H.R. McMaster on Easy War

{This first ran as The Pipe Dream of Easy War here back in the Summer of 2013. It’s a pretty good indication of why our foreign policy suddenly looks like the adults are in charge again}

Michael Kamber for The New York Times

United States troops in Latafiya, Iraq, in 2007, marked the landing spot for a resupply helicopter with green smoke.

H. R. McMaster is an Army major general and the commanding officer at Fort Benning, Ga., who led the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment in Iraq as a colonel in 2005 and 2006.

That is, of course true but rather cryptic. H.R. McMaster is one of America’s rock star generals and he’s been on everybody’s list since 26 February 1991 when Captain McMaster’s Eagle troop of the 2d ACR (Armored Cavalry Regiment) (Toujours Prêt) charged on in, and took apart the Iraqi Tawakalna Division of the Republican Guard in the Battle of 73 Easting, an action that has been compared favorably with Joshua Chamberlain’s defense of Little Round Top at Gettysburg and Major John Howard’s capture and defense of Pegasus Bridge on D-Day. General McMaster knows all about seeing the elephant. And now he is National Security Advisor to President Trump.

FORT BENNING, Ga. — “A GREAT deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep,” the novelist Saul Bellow once wrote. We should keep that in mind when we consider the lessons from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — lessons of supreme importance as we plan the military of the future.

Our record of learning from previous experience is poor; one reason is that we apply history simplistically, or ignore it altogether, as a result of wishful thinking that makes the future appear easier and fundamentally different from the past.

We engaged in such thinking in the years before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001; many accepted the conceit that lightning victories could be achieved by small numbers of technologically sophisticated American forces capable of launching precision strikes against enemy targets from safe distances.

These defense theories, associated with the belief that new technology had ushered in a whole new era of war, were then applied to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; in both, they clouded our understanding of the conflicts and delayed the development of effective strategies.

Today, budget pressures and the desire to avoid new conflicts have resurrected arguments that emerging technologies — or geopolitical shifts — have ushered in a new era of warfare. Some defense theorists dismiss the difficulties we ran into in Afghanistan and Iraq as aberrations. But they were not aberrations. The best way to guard against a new version of wishful thinking is to understand three age-old truths about war and how our experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq validated their importance.

First, war is political. As the 19th-century Prussian philosopher of war Carl von Clausewitz said, “war should never be thought of as something autonomous, but always as an instrument of policy.”

In the years leading up to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, thinking about defense was driven by ideas that regarded successful military operations as ends in themselves, rather than just one instrument of power that must be coordinated with others to achieve, and sustain, political goals. Believers in the theory known as the “Revolution in Military Affairs” misinterpreted the American-led coalition’s lopsided victory in the 1991 gulf war and predicted that further advances in military technology would deliver dominance over any opponent. Potential adversaries, they suggested, would not dare to threaten vital American interests.

The theory was hubristic. Yet it became orthodoxy […]

Second, war is human. People fight today for the same fundamental reasons the Greek historian Thucydides identified nearly 2,500 years ago: fear, honor and interest. But in the years preceding our last two wars, thinking about defense undervalued the human as well as the political aspects of war. […]

The hard-learned lesson: Defense concepts must consider social, economic and historical factors that constitute the human dimension of war.

THIRD, war is uncertain, precisely because it is political and human. The dominant assumption of the “Revolution in Military Affairs” was that information would be the key to victory. Concepts of “network-centric warfare,” “rapid, decisive operations,” “shock and awe” and “full-spectrum dominance” suggested that near-perfect intelligence would enable precise military operations and point a straight line to success. But in Afghanistan and Iraq, planning did not account for adaptations and initiatives by the enemy. American forces, deployed initially in insufficient numbers to keep pace with the evolution of those conflicts, struggled to maintain security. The lesson: The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, like all wars, were contests of will that unleashed dynamics that made future events impossible to predict.

Fortunately, in Afghanistan and Iraq, American forces adapted. For example, in 2005, in western Nineveh Province, our enemies had pitted sectarian communities against one another in a bloody civil war. In the city of Tal Afar, our cavalry regiment first sought to understand the complex environment while building trust with local Iraqi security forces and a beleaguered population. Alongside United States Special Forces and Iraqi soldiers, our troops sought not only to fight the enemy, but also to build security for civilians and promote conflict resolution among competing groups. As Tal Afar’s mayor, Najim Abdullah Abid al-Jibouri, recalled, “Our city was the main base of operations for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi …Our people were barricaded in their homes out of fear; death awaited them around every corner.” But when the Americans came, he added, “With the skill and precision of surgeons they dealt with the terrorist cancers in the city without causing unnecessary damage.”

What we learned: American forces must cope with the political and human dynamics of war in complex, uncertain environments. Wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq cannot be waged remotely.

Budget pressures and persistent fascination with technology have led some to declare an end to war as we know it. While emerging technologies are essential for military effectiveness, concepts that rely only on those technologies,[…]

Although the defense budget is under pressure, clear thinking about war costs nothing. What we can afford least is to define the problem of future war as we would like it to be, and by doing so introduce into our defense vulnerabilities based on self-delusion.

Do go and read it all I truncated sections rather severely,and the reasoning is far more clear with the detail,  The Pipe Dream of Easy War – NYTimes.com.

Essentially the lesson is the old one, War is serious business, not to be undertaken for light and transient reasons, and never should it be separated from national policy. Clausewitz said it best.

“War is merely a continuation of politics by other means.”

It’s fine to substitute policy or Politik at will for politics, the original German is unclear and various translations have made it clear as mud.

 

The Theory of Conflict and History, Who Cares?

George Smith Patton was the grandfather of Pat...

George Smith Patton was the grandfather of Patton. He was killed at the Battle of Opequon in 1864 during the American Civil War. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jessica commented yesterday, to me in an e-mail that she sensed I was excited about doing the new series on the theory of conflict, while I hadn’t really thought about it, she is correct, I am. If you frequent this joint, you already know that I am addicted to history, and to drawing lessons from it. You also know that I don’t do objective history, my views permeate my work. Sorry, I’m not an academic historian, and I think whatever your viewpoint you can take value from these posts because you don’t first have to figure out my prejudices, which are always implicit in historical writing, whether they are overt or covert.

I also believe that it makes a far more interesting story, and if we want people to read history, that is imperative. I have told the story before of picking up my stepdaughter’s eighth grade American history textbook, to help her with an assignment, and within a half-hour putting it down in disgust, not only was it dry and indigestible, it was in many cases wrong. We must find better ways to teach our history. My historical posts are one, and I think a good model, in that they use some of the new resources easily available in multimedia today. I haven’t seen, and Jessica says she hasn’t either, anything like them. I, and judging by your comments, many of you, like them.

I said my viewpoint is American, but it’s more. It’s a view from the American Heartland, and it includes a great deal of respect, and not a little awe, for the American military. I started kindergarten in 1958, and some of the first events I remember were connected with the excitement about the centennial of the Civil War. I eagerly awaited them as Bruce Catton‘s new volumes were published, and I cherish them to this day, but they were hardly the only ones. They forged in me an unquenchable respect for the American soldier and for the American way of war, bumbling as it often looks. But on the other hand, in the 60s we knew what the U.S. Cavalry was all about, it was about rescuing people from the bad guys. And General McMaster’s article yesterday is a fair representation of why American officers are often so impressive. You did note, didn’t you, the easy familiarity with Saul Bellow, von Clausewitz, and Thucydides? Can you do that in your business?

And we had a good feel for World War II as well, not least because most of our fathers, and uncles, and many of our older brothers were involved.

Here is a question for you to answer, either in comments or in your own mind. What do you think we learned as elementary school students from that show? Now remember we watched it with the men that did those things. Now think about the next generation, the equivalent show was MASH. What would you expect the differences to be? Cause we watched TV with the Korean veterans as well, they were mostly the same guys, and a fair number of them did tours in Vietnam too.

Surprised? Why? If you enlisted after Pearl Harbor and retired after 30 years, as many regulars do, you would have retired in 1971, that whole span is only one generation.

But, I wanted to be a pilot, specifically I wanted to be an Air Force pilot. Non stereotypically, I wanted to be a bomber pilot. I suspect that 12 O’Clock High had something to do with that but, even as a kid, if I was going to risk my life, I wanted to do a lot of damage to my enemies. OK, that didn’t work out but it left me with a love of military theory and an interest in military leadership, and I transferred that later into business. In truth by the time I finished high school, I had read both von Clausewitz‘s Vom Kriege and Liddell-Hart’s Strategy. Now business, is not war, hopefully no one dies, but many of the problems are similar as von Clausewitz recognized also. Why, because you are trying to accomplish something that someone else doesn’t want you to, with inadequate materiél and too few people. That’s oversimplified, of course, but it’s also true, and we will be coming back to it.

And there is something else, that I think explains part of the difference in America. On Monday, Blackfive published a letter from the novelist, W.E.B Griffin on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Korean truce. It’s well worth reading and is here. But the part that is pertinent to my point is contained in this excerpt:

I remember, for example, standing at a cross-road in the Punchbowl behind Heartbreak Ridge in a freezing rain waiting for a jeep to pick me up. I had just come from seeing Captain George S. Patton, who commanded a company “Up On The Ridge”  of 140th Tank Battalion tanks named after his father. With me, also rain-soaked, un-shaven, shivering, hungry and miserable, waiting for a jeep to pick him up, was a young major. His name was Eisenhower, and his father was President of the United States and Commander-in-Chief of its armed forces.

I remember, too, a week or so later, being in a sandbagged bunker, command post of an infantry company of Colonel (later Major General) Curtis W. Herrick’s 223rd Infantry Regiment, quite literally on the front of the front line. In the bunker were the company commander, a captain;  his brother, a lieutenant assigned to the regiment on our left flank; and a GI correspondent―a PFC―of the Army newspaper Stars & Stripes.

As we tried without much success to warm ourselves with coffee heated on a small stove, we heard the grinding of gears on a truck, and moments later a first sergeant made his way into the bunker to announce ‘six replacements, Captain, one of whom insists he shouldn’t be here.”

A moment later, a nice looking young man appeared. He told the captain a mistake had been made. He didn’t belong in the infantry, he said, because he was a Harvard graduate.

“Wonderful,” the captain said. “You’ll be right at home here. I’m Harvard ’49. My brother here is ’51. And I’m surprised you don’t recognize PFC John Sack. He was famous around Harvard Square as the only man ever to be simultaneously editor of both the Lampoon and the Crimson. First Sergeant, take this splendidly educated rifleman to his platoon sergeant.”

– See more at: http://www.blackfive.net/main/2013/07/email-from-web-griffin-on-the-60th-anniversary-of-the-ending-of-the-korean-war.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Blackfive+%28BLACKFIVE%29#sthash.exKZ5Hdy.dpuf

We’ve lost a lot of that, and both the country and the military are much the poorer for it.

The Pipe Dream of Easy War

{This looks like it could develop into a short series on the theory of conflict, if so, it most likely will be at irregular intervals as I run across appropriate material. In any case: Enjoy!}

Michael Kamber for The New York Times

United States troops in Latafiya, Iraq, in 2007, marked the landing spot for a resupply helicopter with green smoke.

H. R. McMaster is an Army major general and the commanding officer at Fort Benning, Ga., who led the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment in Iraq as a colonel in 2005 and 2006.

That is, of course true but rather cryptic. H.R. McMaster is one of America’s rock star generals and he’s been on everybody’s list since 26 February 1991 when Captain McMaster’s Eagle troop of the 2d ACR (Armored Cavalry Regiment) (Toujours Prêt) charged on in, and took apart the Iraqi Tawakalna Division of the Republican Guard in the Battle of 73 Easting, an action that has been compared favorably with Joshua Chamberlin’s defense of Little Round Top at Gettysburg and Major John Howard’s capture and defense of Pegasus Bridge on D-Day. General McMaster knows all about seeing the elephant.

FORT BENNING, Ga. — “A GREAT deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep,” the novelist Saul Bellow once wrote. We should keep that in mind when we consider the lessons from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — lessons of supreme importance as we plan the military of the future.

Our record of learning from previous experience is poor; one reason is that we apply history simplistically, or ignore it altogether, as a result of wishful thinking that makes the future appear easier and fundamentally different from the past.

We engaged in such thinking in the years before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001; many accepted the conceit that lightning victories could be achieved by small numbers of technologically sophisticated American forces capable of launching precision strikes against enemy targets from safe distances.

These defense theories, associated with the belief that new technology had ushered in a whole new era of war, were then applied to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; in both, they clouded our understanding of the conflicts and delayed the development of effective strategies.

Today, budget pressures and the desire to avoid new conflicts have resurrected arguments that emerging technologies — or geopolitical shifts — have ushered in a new era of warfare. Some defense theorists dismiss the difficulties we ran into in Afghanistan and Iraq as aberrations. But they were not aberrations. The best way to guard against a new version of wishful thinking is to understand three age-old truths about war and how our experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq validated their importance.

First, war is political. As the 19th-century Prussian philosopher of war Carl von Clausewitz said, “war should never be thought of as something autonomous, but always as an instrument of policy.”

In the years leading up to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, thinking about defense was driven by ideas that regarded successful military operations as ends in themselves, rather than just one instrument of power that must be coordinated with others to achieve, and sustain, political goals. Believers in the theory known as the “Revolution in Military Affairs” misinterpreted the American-led coalition’s lopsided victory in the 1991 gulf war and predicted that further advances in military technology would deliver dominance over any opponent. Potential adversaries, they suggested, would not dare to threaten vital American interests.

The theory was hubristic. Yet it became orthodoxy […]

Second, war is human. People fight today for the same fundamental reasons the Greek historian Thucydides identified nearly 2,500 years ago: fear, honor and interest. But in the years preceding our last two wars, thinking about defense undervalued the human as well as the political aspects of war. […]

The hard-learned lesson: Defense concepts must consider social, economic and historical factors that constitute the human dimension of war.

THIRD, war is uncertain, precisely because it is political and human. The dominant assumption of the “Revolution in Military Affairs” was that information would be the key to victory. Concepts of “network-centric warfare,” “rapid, decisive operations,” “shock and awe” and “full-spectrum dominance” suggested that near-perfect intelligence would enable precise military operations and point a straight line to success. But in Afghanistan and Iraq, planning did not account for adaptations and initiatives by the enemy. American forces, deployed initially in insufficient numbers to keep pace with the evolution of those conflicts, struggled to maintain security. The lesson: The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, like all wars, were contests of will that unleashed dynamics that made future events impossible to predict.

Fortunately, in Afghanistan and Iraq, American forces adapted. For example, in 2005, in western Nineveh Province, our enemies had pitted sectarian communities against one another in a bloody civil war. In the city of Tal Afar, our cavalry regiment first sought to understand the complex environment while building trust with local Iraqi security forces and a beleaguered population. Alongside United States Special Forces and Iraqi soldiers, our troops sought not only to fight the enemy, but also to build security for civilians and promote conflict resolution among competing groups. As Tal Afar’s mayor, Najim Abdullah Abid al-Jibouri, recalled, “Our city was the main base of operations for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi …Our people were barricaded in their homes out of fear; death awaited them around every corner.” But when the Americans came, he added, “With the skill and precision of surgeons they dealt with the terrorist cancers in the city without causing unnecessary damage.”

What we learned: American forces must cope with the political and human dynamics of war in complex, uncertain environments. Wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq cannot be waged remotely.

Budget pressures and persistent fascination with technology have led some to declare an end to war as we know it. While emerging technologies are essential for military effectiveness, concepts that rely only on those technologies,[…]

Although the defense budget is under pressure, clear thinking about war costs nothing. What we can afford least is to define the problem of future war as we would like it to be, and by doing so introduce into our defense vulnerabilities based on self-delusion.

Do go and read it all I truncated sections rather severely,and the reasoning is far more clear with the detail,  The Pipe Dream of Easy War – NYTimes.com.

Essentially the lesson is the old one, War is serious business, not to be undertaken for light and transient reasons, and never should it be separated from national policy. Clausewitz said it best.

“War is merely a continuation of politics by other means.”

It’s fine to substitute policy or Politik at will for politics, the original German is unclear and various translations have made it clear as mud.

 

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