'87 Sir

Thirty years of service ----USNA Class of 1987 '87 Sir

Monday, August 23, 2010

It's not Clausewitz that's deluded

In his book The Clausewitz Delusion:  How the American Army Screwed Up the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan author Stephen L. Melton, a professor at the Army's Command and General Staff College presents the argument that the U.S. military's fixation with the ideas of Carl Von Clausewitz are the reason for the "failures" in Iraq and Afghanistan and the U.S. Army needs to return to its traditional modes of thinking about warfare- strategically and operationally.

Although Mr. Melton makes a convincing historic case for the prowess of the U.S. military in fighting what he terms "The American Offensive Way of War", his arguments for the reason of U.S. "failures" in Korea and Vietnam are less developed, in my opinion.  He also spends a great deal of time explaining why the U.S. should adapt a new 'OCCUPATION' doctrine modeled after what U.S. forces did in Germany and Japan after World War II.

Where I have the most significant disagreement with Mr. Melton is his understanding of Clausewitz and his definition of how it is applied in current U.S. doctrine.  Although I don't disagree that some parts of the Joint Pubs and Field Manuals on Operations are pretty darn mushy, they are clearly intended to be GUIDANCE only and not a cookbook for every situation.  As many of the lessons learned, books and monographs I have been reading on the Surge in Iraq clearly show, the U.S. Army was pretty darn adaptable to change in their counter-insurgency doctrine when it was instituted in late 2006 and concepts that worked were brought to the forefront.

Here's my bottom line for this book, the most fundamental part of Mr. Melton's argument is a non sequitur--there aren't going to be any more U.S. invasions of foreign countries for another 50 years.  No matter how things eventually turn out, the sour experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan mean that no U.S. forces will be occupying any country in my lifetime.  The SOLE exception to this would be Mexico, if it goes to hell in a handbasket and threatens to become a narco-terrorist state...even this Administration could not let Mexico become a failed state where Al Qaeda or Hezbollah could find refuge with tens of millions of refugees poring across the border.  Although Mr. Melton makes the standard discussion points about more carefully using American troops, training foreign troops, using international organizations and diplomacy, blah, blah, blah, the main thrust of his argument just doesn't stand up for me.

As previously stated in another post, Clausewitz remains extremely relevant-IF studied in the proper context and with a solid historical background.  His theories are dense, not for the simplistic pundits who use them too often, and require a great deal of study to be understood. Is Clausewitz some all powerful seer?  Of course not, but his fundamental ideas of the relationship between politics, diplomacy and warfare...and of course his timeless trinity of chance, reason and emotion as driving factors in war, will likely be studied at War Colleges long after Mr. Melton (and I) am retired.

Read it for yourself, and decide...is Clausewitz a Delusion?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What did our Founders know about taxation?

In the Federalist #6 Alexander Hamilton continues the discussion of the need for the states to unite to prevent inter-state conflict and potential European powers exploiting the differences between the new states for their own ambitions.  He does this by excellent use of historical examples from Ancient Greece and Rome, cautioning against the rise of militarism and imperialism:
Sparta, Athens, Rome, and Carthage were all republics; two of them, Athens and Carthage, of the commercial kind. Yet were they as often engaged in wars, offensive and defensive, as the neighboring monarchies of the same times. Sparta was little better than a well regulated camp; and Rome was never sated of carnage and conquest.
This is an interesting point, and one that many folks raise on our current campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.  However, Hamilton does oversimplify the role of commerce in international affairs, beginning the oft stated, and often misunderstood ideal that commercially "tied" together nations could never go to war with each other, 1914 and 1939 nothwithstanding:
The genius of republics (say they) is pacific; the spirit of commerce has a tendency to soften the manners of men, and to extinguish those inflammable humors which have so often kindled into wars. Commercial republics, like ours, will never be disposed to waste themselves in ruinous contentions with each other. They will be governed by mutual interest, and will cultivate a spirit of mutual amity and concord. 
While Hamilton's ideas certainly proved true for the soon to be UNITED States, they are not true of relations between nations.  As the great Thucydides states, nations often go to war out of FEAR, HONOR and INTEREST, commercial ties and trading status be damned.

In the Anti-Federalist #6, Brutus really goes to town on the issue of taxation and correctly points out the inherent conflict in delegating some powers of taxation and revenue to the states while maintaining some to the intended Federal government:
Suppose then that both governments should lay taxes, duties, and excises, and it should fall so heavy on the people that they would be unable, or be so burdensome that they would refuse to pay them both — would it not be necessary that the general legislature should suspend the collection of the state tax? It certainly would. For, if the people could not, or would not pay both, they must be discharged from the tax to the state, or the tax to the general government could not be collected.
WOW, does that sound familiar...can anyone say Federal bailout of the states and cities?  Hmmm, think your state tax burden is going down...how about your property taxes?  Mine sure as hell haven't, even though my house has lost about 30% of my equity.
Here's an even better quote:
A power that has such latitude, which reaches every person in the community in every conceivable circumstance, and lays hold of every species of property they possess, and which has no bounds set to it, but the discretion of those who exercise it[,] I say, such a power must necessarily, from its very nature, swallow up all the power of the state governments.
And to conclude:
For every man, rulers as well as others, are bound by the immutable laws of God and reason, always to will what is right. It is certainly right and fit, that the governors of every people should provide for the common defence and general welfare; every government, therefore, in the world, even the greatest despot, is limited in the exercise of his power. But however just this reasoning may be, it would be found, in practice, a most pitiful restriction. The government would always say, their measures were designed and calculated to promote the public good; and there being no judge between them and the people, the rulers themselves must, and would always, judge for themselves. [my emphasis]
 Think about it-- everything this Congress and Administration have done is "for the public good" or "for the children" or "for the poor and disadvantaged"  REALLY?!
Does anyone believe that anymore?  Does any member of Congress have the cajones to say "This is madness and a crock, this [fill in the blank] legislation is a pure power grab, plan and simple!"  Sadly, not too likely....yet..

Our Founders had a keen understanding of the power of taxation to destroy...not only the economy and industry of the new nation, but the power of the people to keep their liberty.  Once Congress gets its snout in the trough, they can invent all kinds of reasons to take your {our} money and spend it as THEY see fit.....
Hmmm....maybe there was something to Shays Rebellion after all....

Monday, August 16, 2010

The first of many "We Won the War!" books on Iraq

A Chance in  Hell: The Men Who Triumphed Over Iraq's Deadliest City and Turned the  Tide of War is the first of many books likely to be published in the coming years that explain why our brigade/battalion/company won the war in Iraq.

So, how true is it for this book? Well the 1st Armored Division Brigade that was sent to Ramadi in 2006 probably has as good a claim as anyone.  The fighting in Anbar Province in 2005-2006 was a strategically losing proposition for the U.S.  The mostly hostile Sunni population was providing an active "sea" for Al Qaeda "fish" to swim in and U.S. forces seemed to be taking endless casualties by IEDs with no sense of victory in sight.

Enter a fairly inconsequential Sunni tribal sheik, weary of Al Qaeda's extremism with an offer to fight for the Americans and PRESTO CHANGO, the rest, they say, is history.

The book moves at a pretty fast pace, while conveying a sense of the high-risk effort undertaken by the soldiers, Marines, SEALs, etc that teamed up with Sunni tribesmen to defeat Al Qaeda and begin to turn Anbar Province into a success by late 2007.  The independent thinking of the officers and NCOs of the brigade is fascinating to watch as they thread a fine line between the U.S. military command in Baghdad, the diplomatic and political landmines in Baghdad and Washington and the politics and squabbles of the various tribes seeking favor with the Americans as the Surge begins in 2007 and the tide of battle begins to turn against the extremists.

Anbar was considered a lost cause in 2006.  These remarkable troops made a big difference in the effort to turn things around.  Did they turn the tide of the war?  Maybe.  Did they change the narrative, think outside the box and win a classic counter-insurgency struggle?  Most definitely, and their story needs to be told.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Back to our previously scheduled program

A continued divergence of discussion points here in Federalist and Anti-Federalist #5.

In Federalist #5 John Jay continues the argument for a strong United group of States to not only withstand European pressure and interference, but to prevent the "Balkanization" of the colonies into competing armed camps that would not only potential fight amongst themselves, but invite foreign alliances and entanglements:
Instead of their being "joined in affection'' and free from all apprehension of different "interests,'' envy and jealousy would soon extinguish confidence and affection, and the partial interests of each confederacy, instead of the general interests of all America, would be the only objects of their policy and pursuits. Hence, like most other BORDERING nations, they would always be either involved in disputes and war, or live in the constant apprehension of them.
As usual, the Founding Fathers were way ahead of their time, as Americans we must stand united again today, only this time from an internal tyrant called Big Progressive Government, determined to pass their agenda, regardless of the people's wishes and funded by ???? shadowy foreigners?  (can anyone spell Soros?)

The publisher of the Anti-Federalist 5 continues to speak about the dangers of a dictatorial Chief Executive (hmmm, sound familiar) and a legislative branch all too prone to corruption and influence at the expense of the citizens it nominally represents....(wow, prophetic those old, white, powder-wig guys)
and you might as well deposit the important powers of legislation and execution in one or a few and permit them to govern according to their disposition and will; but the world is too full of examples, which prove that to live by one man's will became the cause of all men's misery.....Is it because you do not believe that an American can be a tyrant? If this be the case you rest on a weak basis; Americans are like other men in similar situations, when the manners and opinions of the community are changed by the causes I mentioned before, and your political compact inexplicit, your posterity will find that great power connected with ambition, luxury, and flattery, will as readily produce a Caesar, Caligula, Nero, and Domitian in America, as the same causes did in the Roman empire.
Dang....those guys, being very,very steeped in history, as opposed to the mushy social studies crap we feed our kids in school now, understood how quickly and easily Rome moved from a Republic to a Dictatorship to an Empire to.....nothing but bread and circuses....hmmm can anyone say Jersey Shore?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Great Masters of Strategy and Modern Warfare

The significant changes that have occurred in warfare at the operational and tactical level in the first decade of the 21st century have created an intense debate about changes to warfare at the strategic level.  This debate has been most passionate over the role of the great classical thinkers on war, particularly Karl von Clausewitz and his opus On War. A particular group of defense analysts, strategic thinkers, and professional soldiers question whether warfare has evolved at the strategic level into something so radically different that a new strategic paradigm is in order.  Competing analysts and scholars believe that the eternal nature of war at the strategic and grand strategy levels remains fundamentally unchanged, in spite of new actors and means of waging war.

In fact, a careful reading of both arguments reveals that Clausewitz’ two major themes on war—the relationship between war and politics and the interaction of his “strategic trinity” relationship remain just as valid today as they did in 1832, if studied and applied with a careful understanding and context within a proper historical and strategic setting.

The most misunderstood, but relevant, discussion Clausewitz raised in his work was the issue of “friction” and uncertainty in war.  For Clausewitz friction in war took two forms, tactical and strategic, both of which remain germane for conflict in the 20th and 21st centuries.  At the strategic level, Clausewitz noted that wars often veer in unexpected directions, often driven by the emotion side of his strategic triad, and not always controlled by the rational portion.  A primary example is the carnage of the Western Front in World War I, where the cost in treasure and manpower after 1914 quickly and completely overcame any possible negotiated settlement to the war, turning the conflict into a grinding attrition war that eventually killed millions and destroyed three of Europe’s oldest dynasties.  According to Clausewitz countries often go to war without a clear understanding of how to balance the ways and means the people, government, and military are willing to expend to achieve military and political ends.  This strategic friction of starting a war without clear and achievable goals is described as one of the worst mistakes a country can make, and numerous analysts have invoked Clausewitizian thought to condemn the American invasion of Iraq as a military operation begun without clear end goals or a desired and achievable political end state.

The more important aspect of Clausewitz’ thinking on friction is the understanding that warfare is fought between two thinking, evolving and adapting opponents.  In Clausewitz thinking it is the height of folly to assume your opponent will do what you expect them or stand idly while being attacked.   The maxim is true at both the strategic and tactical level.  The most recent conflict in Lebanon show how Israel underestimated Hezbollah’s willingness and capabilities to engage in prolonged firefights at the tactical level while completely changing the conflict at the strategic level by bombarding Israeli towns with rockets and missiles.  The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) never did provide an effective counter to their new opponents, expecting Hezbollah to crumple under the weight of Israeli firepower and tactical ability as previous Arab armies had done.  The U.S. also encountered this phenomenon during the initial states of Operation Iraqi Freedom when American tank columns did not face Iraqi armored units but groups of irregular fighters in civilian clothes fighting from pickup trucks.  Although U.S. combat units decimated these forces, follow-on logistical and maintenance units were much more vulnerable and considerable combat strength had to be diverted to protect supply lines.

Although warfare has changed a great deal through technology, culture and a new media dominated environment, the nature of war is eternal.  The attempt by “new war” theorists to discredit the classic strategic thinkers, particularly Clausewitz, falls short of the mark.  Although the realm of nation-state warfare is certainly in flux, the lessons on the political relationship of war and diplomacy combined with the strategic triad and the role of friction and uncertainty described in On War remains viable today.  Understanding Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, Jomini, and even Thucydides in the context of their times and circumstances continues to offer relevant insights to soldiers and politicians attempting to understand the unforgiving complexities of war.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Unusual Book

Okay, I have spent the weekend consuming World War Z by Max Brooks.  Now this is the kind of book that is normally wayyyy out of my lane, but it was actually recommended by one of the usual military strategy websites I read daily and I decided to check it out.  I was sucked in immediately and had trouble putting this book down over the weekend.
It is a strange mixture of sci-fi, narrative history and pure schlock.  I mean seriously- a book about a zombie war?  But, when I heard the author was the son of Mel Brooks, I had to check it out.  I must say the writing is really, really outstanding and it was not what I expected at all.  I have read many oral histories of World War II, Vietnam, and the Iraq War and this book could easily have been written by Studs Terkel. 
The attention to detail, while capturing the spirit of retelling the period when humanity almost became extinct is very well done by Mr. Brooks.  What makes the book really work is that Mr. Brooks does not get bogged down in the scientific details and doesn't tell you everything that happened, just weaves together various points of view to convey a sense of the "history" of the time and the "experiences" of the survivors.
Now,  I really enjoy alternate or counterfactual historical novels anyway, and this is one of the best I have read, ever.

I've never seen  a zombie movie, but I may have to check one out.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Finishing the Post on Hybrid Warfare

Warfare of annihilation, where one side completely destroys their opponent’s army and occupies their territory essentially ended in 1945.  Even the invasion of Iraq in 2003 did not see the U.S. completely destroy the Iraqi army and government, one of the major psychological and military reasons the subsequent insurgency was able to take root.  Modern sensibilities and aversion to casualties and destruction will also introduce a new element into the strategic and operational equation of warfare—time.  Future combat, or at least periods of intense fighting, will be severely shortened in hybrid wars as the weaker side will likely appeal to sympathetic media outlets and international organizations to end the complete destruction of their forces at the hand of their better equipped foes by decrying collateral damage and civilian casualties.  These media organizations, international bodies and even non-governmental organizations (NGOs) will practically become co-belligerents on the battlefield, wielding disproportionate influence on the operational and political outcome of the battle.
    Operationally, hybrid warfare will present two significant challenges to conventional militaries.  First, the weaker side does not need to achieve any major battlefield victories to achieve their political goals.  As the case study on the 2006 Lebanon War will show, merely being able to fight and survive against the superior military allows the hybrid warrior to claim some measure of ‘victory’ even after suffering significant casualties.
    Second, the weaker power is likely to operate in a loose network of fighters that will not present a significant target for conventional firepower.  Moreover, the growing urbanization of many Third-world countries, combined with the deliberate decision to wage war in densely populated areas will make the operational and tactical problems more difficult for Western militaries.  The USMC is already grappling with this issue in their discussion of a ‘three-block war,’ where Western military forces may be conducting assistance, security,  and combat operations in close proximity and nearly simultaneously.  Hybrid warriors will not be faced with his problem and will be singularly focused on inflicting casualties on their enemies.
    Given the new nature of hybrid warfare and its close nexus of political, diplomatic and information influences on combat, what lessons should militaries such as Israel and the United States learn at the tactical and operational level?
•    Hybrid warfare is already shaping not only how insurgents and non-state actors fight, but countries as well.  Incorporating the lessons of the 2006 Lebanon War, Iran has begun to completely reshape their strategy for dealing with a ground invasion by foreign forces that are assumed to be technologically superior, more mobile, and enjoy air superiority over the Iranian military, presumably the United States.
•    Technology will not be a panacea, and in fact, may hinder the ability to defeat hybrid opponents.  As both the U.S. and Israel learned, enemies like Hezbollah that cannot match Western firepower will simply neutralize that firepower politically by fighting from urban areas and concealing weapons and supplies in schools, homes, and mosques.  Although there will be a continuing role for technology in warfare, particularly intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance tools, hybrid warfare cannot be waged by airpower at 10,000 feet.
•    Hybrid warfare must be waged beyond merely military considerations.  Although tactical and operational capability is necessary, as all three case studies show, military action, diplomatic and political efforts, and information operations must be tightly woven into the “strategic narrative” that not only defeats the enemy militarily, but wins in the arena of public opinion.  In hybrid warfare, the internet and television news are weapons no less than tanks and airplanes.
•    The prospect of fighting hybrid warfare will require fundamental operational and tactical decisions for the U.S. military-particularly the Army and Marine Corps.  Although the strategic level of war will remain basically unchanged, the balance between the light infantry/special operations forces component and the heavy armor/combined arms will create significant changes to future weapons systems acquisitions as the Army and Marine Corps decide on the types and numbers of tanks, mine-resistant vehicles, and other equipment needed to fight and win against an opponent armed with increasing numbers of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles.  The future ground forces of the U.S. Army will very much be affected by hybrid warfare.  The current debate on light versus heavy brigades, conventional versus COIN warfare, and which type of opponent the U.S. should be prepared to fight will have a significant long-term effect on not only force structure and procurement strategies, but training, doctrine and the overall concept of employing military force.
Hybrid warfare will present immense challenges to high-tech conventional militaries in the 21st century.  How well the militaries and their political masters adapt to the new strategic, operational, and tactical levels of warfare will go a long way in determining how useful military power will be in the years to come.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Win one for the Gipper

Continuing with the second volume, Hayward performs a critical analysis of Reagan's two terms and, unlike the worshipful polemics written about Clinton and no doubt Obama, Hayward again pulls no punches in pointing out the highs and lows of the Reagan years, including Iran-contra, Lebanon and other missteps of his Administration, even covering the 1987 stock market crash.

The book continues the "destiny" theme from the first volume.  The 1980 campaign was not a sure thing until the final debate, when Reagan hammered Carter with wit and deft to show voters he was not too old to assume the Presidency.  The early fights over tax cuts, the defense buildup and even Reagan's near-assassination show just how much a near-run thing his victories over a constantly back-biting Congress were.

This book does continue Hayward's penchant for detail, detail and moooore detail, particularly over the arcane point of economic and social theory.  It does take some work to get through and I will admit, I might have skipped a few pages.  The narrative on foreign policy was really excellent, especially Reagan's clear and concise thinking about defeating Communism by any means needed and regardless of the ninny-nannying of the Europeans and the left wing loonys. (yes I wrote ninny-nannying)  Our current leader could take some lessons about getting a backbone against the Islamist threat we face today.

These are weighty tomes, but well worth reading if you want to get a sense of Reagan within his times and how he literally saved America, the freedom of Western Europe and created the modern conservative movement.  I doubt they will be on Nancy Pelosi's Amazon Wish list, so all the better.