Glasser: Afghanistan is a very interesting question. Aside from the very early days of pushing the Taliban out, which obviously was a military operation, or the battle of Tora Bora or Shah-i-Kot, since then there have been military operations certainly, but how would we characterize in terms of as a war and then also what do we think of how the U.S. military presence there will be remembered as? Is it going be "we lost this war," or is it that it was a violent political conflict that lasted for more than a decade and was unresolved?
Ricks: I'd like to start by asking the historian and the Marine.
Crist: I agree with General Dubik. We backed into this. That is the fundamental problem, is the long-term strategy for a host of different reasons. I think we'll be remembered as in some cases of duplicating a lot of the problems we've made in our earlier wars, and then when we were faced with a crisis our natural inclination, particularly in the U.S. military, is to fall back on doctrine. We have a counterinsurgency doctrine -- if it worked in Iraq then it's going to work in Afghanistan. And so you just sort of take that and transplant it as if it's sort of a manual on how you're going to do that. And the problem with all these wars is that they are all dependent on the dynamics, and they're completely different. And so our response is a huge surge. Maybe it was the right or wrong answer. I tend to think that it really ultimately didn't solve much in Afghanistan, nothing like it did in Iraq, because the conditions were different.
Alford: First off, I think that we can look back in the future and say we succeeded. Not win but. . . . . Because I do believe that we've spent enough time there, and the transition we are getting ready to make is viable, I believe, from a partnered operational design to an advisory piece and really get out of the way and let them do it. I believe that their army -- in particular their army -- will be able to keep it stable enough for this new government to muddle its way through over the next few years. I think this third election -- a lot of people say the second election in a new democracy is the most important -- it's the third election here. And if it goes and people look at it as somewhat legitimate, then they have a real chance, because the Taliban are not going to come together as an army and take Kabul.
Chandrasekaran: I think this in my view is going to likely wind up as some form of barely satisfactory arrangement of sort of mildly unsatisfactory stalemate that will not be seen as having been anywhere near worth the cost in dollars, and in lives, and in limbs.
Look, I spent a lot of time in places where we surged troops over the last several years. There is discrete impact. I've seen districts where security has improved. It's incontrovertible. When you send in additional numbers of U.S. troops, good things generally follow -- but for a discrete period of time. We didn't achieve the sort of aggregate impact that we saw in Iraq. And we all know the reasons why. Ultimately, I step back and say it was not a wise expenditure of resources.
Stepping back even further, we fundamentally failed to grasp the politics of that country [Afghanistan]. Our solutions were simply not tailored to the environment. And ultimately I think in many parts of the country -- it's already happening -- things will essentially revert back to their natural order. And a natural order that may well in many parts of the country be simply good enough for us. But could we have gotten to that natural order without having spent as many hundreds of billions of dollars and as many years as it has taken us to get there?
Alford: If we had had the courage to make the shift four or five years ago? Absolutely. We took some of the most decentralized people in the entire world and imposed one of the most centralized constitutions on them. It's ludicrous that President Karzai appoints a district governor and a district police chief. I'm telling you, the people where I come from -- Rome, Georgia -- would rise up if the president appointed the county commissioner. It's crazy.
Chandrasekaran: Look, look, people criticize the United States for going around the world and imposing democracy, and I think to myself, well only if we shared with people the sort of democracy that made our country great. The Afghan Constitution on paper centralizes power like no other state -- I suppose like North Korea. I mean, it's crazy.
(More to come-first, about Syria and Libya)
Gen. George C. Marshall was usually very close-mouthed about the tensions he felt with our British allies during World War II. But in a 1947 letter to McGeorge Bundy, who was helping write the memoirs of former Secretary of War Henry Stimson, Marshall was pretty candid:
... there was quite evident to me the feeling that of the British leaders that our ground army was not going to be effective, at least in time to play a decisive part in the fighting. As you know, Mr. Churchill had grave doubts about the comparative fighting ability of the American divisions as compared to the German divisions, though we should never say this publicly.... There was also the feeling that we would have no commanders comparable to the British Field Marshal..."
(P. 236, The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, Vol. 6: ‘The Whole World Hangs in the Balance.' Edited by Larry Bland, Mark Stoler, Sharon Stevens and Daniel Holt. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013. Buy it now! )
Ricks: Rajiv, you have been unnaturally patient. [Gestures dramatically with open right hand] This is a man who, in Baghdad, was famous for shouting at people, "Right now, right now, right now!" He was a great bureau chief.
Chandrasekaran: I'm just taking all this in. It's fascinating. I find myself agreeing with an awful lot of what's being said around the table.
Just sort of building on a lot of this, I feel like the military does a great job of looking at troop-to-task calculations. We don't we do that on the diplomatic side of things? There was this assumption building on, all right, September 12: Was the Taliban really our enemy? We then -- fast-forward a couple months -- think that we can have a reasonably strong central government, civilian government, in a country with zero institutions, with no human capacity. There just, from the very beginning, weren't the necessary questions asked about what this would take, not from a military point of view, but from a whole-of-government point of view.
All these assumptions get baked in that wind up being completely contradictory and counterproductive to any efforts to build a stable government, and at no point do we step up and say, "Wait. This doesn't make sense." Part of it's a bandwidth issue. Part of it is, I think, civilian sides of our government aren't doing the necessary sorts of calculations about: Is this in our best interests? Is this doable? What would it take to do it? And then, even further, getting right back to the beginning, the question of space; one associated issue with this -- and I don't mean to blame the victim here -- we don't do a good enough job of saying no to the partners we're trying to help. Not just internationally, but the Afghans themselves. You know, when the Afghans say, "We want to centralize power in Kabul because, you know, Ashraf Ghani says it's going to help fight corruption," we don't push back meaningfully and say, "Yes, but it's completely unrealistic given the capacity of your government." When [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai says, "We want you ISAF forces to go push into these districts because we've got bad guys there," we don't do a good enough job of saying, "Wait a second; it doesn't make sense to do that."
Ricks: General Jabouri, listening to this, as someone who has dealt with the Americans, what do you think of Rajiv's analysis? Are the Americans able to say no? Do they make intelligent decisions, from your perspective as an Iraqi general and a mayor of a city?
Jabouri: I think the Americans, in the beginning, always take the ally from who said, "OK, do everything they want." And they're strong. Like Chalabi, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, someone, they always say to them, "OK, I'm from this hand to this hand [extends hands, palms up]." But after that discover they chose the wrong man. The ally is not the man who says it is always OK to do things.
Ricks: So again, a lack of sufficient thought, of understanding, going into the situation.
Jabouri: I think also they depended totally on the people outside Iraq, not from inside Iraq. The do not make a balance between that, but now we see the result in Iraq, with what happened.
Ricks: Ms. Flournoy?
Flournoy: I think this point about really being thoughtful about your political objectives and what's the goals and the strategy to achieve them and not being all things to all people is really important. And I think it is something that we really struggle with. When you ask why, I do think it does also speak to the imbalance in our own investment as a government. I mean, we have this tremendously -- well, at least historically -- well-resourced military, well trained, well cultivated. Obviously when you put thousands of Americans in harm's way, a lot of attention is going to rightfully be focused in that direction to make sure we know what we're doing and are managing that well.
But again, if you think what drives the success or failure of these operations, it is your political objectives and your political strategy and how well you frame those question. I would argue we don't grow on the civilian side grand strategists, we don't grow political strategists. You occasionally find them, and I can list a few I admire and respect. But I remember one of the most difficult moments of the Iraqi government formation, sitting in the embassy in Baghdad saying, "Well, what're we going to do? What's our strategy to help them cohere?" Not that the U.S. was going to dictate the outcome, but how are we going to help get over this hump and move forward? Having the senior political officer at the time tell me, "Well, that's not my job. My job, as the political officer, is to observe and report." And I said, "I'm sorry. We invaded a country. We are occupying this country. Your job is thinking about the political strategy that's going to help put it back together again on sustainable terms." But that's not what we train people to do; it's not what we resource them to do. And I do think it's connected to this fundamental imbalance of resources and that we didn't put enough time, attention, thought, focus, resources into the whole civilian side of what we were doing.
Dubik: In conflicts that are essentially not winnable, militarily. The military operations are necessary, but they're not sufficient. They're not even decisive.
Ricks: Emile Simpson makes this very good point in his new book, War From the Ground Up, as a young British officer who fought in Afghanistan that you've got to turn Clausewitz on his head and look as this as violent politics, not as warfare that leads to a political outcome. A lot of it is political operations coming out of the barrel of a gun.
By "An SF Vet"
Best Defense guest contributor
When SF moved there they fell in on a ton of unvetted ALP that the regular Army had "trained." Why was the regular Army standing up ALP, when they have no real understanding about how to properly vet and conduct unconventional warfare? Great question. Probably because a sorry officer made the poor decision to allow this to happen.
So the ODA fell in on hundreds of these poorly-trained, unvetted Afghans. So, they did what they were told, set up a base out there, and began vetting these guys with the last month they had in country. Fast forward to another sorry officer that told the team to "Hurry up and vet these guys" so he could tell higher how great of a job they were doing. When they said they had only vetted, like, 40 percent, they were told that wasn't good enough, and the officer then padded the stats because in his exact words, "I can't tell a general we only vetted 40 percent."
I can't speak to everything that happened this past year, but this is the sort of thing that causes green on blue. The conventional Army has no business setting up ALP, but since that is the hot ticket these days, people only want to mass-produce them. The current team on the ground has done a lot of good things there, but it is hard (and dangerous) when you have leaders that allow this to happen.
Morals of the story:
1) Start giving higher the real story (I am talking to you, shitty, self-serving, careerist field grades).
2) The war isn't over yet for the guys on the ground, so support them and give them what they require to be successful.
3) Stop allowing conventional Army to do unconventional tasks.
By Col. Ted Spain, U.S. Army (Ret.)
Best Defense guest columnist
1. Secretary Rumsfeld's deployment plans did not include an adequate number of military police to control the routes during the ground war, nor sufficient military police to help control the streets after the ground war. This contributed to the Jessica Lynch fiasco and the chaos on the streets of Baghdad.
2. Law and order was not given sufficient attention in the pre-war planning. This failed to provide a police system to provide security to the Iraqi citizenry and to instill a sense of trust in the U.S. Army.
3. The categories of the thousands of detainees were never clear, causing confusion as to the proper legal treatment. Were they enemy, terrorist, or criminal? What's the difference?
4. The process of collecting intelligence from detainees was flawed from the pre-war planning sessions, during the ground war, and during the subsequent occupation. This set the stage for abuse, including the Abu Ghraib Prison scandal.
5. Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, the warden of Abu Ghraib Prison, was the wrong leader at the wrong place at the wrong time. Her appointment resulted in scandal and loss of trust in American forces by Iraqi citizenry.
6. Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of all military forces in Iraq during the occupation, was in over his head and continued fighting the ground war long after it was over.
7. The Coalition Provisional Authority, under the leadership of L. Paul Bremer, dismantled the Iraqi Army and the highest level of the Ba'ath Party. We lost some of the most experienced personnel that were so vital in putting Iraq back together again.
8. Former New York City Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik was more focused on padding his résumé and getting camera time than helping stand up a viable Iraqi Police Services.
9. Because standing up an Iraqi Police Service was focused on quantity, not quality, we never completely knew who we could trust.
10. President Bush's coalition of the willing was only a coalition in name. Even those that were willing were not able. Only a couple of countries contributed to gaining stability in Iraq.
Colonel Ted Spain commanded the U.S. Army's 18th Military Police Brigade during the ground war and first year of the occupation of Iraq. He was responsible for thousands of military police and Iraqi Police across Baghdad and Southern Iraq. He is the co-author, along with Terry Turchie, a former Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI, of Breaking Iraq: The Ten Mistakes That Broke Iraq, which is being published this week.
This is pretty impressive to have written not long after the beginning of World War I:
And if we win,
And crush the Huns
In twenty years
We must fight their sons.
By Thomas Donnelly
Best Defense office of historical force structure analysis, French and Indian War to World War II division
Beyond the official story, that Army chart tells you a couple of things:
1. Army was never as big as planned.
2. It got heavier -- more tanks and more artillery.
3. It got heavier in different ways than planned -- fewer tanks, a lot more artillery.
4. Didn't buy as many aircraft as planned.
5. Needed many more higher-echelon support troops than planned.
1. Were the differences a result of policy, manpower constraints, industrial constraints, tactical learning?
2. For a war that's supposed to be about the rise of tactical aviation and close air support, the increase in artillery and failure to meet aircraft goals is interesting.
3. Higher-echelon support troops: Like other wars, this was fought in coalition and at great strategic distances from the United States and at great operational distances within the theaters. Is "tail" actually "tooth?"
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
In this photo a flight medic with C Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, is being lifted into a MEDEVAC helicopter with Luca, a military working dog with the 4th Stryker Brigade during training at FOB Spin Boldak in Afghanistan. The medics participating in this February exercise were not military veterinarians or vet techs, but were learning how to evacuate a MWD in the event that a handler was injured or otherwise unable to care for the dog himself. In combat theater a dog is treated as a full-fledged member of a unit and, if he were injured, would receive the same kind of emergency life-saving care and attention as any other solider, including the attention of a medic.
Still, treating an injured canine in the heat of battle poses a unique set of challenges, especially if the dog is particularly protective of its handler or is known to bite (note the muzzle in this photo). When a dog team is out on a mission, the handler cannot be the only person in the unit who knows what kind of medical attention his dog will need or how it should be administered. All handlers are trained on how to treat their dogs, whether for dehydration, broken limbs, or blood loss. But when working outside the wire, many will carry cards detailing a kind of abbreviated "in case of emergency" instructions so someone else (hopefully a medic) will know how to treat their dogs if they are also wounded during missions.
As one Army handler (who I interviewed for the War Dogs book) told me last year, the first person a savvy handler will get to know when assigned to a new unit is the medic. "Whatever you can do to help the medics out in your AO as a handler, that's what you do. You introduce your dog to them. You let them play, you know, get friendly with them." This handler wanted the medic, as well as the rest of his team, to know his dog and to care about his well being because they could be the ones in a position to save the dog's life.
RIP MWD Bak: This is a photo of Bak, a dog who was killed in action on March 11 in Afghanistan. Few details about the circumstances of how Bak was killed have been made public, but a memorial page is active on Facebook, including an extensive photo gallery. His handler, Sgt. Molina, is reportedly fine and, as of Wednesday, was awaiting transfer back to the States.
Rebecca Frankel is away from her FP desk, working on a book about dogs and war.
Sgt. Michael Needham U.S. Army/Bak Facebook
Flournoy: Two things, and especially because I think in Iraq, because the fundamental premise for the war was shown to be false, that should have triggered exactly the kind of discussion that: "Uh-oh, here we are. We've discovered there are no WMD, so what are we trying to do here, and what is our strategy and what are the risks and what are the tradeoffs and how much in resources are we willing to put in?" And then, the perverse effect is that it also affected Afghanistan because once the focus was on Iraq, Afghanistan really did become an economy-of-force effort for the first many years, which also takes the oxygen out of the fundamental strategic discussion.
Fastabend: I discovered this dilemma in Iraq. I wasn't in charge of strategy; I was in charge of operations. From the strategy guys, I would get the strategic conditions I was supposed to achieve: "Secure the borders of Iraq; end the violence. Our job is done. Make it happen." And no choices had been made, no options, nothing really was useful with respect to strategy.
Ricks: Shawn and Michèle, you both effectively held strategic positions. In fact, Shawn had the title, director of strategy for the American Empire.
Glasser: That's a capital "E"?
Ricks: Again and again we're coming back to original sin, fruit of the poisoned tree, and strategic confusion at the outset, where the system did not work, where the differences were not examined, and where assumptions were not examined either.
Brimley: Right, so I think we have a profound inability to make hard, clear strategic choices, but then I think that forces us to react, right? It forces us into a reactive posture. And for years I've heard the phrase, "Oh, Shawn, you know the enemy has a vote. The enemy has a vote." But we have a veto, right? And as we think about the years ahead, as we think about a constrained fiscal environment, we're going to have to make hard choices. And the enemy is going to try to lure us to do things that are not in our comparative advantage, so we're going to have to face up to the notion that we can veto that. We have a choice, and that's in how we prosecute these things. Those choices carry inherent levels of risk, but we should embrace that, not run from it.
Ricks: Michèle, why doesn't the system make hard choices?
Flournoy: Well, I can speak to what I experienced in the Obama administration. A lot of what we're talking about here happened in a much earlier period. I'm just guessing, I'm speculating, that part of why this initial fundamental strategic rethink didn't happen in Iraq is that, in the middle of [the war], you've gone in and you've broken the china, and now you have to say, "Whoops. The fundamental premise was wrong. Now what are we going to do?"
That's a very politically fraught thing for an administration to do when it's got tens of thousands of Americans in harm's way on the ground for a mission that was very controversial from the beginning. I think it would have been an extraordinary act of leadership for, whether it was the president or the national security advisor, you know, the team, to sort of say, "Hey, wait a minute. This is not what we thought it was. What are our interests? How do we clearly define a new set of objectives and make some choices about how we're going to prosecute this?"
Ricks: That explains Iraq, but does it explain Afghanistan?
Flournoy: In Afghanistan -- again, I wasn't there in the early days-- I think that we were very good at getting in, very poor at seeing the way out. And I think part of the reason why we migrated from the focus on al Qaeda to "What are we going to do about Afghanistan writ large?" is getting caught in the sense of: What is a sustainable outcome? If you take too narrow an approach, it's like taking your hand out of the water. Once you leave, you're right back in the exact same situation where you have a government that's providing safe haven and you're facing a threat again. And yet we never really resourced, fully resourced, a counterinsurgency strategy until very late in the game when Obama did the review. But that was like coming in the middle -- the symphony had been playing for a number of years. You're inheriting something and now trying to say, "Well, now, given the interests at stake, clearly define who is the enemy, who is not. What's the limited outcome we're going to try to achieve, and how do we go after that?" But it's a lot harder to do coming into the middle of an operation with a lot of history than it is to do it right from the beginning. And I think that we probably would have defined it differently had we had that opportunity to shape it from the beginning, but given where we were and what we inherited, I think, you know, we did the best we could.
Ricks: Jim, it seems to me that what this conversation is saying is that there's something profoundly wrong at the civil-military interface, and your initial question speaks to this.
Dubik: The sense that I'm getting is we spend too much time worried about control and autonomy and less time talking about shared responsibility in strategic and operational decisions. The civil-military discourse is defined by civilian control of the military -- absolutely essential to it -- but all relationships are more complex than one formula can ever describe. So, while control and autonomy are part of the relationship, the shared responsibility is a huge part that doesn't seem to get as much play in the professional military education or in the development processes that are used for producing civilian strategists and leaders.
Ricks: This is an unfair question, but let me ask it anyway. If you could rewind us to Sept. 11, 2001, how should civil-military discourse have been conducted at that point?
Dubik: Well it certainly should have been centered around the fundamental questions, not of how, but of why and what.
But I'd like to kind of challenge the discussion a little bit, in the sense that we didn't have these analyses. When I went back and reviewed your books [gestures at Ricks], Woodward's books, Michael Gordon's book, your book [gestures at Chandrasekaran], I see a very similar pattern with respect to Iraq for sure. There are at least eight or nine major strategic reviews that clearly identified that what we were doing was not working. Yet we didn't make really a big shift until 2007. My bet is you could go through and find papers about Afghanistan that say the same thing, that until you [gestures to Flournoy] did the review in 2009, that there were plenty of evidence that what we were doing wasn't working, but we had no shift. Back to your original question. The first question was more about how and not enough about why and what, and then we couldn't adapt. It wasn't just in Afghanistan that we were treating it as an economy of force -- we were -- but it was an economy of thought. There wasn't the attention.
Flournoy: Because there's no bandwidth.
Brimley: There's only so much bandwidth for policymakers, and what you see early in Afghanistan is all the planning power on the military and civilian side gets sucked into the Iraq problem. And it is sort of on autopilot: Things are going well; there's not a lot of thought that needs to be given to it.
Ricks: Bandwidth? When I go back and read the papers of George Marshall and other senior leaders in 1939, 1940, '41, they're dealing with much bigger problems, global issues, and they are making really hard choices, such as: Let the Philippines go, keep the sea lines of communication open to Australia--but win in Europe first. These are basic, fundamental things.
So I would argue with the bandwidth thing. What's clogging them up nowadays?
Crist: The initial question I raised was: Do commanders have to think? And I think it gets to what General Dubik said about getting focused on shooting the close-in target.
We don't think about the long-term ramifications of the actions and the strategy. In my view, the great failing of Tommy Franks, he never asked about that the assumptions were coming down about what this campaign would look like -- assumptions being facts in the campaign design. Those assumptions were never challenged. In many ways, as I describe in my book, there was no red team to look at, "OK, how is this going to impact Iran? Does it open opportunities for them, or does it have a deterrent effect?" And so I think that, having sat down with a number of top commanders and staff, that piece of it isn't done. It's almost discouraged because "that's the policymakers' realm, it's not ours."
Dubik: Well that's the civil-military issue. It's control and autonomy. So, at least on the military side, the bulk of the training is deductive training. You are given a mission, you are given an end state, you are tossed over the transom the strategy, and just. . . .
Ricks: When you're talking about shared responsibilities, it seems to me you're talking about trust. Trust is the essence of that shared responsibility -- the sense of a common future, that we trust each other, we'll be working on this. It seems to me you're saying there's a fundamental lack of trust in our civil-military system.
Mudd: Hold on. One interjection that relates to bandwidth is the difference between choices and questions. I think [back in 2001] we blew over the questions. You said it's not "how," which is what we did on Sept. 12; it's why and what. On Sept. 12, 2001, can you imagine asking the question: Is the Taliban really a threat? Today, 12 years later, I'd say, "Well clearly it's not a threat! In fact, they're going to be in the government!" But we blew through the question, which led to space, because you have to have space because the Taliban's a problem -- in retrospect, they weren't. So we made a choice, but we didn't know we had a choice.
I'll close by saying there's a bandwidth issue; part of this is the speed of decision-making in Washington. Can you imagine at the Washington Post, sitting back on Sept. 12 and saying, "Wait a minute; you sure the Taliban's a threat?" You would have been crushed. That, clearly, would have been a good question.
Ricks: I want to go to two things here. Dave Fastabend, you talk about the inability to make hard choices. How do we get the system to surface and make hard choices?
Fastabend: I think we need to relook at what we teach about strategy and train people about how these decisions are made. I think we should teach strategy much like the Harvard Business School teaches strategic decision-making in business, on a case-study basis. There's lots of good history out there where they could teach people what were, in essence, the choices people had in various situations. You [Ricks] very articulately described the ones Marshall had. Talk about what the options were, how they made the trades and came to it. But don't take people through these ridiculous exercises about define the ends you want and go see if someone can make a path to it.
(and more yet to come)
By Henry Farrell
Best Defense office of ethno-military affairs
You asked recently whether the "British Army ever formally recognized and honored the role that Irishmen (not Anglo-Irish aristos) historically played in its enlisted ranks?"
The answer is yes, at least for World War I. Neither the British nor the Irish government was particularly inclined to celebrate the role of Irish soldiers in the British Army until quite recently. World War I split the Irish Volunteers into a majority under the sway of John Redmond, who supported the British in World War I (and in many cases volunteered to join the British Army), and a minority who opposed the war and the threat of conscription (which was nominally led by my great-grandfather Eoin MacNeill). The latter started the Easter Rising and the War of Independence, and won, more or less (the Irish civil war was fought between two sub-factions of this faction; as Brendan Behan once remarked, the first item on the agenda of any IRA meeting was always The Split). The former nearly completely disappeared from historical memory -- nobody, except the Ulster Unionists, particularly wanted to remember the Irishmen who had fought on Britain's side. Sebastian Barry's extraordinary play, The Steward of Christendom, talks to this amnesia from the perspective of the "Castle Catholics" who had sided with the British administration. Frank McGuinness's earlier play, Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, talks about it from a Unionist perspective.
This began to change in the 1990s, leading to an initiative to create a memorial to the Irish who died in World War I, which was folded into the more general peace initiative. The result was the building of a tower with financial support from both the British and Irish governments, commemorating the war dead from both parts of Ireland. The British and Irish army bands played together for the first time at its opening. The Wikipedia page on the memorial gives a good overview of the project and the politics behind it.
By Lt. Cdr. David Forman, US Navy
Best Defense guest correspondent
Before President Obama's national security team started their analysis in 2009 that eventually led to the current rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, then-Senator Jim Webb experienced a peculiar event. It was so peculiar that it now helps shape his argument that we need another type of rebalance: one that returns the legislative and executive branches to actual co-equal partners in government.
In December of 2008, Sen. Webb entered a soundproof room to review the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA) that would shape our long-term relations with Iraq. Though not actually classified, the White House controlled the document as though it was. According to the logbook he signed to enter the room, Sen. Webb was the first member of the legislative branch to review it. The irony of "secretly" reviewing a document that should have been written or thoroughly debated by Congress was not lost on such an experienced public servant.
In his recent article, "Congressional Abdication," in The National Interest, Webb draws attention to three main events he believes indicate Congress is not fulfilling the full range of its responsibilities, including Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution as it pertains to use of the military. First, as mentioned above, the Congress did not play any meaningful role in the development of the SFA agreement with Iraq. Though not an official treaty, the agreement was a unique display of exclusive executive-branch negotiations. Second, and most alarming to Webb, is that the Congress played no part in debating or approving combat operations in Libya in March 2011, a previously unprecedented type of military intervention. And last, the Congress was kept in the dark until the president was ready to sign the strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan in May 2012.
To be clear, Webb's remarks at a recent session at the officers of The National Interest began with, "I'm not on a crusade." He is not trying to throw stones in the Congressional arena now that he is on the sidelines. Webb's goal is to provide an honest and insightful assessment of the current imbalance between the two branches.
After the terrorist attacks on U.S. soil in 2001, the president was understandably afforded great leeway to act. No elected official wanted to be seen as unpatriotic in the aftermath of such a penetrating and deadly assault on American territory. However, the complexity and diversity of pursuant foreign policy issues combined with the perpetual need to fundraise has prevented Congress from digging deep into foreign policy issues and recovering the ground it patriotically sacrificed in 2001.
The path to rebalancing is not easy or entirely clear, but recognition by the president and the Congress, the media, and the American people is a necessary first step. Congressional approval may seem like a nuisance in the pace of today's political developments, but it is also vitally important. Not only does this process adhere to our laws, it also shows the resolve of the American government and the nation it represents.
Though the eventual solution will take time, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is a natural focal point to help restore legislative balance to executive branch involvement in foreign policy. The framework for Congressional involvement and genuine oversight still exists, but its members must duly exercise this capability. With American involvement in Afghanistan winding down, issues with North Korea and Iran are most likely front-runners of opportunity for the Congress to reassert its constitutional authorities and work as a co-equal partner to steer our nation through a myriad of upcoming foreign-policy decisions.
LCDR David Forman, USN, is a senior military fellow at the Center for a New American Security. The views presented here are his own and do not represent those of the Navy or the Department of Defense.
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:
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.