The Best Defense

What Max Boot missed: A response about the future shape of the U.S. military

By Billy Birdzell

Best Defense guest respondent

I believe Max has missed Das Boot.

1. If COIN is 80 percent political, then the political construct is most important. French and British in Algeria and Malaya were conquerors with political and military control over the place for 124 years (ironic) before their insurgencies began. Please talk about expeditionary COIN. Russia in Afghanistan, U.S. Afghanistan, U.S. Vietnam, U.S. Iraq. Where else? The United States in the Philippines 1898-1913 was the Malaya example because we owned the place. Mixing up political contexts = fail.

2. No matter how good our tactics, cultural training, language ability, etc., we will never get out of the dilemma that the harder we try, the worse it gets. More money for AID and development = more corruption. More troops = accidental guerrillas and al Qaeda in Iraq type organizations. Joe Meyers and UBL call it defensive jihad, but whatever. Our very presence delegitimizes the government we are trying to prop up. It's a failed model and one that Galula said was the worst of all possible worlds. FM 3-24 is a manual for the worst case scenario -- that in which the military gets stuck with an insurgency that it didn't see coming. It can, at best, direct military force to get a slightly better political situation than running away. It is not a doctrine around which to structure the military.

3. I disagree that language, culture, etc. materially impact success. Using the military instead of the State Department for diplomacy is inherently flawed. The military's main contribution is destroying armed groups who challenge the government's monopoly on force and I'd like to see what percentage of intelligence was developed by native speakers/culture experts.

4. Tanks are fabulous for killing guerrillas in urban areas. Artillery is your friend and outbound rounds still make the sound of freedom. Flying machines are cool. Max fundamentally does not understand that COIN involves high intensity combat and our technology/firepower, USED APPROPRIATELY, gives us an edge.

5. I agree with Nagl that advisors a la Landsdale during Huk (20 PAX, later increased to 56), El Sal (55 PAX), JSOTF-P, and Columbia are great. However, like all other uses of military force, what is the strategy? What is the United States trying to achieve? What are we going to give up to do more/longer/better engagements with which partner nation forces? We can have the best advisors in the world, if the partner nations do not have real governments and a military with the will to fight, we're pissing in the wind.

6. The most important factors for success against irregulars -- partner nation governance and the local military's will -- are out of our hands. Those two issues are not discussed by people who want to rearrange the military and create all kinds of nonsense. If eliminating safe havens and supporting stable governments is our policy, then what kind of military deployments maximize the host nation's ability to create legitimacy and find their will to win? I argue that Max's concepts minimize them.

Billy Birdzell served eight years in the Marine Corps, was a platoon commander during OIF I and II and a team leader in MARSOC. He is now doing that Security Studies thing at Georgetown University.


The Best Defense

FDR as a strategic analyst of the Balkans

I was reading Robert Sherwood's Roosevelt and Hopkins, and was struck that in March 1943, President Roosevelt made a prescient observation about the future of Yugoslavia. Harry Hopkins, his close aide, quotes him as saying in a meeting with Anthony Eden that, "the Croats and Serbs had nothing in common and that it is ridiculous to try to force two such antagonistic people to live together under one government."