How Iraq Will Change US Military Doctrine ; More Emphasis Will Be Put on Peacekeeping and Dealing with Messy Political Conflicts. Are Preemptive Strikes Dead?

By Brad Knickerbocker writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, July 2, 2004 | Go to article overview

How Iraq Will Change US Military Doctrine ; More Emphasis Will Be Put on Peacekeeping and Dealing with Messy Political Conflicts. Are Preemptive Strikes Dead?


Brad Knickerbocker writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Years from now, when today's lieutenants and ensigns are generals and admirals, what will make them nervous? That is, what will be the "Vietnam syndrome" equivalent applied to those in uniform today, battlefield experiences they had that raise warning flags when they're asked to fight again?

That will be one very pointed way of considering whether the lessons of US operations in Iraq have been learned. With the symbolic handover of Iraq to Iraqis this week, that examination of US military doctrine and tactics there officially begins.

But like Vietnam and World War II, such lessons aren't confined to Pentagon planners and service academy professors. They are inevitably connected to how political leaders and Americans generally - those who send service men and women into harm's way - see the role of the United States in the world.

Among the questions raised by a war that has been longer and costlier than anticipated: What kind of future conflicts should be expected and prepared for? How will the makeup and placement of US forces around the world change? And perhaps most important to those who do the nation's fighting: What's the outlook for shoot-first "preventive war" as advocated by neoconservatives prominently advising the president?

Much of the discussion revolves around the so-called Powell Doctrine of war (explicit objectives, overwhelming use of force, clear exit strategy) versus the "Rumsfeld Doctrine" (smaller numbers of highly maneuverable ground forces, emphasis on special operations, and high-tech air power).

Changing structure of US military

At this point, there are more questions than answers. But a few things are certain.

"Marines and Army will resemble each other more and more - light, mobile, transportable," says retired Army Col. Daniel Smith, military affairs analyst at the Friends Committee on National Legislation in Washington. "Heavy armor will be downplayed. Heavy artillery will be downsized. Special operations units - SEALs, Air Force special ops, Green Berets, Delta [forces] will be larger and more active."

Of all the services, the Army is likely to see the greatest longer-term effects of the Iraq war, many experts predict, beginning with the clear need to prepare for messy political conflicts, insurgencies, and peacekeeping operations rather than focusing so much on conventional combat.

"The Army's most recent failure to accelerate transformation for these new types of operations can be somewhat understood given that the administration came in saying 'no nation-building,' " says military analyst Marcus Corbin of the Center for Defense Information in Washington. "Now that the administration has dumped on the Army the biggest nation-building in decades, no longer can the Army leadership hide behind that excuse."

In Iraq, "shock and awe" from the air allowed for US ground troops' quick dash to Baghdad. But it also sent most of Saddam Hussein's loyalist forces underground, thereby setting the scene for an insurgency that continues to seriously undermine efforts at reconstruction. …

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