Navy Capt. Henry Hendrix has just written one of the best papers I've seen in the last several years by an active duty officer. In it, he challenges some of the central beliefs of his service. "After 100 years, the [aircraft] carrier is rapidly approaching the end of its useful life," he asserts.
Hendrix, the current director of naval history, says the current aircraft carrier is too expensive, inefficient, and of doubtful survivability. It is now in danger of becoming, like the battleship during the mid-20th century, "surprisingly irrelevant to the conflicts of the time."
"If the fleet were designed today," he observes, "it likely would look very different from the way it actually looks now -- and from what the United States is planning to buy."
He would like to see unmanned combat aerial vehicles, more than mere drones, capable of flying off both big carriers and the smaller "amphibious" carriers.
What would the equivalent of this paper be in the Army? Has it been written? Any smart colonels out there challenging sacred cows?
Crist: I agree on the notion of the tendency of the U.S. military. In Vietnam, they used to call it the "Little Brown Man Syndrome," which is: The Americans come in and show you how to really fight your war. But I think with Afghanistan the fundamental problem is a lack of a long-term strategy. What do we want Afghanistan to do? And I see we sort of evolved into it without a lot of thinking.
The initial force went in; we got enamored with the idea of SOF [special operations forces], light footprint, using the Northern Alliance -- in fact we probably should have had more conventional forces. We missed a lot of opportunities as these guys skirted across Pakistan, and we, frankly, allowed them to do it because the Afghans wouldn't go after them. If they wanted to sit up in the hills, the Northern Alliance was more than happy to let them sit in the mountains, and we didn't have that capability.
Then the problem is, as we slowly evolve with, frankly, not a lot of thought -- if you look at the force incrementally increasing, it's not a well-articulated strategy. Then it comes to the point where, well, we have the force, we need to start doing this ourselves, and we sort of fall back on our natural patterns and tendencies and things that are comfortable with an effective military that likes to solve problems. So I lay it on the long-term strategy that went in in 2001.
Jabouri: Let me say something from my experience: I think American forces focus just on the enemy, on al Qaeda, and they forget about the people.
I think if you want to win the war against al Qaeda, you should protect the people first. The American forces always, in the beginning, in Iraq, they put their eyes on al Qaeda, and they don't care about the people. I think the security forces can't create the security without the long-term forces. If you now go to Kurdistan in Iraq, if you see the images, Kurdistan has very good security, but they do not have many checkpoints or forces. The people have, and the government has the security forces to keep the security. They are the people in other parts of Iraq, the people not interested in the security forces of Iraq because they do not have to create the security.
Ricks: This seems to go to Phil Mudd's question of space versus targeting, but it seems to me also to Colonel Alford's comments because one of the answers to reconciling space and targeting is to have local forces occupy the space, not American forces that alienate locals.
Dubik: But a strategy, correctly or not, a strategy that emphasizes local forces, building local conditions, is de facto a long-term strategy. It gets right back to the question of -- we backed into both these wars.
Ricks: Not unlike in Vietnam, where we put in ground troops originally to protect the air bases.
Dubik: And it sucked us in. We just backed ourselves into the problem we faced, and had we thought that the solution was going to be a 10- or 15-year solution, we certainly would not have committed. We would have changed many of the decisions that we made, but we didn't adopt the indigenous force because we thought we could solve it and leave.
Fastabend: I think the reason we do that consistently is, as I hinted at in my question (I really liked your question; I'll explain to you why), is because we think strategy and we keep strategy, and our theory of strategy is the linkage of ends, ways, and means, which is how I got here, which is how I'll do my job tomorrow.
It is pablum; it is a way to avoid making a real choice, so no one in or out of the government ever said to themselves, "Let's decide what we're going to do. Are we going to target individuals regardless of space, or are we going to go in there and have space?" No, what we said is, "We need a stable government in Iraq, so therefore, you need a stable government in Iraq." Deductive logic tells you that you need to control everywhere in Iraq. And then you have to worry about the security forces; you've got to make sure they've got border patrols. And we never went back to the fundamental choice about what do we really need to do. We hide choices. We never talk about choices because choices are hard and choices mean making a decision. Choices mean taking responsibility for who makes the choice and which choice they take -- and that, in my view, is the biggest flaw we have institutionally in this country, is we've got very shallow theory and doctrine about what strategy really is.
Ricks: This is a great comment.
(Much more to come)
Remember how last month I was thinking aloud about how I should write an essay on future force structure with the title "More Salvadors, Fewer Vietnams"? Well, it turns out it already has been written, by Army Maj. Fernando Lujan. It was published last week.
Maj. Lujan, a career Special Forces officer who extensively studied the operations of American forces in Afghanistan, and also spent a lot of time hacking his way through the jungles of South America, called it "Light Footprints: The Future of American Military Intervention." And it is a fine article about military human capital. The essay, he said at a seminar I attended last week, "is about how to do more with less." Not only is the light footprint, indirect approach more effective than sending in brigades of conventional ground forces, it also is cheaper, he argues.
There are several characteristics of successful missions, he explains:
Special operations, he reminded us at the seminar, is "not just drone strikes and ninjas." Word up.
Ricks: What I hear from around this table is a remarkable, surprising consensus to me. I'm not hearing any tactical problems, any issues about training, about the quality of our forces.
Instead, again and again what I'm hearing is problems at the strategic level, especially problems of the strategic process. To sum up the questions, they are asking: Do our military and civilian leaders know what they are doing? And that goes to the process issues and to general strategic thinking. That's one bundle of questions. The second emphasis I'm hearing, and this also kind of surprised me, is, should we have, from the get-go, focused on indigenous forces rather than injecting large conventional forces? That is, in Iraq and Afghanistan, have we tried to do El Salvador, but wound up instead doing Vietnam in both, to a degree?
Mudd: Just one quick comment on that as a non-military person: It seems to me there's an interesting contrast here between target and space. That is: Do we hold space and do we help other people help us hold space, or do we simply focus on a target that's not very space-specific? And I think at some point fairly early on we transitioned there [from target to space], which is why I asked my initial question. A lot of the comments I hear are about the problem of holding space, and should we have had someone else do it for us? And I wonder why we ever got into that game.
Ricks: Into which game?
Mudd: Into the game of holding space as opposed to eliminating a target that doesn't really itself hold space.
Alford: It's our natural tendency as an army to do that. To answer another question, it's also our natural tendency as an army to build an army that looks like us, which is the exact opposite of what we should do. They're not used to our culture. One quick example, if I could: the Afghan border police. The border police, we tried to turn them into, essentially, like our border police and customs agents. Right across the border, the Pakistani Army uses frontier guardsmen. Why do they do that? They use their culture -- a man with a gun that fights in the mountains is a warrior. He's respected by his people. He's manly. All those things matter, and it draws men to that organization. We always talk about how our borders on [the Afghan] side are so porous; it's because we don't have a manly force that wants to go up into the mountains and kill bad guys, because we didn't use their culture.
Ricks: So we're already breaking new ground here. We're holding up the Pakistanis as a model!
Alford: On that piece. It's a cultural thing.
Dubik: I agree with the second comment. On the first point, in terms of why we held space, I think it's how we defined the problem. We defined the problem not as al Qaeda -- it was "al Qaeda and those who give them sanctuary." And so we couldn't conceive of a way to get at al Qaeda without taking the Taliban down, and because of the problem definition, we inherited a country.
Ricks: So what you're saying is actually that these two problems I laid out come together in the initial strategic decision framing of the problem.
Fastabend: I don't think there was such framing.
Ricks: The initial lack of framing...
Fastabend: Getting back to Ms. Cash, we didn't really decide what the questions were. We thought we knew the question. You know, we thought we had in each case [of Afghanistan and Iraq] governments to support that would hold space, and that was a secondary thing that came on us when we got there: that actually the sovereign government wasn't so sovereign.
Ricks: I just want to throw in the question that [British] Lt. Gen. Sir Graeme Lamb sent. He couldn't be here today. General Lamb said, "My question is, given the direction I had -‘remove the Taliban, mortally wound al Qaeda, and bring its leadership to account' -- who came up with the neat idea of rebuilding Afghanistan?"
Mudd: It's interesting. If you define threat as capability and intent to strike us, then I think there's confusion early on with the Taliban, because I would say they had neither the capability nor intent to strike us, but they provide safe haven. If you look at areas where we have entities that have those twin capabilities or those twin strengths -- Yemen and Somalia come to mind, maybe northern Mali -- we're able to eliminate threat without dealing with geography. So there are examples where you can say, "Well, we faced a fundamental -- I mean, not as big a problem as Afghanistan." But you look at how threat has changed in just the past two years, and I don't think anyone would say that the threat, in terms of capability and intent, of Shabab or al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is anywhere near where it was a few years ago. That's because we focused on target, not geography.
Glasser: Just to go back to this question, was the original sin, if you will, focusing on U.S. and NATO presence in Afghanistan, versus working from the beginning to create or shore up local forces? I want to probe into that a little bit. How much did people at the time understand that as a challenge? I remember being in Kabul for the graduation of the first U.S.-trained contingent of Afghan army forces, and they were Afghan army forces. These guys worked for warlords that had come together, Northern Alliance warlords who made up the fabric of the Defense Ministry. They had nothing to do with an Afghan force, and that's why we're still training them now.
Ricks: But Colonel Alford's point is that, those are the guys you want to work with, though. But don't work with them on your terms; work with them on their terms.
Glasser: But that's what we did. That's what we do. We worked with the warlords in Afghanistan. That's who our partners were in toppling the Taliban.
Alford: But we never turned it over to them, though. In '04, I was [in Afghanistan] as a battalion commander. We never would let them fight unless we always led the way. It's part of our culture, too, as soldiers and Marines. You send an infantry battalion into a fight, they're going to fight. It takes a lot to step back and let the Afghans do it, and do it their way. Provide them the medevacs and fire support -- that's the advisory role for those missions we're going to switch to this spring, and I'm all for it. We should have done this four years ago, but now we also need to see if this is going to work over the next almost two years. We need to be ruthless with young lieutenant colonels and colonels who want to get out there and fight, or generals who do, to support the Afghans and then see how they do against the Taliban. I'll tell you how they're gonna do: They're gonna whoop 'em. The Taliban does not have the capability to beat the Afghan army if we get out of their way.
Here is the first part of a transcript of a conversation held at the Washington offices of Foreign Policy magazine in January of this year. A shorter version, with full IDs of the participants, appears in the current issue of the magazine. This is the full deal, edited just slightly for clarity and ease of reading, mainly by deleting repetitions and a couple of digressions into jokes about the F-35 and such.
I had asked each participant to bring one big question about the conduct of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I began. We began with those.
Thomas E. Ricks: One of my favorite singers is Rosanne Cash, a country singer who is Johnny Cash's daughter, who has a great line in one of her songs: "I‘m not looking for the answers-- just to know the questions is good enough for me." And I think that is the beginning of strategic wisdom: Rather than start with trying to figure out the answers, start with a few good questions.
So what I'd like to start by doing is just go around the table with a brief statement -- "I'm so-and-so, and here's my question." So, to give you the example: I'm Tom Ricks, and my question is, "Are we letting the military get away with the belief that it basically did the best it could over the last 10 years in Iraq and Afghanistan, but that civilians in the government screwed things up?"
Philip Mudd: I guess my question is: "Why do we keep talking about Afghanistan when we went in 12 years ago, we talked about a target, al Qaeda. How did that conversation separate?"
Maj. Gen. David Fastabend (U.S. Army, ret.): My name is David Fastabend, and my question is: "Do what we think, our theory and doctrine, about strategy -- is that right? Could we not do a lot better?"
Rajiv Chandrasekaran: Rajiv Chandrasekaran, got a lot of questions. I suppose one among them would be, "How did the execution of our civilian-military policies so badly divert on the ground at a time, at least over the past couple of years, when there was supposed to be a greater commonality of interests in Washington?"
Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik (U.S. Army, ret.): I'm Jim Dubik, and my question's related to Rajiv's and Tom's: "How do we conduct a civil-military discourse in a way that increases the probability of more effective strategic integration in decisions?"
Shawn Brimley: Shawn Brimley. I have a lot of questions, but one that keeps coming to mind, being halfway through Fred Kaplan's book, is: "How did we, collectively, screw up rotation policy so badly that we never provided our military leaders the chance to fully understand the reality on the ground before they had to rapidly transition to a new colonel, a new brigadier, a new four-star?"
Maj. Gen. Najim Abed al-Jabouri (Iraqi Air Force, ret.): My name is al-Jabouri. As an Iraqi, I have a different view of 2003. I was a general in the Iraqi Air Force, so I wanted to shoot down your airplanes. After 2003, I was a police chief and a mayor, so I wanted your help to build my country. In the last 10 years I have learned that America has a great military power. It can target and destroy almost anything.
However, I have also learned that it is very difficult for America to clean up a mess it makes. Leaving a mess in someone else's country can cause more problems than you had at the beginning. Military operations in Muslim countries are like working with glass. If you do it right, it can be beautiful and great, but if you break it, it is difficult to repair or replace. My question is: "Do American strategy planners understand the consequences of breaking the glass, and if so, do they know what it will take to repair or replace the broken glass?" Thank you.
Col. J.D. Alford, USMC: My name is Dale Alford. I too have many questions, I guess, but I'm going to stay a little bit in my lane and I'm going to talk about the military. My question would be: "Can a foreign army, particularly with a vastly different culture, be a successful counterinsurgent? And if not, why haven't we switched and put more focus on the Afghan security forces?"
David Crist: My name is David Crist, and a bunch of people had very similar lines of thought to what I was going to use, so I'll take a common complaint that James Mattis says all the time and frame that into a question: "Do our commanders have time to think? Think about the issues and the information -- in some ways they have to be their own action officer. Do they have time to sit back and think about the issues with the op tempo going on and just the information flow?"
Michèle Flournoy: I have two, and I can't decide which one.
Ricks: You get both.
Flournoy: I get a twofer? So the very broad, strategic question is: "How do we ensure that we have a political strategy that takes advantage of the security and space that a military effort in counterinsurgency can create? How do we ensure that the focus remains primarily there while we resource that aspect?" Kind of a Clausewitzian question.
Second is a much more narrow question, and we have the right people in the room to reflect on this, which is: "What have we learned about how to build indigenous security forces in a way that's effective and sustainable?" I mean, this is a classic case where we reinvent the wheel, we pretend like we've never done it before, we pretend like there aren't lessons learned and good ways -- and less effective ways -- to do this. So: "Can we capture what we know about how to build indigenous security forces?"
Susan B. Glasser: I have a question of my own that's particularly for the people with a military background in this room, which is: "In September 2001, if you had told us that in 2013 we are going to be in Afghanistan with 65,000 American troops and debating what we accomplished there and how quickly we can get out, how many more years and how many billions of dollars we'd have to pay to sustain this operation, my strong sense is that there would have been an overwhelming view in the U.S. military -- and among the U.S. people more broadly -- that that was an unacceptable outcome. So, if we can all agree that 13 years was not what we wanted when we went into Afghanistan, what did we miss along the way?"
(more to come...)
By "Pierre Tea"
Best Defense guest columnist
Two months from now, in May 2013, the debate on COIN, as applied to Iraq and Afghanistan, will become academic, historical, and ripe for serious post-application analysis beyond the walls of the Pentagon.
The COINs will have all been spent, the PRTs' tents folded, and whatever hearts and minds purchased, leased, or lost can be counted, weighed against our costs, and their results. To quote Omar Khayyam, "The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on."
No credible analysis could avoid the obvious: that "something" had to be done about Saddam Hussein who ruthlessly threatened his neighbors (our allies) and his own populations, and about Osama bin Laden and his list of supporters, who directly attacked the United States. How did the "something" done work out?
As a first-hand civilian witness to the application and aftermath of "money as a weapon" surged by the billions into active and highly-fragmented war zones, I look forward to post-application debates on the key questions of COIN and PRTs: Did they help, hurt, or just fuel the multi-year conflicts to which they were continuously re-applied?
The U.S. dream of a peaceful and democratic Iraq and Afghanistan, however, has not been realized, and instability in adjacent Syria and Pakistan threatens to unravel anything enduring that we may have, through COIN, hoped to purchase from these two countries without any agreement with the Old Man in the Mountain (Iran), whose negative influence remains substantial, and undermines an accurate audit of what actual hearts and minds were purchased, for how long, and to what end.
My suspicion is that once all the COINs are spent, serious post-engagement analysis will end and the domestic shroud of myths needed to justify the honored dead and injured's contributions will drop in place, with little institutional learning, and even less than myths to show for it.
Leave it to Hollywood to mythologize the region, its history, and the heroism of individuals and incremental missions accomplished and we guarantee that history will repeat itself.
"Pierre Tea" probably has shaken more Afghan sand out of his shorts than you've walked on. This post doesn't necessarily reflect the official views of anyone but it sure does reflect the unofficial views of some.
Here it is. Time to get going!:
Acemoglu, Daron, and James A. Robinson. Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty. New York: Crown, 2012. 529pp. (HB74 .P65A28 2012)
Acemoglu and Robinson, scholars from MIT and Harvard University, strive to solve the reason why some nations thrive and others fail. Supported by years of original research, the authors draw from historical examples spanning the globe to support their theory of political economy as the foundation of a nation's success.
Allison, William Thomas. My Lai: An American Atrocity in the Vietnam War. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012. 170pp. (DS557.8 M9A44 2012)
"On March 16, 1968, American soldiers killed as many as five hundred Vietnamese men, women, and children in a village near the South China Sea. In My Lai, William Thomas Allison explores and evaluates the significance of this horrific event. How could such a thing have happened? Who (or what) should be held accountable? How do we remember this atrocity and try to apply its lessons, if any?" -- Publisher description.
Bacevich, Andrew J. Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2010. 286pp. (UA23 .B334 2010)
Bacevich examines the Washington consensus on national security and why long held assumptions must change.
Barfield, Thomas J. Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010. 389pp. (DS357.5 .B37 2010)
Leading anthropologist Thomas Barfield traces the historic struggles of the region, weaving the complex threads of culture, politics, economics, and geography.
Bergen, Peter L. The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict between America and al-Qaeda. New York: Free Press, 2011. 473pp. (HV6432 .B47 2011)
CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen offers a comprehensive history of the war with al Qaeda; from the strategies devised in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, to the fighting in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and beyond. The Longest War provides the perspectives of both the United States and al Qaeda and its allies.
Betros, Lance. Carved from Granite: West Point Since 1902. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2012. 458pp. (U410 .L1B48 2012)
In Carved from Granite, author Lance Betros, provost of the U.S. Army War College, addresses a range of historical and contemporary issues concerning the United States Military Academy. An Academy graduate and later faculty member, Betros draws from his own experience, oral histories, and archival sources to devote chapters to West Point's history, governance, admissions, academics, military training, and leader development. This authoritative history examines the challenges faced by the Academy, and offers subjective and interpretive insight for its future.
Brzezinski, Zbigniew. Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power. New York: Basic Books, 2012. 208pp. (JZ1313 .B79 2012)
Brzezinski, former national security advisor to President Carter, draws from decades of experience to reflect on the changing distribution of global power and why America's global standing is waning. Forecasting some of the possible geopolitical consequences of America's decline, Brzezinski argues we must create a long-term strategic vision for the future.
Chandrasekaran, Rajiv. Little America: The War within the War for Afghanistan. New York: Knopf, 2012. 368pp. (DS371.412 .C53 2012)
Chandrasekaran, Washington Post senior correspondent and associate editor, follows his 2006 award-winning book on Iraq, Imperial Life in the Emerald City, with this critical examination of the 2009 Afghanistan surge and the Obama administration.
Chernow, Ron. Washington: A Life. New York: Penguin Press, 2010. 904pp. (E312 .C54 2010)
In Washington: A Life, noted biographer Ron Chernow provides a detailed portrait of an iconic leader and the father of our nation, while exploring the history of America's founding. 2011 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Biography.
Chun, Clayton K. S. Gothic Serpent: Black Hawk Down, Mogadishu 1993. New York: Osprey, 2012. 80pp. (DT407.42 C58 2012)
Containing detailed maps and declassified information, Gothic Serpent recounts Task Force Ranger's attempt to capture the lieutenants of a Somali warlord during the 1993 U.N. humanitarian relief mission and their ensuing fight for survival. U.S. Black Hawk helicopters, struck by rocket-propelled grenades crashed, stranding the crew in Mogadishu where they waged a brutal battle against hostile gunmen until their rescue by a combined U.N. and U.S. relief force. Winner of the 2012 Colonel John J. Madigan, III U.S. Army War College Staff and Faculty Published Writing Competition.
Collins, James C., and Morten T. Hansen. Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck -- Why Some Thrive Despite Them All. New York: HarperCollins, 2011. 304pp. (HF5386 .C652 2011)
"Ten years after the worldwide bestseller Good to Great, Jim Collins returns with another groundbreaking work, this time to ask: Why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others do not? Based on nine years of research, buttressed by rigorous analysis and in-fused with engaging stories, Collins and his colleague, Morten Hansen, enumerate the principles for building a truly great enterprise in unpredictable, tumultuous, and fast-moving times." -- Publisher description.
Crist, David. The Twilight War: The Secret History of America's Thirty-Year Conflict with Iran. New York: Penguin Press, 2012. 638pp. (E183.8 .I55C75 2012)
Crist, a government historian and advisor to the United States Central Command, spent a decade researching the conflict between the United States and Iran. Drawing from the documents of several U.S. administrations and numerous interviews, The Twilight War offers new insight on this intricate history.
Donnelly, Thomas, and Frederick W. Kagan, eds. Lessons for a Long War: How America Can Win on New Battlefields. Washington, DC: AEI Press, 2010. 169pp. (UA23 .L47 2010)
Donnelly and Kagan lead a group of U.S. military officials and national security experts in analyzing the American experience in Iraq and Afghanistan thus far and mapping a way forward -- not only for the military, but also for diplomats, elected officials, and the American public. Though written in 2007 and 2008, these essays remain relevant to the current administration.
Friedman, Thomas L., and Michael Mandelbaum. That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011. 380pp. (JK275 .F75 2011)
Friedman and Mandelbaum analyze the four challenges that face the United States: globalization, revolution in information technology, the nation's chronic deficits, and the pattern of excessive energy consumption. That Used to Be Us concludes with suggestions for how to sustain the American dream and preserve American power.
Gaddis, John Lewis. George F. Kennan: An American Life. New York: Penguin Press, 2011. 784pp. (E748 .K374G34 2011)
"This is the authorized, definitive biography of one of the most fascinating but troubled figures of the twentieth century by the nation's leading Cold War historian. In the late 1940s, George F. Kennan wrote the ‘long telegram' and the ‘X' article. These two documents laid out United States' strategy for ‘containing' the Soviet Union. Based on exclusive access to Kennan and his archives, this landmark history illuminates a life that both mirrored and shaped the century it spanned." -- Publisher description. 2012 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Biography.
Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: Norton, 2011. 356pp. (PA6484 .G74 2011)
"One of the world's most celebrated scholars, Stephen Greenblatt has crafted both an innovative work of history and a thrilling story of discovery, in which one manuscript, plucked from a thousand years of neglect, changed the course of human thought and made possible the world as we know it." -- Publisher description. 2012 Pulitzer Prize Winner for General Nonfiction.
Heath, Chip, and Dan Heath. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. New York: Broadway Books, 2010. 305pp. (BF637 .C4H43 2010)
Drawing upon a multitude of behavioral studies, business case studies, and hypothetical examples to illustrate their principles, Chip and Dan Heath weave together decades of research to shed new light on how to effect transformative change.
Hill, Charles. Grand Strategies: Literature, Statecraft, and World Order. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010. 368pp. (PN56 .D55H55 2010)
Through lucid and compelling discussions of classic literary works from Homer to Rushdie, Grand Strategies represents a merger of literature and international relations, inspired by the conviction that "a grand strategist... needs to be immersed in classic texts from Sun Tzu to Thucydides to George Kennan, to gain real-world experience through internships in the realms of statecraft, and to bring this learning and experience to bear on contemporary issues." -- Publisher description.
Junger, Sebastian. War. New York: Twelve, 2010. 287pp. (DS371.4123 .K67J86 2010)
"Junger, author of The Perfect Storm, turns his eye to the reality of combat in this on-the-ground account that follows a single platoon through a 15-month tour of duty in the most dangerous outpost in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley." -- Publisher description.
Kagan, Robert. The World America Made. New York: Knopf, 2012. 149pp. (JZ1313 .K34 2012)
"What would the world look like if America were to reduce its role as a global leader in order to focus all its energies on solving its problems at home? And is America really in decline? The author paints a vivid, alarming picture of what the world might look like if the United States were truly to let its influence wane." -- Publisher description.
Kan, Paul Rexton, with a foreword by Barry R. McCaffrey. Cartels at War: Mexico's Drug-Fueled Violence and the Threat to U.S. National Security. Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2012. 193pp. (HV5840 .M4K36 2012)
Cartels at War examines how Mexico's ongoing conflict has spilled over into the United States, affecting policy issues ranging from immigration to gun control. Drawing on fieldwork along the border, and interviews with U.S. government officials and Mexican military officers, Paul Rexton Kan contends that careful policy consideration is necessary to prevent further cartel violence, reduce the incentives of drug smuggling, and to stop the erosion of Mexico.
Kaplan, Robert D. Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power. New York: Random House, 2010. 366pp. (DS341.3 .U6K37 2010)
"In Monsoon, a pivotal examination of the Indian Ocean region and countries known as ‘Monsoon Asia,' Robert D. Kaplan shows how crucial this dynamic area has become to American power in the twenty-first century. With Kaplan's mix of policy analysis, travel reportage, sharp historical perspective, and fluid writing, Monsoon offers an exploration of the Indian Ocean as a strategic and demographic hub and an in-depth look at issues most pressing for American interests." -- Publisher description.
Kaplan, Robert D. The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate. New York: Random House, 2012. 403pp. (JC319 .K37 2012)
Kaplan, bestselling author of Monsoon, builds on the insights and theories of great geographers and geopolitical thinkers, examining the critical turning points in history -- to better understand what might lie ahead.
Kilcullen, David. Counterinsurgency. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. 251pp. (U241 .K55 2010)
Counterinsurgency brings together Kilcullen's most prominent writings on this vitally important topic. This book includes a previously unpublished essay entitled "Measuring Progress in Afghanistan," written for Gen. Stanley McChrystal during his field work in Afghanistan.
Kissinger, Henry. On China. New York: Penguin Press, 2011. 586pp. (JZ1480 .B49 2012)
Drawing from notable records and his own forty year history with China, Kissinger examines how this country has approached strategy, diplomacy, and negotiations throughout its history. On China provides insightful perspective on the evolution of U.S.-China relations that can be applied to present day.
Kupchan, Charles A. How Enemies Become Friends: The Sources of Stable Peace. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010. 442pp. (JZ5538 .K87 2010)
How Enemies Become Friends provides an innovative account of how nations escape geopolitical competition and replace hostility with friendship. Through compelling analysis and historical examples, Kupchan explores how adversaries can transform enmity into amity.
Lieven, Anatol. Pakistan: A Hard Country. New York: Public Affairs, 2011. 566pp. (DS389 .L54 2011)
"Anatol Lieven's book is a magisterial investigation of this highly complex and often poorly understood country: its regions, ethnicities, competing religious traditions, varied social landscapes, deep political tensions, and historical patterns of violence; but also its surprising underlying stability, rooted in kinship, patronage, and the power of entrenched local elites." -- Publisher description.
Luvaas, Jay, Harold W. Nelson, and Leonard J. Fullenkamp, eds. Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg, 2nd ed., rev. and expanded. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2012. 346pp. (E475.53 .U333 2012)
"The long-anticipated revised edition of one of the most respected and popular guides to the Gettysburg National Military Park. The authors have made significant changes to the guide, addressing alterations to the park during the past fifteen years and adding new information and improved maps that enrich park visitors' understanding of one of the bloodiest and most momentous battles in American history." -- Publisher description.
Maddow, Rachel. Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power. New York: Crown, 2012. 275pp. (UA23 .M33 2012)
Rachel Maddow's Drift contends that America as a nation has drifted away from its original ideals and become at peace with war. Spanning the Vietnam War to today's war in Afghanistan, Maddow explores the political debate of how, when, and where to apply America's military power -- and who gets to make those decisions.
Manwaring, Max G., with a foreword by John T. Fishel and afterword by Edwin G. Corr. The Complexity of Modern Asymmetric Warfare. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2012. 208pp. (U163 .M2687 2012)
"Today more than one hundred small, asymmetric, and revolutionary wars are being waged around the world. This book provides invaluable tools for fighting such wars by taking enemy perspectives into consideration. Using case studies, Manwaring outlines vital survival lessons for leaders and organizations concerned with national security in our contemporary world." -- Publisher description.
Marlantes, Karl. What It Is Like to Go to War. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2011. 256pp. (DS559.5 .M375 2011)
Marlantes, author of the award winning novel Matterhorn, takes a deeply personal and candid look at the experience and ordeal of combat, drawing on his own time in Vietnam. He critically examines how we might better prepare young soldiers for the psychological and spiritual stresses of war, and what it means to truly return home.
Matheny, Michael R. Carrying the War to the Enemy: American Operational Art to 1945. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2011. 334pp. (U153 .M38 2011)
Carrying the War to the Enemy draws on archival materials from military educational institutions, planning documents, and operational records of World War II campaigns to provide a clearer understanding of the development of American operational art.
Morris, Ian. Why the West Rules -- For Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal about the Future. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010. 750pp. (CB251 .M67 2010)
"Why has the West dominated the globe for the past two hundred years, and will its power last? Describing the patterns of human history, the archaeologist and historian Ian Morris offers surprising new answers to both questions." -- Publisher description.
Moten, Matthew, ed., with a foreword by Martin E. Dempsey. Between War and Peace: How America Ends Its Wars. New York: Free Press, 2011. 371pp. (E181 .B48 2011)
America's leading historians examine the path of America's wars, from the Revolution to the first Gulf War: their initial aims (often very different from their conclusions), their principal strategies, their final campaigns, and the future ramifications of the wars' ends for the nation.
Neiberg, Michael S. Dance of the Furies: Europe and the Outbreak of World War I. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011. 292pp. (D511 .N45 2011)
Neiberg's Dance of the Furies contributes to the understanding of the World War I's origins and nature. Drawing on letters, diaries, and memoirs of citizens across Europe, Neiberg shows that the peoples of Europe did not expect, or desire, war in 1914.
Nye, Joseph S., Jr. The Future of Power. New York: PublicAffairs, 2011. 300pp. (JC330 .N94 2011)
Nye, a leading international relations scholar, adds to his previous work on power (Soft Power, 2004) by examining the role of the state in the context of shifting power in the 21st century.
Ricks, Thomas E. The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today. New York: Penguin Press, 2012. 558pp. (E745 .R43 2012)
"From the bestselling author of Fiasco and The Gamble, [The Generals is] an epic history of the decline of American military leadership from World War II to Iraq. Ricks has made a close study of America's military leaders for three decades, and in his hands this story resounds with larger meaning: about the transmission of values, about strategic thinking, and about the difference between an organization that learns and one that fails." -- Publisher description.
Rose, Gideon. How Wars End: Why We Always Fight the Last Battle. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010. 413pp. (E181 .R67 2010)
Rose, editor of Foreign Affairs, recreates the choices that presidents and their advisers have con-fronted during the final stages of each major conflict from World War I through Iraq.
Silver, Nate. The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail -- But Some Don't. New York: Penguin Press, 2012. 534pp. (CB158 .S54 2012)
Silver, one of America's most influential political forecasters, explores the world of prediction, investigating how we can distinguish a true signal from a universe of noisy data.
Snow, Donald M., and Dennis M. Drew. From Lexington to Baghdad and Beyond: War and Politics in the American Experience, 3rd ed. Armonk, NY: Sharpe, 2010. 335pp. (UA23 .S66 2010)
This book, by a political scientist and a career military officer and historian, has been updated and revised with new chapters on the Afghan and Iraq wars. For each conflict, the authors review underlying issues and events; political objectives; military objectives and strategy; political considerations; military technology and technique; military conduct and the ultimate disposition of the original political goals.
Terrill, W. Andrew, with a foreword by Anthony H. Cordesman. Global Security Watch: Jordan. Santa Barbara: Praeger Security International, 2010. 187pp. (DS154.13 .T47 2010)
Middle East specialist Andrew Terrill examines Jordan's role in Middle Eastern politics and regional security, and provides an overview of the country's history, economy, military system, and relations with other Arab states. Library also has online in Praeger Security International.
Thomas, Evan. The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898. New York: Little, Brown, 2010. 471pp. (E721 .T46 2010)
Newsweek editor Evan Thomas leads readers through the Spanish-American War of 1898, revealing insights into the minds of the major leaders of the time: advocates of the war; Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge and newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst -- and two opponents; Speaker of the House Thomas Reed, and philosopher William James.
West, Francis J. The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan. New York: Random House, 2011. 307pp. (DS371.412 .W47 2011)
"From one of America's most renowned war correspondents comes the definitive account of the Afghanistan war, a damning policy assessment, and a compelling and controversial way forward." -- Publisher description.
Woodward, Bob. Obama's Wars. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010. 441pp. (E908.3 .W66 2010)
Obama's Wars tells the inside story of President Obama's critical decisions regarding the Afghanistan War, the secret campaign in Pakistan, and the worldwide fight against terrorism. Library also has sound recording.
Woodward, Bob. The Price of Politics. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012. 428pp. (HC106.84 .W67 2012)
Woodward's latest book is a detailed assessment of how President Obama and Republican and Democratic leaders in the United States Congress endeavored to restore the American economy and improve the government's fiscal situation between 2009 and 2012.
Yergin, Daniel. The Quest: Energy, Security and the Remaking of the Modern World. New York: Penguin Press, 2011. 804pp. (HD9502 .A2Y47 2011)
Energy authority Daniel Yergin resumes the account of global energy he first began in his Pulitzer Prize-winning 2009 book, The Prize. The Quest details inside stories and historic accounts, examining energy as an overarching global quest at the heart of geopolitical and economic change.
For some reason I've been reading a lot of H.L. Mencken and George Orwell lately. Both are terrific writers and interesting political observers. I enjoy both but prefer Orwell's politics as well as his prose.
I noticed that in June 1944, Orwell wrote this about the German buzz bombs hitting London:
I notice that apart from the widespread complaint that the German pilotless planes "seem so unnatural" (a bomb dropped by a live airman is quite natural, apparently), some journalists are denouncing them as barbarous, inhumane, and "an indiscriminate attack on civilians."... But I would not deny that the pilotless plane, flying bomb, or whatever its correct name may be, is an exceptionally unpleasant thing, because, unlike most other projectiles, it gives you time to think. What is your first reaction when you hear that droning, zooming noise? Inevitably, it is a hope that the noise won't stop. You want to hear the bomb pass safely overhead and die away into the distance before the engine cuts out. In other words, you are hoping that it will fall on somebody else.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
In the early 1970s, pilots taxiing their planes on the east ramp of Bien Hoa Air Base may have been ferried to their final destination by a dog named Bubbles.
The odd mix of golden lab and dachshund, whose 40-pound body reminded at least one airman of a Heinz 57 bottle, belonged to Staff Sgt. John E. Molnar, whose job it was to marshal in aircraft along the flight line marked by a yellow stripe. Bubbles, having watched Molnar do the job and apparently not afraid of the large planes, began to mimic his routine and took to walking ahead of them. "Once in awhile we put a headphone set and sunglasses on him and it really cracks up the pilots," Molnar told Stars and Stripes in 1971.
The job did come with certain hazards -- Bubbles had a close call with the "prop blasts of a C130 and was blown 15 feet through the air." Another time he "was almost sucked into the turbine of a commercial 707."
But that didn't stop Bubbles from taking the occasional nap on the runway. So at home was this dog among the planes and pilots that he often refused to budge. The pilots who had had grown fond of their assistant and mascot knew how to get him to "move in a hurry" -- revving up a nearby engine was all it took.
Tip of the hat to Tom who spied this gem earlier this week in Stars and Stripes's most excellent daily feature, Archive Photo of the Day.
Rebecca Frankel is away from her FP desk, working on a book about dogs and war.
Howard Lavick/Stars and Stripes
A nice offer from the Barnes & Noble at Seven Corners in Northern Virginia. Just e-mail Mike McCormick, the store manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 703-536-0774.
Of all the World War I poets, Wilfred Owen stands up best, I think (and yes, I do know I am far from alone). His words feel much more modern to me, almost contemporary. "And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds." Great word control.
Here are two other passages from him:
And then there is this:
And of course if you haven't read his great poem about a gas attack, you should do that right now.
By Peter Molin
Best Defense bureau of war poetry
Jason Dempsey's 13 February post on this site decried the lack of poetry by veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Nostalgic for the kind of poetry written by great World War I poets such as Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, Dempsey writes that from verse, "we get a tactile feel for the war paired with examinations of what it means for life writ large -- the purpose of art, as it were."
I agree with Dempsey that poetry helps us understand war (and all experience) best, but disagree with his claim that our contemporary wars have been left uncharted by poets. Since December of 2012 I have been reviewing art, film, and literature associated with the war at my blog Time Now (www.acolytesofwar.com) in an effort to publicize authors and artists who take the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as their subjects. I have already posted on three poets -- Walter E. Piatt, Paul Wasserman, and Elyse Fenton -- who explore how the contemporary wars have wrought alterations of perspective and emotion on those who fight them and those who have been affected by them. Below I offer a few comments on Brian Turner, by far the most well-known and important of contemporary war poets.
The author of two volumes of verse, Here Bullet (2005) and Phantom Noise (2010), Turner combines an MFA in creative writing from the University of Oregon with seven years of service as an enlisted infantryman, to include a tour in Iraq with the 2nd Infantry Division. His poetry is at once subtle and sensational, accessible and complex. A good example is the title poem of his first volume:
If a body is what you want,
then here is bone and gristle and flesh.
Here is the clavicle-snapped wish,
the aorta's opened valves, the leap
thought makes at the synaptic gap.
Here is the adrenaline rush you crave,
that inexorable flight, that insane puncture
into heat and blood. And I dare you to finish
what you've started. Because here, Bullet,
here is where I complete the word you bring
hissing through the air, here is where I moan
the barrel's cold esophagus, triggering
my tongue's explosives for the rifling I have
inside of me, each twist of the round
spun deeper, because here, Bullet,
here is where the world ends, every time.
Interesting about the poem is the marriage of modern war imagery and emotion with the classical verse form of the apostrophe (a direct address to a non-human thing), all informed by a poetic smartness about half-rhymes, assonance, alliteration, and other forms of sonic alertness. Thematically, the poem presents an original take on bravery. The poem is half-taunt and half-cry of pain, the challenge to the onrushing bullet a futile effort to both resist and understand war's deadliness. The blur of emotions is matched by the interpenetration of the imagery, where the rifle and bullet are given human qualities and the soldier-speaker's body parts are weaponized, as in "the barrel's cold esophagus" and "my tongue's explosives."
The metaphysical musing of "Here, Bullet" is typical of many Turner's poems, which rarely stop to consider events in which he personally participated. Occasionally though he works in a biographical vein, too. A great example is "Night in Blue," from Here, Bullet. Many readers have told me it is their favorite Turner poem:
Night in Blue
At seven thousand feet and looking back, running lights
blacked out under the wings and America waiting,
a year of my life disappears at midnight,
the sky a deep viridian, the houselights below
small as match heads burned down to embers.
Has this year made me a better lover?
Will I understand something of hardship,
of loss, will a lover sense this
in my kiss or touch? What do I know
of redemption or sacrifice, what will I have
to say of the dead -- that it was worth it,
that any of it made sense?
I have no words to speak of war.
I never dug the graves of Talafar.
I never held the mother crying in Ramadi.
I never lifted my friend's body
when they carried him home.
I have only the shadows under the leaves
to take with me, the quiet of the desert,
the low fog of Balad, orange groves
with ice forming on the rinds of fruit.
I have a woman crying in my ear
late at night when the stars go dim,
moonlight and sand as a resonance
of the dust of bones, and nothing more.
When Turner isn't considering his own emotions or the cosmological significance of war, his dominant mode is empathy for those with whom and against whom he fights. Two examples will suffice, one recording a birth in Iraq and one a death:
Helping Her Breath
Subtract each sound. Subtract it all.
Lower the contrailed decibels of fighter jets
below the threshold of human hearing.
Lower the skylining helicopters down
to the subconscious and let them hover
like spiders over a film of water.
Silence the rifle reports. The hissing
bullets wandering like strays
through the old neighborhoods.
Let the dogs rest their muzzles
as the voices on telephone lines
pause to listen, as bats hanging
from their roosts pause to listen,
as all of Baghdad listens.
Dip the rag in the pail of water
and let it soak full. It cools exhaustion
when pressed lightly to her forehead.
In the slow beads of water sliding
down the skin of her temples --
the hush we have been waiting for.
She is giving birth in the middle of war --
the soft dome of a skull begins to crown
into our candlelit mystery. And when
the infant rises through quickening muscle
in a guided shudder, slick in the gore
of birth, vast distances are joined,
the brain's landscape equal to the stars.
It happens on a Monday, at 11:20 A.M.,
as tower guards eat sandwiches
and seagulls drift by on the Tigris River.
Prisoners tilt their heads to the west
though burlap sacks and duct tape blind them.
The sound reverberates down concertina coils
the way piano wire thrums when given slack.
And it happens like this, on a blue day of sun,
when Private Miller pulls the trigger
to take brass and fire into his mouth:
the sound lifts the birds up off the water,
a mongoose pauses under the orange trees,
and nothing can stop it now, no matter what
blur of motion surrounds him, no matter what voices
crackle over the radio in static confusion,
because if only for this moment the earth is stilled,
and Private Miller has found what low hush there is
down in the eucalyptus shade, there by the river.
PFC B. Miller
(1980-March 22, 2004)
Turner poems record such facts of modern war experience as IEDs, women in uniform, and PTSD, but the characteristic most worth mentioning in conclusion is his deep interest in history. Turner's not particularly interested in the war's political dimensions, but unlike 99 percent of American soldiers, he is ever conscious that the Iraq soil on which he fought had a long, richly-recorded existence before America turned it into a 21st century battleground. This pre-history of Operation Iraqi Freedom wells up in Turner's poetry in the form of references to ancient texts, images of ghosts, evocations of ancestors, and readiness to consider contemporary events in a temporal context extending deep into the past and into the future.
To sand go tracers and ball ammunition.
To sand the green smoke goes.
Each finned mortar, spinning in light.
Each star cluster, bursting above.
To sand go the skeletons of war, year by year.
To sand go reticles of the brain,
the minarets and steeple bells, brackish
sludge from the open sewers, trashfires,
the silent cowbirds resting
on the shoulders of a yak. To sand
each head of cabbage unravels its leaves
the way dreams burn in the oilfires of night.
Turner, the first or near-first Iraq veteran to turn his war experience into verse, has established an impressive standard of both poetic craft and thematic depth for the poets who have followed him. Still, no one artist says it all, and other poets such as Piatt, Wasserman, and Fenton have also found interesting and important ways to use their verse to document how the war has been fought and how it has been felt. We wait to see what they bring us in the future and what other poets join the conversation.
Peter Molin is a U.S. Army infantry officer with deployment experience in Kosovo and Afghanistan. He holds a Ph.D. in English literature from Indiana University. The opinions expressed herein are his alone and do not reflect DA or DOD policy.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
Meanwhile, Chief Red Bull is holding a haiku contest. Here's a sampling he sends along:
Eight deployments down
most surreal thing I've seen is
This summer sandstorm
Couldn't blind the first sergeant
To my day-old shave.
A circling bird calls:
War on TV is phoned-in,
Where is the Kandak?
Alone at the command post.
Oh, it's Thursday night!
Sprint in a flight suit
Long tarmac, rip my crotch
Warm Iraq breezes
Our trucks move like ducks
waddling between ponds and now
stuck in this wadi
Silly pogue don't know
Gunslingers don't drink lattes
By Gary Anderson
Best Defense office of hard lessons
Over the course of the past 20 years, I have observed or participated in counterinsurgency campaigns in South Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan in both military and civilian capacities. Some were done poorly, some successfully. The one thing that I have learned is that each is unique in its own way and there are no templates that will work in all cases. Mali is a good example of uniqueness, and there are some lessons from each of my experiences that pertain to that particular situation.
As a U.N. observer in Lebanon, I watched the Israelis go from liberators to hated occupiers in a way that was completely unnecessary, and caused them needless grief. Like the French in Mali, the Israelis chased off an unwanted foreign presence -- in their case, the Palestinians were viewed occupiers by the largely Shiite southern Lebanese population. Unfortunately, the Israelis had a tendency to view any armed Muslim Arab as a threat. Consequently, Israel opted to arm a minority Christian-led militia. This action inadvertently created Hezbollah, which became a far greater threat to Israel than the Palestinians ever could present. The Israelis would have likely been far better off arming individual villages for self-protection without taking sides in the ongoing Lebanese civil war and positioning themselves as an honest third-party broker in the inevitable civil disputes in South Lebanon.
Mali is a civil war as much as an insurgency. The southern third, and the government, are dominated by blacks while the northern part has a considerable population of light-skinned Tauregs of Berber origin. Although heavily armed al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) foreign fighters have provided the Taureg separatists their military advantage, in the recent past the Tauregs have shown an inclination to negotiate, and will likely do so again if the jihadists can be ejected. This is where the French need to avoid Israel's Lebanon mistake and become facilitators of real negotiations.
In Somalia, we learned the lessons of cultural ignorance the hard way. After a largely successful humanitarian intervention to stop mass starvation, we and the United Nations ignored the traditional clan system of the Somalis and made the mistake of trying to supplant it with alien Western style democracy. Ironically, the attempt by the former Somali dictator to ignore the influence of the clans was what began the disastrous civil war that caused the collapse of Somalia to begin with. The Americans and United Nations overreached in Somalia. The Malian government understands that it needs to rebuild the democratic institutions that were toppled by the disastrous military coup that initiated the current crisis. We could help in reestablishing Malian governmental legitimacy.
In Iraq, we succeeded largely because we were able to separate the foreign jihadist insurgents from the indigenous Sunni nationalist insurgents through a soft power combination of diplomacy and money. The use of soft power such as this in driving a wedge between the Tuareg people and AQIM will be critical to any potential success.
In Afghanistan, we continue to learn perhaps the most difficult lesson of all. To successfully help a host-nation government fight an insurgency requires that the host-nation government wants to address the root causes of the insurgency. The Afghan government never accepted that principle, and may never will. That does not mean that governance cannot be improved in Mali. Good governance is not necessarily expensive. I have come to the conclusion through bitter experience that the more development money we throw at a country, the worse the government gets, as money breeds corruption. In Mali, we would be better advised to spend small amounts of money on rule of law training and local management techniques for local officials, particularly Tauregs and other local officials in the north. Insurgencies are like politics in that they are basically local.
In rebuilding the Malian military, we need to remember that the organizer of the coup debacle was American trained. As Western trainers try to retool the Malian Army, we need to remember human rights training and the importance of civilian control over the military as much as small unit training, patrolling, and other tactical skills. In addition, the Department of State and French Foreign Ministry need to stress civil-military relations in training national level Malian officials.
I am one of those opposed to U.S. intervention in Syria. The infestation of Islamic radicals in the ranks of the rebels is even greater than it was in Afghanistan during the revolt against the Soviets. I favor a negotiated settlement with the Baathists that will allow them a reasonably soft landing as we brokered between the government junta and the rebels in El Salvador two decades ago, but Mali is different.
If we use Special Operations Force troops to train local militias and retool the Malian Army into a professional force capable of supporting a democratic civilian government, we can do so cheaply and effectively; that is the SOF mission. More importantly, they could help build village-level self-defense militias in the north to prevent the now hated Islamists from returning. Again, a relatively inexpensive operation.
Likewise, the State Department and USAID now have hard-earned Iraq and Afghanistan experience in coaching good governance and anti-corruption at the national, provincial, and local levels. This ought to be exploited before it atrophies. Again, this can be done affordably. Mali is not hopeless, and it can be a model for the right way to stabilize governments and fight Islamic extremists.
Gary Anderson is a retired Marine Corps colonel who was a governance advisor in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is an adjunct professor at the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs.
FREDERIC LAFARGUE/AFP/Getty Images
From a recent talk at the Naval War College by Rear Adm. John Kirby:
The whole debate over strategic communications ignores the reality that we live increasingly in a participatory culture. People aren't waiting to lap up our messages anymore. They don't want access to information. They want access to conversation. They want to be heard. Ours is a post-audience world where we can no more control the narrative than we can control the weather.
What we can do is find ways to take part in that conversation, to inform it, even to guide it at times. But that requires a certain humility that I worry we don't always possess. It requires us to listen as well as to speak, to solicit as well as to inform, to be willing to admit of our own shortcomings and accept sometimes brutally frank feedback.
... The point is that I know my credibility -- and that of the Navy -- is enhanced when I endeavor to join a discussion rather than to lead it. That can be a hard thing for us to do, letting go of leadership a little. But in this brave, new world of instant communications letting go actually means getting ahead.
I've been critical in the past of Amb./Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Karl Eikenberry, so it is a pleasure to report that he has a thoughtful article, "Reassessing the All-Volunteer Force," in the Winter 2013 issue of the Washington Quarterly. He argues that oversight of the military by both the Congress and the media has diminished. "Indeed, nearly abject congressional deference to the military has become all too common."
I think he is right. I hope we will see a re-assertion of congressional interest and prerogatives in the coming years.
The more I think about it, it seems to me that the AVF has been a tactical success and a strategic failure, in that it detached the American people from their wars. And so we do not wage them as well as we should.
For a symposium put on recently by FPRI, I drew up a list of questions I have about the Vietnam War. Here they are:
Finally, some other, broader questions:
Arthur Graeme West leads a small night patrol that encounters
...half a dozen men
All blown to bits, an archipelago
Of corrupt fragments, vexing to us three.
Even more horribly, Edgell Rickword grows comfortable with a corpse lying out in front of his position, and reads aloud to him -- until the body rot grows too repulsive:
He stank so badly, though we were great chums
I had to leave him; then rats ate his thumbs.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
In today's photo we have Master-at-Arms Seaman Tyler Frizzard working with his MWD during an explosives detection training exercise in San Diego on February 25. It's a snapshot of the moment just after the handler has almost certainly told his dog -- "Seek here" -- pointing to a spot I would gauge to be nearly five feet off the ground.
When I first saw this photo it took me a minute to understand why it's such a great and important image. And it's far more than just the composition or how cool the dog looks stretched almost entirely vertical against the length of his broad-shouldered handler. You can also see in the dog's expression how focused he is on his handler's instruction--the dog's eyes seem to be locked in on the spot indicated by his partner, which also means that's the space from which he is drawing in scent -- potentially explosive odor. And, last but not least, look closely at the dog's feet -- there's a good bit of air between those paws and the ground. Which for anyone who still believes bomb sniffing dogs are at a deficit when pitted against other explosive detection machinery -- hand-held devices, remote controlled robots, and the like -- is an important thing to note. Dogs' agility and the swiftness with which they respond to commands cannot be overlooked and hasn't been matched.
In that vein, this photo becomes something of a modest but almost perfect piece of evidence to support the advantages dogs really do bring to the humans they support during IED patrols. So again, look closely.
Rebecca Frankel is away from her FP desk, working on a book about dogs and war.
Specialist Seaman Mark El-Rayes/U.S. Navy
By Lt. Col. Douglas Pryer, U.S. Army
Best Defense guest columnist
Most Americans do not realize the sheer volume of literature that exists showing that torture is a great tool for extracting false confessions but an extremely poor tool for collecting intelligence. Here's my Top 10:
1. The Black Banners, by Ali Soufan. From my review of the book in the Army's Military Review: "Soufan describes multiple interrogations in which he earned the trust and cooperation of Al-Qaeda operatives, only to have psychologists and amateur interrogators from the CIA destroy this rapport through brutality. He reports that once they used harsh techniques, detainees stopped providing substantial intelligence." Soufan, an Arabic-speaking FBI interrogator, dispels the myth that al Qaeda terrorists are "hardened" to withstand traditional interrogation approaches. Getting al Qaeda members to talk, he demonstrates, is rarely difficult for a skilled interrogator who uses rapport-based approaches and who understands their language, culture, and religion.
2. Stalking the Vietcong, by Colonel (Ret.) Stuart Herrington. Although primarily known as a counterinsurgency classic (this book is one of the recommended readings in the famous 2006 counterinsurgency manual), this memoir describes how Colonel Herrington convinced a senior South Vietnamese official to use rapport-based approaches rather than torture. The result was not only far more reliable intelligence, but often, the "turning" of enemy soldiers so that they actively collected against their former units. Incidentally, in a more recent essay, he writes about what he learned from his 2002 and 2003 inspections of Gitmo and Abu Ghraib, respectively. This essay, which is his foreword to my own book on tactical-level interrogations in Iraq, is as important as any on the subject. You don't need to buy my book to read it. It's available online here.
3. How to Break a Terrorist: The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq, by Matthew Alexander and John Bruning. From my review of Alexander's second memoir, Kill or Capture, for Military Review: "In his ?rst memoir, How to Break a Terrorist, Alexander described how he used the power of personal example to teach his team that they could be far more effective if they convinced (rather than coerced) their sources to talk. Thanks to his good efforts -- and to those he led -- his unit quickly began to produce results. Most notably, his team coaxed intelligence from sources that led to the successful U.S. air strike against Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq."
4. The Interrogator: The Story of Hanns Joachim Scharff, Master Interrogator of the Luftwaffe, by Raymond Toliver. Nazis are invariably depicted in movies as cruel torturers. Historical reality is different -- surprisingly so, in light of the Holocaust and how many Nazis treated members of "races" they deemed inferior. The Nazis' most successful interrogator, Hanns Scharff, "methodically and deliberately treated his prisoners with dignity." Some eyewitnesses reported that Scharff never even raised his voice in questioning. Instead, he enjoyed great success by building rapport with captured Allied pilots. After the war, the U.S. Air Force paid him the ultimate compliment by inviting him to America to teach their interrogators.
5. Mission: Black List #1: The Inside Story of the Search for Saddam Hussein -- As Told by the Soldier Who Masterminded His Capture, by Eric Maddox and Davin Seay. From the book's Amazon website: "Maddox's candid and compelling narrative reveals the logic behind the unique interrogation process he developed and provides an insider's look at his psychologically subtle, nonviolent methods. The result is a gripping, moment-by-moment account of the historic mission that brought down Black List #1." You will hear more about this book in 2014: It is being made this year into a movie starring Robert Pattinson.
6. None of Us Were Like This Before, by Joshua Phillips. Phillips explores the causes and harmful effects, not just of American soldiers recently torturing for information, but of their abusing detainees in general. The book is particularly important for those researching military suicides and "moral injury," a PTSD-like condition that derives from the cognitive dissonance that occurs when people see or do things that conflict with their own deeply held values. In one chapter, Phillips investigates the utility of torture and, after a survey of literature on the subject, concludes that there seems to be no real evidence that torture gathers intelligence well. In one of my favorite paragraphs, Phillips cites the apparent "patina of pseudo-science" that was passed on by the mere presence of psychologists at torture sessions, making it appear to others as if there were a scientifically valid basis for torture (even if these psychologists often did little to actually influence interrogation plans).
7. The History of Camp Tracy: Japanese WWII POWs and the Future of Strategic Interrogation, by Alexander D. Corbin. Corbin tells the story of a remarkably successful interrogation facility established during World War II at Camp Tracy, California, for the questioning of Japanese POWs. Camp Tracy interrogation teams consisted of one Caucasian and one Nisei, thus enabling teams to leverage language skills, cultural knowledge, and physical appearance to build rapport. In making the case that interrogators today should pay close heed to lessons learned at this facility, Corbin describes the similarities between Islamic radicals today and zealous Japanese warriors willing to conduct suicide attacks for their God Emperor. From the foreword: "The use of torture or ‘physical coercion' was not necessary; in fact, the opposite was true: Camp Tracy interrogators found that courtesy and kindness overcame most Japanese reluctance and reticence."
8. Fear Up Harsh: An Army Interrogator's Dark Journey through Iraq, by Tony Lagouranis and Allen Mikaelian. This book teaches interrogation through counter-example -- what wrong looks like. As an impressionable new interrogator, Lagouranis had the misfortune of being assigned in 2004 to two of the worst places for interrogators in Iraq, Abu Ghraib prison and a facility run by one of Petraeus's brigades that was nearly as bad. Lagouranis's Kurtz-like descent into the heart of darkness is a cautionary tale for the U.S. military interrogation community. He summarizes his team's failure to collect intelligence through torture thus: "These techniques [EITs] were propagated throughout the Cold War, picked up again after 9/11, used by the CIA, filtered down to army interrogators at Guantanamo, filtered again through Abu Ghraib, and used, apparently, around the country by special forces...If torture works -- which is debatable -- maybe they had the training to make sure it worked. But at our end of the chain, we had no idea what we were doing. We were just a bunch of frustrated enlisted men picking approved techniques off a menu."
9. Slow Burn: The Rise and Bitter Fall of American Intelligence in Vietnam, by Orrin DeForest and David Chanoff. This memoir describes how DeForest, a CIA interrogation officer in Vietnam, employed the "art of sympathetic interrogation" at the war's most successful joint interrogation center. He also describes the critical need of interrogators for access to robust databases and supporting analysis. The book makes the compelling case that if intelligent rapport-based methods supported by robust analysis had been the norm rather than simple, brutal, and ignorant tactics, U.S. and South Vietnamese intelligence would have enjoyed far greater success in the war.
10. Field Manual 2-22.3, Human Intelligence Collector Operations, which can be downloaded online. The accumulated practical wisdom of generations of U.S. military interrogators has been collected into the latest iteration of this book-length manual. Here's what they have to say: "Use of torture is not only illegal but also it is a poor technique that yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say what he thinks the HUMINT collector wants to hear." Not the most exciting reading, but indispensable if you want to understand how the vast majority of U.S. military interrogators really think.
Lieutenant Colonel Douglas A. Pryer is a military intelligence officer who has served in various command and staff positions in Iraq, Kosovo, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, and, most recently, Afghanistan. He is the author of the Command and General Staff College Foundation Press's inaugural book, The Fight for the High Ground: The U.S. Army and Interrogation During Operation Iraqi Freedom, May 2003 - April 2004. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
By Emile Simpson
Best Defense terrorism movie reviewer
Yemeni security forces recently fired on protesters in the southern Yemeni city of Aden, apparently wounding up to 30 of them. In the Hands of al Qaeda hydrates such headlines: In this gripping documentary film, released last year, Iraqi journalist Ghaith Abdul Ahad unpacks the complex dynamics of the conflict. At its core, this is a film about the fight between al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Yemeni Government -- government versus insurgents -- but this polarized dynamic is situated within broader kaleidoscopic elements: How many south Yemenis see the security forces as northern occupiers? Why do some tribes support AQAP and others fight them? This provides a nice illustration of the erosion of the boundary between the military and political domain in contemporary armed conflict.
The centerpiece of the film is Ghaith Abdul Ahad's coverage of the AQAP heartland east of Aden, at the centre of the U.S. drone campaign in Yemen. For example, in Ja'ar we encounter a city of 100,000 fully controlled by AQAP. This is truly fascinating; the tension of the documentary at this point is palpable. Since Ja'ar was retaken by Yemeni forces in the summer of 2012, this film offers a rare glimpse into what ground-holding by the international jihadis of AQAP looked like: While we see an extreme form of sharia law practiced, so too is there an active print and internet media operation, and real efforts to gain local support by AQAP water and electricity projects.
AQAP's carrot and stick approach during their overt, ground-holding phase does not seem so distant from COIN doctrine, albeit in a far more brutal form (an example of mirror imaging?). The film draws out the contrast with the no carrot, big stick, U.S. drone approach that appears to strike fear not just into AQAP, but also into the civilians who live under the drones' gaze: Much of the local population's political support is lost, but U.S. objectives against the AQAP leadership nonetheless appear to be met. Whether this represents campaign success more broadly presumably would depend on how one conceptualizes the conflict -- are you fighting physical networks or an idea? Perhaps too the film illustrates in Yemen a U.S. move back to a more conventional understanding of military effect against an enemy, for better or worse. While the film is not about COIN or drones per se, and is indeed admirable in its objectivity, a viewing would no doubt form an excellent basis for discussion of the pros and cons of these approaches.
In the Hands of Al Qaeda (2012)
Executive Producer: Tracey ‘H' Doran-Carter
Producer: Jamie Doran
Director: Safa Al Ahmad
Emile Simpson served in the British Army as an infantry officer in the Gurkhas from 2006 to 2012. He deployed to southern Afghanistan three times and is the author of War From the Ground Up: Twenty-First Century Combat as Politics (Columbia, 2012).
By Dr. Elspeth Ritchie
Best Defense guest columnist
Psychiatric Annals recently published the second in a series on new and innovative treatments for PTSD. The series focuses on so-called complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) used in the Department of Defense. I say "so-called" because no one quite agrees on the name; it is also called integrative medicine and/or holistic medicine. CAM generally includes acupuncture, herbal techniques, and meditation. I add canine-assisted therapy, virtual reality, and other innovative therapies in this series in Psych Annals, of which I am the guest editor.
PTSD is an immense problem in the military after 11 years of war. The military is also leading the way in developing new therapies. This article focuses on stellate ganglion block, which is an anesthetic technique traditionally used to treat pain. In brief, an anesthetic is injected into the peripheral nerves. In some cases, it has been found that this technique drastically reduces symptoms of PTSD.
One of the many things that are exciting about this treatment it is that it is biologically based. So, if anyone still thinks that PTSD is "all in their head," or totally psychological, the success of this technique would seem to refute that. Another interesting point is that it seems to work in refractory PTSD that has not responded to other treatments.
This is not yet an evidence-based treatment. In other words, it has not yet been subjected to randomized clinical trials (RCTs), which are the gold standard in research in medicine. However, in the days since the on-line version was published, funders from the Medical Research and Material Command (MRMC) have been reaching out to researchers to see if they can do some of the RCTs. So exciting times in new approaches to treating an age-old problem.
Retired Army Col. Elspeth Ritchie, MD, MPH, is the chief clinical officer, Department of Mental Health, for the District of Columbia. She also is a professor of psychiatry at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.
By Major Tom Mcilwaine, Queen's Royal Hussars
Best Defense guest columnist
Question Set Ten -- Do we really want to be doing this? COIN, or whatever it is that we have been doing over the last decade, is tremendously difficult. The direction of some of these questions suggests that it might be a little bit more than that though. If what we are doing is fundamentally imperial, then it raises two extra questions. First, can we do this without using imperial methods? Second, do we want to use those methods? Is the price we might pay to alter the behavior of the population of Yemen (in terms of what it requires us to do) worth paying? If I am correct, then what we are doing perhaps takes us into some areas that morally we might not wish to go. Failing to ask ourselves some hard questions about what we have done and what we should have done will lead politicians to believe that we can somehow do it without doing bad things -- which means that they are more likely to want to do it in the future. Precision munitions surely contribute to this as they have been sold as making war clean. Perhaps we should restrict their use for COIN fights to make politicians realize that wars really are nasty? Politicians should understand that going to war is a terrible thing, something I am not sure the COIN'dinistia philosophy makes clear enough.
And that is the final issue I would like to raise: As we move away from the conflicts of the last decade it is not enough simply to return to our combined arms heritage -- however necessary that might be. Nor is it enough to log the current narrative on what is required for COIN success in our institutional memory bank, and return to it when we next face a similar threat. What is required, if we are not to make the same mistakes that we made this time, is a comprehensive examination of what it is we were trying to achieve, what we needed to do to achieve it, and whether we really wanted to travel down this path, or want to now or in the future.
A place to advocate some truth and reconciliation rather than escalating the intellectual holy war within our profession might help too.
Major Tom Mcilwaine is a British Army officer who is currently a student at the School of Advanced Military Studies at Ft Leavenworth. He has deployed to Iraq as a Platoon Commander and Battalion Operations and Intelligence Officer, to Bosnia as Aide to the Commander of European Forces and to Afghanistan as a Plans Officer with I MEF(Fwd). Consider this the standard disclaimer.
Thomas Hone has a good article in the new issue of Naval War College Review on how aircraft carriers replaced battleships in World War II. "Today's officers do not really know where the Navy they command came from," he states.
His answer: "What took place during the war was not a simple substitution of carriers for battleships but the creation of a modern, combined-arms fleet, one that included submarines and land-based aviation."
He also makes an interesting observation that has application far beyond the Navy. The newly designed Navy approach during World War II, he writes, "did what doctrine should do, which is give a force tactical cohesion so that it has energy to spare for dealing with the inevitable unexpected challenges," such as the kamikaze.
You'd think ARMY magazine would welcome a free piece about Iraq from a best-selling author. Apparently not -- they have declined to run this response I wrote to their two articles about my new book, The Generals. I even said they could run it as a letter to the editor, but no. They didn't say why. I am sorry to see them turn away from what might have developed into a good, vigorous debate about what the Army should learn from its time in Iraq.
Make up your own mind -- below is the letter apparently too hot for them to handle.
Thank you for carrying articles about my new book, The Generals: American Military Command From World War II to Today, in both your January and February issues. I appreciate the attention. However, I think that Brig. Gen. John S. Brown's commentary, "Do We Need an Iraqi Freedom Elevator Speech?", requires a response.
General Brown makes several questionable assumptions in the article.
The first is that in 2003 the Army did in fact understand unconventional warfare in Iraq. Sure, there were isolated instances of individuals, such as the one he cites. I interviewed many of these people and wrote about many of them in my 2006 book Fiasco. But one swallow doesn't make a summer. General Sanchez and other senior leaders did not act upon such instances, and instead focused on large-scale indiscriminate roundups of "military age males." The fact that they did not take advantage of those moves underscores the point of my new book that the troops did not fail in Iraq, but that the Army's leaders at the time did.
Also, throughout General Brown's piece, there runs an assumption that having more troops would have made a major difference during the initial year of occupying Iraq. This is an unproven point. In my opinion, given the poor leadership of Lt. Gen. Sanchez, having twice as many troops on the ground in 2003-04 might well have resulted in having twice as many angry Iraqis driven to support the insurgency. Given the indiscriminate roundups and associated abuses that occurred that year by the units at Abu Ghraib, by the 82nd Airborne and by the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Anbar Province, and by the 4th Infantry Division in north-central Iraq, such a result seems more likely than not. In addition, those roundups stuffed thousands of people into the detention system, overwhelming the system and clogging the interrogation of suspected terrorists, as well as helping provoke riots inside the jails.
Did the Army really give a good account of itself in Iraq, as General Brown asserts? If so, I would counter, why did it take the Army until early 2007 to begin operating effectively in that war? The preceding period of maladaptive operations, from 2003 to 2007, lasted longer than the U.S. Army fought in World War II.
General Brown depicts the Army as a surprisingly passive institution. Things just kind of happened to it. For example, in passing he mentions Lt. Gen. Sanchez. But who selected Sanchez to command in Iraq? Who thought that he was the best person for the job? Did that just happen to the Army, or was its leadership simply a group of bystanders? The Army had a responsibility to provide the very best of leadership, talent, resources, and priorities to the fight in Iraq. Did it?
Yes, I understand that the relationship between the defense secretary and the Army's leadership was toxic in the spring of 2003, a crucial period that shaped much of what followed. But this does not excuse the failure to have an adequate Phase IV plan for Iraq, or for Army generals to say that they had all the troops they needed if they indeed believed they did not, or to insist that things were going well when it was clear to anyone on the streets of Baghdad that they were not. All this cannot be blamed on Ambassador Bremer and other civilians. At any rate, I would say that part of the duty of generals is to speak truth to power, even with it makes civilian overseers uncomfortable. It is not clear to me that the Army's generals did this in 2004-06.
The bottom line is that General Brown's commentary could only be written by someone who never actually witnessed our war in Iraq.
The issue here is more important than someone simply misunderstanding my book. I worry that a narrative is emerging in today's Army that holds that the military pretty much did everything right, but that the civilians screwed things up. Certainly, the Bush administration made huge errors in invading and occupying Iraq. I've written more than one book that looked at those.
But the military also made mistakes, and I don't see those being addressed. This should be a time of sober reflection, not of hunkering down and refusing to listen to reasonable criticisms. Why do we not see now reviews akin to the Army War College's 1970 study on the state of the officer corps? Until we see such hard, probing analysis that does not spare the feelings of our generals, the accounts of the Iraq war that capture the attention of the public and the Congress are indeed likely to be written by outsiders.
Thomas E. Ricks
William Noel Hodgson prayed ambivalently in his poem "Before Action":
By all delights that I shall miss,
Help me to die, O Lord.
At about the same time, Siegfried Sassoon's thoughts were running colder as he marched past a corps commander:
‘Eyes right!' The corpse-commander was a Mute;
And Death leered round him, taking our salute.
Air Force Lt. Col. Dan Ward wasn't at all impressed by Darth Vader's management style, which he finds overly reliant on motivating workers through "telekinetic strangulation." Also, he says, "Death Stars can't possibly be built on time or on budget, require pathological leadership styles and...keep getting blown up."
The lessons of "Star Wars," he concludes, are: Build simple, inexpensive weapons, and rely more on droids than on Death Stars.
Meanwhile, since I have nowhere else to put it, and I don't have the copyright clearance to run it myself, here's a link to a great weird photo.
By Lt. Col. Douglas Pryer, U.S. Army
Best Defense department of war movie reviews
Torture has once again become a matter of noisy public debate. This time (thank goodness!), the reason has nothing to do with new revelations of U.S. servicemembers or CIA employees going amuck on prisoners. Instead, the cause de célèbre is a movie, Zero Dark Thirty. Critics of the movie say that it promotes the use of torture by linking torture to a piece of evidence that proved indispensable in America's search for bin Laden. This, critics like Senators McCain, Feinstein, and Levin say, is a dangerous fiction not rooted in historical reality.
Fans of the movie disagree. They argue that the movie portrays this evidence as far less valuable than that obtained by clearly legal means. What is more, they say, the movie performs a service by leaving no doubt in the audience's mind that so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" (EITs) were torture, and also by shocking the conscience of these same viewers, causing them to wonder how the U.S. government could so easily surrender founding national values to such little good effect.
I agree with the movie's apologists. The movie does not depict torture as producing indispensable evidence. It shows morally repugnant torture producing a piece of evidence that the CIA already had but had tucked away in a file and forgot about. Seven years of torture, the movie says, produced little if any intelligence that clearly legal methods could have (and did) provide. The real narrative of the movie: A new sheriff (President Obama) comes to town who outlaws torture; subsequent CIA detective work relies exclusively on more cunning, ethical techniques involving, not just humane interrogations, but other intelligence methods; and -- presto! -- in two short years, bin Laden's hideout is found and, a few months later, he is killed. Even if the movie gets many details wrong, it at least gets the basic story right.
But far more important than the movie's historical accuracy is the deeper debate it has resurrected: Does torture work? And, even if it does work, is torture something Americans ought to be using on "hardened" terrorists (or on anyone else for that matter)?
This debate is sorely needed since most opinion polls show Americans' support for torture steadily climbing. A 2011 Pew Research Center survey reported that 53 percent of Americans believe that torture should often (19 percent) or sometimes (34 percent) be used against terrorism suspects to gain information. That marked a steady 10 percent climb from 2004. A recent YouGov poll commissioned by a Stanford University professor indicated that, over a five-year period, the number of Americans approving of torture climbed 14 percent to 41 percent in 2012.
This trend is something that those against "torture as American policy" should be watching carefully. U.S. legislation, military regulations, and Army doctrine -- most notably the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 and U.S. Army Field Manual 2-22.3 Human Intelligence Collector Operations -- now enshrine prisoner treatment that is in keeping with international standards and the national values expressed by such principled American leaders as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. In our republic, though, all laws are subject to change -- even those in the Constitution -- if enough Americans support this change.
There is no question which side of the torture debate I fall on. First and foremost, it is clear to me that torture fails as a tactic within the most important domain of war, the moral one. It is thus something that we Americans simply ought not to do.
When people see images of torture, most empathize with the tortured rather than the torturer. This is especially true for those who identify strongly with the tortured in the first place because of in-group, out-group bias, say, because the tortured is a fellow Muslim or a fellow Iraqi. The moral judgment that this empathy has naturally generated -- the judgment that those torturing are "cruel," "evil," or worse still, "inhuman" -- has inspired legions of America's enemies to fight us. At the same time, shame has decreased the will to fight of some Americans within the ranks and at home and damaged the political ability of coalition allies to support America's military adventures abroad. Choosing torture as policy is thus rightly seen as a kind of slow moral suicide, strengthening the fighting spirit of our enemies while sapping our own fighting spirit and that of our allies.
It is also clear to me that torture is an extremely poor method for collecting reliable intelligence. This clarity derives in part from military doctrine, training, and professional reading. But it is also rooted in personal experience.
During the summer and fall of 2003, my boss and I managed interrogation operations for Task Force 1st Armored Division (TF 1AD) in Baghdad. My boss was Major Nathan Hoepner, who wrote an email in August 2003 that would one day be quoted by Tom Ricks in Fiasco. When told by the highest command in Iraq that "the gloves are coming off" and that our unit must provide a "wish list" of harsh interrogation techniques, Major Hoepner emailed a passionate rebuttal: "We need to take a deep breath and remember who we are...It comes down to standards of right and wrong -- something we cannot just put aside when we find it inconvenient." He concluded: "BOTTOM LINE: We are American soldiers, heirs of a long tradition of staying on the high ground. We need to stay there."
Tragically, his impassioned plea fell on deaf ears. Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez soon signed a policy memo encouraging the use of EITs on prisoners, tactics employed at U.S. military Survival, Escape, Resistance, and Evasion (SERE) schools to teach trainees how to survive torture with honor. Sanchez replaced this memo with another in October that ostensibly required interrogators to obtain his approval for non-doctrinal techniques. However, it actually reinforced the belief of some interrogators that they themselves had the authority to order that clothing, food, shelter, light, and warmth be withheld from detainees. Thus it was that degrading, formally promulgated tactics laid the foundation for more serious crimes at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq.
At the height of the worst abuses at Abu Ghraib, I regularly communicated with an interrogation chief working at the prison. The reason was to press him to have TF 1AD detainees re-interrogated. Despite his team's conducting numerous interrogations for us, we did not receive ANY useful intelligence whatsoever from Abu Ghraib. Sure, they produced reports on our detainees, but invariably, these reports contained either useless information or different versions of the same stories we had already extracted using humane, rapport-based approaches.
I was not alone in my frustration with Abu Ghraib. For example, Kyle Teamey, the S2X (senior human intelligence officer) for 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, in Ramadi at the time, said: "The folks at Abu Ghraib not only failed to provide any intel of value, they turned the entire Sunni population against us. Meanwhile, we were getting actionable intel by giving detainees Skittles and a cup of coffee."
Despite our nation's and military's gross failures at Abu Ghraib and several other detention facilities, most interrogators at Gitmo, Iraq, and Afghanistan did not choose to torture. Why is this the case? One reason is that many shared the idealism expressed by Major Hoepner, which holds that torture is just something that Americans should not do.
But we should not dismiss professional competence as a reason, either. Those interrogators who had done their professional reading were less likely to engage in torture. In a future guest column, "Top 10 Books on U.S. Interrogation," I will provide a list of some of these books. Interrogators had also learned doctrine and conventional wisdom at the military intelligence schoolhouse that taught that torture is an ineffective intelligence tool. This conventional wisdom included the proverb, "The longest list of lies in the world is that given by the tortured." Many interrogators had taken doctrine and such conventional wisdom to heart, before they deployed.
Lieutenant Colonel Douglas A. Pryer is a military intelligence officer who has served in various command and staff positions in Iraq, Kosovo, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, and, most recently, Afghanistan. He is the author of the Command and General Staff College Foundation Press's inaugural book, The Fight for the High Ground: The U.S. Army and Interrogation During Operation Iraqi Freedom, May 2003 - April 2004. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.