The Best Defense

‘How the United States Lost the Naval War of 2015'

The new (Winter 2010) issue of FPRI's Orbis magazine has a particularly alarmist article that posits the Chinese sneakily sinking the USS George Washington in 2015.

I usually like this sort of article that attempts to look back from a possible future event and explain how we got there. But I didn't find this article, by Cdr. James Kraska, a Naval War College law professor, particularly persuasive. I mean, he asserts that the U.S. Navy is taking its eye off the ball because:

An entire generation of [its] mid-career commissioned and noncommissioned officers tried to learn counterinsurgency land warfare in the desert and mountains of central Asia while their counterparts in China conducted fleet exercises to learn how to destroy them."

Really? Has the Navy sent "an entire generation" to Iraq and Afghanistan? 

Also, does national security rest ultimately only on the Navy, as this hydrocentric article tendentiously asserts?:

Only more slowly did people begin to realize that the maintenance of the world order had rested on U.S. military power, and that the foundation of that power was U.S. command of the global commons. The Army could fail, as it did in Vietnam; the Air Force was ancillary to the Army. To secure the U.S. position and the nation's security-and indeed for world order-the Navy could never fail."

But what stuck in my craw most of all was Kraska's casual poke at "the apologizing Obama administration," which he asserts that, combined with the "unpopularity" of the predecessor administration, is undermining national security. I think it is acceptable for active duty officers to critique strategy, but I think here Kraska is sailing a little too close to politically attacking his  commander in chief, especially since he offers no evidence, and footnotes this sentence to an article by Henry Kissinger that appeared months before Obama became president.

US Army Korea - IMCOM

The Best Defense

Cohen updates the COIN canon

Johns Hopkins strategic guru and former Condi consigliore Eliot Cohen, who inexplicably has been neglected by Great Satan's Girlfriend, helpfully rounded up some recent works on counterinsurgency in the Washington Post the other day.

Here are the highlights:

--James Arnold's "Jungle of Snakes" is useful to learn the fundamentals, competently summarizing past counterinsurgency campaigns in the Philippines, Algeria, Malaya and Vietnam, but offering few striking insights. Read it if you want to learn the basics of the American CORDS (Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support) program in Vietnam, for example, or learn who tortured whom in the Battle of Algiers.

--Rand Corp. has recently released its own COIN study, "Reconstruction Under Fire." ... [T]his new book typifies much of the contemporary Rand product: brief, lots of bullets and diagrams, thumbnail sketches of conflicts, and a conclusion pleading for further research.

--David Ucko's "The New Counterinsurgency Era" is a dense, scholarly and useful work on how the American military adapted to counterinsurgency during the Iraq war, both on the ground and in the classrooms of Fort Leavenworth, where most of the Army's thinking gets done. The book captures the Army's self-inflicted amnesia about counterinsurgency in the wake of Vietnam and the difficult steps needed to relearn old lessons.

--Mark Moyar's "A Question of Command" . . . reminds us that it takes a special kind of soldier -- reflective, patient, creative -- to lead counterinsurgency operations.

--Todd Greentree, the author of "Crossroads of Intervention," is an active diplomat who . . . weaves together personal knowledge and scholarly study and reminds us of forgotten conflicts in Central America that still have much teach us about small wars. As miserably unpopular as the Salvadoran conflict was, and as doomed as many considered the U.S. effort there, it succeeded in defeating a communist insurgency that once stood on the verge of success.

--The balanced and well-researched "Vietnam Declassified" by Thomas Ahern, a former CIA operations officer, describes the agency's role in Vietnam. But, like so much history of that war, it barely deals with the Vietnamese; it's all about us. And herein lies the greatest weakness of the COIN literature: It often lacks deep knowledge of the other side.

I like what Cohen has to say here. In particular, I think Rand Corp. especially needs to wake up. Sometimes it produces good work, but generally it just hits the bullseye for predictable mediocrity. I suppose someone has to give the Pentagon what it needs to hear, but what a dismal way to spend a career...