Sunday, April 02, 2006

Constant Reinvention

Proteus: His power came from his ability to change shape at will, to be whatever the moment required. When Menelaus, brother of Agamemnon, tried to seize him, Proteus transformed himself into a lion, then a serpent, a panther, a boar, running water, and finally a leafy tree.

The changing nature of our security environment requires that our forces be protean in nature: versatile, mutable, capable of assuming many forms. Our enemies will attack us with sudden shocks, hoping to paralyze us. Our enemies will try their level best to break our physical strength and, more importantly, destroy our mental resilience. Our strategies should not be a matter of learning a sequence of moves or theories to follow like a formula. Victory has no set recipe.

We must be able to operate in the realm of chaos, in the the domain of the unexpected. The future is flexibility. The challenges that we've faced range from deposing tyrants, to disaster relief. We have been trained on how to fight another army, but we've ended up fighting tiny bands of terrorists scattered across cities and mountains. These are times that call for us to be quick, crafty, flexible, resolute. Can our Industrial Age military, perfectly structured to deal with another Industrial Age military, act in this manner?

To effectively operate in this rapidly changing environment might require a control-free approach, with no fixed formulas for command, control, communications or tactics, each operation taking its form in response to inexhaustibly changing circumstances. Think General Douglas MacArthur when organizing his campaign to island hop to the Philippines, telling his air component commander to "keep the Japanese air forces out of my way." That was the only order issue. The subordinate was left to decide how best to achieve the mission. As the Marines 1940 Small War Manual tells us, "the commander in the field must be adapted to the situation in order to accomplish the mission without delay."

Think about T.E. Lawrence when we said, "In a real sense, maximum disorder was our equilibrium." The most significant components in war are quickness and flexibility - the capacity to move and make decisions more rapidly than the adversary. As Col Thomas X. Hammes tells us in The Sling and the Stone, "Freedom to communicate laterally based on commander's intent is the fundamental key to converting today's hierarchical organization into tomorrow's flexible, networked organizations."

We are in the midst of a period in which small number of highly-determined, "super-empowered angry men", with the aid of readily available advance technology could potentially cause as much damage to the United States and its interest as could many foreign nation-states. Unlike for nation-states, we might not have the return address for these super-empowered individuals, if their are even alive after they commit their atrocities.

America's new enemies derived their lethality from their fluid yet determined efforts to exploit our weaknesses. In some instances, our weakness stems from a perception that the US is more involved in chasing oil or its own domestic interests than in alleviating the problems of the population, as happened in Iraq. Another weakness is our lack of cultural awareness; in many cases, we simply have failed to know the enemy, and have actually made new enemies by humiliating Iraqis in their own homes. Rule Number One of COIN: Don't Make New Enemies. You are already in a swamp full of alligators.

If you ever get to slide 108 of Colonel John Boyd's "Patterns of Conflict" not so "brief" briefing, you'll see it right before your eyes; he gives you some tools, we must never assume that the fairness of our cause is obvious, we must, "undermine the guerrilla's cause and destroy their cohesion by demonstrating integrity and competence of government to represent and serve needs of people—rather than exploit and impoverish them for the benefit of a greedy elite."

Military analyst Andre Beufre writes, "I have the impression that what the Tet offensive was really aimed at was what has in fact been achieved: to confer international political significance upon the Vietcong, to ruin the prestige of the Americans and of the South Vietnamese government, and to restore better control over the countryside. In sum, the Tet offensive appears to have been much more of a psychological than a military operation."

For Americans, the success of the Vietnam war depended mostly on the military. After our success in WWII and Korea, we were pretty sure that we could beat the enemy. If we could just locate him and then somehow persuade him to come out and fight, where he would then be efficiently killed through devastating American firepower. The North Vietnamese saw the war in a different way. The Communist knew that their main target was the will of the American people. Year by year, the Vietnamese continued to widen their outlook and studied the war at a macro level. We were reduced to thinking in small terms, trying to win the war by winning as many battles as we could. At some point, we were mostly reacting to their tempo.

We must be in constant evaluation of the nature of a war based on what is actually happening. We should see things as they are, not as we want them to be. As Mao explains, "If (our plan) does not correspond with reality, or if it does not fully do so, then in light of our new knowledge, it becomes necessary to form new judgments, make new decisions, and change the original plan so as to meet the new situation".

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