'87 Sir

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

Friday, July 13, 2012

The great German Chancellor Bismarck-someone to think about....

An intermission from my on-going book reviews.  Watching and listening to the news lately, as well as reading my books for the upcoming SMH review essay, has stirred my thinking about what's going on in Syria, the Middle East in general and where the U.S. should turn its attention after expending 10 years, billions of dollars and thousands of lives in the region.

Otto von Bismarck is not someone well known to Americans.   Why do I mention him you ask?  Well Bismarck was probably the greatest European statesmen of the 19th century and arguably the founder of modern Germany.  The brilliant military victories of Prussia over the Danes, Austrians and French in the 1860s and 1870s were not only remarkable for their military prowess, but their political and diplomatic genius as well.  I would say that Bismarck conducted Clausewitizian warfare at its finest, brilliantly tying military victory to political ends to not only create Germany but ensure a military alliance with his former foe, the Austrian Empire, while holding at bay Germany's traditional enemy-France.  Most importantly Bismarck had a keen understanding of the importance of peace and prosperity to Germany and knew when not to make war.  He is often quoted as saying that Germany had no interests at stake in the Balkans, a major flashpoint in Europe in the late 19th century, which Bismarck said "were not even worth the healthy bones of a single Pomeranian musketeer."'

SO, what does this have to do with Syria?  Well, everyday there is more clamoring to stop the horrible massacres of civilians by the brutal Assad regime and the ongoing battle between government and insurgent forces appears to be growing in intensity.  Strategically, I think we need to think about Bismarck and his realpolitik and determine what our real strategic interests are before we let our emotions get the better of us.

In that light, I think we should let the Arabs, Iranians, terrorists and thugs keep on fighting.  Harsh?  Well, maybe, but if we had LEADERSHIP in Washington and someone in the Oval Office that was thinking about AMERICA and not his re-election and political socialist agenda, then possible someone would grasp the unique and probably once in a generation opportunity we have to completely reshape the dynamics of the Middle East. 

WOW, what de heck is he talking about?  Well, here it is...with the new drilling and extraction technologies being developed, and new discoveries of oil and gas both in America and off Israel, the U.S. could, with Manhattan Project like investment, become nearly energy independent in 5-10 years...perhaps even less if the ridiculous environmental regulations were lifted and the war on oil and coal were ended by this Administration.  By reducing our dependence on oil from the Middle East, the U.S. can actually achieve what the Code Pink whackos, MoveOn.org freaks and others have been proclaiming (at least from 2001-2009)--Bring the Troops home.  Yup, all of them...the Fifth Fleet, all our troops, everything...and let the Middle East rot.  Yup, I said it...let the Syrians, Saudis, Iranians, Hizballah, and Iraqi knuckleheads keep killing each other...and let the Chinese worry about keeping up a steady supply of oil...at least until their country collapses.

Now don't get me wrong...I supported the Afghanistan and even Iraq Wars initially, but I have determined that the entire Arab Middle East is hopelessly broken and stuck in the 9th century.  SO, I say, fine...have your little tribal wars, shoot your neighbors because they're Sunni or Shia or whatever the hell.  The more of each other you kill, the sooner that your "civilization" either decides to catch up to the rest of the world or slides back into being a curiosity that Americans read about in National Geographic.

There, I said it...stay the hell out of Syria...let the Assad knuckleheads know to leave Israel and Turkey alone or we will bomb the crap out of you..but otherwise...let's make Syria into Iran's "Iraq", so to speak...let the Quds Force spend their lives and treasure propping up their puppet.  Let's see what those ungrateful bastards in Iraq do without the U.S. to help them out, let the Afghans get back to doing whatever the hell it is they do to sheep...and lets enjoy our own oil, coal, and natural gas...or just to really piss our former "allies" off, let's start importing energy from Israel and making them as rich as the Saudis.

Book Review # 3: What exactly is a military revolution?

The Iraq Wars and America’s Military Revolution.  By Keith L. Shimko.  New York:  Cambridge University Press, 2010.  ISBN 978-0-521-12884-1.  Maps.  Figures.  Notes.  Index.  Pp. xi, 249.  $27.99.

I really liked this book....I mean I really liked it.  It actually taught me a few things, but, more importantly made me think about a subject near and dear to me, the so-called Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA).

So, first to the nitty gritty.  Like Ballard's book, Shimko looks at the entire period of America's military involvement in Iraq from 1990-2010, BUT, he also goes back further, to look at what happened to the U.S. Army and the U.S. military in the aftermath of Vietnam and how the American military was able to resurrect itself after that dark period in American military history.  He then goes through a very cogent and well argued comparison of what the American RMA was, wasn't--where it worked well, and where it didn't. 

What I really liked about this book is that Shimko offers an excellent military analysis of exactly what the RMA for the U.S. military was- not something as simple as the invention of gunpowder, the tank, or the airplane..but the introduction of the microchip, sophisticated satellites and computer networks to create what he calls, and I think quite correctly, not a Revolution in MILITARY Affairs, but a revolution in the "reconnaissance-strike" complex of the U.S. military that allowed air power to completely dominate and obliterate Iraqi conventional forces in two conflicts.  This is the real meat of his analysis and why I think this book is so timely.  His balanced look at the impact of not only new technology, but the new AirLand Battle doctrine developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s by the U.S. shows how technology must be coupled with changes to doctrine, tactics and training to achieve a truly game changing method of waging warfare.

The ability of the USAF and USN to bomb the crap out of any target that can be detected, tracked and engaged is a definite capability that few countries possess.  HOWEVER, what target to bomb the crap out of becomes the problem when fighting insurgents and terrorists.  As Shimko points out, bombing tanks, airfields, and stationary targets is one thing, but finding knuckleheads making IEDs in some cave in Afghanistan to send a little 500lb love to is quite another. 

There are definite limits to this thing called an RMA and what is an RMA for conventional conflict may not be applicable to COIN or counter-terrorist operations.  As much as the jet jockeys and drone pilots like to brag about killing bad guys,what did that really do for U.S. troops in Anbar Province or Helmand Province?  The need to find and fix the target becomes much more of a boots on the ground effort in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, as Shimko correctly argues.  As the Israelis also found out in 2006, when your enemies deliberately hide their sophisticated and target-able weapons like missile launchers among civilian buildings and installations, air power becomes a much more politically risky weapon, in spite of its military capability. 

Shimko continues with an excellent summation of the challenges faced by the U.S. military as operations in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down- What kind of enemy are we likely to fight in the next 20 years?  China?  Russia?  Iran?  Mexican drug lords?  Each of these potential foes could require vastly different military forces and capabilities.  As the U.S. begins to focus more on the Pacific, will the USAF and USN begin to build new aircraft and ships to maintain our dominance of the Global Commons?  What will be the role of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps?  Should Special Operations Forces focus on COIN and CT and allow armored and mechanized troops  to return to their traditional role of preparing for high-intensity conflict?  These are not trivial questions as the U.S. military attempts to not only recapitalize from 10 years of war in an era of HUGE budget deficits and the traitorous (at least in this Grouchy Historians' opinion) sequestration cuts, but allocate a shrinking pot of procurement money for next generation ground vehicles, aircraft and ships.

So, finally, since I complained about the price of an earlier book, I would consider this book much more reasonably priced and well worth the cost.  If you want to read an excellent introduction to the concept of the RMA and how it affected the U.S. military, read this book.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Book Review # 2 : Good overall survey of America's conflict with Iraq.

From Storm to Freedom:  America’s Long War with Iraq.   By John R. Ballard.  Annapolis, MD:  Naval Institute Press, 2010.  ISBN 978-1-59114-018-4.  Maps.  List of acronyms.  Illustrations.  Notes.  Bibliography.  Index.  Pp. xxvii, 321.  $37.95.

So, on to the second of my four books.  I will confess that I already owned this book...big surprise, I know.  However, I bought this particular book because its concept intrigued me.  John Ballard, a retired Marine Colonel, has written what I would call a survey overview of America's "war" with Iraq from 1990-2010.  When you consider in that 20 year span the US fought two hot, one warm, and a long cold war with Saddam Hussein, this sort of book needed to be written.

What I really liked about this book is the continuum of events that Ballard ties together, including the Desert Fox air operations of 1998 and the long and tedious flights of Operations Northern and Southern Watch (which your own Grouchy Historian supported during his time on the Big E) which gave the US a major operational advantage when the shooting started again in 2003.

Because the book is only about 300 pages of text, Ballard does not go into great detail on any particular aspect of the conflict, BUT as an introductory volume for the War College or even service academy student in the next 10 years to try and understand why the US military spent so much time focused on a little pissant county like Iraq for nearly 20 years, this is an excellent book.

Ballard does a pretty decent job of military and historical analysis, and offers some interesting insights on the effects of sanctions and the status of Iraq's WMD programs prior to the US invasion in 2003.  His analysis of the post-2003 COIN environment is also interesting, if a bit shallow due to the nature of the book.  There was a lot of military activity going on in Iraq in the last 5 years, especially during the Surge and Ballard does kind of quickly move through much of this operational period with a minimum level of detail, something I felt needed a little more time spent describing the wholesale turnaround of US strategic and operational planning and action.

However, if you consider the scope and purpose of the book, this is not a major hindrance since there are a number of detailed histories beginning to emerge on the conflict in Iraq....more on that in another post.

Although I think the price is a little steep, Amazon is truly your friend here and sells it for about $25 new, so if you want to know what the whole US-Iraq kerfuffle was about in a single volume without getting bogged down in details, read this book

Monday, July 2, 2012

Book Review # 1: Beware the use of case studies...

So, here is the first mini-review of the four books I am reviewing for the SMH.  

Contesting History:  The Bush Counterinsurgency Legacy in Iraq.  By Matthew J. Flynn.  Santa Barbara, Calif.:  Praeger, 2010.  ISBN 978-0-313-38488-2.  Notes.  Bibliography.  Index.  Pp.  xi, 164.  $44.95.

This book is a series of case studies that attempts to compare and contrast the US counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq with several historical examples the author describes as insurgencies against an "occupation."  The examples he choose include Mexico in 1863, the Arab revolt of WWI, the US in Vietnam, the Soviets in Afghanistan and Chechnya and, of course, Iraq.

Ok, so there are two dangers to using case studies for historical analysis, as this Grouchy Historian sees it:
1) For every case that proves your thesis, there is another one that doesn't so choose wisely
2) The KEY to this type of analysis is a rigorous and thorough synthesis of each case study to support the overall thesis of the book.

While I found the individual case studies interesting, especially Flynn's choice of the revolt against the French occupation of Mexico on 1863, I did not feel that he made a compelling case overall.  In fact, I actually had a very difficult time trying to determine what his thesis was.  In some case studies, he appears to be making the argument that conducting COIN operations as part of an occupation is difficult (duh), while seeming to try and make a comparison of each case study to Iraq.  In other case studies, he simply appears to be analyzing that insurgency in isolation with no tie-in to the US in Iraq.

But when discussing Iraq, Flynn seems to contradict himself several times, arguing at one point that the US acted like any occupying power, while later saying the US was very clever in NOT acting like an occupying power.  His conclusions on US operations and the "future" lessons learned seemed pedestrian at best, with no major insights and overall this book left me flat.

Needless to say, I am glad that the SMH gave me this book to read.  I would not have paid $44.95 for it.