May 18, 2010

Planning Military Strategy Around Politics

Justin Katz

This account of military actions and strategy in Afghanistan makes for interesting reading. Here, writer Bing West notes an adjustment of strategy intended to prevent deleterious interference by America's political class:

Marja's objective area comprised about twelve by twelve miles of canals, irrigation ditches, and flat fields, with several thousand farm compounds. The assault began on February 13 with a night landing by helicopters of three Marine companies, with Afghan soldiers attached to every squad. They attacked from the center out, aiming to link up with two battalions moving in from the northwest and the east. Thus, once the attack had begun, no politician could stop it. This was a lesson from Fallujah, where in 2004 politicians called off the attack in mid-battle.

Pulling back in Fallujah was the single biggest mistake of the Iraq War, and it's encouraging to learn that military leaders are taking domestic weak knees into account while planning. Of course, it's easy to imagine that making troops' job more dangerous.

I'd stress, though, that I'm not arguing for military independence from political control. Politics, though, should be big picture, with strategy and the picking of battles left to the military.

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As you rightly mention, it is purely politics that even marches us to war, so civilian politics almost always controls it. Sure, if "they" land in Atlantic City and we are fighting for house and home, it's a different thing - but that is very unlikely.

And so, most modern wars are wars of choice and/or wars of aggression for power and resources or other political reasons. They are not defensive in the common meaning of the term.

As to the talking point about letting the military do it's thing, you could not be more wrong. You somehow assume purity of the military/industrial complex, yet the reality is that this force - which largely controls our country (even the President!) - has it's own goals, which include promotion of officers within the ranks to higher grades (easier in wartime), ego (aren't I a great general, now elect me President) and most important of all PROFITS. There is a revolving door from the military to defense contracting and the "entitlements" (called contracts) flow like water......

The best military effort for most modern times is to do all the thinking and action BEFORE you start a war. However, that was not done by Bush/Cheney, and so now we will be mopping up for decades.

As to Afghanistan, this is bad situation. Ideally, we would just leave. But politics and right wing chickenhawks demand more than that. I think Obama did a good job of studying the situation and, in the end, told McChrystal "Ok, you say you can do this - here is your chance!".

Now we already see McChrystal backtracking...........while the money spent goes up and up.

What do you right wingers say about responsibility? If someone claims they can do a job, and then does not...what should happen to them?

I sense that he will fail, not because he is not a good man, but because the mission is "mission impossible". They, hopefully, we will leave and let them fight it out.....

Posted by: Stuart at May 18, 2010 11:44 AM


Whether a war is "defensive" or not, depends what side you are on.

Since modern democracies rarely create empires, we become reliant on other countries to supply resources without being occupied. So, "defensive" becomes a different question. We rely on oil, it is essential to our economy and no replacement is in sight. If something happens in the world, liable to curtail our supply of resources, is it not "defensive" to protect that willing supplier?

About the strategy discussed, it is at last a method of fighting guerrillas in open country. As I am sure everyone realizes guerrillas do not "give battle", they fight and run. Most of our experience with guerrillas has been in jungle terrain. In that case they would melt into the jungle after a brief engagement. The strategy we developed was to "grid" the area, in square mile blocks. We would then insert troops in each grid. As the opposition attempted to melt into the jungle they would encounter troops from another grid. This proved effective in jungle warfare, but not so effective in open terrain as the various troops could be seen. So, we developed a strategy not unlike Genghis Khan's animal hunts. You cordon a large area with troops, then insert troops in the center. As the guerrillas attempt to dissolve into the country side, they encounter troops establishing the cordon. This is "new", without doubt the politicians had not become familiar with it and it scared them.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at May 18, 2010 5:58 PM

Faust, acting as if insurgency is something "new" seems just plain silly. This type of warfare has been practiced for ages and no one would expect any other kind from the "home team" of 2nd and 3rd world countries!

As my good friend who was in Vietnam likes to say - if the home team is there fighting for their own villages and turf, all bets are off!

As to oil and other resources being a reason to kill people, ruin the ecosystem and waste our own soldiers and treasure - I simply do not agree that this is "Defense of our Nation". Bush does, though.

I would rather drive a smaller care, live in a smaller home and pay more. But here's the rub - in general, I would not have to! The cost of war often ends up being more than if we simply bought the resource in know, with money instead of guns.

So far all the evidence (Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan) seems to prove my point - but since so many people make $$$ from the continuing trillions spent on our "defense", it's hard to get a sane outlook on the matter from some.

Posted by: Stuart at May 19, 2010 9:14 AM

Stuart writes:
"Faust, acting as if insurgency is something "new" seems just plain silly. This type of warfare has been practiced for ages and no one would expect any other kind from the "home team" of 2nd and 3rd world countries!"

Well, if that is what you think, ask your Viet Nam vet friend how long it took us to find an effective method of defeating small units in the jungles of VIet Nam. We couldn't find an effective method of fighting Bedford Forrest in our civil war. It is worth noting that the "home team" lost that one. The British were terrorized by our "small units" in the Revolutionary War, and could not find an effective method to combat it. Colonel Banistre (the real life arch villain of "The Patriot") tried scorched earth in South Carolina without great success. Sherman had better luck with it, on a much grander scale than Banistre. Sherman took the view that there was no point in distinguishing between insurgents and "non-combatants". There is no "defeating" insurgents in the traditional sense, you simply have to kill them until the supply runs out. For instance, who would we have "negotiated" with to control the Sandanistas? Unlike the movies, insurgents are rarely "pure". they will kill those who do not aid and support them.

All armies which concern themselves with non-combatants face a very serious challenge. Have you noticed that Islamo terrorists do seem to be much concerned with this?

I am not so sure that Viet Nam was a loss. In the sense that we were protecting the sovereignty of South Viet Nam, perhaps it was. The larger picture was that we sought to "contain" communism. There has been minimal expansion of communism in Southeast Asia since. I cannot say our participation in that war was the sole determinant, the lesson of history is that if things did not happen the way they did does not mean they would not have happen at all. Communism may be a system designed to fail, but at the time, no one thought so. Communism was "on the march".

As to your willingness to drive a smaller car, or live in a smaller house. I don't think this view is widely shared. Not only that, petroleum is not the only resource. As India and China continue to industrialize, we might wonder about manganese, cobalt, aluminum and many other scarce resources. That is what brought us WWII.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at May 19, 2010 12:18 PM
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