Sunday, September 20, 2009

Something That Should be Discussed on Today's Sunday Shows

Today's Sunday news shows are getting the full treatment by hosting personal interviews with President Barak Obama. I am sure that among the fawning that mostly happens when a president grants an interview with the MSM, that the questions will be carefully thrown so that the networks don't find themselves outside the loop, as Chris Wallace did today when Fox News found themselves the only MSM outlet with no interview with the President.

That said, the issue of Afghanistan and the long war, that this blog and others that make up my bloglists have been discussing will be glossed over in an attempt to focus on the President's main objectives here at home. Two of my blog colleagues, Adam Elkus of Re Thinking Security and Mark Safranski of Zenpundit have co-authored an important essay, posted at Small Wars Journal. Their essay has generated excellent comments from some of the real thinkers and deserve full coverage.

Mark and Adam begin:
It is impossible not to notice that elements of the current acrimonious debates over theory, operations, and practice are proxies for larger political differences over the use of force and its relationship to American national interests. So why are these fundamental policy disagreements being expressed through debate over technical points of military doctrine?

The answer lies in the uncertain, even negligent, muddle that has substituted for a clear paradigm to guide US grand strategy. Because policymakers have failed to define clear US interests, goals, and objectives, attempts have been made to derive grand strategic principles from theoretical debates or operational concerns. While these debates have been intellectually stimulating and often very useful to developing US national security and military doctrine, they cannot sustain US grand strategy. While strategic drift might be inevitable in country where much of strategy is determined by the cleavages of domestic politics, the cost of meandering can be measured in lost opportunities, treasure squandered, and lives lost. Policymakers must make a stand for a strong strategic paradigm to guide US operational methodologies.

This essay raises important points about formulating a grand strategy and the inherent pitfalls that occur when democracy's try and craft a long range plan. This essay deserves a careful read as these two gentlemen, coming from outside the beltway have ginned up solid evidence that our current attempts of formulating a strategy is in need of retooling.

In the short-term it is imperative for a larger linkage of strategy and operations to occur. The current debate over the “contested commons” is a welcome example this kind of discussion. 9 There are also some structural solutions to the poverty of strategy. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s new concept of the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) has the potential of returning the State Department back to the glory days of policy planning represented by the Cold War-era Policy Planning Staff of George Kennan and Paul Nitze. The Secretary of State can also help develop strategic thinking by creating military command and general staff-style schools for diplomats to build and nurture internal talent.

Read more: Theory, Policy, and Strategy: A Conceptual Muddle

Following on the heels of this fine essay is this article linked at Small Wars Journal by Anne Marlowe in World Affairs.

At the time of the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003, counterinsurgency theory was about as popular in American military circles as tank warfare is today. An early study by the chief war planner for the 101st Airborne Division during its first deployment to Iraq reported “a collective cognitive dissonance on the part of the US Army to recognize a war of rebellion, a people’s war, even when they were fighting it.” There was a reason for this. Eager to forget the most painful experience in its history, the army had all but banished counterinsurgency from the lexicon of American military affairs after Vietnam. As a result, the army relied on a flawed strategy in Iraq for a period that lasted, according to author Thomas Ricks, at least “twenty months or more.

As US Army Colonel Gian Gentile has summarized this line of argument, there was a “bad war” in Iraq fought by officers who ignored the theory and practice of counterinsurgency, followed by a “good war” fought by its champions. In Vietnam, however, even the “bad” war was fought by commanders deeply versed in the tactics, techniques, and procedures of counterinsurgency (COIN)—much more, in any case, than their counterparts were on September 11, 2001. The United States may have gone, in James Fallows’s memorable phrase, “Blind into Baghdad.” It did not march blindly into Vietnam. On the contrary, counterinsurgency theory enjoyed a special vogue in the 1960s: it was certainly more fashionable and better understood by an educated public than it is today.

I found myself nodding in agreement as I read Ms Marlowe's article. She has put together an excellent look back at the evolving history of counterinsurgency and how it effected our past efforts in Vietnam and today.

Read more: The Picture Awaits: The Birth of Modern Counterinsurgency

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