Academic journal article Military Review

What's Wrong in IRAQ? or Ruminations of a Pachyderm

Academic journal article Military Review

What's Wrong in IRAQ? or Ruminations of a Pachyderm

Article excerpt

[G]uerrilla warfare is so incongruous to the natural methods and habits of a stable and well-to-do society that the American Army has tended to regard it as abnormal and to forget about it whenever possible. Each new experience with irregular warfare has required, then, that appropriate techniques be learned all over again.--Russell F. Weigley (1)

If anyone is stunned and amazed that the U.S. Army is having difficulties in Iraq, they should not be. There is seemingly something in the Army's DNA that historically precludes it from preparing itself for the problems of insurgency or from studying such conflicts in any serious way until the dam breaks.

Most armies, when they lose a war, go back to the drawing board (for example, the Germans). In contrast, regardless of the outcome of a war in which we have been involved, we have been institutionally preoccupied with "big war" and have shown habitual disdain for studying "little war" requirements such as restraint in campaigning, patience over the protracted nature of the contest, and the need to minimize rather than maximize the use of firepower in pursuit of limited goals.

Recent events, however, have forced the military to reassess the way it is doing business, so it is in the process of combining 3 principles from military operations other than war--perseverance, restraint, and legitimacy--with the traditional 9 principles of war to create an altogether new category called the 12 principles of joint operations. For Army veterans of previous small wars, combining these principles is, in some measure, a bittersweet admission of long-overlooked shortsightedness; it recognizes, albeit belatedly, that what we have been saying all along about the applicability of these three principles to military operations in general was important.

However, no doubt, some in the Army will still insist on distinguishing between principles of so-called traditional war and those of counterinsurgency (COIN), as if conflicts on the lower end of the spectrum are aberrations, not proper for the Army to address. This view persists in the face of history itself, which clearly shows that most U.S. wars were at the spectrum's lower end.

I therefore submit the following thoughts as both a reminiscence and as a warning--especially to younger officers--of the dangers that can be posed by a military culture's biases as I have personally observed and experienced them. I hope that in some way these ruminations will influence the current as well as future Army from going down the dead-end road we have traveled several times before.

Bona Fides

I begin with my bone tides in this area. I had 30 years of operational experience in low-intensity conflict (LIC), special operations, and security assistance. This stemmed from two tours in the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) and five tours in Latin America. During this time, I commanded U.S. Army Special Forces (SF) at every level from "A" detachment (captain) to group (colonel).

I have also commanded a mobile training team in the Dominican Republic, advised an airborne infantry battalion in Bolivia, commanded the U.S. Military Group in El Salvador, and served as executive officer to the Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Southern Command. In addition, I have taught at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC), the Army War College, and for the last 15 years, the Naval War College. I have an M.A. in international relations from Cornell and a Ph.D. in history from Temple University. As a student and teacher, I have focused primarily on small wars, military theory, American military history, and U.S.-Latin-American relations.

Big War Fixation

In my 30 years of exposure to counterinsurgency, I have consistently encountered military leaders who believed that the proper warrior should study mainly for the next conventional war; they viewed all other kinds of military engagements as mere side events. …

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