The Best Defense

Just some questions about COIN (VIII): Do we really tell them what we do there?

By Major Tom Mcilwaine, Queen's Royal Hussars

Best Defense guest columnist

Question Set Eight -- Do we get to choose if we are involved? This question strays onto uncomfortable territory, particularly for armies which are subject to civilian political oversight. Put brutally, we go where we are told to go.

But do we really tell politicians the whole truth about what we do -- how hard it is and how uncertain? Or do we suggest to them an element of control over the process of warmaking that is not really there? If we were more honest with our political leaders, might they not realize that going to war should be the very last resort of politics, not merely another policy choice? And does our current COIN philosophy help to disguise the very real difficulties that we face in the current operating environment by suggesting that if we just get the force ratios right, drink enough tea, and so on, then all will be well? Might it actually be a bit more complicated and complex than that? Culturally, how does the military's can-do attitude reinforce this dynamic? We won't say no, and we won't say it can't be done.


The Best Defense

‘More Salvadors, Fewer Vietnams’

That's the title for a study I'd like to write about the future force structure of the U.S. military. The military would be relatively small, and it would be told to focus on having two capabilities: To quickly provide long-term, indirect, small-footprint support in irregular conflicts, but also to have a cadre force that could, given time, expand conventional forces. It would be designed to avoid attempts to fight insurgencies with large deployments of conventional forces.

Now the thing just needs to be written.