nr 8). There is a debate, but seemingly not one inside the Army. If there is a quiet majority of resistors, why do they remain quiet? Because they already know which way the wheel's turning and don't want to get in the way?

    Political support is the second. With Obama now "a war president" we have full bipartisan support for the war on terror which will be going on until "victory" is achieved or we go broke. COIN dissenters within the Army now cannot hope for the next election cycle to reverse things.

    Third, the very ambiguity of COIN allows the politicos to avoid having to state what our actual political purposes are. The Military need not focus on matching military means to political purpose, but rather in tweeking tactics and maintaining the COIN process of nation building which goes on forever.

    The COIN era only began in 2006 but is already very far along. Given this speed and political support it will be the "way of war" for a long time to come, in other words the supertanker it under full steam in the wrong direction . . . how long will it take to get it to turn around? Gentile is taking the long view here imo.

    The collapse of strategic thought among most military officers is another trend supporting COIN: faddish notions such as "Non-Trinitarian warfare", 4GW and COIN are all essentially based on the same tactics-specific approach, "politics" is seen not as policy shaping strategy, but as meddling from clueless politicians who have "lost their nerve" (Nr 5).

    Finally, SP and FDChief have both mentioned careerism. The war on terror is a growth industry and COIN is the latest branch of that market. The Army combat and combat support branches most favored by COIN are the same ones most important to the new force of contractors vying for government contracts. Thirty thousand additional troops for Afghanistan means 56,000 more contractors . . . according to Walter Pincus's recent article in the WashPost . . .

  12. The "collapse of strategic thought", seydlitz?

    Hey, I loves me some U.S. Army. Cut me and I bleed OD Green...but the one thing I'd never accuse my Army of is deep thinking about strategy.

    This is the outfit that considered Creighton Abrams and Georgie Patton deep thinkers, remember? The one where a WW2 artilleryman was sent to fight a foreign internal defense for half a dozen years?

    I would argue that so far as thinking and producing above the operational level the U.S. Army has thrown out George Marshall...and that's about it.

    So, instead, this is about business as usual for the Army; lots of thinking about tactics and grand tactics, not so much about the operational art and strategy. I think it reflects our technocratic bias - remember that the Corps of Engineers was for a hell of a long time the pinaccle of success for a West Pointer - that our military thinking tends to run along the lines of "neat shit, what can I do with it" rather than "tough situation, how do I bring military force to bear to solve it". Our typical general officer product is Omar Bradley or Matt Ridgeway instead of Heinz Guderian. Good enough, but not spectacular or brilliant.

    What's more, our tradition of civilian superiority over the military has made the notion of soldiers thinking about politics and geopolitical strategy somewhat heretical. So those of our military men that do - going back to guys like Joe Stilwell - are considered mavericks and are treated skeptically.

    If we were a soccer team we'd be Italy, not Brazil - workmanlike, sometimes ugly, winning based on tactics, brutality and workrate instead of inspiration and flair. There's noting WRONG with being Italy, mind's just that nobody mistakes them for Brazil, and we shouldn't get confused about the difference between being "biggest and strongest" and "strategically brilliant".

  13. I would say that the bulk of the banter we toss about here is rooted in a lack of strategic thinking on the part of our policy makers, aided and abetted by military leaders who won't, or can't, step up to the plate and say, "Sir, might I suggest that from a geo-political standpoint......", but rather simply execute the lawful orders that are issues. Thus, when given a warning order to invade Iraq, for example, the energy goes into a war plan rather than what that war can or can't be able to achieve from strategic geo-political standpoint. After all, isn't that what some elected leaders want? Wasn't one of Rumsnamara's legislative objectives the making of all flag officers basically members of the administration?

  14. FDChief-

    The collapse of strategic thought is not limited to the military.

    Under the heading, "The Lost Art of Strategy", Bacevich writes in The Limits of Power, "Finally, there is a fourth lesson, relating to the formulation of strategy. The results of US policy in Iraq and Afghanistan suggest that in the upper echelongs of the government and among the senior ranks of the officer corps, this has become a lost art. Since the end of the Cold War, the tendency among civilians - with President Bush a prime example - has been to confuse strategy with ideology. The president's freedom agenda, which supposedly provided a blueprint for how to prosecute the global war on terror, expressed grandiose aspirations without serious effort to assess the means required to achieve them . . .". I would only add that the neocons were very quick to also confuse "ideology" with "interests".

    I place the beginning of the rot with van Creveld's book, "The Transformation of War" when the notion that politics was exclusive to states and with the state "failing" strategic theory had become a quaint idea of the past, political purpose could be essentially ignorred and tactics divorced from strategy and mated with "vague anthropology" and self-serving buzzwords.

    The Vietnam war revision (Nr 5) requires the disconnection of political purpose from military strategy to be coherent from the tactics-focused perspective of its supporters.

    Also I think you're giving the Army too hard a time, which is common among soldiers and former soldiers. Like Al I started in the USMC and then went to the Army, but unlike him my Army service was not in uniform but as a civilian intel op. Having been in the Marines gave me an aura of credibility that the Army guys and gals all accepted without question, which was nice. They would also constantly rag on the Army, "How can it not be screwed up, this is the ARMY after all!" I worked with very capable Army MI professionals, who were of the same calibre as the USMC officers and NCOs I had known. To this I would add what Gentile says about the debate within the Army as to the way forward during the mid 70s to mid 80s. Check out the titles of Parameters articles during those years . . .

    One example being one of LtCol Staudenmaier's articles from 1978 . . .

  15. Seydlitz,
    Would not the Cuban insurgents of 1898 be an example of success against a colonial power?

  16. Seydlitz: I won't say that there weren't soldiers who were thinking about strategic and geopolitical issues, then and now...but that thinking was confined to the "ivory tower" of the CGSC and the War College. It was never translated into a real understanding of geopolitical realities at the Echelons Above Reality (maybe that's why they're called that!).

    And Al has a good point. As politics repolarized in the Eighties our political class began to forget that the ideological purity and self-deluding hagiography that served them well in their little inter-party squabbles here didn't export well to places where rough men had no respect for pious platitudes.

    But here's where the lack of geopolitical thought ccomes in; there was no one at the Pentagon after Colin Powell with the moral and intellectual throw-weight to tell the pols to STFU (which is why the Bush camorra wanted him neutered to the degree possible). So when some low-level hardhead like LTG van Riper shows up the intellectual vacuity of our "war plans"...we take a mulligan and pretend it didn't happen.

    Bill Lind had a sour little post up just the other day as his last essay in the "Defense and the National Interest" series saying something pretty similar - that we have lost our military intellectual edge and, what's more, are actively denying it. I don't agree with Lind's 4GW obsession, but he has a point. Whether it comes from the civilian pols or the military brass, as a nation we're haven't thought well about geopolitics and military strategy for some time now.

    Since, say, George Marshall's and George Kennan's days...

  17. Jim: I'd argue that for all they lost the war, Aguinaldo and his Philippine buddies were successful, too. The loathesome acts we performed to defeat him and them made it nearly impossible for us to just grab the PI and hold it forever. We had to promise almost immediately to grant it independence, which came within 40 years - a damn short "colonialism". On top of that, we made ourselves so loved that when given the opportunity to keep on making lots of Yankee dollars by hosting our Navy at Subic, those ungrateful little brown brothers told us to take our ships and planes and fuck off.

    So much for that "splendid little war"...

  18. Chief-

    You have hit on a legitimate and salient point. The Bush administration went out of its way to steer clear of any military officers who might had been willing and able to offer geo-political strategic advice, just as Rumsnamara marginalized anyone (e.g. - Shinseki) who tried to present a doctrinally sound plan that conflicted with "Shock & Awe, then Bug Out". Now, GWB and company were selling an ideology and Rumsnamara was selling his new theory of warfighting, and together, with help from a variety of other administration officials with equally inept and myopic goals, aided by a carefully selected supply of sycophantic flag officers we had the perfect toxic mix.

  19. As I think about it, when do our officers really get to grapple with strategy? The bulk of our time, up to and including Corps command, we wrestle with tactical proficiency. Yes, there is time out for CGSC and War College, but CGSC in my day was focused on operational warfare, not strategy. I can't speak for the Army War College, as I attended the Naval War College, where strategic studies were plentiful. But by then, one has 20 years of tactical and operational focus ingrained in one's mind.

    Since we purposefully do not have a professional general staff, how do we imbue a strategic focus in our officer corps, or at least an identified part of it?

    Looking back, I can remember only one occasion where strategic objectives were discussed at the "unit" level in my career. During an after-action review I conducted with the battalion and company commanders, as well as principal staff of the brigade and battalions of our brigade following Desert Storm, one officer wanted to know why we didn't "continue the march to Baghdad". Of course, most in attendance had the same view. I did my best to point out the geo-political and strategic reasons for limiting the mission to "liberating" Kuwait. It was amazing how many in the crowd simply saw military operations as only for the purpose of, well to be simplistic, "conquest". We may have liberated Kuwait, but Saddam had not been "defeated", even though we had imposed our political objectives upon him. They sensed that he "lost", but were concerned that he had not been "defeated" or "conquered". Discussing the greater military and geo-political ramifications of a "march to Baghdad" blew them away.

    I would also suggest that our 4 decades of the Cold War were primarily focused on a defensive scenario that would restore the status quo ante bellum. In short, the geo-political objective was to return the political landscape to exactly what existed before any hostilities broke out. If you are only dealing with returning things to "business as usual", one's intellect gets very little chance to weighing what one must do if one significantly changes the political landscape by one's actions. While war planning for a potential encounter with the USSR was a few echelons above my pay grade during those years, I am rather confident that very little planning for a classical defeat of the Soviet Union, as in what we did with the Axis in WWII, took place. The very fact that we were bewildered when the USSR fell of its own accord gives insight into that.

    Thus, when you take an Army steeped in defensive war planning at an operational level and then put it in the hands of an offensive administration, you get what we got. An inability to provide significant strategic guidance when an offensive is laid on the table. If we really want a professional, all volunteer military, then perhaps we need to rethink our decision to preclude a permanent, professional general staff!

  20. Jim-

    Would the Cubans have been successful without the Americans in 1898? Was trusting the Americans simply trading one overlord for another? Whose government actually formed in Cuba in 1899? Just asking . . .

    FD Chief & Al-

    In terms of history, and the subject of US military officers thinking strategically, do we have anything better than Eisenhower's farewell address?

    In 1966 Ike was asked what other book besides the Bible had had the greatest influence on him.

    "My immediate reaction is that I have had two definately different lives, one military, the other political. From the military side, if I had to select one book I think it would be On War by Clausewitz. On the Civil government side , I think the most significant publication would be The History of the United States by George Bancroft." (Clausewitz in English, pages 160-1)

    But then again, maybe I'm following Gentile too closely here. The period that he mentions, 1970s-80s was also the rebirth of Clausewitz studies which was mostly among academics, not military officers. He makes this period to have been a point in time where there was an actual debate within the Army as to the way forward. Was it such, or was it actually a unique experience tied to the lost war in Vietnam - we see a wide range of articles among German Army officers in response to the defeat in the Great War during the 1920s as well. Was this part of a (pragmatic) cycle, or more a flash in the pan?

    You've got me thinking . . . don't really have an answer at this point.

    Also, really like Al's comment as to the possible need for an actual General Staff . . .

    I think we need Publius or even the author to weigh in at this point . . .

  21. Let's not discount the effect of "victory disease".

    For something like thirty-five years now the U.S. Army had never been "defeated". We've never had to undergo the sort of searching internal analysis that the German Generalstabs did after 1918. We write the tactical doctrine, we fight the war, bingo.

    Look at the other Great Powers who ended a long period of peace having been the victors in the last war before that - I suspect you'd find a similar level of strategic intellectual desuetude.

  22. Al: In re: your comment on offensive war: look at the most lauded offensive operation since 1972 - Schwartzkopf's "left hook" Desert Saber.

    The overall timidity and dilatory pace of that maneuver would have elicited laughs from Guderian's and Rommel's panzertruppe. The "left hook" was so slow and, in fact, hooked right so soon that rather than bagging most of the Iraqis it pushed them back into Iraq. So even though we achieved the political end, we left enough of the Republican Guard alive and uncaptured to keep Saddam around for another ten years.

    Offensive inability, indeed...

  23. I'm in the COINtra camp with Gentile, so I can't disagree too much with his article, it's well-laid out. I like the value-added in this post by relating it to higher politics. We need more of this type of analysis, as noted in the comments.

  24. Seydlitz, although I'm honored that you'd think I might be able to contribute something useful, the truth is you folks are doing a wonderful job. You, in particular, in the comments, are doing splendid work in amplying the original post. Good work, my man.

    I've just been able to pirate somebody else's signal-first time since my original comment-so I'm going to be very brief.

    IMO, what Gentile is doing is attempting to preserve the institution, something that makes him a true conservative. I don't think that's bad in a US Army officer. I wish more thought that way. I admire the man greatly, and I wish he knew about our site here. To that end, I'm going to send him an email next week and suggest that he might like to play here.

    The stakes are really high here. What Gentile says is that a technically and tactically sound Army, one able to discharge its Title 10 responsibilities-defense of the nation, lest we forget-should be able to, shall we say, downscope in order to conduct irregular warfare. I agree. There is no reason that I can think of that a proficient tanker who can fire his gunnery tables can't do irregular warfare. Same with infantrymen. If a infantry guy is trained and capable of withstanding the Warsaw Pact or whatever else comes along, why can't he shift gears and deal with ragtag irregulars? OTOH, if all he knows how to do is deal with the ragtag dudes, how much confidence can we have in his ability to deal with a sophisticated adversary. Recall, our general war doctrine always assumes that our troops will be greatly outnumbered, with their competence in applying the entire C4I suite they've been given making the difference.

    COIN is bullshit. First, we should be doing COIN. We should have learned by now that propping up corrupt foreign governments is not our long suit. It ain't anybody's. If we want something in a thirdworld shithole, it's my sense that we should be honest enough to admit it and then go in a take it. Fucking around with the locals is a losing proposition. I think Gentile agrees.

    Although he can't come out and say it, I suspect Gentile is as disapppointed as I am with the bandwagon mentality of today's military. OH, shit, man, Mr. Politician, you call and we haul. That's just bull shit. The military needs to be honest with politicians about strengths, capabilities, and most importantly, limitations. They are not. Today's generals and admirals are liars and thieves. They are stealing from the taxpayers and they are misleading the decision makers. I have little respect for them. They're like what I used to hear from counterparts in Asia, "Oh, yessir, boss, can do easy."

    And then what seals the deal and fucks all of us is that we have nothing approaching strategically minded or thoughtful politicians at the helm of government. They look to the military for guidance when it should be the other way around. Generals and admirals, being what they are, love to fill the void. And that's what we have today, boys and girls, the tail is wagging the dog big time. And it's all because of fucking stupidity, pride and ego. Politicians won't do the hard work to learn about the world they have to deal with and generals won't admit their limitations.

    I'm sick of what we call leadership in this nation.

  25. Addendum: when I said, "we should be doing COIN," I obviously meant to say, "we should NOT be doing COIN."

  26. Good comments all. This discussion reminds me of one that I think took place back on the old Intel Dump about what role our nation should play in world affairs following the cold war. ISTM we, as a nation, really haven't figured that out yet - and worse, we don't really seem to care. We became a global power thanks to Europe's inability to stop killing each other and expanded that for the Cold War, but now what? Who knows, we're just coasting along after our "victory" over the Soviets.

    I think part of the problem is two fold: First, we lack consensus and a realistic idea of what role we, the people, want the US to be internationally. Secondly, my sense is that strategy is driven by necessity and we’ve been able to ignore it because we still think we’re on our victory lap from the Cold War. With no looming threats and with our Cold War victory, the perception is that strategy isn’t necessary – we’ll just keep doing what we’re doing. In short the status quo is a very powerful force absent some obvious need to course correct.

    There's little serious examination anywhere of such questions because the status quo is so powerful - except for the Neocons who want to double-down and leverage American power to recreate the world in their image. This is something Col. Gentile spoke to directly when he rightly and frequently castigates John Nagl for writing that (emphasis added):

    The soldiers who will win these wars require an ability not just to dominate land operations, but to change entire societies - and not all of those soldiers will wear uniforms, or work for the Department of Army. The most important warriors of the current century may fight for the US Information Agency rather than the Department of Defense.

    The obvious question being, how is it in our interest to “change entire societies?”

    I think sooner or later there’s going to be a huge wake-up-call. Personally I think that call is likely to be domestic - not foreign - and probably in the form of a fiscal crisis since our Congress continues to believe we can borrow from future generations indefinitely.

    As for the military, I think much will depend on how much longer Afghanistan lasts and if we engage in anymore stupid long-term interventions. If the answers are “not long” and “no more” then I think the pendulum will swing back into balance. Military people are, after all, usually focused by necessity on the present. Once these two conflicts are over I would expect more serious introspection about the future than what is occurring presently.

  27. "A close reading of Linn’s work shows that the true American way of war has been one of adaptation and flexibility, and not a rigid ideological attachment....How did this happen? How did we get to a point where the Ameri- can Army has developed a mentality, a worldview, a zeitgeist, of popula- tion-centric counterinsurgency, reflecting the American Army’s new way of war?"

    Gentile asks this question. The answer goes back way before 9/11. In my career, which spans since the early 90's, the Army has always been fixated on formulas (force ratios), rigid briefing outlines (military decision making process) and doctrine. We still practiced all of these things against the "Krasnovian" threat as we trained up to go to Iraq and Afghanistan. But when we arrived in both countries, we tried using these models and failed miserably. There were many who could not let go of these old ways of doing business, because they were functionally fixated on one way of warfare. This is not new. In Iraq commanders screamed for a new cook book to follow, thus, the new FM.

    I am confused as to why Gentile feels that the Army is acting any different today than they acted during the Cold War. The Army, as an institution, needs a doctrine to follow. A cookie cutter method, a how to cook book so that any uneducated, untrained leader can step into a position, pull out a book, and lead his unit. Someone please convince me that it hasn't been that way since WW II.

    This movement towards population centric warfare, IMO, is just that, a another doctrine for the cookie cutter Army leaders to follow. And just like the Air Land Battle, it will be replaced by the next Doctrine of the Decade. It is designed to give the uneducated leaders of the Army something to work with. You can argue, why don't we educate the leaders. Great question for another day, but let's just say that the anti-intellectual trend in America transcends into the Army, for one, and two, you tell me when this education is supposed to happen? In between deployments?

  28. "Its current set of rules are prescribed in FM 3-24. As the rules dic- tate, an Army unit must learn and adapt to improved population-centric tac- tics and operations; the unit cannot learn and adapt other methods in place of population-centric counterinsurgency."

    With my above statement, what I have always found great about the American Army, as I think most of you will agree with, is that the Army tends to be very flexible. And the reason for this is NOT because of a loose, flexible doctrine. Anyone remember the old Russian saying, "The problem with fighting the American Army is that they don't follow their own doctrine."

    I am sure Gentile knows this, at the higher levels (the perch from which he now observes), sure, doctrine, the FM's, they mean something. The PowerPoint slides quote passages as if it is the bible. But at the user level, in the firebases, in the "trenches" where artillery units are doing Vietnam style Arty raids, I promise you that 9 of 10 soldiers haven't read the doctrine, to include many of the junior leadership. And those that have, just like in the old days when I used curse MDMP and doctrine out of youthful rebellion and the "those guys just don't get it" attitude that every young soldier has, those end users understand that the book is a guideline, and not a bible. It is intended to suggest tactics, techniques and procedures, but like all doctrine, it must be applied to the terrain and adjusted accordingly.

    Perhaps I am not getting it. Perhaps Gentile's concern is that this population centric doctrine is infecting the upper leadership who are making decisions to that will affect the force composition for decades to come, and perhaps his argument is that this is bad. Perhaps. It sounds like great academic debate for the War College. But at the end user level, doctrine is doctrine. And the American solider will continue to use it as the situation dictates, whether that dictates pulling nifty quotes for powerpoint briefs, a guide for developing TTPs or as a last resort to wiping his ass.

  29. FD:

    Frank's VII Corps was very slow in making that sweep, despite much prodding. So, what did they do after the war? Gave him a fourth star and made him commander of TRADOC.

  30. To all,
    After reading all the comments it stands out that the pwot is described and labelled as warfare and this misses the point entirely.
    COIN is not warfare,it's an entity somewhere down there with what we used to call LIC.
    All of us use terms loosely-coin is not warfare. Terrorism is not necessarily evil since our govt uses it rather nicely. UW /GW is not Civil War and all the permutations of these words have been and are used interchangeably. Even the FM's do this b/c the authors have no depth of understanding and are to lazy to define terms. And we let them get away with this and pin stars on them.
    Have we forgotten the old lesson that State Dept should be lead agency in FID/IDAD/Nation Bldg? And retired Generals aren't exactly what I have in mind when i say State Dept.
    This is my 3rd cmt and 1 got lost and i get frustrated ,hope i'm not OT.
    Merry Christmas to all ,

  31. You're not off-topic, Jim, but you do get to the heart of one of the problems about the way we do war in the West.

    We've tried with some success to try and seperate "war" from "peace". A rebellion, though, is a sort of both, and we have a hard time with that. Part of the demilitarization of OUR society means that when we do a FID/UW our conventional maneuver unit commanders don't "get" the degree of integration they need with the CIA/State/host nation, etc.

    One thing that bugs me about this the degree to which I have a sneaking suspicion that this is the conventional GOs looking for missions and contractors and lobbyists looking for $$$$$.

    In a smart world we would have an entire branch dedicated to foreign military assistance. It would include what we now call "Special Forces" in the Army (SOF could keep Delta, the Ranger battalions, the SF aviation and all the Marine, AF and USN ash-and-trash SF types) and a fairly strong, area-task-organized advisory contingent which would also include the Psyops and dedicated MI types.

    This would mean a LOT less money for the big-ticket uniformed project managers, a lot fewer GO slots, and a lot shorter trough for the porcine remoras of the MICC. Hence, I think, the desperate attempt to remake much of the conventional army, AF and even the Navy/USMC to fit inside this COIN box.

    Let's face it: we're a Great Power. One thing Great Powers do is help ensure that people they like rule places they don't. There's nothing inherently unconstitutional or militarily wrong about tweaking the politics of foreign places to get results we like. We may not like it - it IS pretty unsavory - but it does sort of come with the territory of being a globe-spanning economic entity.

    The PROBLEM is when we do this stupidly, as we have often done in the past.

    Placing unpopular despots on the thrones of these places, or helping maintain them there, or confusing real local grievances with "communist insurrection" or "Islamic jihad"?

    That's stupid.

    Blundering around those foreign parts with heavy-footed conventional maneuver units filled with Joe Sixpack in Oakleys and pixillated camo, whose entire knowledge of the locals is whatever the native phrases for "Show me your tits!" and "Where are the foreign fighters?" are.

    That's pretty stupid, too.

    (Great story - supposedly some GI came up to Abdul the Iraqi farmer and asked him if he'd seen any foreign fighters lately. Abdul looks GI Joe up and down and says "Yeah. You, dipstick." or the equivalent in Arabic.)

    And especially getting involved in these things for domestic political reasons, blundering ahead based on faith and ideology rather than a cold assessment of potential gains versus potential costs, and becoming mired in silly fallacies like "sunk costs" or making these decisions based on the good of the military.

    Bottom line - we do need to think hard whether we're going to do more than slink around the edges of these nasty little overseas fights. If we are, we need some more tools in the box than the feather of diplomacy and espionage and the hammer of tanks, troops and aircraft.

    But IMO we'd need to be a more mature polity to do that. I just don't see us being grown-up enough to have that political discussion, and our political system effectively prevents the military from doing so.

  32. Chief: In a smart world we would have an entire branch dedicated to foreign military assistance.

    If Afghanistan and Iraq were military assistance missions, your statement would have relevance to the two quagmires in which we are wallowing. What we are dealing with in both cases is the aftermath of an invasion. We can nuance it as much as we want, but the underlying fact is that we invaded both countries, toppled their governments, destroyed all sorts of infrastructure and are now dealing with the consequences of same.

    In the chaotic aftermath of ill-advised and ill-conducted adventures, is it surprising that equally ill-conceived and inappropriate avenues are traveled, to include all the COIN crap? The military is just contorting its thinking to adapt to the distortions their civilian leaders have created.

    For me, it's difficult to apply rational approaches to irrational situations. From a simplistic standpoint, one could say the best approach would be to declare an Emily LaTella "Never Mind!", and simply move on to other things. However, we have created a mess, and there is the moral question of our responsibility for cleaning up that mess (if we even can). So if we can't say "Never Mind!", are we stuck with Powell's "We break it, we own it"? I'm not quite sure there is a middle ground between the two, and that is why I think WASF. I'm not sure we are capable of "Owning It", I'm not sure there is sufficient indigenous support for us "Owning It" and I'm not sure we can walk away from it. Thus, we try to lower the visible costs to COIN.

  33. Not much I can add to what Al posted, which is a good conclusion to my post. The only thing in that regard that I would add is that COIN is essentially a "strategy" of attrition, one that one adopts when they are assured that they can outlast the enemy. Is it the assumption that we can outlast the Taliban in Afghanistan?

    I do think that Publius provided a good answer to bg's question as to what concerns Gentile. It has to do with the institution of the Army itself and the direction it is going, which the author of the article we've been discussing sees as a deadend or worst scenario the road to catastrophe.

    Jim reminds us that COIN is an approach only, a method, but as Gentile warns us it has also quickly become (due to political support) "transcendent", "the defining characteristic of the Army's new way of war" (Nrs 1 & 7).

    Earlier on this thread the question was brought up by both Al and FD Chief as to Nrs 2 & 8. This concerned "pragmatism" and earlier attempts by Army officers to think strategically and participate in an internal debate which influenced the direction the Army was going as an institution. Gentile brings up the period after Vietnam, but the question came up as to whether this had happened before. If it was just a flash in the pan, than the "pragmatic way of war" argument would be weakened. So was there an earlier period?

    I think you can argue that something like this occurred during the 1920s. The Army had come out of the First World War with some serious cuts and bruises. While noone doubted - least of all the Germans - the bravery of American troops, how they were handled by staff officers, how they were moved in large formations, logistics, and a whole range of related issues had been much less successful. In fact among the Allies it was assumed that the US Army was not capable of handling its own formations. This lead to a certain among of self awareness by mid-rank and junior Army officers at the time, and a willingness to look at how other Armies did things. It is interesting to note that the military that had the closest exchange of information and officers with the Reichswehr (Weimar Germany's Army) was - after the Soviet Red Army - the US Army. German officers lectured at US military schools (von Schell's book, "Combat Leadership" dates from this time) and the US military attache was the only foreign official allowed to view the entire Reichswehr manuver of 1926. The contacts between the Army Air Corps and the Reichswehr were also close.

    So, that's it for me probably today. I wish everyone reading our blog the best Christmas possible and hope that you enjoy the time with loved ones and family. Now, I've got a turkey to roast . . .

  34. Seyddlitz; the USN became apprentice of the Royal Navy and the U.S.Army became apprentice of the French army in WWI.
    The U.S:Army adopted a translation of a French army manual even as late as the early 30's.

    That's where the "bombard & occupy" mind set comes from.

  35. To all,
    The main focus of all our discussions boils down to 1 point. Can we win real wars. Screw AFGH and IRQ, they are dead horses or are ready for the vet to put them down. Neither will win any races.
    So what does the futre hold-neither Coin or any of it's theories means a bean if there is a real war to be fought.
    My belief is that we'll lose the next war b/c of our present Coin bullshit.
    Wars are uneconomically and militarily sustainable in todays reality. Remember Kursk and Stalingrad. The sad truth is that we just don't got the military that we say we do. What 20 nor less divisions with no manuever training areas in wk
    hich to train up. Forget industrial capabilities, so who are we bullshitting?
    If we can't secure a shit hole like AFGh then we aren't gonna secure America w/o popping nucs. Hell Saddam could've cleaned our clocks in Desert Storm IF he used Chem/Bilogical which he did have at that time.
    Can we fight say-India,or Pakistan, or even Latvia?
    All of this Coin and general military discussions in our professional journals are nothing but professional soldirers playing mind games and jacking us off.
    Merry christmas.

  36. "If we can't secure a shit hole like AFGh then we aren't gonna secure America w/o popping nucs. "

    The comparison isn't even in the same universe.

  37. Jim,

    "My belief is that we'll lose the next war b/c of our present Coin bullshit."

    This is a bold statement. Please elaborate by describing what this next war will look like so we can further discuss your theory and discuss whether or not COIN influenced changes in the armed forces (if we can even define those) will lead us to destruction. Keep in mind, 90% of this COIN discussion focuses solely on the Army, we never really even talk about USN or AF which tend to shape most battlefields for the Army and USMC to fix and finish. If we are going to talk about losing a future war, we should involve the other services to seeing how everything the military does today is Joint.

  38. Ranger's most recent comment struck a chord with me and I'd love to share some inane thoughts about COIN, the military, and American life in general, perhaps even in a new post. However, inasmuch as it's Christmas Eve and I'm getting ready to go out to dinner, it will have to wait.

    In the meantime, I hope everybody has a great Christmas, wherever you may and whomever you may be with. My best to you all.

  39. My blog is full with "let's think about future conventional warfare because we aren't really ready" stuff. The situation of today is comparable to the situation of pre-1914. Decades of peaceful alliance stand-off, small wars with misleading conclusions, lots of technical progress and little tactical/operational progress.

    It's all really well-known to the military historian.

    The industrial background is nevaporating - and already has done so in regard to shipbuilding. The USN's claim to naval dominance rests on its old invbentory - even Poland is a greater shipbuilding nation with only two harbours! A single dreadnought revolution would make the PRC the leading naval power in a decade, and maybe they are simply waiting patiently for that revolution.

    The situation isn't much better in regard to other classic heavy industries. Chemical and electrical industries aren't impressive any more.

    We have a great alliance and should understand that as a great gift of history. We should understand that alliance as something defensive and not get entangled at the end of the world - in a country that borders both to CIS and plus two trouble hot spots.

    We should scale down our military forces and set them straight, orient them towards alliance defence, let them experiment for progress of their art of war and organisation. We should repair our economies, budgets/debt sheets and societies' other domestic problems.

    We're instead wasting resources, attention and time by overextending ourselves into completely unimportant overseas adventures of our politicians.

  40. BG,
    I'm with Publius- this should evolve into another thread,but i'll answer your question.
    Coin is not about the Army or even the USMC , but rather about the nation and our values .This should be reality based. I'll write nothing on COIN here b/c i've kicked that horse too many times on RAW. As my Dad used to say- i won't chew my cabbage twice.
    COIN has us believing falsely that we can kick ass anywhere w/o repercussions. WE do so with small chicken shit countries and we can't even solve these equations.Syria,Somalia,Haiti,etc..
    Coin and nation building may even be two distinct separate topics.
    But back to losing the next war. This is already a done deal if one bothers to pull their heads outta their asses and just look around.China is not` a threat b/c they own our asses. Russia is not expansionistic and only want a traditional buffer zone for security. Iran deserves the same. So what's the threat? Actually it doesn't matter since all threats should be dealt with in like manner , but we lack military depth without our nuclear shield. We are a paper tiger and cannot fight an extended conventional war.We have not the industrial capability nor the manuever training area recd to do so. OK so we have a Navy and a large AF that can destroy the world with nucs. The fact is that such wars are unwinnable and just about all civilized nations know this, but the US will not acknowledge this truth.
    We are so used to fighting wars thhat we can afford to lose that we will lose a real war b/c we have gotten into the habit of fighting for meaningless objectives. When the real thing comes along it'll be another example of folly.
    I say again Saddam could've cleaned our clocks in Gulf War 1 IF he had utilised his full wmd arsenal. The only reason that he didn't was that he was a nice guy.

  41. Barry,
    I believe my comparison is appropriate.
    MY Army is not a police force and is being used as such. And it can't do the job.
    How in the hell would we fight Poland or Germany in todays world w/o using tac nucs?
    We simply don't have the combat power or the ability to project it on a large conventional scale.
    The only thing that protects us are our nuc threat. No nation fears us otherwise. We can't even bullshit Iran or North Korea.

  42. I'm with Ranger, who's expressed some profound thoughts.

    Definitely time for a new thread, focusing on certain paper tigers seen lurking around various third world locales.

  43. I see profound thoughts in Jim's ranting, but nothing that is constructive or helpful. C'mon, is anyone suggesting that we had the military/industrial power to fight Germany when they invaded Poland? Should we really be at in "game shape" 365 days a year for a threat that no one on this thread, or anyone else, can clearly define?

    And I just don't get the COIN centric discussion, COIN is one aspect of Irregular warfare, it is one aspect of population centric strategies and tactics. It is just that the tactic de jour. Of course COIN and nation building are two different things. One sets the conditions for the other in a crazy chicken or the egg argument, they happen concurrently and impact each other, but are two separate things.

    Publius, I got something drafted that we can use to generate a new thread. If you can contact me, I can send it to you to publish.

  44. Bg, you know I like your style. You're one of the thinkers currently serving in that organization that also still pays me and I suspect I'd enjoy serving with you. However, you must have divined by now that I've been away from the party line for a number of years and that I'm often going to seriously disagree with you. I question many things nowadays, my friend, and I think our nation and our Army are on the wrong track. And thinking of my friend the Ranger, whose opinion I value greatly, it's also my impression that there isn't a whole lot of profound thinking going on in your organizaton these days.

    Now that I've forewarned you, I'll also say I'm willing to play with you. I'll be on the road until late Monday. Expect to hear from me Tuesday or Wednesday.

  45. Publius, no prob, I look forward to hearing our perspective on this one. I am not even 100% sure on what topics we disagree so much that a disclaimer is needed, but I look forward to the discussion.

    I really am looking forward to hearing some alternatives to the current direction of the Army. I feel that the current population centric approach is a reaction to the feeling that we really don't know what to expect, so let's plan for what we are doing now, and what we think will happen next. Perhaps if someone could help to better define the future threat, we could shape doctrine and force structure to that threat. I am obviously biased and perhaps blinded by my own experiences over the past 8 years and living in the tactical world, so I turn to you guys for your experience, common sense checks and differing ideas.

  46. bg,
    When Petraeus or McC shout their shit it's called doctrine and when i do so you call it ranting.
    Maybe so but that doesn't invalidate what i have to say.
    Lock step March.

  47. sorry Jim, poor choice of words. Ranting was a poor choice of words, I do respect your posts, I just don't understand them.

    Are we arguing whether or not the US Armed Forces should be fighting these types of wars, or whether or not we should not be preparing for them? You said we can't win a "real" war. What is a real war? Are you saying that we've already lost, so none of this matters? In your posts, I see what appear to be purposeful contradictions. i.e.

    "Can we win real wars" To which I asked, what is the threat? You responded:

    "China is not` a threat b/c they own our asses. Russia is not expansionistic and only want a traditional buffer zone for security. Iran deserves the same. So what's the threat?

    Exactly, I don't understand the threat. You state that we can't win a "real" war, a good old fashioned, sustained, state industrial war, but I just don't see any of those anywhere down the road, do you?

    "Actually it doesn't matter since all threats should be dealt with in like manner"

    I disagree, every threat has to be dealt with in a different and unique manner. There is no cookie cutter solution to dealing with threats. In the state industrial warfare model, it was simple, you crush your opponent's military, thus winning the trial of strength and you crush your opponent's will to fight. Life just isn't that simple anymore (if it ever was).

    Although neither the nature of warfare nor the causes of warfare never changes, how we conduct war fighting does evolve. Am I wrong in believing that?

  48. jim-

    You're avoiding the main question in all of this . . . what is the cause? You're only talking about effects. The cause of this military policy? These wars? The leadership behind them?

    Our political system of evasion and denial . . . ?


    "a threat that no one on this thread, or anyone else, can clearly define?"

    Oh, I dunno, I think I can define it . . . from a strategic theory perspective . . . which is only defining and formulating basic questions from a specific perspective, the accepted perspective. Sometimes very difficult questions . . .

    Merry Christmas all (still Christmas for me;-)> . . .

  49. " I think I can define it . . . from a strategic theory perspective . . . which is only defining and formulating basic questions from a specific perspective, the accepted perspective. "

    seydlitz, I guess I need some classes in strategery then because I can't define any near term threats that would lead to the US losing a "real" conventional war. Plenty of economic threats, not any military.

  50. bg-

    Maybe I misunderstood your comment. I thought you were referring to the current threat, what I would label "Al Qaida".

    As to future threats, I agree with you.

    Although jim's comments could be seen as a hypothetical result of our current policies - effects once again - I don't think the probability of a future lost conventional war to be very high. Military power is the arbiter of last resort, but given the common interests among the various powers, not very likely . . .

    Perhaps contrary to you, I do see the future (and current) threats as more internal in nature.

    Just wanting to add my own view to what Publius said and thank you for commenting here on the blog. You provide a very thoughtful and balanced perspective of a serving officer - something we all appreciate.

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