Friday, February 03, 2006

What we really need now

Things we need more of in the armed forces:

An open exchange of ideas. Currently, we are getting a lot of real-world experience in combat, counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, and stabilization operations all over the world (especially, but not exclusively, in Iraq and Afghanistan). We need to make sure that the lessons we learned today are not forgotten down the road. True, each war, each operation is unique, and you can't fight today's war with yesterday's war plans, however, we should avoid reinventing the wheel every time we conduct a new operation.

We need to engage in give and take conversations on how to deal with our current challenges. We need to keep an open mind to ways of addressing those challenges. And keep the free-flowing exchange of ideas. Let's look where we have wasted our energies and resources, where we have lost opportunities. And let the boss know what you think. Don't deprive him or her of the opportunity to learn and grow from what your ideas and experiences.

Today, we operate in a vast information space. The battalion on the ground in Iraq or Afghanistan that walks the beat in the same area repeatedly for a whole deployment has a far better notion of what's happening in that part of the country than someone who is far detached. But if that information does not flow up the chain, it can't be combined into an overall assessment. In fact, it's lost to our analysts who's job is to understand the strategic implications of our actions.

As Westerners we come from a tradition of fierce war makers. In large part, our ferocity stems from the fact that we go to war as free men and women. The military is not a democracy, but we come from a democracy and a democratic tradition that goes back all the way to classical Athens. Democracies are unmatched when fighting wars. From the time of Thucydides democracies have been the most adept type of governments at war making. Witness the military prowess of Republican Rome, the Renaissance city-states, Victorian England and democratic America, all democracies (if we expand the classical definition of democracy) that projected military power far beyond what their rather limited territories and populations might otherwise suggest.

Out-of-the-box thinking. We live in a world that is, frankly, all screwed up. A world that, in the large historical arc, is just getting out of 500 years of European dominance and transitioning into more diluted ways of supremacy. We Americans are paying for that now. The Europeans used to physically dominate the world. After the Europeans empires collapsed were left behind to pay the bill. Today we are dealing with deformed areas of the world that are the product of poor border settings. The European empires divided populations that were meant to be together and joined populations that were meant to be apart. We are going to have to deal with the problems that will inevitably arise in those parts of the world (see Dr. Barnett's non-integrating Gap). And every time we go into these places, and take action militarily, we realize the limitations of our military technology.

Our military is in a state of flux, from the Cold War, to the post-Cold War, to the post-9/11, to the post-Iraqi Freedom environment. We are wrestling with how to fight the war on Islamic terrorists while trying to reconfigure the military for future (conventional, and non-conventional) threats. We are playing with different ideas on how to accomplish this. We are finding new ways of organizing our information and our institutions. We are finding new ways of connecting our capabilities.

The very nature of warfare is changing. In the past, competing nations tended to focus on building the largest conventional forces and obtaining the most advanced major weapons. That was part of the theme of the Cold War. The U.S. emerged from the end of the Cold War with unrivaled conventional military forces and with most advanced weapon systems. Basically, if you want to oppose the U.S. you better go the unconventional, and asymmetrical way.

During the last two decades we have been involved in this so-called revolution in military affairs (RMA). We've seen how the RMA has paid off from Desert Storm in 1991 to Iraqi Freedom in 2003. We saw the triumph of these RMA in Iraq in 1991, but we also saw its limitations ever since President Bush declaration of Mission Accomplished in 2003. Now it's time for a new revolution to address our future potential adversaries who are likely to engaged us with asymmetrical means.

If you want to beat out your adversaries, you've got to be able to learn faster than they do on a continuous basis. We need leadership that will bring new insight into this fluid environment. Leaders in the mold of Stonewall Jackson who recognized that the conditions of warfare changed fundamentally between the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and the outbreak of our Civil War in 1861. Likewise, we need to recognize that the circumstances in which our forces will be involved in the future will be very different from a purely conventional engagement a la Desert Storm.

We need leaders who can figure out ways to get things done within the unusual, sometimes even strange, constraints of a large organization like the U.S. military. Leaders that figure out how to work the organization, bypass the hurdles, create great collaborations (in the mold of special forces and airpower during Enduring Freedom), and accomplish the mission with success.

Our Will

Our adversaries, either terrorists or hostile states, cannot succeed in either a conventional or an asymmetrical conflict against us, should we bring the complete, total package of our assets to the fight. When our nation's will is fully engaged in war, we can become the fiercest of enemies. Witness our relentless bombing of German and Japanase cities during WWII. We've actually been fighting the War on Terror in a subtle manner with an economy of force rarely seen in warfare from a nation whose homeland has been severely attacked. We need to convince our adversaries that in General Sherman's words "war and individual ruin are synonymous terms".

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