Kill ’em all

Bernard Finel has an article in the Armed Forces Journal (h/t CPS) which argues all this COIN stuff is a waste of time and energy.  Instead of all this touchy feely stuff, we:

…should adopt a national military strategy that heavily leverages the core capability to break states and target and destroy fixed assets, iteratively if necessary. Such a strategy — which might loosely be termed “repetitive raiding” — could defeat and disrupt most potential threats the U.S. faces. While America’s adversaries may prefer to engage the U.S. using asymmetric strategies, there is no reason that the U.S. should agree to fight on these terms.

Yes, let’s keep doing what we do well, regardless of changes in the operating environment.  How’s that worked out throughout history?

(unremembered tribe from about the 2nd millenium BC) ‘Hey, we make the best bronze weapons out there. While the Hittites may prefer to engage us with iron weapons, there’s no reason we should fight them on their terms.’

(adviser to King Perseus of Macedon) ‘Sire, we have the best phalanx system out there.  While the Romans may prefer to engage us with their ‘legionary tactics’, there’s no reason we should fight them on these terms.’

(French military command 1940) ‘Sure the Germans may want to fight a maneuver war but we should leverage our core capability and adopt a strategy of static defense.  There’s no reason we should fight them on their terms.’

(commander of Soviet Forces in Afghanistan) ‘The Soviet Union should adopt a national military strategy that heavily leverages the core capability to break states and target and destroy fixed assets, iteratively if necessary.  While the USSR’s adversaries may prefer to engage us using asymmetric strategies, there is no reason that the the Soviet Union should agree to fight on these terms.

He goes on:

In short, because of the nature of American power, the vast majority of the benefits from conflict come early and relatively cheaply, whereas the pursuit of additional benefits is increasingly costly and subject to diminishing returns.

Yes, yes!  Let’s maintain our short term thinking!  Perfect!

The reason, in other words, that the U.S. didn’t simply remove Fidel Castro from power was that after 1962, the international consequences seemed too high and the goal too risky. The reason American leaders felt compelled to engage in a lengthy counterinsurgency in Vietnam was the concern that a communist victory would have been a setback in the broader struggle. But imagine a world in which there were few or no international consequences to removing Castro from power, and imagine a world in which the commitment to Vietnam was strictly commensurate to the threat that the Vietnamese communists could pose to the U.S. That is the change in context that has occurred over the past 20 years, and the U.S. has not yet adapted.

Is he really arguing that we’re at a point where if we invaded Castro and installed a friendly government there’d be no international (let’s leave aside domestic) consequences?

Holy crap!  Who do you think was more stoned?  Finel when he wrote this or the editors when they accepted it.

He then goes on to note that since the U.S. accomplished ‘most’ of it’s war aims shortly after the invasion of Iraq we should have pulled out then and made that the model for all further interventions.

The fundamental tragedy is that not only did American forces accomplish 58 percent of all goals in 2003, they accomplished those goals that were best supported by the American public. By the end of 2003, Saddam was out of power, Iraq was no longer supporting terrorism and the U.S. had ensured that Iraq would not use weapons of mass destruction against the U.S. or transfer them to state or nonstate enemies. By the end of 2003, the U.S. had won not just the majority of what American leaders ever hoped to win, but the vast majority of what the American public cared to accomplish.

Ahhh…but that’s irrelevant isn’t it.  Jesus called the oval office and said to transform the Middle East.  The public supported the war up to that point because they were sold a bill of goods about smoking guns turning into mushroom clouds and Heussain’s connection’ with 9/11, not because they had some checklist and were marking off war aims like a ‘to do’ list.

But…what would have happened if we followed Finel’s advice?  Apparently, only good things.  Iraq was a bastion of stability and quickly would have righted itself of its own violation:

It is difficult to conceive of outright state collapse in the case of Iraq [note:  want to conceive of it?  See Iraq 2004-2007 – TwShiloh] because there were strong foundations of public order in place that did not require any intervention. It is wholly implausible that anything resembling collapse would occur in the Kurdish areas because they had been accorded tremendous autonomy even under Saddam due to protection. So those areas already had existing a civil society, a functioning security apparatus and established leadership. Similarly, though less clearly, the Shiite-dominated parts of the country were already under the influence of several powerful leaders, with strong tribal support, religious legitimacy and militias. We may have seen some fighting over turf, but because of limited power projection capabilities, it is likely that any such fighting would have been localized and small scale. State collapse, then, would most significantly affect the “Sunni Triangle” as well as the western province of Anbar and would create an ungoverned space surrounded by relatively effective buffer nations.

Note how in a couple of sentences he dismisses any possibility of a conflict among Kurds.  Yeah, the Turks and the Shiites would’ve all worked out their differences with the Kurds over some tea…

He goes on with more attempts to rationalize his goofy analysis but it just ain’t flying.

Note to Finel:  Not a good idea to try to hammer out strategy based on a war whose plans were printed on wings of gossamer.

But the crux of his article is that we should just be able to go in, kick some ass and get out.  That sounds fine, has a historical precedent and fulfills our need to get a constant stream of ‘hooah’ videos of us blowing shit up.  But, one thing Mr. Finel doesn’t address is that any policy of repetitive raiding is going to require inflicting serious damage on civilian populations.  That’s how powers that have used this sort of strategy in the past (highlighted quite well by Citizen Fouche).  You don’t suppress insurgencies and uprisings through raids without destroying villages, killing a whole lot of people (intentionally to prove a point through mass retaliation and also because you have no choice – your lack of presence precludes effective, widespread intelligence gathering) and laying waste to the countryside.  How’s public opinion going to hold up to that?  Oh…and think there won’t be any international consequences to that sort of policy?

Maybe there won’t be.  Maybe we’re so powerful economically that other nations will just have to grit their teeth and keep dealing with us.  Maybe.  But if so you can be sure there’ll come a day when we stumble and all those nations will clap their hands with glee and then descend upon us like a murder of crows.

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One response to “Kill ’em all

  1. Is AFJ going through a bit of a publish or perish crisis, or are the first months of the year a bit slow for contributions as so the standards drop according to fill the next edition?

    At the beginning of OIF (like, almost SEVEN years ago) such an article might have been an interesting counterpoint; now, with all the intellectual water that has gone under the bridge since, this article is, as you say, just stupid…Unfortunately, this revisionist approach is what will be taught in some schools, how the great and might President Bush was betrayed by the UN, and a bunch of softies in the Pentagon who didn’t have what it takes for a ‘real’ war.

    And, on Real War, is it a coincidence that the US DoD’s training simulation for the complex environment in 2002/2003 was called Real War and that you could achieve success in most missions simply by blowing up as much as possible? Maybe Bernard Final had a hand in writing that too….

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