The Army and the Changing American Strategy

By Killebrew, Robert B. | Army, August 2007 | Go to article overview

The Army and the Changing American Strategy


Killebrew, Robert B., Army


In the spring of 1947, when the United States decided to support the Greek government's fight against communist insurgency, President Harry Truman sent American Army advisers, headed by then-Maj. Gen. James A. Van Fleet, to oversee the effort.

Following the success of the Van Fleet mission, from 1947 to about 1974, military advisory teams, headed and staffed by U.S. Army officers and noncommissioned officers, served at the forefront of U.S. efforts to combat communist aggression. In the mid-1960s, more than 60 military assistance advisory groups (MAAGs) deployed worldwide were partners with State Department foreign missions and other governmental agencies in supporting U.S. allies and struggling new nations. In today's parlance, these MAAGs, with their State Department counterparts on embassy country teams around the world, played a key role in shaping the allied fight against communist aggression.

Today only a few scattered MAAGs remain, the others being casualties of post-Vietnam and postCold War contraction, congressional restrictions and pre-2003 strategies that downplayed long-term engagement in favor of expeditionary operations and sharp, decisive victories. As the United States begins to recast its future security strategies, rebuilding State Department and MAAG capacity overseas is a hot discussion subject in Washington think tanks and in the policy camps of both political parties. Thus far, no discussion has completely captured the complexity of a shift in U.S security policy that would switch emphasis from expeditionary to a more patient forward engagement. Nor is the impact on the two executive branch departments-State and Defense-and especially the Army, very well understood. The Army stands poised, as it did in 1947, to play an essential role in such a dramatic-and overdue-shift in national security strategy. The two key concerns are whether the Army can anticipate the shift as it comes and whether it can overcome the restraints of the past decade's flawed planning.

Even as Army troops are hunting down terrorists in Baghdad, jihadi influence-what scholar Mary Habeck calls the "radical faction of a multifaceted Islamist belief system"-is spreading in the Middle East, Africa, parts of Asia and even parts of Europe. Military audiences are accustomed to thinking about war in terms of the "spectrum of conflict," a 1960s term that has undergone a dozen transformations since then, but which remains a useful concept. Today, if one takes the center of the bar as "conventional" combat-probably something like the Israeli-Hezbollah clash of the summer of 2006-the left hand side of the spectrum, now "irregular warfare," extends even further to the left than current doctrine envisions, to preinsurgency or to some low level of terrorism. This far left side of the spectrum is where the jihadists are making their greatest progress-where local governments are weakest, corrupt, incompetent or all of the above; where conventional U.S. combat forces are least appropriate; and where American policy and capabilities are weakest. Moreover, jihadist thought does not conform to traditional insurgent goals-the jihadi does not intend to take over the government, but to destroy it, using terror, intimidation and the appeal of fundamental religious values against the local government. He has no well-defined goals as we would understand them. Eventually, the thinking goes, "God's kingdom" will prevail. Until then, the jihadi will fight his whole war on the left-hand side. Political consolidation is not his goal. Chaos is.

Clearly, the frontline fighters against chaotic jihadist extremism will be the governments and peoples most threatened, our allies and friends in newly emerging states where governmental structures are weak and where nationalist social networks are not strong enough to resist fundamentalist ideology. Iraq and Afghanistan are replaying for us a fundamental truth, that U.S. combat forces have only transitory value and that strategic success rests on the emergence of secure states that reflect, however roughly, concern for basic human rights. …

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