Publisher’s Note: Several readers have asked me to expand on my post I made at WRSA on 5 January 2016 regarding the absolute inability for the US (and Western countries) to conduct savvy analysis and do any intellectual heavy lifting in the prosecution of conflict planet-wide. The simplest answer is to stop the violent meddling but even that is too intellectually taxing. My post that kindled the interest:
“Indeed, the SLAVFOR successes in urban areas in the Middle East, SE Asia and Yugoslavia are a sparkling testament to McNamara-like technocratic success. It’s one thing to identify all the components and quite another to operationalize a sustainable DIME strategy for success.
Please keep in mind that if these manuals taught the users to think through second and third order effects they would be dangerous to FREEFOR. There is zero analytical framework viable to them. It all ends the same: a panicked call for fire.
The Pentagram has proven itself intellectually incapable of such modest feats in the short and long term.”
The Battle of Cannae as illustrated above may have wiped Rome from the history books. Hubris, operational malpractice and military blundering were all critical factors. Fast forward 2200 years.
Isaac Asimov avers: “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’” This cult of ignorance and refusal to entertain what the military was fond of calling “branches and sequels” (the components of a FRAGPLAN) is much the same with so much of the buzzwords and new paradigms that come out of the Department of Defense (DoD).
Much of this is because of the lock-step centralization and the sclerotic Sovietization of the entire DoD apparatus.
The military industrial complex has taken this as a point of pride and run with it. There is no doubt no one can touch the US (yet) in technology (a linear process in production although application can be different) but non-linear processes and states of antifragility seem beyond the capacity of the US military to adapt to.
We can’t do the notion justice without taking a tour through history and determining just what caused this to be the case. My colleague, Don Vandergriff, has done some very interesting work in the realm of military decision making processes in the West and has concentrated on the German means of staffing and fielding an Army as the optimal way to bring the most combat power.
Don sums up his findings nicely in this essay: Personnel Reform and Military Effectiveness.
The degree of trust and “joy of taking responsibility” not to to mention the Prussian incentives to disobey orders helped to shape the finest tactical and operational fighting forces since the Roman Legions with far more adaptation and flexibility in the German forces from 1806-1945.
No matter where you look in contemporary American arms, the culture gives lip service to Auftragstaktik or Mission Type Orders but in practice is nothing more than Soviet Central Planning 2.0.
There is a broad panoply of vectors to choose from that explain this and Colin Gray is one of the keenest strategic observers out there and does a splendid job parsing it out here.
We will also take a look at Peak Guerrilla from 1916-1922 in the West.
In the interest of being perfectly clear and making a comprehensive case for the ineffective if not anti-intellectual penchant of American arms in the conduct of combat operations, we will concentrate on the notions of irregular warfare (IW) and how they are served by the Western model after the conclusion of the War to Save Josef Stalin. The American Army started its decline immediately afterward. Don has done a splendid job describing the inadequacies of the system in conventional operations and I will expand more on the impact in IW. -BB
“I’d like to have two armies: one for display with lovely guns, tanks, little soldiers, staffs, distinguished and doddering Generals, and dear little regimental officers who would be deeply concerned over their General’s bowel movements or their Colonel’s piles, an army that would be shown for a modest fee on every fairground in the country. The other would be the real one, composed entirely of young enthusiasts in camouflage uniforms, who would not be put on display, but from whom impossible efforts would be demanded and to whom all sorts of tricks would be taught. That’s the army in which I should like to fight.”
– Jean Lartéguy
What is a Small War?
Major S.M. Harrington of the USMC provided the formative basis for The Strategy and Tactics of Small Wars in 1921. The term had been employed by the British Empire for nearly a half century. Even then, it tended to be a manifestation of a conflict large or small of a Western nation against a non-member of that exclusive club. It may have been Western hubris or conceit that would rationalize a smaller size for a conflict description if peer armed forces were not involved.
Over time, it tended to conflate with asymmetrical warfare and counter insurgency no matter the scale. If one looks at the 2006 Lebanon incursion by Israel against Hezbollah, most Western observers would suggest it was a small war due to a compressed time line of engagement yet the same narrow temporal window certainly would not permit one to suppose that the Allied invasion of Iraq in 1990-91 was a small war.
In the common parlance today, the lexicon would invariably look at Afghanistan as a classical small war because rarely are there toe-to-toe military engagements that last more than 72 hours and battalion strength elements in the Afghan resistance are an exception to the rule. Non-state soldiers with no evident physical infrastructure or “recognized” political representation tend to be the foe one characterizes as a small war.
Of course, from the perspective of the combatants and mass base, no war is ever small as the reverberations and cultural ripples dominate the embattled society. Again, the Western cultural meme tends to exercise a gross confirmation bias on the impact of the hostilities from both sides.
For the sake of argument, the small war is the natural evolution of aggrieved parties who take to the gun to seek political solutions; they are no less Clausewitzian than GEN Patton, GEN MacArthur or the stable of contemporary flag officer stewards fumbling and stumbling in Afghanistan and the wider planetary neo-imperialist hotspots today.
There are some real epistemological challenges for American forces in the Middle East as the technological and military (not martial) dominance of the conflict in Afghanistan demonstrates. On the one hand they acknowledge it is not a conventional fight yet the COIN/UW efforts are not harnessed to a strategic end-state but appear to be an ad hoc reaction to the domestic political verities and a complete ignorance of second- and third-order effects of occupation over the long term.
One is compelled to assign this to gross military malpractice or simply the military culture that informs American arms abroad. In either case, the analytical framework for extrapolating the cause and effect of military conduct at the operational level is severely lacking. The negligence is so deep that the Combined Arms Center at Leavenworth thought that they had invented campaign planning in the oughts when they were merely resurrecting a lost art to the American land forces that had been long neglected and never practiced well. America excels at a technocratic approach using Second Generation Warfare in linear operations and is an abject failure in everything else.
Most military observers suggest that an unconventional fight tends to be a small war. Politics is the handmaiden of all wars and conflicts but the critical long-term importance of that consideration for prosecution of small wars appears to be lost on the defense intellectuals and Pentagon apparatchiks.
If anything, small wars are here to stay and the West no matter its wealth and technological edge seems to stumble from one military disaster to another in the prosecution of these conflicts.
La Mort Ne Change Jamais: Same as It Ever Was
High technology can range from small arms systems to electronics communications to any application in both weapons and peaceful means. Both General Purpose Forces (GPF) and the Special Operations Forces (SOF) have capitalized on these capabilities. This does not mean that they have leveraged them effectively simply because they can employ.
The US is the world leader with no peer competitor in the delivery of content, electronic delivery and marketing in all media to include television, movies, internet, radio and other means of mass communication yet it has consistently been off-target and outwitted in the information operations efforts in America’s present conflicts in the Middle East.