September 25, 2004

DEMOCRACIES ARE NEVER READY FOR THE NEXT WAR:

Indian Country: America's military faces the most thankless task in the history of warfare. (ROBERT D. KAPLAN, September 25, 2004, Wall Street Journal)

An overlooked truth about the war on terrorism, and the war in Iraq in particular, is that they both arrived too soon for the American military: before it had adequately transformed itself from a dinosaurian, Industrial Age beast to a light and lethal instrument skilled in guerrilla warfare, attuned to the local environment in the way of the 19th-century Apaches. [...]

The American military now has the most thankless task of any military in the history of warfare: to provide the security armature for an emerging global civilization that, the more it matures--with its own mass media and governing structures--the less credit and sympathy it will grant to the very troops who have risked and, indeed, given their lives for it. And as the thunderous roar of a global cosmopolitan press corps gets louder--demanding the application of abstract principles of universal justice that, sadly, are often neither practical nor necessarily synonymous with American national interest--the smaller and more low-key our deployments will become. In the future, military glory will come down to shadowy, page-three skirmishes around the globe, which the armed services will quietly celebrate among their own subculture.

The goal will be suppression of terrorist networks through the training of--and combined operations with--indigenous troops. That is why the Pan-Sahel Initiative in Africa, in which Marines and Army Special Forces have been training local militaries in Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Chad, in order to counter al-Qaeda infiltration of sub-Saharan Africa, is a surer paradigm for the American imperial future than anything occurring in Iraq or Afghanistan.

In months of travels with the American military, I have learned that the smaller the American footprint and the less notice it draws from the international media, the more effective is the operation. One good soldier-diplomat in a place like Mongolia can accomplish miracles. A few hundred Green Berets in Colombia and the Philippines can be adequate force multipliers. Ten thousand troops, as in Afghanistan, can tread water. And 130,000, as in Iraq, constitutes a mess that nobody wants to repeat--regardless of one's position on the war.

In Indian Country, the smaller the tactical unit, the more forward deployed it is, and the more autonomy it enjoys from the chain of command, the more that can be accomplished. It simply isn't enough for units to be out all day in Iraqi towns and villages engaged in presence patrols and civil-affairs projects: A successful forward operating base is a nearly empty one, in which most units are living beyond the base perimeters among the indigenous population for days or weeks at a time.

Much can be learned from our ongoing Horn of Africa experience. From a base in Djibouti, small U.S. military teams have been quietly scouring an anarchic region that because of an Islamic setting offers al Qaeda cultural access. "Who needs meetings in Washington?" one Army major told me. "Guys in the field will figure out what to do. I took 10 guys to explore eastern Ethiopia. In every town people wanted a bigger American presence. They know we're here, they want to see what we can do for them." The new economy-of-force paradigm being pioneered in the horn borrows more from the Lewis and Clark expedition than from the major conflicts of the 20th century.

In Indian Country, as one general officer told me, "you want to whack bad guys quietly and cover your tracks with humanitarian-aid projects." Because of the need for simultaneous military, relief and diplomatic operations, our greatest enemy is the size, rigidity and artificial boundaries of the Washington bureaucracy.


It seems utterly implausible that anyone could have transformed the sceloric Pentagon bureaucracy in the fashion required without the impetus of a shooting war. This was the Administration's vision but the going would have been terribly slow as the turf wars would have been far worse than any real war we've ever fought.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 25, 2004 5:15 PM
Comments

" before it had adequately transformed itself from a dinosaurian, Industrial Age beast to a light and lethal instrument skilled in guerrilla warfare, attuned to the local environment in the way of the 19th-century Apaches."

Dinosaurian??? It is the most advanced global fighting force the world has ever known. It combines state of the art in all of the material sciences plus information science. Our "conventional" force is not obsolete, by its very existence we will ensure that there will be no conventional military threats to our nation for the forseeable future.

"..to provide the security armature for an emerging global civilization that, the more it matures--with its own mass media and governing structures--the less credit and sympathy it will grant to the very troops who have risked and, indeed, given their lives for it."

Those who we liberate and protect will give us enormous credit and sympathy. It is the tranzi malcontents of the world who will not.

"And as the thunderous roar of a global cosmopolitan press corps gets louder--demanding the application of abstract principles of universal justice that, sadly, are often neither practical nor necessarily synonymous with American national interest--the smaller and more low-key our deployments will become."

But that cosmopolitan press corps will dwindle in importance, feeding ideological sustenance to an enfeebled post-civilization that the vital, growing peoples of the globe will learn to ignore.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at September 25, 2004 5:37 PM

It has an enormous and useless Navy, including a submarine fleet. It's got tanks out the wazoo. It's got huge infantry units. Etc.

Posted by: oj at September 25, 2004 5:45 PM

True, Robert, but having the world's most advanced global fighting force doesn't necessarily mean it's what's needed to deal with the current threat. OJ is a tad overstating the case, but it's true that (for example) nuclear missile subs aren't really much help when dealing with terrorists.

One more thing that the media and Dems are missing: we are learning in Iraq how to fight this new kind of war. Sure, there've been some screwups, but as Rommel said about fighting Americans in North Africa: "I've never seen an army so badly trained or one that learned so fast."

Posted by: PapayaSF at September 25, 2004 6:10 PM

PapayaSF:

Don't underestimate the utility of nuclear subs, which are now carrying conventional armament. I understand that a lot of the cruise missle strikes are staged from the subs. The attack subs transport Seals teams. This doesn't get any ink because the Navy never talks about subs or their deployment.

Posted by: Fred Jacobsen (San Fran) at September 25, 2004 8:06 PM

Fred:

They use them for purposes they aren't suited to in order to justify maintaining them.

Posted by: oj at September 25, 2004 8:13 PM

oj:

Agreed that the submarine branch had to change its mission to justify its fleet. But once you've paid for 'em, may as well use 'em. Stealth, after all, is important in the new battle paradigm.

Posted by: Fred Jacobsen (San Fran) at September 25, 2004 8:40 PM

What's stealthier than a cruise missle, a predator, etc.?

Posted by: oj at September 25, 2004 8:48 PM

Speaking as an Army guy, subs will play a major role in stopping China from invading Taiwan, and interdicting shipborne terrorists and weapons in the Phillipines and Indonesia.

Posted by: David Rothman at September 26, 2004 8:28 AM

Good point David. Just because we are fighting terrorist insurgencies now doesn't mean we will not need to face down continental nation states with strategic nuclear capabilities and large land armies (China) in the future. We need to do both. We should retire some number of the strategic subs, and use the remainder to fund more advanced systems, such as missile defense, and counter-terror special forces.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at September 26, 2004 12:13 PM

we're not going to shoot it out with the People's Army--we'd go nuke before we'd accept the casualties involved in such a conflict.

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